Mountain biking is a great hobby – exercise, adventure, fresh air, endurance, mental and physical alertness combined in one.
But you know the truth. It doesn’t matter much how good you are – the very nature of the hobby means there’s a chance you’ll come off your bike, and if and when that happens, you need to protect all the extra vulnerable parts of your body.
First of all the head, but next and almost as vital, all the joints that mean if you come off your bike, you’ll still be able to peddle home, rather than being stranded on the trail.
Knee pads are no joke. They need to be strong and they need to be effective in keeping your knees safe.
But as with everything in biking, there’s a myriad of companies out there making knee pads.
How do you choose which are the best for you? Let us help you out and keep you peddling, with the best MTB knee pads on the market.
Best MTB Knee Pads - Comparison Table
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Best MTB Knee Pads - Reviews
No matter which way you slice it, the Alpinestars Paragon are topping charts of MTB knee pads for all the right reasons.
Lightweight pads that some users describe as ‘great all-day trail ride’ knee protectors, they’re also scoring points on the protection/price ratio – the Paragons are far from the most expensive on the market.
And while that means you don’t get fancy fabrics to super-pimp your pads, there’s a lot of breathable elasticated mesh and silicone here to keep the pads where you need them when you come off your bike.
There’s a polyurethane knee-cap too, for impressive impact protection so if you do land awkwardly, the Paragons should live up to their name and save you from too much damage.
In an effort to keep the Paragons protecting you time after time, they’re overlaid with rip-stop fabric, so tiny tears don’t worry themselves into holes that make the pads redundant. The mesh pocket, which has air holes to allow for ventilation, is lined with Lycra for your comfort out on the trail.
The pad is profiled, with inward-facing internal seams, so it shouldn’t move about too much no matter what you put it through, though it’s worth noting that as time goes on, the Lycra can bunch – and no-one’s comfortable with bunched Lycra, especially as here it can rub on your shin.
So if you can, remember to unbunch the Lycra when you get home to elongate the life of your pads and avoid shin irritation.
One thing is hugely important to note about the Alpinestars Paragon knee pads. They do not have adjustment straps. No straps. None.
That means you have to buy the right size for you. Where that gets a little extra-tricky is that some users have reported Alpinestars calculated they needed the XL size, when actually, the Medium (not even the Large) was the best actual fit for them.
So if in doubt, go down a size. If in a whole lot of doubt, go down two. There are five sizes to choose from all told, so choose wisely, pilgrim.
That said, the Paragons deserve their place at the top of our list because they combine a lot of tech in a lightweight knee pad for not a huge amount of money, and because lots of users report wearing them successfully ride after ride in comfort, and having benefited from its protection when they’ve come off their bikes.
In terms of value for money, it’s unbeatable in the current market.
As the name suggests, the Dainese Trail Skins 2 is an update on the original Trail Skins knee pad.
The honeycomb knee pad has had a do-over in this update. Previously it came as a two-piece design. In the Trail Skins 2, it’s a single formed pad, bonded to a breathable mesh body.
That means that while it looks stiff, it actually moulds to the shape of the knee – useful if for reasons of previous injury, surgery etc, your knees aren’t identical.
Useful also because it delivers a tighter fit than its predecessor, and a more snug, comfortable fit too, which means you can use it for longer without it becoming troublesome.
Dainese also says that some new cutaways make it 15% more breathable than the old version and the change in padding delivers a 14% increase in actual protection to the joint.
The Trail Skins 2 also adds Crash Absorb side pads (a catchy name for a smart material) and a double elastic hem, which – importantly – limits slippage while your ride, so you’re not constantly yanking the pad back into place to make sure it still covers your knee (an issue with the previous version).
What Dainese has done then is kept most of the best bits from the original, eradicated a dangerous irritant, and re-engineered the Trail Skins for a better fit, more comfort, and significant improvements in breathability and knee-protection.
That’s got to be positive in anyone’s book, and it’s a re-design that earns them second place on our list.
It’s true that the new design is a mud trap and will need more regular cleaning, and all the upgrades do add to the price of the Trail Skins 2 – a factor that drops them to second place when they could easily have taken first.
But overall, Dainese has made a good knee pad close to great with this re-design, and for the less budget-conscious biking daredevil, the Trail Skins 2 could easily be a real contender for your knee pad of the year.
The Fox Enduro pads are unsurprisingly designed for eduro riding.
And they have at least some of the requirements you need to do that sort of riding – they’re lightweight, with soft pads that allow for a good range of motion, their chassis is made of neoprene, and they have a Lycra panel at the back to stop them pinching.
So far, so good, so enduro.
There’s more good news – the fit is excellent, and the padding’s asymmetrical, meaning there’s padding where you need it throughout longer rides.
In fact, the padding cradles your knee – though that can be both a positive and a negative, as the longer you ride with such cradling, the warmer and more potentially uncomfortable you can get.
They’re not going to slip on you though, however sweaty the ride might be - each pad comes with a 10mm silicone strip that acts as a knee-garter round the top.
So again, while the ride might be less than perfectly comfortable, at least as far as the design is concerned, it serves your fundamental need – no slipping means no tiresome adjustment at crucial moments or danger of knee-damage.
All that padding does mean the shocks delivered to your knees on hard rides is limited, which has got to be a good thing.
Whether the Enduros have the protective capacity to keep you safe on challenging, rocky terrain though is thrown at least a little into question by the neoprene and padding, when compared to a knee pad with a hard cup (like Fox’s own standard Launch pads or our list-leader here).
So while there’s lots to love about the Enduro pads, including the padding and the silicone gripper-strips (you know you’re going to be calling them knee-garters now, don’t you?), they’re unlikely to be your first choice unless you know you’re not going over particularly hard endure-terrain.
But if you know that, they become a viable option, because apart from the potential heat build-up, they’re an excellent fit and they’re comfortable knee pads that deliver on their promises.
G-Form has built a name for itself in the padding and protection world, and the G-Form Elite looks like extending that reputation.
With its particular design ideology of having the padding on the outside, it’s got less of a mountain biking aesthetic, and more of a Marvel movie feel.
The padding gets to the right place by something G-Form calls RPT mapping, and the non-Newtonian armour gives you effective coverage around the knee, significantly protecting you from the jarring and impacts of your ride.
The tube of the pad is Lycra and strapless, but comes with slicon grip-strips so it doesn’t slide about, no matter how sweaty your ride is. Again, for those sweatier rides, the compression fabric wicks moisture away from the bends and creases of your knee, and it’s also protective against the sun to UPF 50+, with a mesh back panel to help with breathability.
One of the oddest and coolest features of the G-Form pads is that they’re soft and flexible to wear, but they more or less ‘brace for impact,’ stiffening up to disperse the shocks of impact.
That’s a G-Form proprietary technology called Reactive Protection Technology, and as far as we know, it’s probably alien, but when they’re in an impact, the RTP molecules clump together to harmlessly redirect the shock before it reaches your body parts.
See? Totally alien, but it also works extremely well and gives the G-Form Elite pads something to boast about beyond their cool superhero aesthetic.
It’s also worth noting there’s extended coverage with these pads – while all the alien, cool fun is there to protect the distinctly breakable kneecap, the coverage extends to both sides of the knee, to prevent skin-shredding, muscle damage and all the other potential pitfalls of hitting the ground at that super-special angle which can otherwise lead to the ER.
The Elite pads are easy to pedal in too, so it’s not as though they’re designed just to protect you. They’re there to make all the parts of your ride as pain-free as possible with a minimum of fuss.
The G-Form Elite pads look like nothing else on the market, and with their proprietary technology, they actually also work like nothing else on the market. Both elements mean the G-Form Elite pads have a place on our list – and they very might well deserve a place in your biking kit too.
Sometimes, size matters. Sometimes, even, thickness matters. Race Face is putting its money where its padding is with its chunky Ambush knee pads.
There’s a D30 pad here, looking out for your kneecap’s health and safety, which is similar to the RTP technology in the G-Form Elites, a soft material that hardens to dissipate impact shock before it’s transmitted to the bone underneath.
There’s also an impressive amount of polyurethane between you and the jagged, rattling, unimpressively hard outside world when you’re wearing the Race Face Ambush pads.
That said, and unlike some of the higher scorers on our list, the Ambush pads almost live down to their name, leaving the inside of your knee open to stealth attacks from the top tube.
One of the great things is that, again unlike many on our list, the Ambush pads come with straps.
Double Velcro straps (one above, one below the knee), so without the silicon option, they’re still not going anywhere, no matter what your ride puts them through.
The sleeve of the pad is perforated neoprene, lined with terry cloth – perhaps more old-fashioned than some of the higher-tech options, but still a viable option for sweat-wicking.
Despite the hefty polyurethane up front, there’s still quite a bit of flex in the Ambush pads, which makes for effective, unobstructed pedalling. The build quality throughout is high, which is a given with Race Face, and unlike some other pads, you can take them off without removing your shoes – a neat idea, well executed here, so you’re not losing momentum in your ride, but can just pop the pads off when needed for steep uphills.
The Race Face Ambush pads will be among the most solid pads you’ll wear, and they’re up for more of a fight than some – while we don’t exactly advise you to crash hurtling to the ground to put them through their paces, if you were to do so, they’d do every ounce of their job and come out of it pretty well themselves.
They work well as an all-day knee pad, and the easy-remove is an extra bonus. They protect you all day, all ride, which is ultimately the most important thing you can ask a knee pad to do for you.
Best MTB Knee Pads - Buyers Guide
When buying MTB knee pads, you need to ask yourself a handful of questions before you click the ‘buy’ button.
Where Are You Going?
Consider the terrain over which you intend to travel – it’ll have an impact on what elements of knee pad protection are most important to you. Jagged, rocky terrain? Splash out for the heavier tech solutions with their shock-dissipation systems.
Sunny, sweaty endurance riding? Look for sweat-wicking, breathability and light weight in your knee pads to keep you as cool as possible for as long as possible.
How Big’s Your Budget?
This ties in to the question of what kind of riding you intend to do. How much can you afford to invest in a set of knee pads? But also, how much do you enjoy falling down?
It would generally be a false economy to prioritize cheapness over protection, because the feeling of inadequate protection, when you need something more, is the feeling of ‘Should have spent a little more’ coming back to haunt you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better? Velcro straps or silicone strips?
Honestly, there’s no ‘better’ about this division, and both make it onto our list. As long as you can be sure the pad won’t move at a crucial moment and take its protection with it, you’re fine.
Why is ‘breathability’ a factor?
You’re working your knees hard, for long periods, inside a protective capsule. You’re going to sweat, which will be wet, hot and uncomfortable. The more breathable your knee pad is, the less uncomfortable it will be. That translates to more riding for longer periods in greater comfort than is possible in an entirely enclosed knee pad.