To find the best mountain bike knee pads, we researched over 50 and bought the top 8 to test head-to-head for 6 weeks. Our shred-obsessed test team put in long days on longer trails and charged every rock garden we could find. We pedaled up and cranked down Sierra singletrack, dodging granite walls and ponderosa limbs. Throughout the on-trail trials, we took notes on comfort, pedal friendliness and, of course, protection. No kneecaps were destroyed in the making of this review. Keep reading to find the right fit and price point for you.
Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads
Best Overall Knee Pad
Leatt Airflex Pro
The Leatt Airflex Pro took top honors in our tests, earning our Editor's Choice award with a perfect combination of protection, pedal-friendliness, comfort, and price. These are the best and most versatile mountain bike knee pads in our test. The Leatt Airflex Pro has very wisely placed protection, and the armor includes a flexible plastic main plate on the knee cap with some clever auxiliary foam protection on the inside and outside of each leg. These pads also deliver solid amounts of pedal-friendliness although it is not a top choice for super long rides with loads of climbing. To tie it all together, these pads are on the lighter side of the spectrum and carry a reasonable price tag.
The Leatt pads aren't perfect. We call them extremely well-rounded, but skeptics may say they don't offer the protection of the burliest pads or the pedal-friendliness of the lightest pads. This is a shaky argument, but it is not incorrect. The Airflex Pro pads are a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Additionally, a considerable amount of protection makes these pads a good bit warmer than other options. That said, these proved to be our favorite all-around pads and a great choice for most riders.
Read review: Leatt Airflex Pro
Best Knee Pad For Aggressive Riding
7Protection Project Knee
The 7Protection Project Knee took home a Top Pick for Aggressive Riding. If you are seeking maximum protection, these 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 you 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 the Project Knee pads 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.
While we loved the Project Knee pads, they have a somewhat of limited bandwidth. These are not a very pedal-friendly option. There is so much bulk to these pads, and the materials are so thick that they have a very hot and heavy feel when spinning uphill. It is clear climbing and ventilation was not a priority in the design process; getting radical was. The 7Protection pads were also quite expensive; in fact, they are the most expensive in the test by a good margin. That said, the quality, performance (within the intended application), and durability were impressive.
Read review: 7Protection Project Knee
Best Pedal-Friendly Knee Pad
Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve
The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve took home a Top Pick as the most pedal-friendly knee pads. These pads take a minimalist approach and have an excellent feel when turning the cranks. These are our hands-down favorite for longer rides with significant amounts of climbing. There is no restriction to the pedal motion, and the soft armor is quite pleasant against the skin. Testers also found them to be one of the most well ventilated and breathable knee pads in the test, an additional benefit that increases their pedal friendliness.
These pads are far from perfect; they offer a very minimal amount of protection. The Enduro Knee Sleeves gain their supreme pedal-friendliness from a lack of padding and armor. The obvious flipside is they offer minimal protection. The padding is soft and extremely thin. As a result, these pads are probably best suited for experienced riders who are not likely to crash often. Given the soft fabric construction, there is a good chance these pads could rip after one real crash. These pads might be a little expensive for how simple and minimal they are.
Read review: Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve
Six Six One Recon
The Six Six One Recon took home an award for Best Light-Middleweight Knee Pads. These pads come in at a stunningly low 74 grams per pad. They offer a high level of pedal-friendliness while still retaining an element of protection. The G-Form Pro X2 pads are strikingly similar, but we feel the Six Six One pads have a better fit at a significantly lower weight. These pads are on the light-duty side of the spectrum, but still, offer some real protective features as opposed to the papery Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve.
The downside? They still are not the best option for riding rough terrain or pinning it at high speeds. They have more protection than the super minimalist pads, but there still isn't much substance to the armor. As a result, they are best suited for relatively moderate terrain. Also, the plated armor look is quite polarizing. Some people like the style, but many find it cheesy and ugly.
Read review: Six Six One Recon
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 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.
We have a serious addiction to the wonderful world of mountain biking. Bicycles and bike gear are always on our mind. As a result, we are constantly on the lookout for new knee pads. Our test class includes eight different models from eight different manufacturers. Our selection includes big, burly, knee pads designed to send it and go fast as well as super light, minimalist, knee pads that prioritize climbing. We rated these eight knee pads on five metrics. These metrics are protection, fit and comfort, pedal-friendliness, durability, and ventilation. The compilation of these ratings helps us determine a winner.
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers spend six 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: protection, fit and comfort, pedal-friendliness, durability, and ventilation. The Leatt Airflex Pro was an easy choice for Editor's Choice. The Leatt pads beautifully blend high levels of protection while retaining a good bit of pedal-friendliness and ventilation. The 7Protection Project Knee pads were another notable finisher and are a perfect option for the gravity fiends.
We don't score products based on their price tag. That said, everyone wants a good value when they slap down the credit card. Sometimes a high price correlates to higher levels of quality and performance. The 7Protection Project Knee pads were the most expensive pads in our test and delivered high-end performance for the intended application. Our Editor's Choice, the Leatt Airflex Pro just so happened to be in the middle of the pack in terms of price. That makes the Leatt pads a particularly strong value.
Most mountain bikers wear knee pads primarily to protect themselves in the event of a crash. Some mountain bikers 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. The level of protection is worth 30% of the overall score.
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 of pads and painstakingly evaluated the quality of the armor, the thickness, and placement. Some pads use armor that is loaded with technical features and design; others take a more straightforward approach.
The 7Protection Project Knee Pad was a clear winner in the protection metric. If you are seeking a knee pad that prioritizes protection above all else, the Project Knee Pads are the pads 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 cap, there is a harder, plastic, patch that adds a layer of protection and to allow the pad to slide over surfaces in the event of a crash. These also offer some secondary protection that runs around the perimeter of the main armor patch. This is 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, the 7Protection Pads don't breathe very well and aren't nearly as pedal-friendly as lighter weight and less protective options.
Our Editor's Choice Leatt Airflex Pro also posted an excellent score in terms of protection. The Airflex Pro is a shorter and sleeker pad compared to the 7Protection Project Knee. As a result, they are significantly more pedal-friendly while still providing impressive levels of protection. The front of the knee pad uses a rubbery, softer, piece of armor that still feels thick enough to do its job. This armor can easily be bent in your hand with little force. The Airflex also uses very sensible and strategically placed secondary armor patches. These are hard foam patches placed in high-risk areas. There is one patch at the top of the knee pad above the main armor near the top of the sleeve. This is a super smart location as this is where one might smash their knee on the bars if you slip a pedal, which hurts. Also, three armored patches are running up and down the inside and outside of each leg.
There are four more pedal-friendly options in our test class: the Six Six One Recon, G-Form Pro X2, Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve, and the Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve. The G-Form pads are the most protective out of the pedal-friendly options. They barely edge out the Six Six One Recon. Both pads have a similar, plate-style, thin, armor that firms up on impact. The G-Form simply have a touch more armored surface area compared to the Six Six Six One.
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 regularly.
Fit and Comfort
Everybody wants a comfortable mountain bike 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, they may fall short in delivering on comfort.
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 two standout performers in terms of fit and comfort. The first being the Six Six One Recon pads. These pads offer reliable protection for light duty trail riding but the comfort level and dialed fit really stood out. First off, they are very light at 74-grams per pad or 148-grams for the pair. This makes them the lightest pads in the test by over 20-grams per leg. This low weight delivers a feathery feel that is extremely important. The fit is also very well sorted. The sleeve is a bit more refined compared to the very similar G-Form Pro X2 pads. The Recon pads had less excess material than the G-Form and it was much easier to pull them up into the proper location.
The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve was another exceptionally comfortable pad. These minimalist pads offer very, very, little protection. As a result, there is no clumsy armor interfering with comfort levels. The soft and simple armor patch feels great against your knee while the simple sleeve conforms well to your leg and doesn't move around while pedaling. The Enduro Knee Sleeve was the second lightest set of pads in the test coming in at 99-grams per leg and 198-grams for the pair.
The Editor's Choice Leatt Airflex Pro deliver a quality fit and solid comfort levels despite having more protective bulk compared to the Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve and Six Six One Recon. These pads were clearly well designed and well executed. The pads stay in place, and they are pleasant on small-mid sized rides. The 7Protection Project Knee have 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.
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 are rendered relatively useless. 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 two 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. The Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve and the Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve both 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. The pedal motion while wearing these pads is significantly better than any other pads in our test. The Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve has armor that is strategically articulated to bend more freely. The Fox Racing Speed Knee Sleeve has a little longer of a sleeve and fits better. It is important to remember; the protection levels are lower in both of these knee pads.
The Six Six One Recon pads are another very pedal-friendly option. These pads feature a step-up in protection compared to the Fox Racing and Troy Lee Designs pads, but still have a lightweight construction and excellent pedal motion. The G-Form is very close to the Six Six One pads in this metric, but the fit quality is slightly lower which detracts from overall pedal-friendliness.
The Editor's Choice 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, knee pads, but they deliver far better protection. They pedal fine, but wouldn't be our top choice for rides over 2.5-hours long. The 7Protection Project Knee pads are all about descending, and that's why they earned our Top Pick for Aggressive Riding. Pedal-friendliness is not their strong suit. That said, they climb just fine, especially for the crowd who doesn't care for climbing in large doses.
Ventilation and Breathability
Ventilation and breathability is an important metric. Riding in the summer can be a toasty endeavor. Riders in the Southwest or Southern California will see 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 feel.
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 and Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve 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. The air 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.
The Six Six One Recon and G-Form Pro X2 are the next in line in the ventilation metric. Where the Fox Racing and Troy Lee Designs allow air to pass through the front of the pad given the soft construction, the Six Six One and G-Form do not. The plated armor on the front of the pad blocks the air. Still, the light, sleeve, construction on the Six Six One pads allow a decent amount of heat to escape through the rear. The G-Form follows very closely behind. Riders who want more protection than the Fox Racing and Troy Lee Designs provide, but want to maintain an element of ventilation, should consider the Six Six One and G-Form.
The Editor's Choice Leatt Airflex Pro continues the balanced dominance in this test. While they are warmer and less ventilated than the featherweight, minimalist, options, they deliver the best balance of protection, ventilation, pedal-friendliness, durability, and fit/comfort. They have a MoistureCool panel of light mesh in the rear of the pad that allows heat to escape. The 7Protection Project Knee offers very little ventilation. If you are blasting shuttle laps or hiking up freeride lines, ventilation is far less critical.
While 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 are going to 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 the 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 pad based on over a decade of riding and crashing in knee pads and comment on our perception of how they will survive the rigors of mountain bicycling.
Construction quality is a crucial consideration with regards to durability. The 7Protection 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 any other pad in the test. Also, 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 Leatt Airflex Pro also feature a quality design. The rubberized knee armor should withstand some abuse while the stitching and seams are relatively well-hidden and burly-looking. The 7Protection are by far the best choice for a pad that will survive hard charging for seasons on end, but the Airflex Pro is next in line.
The super-minimalist Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve and Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve offer the least amount of durability. Given the soft, foamy, padding, and fabric covering the knee armor, these will not survive many crashes. When being dragged across the trail surface in the event of a crash, we expect these two knee pads to rip and tear far more easily than the other pads in the test. For how simple these minimalistic pads are, they are a little expensive, and we would hate to see you spend $54 or $60 on knee pads that will be easily ripped after a week of riding.
When making a purchase decision, we strongly urge you to be honest with yourself about your needs and riding style as those are critical elements when considering knee pads. Stay tuned; we will be updating this review in the not-so-distant future.
— Pat Donahue