It used to be that knee pads were worn almost solely by DH racers and freeriders, due largely to the weight and bulkiness of the available options – pedaling around all day in what looked like armor stolen from a Stormtrooper wasn't that appealing to most trail riders. The advent of foams that harden on impact helped to change that, and there are now more lightweight, low profile options on the market than ever.
There's also the fact that today's trail bikes are capable of taking on seriously technical trails, places where a crash can have ugly results. No one likes to be forced to take time off the bike due to an injury, which is why a set of knee pads can help reduce the repercussions of an unplanned trip to the ground. Not all pads are created equal though, and the five sets showcased below represent the top tier of the various styles currently on the market based on their fit and on-trail performance.
The Slayer knee pads are a relatively recent addition to Dakine's product line, but it's clear the company did their homework before launching their new protective gear. The pads use an open-backed, slip on design, and rely on a CE-certified foam pad that hardens upon impact to keep those knobby knees safe. They're comfortable enough to bring on rides with loads of pedaling, but the padding is thick enough to actually work in the event of a hard crash. The price is reasonable too - $60 is a small price to pay considering how much a trip to the doctor's office can cost. Dakine Slayer
• 3D molded, CE certified DK Impact foam
• Polygiene odor control fabric
• Colors: black, sulphur
• Sizes: S, M, L
• Weight: 370 grams (size M)
• MSRP: $65 USD
Dakine Slayer full review.
• Extremely comfortable
• CE-certified padding
• Reasonably priced
• Upper cuff could be slightly taller
Troy Lee Designs created the Raid knee pads to fulfill the requests of their elite DH racers, who wanted a lower profile pad that didn't skimp on protection. To that end, a generous amount of D30 padding is used over the front of knee, with additional foam padding used on each side. Even though the Raid pads are aimed more towards the downhill crowd, and are slightly heavier duty than the other pads featured in this article, they're also a worthy option for riders looking for a set of pads that can be used for pedalling and lift served riding. Troy Lee Designs Raid
• CE certified D3O knee pad
• Foam side padding
• Breathable mesh back panel
• CE EN 1621.1 certified
• Sizes: XS/S, M/L, XL/2XL
• Weight: 414 grams (size M/L)
• MSRP: $115 USD
Troy Lee Designs Raid full review.
• Remain securely in place, even under DH pants
• Padding on both sides of the knee
• Velcro upper strap for fine tuning fit
• Warmer than options with less padding
Dainese's Trail Skins are one of the lightest sets of CE-certified knee pads on the market, thanks to the use of a material called Pro Shape for impact protection. They even have protection on the sides, a welcome feature in such a low profile pad. They're probably not the best choice for days in the bike park, but otherwise they're the type of pad you can put on at the beginning of the day and forget about until you return home hours later. They get bonus points for the velcro adjustments at the upper and lower cuff, making it easier to fine-tune the fit. Dainese Trail Skins
• Pro Shape protector using Formula One technology
• Silicone grippers and velcro adjustments
• Tested to EN1621.1 standards
• Sizes available: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 292g for the pair
• MSRP: $79.99 USD
Dainese Trails Skins Full Review.
• Padding on sides of the knee
• Well ventilated
• Knees move a bit inside the pad when pedaling
The Covert knee pads uses two layers of foam and a plastic cap for protetion, a system that allows riders to customize the level of protection to suit their needs. Heading out for some shuttle runs? Stack all three layers for the maximum amount of protection. For rides with more pedaling, running the larger foam layer and the hard plastic cap helps give them a lower profile without drastically reducing the amount of protection. There aren't any velcro adjustments on the cuffs, but they extend far enough that there's little risk of the pads slipping down while pedaling. Seven iDP Covert
• Two layers of foam with a hard shell cap
• Silicone strip inside upper elasticized cuff
• CE EN 1621/1 certified
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 416 grams (size M)
• MSRP: $89.95 USD
7iDP Covert Knee Full Review.
• Customizable amount of protection
• Hard plastic layer helps prevent puncture wounds
• Stretchy cuff prevents slipping
• Can feel bulky with all three layers installed
• Not as low profile a shape as other options
Specialized's Atlas Pads aren't designed for the athletes lining up at the start gate of the Red Bull Rampage – instead, they're aimed at riders who might normally forgo knee protection all together, offering a modest amount of protection against abrasions and lighter impacts. The upper cuff extends almost to mid-thigh to keep them in place while pedaling, and the perforated fabric on the back panel helps with temperature regulation. Our test pair did have the stitching begin to unravel at one of the seams, but even after months of additional usage after that review aired they're still holding up relatively well. Specialized Atlas Knee Pads
• Anti-shock foam pad
• Tall upper cuff for improved fit
• Weight: 157 grams
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• MSRP: $60.00 USD
Specialized Atlas Pad Full Review.
• Very comfortable
• Easily packable
• Not CE certified
• Best suited for light duty usage
Which of These Pads Are the Best?
All of the five pads profiled are strong contenders, and it really depends on your riding style and the type of trails you're planning on tackling.
For riders who are pedaling into rowdy terrain the Dakine Slayer pads are tough to beat – even after nine months of abuse they're still going strong, and the price makes them even more appealing. For that reason they're my pick for the best all-around knee pads out of the bunch.
If you're looking for something even burlier, a set of pads that you could use also use in the bike park, and don't mind a slightly larger profile, the TLD Raid knee pads are a worthy choice. They're a little warmer than the other four options, but they make up for it with the added protection they provide.
For the minimalist, someone who might otherwise skip wearing pads altogether, Dainese's Trail Skins fit the bill. They have a good amount of protection considering their light weight, and they're well-ventilated enough to keep them from being left at home on hot summer days.