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Best MTB knee pads 2023: Protect your kneecaps

Our favourite MTB knee pads balance comfort and protection for when you hit the trails a bit too hard

Arming yourself with knee pads can give a real boost to your confidence. Falls are inevitable in mountain biking and unprotected knees don’t take kindly to rocks and roots. Thanks to modern materials and rider-friendly design, though, the best MTB knee pads balance light weight, comfort and protection, allowing you to tackle trails safely and confidently – so you can concentrate on your riding and stop worrying about smashed knee caps.

To help you find the best possible MTB knee pads for your chosen riding style, we’ve rounded up the finest options for everything from hardcore gravity riding to XC racing. We’ve also included a range of price points to cover all budgets, including wallet-friendly beginner pads that will suit those venturing off-road for the first time.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best trail-focused MTBs

Best MTB knee pads: At a glance

How to choose the best MTB knee pads for you

Do I need to wear MTB knee pads?

Knee pads are highly advisable for any type of off-road riding that takes in technical features and fast descents. They provide valuable protection to one of the body’s most vulnerable areas and can be the difference between hopping right back on your bike and a trip to A&E.

The key thing is to pick pads that suit your kind of riding. For most trail riding, you’ll want to look for breathable, more lightweight pads, but once the terrain gets gnarlier, the jumps bigger and the speeds higher, you’ll want knee pads that offer the maximum protection possible. You may even want to consider a pad that extends down to give the shin some protection, too.

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How should MTB knee pads fit?

MTB knee pads need to fit snugly in order to do their job properly. If they slip out of position they won’t provide consistent protection in the event of an impact. Not only that, loose-fitting knee pads will hinder pedalling and be more uncomfortable in the long run.

Knee pads should fit securely on the knee and not slide easily out of position. Make sure to check each manufacturer’s size guides and use the measurements provided to find the size that fits your body best.

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The best MTB knee pads you can buy in 2023

1. Sweet Protection Knee Guards: Best MTB knee pads for pedalling comfort

Price: £26 | Buy now from Stif MTB

Sweet Protection makes some of the best knee protection in the game. These lightweight trail-orientated guards aren’t as heavy duty as the brand’s more substantial (and similarly unimaginatively named) Knee Pads, but for those who prioritise pedalling comfort over all-out impact defence, they’re perfect.

This is a minimalist pad with a light amount of padding confined to a small patch on the front of the knee. The padding is made from SAS-TEC material, which is similar to the popular D30 material in that it hardens on impact. This keeps the pad nice and flexible while on the bike. Again, it’s not sufficient to cushion major blows, but riders who cover big miles and want something light and unrestrictive will find them ideal.

Key specs – Padding: SAS-TEC; Sizes: XS-XL

Buy now from Stif MTB

2. POC Joint VPD 2.0 Knee Pads: Best downhill/enduro MTB knee pads

Price: £100 | Buy now from POC

POC is a leading name in stylish, premium protective kit. The Swedish brand’s VPD knee pads have a well-earned reputation as some of the best in the business, and this is the most popular product in the range. They offer a solid balance of comfort and all-out protection, making them suitable for the most demanding downhill riders. They look pretty good, too.

The VPD (standing for visco-elastic polymer) padding to the front of the knee is a flexible plate that stiffens on impact. It’s certified to the highest level of knee-pad protection – even by official motorcycle standards – but this does make the pads a little bulky and less breathable than most. That said, the stretchy back, silicone grippers and elastic straps ensure the pad is comfortable and stays firmly in place at all times.

Key specs – Padding: VPD insert; Sizes: S-XL

Buy now from POC

3. Leatt AirFlex Pro: Best MTB knee pads for breathability

Price: £65 | Buy now from Wiggle

Hailing from South Africa, the folks at Leatt are no strangers to tearing it up in hot and sweaty conditions. When you’re riding in warm weather, ventilation is extra important, and these highly breathable pads have plenty of it to keep that air flowing through. It’s a strapless pad designed for trail and enduro use, and offers decent protection in an impressively light package.

The padding is made from a low-profile, 3D-moulded gel that offers CE-rated protection while conforming to the natural curve of the knee. Its honeycomb design lets air flow through without sacrificing structural integrity and impact defence. There are also additional foam crash pads to the sides of the knees.

The flexibility of the padding means that pedalling is reasonably comfortable, but the lack of adjustability means that it’s important to get the sizing right.

Key specs – Padding: AirFlex gel; Sizes: S-XXL

Buy now from Wiggle

4. Rapha Trail knee pads: Best lightweight trail MTB knee pads

Price: £85 | Buy now from Rapha

London’s Rapha is better known for its stylish road and gravel kit, but the brand’s first attempt at a MTB trail knee pad has been a huge success. It’s a slip-on design that offers excellent comfort, solid protection, good articulation and a price that keeps it competitive.

Each knee pad features a long sleeve made from soft stretchy fabric that extends up the thigh. There are no straps, so getting the right size is crucial to ensure a good fit. The sleeves are elasticated at the top and bottom, with silicone grippers to keep them in place when riding hard. The padding itself is soft and flexible when riding, but hardens on impact. There’s also a reinforced synthetic fabric to the front of the knee to bolster abrasion resistance and keep the pads in service for as long as possible.

Key specs – Padding: RHEON active polymer; Sizes: XS-XL

Buy now from Rapha

5. Endura MT500 Hard Shell: Best hard-shell MTB knee pads

Price: £68 | Buy now from Start Fitness

If you want maximum protection and don’t care about reduced breathability, a hard-shell knee pad is going to be your best option. This one from Scottish brand Endura has been designed in collaboration with the Athertons, and meets the industry standard for motorcycle safety so you can throw your bike around the trails with confidence.

The moulded plastic shell is the first line of defence in the event of an impact, but it’s backed up by a D30 insert for added protection. There are also foam pads at the sides of the knees for lateral impacts. There’s mesh at the back and vents in the D30 for airflow, but this is still a pretty warm pad on the whole.

Key specs – Padding: Moulded hard-shell with D30 inserts; Sizes: S-XL

Buy now from Start Fitness

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