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Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads of 2022

We tested models from Fox Racing, 7iDP, Leatt, Troy Lee Designs, and more to find the best mountain bike knee pads
Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads of 2022
Credit: Laura Casner
Thursday June 23, 2022
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We scoured the internet and conducted exhaustive research on nearly every pair of mountain bike knee pads available. After that, we purchased 14 of the most promising models for this review. After carefully analyzing the features, specifications, and certifications of each pair of pads, our testers rode them as much as humanly possible. We rode with these knee pads in every condition imaginable, from blistering afternoon heat to below-freezing morning temperatures. We even crashed a few times. Our team of testers painstakingly analyzed the protection and pedal characteristics of each model to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each pair to help you find the best knee pads for your needs and budget.

Whether you're into long enduro rides or lapping your local bike park, you want the best in protection for your next mountain bike ride. Our team of experts has tested the best bike safety equipment on the market, from knee pads to gloves. We also have in-depth reviews covering the best helmets available, both half-shell bike helmets and full-face helmet models for downhill riding.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on June 23, 2022, to confirm that our selection is up-to-date with the best knee pads available on the market.

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award 
Price $53.98 at Amazon
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$90 List
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Overall Score
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Pros Exceptionally pedal friendly, comfortable, lightweightLight, breathable, comfortable sleeve materialVery lightweight, excellent when pedaling, sleek and slimAbove-average protection, light, relatively low-profileExcellent fit, pedal-friendly, sleek design, just enough protection
Cons Not very protective, soft material may tear easilyClumsy armor patch, slightly irritating while pedalingKnee sleeve a little short, lacks protection, durability concernsVery long sleeve, harder to put onNot for riders who want to push their limits, narrower range of applications
Bottom Line A lightweight and extremely pedal-friendly knee pad with a minimalist approachA lightweight and airy knee pad suited for light-to-mid duty trail ridingA lightweight knee pad that delivers in the saddle but doesn't offer much in the way of protectionProtective knee pads that pedal well enough and have an exceptionally long sleeveA sensible option for trail and all-mountain riders who want to retain a high level of pedal-friendliness
Rating Categories Fox Racing Enduro K... Alpinestars Paragon... Troy Lee Designs Sp... 7iDP Sam Hill Leatt Airflex Hybrid
Protection (30%)
4.0
6.0
3.0
8.0
6.0
Fit and Comfort (20%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Pedal Friendliness (20%)
10.0
7.0
10.0
7.0
9.0
Ventilation and Breathability (20%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Durability (10%)
4.0
6.0
4.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Fox Racing Enduro K... Alpinestars Paragon... Troy Lee Designs Sp... 7iDP Sam Hill Leatt Airflex Hybrid
Weight (per pair, size L) 198 grams 290 grams 228 grams 320 grams 363 grams
Padding Material Not specified Stretch mesh and Ripstop nylon 4mm D30 impact foam SAS Tech AirFlex gel, Sliding hard shell knee cup
Body Material Perforated neoprene Mesh Abrasion-resistant material Breathable 4-way stretch mesh Knitted base layer, MoistureCool and AirMesh fabrics
Adjustments? No No No No No
Safety Certifications Not specified CE CE EN 13688:2013 CE EN 1621-1:2012 Level 2 CE EN 1621-1
Available Sizes S - XL XS - XL XS/S - XL/XXL S-XL S-XXL


Best Overall Mountain Bike Knee Pads


Fox Racing Launch D3O


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 9.0
  • Fit and Comfort 10.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 8.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 7.0
  • Durability 8.0
Weight (per pair): 445 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Unrivaled comfort levels
Substantial, confidence-inspiring protection
Excellent fit
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Not the best choice for long rides

The Fox Racing Launch D3O pads quickly rose to the top of our field of mountain bike knee pads. This model has an extremely well-executed, quality design. The fit is near-perfect, and the comfort levels are unrivaled. They use pliable D3O padding that is comfortable and soft under normal use but hardens upon impact. These pads trend towards the more protective end of the spectrum and are an excellent choice for riders who value real protection riding aggressive terrain or crash somewhat regularly. All of this protection is met with respectable pedaling abilities. They are not the best choice for huge, half-day rides, but they work great for the average 1-2.5 hour outing. These high-quality pads are ideal for trail, all-mountain, and enduro riders who really want to protect their knees without sacrificing comfort.

Still, these pads aren't quite perfect. The Launch D3O are heavy and on the bulkier side of the spectrum. As a result, they can get a little toasty on warmer days. Riders in hot climates may want to look towards pads with better airflow. And, given the relative bulk, they simply can't offer the same pedaling efficiency as some of the minimalist options in this review. Again, the pedaling efficiency is decent, but they are certainly not the ideal pads to wear on longer trail rides.

Read review: Fox Racing Launch D3O

best overall mountain bike knee pads
We loved these knee pads. If you value real protection and decent pedaling abilities, you might love them too.
Credit: Laura Casner

Best Bang for the Buck


Dakine Slayer


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 7.0
  • Fit and Comfort 9.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 7.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 6.0
  • Durability 6.0
Weight (per pair): 366 grams | Safety Certifications: EN 1621-1 Level 1
REASONS TO BUY
Fantastic fit
Sensible amounts of protection
Ultra-reasonable price
REASONS TO AVOID
Not well-ventilated
Could be prone to ripping
Dakine updated the Slayer since our test cycle ended. The new version features Cordura on the outer for additional abrasion resistance.
The Dakine Slayer knee pads are a quality option at a reasonable price. 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 level of ventilation. For a mid-duty knee pad, they are a little clammy. The sleeve is tightly knit with a relatively thick material that doesn't let much heat escape. The all-fabric construction may also be prone to ripping or tearing more easily in the event of a crash compared to pads armored with plastic or rubber.

Read review: Dakine Slayer

mountain bike knee pads - best bang for the buck
The Slayer Knee pads have a stealthy, low-profile, look.

Best Blend of Protection and Pedal-Friendliness


Leatt Airflex Pro


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 8.0
  • Fit and Comfort 9.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 8.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 7.0
  • Durability 8.0
Weight (per pair): 256 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Smart and substantial protection
Great balance of protection and pedal-friendliness
Relatively lightweight
REASONS TO AVOID
The upper sleeve could be longer
A bit warm

The Leatt Airflex Pro offers a brilliant combination of protection and pedal-friendliness, giving you a knee pad that is comfortable in a lot of situations. They have enough armor to be worn at a bike park or ripping shuttle laps, but they can just as easily embark on a 30-mile trail ride. The protection is strategically placed and has a pliable main armor patch made out of 3D-molded silicone. Auxiliary foam protection can be found on both sides of the knee and in the center above the knee cap. They are also impressively comfortable, stay in place well, and don't chafe or irritate the skin over the course of a long ride. Additionally, they are on the lighter side of the spectrum and carry a more-than-fair price tag.

As we noted above, we love the versatility of these knee pads. That said, some people might point out that a set of knee pads that can do everything doesn't stand out as extremely impressive in any one area. These pads can't match the protection of some of the beefiest options, and they also don't pedal quite as well as some of the lighter, thinner options. Also, they don't breathe particularly well, which could be important for riders in warmer climates. Beyond that, we feel the Airflex Pro provide a stellar combination of protection, comfort, and pedal-friendliness.

Read review: Leatt Airflex Pro

mountain bike knee pads - best blend of protection and pedal-friendliness
We were blown away by how comfortable these pads were. We could ride all day in these without any irritation or discomfort.
Credit: Laura Casner

Best for Aggressive Riding


7iDP Project Knee


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 10.0
  • Fit and Comfort 8.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 5.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 5.0
  • Durability 9.0
Weight (per pair): 420 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621/1
REASONS TO BUY
High-quality materials and craftsmanship
Superb amounts of protection
Durable
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Not very pedal-friendly
Hot

If you are seeking maximum protection, the 7iDP Project Knee 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. Considering all the protection they offer, we also found them to be surprisingly comfortable with a great fit.

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 seems that climbing and ventilation were not a priority in the design process; getting radical was. These pads are also quite expensive, but we feel the quality, performance (within the intended application), and durability are impressive enough to warrant the cost for the right rider.

Read review: 7iDP Project Knee

mountain bike knee pads - best for aggressive riding
The 7Protection has a long, long, sleeve.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Most Pedal-Friendly


Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 4.0
  • Fit and Comfort 9.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 10.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 9.0
  • Durability 4.0
Weight (per pair): 198 grams | Safety Certifications: Not specified
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely pedal-friendly
Lightweight
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Very minimal protection
Durability concerns
Expensive for the level of simplicity

The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve takes a minimalist approach with 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 padding is quite pleasant against the skin. These comfortable pads stay in place very well, even when grinding up a climb for hours. Testers also found them to be one of the most well-ventilated and breathable knee pads in our test, an additional benefit that increases their pedal friendliness and comfort.

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 relatively thin. As a result, these pads are probably best suited for experienced riders who seek just a light layer of protection. Given the softer fabric construction, there is a good chance these pads may be more susceptible to damage in the event of a crash. We feel they are also a little pricey for how simple and minimal they are.

Read review: Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve

mountain bike knee pads - most pedal-friendly
Comfort, breathability, and pedal-friendliness are the hallmarks of the Enduro Knee Sleeve.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best for Comfort


POC Joint VPD System


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 7.0
  • Fit and Comfort 9.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 8.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 7.0
  • Durability 7.0
Weight (per pair): 346 grams | Safety Certifications: EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Supremely comfortable
Perfect protection levels for daily trail riding
Simple aesthetics
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Quirky fit

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 down your favorite 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 pads are relatively short, which may cause some pad gap with certain pairs of shorts. Additionally, 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 seems more likely to rip from a fast crash on gravel or rock.

Read review: POC Joint VPD System

mountain bike knee pads - best for comfort
The Joint VPD is one of our favorites in terms of comfort. If you ever wanted your knee pads to feel like pillows, look no further.

Best For Sensibility


Leatt Airflex Hybrid


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Protection 6.0
  • Fit and Comfort 9.0
  • Pedal Friendliness 9.0
  • Ventilation and Breathability 8.0
  • Durability 7.0
Weight (per pair): 363 grams | Safety Certifications: EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Just enough protection for most trail and all-mountain riding
Great fit
Pedal friendly
REASONS TO AVOID
Not burly enough for super aggressive riders on rough trails
Sleeve could be subject to tearing after a few crashes

The Leatt Airflex Hybrid earned high honors for an excellent combination of moderate protection, comfort, and pedal-friendliness. A huge number of riders have no desire to push the limits of speed or to ride gnarly trails. For every enduro bro trying to KOM a rowdy downhill, there are five casual riders who just want to get out on the trails and have a fun rip. That's where the Leatt Airlex Hybrid pads come in. They offer enough protection to feel like they are substantial without being overly bulky and annoying to wear. They are low-profile, comfortable, and offer enough protection for trail and all-mountain riding. The quality of the fit is fantastic, and they pedal quite well. They are more protective than the super minimalist models while being on the slender side of the mid-duty pads.

While we think these are a great option for trail and all-mountain riders, they don't offer the level of protection that we feel is necessary for full-on gravity riding. If you ride lifts with your downhill bike and really like to push the envelope of speed and aggression, these probably are not the pads for you. Another concern we did have about Airflex Hybrid is the longevity of the knit fabric that comprises the sleeve. That said, if you're looking for a sensible set of knee pads for everyday riding, we feel these are a great option.

Read review: Leatt Airflex Hybrid

mountain bike knee pads - the airfex hybrid have a slim, low-profile look and a super...
The Airfex Hybrid have a slim, low-profile look and a super comfortable fit.

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
85
$95
Editors' Choice Award
A dialed set of knee pads that deliver a fantastic fit and substantial protection while retaining pedaling abilities
80
$100
Top Pick Award
Leatt strikes a perfect balance of protection and pedal-friendliness with these quality pads
78
$90
A protective pair of knee pads that offer a decent pedaling experience
78
$115
Comfortable and protective knee pads with an excellent fit
77
$120
Top Pick Award
Practical pedal-friendly knee pads for trail and all-mountain riders
76
$119
A protective pair of pads designed for enduro and gravity endeavors
76
$139
A burly and protective knee pad that can stand up to some abuse
76
$150
Top Pick Award
A premium knee pad that pedals well and boasts absurd levels of comfort
75
$125
Top Pick Award
A burly and aggressive knee pad built for hard-charging
72
$60
Top Pick Award
A pedal-friendly knee pad that is lightweight but lacks serious protection
71
$90
Best Buy Award
A highly functional and sensible knee pad with a well-designed fit
70
$63
A well ventilated and lightweight set of pads best suited for mellower terrain
70
$75
A fantastic option for trail riders who want a balance of light protection and pedal-friendliness
67
$54
A minimalist knee pad with a quality fit that lacks protection

mountain bike knee pads - our lead knee pad tester pat loves rough and rocky terrain.
Our lead knee pad tester Pat loves rough and rocky terrain.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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 of 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. Pat was assisted by our current Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson, for the testing of the pads in this review. Benson has been riding mountain bikes for nearly three decades and has taken his fair share of crashes in that time. He has an extensive collection of scars, and these days he chooses to protect his knees with quality knee pads. As more of an XC/trail rider, Benson prioritizes pedal-friendliness, breathability, and comfort in the pads he chooses.

We have a serious addiction to the wonderful world of mountain biking. Bicycles and bike gear are always on our minds. As a result, we are constantly on the lookout for the best new knee pads. Our test class includes a wide range of models and manufacturers. Our selection includes big, burly knee pads designed to send it and go fast as well as super light, minimalist models that prioritize pedal friendliness. 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 the winners.

We weight each set of knee pads for consistency.
We weight each set of knee pads for consistency.
Fortunately, most of our testing involves riding in each set of...
Fortunately, most of our testing involves riding in each set of pads. This gives us the opportunity to scrutinize fit, comfort, breathability, and pedal-friendliness.
We try to match our test riding to the intended application of each...
We try to match our test riding to the intended application of each set of pads.

Analysis and Test Results


Our testers spent many 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 to help you find the best option for your riding style and budget. Read on to learn which models performed best in each of our targeted metrics.

Value


We don't score products based on their price tag. That said, everyone wants 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. The Fox Racing Launch D3O land in the middle of the pack in terms of price and offer excellent performance — making them a particularly strong value. The Leatt Airflex Pro are the most well-rounded pads in our review and come with a reasonable price tag. Finally, the Dakine Slayer blends an eye-popping price tag with rock-solid performance, just what we love to see.


mountain bike knee pads - the whole purpose of wearing knee pads is to protect the knees...
The whole purpose of wearing knee pads is to protect the knees. Protection levels vary significantly among the models we tested.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Protection


Most mountain bikers wear knee pads primarily to protect themselves in the event of a crash. Some 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. Protection levels are 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 7iDP Project Knee is a top performer in this metric. If you are seeking a knee pad that prioritizes protection above all else, these pads are 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 pad, 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. The Project Knee also offers 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, these pads don't breathe very well and aren't nearly as pedal-friendly as lighter weight and less protective options, but they sure will help preserve your precious knees.

mountain bike knee pads - the project knee earned top honors for protection in our selection...
The Project Knee earned top honors for protection in our selection of knee pads.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The 100% Surpass is 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 your 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.

mountain bike knee pads - most of the armor is covered with a plastic or rubberized material...
Most of the armor is covered with a plastic or rubberized material. This protects the fabric from tears and rips.

The second tier of protection is occupied by a couple of high-end knee pads. The Troy Lee Designs Raid Knee Guard offer very impressive levels of protection in a bit of a sleeker package. The padding is soft and extremely comfortable but hardens upon impact. Auxiliary padding runs down the inside and outside of the main armor patch to protect these vulnerable areas. The Raid pads have a bit less padded surface area compared to the most protective options in this review but are still plenty beefy for bike park days or burly shuttle laps. The Fox Racing Launch D3O are very similar but offer just a touch less protective padding in the knee cap. The IXS Carve Evo+ deserve an honorable mention here. They offer similar levels of protection as the Fox Racing Launch D3O and Troy Lee Designs Raid, but the overall package wasn't executed as well.

mountain bike knee pads - riders who want supreme comfort and serious protection will love the...
Riders who want supreme comfort and serious protection will love the Fox Racing Launch D3O Knee Pads.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Leatt Airflex Pro also posts an excellent score in terms of protection. For how versatile they are, the protection levels are quite impressive. That is a very high compliment. The Dakine 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 gravity riding. The ultra-comfortable Joint VPD System offer similar levels of sensible, all-day protection.

mountain bike knee pads - mid-duty pads like the leatt airflex pro offer lots of protection...
Mid-duty pads like the Leatt Airflex Pro offer lots of protection while remaining pedal-friendly and comfortable.
Credit: Laura Casner

If the idea of sleek and pedal-friendly knee pads is appealing to you, the Leatt Airflex Hybrid delivers more protection than the ultra-light options. The Airflex Hybrid delivers a bit of enhanced protection while remaining sleek, low-profile, and reasonably light. These pads are a great option for riders who don't want to push the limits or ride aggressive trails.

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 is less likely to crash with any regularity.

mountain bike knee pads - the pads we tested vary in terms of fit and comfort. pads like the...
The pads we tested vary in terms of fit and comfort. Pads like the 7iDP Project Knee are super protective and surprisingly comfortable.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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, you won't want to wear them.

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 Fox Racing Launch D3O pads deliver the most dialed, plush, and precise fit. The knee sleeve offers a perfectly articulated fit that is extremely natural. The D3O padding is exceptionally plush and is unbelievably pleasant against the knee throughout the pedal stroke. The fit is precise and consistent, and there is no excess material or unnatural pressure points. We feel they are nearly perfect.

The POC Joint VPD System offers a plush fit. 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 are met with a slightly shorter overall sleeve length.

The Leatt Airflex Hybrid has a fit that we would describe as extremely precise. Yes, the materials are exceptionally comfortable against the leg, but the precision of the fit is excellent. Despite the length of the sleeve, the design is well-executed, and there are no pinch points or deviation in snugness.

mountain bike knee pads - the fit is nearly perfect and the d3o armor is incredibly pleasant...
The fit is nearly perfect and the D3O armor is incredibly pleasant against the knee.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Dakine 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 when pedaling. The Enduro is the second lightest set of pads in our test, coming in at 99-grams per leg and 198-grams for the pair.

mountain bike knee pads - the enduro knee sleeve is an excellent length and offers adequate...
The Enduro Knee Sleeve is an excellent length and offers adequate protection for milder rides.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Leatt Airflex Pro delivers a quality fit and solid comfort levels despite having more protective bulk compared to the Enduro Knee Sleeve. 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 7iDP Project Knee is 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.

mountain bike knee pads - depending on your riding style, pedal-friendliness may or may not be...
Depending on your riding style, pedal-friendliness may or may not be a huge priority. Lighter protection generally equals a higher degree of pedal friendliness.
Credit: Laura Casner

Pedal Friendliness


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 may be relatively useless for some riders. 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 a couple of 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 Fox Racing 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 Speed Knee Sleeve has armor that is strategically articulated to bend more freely, and the Fox Racing Enduro has a little longer of a sleeve and fits better. It is important to remember, however, the protection levels are lower with both of these models.

mountain bike knee pads - the troy lee designs speed knee sleeve is a minimalistic and simple...
The Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve is a minimalistic and simple option.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

While the aforementioned minimalist options offer extremely high levels of pedal-friendliness, they aren't very protective. The Leatt Airflex Hybrid and the POC Joint VPD System Knee also provide a high level of pedal-friendliness while delivering a bit more protection. These two knee pads strike a nice balance of real protection while still prioritizing an unrestricted pedal stroke. If you like the sound of the ultra-minimalist knee pads but think you need a bit more protection, these pads are an excellent choice.

mountain bike knee pads - sometimes you need to pedal up to those burly descents.
Sometimes you need to pedal up to those burly descents.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Leatt 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 more protection. That said, they probably wouldn't be our first choice for an all-day backcountry epic, though they could certainly pull it off. The Fox Racing Launch D3O took a bit of a hit in this metric. We loved almost everything about these knee pads, but they are only average in terms of pedal-friendliness. They deliver a decent pedal feel, but the weight and relative bulk are definitely noticeable on longer rides.

mountain bike knee pads - the fox racing launch d3o knee pads deliver excellent levels of...
The Fox Racing Launch D3O Knee Pads deliver excellent levels of protection while retaining decent pedaling abilities suitable for shorter rides.
Credit: Laura Casner

Ventilation and Breathability


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 during our test rides.


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 Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve, Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve, and Alpinestars Paragon Plus 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.

mountain bike knee pads - soft, foamy, minimalist knee pads allow a lot of air to pass through.
Soft, foamy, minimalist knee pads allow a lot of air to pass through.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Leatt Airflex Hybrid are the next in line. These pads certainly have a long sleeve and more robust armor compared to the ultra-light minimalist options. That said, they are still relatively slender pads and promote solid airflow. The 7iDP Sam Hill are even more protective while still retaining above-average ventilation. The Sam Hill Pads use a very thin sleeve material that allows air to pass through and moisture to escape. The sleeve is very long, but the material is exceptionally cool and comfortable.

mountain bike knee pads - moisture cool fabric and cutouts at the back of the knee help...
Moisture Cool fabric and cutouts at the back of the knee help ventilate the Leatt Airflex Pro.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Leatt Airflex Pro and Fox Racing Launch D3O also fare decently here. While both are warmer and less ventilated than a featherweight, minimalist option, they deliver a good balance of protection, ventilation, pedal-friendliness, durability, and fit/comfort. The Airflex has a MoistureCool panel of light mesh in the rear of the pad that allows heat to escape, and both have cutouts on the back of the knee.

Durability


While mountain bike 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 will 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 model based on decades of riding and crashing experience 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, these pads will have the longest lifespan. The reason is, 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.

mountain bike knee pads - these pads offer plenty of protection for gravity-fed endeavors.
These pads offer plenty of protection for gravity-fed endeavors.

Construction quality is a crucial consideration with regard to durability. The 7iDP 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 IXS Carve Evo+ pads are rugged. They don't have a hard plastic outer armor plate, but the materials are thick, burly, and mean. From the minute we strapped these bad boys on, they were ready to rumble. The combination of generous amounts of armor with thick and reinforced regions made these pads a standout.

mountain bike knee pads - a quality pair of knee pads will withstand being taken on and off...
A quality pair of knee pads will withstand being taken on and off thousands of times.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Leatt 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 right up there too.

mountain bike knee pads - if you ride rough and rugged terrain or you&#039;re simply prone to...
If you ride rough and rugged terrain or you're simply prone to crashing, the beefier, more protective pads feel the most durable.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Fox Racing Launch D3O and Troy Lee Designs Raid Knee Guard are excellent and protective knee pads as well. That said, they both have a fabric exterior that could be more prone to ripping in the event of a crash compared to hard-shell designs. If you might be crashing frequently, it could be worth considering a knee pad with a harder exterior.

mountain bike knee pads - there are loads of great knee pads on the market to suit varying...
There are loads of great knee pads on the market to suit varying riding styles, needs, and budgets.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


Navigating the world of mountain bike knee pads can be overwhelming. There are a lot of pads on the market. The marketing copy often sounds similar, promising to be confidence-inducing, protective, breathable, and so on. That said, there really are enormous differences between all of the knee pads in our review. The best advice we can offer is to be very honest about your needs and find a pair that best suits your terrain, riding style, and penchant for crashing.

Pat Donahue & Jeremy Benson


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