Are Mountain Bike Knee Guards The Same As Knee Pads?

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Having some form of knee protection when you’re riding over rough terrain is recommended for mountain bikers who don’t want bumps and bruises to put an end to their adventures.

There’s no shortage of knee protection options out there. Whatever level of support and safety you’re looking for, you’ll have a range of products to choose from. So, is there any difference between mountain bike knee pads and guards, and which option should you choose? 

Why should mountain bikers wear knee protection? 

Knee protection is recommended for any mountain biker riding over rough terrain, on trails, or down rapid descents, as it will help to protect the joint from damage caused by impacts and abrasions. Whether it's a passing rock, stray branches, or spraying gravel, knee guards stop mountain bikers from suffering serious scratches or cuts and absorb impacts during a fall or crash. 

As well as protecting knees from external dangers, some types of protection will give extra support to the joint itself. This makes it less likely for mountain bikers to experience tendon or ligament damage and reduces the wear and tear the joint is subjected to over time, allowing them to ride for longer, even over harsh terrain. 

What are the differences between knee guards and knee pads?

The knee pad sits within a knee guard to provide impact protection. The knee guard is the shell that holds the pad and straps onto the knee. A good way to think of it is you can wear a knee guard without a knee pad, but you can’t wear a knee pad without a guard.  

Mountain bike knee guards should be worn by anyone about to hit the trails. The most protective knee guards, ideal for downhill riding, have a combination of a hard shell outer with a soft D3O® impact-absorbing knee pad inserted behind it. Some designs also offer joint support, including extra bracing. On the lighter side, more pedal-friendly knee guards will typically include a thin, flexible pad such as D3O® Ghost™and no external hard shell. 

There are no hard-and-fast rules for what features will or won’t be included in your knee protection, so it’s key that you take a look at the specs of each pair before you make your final decision. It’s also worth bearing in mind some brands use the term knee pad and knee guard interchangeably, so read carefully before you buy to make sure you’re getting what you need.

How to choose knee guards and knee pads? 

When you’re considering purchasing a new pair of knee guards there are a few elements you need to keep in mind. Remember to look for knee guards that include D3O® knee pads in order to get the maximum level of protection on the trails.


  • Impact protection. Looking at the type of impact protection technology included - the knee pad within the guard should be doing the heavy lifting to keep you safe from impacts. Look for D3O® impact protection to ride confident in the knowledge you’re protected.


  • Flexibility. When you’re riding, you don’t want the movement of this important joint to be restricted. However, you do want to give your knees the level of support they need. D3O® impact protection is soft and flexible, making it the perfect choice for knee protection, so look for guards that use D3O® and other lightweight or stretch materials for maximum freedom of movement.


  • Length. If you’re riding downhill, having a longer length guard will keep your knee and shins safe from any surfaces they come into contact with. However, if you’re an enduro or trail rider, then shorter guards might be sufficient. Either way, make sure the impact protection pad sits correctly over the joint so you are properly protected. If you’re looking for guards suited to smaller joints, check out brands using pads such as D3O’s LP1 Compact pads.


  • Ventilation. As well as being durable and resistant to abrasions, the materials of your knee guard need to be breathable, soft and flexible to make them practical to use and comfortable to wear. Using guards with ventilated knee pads from D3O, such as the LP1, are a great choice for riders who want protection without the heat and weight of bulky pads. 


  • Fit and design. To be effective, knee guards need to stay in place during even vigorous movements. Getting a close fit that’s not too restrictive is optimum for keeping your protection in place. With wrap-on and pull-on designs available, considering what will be comfortable and stay in place is key. 

Best mountain bike knee guards with impact protection pads

When you’re looking for knee guards with protective knee pads, it’s worth checking the specs to see exactly what features each protection option provides. To help you choose, here are some D3O partner brand options that offer excellent safety and technical features for riders.

Fox Racing Enduro Pro D3O® Knee Guards

Striking the balance between mobility, efficiency and protection, Enduro Pro D3O® Knee Guards are an ideal choice for everyday mountain bikers who want an extra layer of safety. Made from moisture-wicking Lycra, the slip-on design is lightweight with an elastic strap and silicone grips to hold it in place. Plus, mountain bikers can trust the CE- and UKCA-certified, flexible custom D3O® knee pad inserts to keep them safe. 

Troy Lee Designs Stage D3O® Knee Guards

Suitable for mountain bikers looking for breathable protection, the Stage D3O® Knee Guards are made from mesh and have silicone grippers to keep them in place, allowing wearers to stay comfortable for longer. Durable and ultra-breathable, the D3O® pads inside harden on impact to disperse the impact’s energy and keep the joint protected.

Pearl Izumi Elevate D3O® Knee Guard

Built with ventilation, protection and durability in mind, the Elevate D3O® Knee Guard is designed to help mountain bikers keep performing at their best for longer. The breathable D3O® pads offer premium protection, while the over-the-thigh length helps stop slippage as riders move. 

Race Face Ambush D3O® Leg Guard

For full leg protection, there’s none better than the Ambush D3O® Leg Guard. With an open-back design, they keep a mountain biker’s legs cool and protected while being easy to take on and off without the need to remove shoes. With D3O® pads, these are ideal for any mountain biker looking for all-around protection. 

Scott Soldier 2 D3O® Knee Guards

Lightweight, strapless and stretchy, the Soldier 2 D3O® Knee Guards are used by the SCOTT SR Suntour Team and are great for mountain bikers wanting functional protection. Pairing D3O’s shock absorption technology with abrasion-resistant fabrics, silicone grips and breathable mesh mean they’re comfortable to ride in and stay in place for longer. 

SixSixOne Recon Advance D3O® Knee Guard

Developed based on the popular Recon pad design, the Recon Advance D3O® Knee Guard offers CE & UKCA Level 1 protection alongside flexibility and comfort. Fitting up to the thigh and weighing 450g, they also connect to protective shorts and upper body apparel for complete coverage. Hard caps are also an option for serious off-road rides. 

Racer Motion D3O® Knee Support

A great all-rounder, the Motion D3O® Knee Guards have a side zip to make them easy to take on and off. With stretch reinforcement and D3O® inserts, they are suitable for a range of riding needs. Wherever you’re heading, you can ride in confidence knowing that these pads have been tried and tested to the max by Team enduro RACER.

Endura MT500 D3O® GhostKnee Guards

As the name suggests, the MT500 D3O® Ghost™Knee Guards offer some of the lightest and most flexible protection around. Made from moisture-wicking, ripstop fabric, these sleeve-like guards feel like they’re barely there while still providing trusted, CE- and UKCA Level 1-certified D3O® impact protection.

Bluegrass Skinny D3O® Guards

Mountain bikers can give it their all in a second skin they can trust with Skinny D3O® Guards. Breathable, lightweight and durable, the short sleeve design and thin D3O® protection means they can stay safe without holding back.