Cycling is a ton of fun, but bruising or fracturing your knees and elbows definitely isn’t. Thankfully, we can put some pads on those joints to protect them from falls. But do you need knee and elbow pads for mountain biking?
As a general rule, you need knee and elbow pads for mountain biking. Mountain trails are uneven terrain, so the occasional bike fall is inevitable. Knee and elbow pads work great at protecting the most exposed joints during a fall. You can get soft or hard shell pads to shield your joints.
This article will explain everything you need to know about protective gear for mountain biking. You’ll learn how to choose the right knee and shoulder pads for your next mountain trail.
How Much Body Armor Should You Wear for Mountain Biking?
You should wear as much body armor as possible for mountain biking. Protective gear like helmets and knee, shin, and elbow pads will all reduce injuries from falls. You’ll also want heavy-duty padded gloves that will protect your palms from abrasive injuries.
Of course, you shouldn’t go overboard. You’ll still have to move your arms and legs to cycle. In general, more body armor is always better.
You can wear all of the body armor mentioned above, and you won’t lose much mobility.
The helmet is, by far, the most significant piece of equipment. If you have to pick only one piece, always choose the helmet. It’ll reduce the chance of a concussion or other serious head injury by half.
But what piece of body armor is next in line?
It’s got to be the knee pads. Unless you fall over the handlebars, your knees will be the first point of impact.
Moreover, your knee is one of the most complex joints in your body. Any injury to it will require one or more surgeries for you to walk again.
So, get a pair of knee pads to protect that all-important joint.
Your shins will most likely get bruised from falls as well. Fractures from falls aren’t common, but bruises surely are. A pair of shin pads will significantly reduce any type of injury.
You should protect your upper body as well. The bare minimum is having elbow pads.
When you fall on one side, the elbow is the most exposed body part. Rocky, uneven mountains are especially dangerous for side falls.
A misplaced stone could dislocate your elbow. You’ll be in excruciating pain if that happens.
But what about body armor in the literal sense?
It all depends on how extreme your favorite mountain trail is. At the very least, you could get a cycling tee with some chest and back padding.
Get the POC VPD Air+ Tee (available on Amazon.com). It’s made of breathable fabric, and it has thick padding on both sides for impact protection. And since it’s very flexible, you won’t feel restrained.
Combine everything I mentioned, and you’ll feel safe and confident on your mountain bike.
How to Choose the Right Knee and Elbow Pads?
You should choose knee and elbow pads based on size, padding thickness, and design. The thicker the padding, the better. Ensure the pads fit properly on your knees and elbows for maximum protection. Check the dimensions beforehand.
Don’t buy the best-looking pads. It’s all about protection, not how cool you look during a fall.
The most important factor is that the pads fit you perfectly. You want to have a snug fit, but nothing too tight. If a knee pad is too restricting, it’ll cut off flow to your calf muscles.
And if it’s too loose, it won’t do anything. When you hit the ground, the pad will shift and expose your joint.
If your knee or elbow pads feel uncomfortable, get a different pair.
You should feel that they’re there, but they shouldn’t cause any major discomfort. Also, you’ll be able to move your arms and legs freely.
There’s also the debate between soft and hard shell pads. Both are great options, but hard shell pads protect your joints better. More on that later in this article.
How To Make Knee and Elbow Pads More Comfortable
There are a few things that affect the comfort of your protective pads.
If you already bought a pair and it doesn’t feel comfortable, don’t fret. Some of these tips will enable you to use them. Let’s get into it.
Get the Right Size Pads
The most important thing is that you get a size that fits you. You can’t use pads that other family members use.
Small knee and elbow pads will cut off your circulation. Even worse, large pads will slide up and down your extremities.
The good news is you can measure everything beforehand. You’ll then know what size you need.
187 Killer Pads explain how to take measurements and which size you’ll need. Now that you know your dimensions, you can buy the correct size.
Invest in High-Quality Pads
Never skimp on protective gear. A pair of sturdy knee and elbow pads will give you the confidence to cycle on difficult terrain.
You’ll feel safer on your mountain bike. A fall will still hurt, but your trusty pads will keep your joints protected.
For example, a cheap hard shell will dig into your skin even on the smallest impact. This will leave some painful bruises that you could’ve avoided with better padding.
The best thing cheap soft padding can do is protect your skin against abrasion.
Don’t Get Knee Pads With Holes in the Back
Many knee pad manufacturers put holes on the backside. This sounds like a good idea. Your skin can breathe, and your knee can still flex while protected, right?
All it does is make the knee pad more unbearable to wear. The edge of the hole feels very uncomfortable with each knee flexion. And your knees flex all the time when cycling. You get the point.
Strap the Pads Correctly
So you measured your body, you got the right size pads, but they still don’t fit right. Why?
That’s because you aren’t wearing them correctly. Most pads use velcro to stay in place. You need to strap the pad tight enough that the pad doesn’t move whatsoever. It’s better to have them fit a bit too tight than too loose.
Wear the Pads Inside Your Clothing
If you’re mountain biking in sweatpants or even jeans, wear the pads underneath the clothes. This goes for elbow pads, too.
Many of us made this mistake at some point. It seems logical at first. After all, you don’t want to rip your clothes. However, it’s less effective compared to wearing it under the clothes. Pads go directly onto the skin to get the best impact protection.
Also, some materials make pads slide up and down.
Wear the Pads Only When Biking on Challenging Terrain
For starters, I don’t actually recommend or endorse this. Many accidents happen on straight streets and grassland, too. But if you can’t stand pads, you could wear them only when you absolutely need them.
Bring along your protective gear to the mountains. You can put them in your backpack. Alternatively, put them onto your mountain bike frame.
When you get to the trail, put the pads on.
Soft Shell vs. Hard Shell Pads
I like to separate knee and elbow pads into 2 categories: hard shells and everything else.
Hard shell protective gear always offers better protection. It’s also more durable and breathable. However, soft shell pads are usually more comfortable. They also double as knee or elbow warmers in the colder months.
If you get soft shell pads with a very thick gel, you’ll have great impact protection. A combination of hard shell and gel is ideal, though.
A good analogy is a design we see in hybrid phone cases. The hard shell protects against the initial impact, and the gel absorbs the rest.
By the time the force reaches your joint, it’ll be very weak. You’ll hardly feel any pain as far as your joint is concerned. The surrounding skin might hurt a bit, though.
Wearing Only Knee Pads vs. Only Elbow Pads
While you can and should wear both, let’s make a quick comparison.
When you fly over the bar, you’re probably going to land on your hands. Your elbow is unlikely to get injured here, but the knee is.
Falls to the side are bad for joints. If you tend to flare out your elbows while cycling, your elbow will hit the ground first.
But most cyclists instinctively tuck their elbows in during a fall.
The outer side of your knee will hit the ground no matter what you do.
So, knee pads are slightly more important than elbow pads. Most cyclists from the Mountain Bike Reviews Forum would agree.
But all of us acknowledge the importance of elbow pads. So, please wear both.
Do You Need a Helmet for Mountain Biking?
You need a helmet for mountain biking. It’s the most significant piece of body armor because a powerful blow to the head causes irreversible brain injury. A blow to the head may cause a concussion, skull fracture, internal and external bleeding, and other types of brain injuries.
Before you go mountain biking without a helmet, remember that some of these brain injuries are permanent. You’d have problems moving, thinking, memorizing, etc.
Some people think that helmets won’t do anything to protect you. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A study on bicycle helmets has found that a bicycle helmet reduces head injury by 48% and the number of serious injuries and fatalities by 34%.
And this study was on regular bicycle helmets. Mountain bike helmets are even sturdier.
I recommend the GROTTICO Bike Helmet (available on Amazon.com). It’ll protect your skull from severe injuries, thanks to its tough polycarbonate shell. Also, you won’t feel hot because there are 23 vents.
Best Knee Pads for Mountain Biking
If you haven’t bought knee pads yet, you’re in luck. I’ve found some of the best gear for you available on Amazon.com. The products are as follows:
The G-Form Pro X2s are one of the most popular hard shell knee pads on the market.
They’re very comfortable and breathable, thanks to their compression fabric and vent holes. The pads use silicone grippers to stay in place, so they’ll never slide.
The hard shell features the G-Form logo in red, and the fabric has a cool pattern. So, these pads are both stylish and effective!
If you’re not into hard shell pads, these Bodyprox will do. They have a very thick sponge that’ll protect your knee against bruises and scratches.
These pads double as knee warmers, so you’ll get a few extra benefits. Keeping your knees warm will improve circulation, lower the risk of injury, and reduce stiffness.
If you’re into hardcore mountain cycling, you should use hardcore protection.
The Demon Dirt pads both look and sound cool. They have 2 plastic shells in the front for your knees and shins. The inside is made of very thick perforated padding that feels very comfortable.
You get a ton of ventilation holes in the plastic shell to stay cool. These pads use quick-release straps. It’s super easy to take them off when you want to take a break.
Best Elbow Pads for Mountain Biking
Any kind of elbow pad is better than no protection. But here are a few of the better ones you can get on Amazon.com:
Here’s another great piece of gear from G-Form to match with your knee pads. These pads are exactly what you expect.
You get the same high-quality materials as in the knee pad. The fabric is breathable, but it can also keep you warm on winter trails.
If you prefer soft shell elbow pads, Bodyprox got you covered. The foam padding will protect your elbow from any minor injuries.
These pads are very comfortable to wear, don’t slip, and come in 3 different sizes. Make sure to get the correct size for optimal mobility.
The light compression you get when wearing these pads is good for existing injuries. You get a slight relief from tendonitis, which is an extremely painful condition.
You should always wear protective gear when cycling, especially for mountain biking. Falls are all but inevitable, so it’s important to protect your knees and elbows with protective pads.
When buying pads, pay attention to the following:
- Type of shell
- Padding thickness