13 of the Best Lightweight Kneepads | Vital MTB Roundup 33

Looking for knee protection that won't get in the way of a long day of pedaling? Here are 13 of the best lightweight options; tested, rated, and ranked for your convenience.

13 of the Best Lightweight 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. However, if you do a lot of pedaling, it can sometimes be difficult to strike that perfect balance between the amount of protection you need and how potentially uncomfortable you want to be on longer rides. To help you figure out what's what, we spent about 200 hours of saddle time testing 13 of the best lightweight, sleeve-style options out there. If you're looking for something a bit more robust, check out our heavy-duty kneepad roundup HERE.

Vital Recommends: 7iDP Sam Hill Knee ($79.99 USD)

Based on the popular Transition sleeve protector, the Sam Hill edition adds a protective layer of foam around the main Sas-Tec kneecap pad to extend the coverage and further improve the fit. One of the most comfortable and pedal-friendly protectors tested here, it is also suitable for rougher trails.

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

Overall: 5 stars

Check out the 7iDP Sam Hill at 7iDP


Vital Recommends: Leatt Airflex Pro ($79.00 USD)

The Airflex Pro combines a soft, bonded external kneecap pad with several smaller, auxiliary pads in a lightweight protector that offers a perfect fit around the knee. Secure and comfortable in use, it looks like a heavy-duty pad but behaves like a sleeve. 

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

Overall: 4.5 stars

Shop the Leatt Airflex Pro at Competitive Cyclist


Vital Recommends: Scott Soldier 2 ($69.99 USD)

We are big fans of Scott's protection products in general, and the Soldier 2 does not disappoint. It relies on just a single small auxiliary foam pad to protect against top tube strikes, but it makes up for it by using a larger than average D3O kneecap pad to help protect the sides of the joint. Very comfortable and secure in use.

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

Overall: 4.5 stars

Check out the Scott Soldier 2 at Scott


Vital Recommends: iXS Flow EVO+ ($79.90 USD)

Combining a minimalist sleeved design with a full Xmatter kneepad and a strap around the calf for extra stability in use, the Flow EVO+ is both comfortable and secure. Only its slightly short overall length and the lack of dedicated side protection holds it back a bit compared to the class leaders.

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

Overall: 4 stars

Shop the iXS Flow EVO+ 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 the majority 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.

In this lightweight protector test, quite a few of the pads tested 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. Other solutions in this category of pads include an external layer of shock absorbing material applied directly to the main body of the protector, in an effort to slim things down as much as possible. Some of these pads are not CE certified to the same level as the others.

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. All of the pads tested here were of the sleeved, pull-on design type, in keeping with tradition when seeking to make the slimmest and lightest possible protector.

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 $54 to $119.99 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: 7iDP Sam Hill Knee ($79.99 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses  Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Compression fit increases stability
  • Does not move around when riding or crashing
  • CE-certified knee cap protection
  • Highly breathable
  • Easy to clean, quick to dry
  • Durable
  • So comfortable you'll want to wear it all the time!
  • Can get a little warm
  • Protection: 5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 5 stars

7iDP Sam Hill Knee Highlights

  • Top and bottom internal silicone gripper print
  • External silicone logo print to grip on to lycra shorts silicone gripper print
  • Light compression fit main body tube
  • Durable abrasion resistant knee cap fabric
  • Easily stowable minimal design
  • High ride tube main body for secure fit all day long
  • Breathable 4 way stretch spandex fabric
  • Exceeds CE1621-1 safety standards
  • Padding around the knee cap offers more protection for the femur, tibia and ligaments.
  • Upper shin coverage
  • Precurved fit to eliminate side of knee fabric bunching
  • Sizes S, M, L, XL
  • Weight: 348 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $79.99 USD

Check out the 7iDP Sam Hill at 7iDP

Sam Hill has been running 7iDP protection for a few years already, but he felt the perfect pad was missing from the line-up. He wanted the light weight and freedom of movement of the Transition sleeve, but with a bit of extra protection around the sides. By adding an extra "ring" of foam around the main Sas-Tec kneecap pad, 7iDP found the perfect solution. 

After just a few minutes on the trail, it became obvious that this is one of the most comfortable pads of this test.

The Sam Hill Knee features 4-way stretch spandex construction in a chassis that is quite a bit longer than most others, notably with regards to how far up the thigh it sits. The inside of the main pad area is very soft to the touch, while the front is covered with a tougher, abrasion-resistant fabric. The Sas-Tec pad can be easily removed for washing. There are no adjustable straps of any kind, but both the top and bottom cuffs feature silicone grip strips to help secure the fit. The external print of the top cuff is also made out of silicone and embossed to allow your short liner hem to overlap and really hold it down for fully fail-safe stability in use.

When you pull on the Sam Hill Knee for the first time, the tall fit feels a bit unusual to start with, but it makes itself forgotten soon enough. After just a few minutes on the trail, it became obvious that this is one of the most comfortable pads of this test. The main Sas-Tec pad is shaped just right, and the addition of the external ring of foam around it has given it extra stability, without becoming cumbersome or getting in the way of your leg's movements on the bike. The rear of the chassis is made from a lighter mesh, which allows the whole thing to breathe a bit better. Crucially, there is no stitching in the wrong place, and the shape and elasticity of the materials used provide for a secure fit without any pressure points to cause chafing. The silicone hem strips work well, providing the grip needed without giving your legs a beach-ready wax job at the same time. And while it falls a bit short of a full-on DH pad, the Sam Hill provides excellent protection both for the kneecap as well as the sides of the knee joint. It doesn't slide off rocks the way a hardshell would, but it still remains in place even during more acrobatic tumbles. Certainly one to consider if you ride aggressive trails and want to be able to leave your pads on for pedaling to the top as well.


Vital Recommends: Leatt Airflex Pro ($79.00 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable fit
  • Secure in use
  • Good protection around the sides and the top of the knee joint
  • Breathable main pad
  • Light weight
  • A bit short on shin protection
  • Protection: 4.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4.5 stars

Leatt Airflex Pro Highlights

  • Super slim, 3D molded impact protection
  • CE tested and certified as impact protection: Knee EN1621-1
  • Side and upper knee impact protection
  • Silicone printed, cupped knee grip
  • Anti-odor MoistureCool and AirMesh wicking fabrics
  • All protection materials perforated for ventilation
  • Silicone printed, non-slip cuffs
  • Pre-curved 3D design for better fit and function
  • Sizes: S-XXL
  • Weight: 256 grams (pair, size XL, verified)
  • MSRP: $79.00 USD

Shop the Leatt Airflex Pro at Competitive Cyclist

Leatt's main business is protection, so it came as no surprise that the Airflex Pro should tick a lot of boxes in regards to features and functionality. Built around a pull-on sleeve chassis, the Airflex Pro features a soft, molded kneecap pad with ventilation holes to promote better breathability. A set of thinner foam pads surround the knee joint to the sides and up top. The back of the sleeve is made from a lighter mesh and features a cutout directly behind the knee joint.

On the trail, the most impressive aspect of the Airflex Pro is the cut.

The inside of the kneecap area features a silicone "knee grip cup", and there are silicone grip strips inside both cuffs as well. There are no adjustable straps of any kind, but there is a built-in elastic band just above the calf to help the pad stay up. All the fabrics used are moisture-wicking, and the level of workmanship is held to a very high standard. The overall construction is well thought out, and flatlock stitching with elastic thread has been employed throughout the protector to ensure optimal comfort.

On the trail, the most impressive aspect of the Airflex Pro is the cut. It really sits in the right place, providing a secure fit without any particular pressure points or uncomfortable areas. The sizing does run small (this tester sized up to XL), but there is an XXL at the top of the size range so most riders will be able to find a suitable size. Crucially, the rear cut out is made in such a way as to avoid chafing, as can sometimes happen with this kind of design. We put it down to the shape of the hole as well as the elasticity of the stitching around the edge of the hole (often the culprit if you experience chafing in this area). The pad also runs cool and wicks away moisture very effectively, and it does not shift around while riding. When it comes to protection, the Airflex Pro doesn't disappoint, despite the thinner than average kneecap pad. This protector is fully CE certified, and we can also attest to the effectiveness of the "3D molded" pad when it comes to absorbing impact. All the auxiliary pads sit in exactly the right spot to provide the protection intended. The tight cut and figure-hugging shape also help the pad remain in place during crashing. It does come up a bit short with regards to shin protection, but that is not unusual in this category of pads. All in all, an impressive product that manages to cram a lot of features into a well-designed package that is also one of the lightest on test.


Vital Recommends: Scott Soldier 2 ($69.99 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Bigger than average main kneecap pad
  • Secure in use
  • Breathable
  • Material prone to stretching over time
  • Minimalist side protection
  • Protection: 4.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4.5 stars

Scott Soldier 2 Highlights

  • Designed for trail, enduro, and all-mountain use
  • EN 1621:1 Level 1 certified
  • Ergonomic and flexible D3O pad with side extensions
  • Strapless construction with silicone retaining system
  • Stretch aerated 3D mesh sleeve main body with pre-curved chassis
  • Soft-shell construction for flexibility, breathability and comfort
  • Abrasion resistant front fabric with reinforced printing
  • EVA foam padding side protection
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 346 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $69.99 USD

Check out the Scott Soldier 2 at Scott

The Soldier 2 takes everything we like about Scott's Grenade pad and pares it down to a more pedal-friendly package. Based around a pull-on sleeve design, Scott added their own twist to the story here with a bigger than average D3O pad on main protection duty. The pad also features a unique design based around a bunch of small hexagons said to provide the same impact protection with better flexibility. This means they could forego any specific side impact protection aside from a small foam pad on the inside of the knee joint that helps ward off impacts with your bike frame.

When it comes to keeping you safe, the main kneecap pad just about reaches around the knee, which provides extra peace of mind for all but the roughest trails.

The Soldier 2 lacks any kind of adjustable straps, but cleverly placed silicone strip above the calf area help secure the pads in use. There is also a silicone grip strip inside the top cuff, and the side of the chassis features a rigid, screen printed area that also promotes extra stability as well as resistance to abrasion. The front of the pad is made from a much tougher material that is also a bit slippery to the touch, to help the pad glide over obstacles as opposed to hanging up.

On the trail, the Soldier 2 is super comfortable. The fit is slightly on the generous side, but the internal silicone grippers and the larger than average main kneecap pad conspire to hold the pad safely in place as you exert yourself. The main pad is also more flexible than many others which further helps with comfort and pedalability. The protector breathes well in general, without feeling clammy even on really hot days. When it comes to keeping you safe, the main kneecap pad just about reaches around the knee, which provides extra peace of mind for all but the roughest trails. Without dedicated auxiliary pads the top of the knee remains a bit exposed - take that into account if you regularly slam your knees into your handlebars for example. As do many other pads in this category, the Soldier 2 also comes up short on shin protection.


Vital Recommends: iXS Flow EVO+ ($79.90 USD)

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Comfort
  • Fit
  • Stability in use
  • Main pad removable for washing
  • Short
  • Lacks side padding
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

iXS Flow EVO+ Highlights

  • Xmatter protection foam (exchangeable)
  • AeroMesh, light, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, added structural strength, high level of comfort
  • LoopLock closings
  • Silicon stopper
  • EN1621-1:1997 certified
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 290 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $79.90 USD

Shop the iXS Flow EVO+ at Jenson USA

Developed with input from mountain biking legend Hans Rey, the iXS Flow takes a very minimalist approach to the sleeve-with-insert type of design. The pull-on pad features an Xmatter visco-elastic pad held in place by an "AeroMesh" chassis, and a single adjustable elastic strap around the back of the calf for extra security. The overall length is short, with just enough sleeve up top to help hold the pad in place and avoid the dreaded kneepad-short gap.

The Flow EVO+ is one of the shortest protectors on test, but it feels like it sits in the right place on the leg.

The back of the sleeve features a lighter mesh material for extra breathability, while the inside of the front of the pad is particularly soft to the touch for better comfort. The Xmatter pad is perforated to allow for some degree of airflow also from the front, although the heavy-duty fabric found on the outside here does stop most of it from getting through. The top cuff features a silicone grip strip to help avoid slipping. The Xmatter pad can be easily removed when washing the protector.

The Flow EVO+ is one of the shortest protectors on test, but it feels like it sits in the right place on the leg. The sizing is spot on, and the overall cut and shape are very stable in use. The elastic calf strap is a good plus, making sure that riders with thinner legs can really cinch the pad down as needed. In terms of comfort, only a small amount of pressure at the very bottom of the main kneepad was detected, but it did not turn out to be a nuisance in use, even for longer rides. Overall breathability is good, although it falls short of the very best in this regard. When it comes to security, the Xmatter pad does a great job of absorbing impact, and the protector as a whole does a good job of staying in place while crashing. Only the lack of side protection and the short overall length detract a bit from the overall performance here, but on the other hand, this is often the trade-off that riders would be looking for in this type of product. All told, we like the Flow EVO+ as a solid alternative for pedally rides that tend to turn gnarly every now and then.


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 lightweight knee protection. Here are the contenders that didn’t quite make the “Vital Recommends” list, but are nevertheless worthy of your attention:

Race Face Indy Knee

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Comfortable
  • Stable in use
  • Adjustable strap
  • Lacks side protection
  • Main pad slightly on the small side
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

Race Face Indy Knee Highlights

  • Lycra and butterfly mesh sleeve offers second skin fit.
  • Targeted D3O high performance shock absorbing impact foam knee coverage.
  • Woven elastic top strap with velcro closure for personalized adjustment.
  • Silicone gripper along inner top opening ensures "stay-put" fit.
  • Silicone patch at shin eliminates slippage.
  • CE1621-1 certified
  • Sizes: S-XXL
  • Weight: 360 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $79.90 USD

Shop the Race Face Indy Knee at Jenson USA

The Race Face Indy combines a D3O pad with a sleeved chassis featuring an adjustable strap around the thigh. The sleeve is generously sized, while the main pad is of average size and coverage. The back of the sleeve is made from a more breathable mesh, while the front features a much tougher fabric on the outside. The top cuff features a full silicone grip strip, while the bottom cuff makes do with just a silicone patch on the shin. The D3O pad cannot be removed for washing.

The Indy runs true to size, and the sturdy thigh strap provides good adjustability. The overall fit is comfortable, although we did note a tiny bit more pressure around the back of the leg compared to some others. The pad is very stable in use, helped by a good shape but also the thigh strap. In terms of protection, we think the main D3O pad could have been made a bit bigger, to be able to wrap around the knee a bit more. It does a good job of absorbing direct hits, but it's more vulnerable from the side and it can also be pushed around a bit for the same reason. The overall quality and durability is good. 


7iDP Project Knee

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very comfortable
  • Compression fit increases stability
  • Adjustable thigh strap helps with retention
  • Does not move around when riding
  • CE-certified Sas-Tec knee cap with extra hard-shell protection
  • Highly breathable
  • Lacks protection around the side of the knee
  • Heavier than others in this category
  • Expensive
  • Protection: 4 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3.5 stars
  • Overall: 4 stars

7iDP Project Knee Highlights

  • “Pro Knit” main chassis
  • Top and bottom internal silicone gripper print
  • External silicone logo print to grip on to lycra shorts silicone gripper print
  • Variable fabric stretch zones for secure and comfortable fit
  • Center strap system – adjustable thigh straps
  • Flexible external hard cap bonded into the fabric
  • Sas-Tec kneecap pad
  • High ride tube main body for secure fit all day long
  • Exceeds CE1621-1 safety standards
  • Precurved fit to eliminate side of knee fabric bunching
  • Sizes S-XL
  • Weight: 434 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $119.99 USD

Check out the 7iDP Project Knee at 7iDP

The Project is a unique kneepad. 7iDP originally set out to "provide DH-levels of protection in a pedal-friendly package", but because they strayed more and more towards the pedaling side of the equation during the development phase, we decided to include the protector in this test and not the heavy-duty roundup. The Project features a special "Pro-Knit" chassis that minimizes the use of spandex and lycra, coupled with an internal Sas-Tec pad AND an external, bonded hardshell. The chassis is very long, and it also features a sturdy thigh strap for extra adjustability and silicone grip strips inside both cuffs.

In use, the Project confused us. Easily one of the most comfortable protectors we have ever worn, the Project also does a great job of staying in place. But whilst the main pad is certainly up for any kind of abuse you can throw at it, it also fails to adequately cover the sides of the knees. This does wonders for comfort and range of motion, but we can't help but feel that this is a lot of pad to carry around for "just" kneecap protection - DH worthy as that part may be. Having said that, the level of fit and comfort is second to none, so if you are looking for awesome frontal protection in a very pedal-friendly package, it could be just right for you. We do find ourselves reaching for it quite often, while we wait for 7iDP to take this concept further and provide something with a bit extra coverage around the sides. The design certainly has the potential to be somewhat of a game-changer.


Kali Strike

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Ventilation
  • Good side protection
  • Fit and shape
  • Main fabric is a bit too loose
  • Adjustment strap has limited range
  • Protection: 3.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3.5 stars
  • Overall: 3.5 stars

Kali Strike Highlights

  • XELION padding material
  • Softer padding next to knee
  • EVA padding on the side
  • Breathable back panel
  • Non-slip band (top and bottom)
  • Velcro adjustment (top)
  • CE1621-1 certified
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 334 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $85.00 USD

Shop the Kali Strike at Jenson USA

Kali's Strike is one of two protectors in this test that uses a grid-patterned, external pad for its main protection. Made from a soft, rubbery material (Kali calls it "Xelion"), it is meant to provide CE-certified protection with better breathability than a regular pad. On the Strike, Kali paired the Xelion pad with a full-length sleeve and smaller, auxiliary pads along the sides of the knee joint. There are silicone grippers on both cuffs as well as extra silicone strips on this inside of the top sleeve, and an adjustable Velcro strap at the top cuff. The interior of the pad is soft, and there is an extra layer of foam beneath the Xelion pad for extra comfort.

Kali got the overall shape of the Strike right. It hugs the leg and provides good range of movement once on the bike. However, the main fabric is a little bit too elastic, which leaves a somewhat more sloppy fit in action. The adjustable strap makes sure the protector stays up, but there is still too much give in the chassis which allows the main pad too much freedom of movement. This also means that it is easier to dislodge in a crash. Note that we are not talking about a sizing issue here, the cuffs were snug on this tester, but rather the elasticity of the main body. In terms of breathability, the Xelion pad allows for better than average airflow, and the main body is good at wicking away sweat as well, leaving it comfortable for all-day use. We did have a semi-big crash with the Strike, which proved it to be effective at absorbing the impact. It did leave a funny looking cross pattern of little red dots on the skin, presumably in the corners of each diamond shape where the impact force is more directly transmitted.


Fly Racing Lite

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Comfortable
  • Very light
  • Breathable
  • Lacks protection in key spots on the side of the knee
  • Spaces in the design of the main pad can allow objects to penetrate more easily
  • Protection: 3 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 3.5 stars

Fly Racing Lite Highlights

  • Fly Racing’s HDM (High Density Memory) protectors are made of a special blend viscoelastic foam with memory function allowing for repeat impacts (CE certified to EN1621-1)
  • Soft, lightweight and low profile pad 
  • The protective pads feature an array of airflow holes
  • 4 way stretch mesh panels for comfortable fit and cooling
  • Extended upper cuffs to stop slippage
  • Hidden stitching of the protector to the fabric to prevent snagging/ripping
  • Internal silicon gripper bands
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 264 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $59.95 USD

Shop the Fly Racing Lite at Jenson USA

Fly Racing's Lite protectors are one of three to make use of an external arrangement of foam "cubes" of various sizes and shapes. Made from Fly's own "HDM" foam, it is meant to provide trail-worthy protection in a very lightweight and malleable package. The HDM foam is attached to the main sleeve via a hidden stitch that is meant to keep it safe from snagging and ripping. The back of the sleeve is made from a mesh material to promote better breathability, while there are also ventilation holes in the main HDM foam pad. There are no external adjustment straps, but silicone grip strips feature on both cuffs, and the sleeve is tall to make sure you never have a short gap problem. The inside of the HDM pad area is covered with a soft, fleece-like fabric. All in all, the Lite is well put together, with high levels of workmanship on display.

In use, the Lite impressed with high levels of comfort and good breathability. In general, the fit is good and the cut works well for mountain biking. We do feel that the main protective pad skimps a bit on the coverage around the edges, and the way the "wings" are positioned leaves an unprotected area directly to the side of the knee cap. The HDM material did well in a crash testing scenario, but we do feel like some of the gaps between the foam "cubes" are a bit big, especially when the pad conforms to the shape of the knee. This can allow a pointy rock or a branch with extra room to sneak by the protective material on its way to your leg. The design also provides more edges that can hang up on obstacles as opposed to slide off them, and we have started to see early signs of material fatigue where it bends.


Nukeproof Critical Enduro

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Light
  • Comfortable
  • Good shin coverage
  • Lacks side protection
  • Not EN 1621-1 certified
  • Runs warm
  • Protection: 3 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 4 stars
  • Overall: 3.5 stars

Nukeproof Critical Enduro Highlights

  • Moisture wicking towel fabric
  • EVA foam main pad (not EN 1621-1 certified)
  • Kevlar outer ensures optimum abrasion resistance
  • Silicon gel lining secures the pad and prevents unwanted slippage
  • Light weight mesh rear panel for ventilation
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 284 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $55.00 USD

Shop the Nukeproof Critical at Chain Reaction Cycles

Nukeproof's Critical Enduro pad has been around for a long time, providing a good protection solution at an entry-level price point. It features a main pad made from EVA foam (non EN 1621-1 certified), and a full sleeve design based on a neoprene front and a rear mesh panel. The inside is lined with terry-like cloth. There are no adjustable straps, but a silicone grip strip on both cuffs.

In use, the Critical pad is both comfortable and secure. The fit works well on the bike, and we never found this pad to be slipping around too much. The flipside of all this stability is a pretty warm pad, there is not a lot going on in terms of ventilation and the materials chosen do tend to feel a bit clammy after a while. Although it's not CE certified, the main foam pad has proven itself capable of warding off pretty big impacts, and the durability of the protector as a whole is good as well.


Dainese Trail Skins 2

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very well ventilated
  • Good side protection
  • Awkward cut
  • Velcro straps can chafe on thicker legs
  • Protection: 3.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 4 stars
  • Price/Value: 3.5 stars
  • Overall: 3.5 stars

Dainese Trail Skins 2 Highlights

  • Trail specific, highly breathable low-profile knee pads designed for unrestricted pedaling and all-day comfort
  • "Crash Absorb" soft memory foam
  • "Pro Armor" knee pad
  • Silicone gripper bands
  • Velcro straps top and bottom
  • CE EN 1621-1
  • Sizes: S-XL 
  • Weight: 324 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $84.99 USD

Shop the Dainese Trail Skins 2 at Competitive Cyclist
For a limited time, use coupon code "GIRO101" to save 21% on this kneepad.

Dainese is a classic name in the moto world, and they have been advancing steadily in the mountain bike market for quite a few years by now as well. For the second generation of their Trail Skins knee protector, they chose the same honeycomb-style material as Kali did for the main pad material. Dainese calls their version "Pro Armor", and they left the inside of the main pad covered in just a mesh fabric, to really leverage the breathability of the honeycomb design. There is a lightweight mesh used behind the knee, and two velcro straps provide adjustability at the extremities - there are also silicone grippers inside both cuffs. Additional foam pads provide protection on both sides of the knee joint.

On the trail, the Trail Skins 2 is let down by the cut. Unfortunately, the protector manages to be both a bit too loose around the back of the knee, yet difficult to close down at the extremities. Even cinching down the top velcro strap pretty hard left a considerable gap still be closed, and the result is that part of the rough side of the velcro strap is exposed to the skin underneath it. This won't be an issue if you have thinner legs, but then the overall fit will really be too loose. As it stands, we were not able to achieve optimal stability in use, and the exposed velcro made itself felt of course. It's a shame, because the pad is highly breathable and the basic shape is well suited to the demands of mountain biking. The side protection is also large and confidence inspiring. With a bit more design effort this pad can work its way up the ranks, but as it stands now, the above-mentioned flaws hold it back.


G-Form Elite

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Wide area of coverage
  • Stable in use
  • Perfectible cut
  • Tendency to snag and move on impact
  • Material between "cubes" is thin and prone to ripping
  • Protection: 3.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3 stars
  • Overall: 3 stars

G-Form Elite Highlights

  • CE certified for motorcyclist/bicyclist limb protector [CE EN 1621-1:2012]
  • Extended coverage beyond CE requirements
  • Body-mapped, impact-absorbing RPT pads protect from impact
  • Moisture-wicking, UPF 50+ compression fabric to stay dry and comfortable
  • Top and bottom silicone gripper bands to ensure pads stay in place
  • Technical mesh back panel for breathability and moisture-wicking
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 356 grams (pair, size L, verified)
  • MSRP: $99.99 USD

Shop the G-Form Elite at Competitive Cyclist

The G-Form Elite is another pad that makes use of a soft, gel-like material in different shaped blocks to provide protection. The main pad is stitched to a full-length sleeve that features a mesh rear panel for improved breathability. The padded area is relatively big, and the main sleeve reaches fairly high up on the thigh to promote a more stable fit. There are silicone grippers inside the top and bottom cuffs, but no adjustable straps of any kind.

Whilst the Elite does a good enough job of providing enough coverage to wrap around the knee joint properly, the overall cut and shape of the protector needs a bit if improvement in our opinion. The main pad is definitely soft, flexible, and able to conform to the shape of the knee, but it is not very stretchy. Because of this, the central area of the protector is actually the least stretchy, which creates a bit of a pressure point directly behind the knee. The fact that G-Form placed a less stretchy stitch in the fabric right across this area as well does nothing to help alleviate this problem. The blocks around the side of the knee also tend to bunch up together a bit awkwardly when the joint is bent, and whilst they do a good enough job warding off direct impacts, they can snag quite easily and thus shift the protector out of place during a crash.


TLD Speed Knee Sleeve

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Very light
  • Comfortable
  • Easy to clean
  • Very minimal protection
  • Too short
  • Protection: 3 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 3.5 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3 stars
  • Overall: 3 stars

TLD Speed Knee Sleeve Highlights

  • D30 4mm ultra-lightweight and flexible knee pad
  • Silicone grippers prevent slipping
  • 360° seamless construction for all day riding comfort
  • Durable, abrasion-resistant knee panel
  • Reflective logos
  • CE certified for "minor abrasion protection"
  • Sizes: XS/S, MD/LG, XL/XXL
  • Weight: 236 grams (pair, size MD/LG, verified)
  • MSRP: $54.00 USD

Shop the TLD Speed Sleeve at Chain Reaction Cycles

The TLD Speed sleeve is about as minimalist as you can get. It's basically a knitted kneewarmer with a very thin patch of D3O covering the front of the knee. There are no straps of any kind, but a large printed silicone gripper inside the top cuff. The Speed sleeve is the second lightest protector on test here.

On the trail, we found that the Speed sleeve erred on the side of too little. Not enough protection to really warrant wearing them for anything other than a little extra peace of mind if your crashes are far between and generally of the benign type. We can live with a minimalist concept as that is a choice that some riders make, but we think the protective padding should have been extended towards the sides, and the sleeve given a bit more length up top. We're also not entirely sold on the knitted fabric which seems unnecessarily thick and warm for such a lightweight protector.


661 Recon Knee

Strengths Weaknesses Vital Ratings
  • Super light
  • Comfortable fit
  • Breathable
  • Not enough protection
  • Side protection fails to wrap around knee
  • Protection: 2.5 stars
  • Fit and Comfort: 4 stars
  • Quality and Finish: 3.5 stars
  • Price/Value: 3 stars
  • Overall: 3 stars

661 Recon Knee Highlights

  • Minimal, breathable chassis with Poron XRD Technology in the knee area
  • Stretch mesh back with an elastic strap over the calf to keep the pads from moving
  • PADLOCK connection system attaches to the 661 Evo Short to keep the pads in place
  • Internal silicon printing on top and bottom elastic
  • CE certified based on partial application of: EN 14021:2003 + EN 1621-1:2012.
  • Sizes: S-XL
  • Weight: 160 grams (pair, size XL, verified)
  • MSRP: $60.00 USD

Shop the 661 Recon Knee at Chain Reaction Cycles

The 661 Recon is the lightest protector on test here, and by quite some margin. To achieve this very low weight, 661 relied on a thin padding made of "Poron XRD", another one of those gel-like materials stitched to the outside of the pad. The sleeve itself is also very thin, and features a large hole cut out behind the knee joint. There are silicone grippers inside both cuffs, and an extra elastic strap around the calf for improved stability.

In use, the Recon is very comfortable and highly breathable. The cut is good, although this tester had to size up to XL from his usual L - if you typically run XL in other brands, you'll have to give this one a miss as this is the biggest size on offer here. However, as far as protection goes, it is exactly as minimalist as the weight of the product would suggest. The XRD padding is very thin, and quite small. The additional "wings" fail to wrap around the knee joint, leaving a significant part of it exposed to direct hits. The product is CE certified based on the "partial application of: EN 14021:2003 + EN 1621-1:2012. The former deals with use as "stone shields for off road motor cycling", which is the equivalent of a simple health&safety approval for basic falls and abrasion protection, while the latter is more stringent when it comes to impact testing. The clarify what all this means, the official certificate for this product states that it is a "Knee-pad for use during off-road biking activities (MTB, downhill, BMX etc.) – it is NOT suited to protect against hard impacts in case of falls/accidents, just against minor injures such as bruises, lofted stones and debris." Once again, we should point out that we have nothing in particular against a minimalist concept, we just think a little extra padding would make for a more meaningful product here.


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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