Knee Pads For Caving: A Complete Guide

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Caving is a hobby that demands lots of kneeling, bowing, and climbing. You have to push your limits and often struggle continuously for hours. This creates pressure on your joints, especially your knees. If you are planning to crawl, expect even worse, as cave surfaces are unforgiving and seldom smooth. For that reason, knee pads are crucial for protection during your caving adventure.

In caves, there is always a danger of knee injury. If you aren’t wearing knee pads or don’t have any protective gear with you, the pain can increase gradually or become chronic. It doesn’t matter whether you have a strong, well-built body or an average body, your knees will feel the pain by the end of the adventure. If you are visiting a wild cave, some areas can put extra stress on your joints while you pass through them.

Knee pads are commonplace nowadays among professional cavers. They not only protect the joints from stress and potential fracture, but also minimize the impact in case of a fall or other accidents. But the aspect we love the most is the protection from penetration by sharp objects, like jagged stone edges, crystals, sharp cliffs, and so on.

Though they are inexpensive, it is still challenging these days to find the best pair as they are available for different sizes and body shapes. Good news: we have done the research for you. To make sure you have the best knee pads before you go caving, follow these tips below.

1 – Knee Pads vs. Knee Support

People are often confused between knee support and knee pads as the purpose of both of them is to prevent injury and reduce knee pain.

A knee support (or knee brace) is worn when a person already has knee pain. Doctors recommend wearing them all day, to support the healing process and prevent further damage to the knee during normal activities.

On the other hand, the purpose of the knee pad is to provide a covering for the knee. They have a hard layer on the surface and foam padding inside, so if you fall to the ground, your knees are protected against impact injury. You don’t have to worry about sharp obstacles either while climbing or crawling. Protection against falls and hard impacts is the reason why knee pads are used by sports players as well.

A caver crawls on his stomach through some dirt and mud inside a narrow passage.
You don’t want to do this with your knees unprotected…trust me.

It is possible to wear knee support under the knee pad, but ideally, if you have pain in the knee, you should avoid caving altogether. There’s almost no point in wearing the two together just to further strain the joints.

Some caves will have water too, and knee pads are not water-resistant or waterproof. Their main aim is to protect your knees against hard hits and scratches. If you go cave diving, your knee pads will absorb water and get wet even if they are covered up. Opt for waterproof braces that go under the knee pads instead.

Also, keep in mind that knee pads are not elbow pads. Some people try to use knee pads as elbow pads during other activities, but this isn’t a good practice and won’t benefit in any way. People who are interested in elbow pads should buy them separately, or consider a knee pad set. Sets often come with elbow pads and wrist pads as well.

2 – Material

Since the material of the knee pad will be the one thing touching your body, you should immensely concentrate on it. You have to know what kind of material is used in the pads since different cushioning materials affect in different ways.

Always look for the material that offers moisture control. Most caves have a humid environment. You walk for hours that build up a sweat too and push it away from the body. If the fabric has moisture control ability, it can keep your knees in a cool state.

Apart from this, go for the material that provides maximum cushioning.

It can be EVA foam, nylon foam, polyethylene foam, or neoprene foam. All these materials are super comfortable and provide a great level of comfort.

Some people try to opt for a bit strong and firm material; it is a personal choice but strong and firm materials are for the construction sites as workers spend most of their time on their knees. For caving, soft material is more suitable and protective.

A climber grips the wall of a cave, showing his knees covered with knee pads.

3 – Knee Pads Designs

When it comes to the basic design, all knee pads are pretty similar. You will find both rounded and flat surface designs.

For walking, running, or cycling, a rounded knee pad design is good. But if your knees are going to be in contact with rough surfaces, which is quite common in caving, you should try a flat surface design. It allows easier crawling and climbing without compromising safety. Construction workers, gardeners, and other labor workers love them, as the flat surface of the pads keeps them in a fixed position, allowing crawling for extended periods comfortably.

A woman measures someone's knee with a flexible tape measure.

As a caver, sometimes you have to put your knees on the ground due to low ceilings. If you’re caving like a scientist, you might stoop to inspect rock formations, innate plants or other interesting features. And when it comes to taking photographs, the flat surface design will make your job a million times easier.

Above all, make sure the design you are picking is the correct size for you. Some designs may look great, but end up slipping out of place at once while walking or moving in any realistic way. They restrict your range of motions and don’t give any benefit at all.

The best way to figure out your size? Measure your knee first. Get a flexible tape measure and measure around the center of your knee. Next, measure the upper and lower area of your knees. If the measurement is between 12 and 14 inches, you need a small-size pair, whereas for 14″-16″ measurement, middle-size knee pads are more suitable. If the knee size is 17+ inches, you need a large or extra-large size.

These measurements assist in comparing the dimensions of the knee pads with your knees and tell you which product provides the utmost comfort and protection.

4 – Protection

Some products have knitted foam padding that provides warmth and great support and protection for knees. This kind of padding is adequate for young players as they are involved in intense workouts and they work on their agility specifically. In case you are a senior and want to protect your knees from direct trauma, a pad with a hard surface area will be great for you; it survives the impact pretty well.

But protection is not only about the hard surface or material. You have to consider other factors too.

For example, the weight of the pad makes a difference. Heavier and bulkier knee pads, even if they provide a perfect fit, may feel uncomfortable. Ensure the pads you are buying are lightweight, so you don’t have to think about it while wearing them.

Second, try to opt for those pads that have a trail-pad-like design.

The trail-pad designs are slightly bulkier but their main benefit is they stay on their place when you go up and down again and again on the stairs or on rough surfaces. There are many caves that can compel you to climb on the rocks and trail-pad designs can assist greatly in that adventure.

The knee pads should withstand the biggest hits also and provide the most coverage as some cave pockets are so tight that your knees rub against the cave walls.

Also keep in mind that your body weight matters as well. If you are over 120 kg, tall, and strong, your knee pad could be crushed from a hard hit or fall. But if you are around 70-80 kg, they will survive hard hits and scratches with ease. Opt for something extra durable depending on your size and weight.

Maintenance: Make your Knee Pads Last!

Maintaining your knee pads is necessary. If you won’t take care of them properly, you will deal with issues like lingering odors. The good news, however, is that maintenance is quite easy.

If your knee pads smell bad, it is because of the environment of the cave; the variety of bacteria that lives on the foam padding makes them smell weird. You will likely also deal with getting them wet, either from sweat or water inside the cave. People often use sprays for the smell, but experts don’t recommend this. Sprays typically have chemicals that can irritate the skin.

There are two ways that can kill the knee pad smells. Dry them on high-heat or under direct sunlight. You can also put the knee pads in the freezer overnight. Odor-causing bacteria typically can’t survive the extreme temperatures.

The cleaning instructions found on the label tell you things like how to prevent odor clinging to the material or whether it is machine washable.

A woman washes a piece of clothing in the sink with soap and water, the way knee pads can be washed.

If there aren’t any specific instructions, just wash it with soap and water; this will kill the odor and bacteria. Bear in mind, the more you wash the pads, the more they will loosen. This doesn’t mean they are breaking or the quality is diminishing. You can still use them safely after multiple washes, but try not to wash them after each and every use.

If you happen to see loose threads sticking out of your knee pads, or the padding starting to emerge, know that this is very common after an intense day of caving. You likely received several hard hits and scratches on your pad, and knee pads with the cotton fabric face this problem a lot. But all you have to do is to just cut the loose threads carefully, rather than pull them out, and push the padding inside the pad with your fingers.

The Drawbacks of Knee Pads

Some common drawback that we find in these products are they might not fit very small knees, foam padding goes flat quite quickly, Velcro stitching tears off, too bulky for some application or specific activities like climbing, move sometimes from left to right, no extra hooks and loop, sold individually and not as a complete set, only available in one size, straps wear out from stitch, loosen too much over time, the gel moves to one side, etc.

Ponder all these factors before buying a knee pad; it will save your money in the long run.


Lastly, you should always read all the reviews of the customers, especially if they are cavers, gardeners, or construction workers. These will endure the most pressure on their knees and have reliable experience to share. Their reviews can reveal the real image of the product, beyond a brand name reputation. If some brand fulfills your expectations, try to buy at least two more pairs of them, so you are prepared for the worst.

Besides, especially for a new caver, it takes time to get used to wearing knee pads. If you have multiple pairs of the same brand, you will adjust to the new pair much faster than switching brands. You won’t have to deal with comparing brands and designs again!

Check here next to see our review of the best affordable knee pads available today.

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