Protection doesn't always come to mind until you need it the most, but by then it's too late! Wearing the best mountain bike knee pads can be the difference between riding whenever you fancy or having to sit out days, weeks, or even months after a crash.
With more riders tackling fast trails and big, technical descents on the best enduro mountain bikes, knee pads have become as essential as wearing the best mountain bike helmets. And that's because these days, wearing pads doesn't mean you have to settle for being sweaty and uncomfortable. Luckily for you, we've tested a whole range of the best knee pad models so you can decide which are best for your style of riding.
While you can still get heavy-duty pads focused solely on downhill, there's a host of light, flexible, and comfortable pads out there developed as much for good pedaling as protection.
In this guide to the best mountain bike knee pads, we take you through all of the features that matter. From non-Newtonian fluids to advanced fits and clever breathability, knee pads are the most advanced they've ever been. In our testing, the best two we found were Rapha's Trail Knee Pads which offer super-comfortable all-day protection, while the best-value lightweight POC VPD Air Legs will protect your knees without battering your wallet.
So scroll down for the best knee pads on the market, or skip to the bottom for our guide to what's what in the world of mountain bike knee pad design.
Best mountain bike knee pads
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1. Best knee pads overall
Rapha's move to add a set of knee pads to its blossoming MTB range is quite a departure for a brand that is best known for its road wear. Despite being the brand's first try at any protection, they have managed to develop one of the best mountain bike knee pads on the market.
The Trail knee pads use a sleeve design to hold the pads in place and house an 'active polymer' insert from Rheon Labs. This insert has non-Newtonian properties which means it's flexible when pedaling but stiffens upon impact.
The combination of the comfortable and secure sleeve with flexible knee protection makes the Rapha Trail knee pads fit and forget even on long trail days. After many intense testing sessions, we never needed to hike them up after a big climb and a good flow of air through the insert helps keep them comfortable on the hottest of days. The pads are very slimline so there are no problems fitting them under the tightest race pants, yet the thin Rheon Labs insert has offered plenty of protection when we have needed it.
These pads have become tester Graham Cottingham's go-to knee pad. He stated in his review, "I found the Rapha Trail knee pads to be some of the best fitting pads I have used, there's no bunching behind the knee, and the pads remained in position with no need to re-adjust, even after big days of climbing and descending."
Want to know more? Head over to our five-star review of the Rapha Trail Knee Pads for more details.
2. Best for aggressive trail and gravity riding
At the heart of the Sweet Protection Knee Pad lies a cup made of SAS-TEC SCL 2 viscoelastic foam – aka memory foam – that offers impressive levels of shock impact and absorption. This cup is removable so you can easily wash the fabric sleeve, and we found the lack of additional padding to the sides acceptable in light of the comfort it gains you. They're almost unrivaled for that among the best mountain bike knee pads, in fact.
The SAS-TEC pad warms up as you ride, too, which only makes it more malleable and better when pedaling. Jim Bland was our crash test dummy for the Sweet Protection Knee Pad review and having taken a number of falls in them while testing, said he was impressed with the results. While these are one of our favorite pads for nearly any type of riding, the cheaper Knee Guard versions are worth looking at for comfortable pedaling too.
After testing, Jim Bland, summed up the pads as "great protection for gravity riders that doesn't come at the expense of comfort." Find out why these Sweet Protection Knee Pads have become one of our go-to choice in our full five-star review.
3. Best for pedaling
Endura looked to impact protection specialist D30 and its Ghost pad for protection in the Lite knee pads. According to D30, Ghost is the 'thinnest and most flexible' protection it offers, yet it still exceeds EN 1621-1:2012 (Level 1) impact standards.
The removable pad has an open grid structure with excellent ventilation, which stops these pads from feeling sweaty even when wearing them under riding pants. Also, the slimline construction means they're less prone to snagging and or dragging on those pants as you move.
Another neat feature we grew to appreciate while testing is that they roll up easily for stashing in a pocket or pack during a long climb.
In his review, Guy Kesteven summed up the Endura MT500 Lite by saying, "excellent impact protection with super flexible and breathable performance and super compact rollable storage for all-day comfort however hard you pedal"
Check out our review of the Endura MT500 Lite knee pads for the full story on Endura's collaboration with D3O.
4. Best for all-day comfort
Designed by multi-time Enduro World Champ and downhill legend Sam Hill, his pro model pad from 7 Protection meets the protection and comfort sweet spot for enduro riding.
Like the Sweet Protection pads listed above, the Sam Hill knee pads feature the same impact-absorbing SAS-TEC foam cup that stays flexible for pedaling comfort but hardens up upon impact. The removable pad provides plenty of protection over the knee and upper shin, and this pad is definitely one of the longest we've tested. This is a big advantage with Jim Bland remarking in his review that "the additional coverage and locked-in feel has a way of instilling confidence, and not once during testing did we experience any movement or slippage - even during one wash-out crash where we proceeded to slide for several meters on a dry and rough section of trail, the Sam Hill pad stayed perfectly in place."
Overall, the design is stretchy and lightweight, and a mesh backing is used to encourage airflow and ventilation. The sleeve uses silicone grippers on both the top and bottom openings, which have kept our pads in place 100 percent of the time.
7 Protection has created a pad that almost exceeds the gravity-riding knee pad dream list. We have a full review of the 7 Protection Sam Hill Knee Pads where we break down why the protection and comfort are deserving of the Sam Hill name.
5. Best for big impact absorption
The IXS Carve Race Knee Pads feature a 3D-molded piece of ‘Xmatter’ flexible material at its core, wrapping around the knee and extending down the shin. There is an outer hard shell layer and additional padding is located on outer-knee and above-kneecap locations. An abrasion-resistant sleeve holds everything together and features silicone grippers to keep the pad from slipping.
In testing, Guy Kesteven found that "by combining a thin shell with hi-tech shock-absorbing, the Carve Race pads give a lot of protection in a relatively lightweight, low bulk, mobile and all-day-comfortable format. Carve Race pads offer a large amount of protection and combine that with a relatively lightweight package that stays comfortable all day."
We found during testing they do get sweaty quickly on hotter days, but that's true with almost any knee pad that offers similar levels of protection.
For more details read our IXS Carve Race review to find out what we liked about these lightweight impact-absorbing mountain bike knee pads.
6. Best for lightweight protection
According to POC, the VPD Air Legs is a pull-on knee pad aimed at riders looking for minimal padding and protection, but with high-level comfort and breathability. To achieve this, the knee pad combines a lightweight material body but with a high-tech VPD protective insert.
VPD stands for ‘visco-elastic polymer dough’ a patented substance that is soft and pliable when you’re riding along but then stiffens under impact. The other trait of VPD is that it’s heat moldable, so put this pad on, ride for a bit and it’ll fit better.
To keep the weight low, the back of the VPD Air is made from a fine Lycra mesh, which is naturally four-way stretch, meaning it fits all those curves and imperfections. On the front is a slightly thicker material with a tighter weave and less stretch; the idea is that it keeps the insert centered on your knee. There’s also a seam across the middle of the knee that creates a small amount of articulation, so the pad moves with you.
Paul Burwell put these to the test and came to the following conclusion, "the POC VPD Air Legs knee sleeves offer low-level protection and weight but they're not light on your wallet. The quality is superb however and they do really fit like a glove, albeit a slightly more expensive one."
Get the full lowdown on the POC VPD Air Legs in our review.
7. Best for freeride
The Fasthouse Hoopers are a kneepad designed by Tyler McCaul for all riding, whether it's sessioning jumps or backcountry freeriding.
This set of knee pads from Fasthouse uses an injected foam that's designed to get firm upon impact and direct crash forces away from the knee joint. There is an extended foam section down the top of the shin. The pad's sleeve features a perforated mesh back panel along with silicone grippers to keep it in place. The result is a surprisingly light setup which is also slimline enough to fit under riding pants.
We were very impressed that despite its hardcore leanings, the Hooper kneepads were also very comfortable when trail riding. Graham Cottingham put these to the test and concluded they struck a balance between protection and pedaling, stating "good levels of protection should you hit the ground for gravity riding that doesn’t come at the cost of comfort. Initially, I was concerned that the knee cup wouldn't be flexible enough when pedaling, however, it has little effect on the overall comfort and potentially boosts protection a little too."
Be sure to check out our full review of the Fasthouse Hooper kneepads for more details.
8. Best for breathability
With a pre-curved design, Leatt's AirFlex Pro is made using 3D-molded soft padding, which is heavily perforated for max airflow. The primary protection comes from a highly flexible triangular segmented geodesic AirFlex Gel in that knee piece. Additionally, there is padding at the top of the knee and on either side.
The additional perforation leads to a breezy pad that can be ridden all day long. The CE impact certification provides good peace of mind in the event of harder falls, too. In our testing experience, the pads did well to protect against lower-speed crashes. There are no straps so the pads rely on silicone grippers to stay in place, therefore we'd recommend checking sizing before buying.
Guy Kesteven found the Leatt Pro Knee Guard to be "light, noticeably breezy with a soft, rubbery knee pad that stays put pretty well." He goes on to say that "the AirFlex Pro are great pads for trail riders who need comfortable protection all day. Gravity riders without uplifts or an electric motor will appreciate the air con effect and easy mobility too and the CE impact certification is definite peace of mind
If the sizing suits you, though, they are a great option. Read about our experiences riding in the Leatt AirFlex Pro in our full review.
9. Best small sized option
The Scott Soldier 2 is a lightweight pull-on sleeve with a smart-tech D30 insert (like the Fox Launch D30 above) which automatically molds to your knee contours and stiffens on landing. One of the downsides of the D3O insert is it’s wipe clean-only, so it must be removed when you wash the knee pads. Also, during testing, the insert's lower edge caused some shin chafing.
Each pad has two wide elasticated hems to hold it up when you are riding, but the upper hem gets an additional silicone gripper – in a dot matrix design – to stop it sliding. Elsewhere, the area around the back of the knee is made of Lycra with an elasticated printed-on X that helps pull the material in, making it a closer fit.
Lower leg protection is minimal, but the Soldier 2 is slim enough to wear under a pair of trail pants or waterproof trousers and thanks to the mesh front panel and perforated insert, it didn't heat up during rigorous exercise while on test.
This is a nicely designed, high-quality knee pad that comes in individual sizes with a comfortable smart-tech insert offering loads of protection. Breathability is great, and even though a little on the expensive side, the quality and construction are both first-rate.
Tester Paul Burwell summed up the pads, saying they are "top spec, easy pull-on knee pads with excellent coverage and build quality. D3O smart insert offers crash-specific impact protection and is also heat moldable. Sorted breathability and fit but slight shin chafing and high cost of the insert pegs it back a mark." For more information see our full Scott Soldier 2 Knee Guard review.
The best mountain bike knee pads: what you need to know
How much should I spend on mountain bike knee pads?
There's no need to break the bank – between £70 ($89) and £102 ($130) should be fine, although a range of constantly updated offers on big brands throughout the year means you may well end up spending a lot less!
Should I wear knee pads mountain biking?
In short, if you are riding any sort of technical descents in which there is a risk that you could fall off it is worth investing in some of the best mountain bike knee pads. If you are going out on a light trail ride you obviously don't want to wear a heavy-duty pair of downhill pads. Luckily, however, many brands offer a diverse range of products so you can pick the best mountain bike knee pads for your style of riding.
Protection comes down to two things: coverage and the protective padding itself. The protective padding should encapsulate the entire knee cap, as that's why you are wearing the pads in the first place. The sleeves of the pads should also cover the areas both above and below the actual knee cap.
Protective paddings come in several forms, the most common of which are hard-shells and soft-shells. Hard-shells offer the most protection from sharp objects and hard impacts, but they are often not as comfortable. Soft-shells use technology that allows for a flexible pad that hardens on impact. This seems to be quickly taking over as the industry standard.
Some pads only have protective padding over the knee cap, and others will also feature padding on the sides and in other locations. It's up to you as to what you prefer.
How do you fit the best mountain bike knee pads?
All of the best mountain bike knee pads use a sleeve design with the protective padding stitched inside or on top. Many of the fabrics used to make the sleeves are designed to be breathable and stretchy in order to enhance comfort. Another measure to enhance comfort is pre-bent pads. In theory, this is done to help the pad better form to a rider's body, but everyone's knees and legs are different.
Other factors such as straps and zippers could impact comfort and fit. Some riders prefer knee pads with straps, while others may prefer minimalistic pads that rely on silicone grippers to stay over the knee area.
If possible it's best to try on a knee pad before buying to make sure the fit and comfort are okay. Mountain bike knee pads should be snug and secure, and you should also have full freedom of movement without the pad bunching, digging into the back of your knee or slipping out of place when you move.
Another thing that impacts comfort is breathability and ventilation, which will be discussed later.
Do you get hot wearing mountain bike knee pads?
The hard truth is that wearing a pair of knee pads is always going to be hotter than having bare knees. If you have decided to buy a pair of the best mountain bike knee pads, however, you have probably decided that the safety benefits of pads outweigh the drawbacks of a hotter ride.
It all comes down to both the material of the sleeve and whether it features any perforation or other ventilation. Pads with more ventilation features will generally be more breathable, and therefore comfortable.
If you don't want to ride with mountain knee pads on but still want the protection, some pads offer neat features such as the ability to roll up and stash in a pack or pocket. Some riders also simply slide the pads down to rest just above their shoes when climbing or doing a lot of pedaling.
How we test the best mountain bike knee pads
We've ridden in these knee pads in a range of weather and trail conditions over many months. We've also put in plenty of pedaling as well as hurtling downhill in them. The pads have been put through the washing machine many times too. For more info on our testing procedures and scoring system, see our how we test page.
Meet the testers
Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect’s tech editor. He spent a few years working in bike shops before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of bike components and riding gear.
Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in the UK right on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing.
Jim Bland is a product tester and World Cup downhill mechanic based in North Yorkshire, England, but working Worldwide. His ultimate day out includes an alpine loam trail, blazing sunshine, and some fresh kit to test.
Paul has been testing mountain bikes and products for the best part of 30 years, he’s passed comment on thousands of components and bikes, from the very first 29ers and dropper posts to the latest e-MTBs and electronic drivetrains.