Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads of 2020
Best Overall Knee Pads
Leatt Airflex Pro
The Leatt Airflex Pro takes top honors in our tests, earning our Editors' Choice award with a perfect combination of protection, pedal-friendliness, comfort, and price. These are the best and most versatile mountain bike knee pads in our test. They have very wisely placed protection, and the armor includes a flexible plastic main plate on the knee cap with some clever auxiliary foam protection on the inside and outside of each leg. These pads also deliver solid amounts of pedal-friendliness, although they are not a top choice for super long rides with loads of climbing. That said, they are on the lighter side of the spectrum and carry a reasonable price tag.
The Airflex Pro pads, excellent as they are, aren't perfect. We call them extremely well-rounded, but skeptics may say they don't offer the protection of the burliest pads or the pedal-friendliness of the lightest pads. This is a shaky argument, but it is not incorrect. These pads are a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Additionally, a considerable amount of protection makes these pads a good bit warmer than other options. That said, they proved to be our favorite all-around and a great choice for most riders.
Read review: Leatt Airflex Pro
Best Bang for the Buck
The Dakine Slayer knee pads are an easy choice for our Best Buy Award. These pads have well-rounded on-trail performance that beautifully balances pedal-friendliness and protection. Best of all, the fit is excellent, snug without being too tight. On top of that, they sell for less than half the price of some of the more expensive options in this review. Well rounded performance at an attractive price? Sign us up.
We love most elements of these knee pads. One area that could use some improvement is the levels of ventilation. For a mid-duty kneepad, they are a little clammy. The sleeve is tightly knit with relatively thick material that doesn't let much heat escape. The all-fabric construction is also prone to ripping or tearing more easily in the event of a crash compared to the pads armored with plastic or rubber.
Read review: Dakine Slayer
Best for Comfort
POC Joint VPD System
If comfort is a top priority, the POC Joint VPD System is a fantastic option. These knee pads offer an unrivaled level of comfort thanks to a plush construction consisting entirely of foam and fabric. There is no plastic on these pads to restrict movement or dig into the rider's legs — just plenty of pillowy pleasantness. Whether standing around at the trailhead, spinning uphill, or charging your favorite downhill trail, the Joint VPD is supremely comfortable. Protection levels are solid and should offer plenty of padding for the average trail rider.
Glowing review aside, these knee pads aren't quite perfect. The fit is a little quirky. All of our test pads were the same size, and the Joint VPD had the loosest fit compared to the rest of the test field. The upper opening of the sleeve slid down on us on numerous occasions. If you are in-between sizes, we recommend sizing down on these pads. We also have durability concerns — the all-fabric construction is likely to rip from a fast crash on gravel or rock.
Read review: POC Joint VPD System
Best for Aggressive Riding
7Protection Project Knee
The 7 Protection Project Knee takes home a Top Pick for Aggressive Riding Award. If you are seeking maximum protection, these are the mountain bike knee pads for you. Simple as that. They have the most robust padding in our test, and the long, heavy-duty sleeve protects from thorns and branches. The impressive quality of the construction really stood out to us. These pads use tougher and thicker materials than the other pads in our test, giving them a built to last feel. We do not doubt that these pads can take a beating and are an excellent option for hard-chargers, shuttle monkeys, and even some bike park rats.
While we love the Project Knee pads, they have a somewhat limited bandwidth. They are not a very pedal-friendly option; there is a lot of bulk, and the materials are so thick that they have a very hot and heavy feel when spinning uphill. It is clear climbing and ventilation are not a priority in the design process; getting radical is. These pads are also quite expensive, but the quality, performance (within the intended application), and durability are impressive enough to warrant the cost for the right rider.
Read review: 7 Protection Project Knee
Best Light-Middleweight Option
Six Six One Recon
The Six Six One Recon takes home an award for Best Light-Middleweight Knee Pads. These pads come in at a stunningly low 74 grams per pad. They offer a high level of pedal-friendliness while still retaining an element of protection. The G-Form Pro X2 pads are strikingly similar, but we feel these have a better fit at a significantly lower weight. They are on the light-duty side of the spectrum, but still offer some real protective features.
The downside? They still are not the best option for riding rough terrain or pinning it at high speeds. They have more protection than the super minimalist pads, but there still isn't much substance to the armor. As a result, they are best suited for relatively moderate terrain. Also, the plated armor look is quite polarizing. Some people like the style, but many find it cheesy and ugly.
Read review: Six Six One Recon
Best Pedal-Friendly Option
Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve
The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve grabs a Top Pick as the Most Pedal-Friendly knee pads. These pads take a minimalist approach and have an excellent feel when turning the cranks. They are hands-down our favorite for longer rides with significant amounts of climbing. There is no restriction to the pedal motion, and the soft armor is quite pleasant against the skin. Testers also found them to be one of the most well ventilated and breathable knee pads in the test, an additional benefit that increases their pedal friendliness.
These pads are far from perfect; they offer a very minimal amount of protection. The Enduro Knee Sleeve gains their supreme pedal-friendliness from a lack of padding and armor, meaning they offer minimal protection. The padding is soft and extremely thin. As a result, these pads are probably best suited for experienced riders who are not likely to crash often. Given the soft fabric construction, there is a good chance these pads could rip after one real crash. These pads are also a little expensive for how simple and minimal they are.
Read review: Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead mountain bike knee pad tester is Pat Donahue. This South Lake Tahoe resident is an industry veteran and is closing in on two decades mountain biking experience in a variety of disciplines. Pat was formerly the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor for OutdoorGearLab. He has a particularly strong appetite for rough and steep trails making him the perfect candidate to test knee pads. Also, he has plenty of experience crashing on those rough and steep trails, which only makes him a better fit for the job.
We have a serious addiction to the wonderful world of mountain biking. Bicycles and bike gear are always on our mind. As a result, we are constantly on the lookout for new knee pads. Our test class includes eleven different models from eleven different manufacturers. Our selection includes big, burly, knee pads designed to send it and go fast as well as super light, minimalist, knee pads that prioritize climbing. We rated our tested pads on five metrics: protection, fit and comfort, pedal-friendliness, ventilation and breathability, and durability. The compilation of these ratings helps us determine a winner.
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers spent six long, hard, weeks riding these mountain bike knee pads over all sorts of terrain. We carefully analyzed each pad as it relates to our scoring metrics and found the Leatt Airflex Pro an easy choice for Editors' Choice. These pads beautifully blend high levels of protection while retaining a good bit of pedal-friendliness and ventilation. The 7 Protection Project Knee pads are another notable finisher and are a perfect option for the gravity fiends.
We don't score products based on their price tag. That said, everyone wants a good value when they slap down the credit card. Sometimes a high price correlates to higher levels of quality and performance. The POC Joint VPD System pads are the most expensive pads in our test but also delivered high-end comfort levels. Our Editors' Choice, the Leatt Airflex Pro lands in the middle of the pack in terms of price and offers stellar performance - making them a particularly strong value. The Best Buy Dakine Slayer pads blend an eye-popping price tag with rock-solid performance, just what we love to see.
Most mountain bikers wear knee pads primarily to protect themselves in the event of a crash. Some mountain bikers wear them as an additional protective layer to ward off bumps and scuffs while riding even if they are confident in their skills and not prone to crashing. Obviously, protection is a critical metric when evaluating knee pads. The level of protection is worth 30% of our overall scores.
We did not attempt to intentionally crash to test the protective properties of our test knee pads. Instead, we spent an unreasonable amount of time wearing each pair and painstakingly evaluating the quality, thickness, and placement of the armor. Some pads use armor that is loaded with technical features and design; others take a more straightforward approach.
The 7 Protection Project Knee is a top performer in this metric. If you are seeking a knee pad that prioritizes protection above all else, these pads for you. They feature a long sleeve design built from a tightly knit and durable fabric. There is a main armor patch on top of the knee cap that is thick and substantial while also being flexible. On the exterior of the knee cap, there is a harder, plastic patch that adds a layer of protection and allows the pad to slide over surfaces in the event of a crash. These also offer some secondary protection that runs around the perimeter of the main armor patch, a great feature for all of those times where you don't crash directly on your knee. Given all of this protection and burly construction, the Project Knee pads don't breathe very well and aren't nearly as pedal-friendly as lighter weight and less protective options.
The 100% Surpass are another supremely protective knee pad. They have a hard-plastic armor plate that is a decent size with auxiliary padding placed around this area and around the inside and outside of the knee. In addition, there is foam padding above the knee cap to protect against knees being smashed into the handlebars. The majority of the armor is coated with either plastic or rubber to help the pads survive crashes without major rips or tears.
Our Editors' Choice Airflex Pro also post an excellent score in terms of protection. They are a shorter and sleeker pad compared to the Project Knee or Surpass, and, as a result, are significantly more pedal-friendly while still providing impressive levels of protection. The front of the knee pad uses a rubbery, softer, piece of armor that still feels thick enough to do its job. This armor can easily be bent in your hand with little force. The Airflex also uses very sensible and strategically placed secondary armor patches. These are hard foam patches placed in high-risk areas. There is one patch at the top of the knee pad above the main armor near the top of the sleeve. This is a super-smart location as this is where one might smash their knee on the bars if you slip a pedal, which hurts. Also, three armored patches run up and down the inside and outside of each leg.
Our Best Buy Slayer offers a reasonable amount of protection as well. They have enough padding to work well for the average trail rider but definitely don't have the chops for enduro or downhill riding. The ultra-comfortable Joint VPD System offer similar levels of sensible protection.
The featherweight Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve and Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve simply can't stand up in this category. These pads are designed to maximize pedal-friendliness and comfort with less of an emphasis on protection than the others we tested. These pads are best suited for the skilled, lighter-duty, trail rider who wants some protection, but are less likely to crash regularly.
Fit and Comfort
Every mountain biker wants a comfortable knee pad that fits them well. A well-designed fit and high-comfort level are both critical when searching for the perfect pad. Some pads may have nice protective features, but if they can't deliver a quality fit and pleasant feel, they may fall short in delivering on comfort.
Determining our scores for this metric was quite simple. We just wore these pads often and for long periods. We rode as much as we could in each set, but we also wore them while writing and editing this review, while cooking dinner, while walking the dog. All of this to root out any quirks that may rear their ugly heads.
We had a few standout performers in terms of fit and comfort. The Joint VPD System has the plushest fit by far. If you want your knee pads to feel pillowy and soft at all times, these are the pads for you. The all-fabric construction avoids any plastic or rubber that could irritate the skin. The comfort level and dialed fit of the Six Six One Recon pads also really stands out. They offer reliable protection for light-duty trail riding, making them a solid all-around choice. They are very light at 74-grams per pad or 148-grams for the pair, making them the lightest pads in the test by over 20-grams per leg. This low weight delivers a feathery feel that is extremely important. The fit is also very well sorted with little-to-no excess material.
The Best Buy Slayer has a tremendous fit as well. The sleeve conforms beautifully to the leg, and there is no excess material whatsoever. These pads are the perfect combo of snug without ever feeling too tight.
The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve is another exceptionally comfortable pad. Just keep in mind that these minimalist pads offer very, very little protection. As a result, there is no clumsy armor interfering with comfort levels, but you put yourself at more risk. The soft and simple armor patch feels great against the knee while the simple sleeve conforms well to the leg and doesn't move around while pedaling. The Enduro Knee Sleeve is the second lightest set of pads in the test coming in at 99-grams per leg and 198-grams for the pair.
The Editors' Choice Airflex Pro deliver a quality fit and solid comfort levels despite having more protective bulk compared to the Enduro Knee Sleeve and Recon. These pads are clearly well designed and well-executed. The pads stay in place, and they are pleasant on small-to-mid-sized rides. The 7 Protection Project Knee are another option with a well-sorted fit. Given the obvious heft of these award-winning pads, they are toasty. That said, they still maintain a very comfortable and cozy feel.
Pedal-friendliness is another critical metric. A knee pad can have all of the protection in the world, but if they are not pedal-friendly, they are rendered relatively useless. Of course, this metric is all relative, and making an educated purchase decision hinges on the most sensible combination of protection and pedal-friendliness that suits your riding style.
To determine the scores for pedal-friendliness, we simply pedaled — a lot. We wore all of these pads on multiple long climbs, short sprints, and casual meanders. While it is immediately apparent which knee pads are the most pedal-friendly, it is essential to put in the time on longer rides to see if any subtleties emerge two hours in.
It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that some of the very simple, sleek, and lightweight knee pads scored very well in this metric. Both the Enduro Knee Sleeve and the Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve posted perfect scores in terms of pedal-friendliness. Why? Well, both of these minimalist options are about as close as you can get to feeling like you are not wearing knee pads at all. The pedal motion while wearing these pads is significantly better than any other pads in our test. The Troy Speed Knee Sleeve has armor that is strategically articulated to bend more freely, and the Enduro has a little longer of a sleeve and fits better. It is important to remember, however; the protection levels are lower in both of these knee pads.
The Joint VPD System Knee delivers a high level of the pedal-friendliness as well. The all-fabric construction allows for a free range of motion and no restriction to the pedal motion. The only thing that detracts from the soft and plush pedal motion is a quirky fit and a loose upper cuff.
The Six Six One Recon pads are another very pedal-friendly option. These pads feature a step-up in protection compared to the Enduro and Troy Lee Speed pads, but still have a lightweight construction and excellent pedal motion. The G-Form Pro X2 is also excellent and very similar to the Recon, but the fit quality is slightly lower, which detracts from overall pedal-friendliness.
The Editors' Choice Airflex Pro pads deliver the absolute best blend of pedal-friendliness and protection. They can't match the breezy pedaling feel of the flimsy, lightweight pads, but they deliver far better protection. They pedal fine, but wouldn't be our top choice for rides over 2.5-hours long. The 7 Protection Project Knee pads are all about descending, and that's why they earned our Top Pick for Aggressive Riding. Pedal-friendliness is not their strong suit. That said, they still climb just fine, especially for the crowd who doesn't care for climbing in large doses.
Ventilation and Breathability
This is an important metric. Riding in the summer can be a toasty endeavor, with Southwest or Southern California riders seeing temperatures well into the triple digits. Riders on the East Coast will see warm temperatures with suffocating humidity. Nobody wants to wear hot and clammy knee pads while suffering through a mid-summer ride.
This metric was the trickiest to pin down for testers. Given the nature of knee pads, they will simply never breathe all that well. You are strapping armor to the middle of the leg; this is always going to be inherently warmer than not wearing knee pads. Also, it is challenging, if not impossible, to feel the pads releasing heat and moisture. We can only score this metric off of the overall impression of how hot or cool these pads felt while pumping hard.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the lightest and simplest pads also deliver the best ventilation. This is quite logical: less material = cooler knee pads. The Speed Knee Sleeve and Enduro Knee Sleeve deliver the best ventilation and airflow. The absence of any hard, or semi-hard, plastic works in their favor in this regard. When you are charging down a trail at speed, you can feel a bit of air penetrate the armor and pass through to the knee as it only needs to pass through a thin, soft, piece of foam. These pads still aren't exactly cool, but they do offer the best airflow.
The Recon and Pro X2 are the next in line in the ventilation metric. Where the Speed Knee and Enduro, mentioned above, allow air to pass through the soft-constructed front, the Recon and Pro X2 do not. The plated armor on the front of the pad blocks air. Still, the light sleeve construction surrounding the armor on the Recon pads allow a decent amount of heat to escape through the rear, and the Pro X2 follows very closely behind. Riders who want a bit more protection while still maintaining an element of ventilation should consider these options.
The Editors' Choice Airflex Pro continues the balanced dominance in this test. While they are warmer and less ventilated than a featherweight, minimalist option, they deliver the best balance of protection, ventilation, pedal-friendliness, durability, and fit/comfort. They have a MoistureCool panel of light mesh in the rear of the pad that allows heat to escape.
While knee pads are a significantly smaller purchase compared to a bicycle or a wheelset, they still require you to drop some of your hard-earned cash. Nobody wants to spend money on a pair of knee pads that are going to be torn to shreds after one crash or start to have threads unravel within a month or two of ownership. Durability is only worth 10% of our final score, yet we feel it is an important metric worth considering.
We didn't crash in every single pair of knee pads. As a result, we can't objectively and accurately discuss how each set of pads react in the event of a crash. We can, however, carefully evaluate the construction and layout of each pad based on over a decade of riding and crashing and comment on our perception of how they will survive the rigors of mountain biking.
The 100% Surpass is a clear standout in this metric. If you think you may be hitting the deck here and there, the Surpass pads will have the longest lifespan. The reason being, the majority of the padding is armored with plastic or rubber material. This helps them resist ripping to shreds if you crash and slide across the earth. Pads with all-fabric construction will get shredded far more easily.
Construction quality is a crucial consideration with regard to durability. The 7 Protection Project Knee pads are built to last. They use a burly, knit construction with a heavy-duty material that will resist cutting and tearing far better than most any other pad in our test. Again, the hard, plastic, armor plate on the knee cap allows these pads to survive crashes more effectively than pads with fabric-covered knee pads.
The Airflex Pro also features a quality design. The rubberized knee armor should withstand some abuse while the stitching and seams are relatively well-hidden and burly-looking. The Surpass and Project Knee are by far the best choices for a pad that will survive hard-charging for seasons on end, but the Airflex Pro is next in line.
The world of mountain bike knee pads can be overwhelming. There are a lot of options available with plenty of marketing jargon surrounding them. Our best piece of advice is to be honest with yourself about your riding style. This will help you identify your true needs and will narrow down the field significantly. We hope this review has been helpful. Happy shredding!
— Pat Donahue