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How To Choose Mountain Bike Knee Pads

By Pat Donahue ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday July 1, 2019
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Are you searching for a set of knee pads for mountain biking? We tested eight of the most compelling options from some of the most popular and influential brands in the industry in our Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads Review. We have plenty of information for you to help make the most educated decision possible.

Knee pads come in all shapes and sizes. The Troy Lee Designs Knee Sleeve are geared towards longer rides with loads of pedaling.
Knee pads come in all shapes and sizes. The Troy Lee Designs Knee Sleeve are geared towards longer rides with loads of pedaling.

Style of Riding


The first step in finding the right knee pads is to hone in on your riding style. Knee pads come in multiple designs offering various levels of protection and pedal-friendliness. Pinning down your riding style will help you hone in on the correct style of pad. We strongly urge you to think about the style of riding you will be doing and not the style of riding you wish you were doing. While we all dream of riding trips to British Columbia, it is important to think about the riding you most frequently do.

Trail


Trail-riding is a very, very broad categorization. The term trail-riding can mean many different things to many different people. For example, ask a downhill racer what trail riding means, and he/she may define trail riding/trail bikes one way while a cross-country racer may have an entirely different opinion of a trail ride or trail bike. As a result, we have broken the category down into some sub-categories to help make sense of it.

The G-Form Pro X2 are light duty pads that offer a nice dose of protection.
The G-Form Pro X2 are light duty pads that offer a nice dose of protection.

Light Duty Trail Riding


Light duty trail riding can be defined as riding singletrack trails absent of substantial rock gardens or roots. The light-duty trail rider might love big climbs and getting the heart pumping hard, but has a strong preference for flowy and fast descents absent of substantial amounts of rocks and roots.

This rider may be on a short-travel bike with 110-130mm of travel and leans towards the cross-country side of the trail riding spectrum. The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve is the best choice for the rider who wants minimal protection while maintaining as much pedal-friendliness as possible. The Six Six One Recon offers more protection, but you sacrifice some climbing prowess.

Mid-Aggressive Trail Riding


Mid-Aggressive trail riding can be defined as riding whatever is put in front of you. This style of riding is fairly versatile and can include big climbs, rowdy and rocky descents, and tough trails. This rider likes to ride almost everything and has no qualms with steep trails with loads of rocks and roots.

This rider may be found on a mid-travel or aggressive trail bike with 130-150mm of travel and has a desire to push the limits and go fast. The Leatt Airflex Pro is the best blend of pedal-friendliness and protection in our test. The Six Six One Recon is a practical option for the rider who wants a very light set of pads and is okay with sacrificing some protection to gain pedal-efficiency.

Enduro/gravity riders will love the 7Protection Project Knee.
Enduro/gravity riders will love the 7Protection Project Knee.

Enduro/Gravity


Enduro riding is all about descending. Sure, you still need to get to the top of the climb, but that isn't a primary concern. Enduro riders are mostly concerned about charging down rough terrain fast and might fancy a few jumps along the way. This is still technically trail riding, but these riders are gravity-fiends and might use shuttles to get to the top of the mountain sometimes.

This rider probably has a burly bicycle with 150+ mm of travel and is not concerned in the least about being the fastest on the climb. The 7Protection Project Knee is the burliest pad in our test and is the best option for shuttle laps and minimal pedaling.

Sizing


Sizing can be tricky with knee pads. It is always best to try the pads on before pulling the trigger, but that is not always possible.

We found knee pad sizing to run a little smaller than one would expect. Our testers both wear size 32-waist pants and typically wear sized medium shorts and shirts. That said, all of our test pads were size large, and that was the right size. Medium knee pads are much smaller than one would think.

A proper fit is critical with knee pads.
A proper fit is critical with knee pads.

If you can't try these pads before pulling the trigger, we strongly recommend evaluating the sizing charts on the manufacturer's websites. A soft and bendable tape measure is the only tool you need to get your measurements and make an educated purchase decision.

Other Cosiderations


The aforementioned riding styles are a critical consideration when evaluating knee pads. Finding the pad to match your idea of fun on a bicycle is by far the most important aspect. That said, there are some other considerations.

Style


Style is an important consideration when choosing knee pads. It is a very personal decision because, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve and Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve have a very clean and simple look. This is a great choice for the rider who likes the appearance of a stealthy and minimalist pad that doesn't draw much attention. Keep in mind that these pads offer less protection than more robust models.

The Six Six One Recon and G-Form Pro X2 have a unique look. The multiple armor plates spread out over the knee cap look a lot like a turtle shell. These pads have a very polarizing appearance. Some people love it; some people hate it. They have a low profile appearance and fit well under shorts, so there is no bulk at the knee.

The Leatt Airflex Pro and Kali Strike both have a similar shape and size. There is a bit of mass to them and they both kind of bulge a bit at the knee. The Kali Strike have quite a unique looking knee cap with the Kali logo placed in the armor. The Leatt Airflex Pro have a bit of simpler, more refined look.

The 7Protection Project Knee and RaceFace Indy both have very long sleeves. Riders who wear mid-length to high socks might have a seamless interface between the pads and the socks with no skin showing. Some folks like this fully protected look while others may think it looks too bulky and hefty. The 7Protection pads are burly with a lot of padding visible. That said, they are well-done and appear to be of the highest quality.

Some pads can be put on and taken off over a pair of shoes. Others require you to remove your shoes.
Some pads can be put on and taken off over a pair of shoes. Others require you to remove your shoes.

Durability


Durability is another key consideration with knee pads. Nobody wants to have to replace their pads every time they crash because they tore a big hole in them.

The super light sleeve design found on the Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve and Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve appear to be the least durable. In the reviews, we point out that they are best suited for experienced and skilled riders who won't crash often. We could easily see these pads getting thrashed by one single high-speed crash.

The pads with harder plastic knee protection will withstand abuse most effectively. The Kali Strike and Leatt Airflex Pro come to mind. The G-Form Pro X2 and Six Six One Recon also fall under this categorization. The shell material won't cut as easily as fabric. This, of course, only applies if you were to crash directly onto your knee. This is a big if.

If this is your bag  we recommend the burlier  gravity-focused  pads.
If this is your bag, we recommend the burlier, gravity-focused, pads.

The 7Protection Project Knee pads are the shining example of a durable knee pad. They have a hard piece of armor paired with heavy-duty, burly, fabric. We expect these to fare the best among test pads in terms of durability.

Price


Price is an obvious consideration when selecting knee pads. Mountain biking is an expensive sport, and it is nice to save some cash where you can. This is sound logic, and you can't blame someone for being frugal after they spent thousands of hard-earned dollars on a bicycle.

The knee pads in our test range from $54 to $120. A lot of the time, you get what you pay for, and the $120 7Protection Project Knee Pads boasts a high-quality construction, superior protection, and high projected durability. On the other end, the $54 Troy Lee Speed Knee Sleeve won't likely survive many crashes without ripping/tearing. There is a sweet spot in between that includes the Editor's Choice Leatt Airflex Pro that offers a high-quality fit and stellar protection at $80.

Buying the right pair of knee pads will have you pedaling up for an extra lap on the gnar.
Buying the right pair of knee pads will have you pedaling up for an extra lap on the gnar.

Conclusion


We hope that our extensive research and testing process has helped you find the perfect set of knee pads. If you do your research on sizing, think long and hard about your riding style, and pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each pad, you should be able to make an educated and informed purchase.


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