How to Protect Your Shins Mountain Biking

Do you really need to wear full shin pads mountain biking? Lots of mountain bikers ask this question, and there are good reasons for that. Many mountain bikers only wear MTB shin pads/knee pads combo when they feel the risk of a crash lies between moderately high and high.

The rest of the time, mountain bike riders simply put on regular knee pads. Whether they’re participating in a Cross-country race or just a regular trail ride, lots of riders prefer to use knee pads.

In this post, I’ll highlight various mountain biking situations where it’d be a good idea to use full shin pads. I’ll also identify a couple of riding scenarios where you’d be OK using just knee pads.

Why Don’t Mountain Bikers Wear Shin Pads? 

I keep seeing riders without knee pads or armguards. And they seem fine. They’re fine until bad luck intercepts their trail one day and they have an endo that breaks their wristbones and hurts their delicate knees real bad.

As pointy tree stumps or rocks dig into their knees and shins and blood starts gushing and streaming down everywhere, the moment of truth finally arrives. These riders finally realize that it’s a bad mistake to ride without good knee pads or shin pads.

And when they see ugly scrapes, bruises, and bark tattoos all over their arms, they realize they should have worn forearm guards.

But what’s happened happened. What remains is to find someplace to have your slashed knees stitched up and your broken wrists mended.

I talked to a few mountain bikers when I was researching for How to Protect Your Shins and Knees Mountain Biking. It turns out most of them don’t usually wear full knee pads. But they also gave me what sounded like good reasons for not using full knee pads.

5 Reasons Mountain Bikers Shun Full Shin Pads

Here’s why lots of riders out choose to wear just regular knee pads as opposed to shin pads. Shin pads offer more coverage and protection than standard knee pads. But there are a few things about shin/knee combo pads that discourage use.

MTB shin guards
Knee pads aren’t always comfortable, plus they come with lots of fit issues, but the best ones are super protective

1. Being Pro Mountain Bike Rider

Being a darn good rider means something, huh? It does. Being really, really good at riding the most technical trails can save you from crashes. And if you fall, you’ll almost always fall safely (bail). That’s a big reason why the best MTB riders don’t wear shin pads and even knee pads. They think they’re less likely to fall, but while that’s true, even the finest riders on Earth crash. So, pad up.

2. Most Shin Pads Have Fit Issues

Another common reason lots of mountain bikers stay away from shin pads is that it’s extremely hard to find shin pads that fit right.

Shins come in all sizes and shapes. Plus shin-length varies from rider to rider. And shin pads are mostly mass-produced cycling protective gear. Unless biking gear manufacturers devise ways to make shin pads that fit well and stay up throughout use, nothing will change.

But if you look hard enough, you should be able to find mountain bike shin pads that work satisfactorily. However, the best MTB knee pads for enduro racing or cross-country racing aren’t always cheap.

3. Most Full Shin Pads Are Uncomfortable

Admittedly, most shin/knee pads aren’t comfortable. One reason the shin pads aren’t always comfortable is that they usually don’t fit well. I once bought a sinfully pricey pair of shin pads at Amazon and started using them right away. I do mostly recreational enduro, and my pads kept riding up.

Also, when riding in these shin pads in the dead of summer, they felt like a real kiln. The shin pads baked my shins and knees. And the hot sweat inside made for a super uncomfortable experience.

If you ride anywhere in the neighborhood of 30 miles in most shin pads, you’ll hate how uncomfortable and hot they get.

S0, I stopped using my knee/shin combo pads. But when the winter season rolls in, I wear them. And they keep my shins and knees warm and protected. I can’t say I hate them.

4. Because Knees Get More Beatings Than Shins

If you’re like most mountain bikers, this is how you fall. Your head hits the ground first, then your hands, and finally your knees.

All of the momentum that comes from the crash ends up on your knees. That’s why the vast majority of mountain bike riders wear knee pads. If you’re always crashing and landing on your knees, consider getting the best knee pads/shin pads you can afford.

Shins? Yes, your shins might get hit some of the time. However, shins don’t get as much thrashing as do the knees. At least, that’s the way it is f0r me and most riders I know.

5. Because Most Modern Knee Pads Over Great Coverage

Another reason some riders choose not to wear shin pads is that some of the best regular knee pads on the market offer great coverage. Most importantly, these knee pads protect the knee caps and extend to the area around, above, and below the knees. With such pads, you can expect maximum protection when you go down hard and hit the ground with your knees.

Knee pads are generally comfier than shin pads. So, why wear full shin pads if you can find knee pads that offer a great fit, comfort, and decent coverage all at the same time?

When to Wear Shin Pads

You certainly can and probably should wear shin pads every time you ride your MTB. But there are certain situations where wearing shin pads makes tons of sense. Let’s look at some of these situations:

1. You’re a Flat-pedal Mountain Bike Rider 

If you’re a flat-pedal rider, I recommend that you start wearing full-shin pads if you’ve not been using them.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with flat-platform pedals. But when you’re walking your bike up some trail and keep getting pedal-pin strikes, you’ll wish your shins were fully protected.

I mostly ride clipped in, but I also ride flat pedals sometimes. When I do, I always put on full-coverage pads to avoid hurting my shins.

Before I bought my G-Form knee pads, my pedal used to dig in and make holes all over my shin. It hurt like hell. I almost threw out my flat pedals.

2. When Riding Trails With Lots of Stinging Nettles 

If stinging nettles line the trails in your neck of the woods, wear knee/shin pads all of the time. I need say no more here, huh?

3. When Riding Super-technical Trails

Another situation that warrants wearing full-shin padding is when weaving through impossibly difficult terrain. I’m talking about really rocky and rooty terrain here. Trails and bike parks with tons of technical features.

If you’ve ever landed on pointy nasty objects mountain biking, you know what I’m talking about here. Drops. Jumps. Rock gardens. All these riding situations necessitate padding up.

So, when riding super rocky terrain, cover your knees and shins. You never know when you’ll fall and get painful gouges in your knees, deep wounds that need urgent and costly treatment.

4. When Going Downhill

Are you into downhill mountain biking? If yes, consider buying a decent pair of shin/knee pads for MTB. Studies show that you’re more likely to crash and get severely injured when going downhill. Things get even worse when the trails you’re flying over have sharp turns with loose gravel.

Nothing feels more awful than having a doctor dredge up gravel from your knees. So, be careful when riding around flat corners on treacherous descents.

If you ever wash out when riding downhill at breakneck speed, you won’t like the results you’ll get. So, wear good shin/knee pads. Even if that means enduring a little discomfort.

5. When It’s Cold Outside 

If it’s cold outside and you’re looking for ways of warming up your body, wear shin pads. These pads are designed to hug the body tight.

When worn to ride through cold weather conditions, shin pads trap heat from your body. And that’ll keep you warm.

When to Wear Regular Cycling Knee Pads

Below are two situations where riding your mountain bike in regular knee pads would be OK.

1. When Doing Normal Trail Rides

If you’re mostly a recreational rider and don’t usually ride over crunchy terrain, definitely use standard knee pads. If you fall (and who doesn’t?), you likely won’t land on pointy rocks and tree stumps knee-first.

You’ll probably fall on a grassy carpet or gravel-free dirt. And while that’d hurt, it likely won’t dismantle your knees or break your shins.

2. When Riding Cross Country (XC Racing)

I don’t do competitive cross-country racing, but I know quite a few people that do. Plus, I’m in lots of MTB forums online.

Tell you what? Most XC racers prefer regular MTB knee pads over shin/knee pads. Why? It’s the same old problem. That is, shin pads are usually uncomfortable and trap heat in.

Another reason XC riders keep citing is shin pads getting in the way during use.

Real XC racers have one goal in their mind — winning the contest. These cyclists have a super-light XC bike that’s built for all kinds of abuse and terrain. They’re really good riders, lightning-fast mountain bikers. All they care about is completing the race in the fastest time possible.

XC racers need something that’s comfortable and highly protective. They need pads that won’t keep getting in the way. And that’s where traditional cycling knee pads come into play.

What About Forearm Guards and Cycling Gloves?

Wrist and forearm fractures aren’t uncommon in MTB.

When falling, it’s easy to put your hands out in an attempt to catch yourself. But you don’t want to land on your hands. That’s a surefire way to fracture your wrists!

When riding through tree gates, your forearm might get scraped or scratched. And when riding a series of sharp berms especially without much experience, it’s easy to fly over the bars and crash into the ground.

If that happens, your arms can get hurt badly. That’s why you need to protect them using good forearm guards. Take a look below.

Forearm guards MTB
Forearm guards

As a mountain biker, forearm guards are one piece of cycling armor you really should own and wear. I don’t know of any other cycling style that has more riders going OTB (Over the Bar) than mountain biking. When you go OTB, your forearms almost always get scraped. Or even shattered. So, wear good forearm guards.

Also, use proper cycling gloves. High-quality bike gloves are grippy while also being super protective. Wear them alongside your forearm guards.

cycling gloves
Wear cycling gloves, too

Knee Pads and Shin Pads MTB FAQs

1. What Protective Gear Do I Need for Mountain Biking?

The most important piece of cycling gear for mountain biking is a certified cycling-specific helmet. Read honest reviews before buying and understand all the specs each recommended option offers, though. The next most essential piece of protective gear for MTB is knee pads or knee/shin pads.

You also need good forearm guards. That’s because cyclists of all stripes but more so mountain bikers sometimes go OTB and hurt or break their wrists, forearms, shins, and knees.

Good mountain biking shoes are also critical to safe cycling in the woods. Good cycling shoes protect your feet and also keep your feet warm and dry during rides.

Related: How to Keep Your Feet Warm and Dry Mountain Biking

2.How Can I Get My Legs for Mountain Biking?

There are many ways to strengthen your legs for mountain biking or any other kind of cycling sport. But you have to commit time and sometimes money to a whole slew of exercises. Lunges, squats, squats and lunges with weights, running, and certain breathing techniques are all great ways to build bigger, stronger legs for MTB. Combine all these ideas with riding your bike more, and you’re going to own a pair of bronze-like feet. You’ll start riding your bike like the wind.

Related: How to Get in Shape for Mountain Biking

3. How Do I Get Over My Fear of Mountain Biking?

To reduce your fear of mountain biking, practice hard, every time you can. Focus on getting better at cycling. Ride with genuinely supportive riders that are better than you to get even better. Additionally, set up our bike correctly and maintain it in tip-top condition at all times. Also, ride within your ability and refuse to be coaxed into riding beyond your competence.

Go as slow or as fast as you’re comfortable riding. Don’t try to outpace others or prove yourself to anyone. Avoid overly technical trails as a beginner, too. And if money isn’t an issue for you, consider paying for MTB training lessons. Most importantly, make sure to wear a proper mountain biking helmet, knee protection, and forearm guards.

4. Are Knee Pads Necessary for Mountain Biking?

Yes, knee pads are necessary for mountain biking unless you’re 100 percent sure you’ll never crash. No one ever knows how bad their fall will be, or what part of their body will receive the worst beatings. The only way to deal with all the uncertainty surrounding biking on the trails or in the mountains is to gear up. Good knee pads provide adequate protection to your knees and reduce the odds you’ll break them and render them (knees) useless.

How to Keep Your Shins and Knees Protected Mountain Biking: Final Thoughts

Your knees and shins are essential body parts when it comes to riding a mountain bike. Tree strikes, flat-pedal hits, crashes, and endos happen all the time. And when they do, you want to have adequate forearm, knee, and shin protection.

Forearms and wrists are also pretty vulnerable, which is why you need forearm guards. Additionally, you need to helmet up properly before hitting the trails or bike parks.

Shin pads cover both your knees and shins, which makes them more protective than regular knee pads. However, most of them tend to be uncomfortable and don’t fit shins and calves very well. But isn’t general discomfort more tolerable than broken wrists, knees, and shins?