Trail Protection from Head to Toe: A Compression Jacket and MTB Pants with Built In Knee Pads

We tested a jacket and tights with built-in protective pads at the bike park this summer.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could go for a ride with blatant disregard for personal safety? No mountain bike specific clothing, shoes, helmet, pads, glasses, gloves, etc. No gear checklists. No “what if” scenarios. Just a bike and a person and the open trail. Oh what a glorious fantasy it is, unfortunately reality is calling and I must go.

No matter how talented a rider you are, or how easy the trail may be, there’s always a chance that you’ll *ahem* eat shit. More often than not it will be in that “not-a-cool story bruh” sort of way. You know the ones; slow uphill falls where you can’t seem to get unclipped, wheel vs. stick snags, rogue trees that appear out of nowhere. Based on human experience, it seems the most unassuming danger lies waiting for that “one time you forgot to wear pads.” We all have THAT story (don’t lie). Luckily there’s an abundance of comfortable protective gear for all scenarios, and I had the pleasure of testing a few interesting pieces this summer.

SixSixOne EVO Women’s Compression Jacket

  • Price $199.99
  • Buy from SixSixOne.

“Compression Jacket” was not a phrase in my bike armor vocabulary, nor an item I had thought much about prior to testing the SixSixOne EVO Compression jacket. To be fair, I’m not sending it so hard at the park, so adding protection beyond the standard full face helmet, knee, and elbow pads never really occurred to me.

I’ve seen tourists fully padded up with jackets and armor rented from the bike shop for downhill days, likely because “they’re the ones who will crash,” which is true. Good on you, family from Kansas. However, in doing a few mental calculations: novice speed + many more miles per hour + egregious confidence + one wrong move = full body armor sounds like a good idea.

Most the armor I’d seen in the past was quite bulky and looked especially heinous underneath a jersey. The SixSixOne EVO Compression Jacket is the most minimal-looking jacket I’ve seen, and it has all the protection I need in one, easy-to-slip-on, comfortable, well ventilated package.

There isn’t a huge need for it to be breathable and lightweight, since the typical user isn’t pedaling much in it, yet it is both. One downside to the lighter material in between the pads; if you crash hard it rips easily.

This jacket seems a bit much for enduro, especially when paired with the 661 EVO Compression shorts and Recon Advance knee pads which all connect via the 661 padlock system (if desired) for a trifecta of protection. I’d definitely consider this a solid downhill setup.

I tested a women’s size XS and it fit me perfectly. The jacket weighs 1.95 lbs (884g) so it feels like being wrapped in a weighted blanket, giving you a gentle (compression) hug and reminding you that you’re safe. Initially, I thought my chest would be squished and it would feel restrictive when zipped. However, there is a perfect amount of stretch built into the entire garment along with armpit and elbow holes for added comfort.

The SixSixOne EVO compression jacket also boasts five D30 protective pads located on the back, shoulders, and elbows. There are EVA foam pads on the front and sides hug “the girls” just so and velcro adjusters on the forearm to ensure elbow pads stay put.

The mesh panel that secures the back protection can also accommodate a water bladder, the hose of which snakes through the shoulder. Unfortunately there is no securing mechanism in the front so the hose would either flop around or need to be secured some way.  I’ve never seen a downhiller utilize such a feature, but it’s a nice-to-have, just in case.

The SixSixOne EVO Compression jacket is an investment, but a reasonable one if you intend on spending time at the bike park. For $199.99, you get back, shoulder, and elbow protection in one easy-to-use jacket that ranges in size from XS-XL.

Fox Ranger Tights with Built-in Knee Pads

I’m not one for riding in full-length tights. Knee pads look awkward and shift tremendously if worn on top and generally tights feel too yoga pant-esque for my taste. However, there are a fair number of women who do enjoy riding in tights. Lucky for those women, Fox has created the Ranger Tights, complete with TruMotion® all-way stretch fabric, built in chamois, and integrated — yet removable — D3O knee pads.

The Fox Women’s Ranger Tights are a great option for women who prefer a sleek, aerodynamic look over baggy mountain bike pants or for those who want chamois, pads and added warmth underneath baggy pants during those cold winter months. They are fairly comfortable and lightweight with mesh venting on the side of the knee and a hidden mesh pocket on the waistband in the back.

The two-layer, women’s specific Fox chamois is too bulky for my preference. There is a lot of padding that bunches up and gives the impression of a large diaper under the tights, but it gets the job done protecting your downstairs cheeks. The chamois itself is attached to the tights, but only sewn on the front and rear, which seems odd. My best guess is this leaves the opportunity for easy stitch removal, should the wearer chose to remove the chamois.

One thing I love about Fox apparel is that all of their women’s pants are low-rise (no thanks maternity waistband), and the same is true for their tights. I received an XS for test. They are true-to-size and the D3O inserts are placed in the correct spot on the knee given my leg length.

The pads are integrated into the tight via a slip pocket on the inside and they are easy to remove for washing. While the pads don’t shift in the pocket, the tights shift up and down when riding, so minor adjustments had to be made from time to time.

One benefit of removable pads is that you can use these tights for gravel or road riding as well, making them a surprisingly versatile garment. Overall I like the concept of protective tights.

Practically speaking, I’m never going to wear them unless it’s ridiculously cold outside and I need a layer underneath my layers. They simply aren’t my style.

However, I know many women who will love these tights especially given the integrated chamois, knee pads, and multi-discipline possibilities.

Unfortunately the Fox Ranger Tights aren’t cheap. At a price of $169.99, I can hear women “psssttt-ing” given that their favorite pair of lululemon leggings only cost $120.

SixSixOne Recon Advance Knee Pads

  • Price: $109.99. Hard cap kit: $14.99.
  • Buy from Amazon.

If you’re not feeling jackets and pants with pads built in, this is for you. The SixSixOne Recon Advance knee pads fill the void in between full DH setups and more minimalistic, everyday rider protection. They are a bit burlier than the standard SixSixOne Recon knee pads, yet provide comprehensive coverage in a pedal-friendly package with the ability to add more protection as needed.

I tested size small, which weighs 14.7oz (416g). The fit is much like the standard Recon; more of a leg sleeve, stretchy, easy to slip-on and non-adjustable (no Velcro tightening straps).

The majority of the sleeve is comprised of vented material in the rear and a knee pit hole so as not to get that hot and bothered (raw) spot while pedaling. Like many pedal-worthy pads, the Recon Advance touts silicone grippers that sit high up the thigh and down below the knee for a non-slip fit.

The length helps avoid the dreaded pad-to-shorts gap and if you happen to own 661’s protective shorts, there is a padlock system up top that allows you to secure the pads to the shorts via plastic snaps. This seems like a good idea in theory, but also like an “Instagram vs. reality” meme because I have never seen anyone actually use it.

The protective portion on the front of the knee is made with a thick D3O insert which protects the kneecap and extends down the shin. One upgrade from the standard Recon are the fourteen small thermo-foam EVA pads that add coverage to the lower thigh, outer knee. and shin. These smaller pads made me feel safer at the downhill park, but they also add weight and hold in heat.

This is fine when you’re not pedaling much or exclusively riding in temperate weather, but not ideal for long rides in the dead of summer.

If you exclusively ride park, or are looking for that reassuring plastic feel, the protection can be boosted with optional hard plastic knee caps that attach to the outside of the pad via four small Velcro loops. I did not test the plastic covers, however they seem like they should be easy to use, albeit mostly unnecessary as far as I can tell.  

The Recon Advance pads retail for $109.99, which is a bit pricey, especially if you opt to purchase the knee cap covers as well. However, if you need one pad that does it all, these are a great option.

The Recon Advance pads are comfortable and perfectly suited for most riding styles. I especially enjoyed the length, extra foam bits around those little knee bones, and the ventilation in the rear.