The Anatomy of a Knee Pad

The Anatomy of a Knee Pad

"Oh wow Neon Skates, is this the most interesting and sexy blog you've ever written?". 

Ummm...yeah, that would be a no.  But sexy isn't what we're going for here. Y'all are gonna get way smart after reading this blog and you'll make some great decisions about protecting those incredibly valuable knees of yours. Maybe you'll be the talk of the next party with all your new found knowledge.  

We get a lot of people coming into the store, staring at our wall of protective gear blankly like we've asked them to solve world peace.  So, let's talk about all of the different stuff that makes up a knee pad so that you can gravitate towards the right one for you.


One of the biggest turn ons/offs in a knee pad can be its profile. Thinner pads are great for crossovers and feeling like you've got less interfering with your sweet moves. But what you gain in thinness, you can lose in protection.  So it's best to find a pad that is a balance for your needs. Heavier skaters may need thicker pads than lighter skaters.  Some of my tiny jammer friends would be happy to tape a coaster to their knee caps and call it a day, but I don't recommend that.

When you're buying a better knee pad, remember that we humans are pretty good at adapting, so something that feels super awkward at first may actually be fine after a few practices.  Also very important, knee pads tend to soften and form to your leg over time (read: once they soak up with your sweat) so if you feel they protrude into the next time zone when you are standing tall, rest assured that will improve.


There are two major types of closure.  There are minor variations to the way the straps do up but essentially, you've got the sleeve style and the butterfly style.  Sleeves are completely closed in the back and slide on.  Great for simplicity. Annoying as heck if you've put your skates on first.  Butterfly closures are a little bit more adjustable and depending on the size of the "wing", they can be more open and breathable on the back of your leg.  

Another thing to consider is the straps and their material.  Stretchy neoprene and elastic materials will degrade and stretch.  Canvas straps are strong and inflexible but last. I love elastic straps that actually have a length adjuster so that you can shorten them as they stretch out.  It sucks when they stretch further than the velcro.


The quality of the foam is important for the overall fit and effectiveness.  If you buy a triple set of pads from your local canadian hardware store, the foam in the pads will likely be thin and spongey.  If you buy a pad built for roller derby or skate boarding, you know they can take a serious beating while absorbing the shock you put them through. Most rec pads are made in case you fall.  Ones that you should buy for these sports are made because you will fall.  

You might be surprised that if you deconstruct a knee pad, the inside foam can be made up of layers.  Some have memory foam in the knee cup. Some have a foam ring to fit around your knee cap. Some have strategically placed cuts and seams so that the padding can form against your body as you move.  In fact, some pads you can actually deconstruct easily to see for yourself because their outer layer is removable and washable. Great if you tend to leave them in your gear bag or if you have a charming odor that you can't just air out.  


YUP, even the hard caps on pads can vary.  There are permanent caps that have rivets in them versus replaceable ones that attach using straps and velcro.  The shape of caps also vary.  One designed for derby are generally flatter so that you can have nice controlled upright slide.  For when you fall.  Notice how I didn't say if. A rounded cap can fit your knee more ergonomically but might make it harder to "fall small" without sliding out in all directions.

Why? WHYYYYY would you want to replace caps?  Well, frankly, if you fall and crack the cap, then the pads are doing their job, they have absorbed the impact that otherwise would have broken your knee cap (that one is more expensive and painful to replace). So, you can get replaceable caps if you want to prolong the life of your pad and not have to replace them any time you take a wicked cap crakin' spill.


There are a few pads that are made to extend up onto your lower thigh and down onto your shin. These pads give a little more coverage and also prevent vertical slide (which is the nice way of saying "when your knee pad unexpectedly becomes a shin pad"). I've also heard of people who get a very acute nausea when the area just below the knee cap gets hit. Longer pads will protect against that.  But they can be hotter, so if heat or bulk is your issue, then opt for a shorter pad.


Straight up, you get what you pay for when it comes to knee pads.  For the most part, the more you spend, the better the materials, fit, durability and protection.  It can seem like one of the bigger investments when you play a contact sport but aside from your skates, it's the gear that will spend the most time slamming on the ground.

Now, that doesn't mean you should buy the most expensive pad.  It does mean that you should figure out what your needs are and maybe don't sacrifice those needs for something less expensive.  Find the sweet spot that works for your body.


Pads Profile Closure Padding Caps Length
187 Fly Low Sleeve Simple Permanent Short
187 Pro High Butterfly Layers Replaceable Short
187 Pro Derby High
Layers/Removable Replaceable Short
Smith Derby Low Butterfly Layers Replaceable Short
Smith Elite 1 Med
Removable Permanent Long
Smith Elite 2 Low
Layers/Removable Replaceable Long
Deadbolt Grand Slam Med
Removable/Memory Foam Replaceable Short

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