The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Mountain Bike Knee Pads

By Pat Donahue ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday July 2, 2019

Performing our knee pad testing is an involved process. Most of it was quite pleasant while other aspects were tedious yet necessary. While seeking out gnarly trails filled with rocks and roots and riding down said trails is an absolute blast, there is far more that goes into testing. We were very strategic and methodical about the way we tested these pads. We climbed fire roads while seated, stood up and hammered up technical singletrack, hiked gnarly lines, and descended every type of terrain. We wore these pads on 40-degree rides and 85-degree rides. We tested them with multiple pairs of shorts. We wore these pads around the house while we cooked dinner and cleaned the bathroom to gauge the levels of comfort and fit over long periods. All the while, we kept extremely detailed notes on each pair. We ranked each set of pads on five metrics: Protection (worth 30% of the final score), fit and comfort, ventilation, and pedal-friendliness (each worth 20%), and durability (worth 10% of the final score).

Our test class featured multiple styles of knee pads.
Our test class featured multiple styles of knee pads.

Protection


Protection is a critical metric when evaluating knee pads. After all, you wear knee pads to protect yourself from the trail surface when things go sideways.

We rode on a huge variety of terrain with each set of pads. We rode fast flow trails and burly ones too; we climbed, we jumped, we did it all. We didn't intentionally crash with every single set of pads, that would be downright foolish and dangerous. We did evaluate every single protective detail with razor-like precision. We have used enough knee pads over the years to be able to accurately assess each pair. We paid attention to armor quality, armor location, the amount of armor, and sleeve construction. We carefully examined each pair for an unreasonable amount of time both on our knees and in our hands.

Testers had to put-on and remove knee pads quite often. And we mean very often.
Testers had to put-on and remove knee pads quite often. And we mean very often.

Fit and Comfort


Fit and comfort is a pretty straightforward metric. This examines how well each pad fits and how comfortable it is on the leg while riding and while standing around in the parking lot.

Fit is a particularly easy metric to score. We took each pair on and off dozens of time and paid attention to how well they conform to the rider. We considered whether or not there is any excess material and whether or not the pad shuffles around on the leg. This is an important consideration because if a pad doesn't fit well or it moves around a lot, your not going to want to put them on.

Comfort is based on how pleasant or unpleasant a knee pad is to wear. We had plenty of time to think about this in the saddle. Do these pads bother us when charging downhill? Are we thinking about how unpleasant a pad feels instead of line choice? We also spent hours wearing test pads around the house and doing chores. We would often forget when we were wearing the most comfortable pads while we couldn't wait to remove the less comfortable options.

We evaluated each pad carefully while on our leg  in our hands  and while in the saddle.
We evaluated each pad carefully while on our leg, in our hands, and while in the saddle.

Pedal Friendliness


Pedal friendliness pertains to how a set of knee pads feel when turning the cranks. Whether we are climbing a fire road in the saddle or standing up to punch it up a technical pitch, we paid a lot of attention to how each pad felt when cranking away.

There is no especially scientific way to monitor and rate pedal-friendliness. We simply pedaled a lot with each pair of knee pads. We made notes after each climb about how well, or poorly, each set felt while pedaling. We stood up and hammered, and we sat down and spun it out. We climbed technical terrain and buff terrain. All of this was to try and suss out any important subtleties that might help you find the perfect pads.

Ventilation


Ventilation is how well the knee pads breathe and how well air escapes. Ventilation is an important metric that can also be a little bit difficult to monitor. There must be some fancy scientific tools to test this, but we went with the ol' on-trail test.

Simply put, we rode in very hot, mid-day, conditions and see how well the pads handled it. We took them off at the end of the ride and used our hands to feel for wet fabric, moisture, or particularly dry areas. Also, we paid attention to how well the wind penetrated the fabric while riding. Some pads allowed substantial amounts of air through the material; others acted as a shield. Wearing knee pads will never feel the same as not-wearing knee pads, that said, some breathe much better than others.

Testing also involved a healthy dose of shredding rowdy terrain.
Testing also involved a healthy dose of shredding rowdy terrain.

Durability


Durability is a key consideration when purchasing knee pads. Nobody wants to spend money, sometimes a substantial amount of money, on a set of pads only to have them fail within a few weeks. This is important. Sometimes a failed seam or unraveling threads will be a warranty issue, but crashing and ripping the pads will not be.

Durability, like protection, is another metric that can be hard to pin down with testing. We don't crash intentionally to see how durable a pad is. Instead, we use our decades of experience with knee pads to carefully and slowly examine each pair to check for the strengths and weaknesses of each model as it pertains to durability.