After trying half a dozen knee pads myself, and checking the opinion of other cavers, I decided to buy the DeWalt Heavy-duty Flooring knee pads (link to check the price on Amazon). Not the most common choice but they offer great value for money. I reckon they last me at least a year, which isn’t bad for the low price. What I like most about these ones is the amount of neoprene padding, and the strap-buckles work out really well for me.
The most important takeaway today is that there’s no one perfect pad for everyone. All of them have advantages and disadvantages, and your caving style and preference determine which is the best. Also, knee pads aren’t that expensive, so getting it wrong a couple of times isn’t the end of the world. Any battle-tested pair of pads between $20-40 will get the trick done.
Top 5 Caving Knee Pads
- Best Buy: DeWalt Heavy-duty Flooring Kneepads (link to check the price on Amazon – By far the best buy. I know, it’s not specialty caving gear, but they are extremely comfortable for about 20 bucks. They’re remarkably cheap for how close they come to expensive caving pads.
- Best Quality: Crawldaddies (link to IMO) – Best quality knee pads you can get, though a little expensive in my opinion. If you want something similar but cheaper, check out Dirty Dave’s.
- Best Budget: Nailers miner type foam pads (click to check the price on Amazon) – This is your budget option. These miner types will especially work well if you use some sort of under-suit knee pad. They have a lot of slip, but they’re very cheap, so for the price they’re not bad.
- Howitzers – A favorite among many cavers. Good, inexpensive neoprene pads. Simple, solid, and durable. They do tend to slip a little.
- Blackhawk Tactical Knee Pad (click to check the price on Amazon) – If you prefer a hard shell, this is the best one in the mid-price range. Very durable, good quality shell, and stays in place well. I like these a lot.
Why I Chose the DeWalt Kneepads
- They’re incredibly comfortable
- Very thick padding so lot’s of protection
- Slip-buckle fastening for easy on and off
- They’re reasonably priced (not a complete bargain, but it’s very good value for money)
- They slip less than most neoprene caving pads
- The straps don’t dig in too much, so less strap rash than the Nailers or Howitzers
They tend to rotate a bit in very thight squeezes, so they need a little readjusting every now and then. Nothing too bad, for me it’s fine – it doesn’t annoy me the least.
You might want to wear a simple knee sleeve under your coverall to reduce the strain of the straps at the back of your legs (more of an overall suggestion, since it isn’t bad with this model).
Product video (starts at 31 seconds):
Top Protective Pad Brands to Consider
- Warmbac – Specially designed cavers gear. They use very good quality materials (including their self-developed Warmtex and kevlar): the most abrasion resistant material there is. Perfect for cavers in every way: lightweight, durable, flexible. Unfortunately only available in the UK and Europe.
- Blackhawk – Their tactical gear is simple and solid. They use hard shell and foam padding, but they also have a long Neoprene model. I haven’t tried it, though it is said to wear quite easily.
- Nailers – Low budget all-purpose miner style knee pads. Great starter pads.
- Crawldaddies – Their long shin model is in my opinion the best caving knee pad. Can be a bit difficult to get on.
- Dirty Dave – Very similar to the Crawldaddies for a little less money. Also a good alternative to the famous Bombers, that are long time gone now.
- Salamander – Longer neoprene pads with good thick padding. Similar to Dirty Dave’s and Crawldaddies, but the cheapest of the three. Doesn’t slide much.
- Howitzers – Very tight fit, doesn’t slide much, though fit will become looser over time. Replaceable foam and Velcro closing. A favorite among many cavers thanks to the fair price. Only available at OneRope1.
- GGG – Uses D-ring closure, which you either hate or love. Tend to slip down a little. Extra long for good shin protection.
- 661 4x4s – Great long knee protector, also used for mountain biking and dirt biking.
Discontinued brands: Rockmaster used to make one of the toughest knee pads out there. Could withstand popcorn crawls no problem. Short knee pad, so no shin protection. If you can get them you probably should. Expedition Essentials needed to recall some of their products due to a manufacturing error. If you come across their pads, I recommend to not use them. B&C Wunderwear used to make very comfortable long knee pads with dense padding. They used wrap-around padding, meaning it also protects the sides. They didn’t slip and were overall rather good.
What Features To Look For in Knee Pads
- Price – knee pads tend to tear quickly in this line of work, so they shouldn’t be too expensive.
- Flexibility – they should allow you a decent amount of freedom of movement.
- Little slip – they shouldn’t slide around a lot. It sucks if you’re squeezing and all of sudden the top of your knee is unprotected.
- Neoprene or hard shell – hard pads offer better protection, though they may crack – if they do, they tear your overall apart.
- Length – a longer knee pad will also protect your shin, which is great. I encourage you to try on different pads to find out what suits you.
- Seams – the less seams there are, the less places in which your pads may rip (they will eventually). Check out the Aqua Seal trick at the bottom of the post to prevent them from ripping.
- Closure-style – Choose a closure you’re comfortable with. If you get Velcro, make sure it’s decent quality. Or make a closure yourself (check Maintanence and tips) – which you shouldn’t need to be doing in the first place.
Closure Types on Knee Pads
|Velcro||Quick on and off||Won’t work as well when dirty|
|Button-style connectors||Durable||Hard to get on and off (especially with cold fingers)|
|Rubber or elastic straps (one piece)||Good fit||To take on and off, needs to go over the shoes|
|Slip buckle fastener||Little slip and good fit||Can dig into the skin and create rash|
|Clasp system with straps||Quick on and off||Tend to break – plastic clasps will break rapidly – metal clasps are okay. Also, straps can dig into your leg.|
|D-ring||Easy to adjust, good fit||Can irritate the skin|
How to Wear Your Knee Pads
You can wear your knee pads over your outer layer (most common), or under your coverall. Wearing them under your coverall will make them last much longer, but as you might imagine, your coverall will wear out more quickly (though not as much as I thought).
One more advantage when wearing pads under your suit is that some pads are slippery, and the coverall will provide more traction on wet rock.
Previously I have used both simultaneously (so two pair, one under, one on top), to get some extra support and protection, but I think it limits your movement too much – though for some it works just fine.
Under-suit knee pads
For under-suit knee pads I’ve used some cheap neoprene panel knee pads by Pony Up Daddy (I simply ordered them because they are best buy on Amazon). They’re regular sports pads, nothing fancy. They’re extra long and thin, so I was quite pleased with the extra shin protection. They also give a good amount of extra support. Best part: they’re inexpensive (link to check the current price on Amazon).
In combination with the Nailers miner-type pads over your suit, you’re pretty well protected for little money. Though at the moment I go with one pair of well-padded neoprenes, which cost me about the same. It’s just less of a hassle, to be honest.
Maintenance & Tips
If you choose a Velcro connector for your knee pads, be sure to leave them on the entire trip. If there gets mud in the Velcro, you won’t be able to close them.
If you want to beat the Velcro to it, punch stainless steel grommets through both flaps and use bungee or lacing to tie them together. If you want to go fancy, use barrel clips on one end for quick fastening.
Place some three-inch wide Type 9 webbing over the front of your knee pads to offset the front seams wearing out.
Coat the seams of your pads with Aquaseal or Seam grip to protect them from unraveling. Doing this will make them last forever.
You can get undersuits with knee pockets. This is great because you can slide in some 4-6mm Neoprene, and then use your knee pads over them. This gives you great and very comfortable protection. I reckon these military grade will do fine (link to check the price on Amazon).
For very rough terrain with lots of crawls, you could also wear multiple soft neoprene knee pads simultaneously. Instant extra padding, works like a charm.
The cavers knee pad is one of the most tricky things to get right. You want a tight fit, but also freedom of movement. You want protection, but also little weight. Most cavers agree that neoprene pads strike the right balance between comfort, durability, and flexibility. I agree. If you’re just starting out, you can get simple pads by just spending your lunch money, and I encourage you to do so.
You do get more value with more expensive pads, but these will need replacing as well. Spending a bit on durability will pay off in the long run, but spending top dollar might not be the best long-term strategy. Anything that’s battle-tested in the $20-40 price range will get the job done.
If you’re just starting out and you’re looking for good-quality gear, I have other articles like this one on the recommended gear page of this site.
Photo courtesy of Targje – CC BY-SA 4.0 license