Best Mountain Bike Knee Pads of 2021
Top 14 Products
Best Overall Mountain Bike Knee Pads
Fox Racing Launch D3O
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 Bang for the Buck
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
Best Blend of Protection and Pedal-Friendliness
Leatt Airflex Pro
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
Best for Aggressive Riding
7iDP Project Knee
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
Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve
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
Best for Comfort
POC Joint VPD System
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
Best For Sensibility
Leatt Airflex Hybrid
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The second tier of protection is occupied by a couple of high-end knee pads. The Troy Lee Designs Raid Knee Guards 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 D30 and Troy Lee Designs Raid, but the overall package wasn't executed as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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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