Knees are not a bowl of easily damaged jelly like your skull and brain. So they’re easier to protect. As any properly armored telemarker can testify, a plastic shell with a bit of padding does a passable job of protecting your patellas. Telemarker or fixed heeler, kneepads can be a good addition to any skier’s getup. But bulky hard-shell kneepads have the downside of needing gangbanger sized pants to prevent binding at the knees, are harder to pack, and add weight.
G-Form Reactive Protective Technology (RPT) kneepads (and other protective wear) offer a soft energy absorbing layer that’s said to become firmer once it begins to absorb impact. Thus, they combine both hard shell and padding in one flexible low-bulk layer.
After a bit of research and homebrew testing it’s pretty obvious these pads are not made from some kind of alien unobtainium, but probably constructed from what’s known as “rate dependent slow-recovery polyurethane foam.” Whatever, protective gear is a good application of this technology and G-Form RPT kneepads appear to be a functional substitute for hardshell protection in all but worst-case situations. Test by hitting with a hard object, the harder you hit, the harder the pad, meaning it firms up as it absorbs energy.
I’ve been testing the RPT kneepads for some time now, and am happy with the way they work. They’re mounted on a stretchy nylon sleeve that keeps them located where they should be, but isn’t so tight (when correct size is chosen) as to feel restrictive or irritate tendons behind the knee. They’re warm and generate a bit of sweat if the day is hot, but keeping your knees warm makes them work better, so fine. They also wick and breathe as much as possible, thus mitigating any heat discomfort.
How do the RPTs do when protection is required? I’ve not gifted any big hits to my knees lately, as that’s not a gift that keeps on giving. But I have dropped down to a kneeling position on hard surfaces, as well as taking a few minor bashes from skis and truck bumpers. All good so far, and I trust from studying G-Form website and so forth that stronger hits will be absorbed as well as other types of pads would do.
Perhaps more than anything, the con for this pads is their garish yellow color. You can’t miss them bursting out of marketing images like, yes, alien unobtanium. Safe to say, most people would rather have the G-Form pads be an unobtrusive grey or black. (Sorry to generalize, if you want florescent green more power to you.)
Most hardshell kneepads seek to articulate with few if any hinges breaking up the continuity of the shell, thus keeping shell coverage more continuous to protect against pointed rocks and such. If there is any downside to the RPT pads, it is the upside that yes, they’re nicely articulated but that makes for lots of gaps where pointy objects could be a bother. They’re thus super comfy to wear but have a limit. That said, due to bulk and weight I’d give up on conventional knee pads. Now I’m wearing pads again and loving it.
To some skiers kneepads are as personal as their choice in ED medication, so please don’t think I’m advocating the RPTs as the end-all be-all. The choices are myriad. You can buy G-Form pads on their own website, or check out other options here.
Note to helmet optimists: While RPT foam technology may sound like the solution for helmets — it is — and it is not. Upside is this stuff is indeed an energy absorbing material that appears to firm up upon impact and also returns to shape slow enough to eliminate rebound. Thus, it could have some brain protection functionality. Negative is, as we’ve covered in previous helmet posts, what the brain needs in a helmet is SLOW DECELERATION and the only thing that gives that is distance. Thus, while some type of RPT material might make functional helmet padding (and perhaps a whole helmet that was soft at the outset of an impact but stiffened to provide a shell effect), you’d still need the helmet thickness so your head had distance for deceleration (and foam soft enough to allow that to happen). Again, without getting too medical or technical, the reason for this is the brain is a lot different than your knee or elbow, and requires markedly different protection in an impact accident. So wear your kneepads with joy, but I’d continue to advise a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to helmet hype.