Knee pads are an obvious must in roller derby and not just because they are in the rules. The quick accelerations and hard hits (with harder falls) are some of the elements that make our game exciting, but they can also take a toll on our bodies. Knee pads can be uncomfortable due to flexibility, bulk, incorrect sizing, or the wrong shape. We’re going to break down each of these issues and talk about the general construction to help you make the right choice in selecting your next knee pads!
Pad manufacturers use a variety of construction applications to increase flexibility and comfort. Seams are the most common tool used, however they force the pad to flex only in the pre-determined joint area on the sides of the knee. Lower quality knee pads will have simple back construction that you slide on. This provides a general, all purpose kind of fit. Higher quality pads use an open back design that reinforces the movement in the knee, is cooler to wear, and easier to take off and put on.
The cheaper and lower quality foams tend to be stiffer and more brittle. A single piece or straight cut foam can limit flexibility in the pad. Most pads that cost around 50€ have already begun to shape their foam and normally provide adequate protection for most skaters in low impact falls. Pro knee pads from most brands have advanced foam shapes that often curve with the knee, forcing you into a derby stance to have them fit most comfortably.
More protective knee pads tend to be thicker. Usually thicker padding means more protection. Thicker padding also means more bulk and more material. Understanding which materials are used where and why will help you decide if the pad is really more protective.
The exterior of your pads will face most of the impact and should be made of materials hard enough to remain intact after multiple falls. Most hard shelled knee pads are made of ABS plastic which is lightweight and hard enough to protect you from high impact falls. Hard plastic does limit mobility, so a smaller cap will provide you larger range of motion. Larger caps provide more protection with less bulk and more slide. Thicker caps will last longer than thinner caps.
Any force that continues through the caps should be absorbed by the foam. Polyurethane (PU or PUR) is the most common synthetic material used to make foam for padding of the knee pad. PU is made from organic units that are joined together to create material that is very high strength, resilient and long lasting. This makes foam durable padding that cushions any falls or blows to your knees protecting them from damage. Here are a few kinds of foam you will find in higher quality knee pads:
Arti-Lage – Engineered to mimic the physical structure of human cartilage. The foam is flexible and soft in the normal state, but when met with impact, the molecules in ARTi-LAGE form a hard protective shell.
D30 – A soft, flexible polymer blend. When this foam is met with impact, the molecules form a hard protective shell.
EVA foam – “Rubber-like” in softness and flexibility with low-temperature toughness, stress-crack resistance, and waterproof properties.
Ortholite – A breathable, low density foam with antimicrobial treatments. This foam is lightweight and washable.
V22 Dual Density – Rubber based, silicone sponge; this foam is higher in strength and higher in weight with a more stable density than other foams.
Each skater has to decide for themselves what balance of material and protection they want. We recommend that newer skaters who tend to fall more invest in better knee pads.
This is the most important consideration. A well-fitting knee pad will not restrict your range of motion. It will shift with your movements and allow you to bend your knees. If it is too tight then you will be uncomfortable and it may burst open when you fall. If it is too loose then it might not protect you.
To ensure that your knee pads fit well, measure the distance around your knee (at the center of the knee). You can do so by using a tape measure or a string and then reading the measure using a ruler. Follow the size charts provided by the manufacturers and we generally recommend going for the smallest size possible if you are in between because everything stretches.
Pads are meant to last about 12 months. Wearing them longer means they are stretched out, too big and increase your risk of preventable injury. We recommend alternating which pads you replace so it isn’t so expensive. Replace your knee pads at the start of every season (around the holidays) and your wrist guards and elbow pads in summer when you stink the most.
Most knee pads are made for multiple disciplines, including skateboarding. Skateboarding is larger market than roller derby and overwhelmingly male, so most knee pads are made for men. This does not necessarily mean they will fit women any less effectively. There are a lot of different body types/leg types in both women and men and there are a lot of different designs each company uses. Some pads fit thinner legs, some fit wider calves, some skaters like a compact profile, some want longer protection.
Throw your individual skating style into the consideration and the selection is about how fit meets performance. You want the shape of the pads to give you as much freedom of movement as possible while keeping you protected. As this varies from person to person, consultation with your trusted skate shop is the best way to get your perfect set up. If you need more info, feel free to contact us at QUAD!
Going into 9 years of roller derby training and playing, Master Blaster specialises in digging out the root of what makes a technique or strategy effective, from the gear up! Playing with Bear City Roller Derby, Team Germany, and the London Rollergirls has provided her a ton of face to face time with other skaters and a variety experience in different places to train and compete. The co-owner and operator of QUAD Roller Skate Shop, she is proud to be a derby business that is committed to skaters as a community with the resources and knowledge to stand by her shop. Going strong since 2011, check out QUAD at www.quadrollerskateshop.com