4 MTB Knee Pads, From Minimal to Full-On, Summer Tested

This summer we tested four pairs of mountain bike knee pads for trail and enduro riding from thin and lightweight to full-on protection.

For many, MTB knee pads are a must when shredding out on the trails. Whether it’s a light ride or an enduro fest, it’s always a good idea for your knees to be protected. I tested out a range of different knee pads from IXS, Ninja, and Troy Lee to find the right pads for the right rides.

I would like to start off by saying that the search for knee pads to fit my large thighs was a bit of a challenge. When shopping for a new set of knee pads, I typically go into the store to try them on before committing. But, I’ve found that stores don’t carry many brands with larger sizes in stock for me to try on. For this review, I pulled the measuring tape out, jotted down my measurements, and followed each company’s sizing chart.

For reference: 

  • Height: 5ft 8in (172.72cm)
  • Inseam: 30in (76.2cm)
  • Thigh measurement, above the knee: 23in (58.5cm) 
  • Calf measurement, below the knee: 14.5in (37cm)

I landed on XXL — the largest size they all seem to make — on the knee pads I tested, which wasn’t a big surprise to me. I hope this roundup is especially helpful for readers with larger thighs like me. The following mini reviews are roughly ordered by lightest weight / least protection to the most protective.

Troy Lee Speed Knee Sleeve

Troy Lee MTB knee pads

The Troy Lee Speed Knee Pad Sleeves are my favorite lightweight pads. I have actually been riding with these for a couple of years now. I bought these for those “easy” trail rides. 

I went with the XL/XXL option they offer. These are by far the easiest on and off MTB knee pads I have tried, regardless if they are left/right oriented. The silicone grippers at the thigh area do a good job keeping the pads in place. I would like to see silicone grippers in the calf area in the next iteration. 

The 360-degree seamless construction allows for great mobility when pedaling. It’s not a mesh material like other pads; instead it is very flexible and shape conforming. I am a big fan of utilizing this type of material instead of mesh. It may look a little stuffy, but I assure you, it is very breathable and it doesn’t stick to the skin. 

Fit is very important, but so is protection. These kneepads come with D30 4mm ultra lightweight and flexible built-in padding. This means you cannot take the padding off when washing.  This hasn’t been a problem for me though. Luckily, I haven’t had a bad crash on these, but having thicker padding would make me a bit more confident when riding fast singletrack. Maybe they should allow you to buy a beefier pad and replace it! I have a feeling these pads will save my knees from a bad rash, but won’t help with direct knee-to-ground impact. But hey, minimal protection is better than no knee protection at all! 

I hope to see an improved iteration of these pads soon with a beefier removable or upgradable pad and silicone grippers at both ends. The reflective TLD logos are a nice touch when riding at night. For under $60, I can’t recommend these enough. These have withstood many trail rides and washes. I am very confident these will last me a few more years.

Winner of my “Honey, where are my Knee Sleeves, oh nvm, I’m wearing them” award.

Ninja Speed King MTB knee pads

Ninja MTB knee pads

The Ninja Speed King Knee pads are for those looking for protection on those XC rides and urban adventures, and on not so sketchy trails. These sleeve-style pads are really lightweight and breathable. Offering great flexibility when pedaling, you tend to forget you are even wearing them. 

I got these in a size XXL and surprisingly they were on the snug side, which made them a bit more difficult to slip on and off. (Not as much as a struggle as the IXS’s pads though). A sizing problem I ran into with these was that the elastic material at the thigh and lower calf maxed out, meaning they wouldn’t stretch more. I am only referring to the elastic band where the silicone strips are located. That was a bummer, as they claim to have four-way stretch material. I believe they should make them a bit more stretchy. It was just enough to slip on and off, but with a bit of a struggle. Once I had them on, however, they did not cut into my skin when riding.

Compared to the Troy Lee Speed Knee Sleeve, the Speed King’s removable flexible pad seems to have a bit more robust material for more protection. With a double stitching build, these should last many rides and washes. 

At under $70, these are a great addition to the bike closet for those “easy” rides. As with the other Ninja knee pads, you have that 12-month limited warranty to buy worry free.

Winner of my “I send it at the flow trail” award. 

IXS Flow Evo+

IXS mountain bike knee pads

The IXS Flow+ knee pads are “designed to be super thin, light, and comfortable kneepads” according to their website.

I would agree that they are thin, light, and possibly comfortable if only they didn’t feel so tight around my legs. Unfortunately, these pads were the tightest of them all. I found myself struggling a bit putting them on and taking them off. Both of these actions were specifically hard when my legs were sweaty. I usually roll the silicone stoppers outward to make it easier to put on or off.  Once on, well, they stayed on, snug and tight on my leg, I am not sure if the LoopLock offers any added value, as the silicone strips were more than enough to keep them on. Unfortunately after just a couple of short laps, all I wanted to do was take them off! There may be some folks out there that may not run into this issue at all if they have thinner thighs.

To give them some credit, the inner shape at the kneecap area molded well to my knee cap while wearing them. If they were sized a bit bigger or better yet, if they made their AeroMesh more elastic, this would be a more comfortable knee pad to wear. 

The quality of the materials used, the ventilated back, and the use of the removable X-MATTER Flow guards as the impact and shock absorbing polymer can make these MTB knee pads a great buy. After following IXS’s sizing chart and ordering their biggest size, I will say it is best to try them on before purchasing. According to the size chart the XXL pads only fit a thigh circumference up to about 19in which is clearly too small for my legs.

Winner of my “Aw, I wish I got the bigger size” award. 

Ninja Hooligan Knee pads

The Ninja Hooligan knee pads are built tough. With DH trails and techy exposed terrain in mind, these were my favorite knee pads of the bunch. Not only did the XXL size fit my legs well, they also stayed comfortable throughout long rides. I found them to be easy on-and-off pads and the mesh back kept me cool and comfortable. Big knee pads can be associated with getting hot quickly, but these have a breathable mesh back that helps with heat and moisture dissipation.

The removable knee cushion insert covers the whole front knee, and the quad bilateral foam protecting the knee from side impacts is greatly appreciated. Why would anyone say no to more knee protection, especially if you’ve ever hit your knee, even lightly. It hurts! Trust me, I ride mountain bikes. 

I found the Ninja Hooligan Knee pads are ideal for riding steep and technical trails out in Santa Cruz, CA, where I tested them. The anatomical flexible shape, internal silicone strips, and adjustable Velcro straps at both ends gave me confidence that these would not slip off if I were to crash. I’ve had a set of pads that slipped down my leg when I crashed (doh!), but I did not have to worry about that with these knee pads.  Any single- or double-black diamond trails I plan on riding, I reach out for these pads and their elbow equivalents. For enduro riders, these will offer great protection with a lot of mobility.

The kevlar fabric layer should make these pads hold up to abrasion if you ever crash. I have thrown these pads in the washer a few times without problems.

It seems that Ninja has a pretty accurate sizing chart, which is very helpful if you’re purchasing online. I did not see left knee/right knee tag anywhere on the pads, which made these super easy to put on.

With a decent price tag under $80 and a 12-month limited warranty, these are hard to pass on.

Winner of my “I can’t believe I get this much foam padding for this price” award.