11 of the Best Heavy-Duty Kneepads | Vital MTB Roundup 10

Do you land on your knees a little too often while mountain biking? Here are 11 of the best kneepads to keep you safe. They've all been tested, rated, and ranked for your convenience.

11 of the Best Heavy-Duty Kneepads | Vital MTB Roundup

Kneepads are an essential piece of kit for any serious mountain biker, because the knee is the one area you will land on almost every time you fail to keep the rubber side down. With a plethora of brands to choose from, all of which have very clever marketing departments telling you exactly why their product is the best option, it can be hard to figure out what’s what. To help you see things a bit more clearly, we spent about 200 hours of saddle time testing 11 of the best heavy-duty but still pedal-friendly options out there. If you are looking for new landing gear, keep reading to find out which ones we think are especially worthy of your attention. If you are after a less bulky option instead, check out our lightweight kneepad roundup HERE.

Vital Recommends: ION K-Pact Zip ($109.95 USD)

German engineering at its finest, the K-Pact Zip packs an incredible number of features and technology into a very comfortable and secure knee guard. The ability to easily put it on and take it off without removing your shoes is the cherry on the cake.

Vital Ratings:
Protection: 5 stars
Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
Price/Value: 4.5 stars

Overall: 4.5 stars

Shop the ION K-Pact at Competitive Cyclist


Vital Recommends: Scott Grenade Evo ($129.99 USD)

Easily the most comfortable and probably the safest pad on test here, the Grenade Evo takes everything we loved about the older generation and makes it even better!

Vital Ratings:
Protection: 5 stars
Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
Quality and Finish: 4 stars
Price/Value: 4 stars

Overall: 4.5 stars

Shop the Grenade Evo at Competitive Cyclist


Vital Recommends: Troy Lee Designs Raid ($115.00 USD)

Comfortable, secure, and discreet – TLD’s excellent Raid pad is the perfect companion for anything from trail riding to days in the bike park.

Vital Ratings:
Protection: 4 stars
Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
Price/Value: 4 stars

Overall: 4 stars

Shop the TLD Raid at Competitive Cyclist


Vital Recommends: 7iDP Flex ($69.99 USD)

Innovative materials and construction technique yields a light yet very secure kneepad with a heavily pre-formed shape that really conforms to your knee’s movement when pedaling or shredding.

Vital Ratings:
Protection: 4.5 stars
Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
Quality and Finish: 4 stars
Price/Value: 4.5 stars

Overall: 4 stars

Shop the 7iDP Flex at Jenson USA


How We Tested

When deciding how to structure this protection test, we came to the conclusion that formally scoring each contestant and declaring an outright winner was always going to be quite subjective and potentially unfair, for the simple reason that crashing is not something anybody really wants to do all that much of. Plus, crashes are unpredictable. So, instead of a traditional Vital Face Off, we decided that a Roundup was more appropriate. That said, we have allocated scores and we’re still ranking the contestants, so don’t take this as a sign of us backing down from calling it like we see it. We just want to acknowledge that the protection aspect of these products is more difficult to measure objectively. Since protection is the number one task at hand, we felt that this slightly less formal classification was the most appropriate format. Assigning star ratings in multiple categories also makes it easier to identify what is particularly important for your needs.

We have had previous long-term experience with a number of these kneepads, while others were new to us. To ensure that each product was evaluated fairly they were all used again by the same tester over several months, providing us a good perspective on how they all compare. Back-to-back tests and “fake crashing” were used to really try to separate the potential winners from the rest of the pack. All pads saw riding in different conditions, from shuttle sessions to long, hot XC/AM rides in the desert. To give a bit more structure to the results, each pad was given a star-rating in four different categories: Protection, Fit/Comfort, Quality/Finish, and Price/Value, followed by an overall star rating that combines the previous four scores.

Protection

The main reason for wearing a kneepad is so that it can protect your knee when you crash. This aspect is certainly the most difficult one to measure scientifically, but the following criteria helped us give a sense of what’s what: the amount and size of the main pad material, the amount of auxiliary padding around the sides, the cut and fit of the pad, as well as how prone it is to moving around upon impact. Note that all of the pads tested here are certified to the classic European norm for knee protectors (EN1621-1, which is in actual fact a motorcycle standard), with some manufacturers claiming that their also products “test beyond the standard.” What you should know about this standard is that it simply measures the amount of impact energy transferred by the protective element of the pad to the underlying surface (the knee, in this instance) – if the amount transferred as measured in a lab test is less than or equal to the limit specified by the standard, the pads pass. The standard does not specify things like how far around the knee the protective element should wrap, what kind of strap system should be used, etc.

From left to right: Sas-Tec, D3O, and Xmatter.

Most of the pads tested here use either D3O or Sas-Tec for the main pad material, with some exceptions (iXS uses a bespoke version called “Xmatter” for example). These materials are viscoelastic, which means they are relatively soft and malleable in their resting state but harden under impact to help absorb and dissipate impact energy. If you are skeptical as to the effectiveness of these materials, take a hammer and give them a good whack while wearing them and you’ll soon be convinced. Yes, they work.

Fit and Comfort

Not only do kneepads have to be comfortable in a given position, but they also have to allow for movement and bending of the knee. Whilst we recognize that fit is always going to be a matter of an individual's anatomy and preferences to a degree, we evaluated the different pads with regards to how well they conform to the body’s shape when cycling, the amount and effectiveness of adjustability of each design, the tactile quality of the fabrics and materials used, as well as breathability. Pads that stayed in place for longer rides would generally score higher than those that tended to move around. The principle tester and author of this article typically wears a size large pad, but each manufacturer sent the size that was deemed the closest fit.

Tester thigh circumference (measured 15cm above the knee): 470mm
Calf circumference (measured 10cm below the knee): 380mm

Quality and Finish

Beyond the fact that nobody likes to pay good money for a half-finished product, the quality and finish of the kneepad has a direct bearing on how comfortable it is to wear and how long it will last. We evaluated this aspect both upon initial inspection and over time.

Price and Value

With prices ranging from $70 to $130 USD, we felt there is enough spread here to warrant keeping score in regards to this particular aspect as well. A high price for a quality item may yield the same Price/Value score as a cheap pad with fewer features or lesser build quality.


Our Picks – Vital Recommends

This section reviews the four standout performers who each earned the “Vital Recommends” badge.

Vital Recommends: ION K-Pact Zip ($109.95 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses  Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Very stable fit
  • Very good protection
  • Opens completely from the side for easy on/off
  • Easy to remove main pad for washing
  • Durable and easy to clean
  • Sas-Tec material is sensitive to cold and can feel stiff until warmed up properly
  • Protection: 5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4.5 stars

ION K-Pact Zip Highlights

  • Lightweight EVA side padding
  • Power Aramid fabric by Dupont – highly resistant
  • Soft, integrated zipper
  • Two adjustable straps
  • Sas-Tec main padding
  • Perforated, highly breathable neoprene chassis
  • Silicone anti-slip strips top and bottom
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Weight: 524 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $109.95 USD

Shop the ION K-Pact Zip at Competitive Cyclist

With roots in the watersports world, ION has never been known for being normal. From style to features their designs do not leave people indifferent, but we’ve always been impressed with the quality and functionality on offer. The K-Pact Zip is the evolution of their popular K-Pact pad, adding a full-length zippered side opening to allow you to remove or put the pads on without having to remove your shoes. Additionally, the K-Pact Zip makes use of a new perforated neoprene chassis to promote better breathability. All in all, this kneepad is stunningly well put together. There is an abundance of technical materials used throughout, and the overall quality of workmanship is right up there with the very best. There are three colors to choose from, and before you go thinking that light grey is not the best option for an item such as a kneepad, they have proven to be very easy to clean and seem to stay fresh afterwards.

All told, this is one impressive piece of equipment. We were actually surprised to discover that it is NOT the most expensive product on test.

Digging deeper, the K-Pact Zip really stands up to scrutiny. The perforated neoprene sports an external mesh cover for improved durability and an internal liner for extra comfort. The soft and flexible zipper is protected by an internal flap to make sure it will never come in contact with the skin, and there is a small “zipper garage” to secure the pull tab at the end. The kneecap fabric is made from a special, abrasion-resistant material manufactured by Dupont, and the main Sas-Tec pad can be removed for washing. There are two adjustable straps to cinch the pad down, and silicone anti-slip strips both at the top and bottom hem. All told, this is one impressive piece of equipment. We were actually surprised to discover that it is NOT the most expensive product on test.

On the trail, our positive impressions from the first inspection were quickly confirmed. The fit of the K-Pact zip is excellent, and although it feels less “cushy” when compared with the Scott Grenade, for example, it is still right up there with the most comfortable pads tested. Being able to put on or remove a kneepad without taking your shoes off first is definitely a bonus, but we’re always weary of how that will affect the overall fit or architecture. No such concerns here, the K-Pact Zip is so well made that you completely forget that it has a zipper the minute you finish putting it on. In terms of protection, it sits right up there with the best as well, with ample side coverage and a main kneecap pad that extends all around the critical area. The only other thing we’d point out is that Sas-Tec is a stiffer material in general compared to D3O, and as such it can make itself known in colder climates or at the start of the ride, before body heat can soften it up.


Vital Recommends: Scott Grenade Evo ($129.99 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Incredibly comfortable
  • Very stable fit
  • Very good protection
  • Extra foam pad provides extra comfort in kneecap area
  • Easy access to remove foam pads for washing
  • Very warm
  • Only three sizes – try before you buy
  • Protection: 5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4.5 stars

Scott Grenade Evo Highlights

  • Specifically designed ergonomic and flexible D3O pad
  • Localized side padding
  • Abrasion resistant front panel with printed reinforcements
  • Perforated neoprene construction with stretch mesh back panel
  • Ergonomically positioned straps
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L
  • Weight: 562 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $129.99 USD

Shop the Scott Grenade Evo at Competitive Cyclist

Scott’s Grenade kneepad has long been a favorite of Vital’s testers, and the latest version does not disappoint. Picking right up where the previous generation left off, the Grenade Evo packs a lot of protection into a supremely comfortable and well-fitting package. It features a main kneecap pad made from D3O, and is one of the few pads on test that also includes a thinner foam layer behind the main pad in order to increase comfort and provide a little extra cushioning in a crash. Although this extra foam is very thin, we feel it is a valuable addition because D3O and similar materials harden up under impact to the point that they are quite harsh to actually land on.

This kneepad really gets it right. It hugs the knee fairly tightly without creating any pressure points or other discomfort.

The Grenade Evo also features a number of smaller foam pads around the perimeter of the knee and two straps to help secure the fit. On that topic, this kneepad really gets it right. It hugs the knee fairly tightly without creating any pressure points or other discomfort. The two straps provide ample adjustment range and hold the pads firmly in place while you ride, despite the lack of any silicone grip strips under the hems. The back of the Grenade Evo is made from a thin mesh fabric to promote better ventilation.

On the trail, the Grenade Evo delivers. Incredibly comfortable even on longer rides, it stays in place without requiring any mid-ride adjustments. The two straps offer a ton of adjustability, and the whole architecture seems to really match the shape of the body around the complicated knee joint. The only negative we found is that it is among the warmest pads we tested, so keep that in mind if you live in hot climates. As for protection, we have accumulated more than our fair share of crashes with the Grenade pads over the years, and we can certainly testify to the fact that they do their job. As with all non-hardshell pads, the fabric-covered kneepad is more prone to snagging on obstacles than sliding over them, but that is a feature shared by all but a couple of the pads in this test. Durability-wise, we have found the Grenades to be in it for the long haul.


Vital Recommends: Troy Lee Designs Raid ($115.00 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Very stable fit
  • Very good protection
  • Light weight
  • Main pad cannot be removed for washing
  • Only three sizes – try before you buy
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

Troy Lee Designs Raid Highlights

  • D30 kneepad
  • "Fit-Lock" calf band to prevent slippage
  • Vented neoprene construction for all-day comfort
  • Breathable mesh rear panel
  • Abrasion-resistant front panel
  • Inside/outside leg padding placed in strategic areas provides impact protection while allowing pedal articulation at various saddle heights
  • Silicone gripper band on inside upper leg with adjustable Velcro strap
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL
  • Weight: 424 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $115.00 USD

Shop the TLD Raid at Competitive Cyclist

TLD requires little by way of introduction. They have been making apparel and protective equipment for mountain biking for a long time with their own unmistakable style. Funnily enough, “subdued” is the first word that jumped to mind when we were first introduced to the Raid kneepad a couple of years ago, which is of course rather unusual when it comes to the brand known for its extravagant graphics and wild colorways. However, closer inspection revealed that there is nothing subdued about the features: a main D3O pad ensures impact protection up front, flanked by five smaller foam pads that provide extra peripheral protection. The main chassis of the Raid is constructed from neoprene, and it is lined by a very soft fabric for extra comfort. There is an internal, horseshoe-shaped foam cushion running along the edge of the main pad, which lets your kneecap really “sink into” the pad for extra stability in use.

They are very comfortable even for all-day adventures and long, strenuous rides, and they are stable enough to not require mid-ride adjustments.

Other features that contribute to stability on the trail are the hefty silicone strips inside the top hem, the top Velcro strap, and the “Fit-Lock” strap that sits against the calf to help prevent the pad from sliding down your leg. The whole back of the Raid is made from a lighter mesh material to increase ventilation in this less exposed area, and the main D3O pad is also perforated to help with airflow. All in all, the Raid does a good job of managing heat buildup.

We have been using the Raid pads for a couple of years now, and we have found them excellent. They are very comfortable even for all-day adventures and long, strenuous rides, and they are stable enough to not require mid-ride adjustments. With only three sizes on offer, you’ll want to make sure they fit correctly, but there is enough adjustability in the top strap to help with this aspect most of the time. For this tester, the size M/L is perfect – snug and secure without any undue pressure anywhere. In terms of protection, we have enough crashes behind us to know that these pads can be trusted to do their job and to keep coming back for more. Compared to the IONs or the Scotts, the main D3O pad is slightly smaller, and the side foam pads a bit thinner, although they are also bigger/wider and particularly well placed, so it’s a pretty close call between these contenders. As always, take into account that this style of kneepad is less effective than a hardshell when it comes to sliding off obstacles. Other than that, they do an excellent job absorbing impact energy.


Vital Recommends: 7iDP Flex ($69.99 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Comfortable
  • Very stable fit
  • Very good protection
  • Light weight
  • Main pad cannot be removed for washing
  • Heavily pre-curved shape can feel strange when standing/walking
  • Take a while to break in
  • Protection: 4.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

7iDP Flex Highlights

  • Combination of hardshell and soft foam protection
  • Heavily pre-curved to conform to shape of knee when riding
  • Split strap systems for even distribution of strap pressure
  • Open back design for max breathability
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: Youth, S, M, L, XL
  • Weight: 420 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $69.99 USD

Shop the 7iDP Flex at Jenson USA

7iDP was created to provide innovative protection for mountain biking, and we have had positive experiences with several of their products. The Flex Knee was introduced a few years ago, and it’s still going strong as a valid choice for riders looking for a kneepad that can deal with pretty much everything from AM to DH. It combines a hardshell cap with a softer foam pad under an abrasion-resistant outer fabric. It features adjustable Velcro straps at the top of the pad and over the calf area, both with a split design that 7iDP says helps distribute pressure more evenly when you cinch them down.

For such a feature-rich pad, the Flex is also among the lightest (and cheapest!) on test.

While the main foam pad extends generously around the sides of the knee, the back is open and the rest of the chassis made from very light and relatively thin material. For such a feature-rich pad, the Flex is actually among the lightest (and cheapest!) on test.  The other standout aspect of the Flex is the heavily pre-curved shape, which 7iDP claims corresponds to the form of the knee when riding.

On the trail, the Flex takes a bit of time to break in and can feel a bit stiff until it does. The heavily pre-curved shape also takes a little getting used to, but once you are on the bike it is quickly forgotten. Over time, the fit of the Flex improves to the point where it makes itself very discrete even on longer rides. It is also light and breathes well. In terms of protection, we have been able to crash test it extensively over the past couple of seasons, and we have found it more than up to the task of keeping your knees safe. It stays in place when crashing, and only in one rare instance when we managed to somehow crash with a straight leg did the pad shift a bit.


The Contenders

We chose all the participants for this roundup carefully. They represent what we feel are currently the best solutions out there when it comes to heavy-duty knee protection. Here are the contenders that didn’t quite make the “Vital Recommends” list, but are nevertheless worthy of your attention:

iXS Carve EVO+

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very stable and snug fit
  • Great build quality
  • Good main protection
  • Main pad can be removed for washing
  • Slightly austere in terms of comfort
  • Side padding is minimal
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

iXS Carve EVO+ Highlights

  • Xmatter protection foam (exchangeable)
  • AeroMesh, light, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, added structural strength, high level of comfort
  • LoopLock closings
  • Silicon stopper
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: Kids S to L, Adult XS to XL
  • Weight: 460 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $99.99 USD

Shop the iXS Carve Evo+ at Jenson USA

The Carve kneepad is iXS’s answer for those looking for a sturdy kneepad that is up for all but the heaviest of abuse. It relies on Xmatter for the main kneecap protection, a viscoelastic material that stiffens up on impact to help distribute forces away from your knee. For this all-new EVO+ version iXS went to an Aeromesh construction, which is said to help combat both odors and undue material stretching.  Additionally, small foam pads were added to offer extra protection on each side of the knee. The Carve uses two hook-and-loop straps to make sure it does not move around when in use or during a crash, and they offer a massive range of adjustment.

The fit of the Carve EVO+ is on the snug side, but there are tons of sizes both for youths and adults to choose from so you should be able to get it just right. The side padding is cut in a series of triangle shapes to help avoid bunching up when the knee bends. The inside of the fabric is soft to the touch, and the back of the pad is entirely made with a highly breathable mesh material. Although comfortable to the touch, we found the general feeling of the Carve EVO+ just a bit on the harsh side on longer rides, which is perhaps the price to pay for good breathability. In terms of protection, the main Xmatter pad is generously sized and works well for absorbing impact. We found the side padding a bit on the minimal side, which is good for improved comfort and reduced weight, but perhaps a bit lacking when it comes to the protection it is able to provide. 


FOX Launch Pro D3O

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Awesome construction and build quality
  • Very comfortable
  • Good main protection
  • Hardshell cap allows it to slide instead of snag
  • Main pad and hardshell cap can be removed for washing
  • The fit is too wide around the calves, with not enough adjustability in the lower strap to make up for it
  • A bit slippery inside, less stable in use
  • Only three sizes
  • Side padding is minimal
  • Heavy
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3.5 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

FOX Launch Pro D3O Highlights

  • Made from perforated non-toxic hypoallergenic Ariaprene neoprene
  • Anatomically designed panels for pedal efficiency and on bike comfort
  • Moisture wicking back fabric
  • Removable/replaceable hardshell front knee cap to reduce snagging
  • D3O CE certified insert for impact protection
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L
  • Weight: 630 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $129.95 USD

Shop the FOX Launch Pro D3O at Competitive Cyclist

We always got along well with the old Launch Pro pad, which combined hardshell and softshell protection in a comfortable yet rugged piece of protection that also didn’t break the bank. For this all-new D3O version, FOX decided to up the game. The general construction is now at a whole other level, with a distinctly modern blend of advanced materials and a removable, external hardshell cap designed to complement the main D3O pad to allow the Launch Pro to slide off obstacles rather than hang up on them. The rear part of the protector is open but covered in a light mesh material, and there are two straps for securing the fit. We tested the regular black version, but there is a very loud red one available should you want to feel extra inspired (everybody knows red is faster).

On the trail, the Launch Pro D3O turned out to be enigmatically dichotomous. On the one hand, the general fit is awesome and the level of comfort is very high. On the other hand, the lower part of the pad is too wide, and the lower strap is both rigid and lacking in adjustment range. The result is a pad that is more prone to slipping that some others, especially when it gets sweaty. It is also quite heavy, which further accentuates this tendency to want to move down the leg. Adding more adjustment range to the lower strap and/or making it elastic would likely solve this problem (or making the pads in more than just three sizes).

When it comes to protection, there are two sides to the coin here as well. Central knee protection is great, and the addition of the hardshell cap is a nice touch. We do wonder why it is removable, though, as we’d not want to run these pads without it given that it leaves a huge swatch of exposed, unsightly Velcro in its wake. Perhaps it was done to allow for easy replacement when it gets scuffed up. Perplexingly, for all the might of the main kneepad and the general bulk of the Launch Pro D3O, there is little to no protection offered along the sides. All in all, we are big fans of the concept behind this pad, but we think it needs further refinement to be a true home run. If you have massive calves (or if you don’t mind breaking out your sewing kit to add a patch of Velcro to the lower strap of your new pads), the fit should work out. Otherwise, you might be better off waiting for the next version.


Leatt 3DF 6.0

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Good main protection
  • Hardshell cap allows it to slide instead of snag
  • Light weight for such a sturdy item
  • Fit can be hard to get right, the cut is roomy and there are only three sizes
  • Can feel flappy when moving around
  • Protection: 4.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

Leatt 3DF 6.0 Highlights

  • Soft knee guard with co-molded hard shell sliders 
  • Three types of protection: Standard foam side padding, center 3DF pad, and  co-molded hard shell
  • 3DF AirFit ventilated soft impact foam 
  • New anti-slip calf band and silicone grip lining 
  • Silicone printed and adjustable non-slip leg straps 
  • New anti-odor MoistureCool and AirMesh wicking fabrics 
  • Pre-curved 3D design
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S/M, L/XL, XXL
  • Weight: 490 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $89.95 USD

Shop the Leatt 3DF 6.0 at Jenson USA

Leatt’s 3DF 6.0 is another protector that combines both a hardshell and a softshell component to offer the best of both worlds. The external hardshell caps are molded to the fabric, and they are made out of two pieces to allow the whole thing to conform to the shape of the knee joint. There are generously sized auxiliary pads around the sides, and a sturdy strap at the top of the main body works together with a wide and sticky internal silicone strip to help the pad stay in place. The lower part of the protector is not adjustable, but it features integrated elastic straps that also help hold it in place. The rear part of the protector is made from thin mesh, and the area directly behind the knee joint is left completely open for comfort and breathability.

On the trail, the 3DF 6.0 is very comfortable thanks to a soft internal liner and a generous cut. Although it can get a bit clammy directly behind the hardshell part, the overall ventilation and breathability is good. The cut works well for mountain biking, but it can feel a bit awkward over the lower leg when walking or standing. The 3DF 6.0 is also quite stable in use. We did find, however, that the lower part of the protector lacks a bit of elasticity, meaning the kneecap pad can sometimes move around a bit too easily. This issue is not helped by the fact that there are only three sizes to choose from, and our L/XL sample did feel pretty big at times. In terms of protection, the excellent hardshell/softshell combo and generous side padding are confidence inspiring and work well to protect you in a crash. In summary, a great piece of kit – only its perfectible fit/retention kept it from challenging for a better placement in this test.


Alpinestars Evolution

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Good protection
  • Good build quality
  • Very light
  • Descends on the shin
  • Only two sizes makes it hard to get the fit right
  • The inside surface is slippery, and the rear of the pad not very strong, which makes it prone to moving around
  • Calf strap runs close to edge of mesh fabric, can contact skin in some instances
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

Alpinestars Evolution Highlights

  • Knee guard constructed from breathable laminated rip-stop, PE foam and poly-mesh
  • Integrated soft shell, PE patella piece is covered with durable fabric made from aramid fiber for abrasion and impact protection
  • Liner offers progressive protection while providing a soft contact against the skin
  • Snug design offers a firm compression fit and soft tissue support for all styles of riding
  • Velcro top and bottom elastic straps to help keep the protection in place
  • Silicone printing on the inner liner also prevents the guard being displaced while riding
  • Stretch mesh panel for better stability of the guard while riding
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S/M, L/XL
  • Weight: 440 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $69.95 USD

Shop the Alpinestars Evolution at Competitive Cyclist

The Alpinestars Evolution (formerly known as the Alps 2) knee guard has a lot going for it. It is well put together, featuring a mix of modern materials in a design looking to provide protection for the whole of the knee and part of the shin. The main softshell pad is hidden behind an abrasion-resistant fabric, and there are smaller foam pads all around the knee area. We especially like the addition of a small foam pad beneath the softshell, which can help protect against flying rocks or possibly pedal bite. Alpinestars also makes a version of this guard with full shin protection if this is of particular concern to you. The back of the pad is constructed with mesh fabric and there is a large opening directly behind the knee joint for extra ventilation.

On the trail, we were generally happy with the shape and the function of the Evolution. It has been put together with care and it represents a high quality and great value item, especially at this price point. It is let down by the fact that it is made in only two sizes, however, which means that each size has to cater to a far too wide range of body types and dimensions. In our case, this translated to a loose fit overall, despite our measurements falling right in the middle of the recommended range for this size. There is also a bit of a disconnection between the very sturdy main part of the guard and the decidedly more flimsy rear. The straps do offer a lot of adjustability, but they are relatively weak and would do better if they had a little help from the main chassis of the guard as well. As it stands, the thin mesh fabric employed out back does little to promote better stability in use.


Race Face Ambush

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Easy to put on and remove thanks to open design
  • Very comfortable
  • Good general protection
  • Durable
  • Not pre-curved enough, can leave excess material in the middle when knee bends
  • Slightly loose fit around middle and under kneecap
  • Lacks a bit of protection at the top of the knee
  • Velcro strap at the top exposes the “hook” side, can snag your shorts
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

Race Face Ambush Highlights

  • Open-back construction means no awkward shoe removal on the trail
  • Featuring D30 high performance shock absorbing foam
  • Perforated Neoprene enhances venting and moisture control
  • Terry lined for wicking and comfort
  • Foam padded side walls offer additional coverage
  • Branded rubber grab tabs
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Weight: 522 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $99.99 USD

Shop the Race Face Ambush at Jenson USA

The Race Face Ambush pad has been around for almost five years, which is testament to a well-executed design. We’ve used this kneepad frequently over the years, with good results both in terms of performance and durability. The open back design is a boon for those who like to remove their pads for climbing or for anybody who would rather not have to remove their shoes at the trailhead before each ride. With a generous five sizes to chose from, it shouldn’t be hard to get the fit right. A sizable D3O pad is responsible for protecting the kneecap, while smaller foam pads provide additional protection around the sides. We’d love to see one more foam pad up top and possibly a slightly longer main body of this guard, but we know from extensive experience that it will do a good job of protecting you in a crash.

On the trail, the fit is comfortable but somewhat perfectible: the rear of the pad could be designed with more of a curve to avoid bunching up as the material stretches and folds. The middle strap does a good enough job of taking up the slack, but we feel the design could be tightened up a bit in this area. Also, leaving the “hook” side of the Velcro straps exposed means they can easily snag your shorts, which is a bit of a design mistake in our opinion.


661 EVO Knee II

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Comfortable
  • Good general protection
  • Good quality
  • Easy to remove main pad for washing
  • Protection is just a bit on the small side, leaving some parts of the knee joint exposed around the side
  • Fit is a bit strange, try before you buy
  • Protection: 3.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 3.5 stars

661 EVO Knee II Highlights

  • Improved sizing and more pre-curving this year for improved fit
  • PADLOCK connection system, attaches to Evo short
  • Reflective icon badging will glow at night and in pictures
  • Slim and form fitting allowing the pad to move and articulate with the body
  • Abrasion resistant Kevlar panels and internal molded D30 knee
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Weight: 512 grams (pair, size M, verified)
  • MSRP: $99.99 USD

Shop the 661 Evo Knee II at Competitive Cyclist

661 is a classic name in the protection game – their Kyle Strait kneepad was among the early trendsetters and is still a heavy design influence to this day. In the past few years 661 appeared to have lost its way a bit, but they have recently taken a number of products back to the drawing board – the EVO Knee II is one of those products. Based around a softshell D3O pad hidden behind a Kevlar fabric, the EVO II also features auxiliary foam pads around the side of the knee for extra protection. A Velcro strap up top helps cinch the pad down for improved stability in use, but there are no silicone grip strips to be found anywhere. The back of the EVO II is open.

On the trail, the EVO II is comfortable and reasonably secure. You can improve upon security if you integrate this guard with the 661 EVO short, in which case the “PADLOCK” system allows the two items to be connected together. It runs very large, which meant that a size M was required to fit this tester properly (instead of the size L he would usually pick). Whilst the pad does an okay job of staying in place when pedaling or rolling around on the ground, we found it lacking in side protection. This is due to the size and shape of the main pad as well as the smaller foam pads around the side, which seem to be too far spaced out to be able to really cover the side of the joint properly. We’d also love to see 661 make this guard a tiny bit longer overall.


Dakine Anthem

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Open back design makes it easy to put on and remove
  • Comfortable construction in general
  • Adequate general protection
  • Fit needs to be improved, it’s too tight around the thigh and not tight enough around the knee joint
  • Dual-strap architecture does not provide enough support
  • No protection at the top of the pad, and the main pad needs to be more curved/extend further
  • General level of construction is average at best
  • Protection: 3.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 3 stars

Dakine Anthem Highlights

  • 3D molded CE certified foam knee protector
  • Lateral and medial side padding for extra protection
  • Easy on/off feature (don't have to take off shoes)
  • Interior patella support
  • Pre-curved ergonomic patterning for enhanced fit
  • Silicone gripper elastic 
  • Certification: EN1621-1 (level 1)
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Weight: 452 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $70.00 USD

Shop the Dakine Anthem at REI

Dakine’s Anthem pad is another open back design that allows you to put it on and remove it without taking off your shoes. It is based on a softshell pad covered by an abrasion-resistant fabric, with four additional foam pads around the perimeter of the knee joint for extra side protection. The guard is light, and features interior “patella support”, essentially a foam ring meant to hug your kneecap and secure the fit. The strap system is based on a dual-pronged approach: the main body of the strap attaches with Velcro, and then an additional Velcro strap closes on top of it. In use, the system is easy to manipulate and works as intended, although the general level of workmanship on display is not among the most impressive.

On the trail, we found the Anthem lacking due to a less than stellar cut. The top of the pad is really tight, and because of the lack of elasticity in the main fabric it’s hard to get it to cinch down properly. Failure to make the tabs overlap all the way leaves a bit of the “hook” side of the Velcro exposed to your skin, even though the top strap can still be used to close the whole thing down. Despite the tightness up top, the middle area of the pad floats a bit more than some others, and the main pad could do with being extended a bit towards the top and bottom as well as being more heavily pre-curved.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 45 // Years Riding MTB: 12 // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Johan Hjord

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