All Caps: Testing the ION K-Lite Zip Zippered Knee Pads


All Caps: Testing the ION K-Lite Zip Zippered Knee Pads

For The Radavist’s first ever knee pad review, we had to pick something special. Zippers are pretty new to knee pad design, and Travis Engel’s favorite has been the K-Pact Zip from German brand, ION. But ION recently released the K-Lite Zip, and as the name suggests, it is lighter. But is it better?

Remember when “salted caramel” sounded weird? For most of us, that only lasted until we actually tried salted caramel, and it’s now a mainstay. Same goes for maple bacon or pumpkin lattes. Seemingly incompatible things sometimes go together perfectly. Still, when I tell people about my love for zippered knee pads, they often seem confused. As if I’m talking about BOA-equipped flat-pedal shoes or something. But zippered knee pads are the best. There’s a reason strap-on pads get relegated to the Bike-Park Rental Bin of Shame: They’re usually uncomfortable and rarely stay in place.

Fully enclosed slide-on knee pads are far better, but if you want to pull them off for a long climb or for a drive home, you’ll be pulling off your shoes as well. If you’re wondering whether a zipper can hold up on something as mobile as a knee pad, my experience says yes. I’ve been using the ION K-Lite Zip’s predecessors, the K-Pact Zips, for two and a half years, and the Velcro is showing far more wear than the zipper. Still, they’ve remained my favorite. The pad material is ergonomically shaped, and the zipper is generously padded. My second favorite has been the IXS Flow Zip.

It’s a thinner, lighter pad, like “trail-oriented” options from 7iDP, Specialized, or Rapha. In fact, the more I used the Flow Zips, the less I wanted to go back to the K-Pact Zips. Lightweight pads aren’t just more comfortable when pedaling. They’re less distracting when descending. I don’t really think about them. But I also don’t really trust them. They’ll take the edge off a minor crash, but it’s the major crashes I’m worried about, so I found myself seeking something in between.

ION K-Lite ZipION K-Lite Zip

ION K-Lite Zip

But again, I wouldn’t quite call these lightweight. Wearing them, they don’t have the knee-sock-like feel of a slip-on trail pad. And although they’re not any more stuffy than other pads in the category, they’re not especially breathable. They’re chunky little fabric fortresses. I chalk some of that up to the generous side pads, some to the neoprene skin, but most to the deep-cupped SAS-TEC main pad. It helped everything stay in place, and made my knee cap feel nice and safe.

ION K-Lite ZipION K-Lite ZipION K-Lite Zip

The inner surface of the zipper lays against a padded neoprene flap, which never folded out of place. It makes the pad interior feel seamless. And the K-Lite’s zipper’s “closed” position is down below the knee, not up above it, though I’ve only seen one other zippered pad get this part wrong. It makes it easy to engage the zipper while the pad is down loose around my calf, and then slide it up into place. There’s a small strap to lock and protect the zipper, and the requisite large strap up around the quad. There’s also another strap behind the knee which may be necessary if you find the pads fitting a little loose. But I personally couldn’t feel any increase in security with that strap closed. Now, I’m not recommending you go making potentially dangerous modifications to protective equipment, but I probably would have snipped off that strap if it wasn’t so helpful with my pad portage technique.


This is another huge perk of easy-off pads. The taper of a modern mountain bike’s top and down tubes is pretty similar to that of a modern mountain biker’s leg. Put the calf end forward and attach the straps accordingly. It can get a little tight when you put the second pad on, but the straps on the K-Lite Zips reached fine without strain.

So far, I’ve talked about everything but the part that matters most. Yes, these things do work in a crash. I didn’t have the “major” sort I mentioned, but I did have the sort that would make the following half hour of riding kinda suck. I wasn’t going fast, but I slid for a split second. Part of that slide was thanks to the loose-over-hard decomposed granite I deal with, but part was the fibrous Tyvek-paper-style panel at the front of the pad. It’s a bit more tear-resistant than the fabric, but it also allows for some angular deflection at the first instant of an impact. I’m sure it’ll tear in a hard enough crash, but so would any other non-armored pad. Knowing these are ready for at least one more spill is enough for me.


In fact, these pads, in general, are enough for me. I’ll probably use the original K-Pact Zip if I ever end up at a bike park again, and I’ll bring the IXS Flow Zips if I’m on a bikepacking trip that may warrant a few pre-camp shred missions. But these are my new favorites. They offer the sort of unique feature combinations that make me never want to go back to unsalted caramel again.


  • Much more protection than other “lightweight” pads
  • Slim, form-fitting profile
  • Zippers, of course


  • Maybe too much more protection than other “lightweight” pads
  • Not quite all-day-pedal comfort

Price: $124.99

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