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Best mountain bike knee pads: Protect against painful knee injuries

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Best mountain bike knee pads
(Image credit: ION)

Mountain bike knee pads don't come to mind until a rider needs them the most. Though they are an easily forgotten piece of mountain bike kit, the best mountain bike knee pads protect against bloody scrapes and painful broken bones or damaged ligaments.

With more riders looking to tackle big, technical descents on the best enduro mountain bikes, mountain bike knee pads have become as essential as investing in the best mountain bike helmets. However, sweaty and uncomfortable knee pads don't have to be your reality. Brands have created new models and technology to cater to those who want to pedal up the mountain. There are also more heavy-duty pads for those focused solely on the downhill.

With the weather becoming cooler, the best mountain bike knee pads can also act as knee warmers for cold autumn and winter rides. As Black Friday approaches, loads of cheap MTB clothing deals can be found, including discounts on knee pads. It's a great time to stock up ahead of the winter riding months to protect your knees, especially when wet trails can lead to more crashes than usual. 

In this buyer's guide, we take you through all of the features that matter when it comes to selecting the best mountain bike knee pads. From protective shells to fit and breathability, the best mountain bike knee pads are the most advanced they've ever been. 

Scroll down for the best knee pads you can buy today, or skip to the bottom to find out how to pick the best mountain bike knee pads.

Best mountain bike knee pads

Sweet Protection Knee Pad has a removable pad so it can be washed

(Image credit: Jim Bland)

Our go-to option for everything from aggressive trail riding to gravity-fuelled shuttle days

Specifications
Removable protector: Yes
Colors: Black
Sizes: XS, S, M, L and XL
Price: €99.95 / £89.99
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable fit+Wide and accurate size range for most riders+Ample levels of on-trail proven protection
Reasons to avoid
-We’re not sure there are any faults

At the heart of Sweet Protection's Knee Pads is a SAS-TEC SCL 2 Viscoelastic one-piece foam cup that offers impressive levels of shock impact and absorption. The foam cup is removable for easy washing, and the absence of additional padding to the sides of the cup is a worthwhile tradeoff for the comfort that these knee pads provide. 

A key factor that makes these pads almost unrivaled in terms of comfort and performance is that the SAS-TEC pad warms up as you ride, which makes it more malleable. That means the pad will better form to your knee and leg. We've also had a number of falls in them that could have been much worse if we weren't wearing them. While these are our favorite pads for nearly any type of riding, the Sweet Protection knee guard is worth looking at if you're after even more protection.

Find out why the Sweet Protection Knee Pads have become one of our go-to riding pads in our full review.  

Endura MT500 Lite knee pads

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Excellent impact protection with super flexible and breathable performance

Specifications
Removable protector: Yes
Colors: Black
Sizes: S, M, L
Price: $100 / £70 / €80
Reasons to buy
+Full Level 1 protection+Ultra-flexible mobility+Excellent ventilation+Lightweight, low bulk+Rollable storage+Stable, snug sleeve+Three sizes
Reasons to avoid
-No penetration protection

Endura teamed up with impact protection specialist D30 to use its Ghost protection in the Endura MT500 Lite knee pads. According to D30, “Ghost is the thinnest and most flexible limb protection” they offer, but it still exceeds EN 1621-1:2012 (Level 1) impact standards. 

The removable pad consists of an open grid structure that allows excellent ventilation stopping knees from getting sweaty even if you're wearing them under riding pants. Plus, a non-bulky construction means when you are wearing pants there is less snagging and or dragging when you move. 

Another neat feature is that the pads roll up easily if you want to stash them in a pocket or pack during a long climb, or simply for non-ride time storage. Like other softshell pads, the MT500s offer no penetration protection from sharp objects, but that's about the only flaw or trade-off with this model. 

Check out our review of the Endura MT500 Lite knee pads for our full thoughts on Endura's collaboration with D3O.

7Protection Sam Hill Knee Pads

(Image credit: Jim Bland)

So good, Sam Hill put his name on them

Specifications
Removable protector: Yes
Colors: Black
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Price: $89.99
Reasons to buy
+Maximum coverage feels super reassuring on the trail+Super secure 100 percent of the time+All-day comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Can be slightly stiff at the start of a cold ride

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 the length of this pad is definitely one of the longest we've tested. 

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. 

IXS Carve Race knee pads

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Impressively comfortable and pedal-friendly for the level of protection

Specifications
Removable protector: No
Colors: Black
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Price: €109.99
Reasons to buy
+Slide and slam protection+Impressive impact absorption+Secure fit in four sizes+Removable pad for washing+Light and low bulk
Reasons to avoid
-Sweaty-Pricey

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. 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. 

The Carve Race pads offer a large amount of protection and combine that with a relatively lightweight package that stays comfortable all day. They do get sweaty quickly on hotter days, but that is true with almost any knee pad with similar amounts of protection. 

For more details read our IXS Carve Race to find out what we liked about these lightweight impact-absorbing mountain bike knee pads.

IXS Flow Evo+ Knee Guard review

(Image credit: Jim Bland)

A great option for near invisible protection and comfort in sweatier climates

Specifications
Removable protector: Yes
Colors: Grey, light brown
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL
RRPPrice: $99 / £69.99
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable fit+Low weight and efficient wicking make them a dream to wear all-day+Superb levels of mobility
Reasons to avoid
-The short overall design feels more exposed and you're more prone to the dreaded skin showing between the top of the pad and the shorts-Hardcore riders may want slightly more protection

The IXS Flow EVO+ knee guards are a soft-shell pad designed for all-around use, whether you are on a downcountry bike or a long-travel rig. The soft-shell nature of it means that full protection is traded for lightweight comfort. 

This set of knee pads from IXS use an X-Matter 3D-molded viscoelastic pad that's designed to get firm upon impact and direct crash forces away from the knee joint. The pad's sleeve features a perforated mesh back panel along with silicone grippers to keep it in place. There is also a rear-mounted velcro strap on the lower portion of the sleeve. 

While hardcore riders may want to look elsewhere for the most protective knee pads, these ones offer a good blend of protection and pedal ability. However, the length can lead to a gap between the top of the sleeve and the bottom of some riders' shorts. 

Be sure to check out our full review of the IXS Flow EVO+ knee guards for more details.

Leatt AirFlex Pro Knee Guard

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Extra venting creates a breathable pad with reasonable amount of protection

Specifications
Removable protector: No
Colors: Black, green
Sizes: S-XXL
Price: $79.99 / £79.99
Reasons to buy
+Useful ventilation+CE protection+Light+Five different sizes+Reasonable price+Side protection
Reasons to avoid
-Can stick rather than slide-No straps-Accurate sizing crucial-Slightly awkward to pull on

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 gives good peace of mind for 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. 

If the sizing suits you though they are a great option, read about our experience riding in the Leatt AirFlex Pro in our full review.

Fox Launch d30 Knee Guard

(Image credit: Fox Racing)

Fox Launch D30 Knee Guard

Secure pad with good protection

Specifications
Removable protector: No
Colors: Black
Sizes: S, M, L
RRP: $89.95 / £67
Reasons to buy
+Two straps for secure fit +Good coverage +D30 insert
Reasons to avoid
-Limited ventilation

Fox's Launch D30 Knee Guard uses a D30 insert which gives it some top-in-class protection, similar to others on this list. The knee guards also successfully meet the EN1621-1 level 1 CE Certification. The Launch also features padding on the left and right of the D30 pad. 

The Launch D30 has a few features that make them a good option for riders looking for a pad with a secure fit. Unlike many pads that only have one strap or fastener, the Launch D30 has two, placed at the top and bottom of the sleeve. It also has a pre-curved, ergonomic fit. 

While the included hook and loop straps may mean increased stability, we do acknowledge that they may irritate some riders depending on the shape of their leg or knee. 

G-Form Pro-X3

(Image credit: G-Form )

G-Form Pro-X3 Mountain Bike Knee Guards

They look a little odd but will keep your knees bruise- and scrape-free

Specifications
Removable protector: No
Colors: Black
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL
Price: $59.99 / £45
Reasons to buy
+Non-Newtonian padding+Flexible and pedal-friendly+Coverage +Fair price
Reasons to avoid
-Aesthetic likely to turn many off-Sizing runs small 

G-Form uses what it calls SmartFlex pads to create its protective products. It's a very similar concept to other pads on this list. The protective bit stays soft and flexible until the point of impact when it hardens to protect your knees. 

The lycra-like tube is strapless and features silicone bands designed to grip your skin, even when you get sweaty. We didn't have issues with them sliding down even on long rides because they are so tight and easy to position.

This is one of the most lightweight and pedal-friendly pads on this list. While they don't offer the full protection of a hard shell, they do offer comfort and protection against scrapes and bruises at a fair price. 

Ion K-Pact Zip knee pads

(Image credit: Ion)

Ion K-Pact Zip

Best for the quadzillas among us, featuring neoprene and a zipper

Specifications
Removable protector: Yes
Colors: Blue, Black
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
Price: €109.99 / $126 / $146
Reasons to buy
+Zipper makes for easy on and off 
Reasons to avoid
-Large thigh opening may cause fit troubles for those with chicken legs 

The Ion K-Pact pads have been around for a while, and the main padding in the K-pact is manufactured by SAS-Tech Secondary padding is located on the sides as well to keep your knees safe and sound when you take an unplanned digger. 

The sleeve is made from neoprene, which is an interesting addition not found on other knee pads. The brand says that it is Super Perforator neoprene and that while it doesn't breathe as well as some other materials, it is the most breathable neoprene that they've tried out. 

The K-Pact also features a side zipper for easy gearing up and when it's time to take them off. The zipper and two straps may bother some riders looking for a sleek pad, but those looking for a locked-in fit will appreciate it.

661 DBO KNEE

(Image credit: 661)

661 DBO knee pad

Heavy-wearing, heavy-duty knee pads

Specifications
Removable protector: No
Colors: Black
Sizes: Youth, S, M, L, XL
RRP: $74.99 / £70
Reasons to buy
+Top-notch side protection and abrasion resistance+D30 protector 
Reasons to avoid
-Single strap gives limited adjustability

661 has been protecting mountain bikers for years, and its DBO knee pad continues where the venerable and very popular EVO knee pad left off. The brand took the Evo design and remodeled it to offer equal levels of protection but at a lower price. At $75 / £70, however, it's basically in line with most other knee pads on this list. 

The main protection is still handled by a D3O T5 Evo insert which remains flexible until met with an impact causing it to become firm. This has allowed the DBO pad to be rated to the EN 1621:1 level 1 protection standard. There are side pads as well that add a little extra coverage from knocks. 

A single top strap keeps the pads in place while keeping the overall bulk down and limiting areas of possible discomfort. In addition, this set of pads is offered in a youth size. 

What you need to know best mountain bike knee pads

How do you fit 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, 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. 

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 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 mountain bike pads, luckily 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 rotective padding should encapsle 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 both above and below the actual knee cap. 

Protective paddings come in a few forms, most common of which are hard-shell 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. 

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 have decided to buy 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 if it features any perforation or other ventilation. Those 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 like 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. 

Ryan Simonovich

Ryan Simonovich has been riding and racing for nearly a decade. He got his start as a cross-country mountain bike racer in California, where he cultivated his love for riding all types of bikes. Ryan eventually gravitated toward enduro and downhill racing but has also been found in the occasional road and cyclo-cross events. Today, he regularly rides the trails of Durango, Colorado, and is aiming to make a career out of chronicling the sport of cycling. 


Rides: Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Tarmac SL4