Knee Pad Throwdown: We Test 4 of the Best Slip-ons

We test out four sets of slip-on, mountain bike knee pads to see what they're made of and made for.

Photo by Matt Miller.

One of the most welcome advancements in mountain bike gear has been improved pads and protection. Gone are the days of looking like a Storm Trooper or Scarab beetle, with the hard plastic, articulating, exoskeleton padding.

These days, mountain bike pads vent better than they ever have, they look good, and most importantly, they still offer important protection.

We brought in four pads for a knee protection round up of sorts. Two of them are great for trail riding, while the other two will fit right in at an enduro race.

 PriceWeight (pair)Great forSizesTypePadding
Dakine Slayer$65329gTrail riding4slip-onImpact absorbing foam
Dainese Enduro$130530gEnduro3slip-onHard shell
Leatt 3DF 6.0$90506gEnduro3slip-onSoft shell guard
Slytech NoShock Lite$80193gTrail riding3slip-on2nd skin XT foam

Dakine Slayer

Photo by Matt Miller.

The Dakine Slayer pads could be classified as an aggressive trail pad. They are a slip-on pad, which requires the shoes to come off. The coverage is good, the padding is light but serious, and there is still a lot of ventilation despite thick padding.

The back of the Dakine Slayers.

The Slayer covers all of the patella and wraps around the sides of the knee. The pad stayed snug the whole time and there was no slipping on a couple of days in the Northstar bike park over jumps and drops.

If I could pick one set of pads out of this group that I trusted for everything from short trail rides to full days at the bike park, it’d be the Slayer. It’s not too much for the trail, and it’s still enough for most riding at a park.

Photo: Jeff Barber.

The downside of the Slayer is comfort. The material feels rough and a bit itchy. Maybe they’re too snug for me, but the measurements suggest that they’re not.

The ventilation is good though, and the padding still lets a lot of air through, so at the end of the day, you’re not going to get trench-knee.

Verdict: Great protection for any trail

Slytech NoShock Lite (discontinued)

Photo by Matt Miller.

The Slytech Noshock Lites have become a favorite pad of mine for long days on the trail, and that’s what they’re meant for. The Slytechs are a slip-on with the most ventilation and the most comfort out of this group, but the tradeoff is they offer the least coverage.

The back of the Slytechs. Photo by Matt Miller.

That being said, I forget that they’re on a lot of the time and that’s a bonus. For a normal, everyday trail riding knee pad, I would grab these every time. For rougher rides and days at the bike park, the Slytechs are certainly better than nothing, but aren’t going to offer as much protection as the other pads in a serious crash. Also the padding doesn’t extend far past the patella, and there isn’t any padding around the sides.

Testing the pads on the Waterbury, Vermont trails. Photo by Grant Wieler.

The sleeves seemed to stay up all the time, but there was a day at Killington bike park where they slipped down the whole day. Even with the sleeves slipping, the pads stayed right around the knee though, and there’s a good chance they would stay around the knee in a crash. Besides this, on every other trail ride I’ve had them on, they’ve stayed up without slipping.

Verdict: Comfortable for all-day rides and pedaling

Leatt 3DF 6.0

Photo by Matt Miller.

The Leatt 3DF lands in the test set as a pad that is comfortable and offers solid knee protection.

With one cinch strap up top, it fits well and hugs around the knee. The 3DF are soft, comfortable, and let a lot of air flow in. While they look like a bit too much to pedal around in, they’re actually quite bearable on climbs and the plastic guards don’t prevent air from flowing.

Photo by Matt Miller.

The guard features a pre-curved design, so the pads stick out a little bit when standing straight up, but fit well on most positions on the bike.

After testing, I trust the 3DF knee guards on rough trails while following fast friends, in the bike park, and in an enduro race. The comfort is exceptional and there’s only a small bit of itching that’s noticeable every now and then. The padding on the side is also appreciated at the times when my knees knock into my bike frame.

Verdict: Rugged and comfortable

Dainese Enduro knee guard

The Dainese Enduro knee guard is the most costly of the group, but offers the most protection. A pre-curved hard shell wraps around the entire knee and a separate guard comes down onto the upper shin, while the unique Dainese pro-armor material spreads across other areas.

Even before I pulled the velcro strap to adjust, I noticed that the pads fit around the knee very well. The knee guard is formed in a curve to adhere to the shape of a bent leg, so while the legs are bent, the knee guard fits like a glove.

When the legs are extended or in a standing position, the knee guard still wants to maintain its curved position, so standing in the knee guard looks and feels a bit awkward. The solid, hard shell guarantees protection, but the pro-armor still lets enough air flow in.

There is a bit of pressing into the top of the shin bone from the shin guard, and again, it’s most noticeable when standing. In a pedaling or descending position, the shell doesn’t press in noticeably and the pre-curved feel is perfect. These are a bit much for every day trail riding, but great for downhill days and enduro racing.

Verdict: Rugged and comfortable

Thanks to the respective brands for providing knee guards for this review.