If you’ve been hiking as long as I have, then you’ve probably experienced knee pain at some point. It’s a common problem that can be caused by anything, from a fall, too much weight in your pack (or around your middle), or even just from having a lot of miles under your belt.
At a Glance: Recommendations for Best Knee Brace (for hikers & backpackers)
- Best Knee Support for Hiking: Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Brace
- Best Knee Brace for Hill Walking: Shock Doctor Hinged Knee Brace
- Best Support for Long Distance: Powerlix Compression Knee Sleeve
- Best Knee Support for Budget: Bracoo Knee support open patella Brace
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon
Once you start experiencing knee pain it only seems to get worse. While you may not be able to fix the problem completely, finding the best knee brace for hiking can relieve the pain and keep you on the trail longer.
*Disclaimer: this is not medical advice! If you’re suffering knee problems, please consult your doctor, not a blog post on the internet!
We’ve reviewed some of the best hiking knee supports and put together a guide to look out for when you buy yours.
What You'll Learn
- Best Knee Brace for Hiking: Reviews
- How to Reduce Knee Pain when Hiking
- What is Hiker’s Knee?
- Why do my knees hurt Walking Downhill?
- Do I Need A Knee Brace?
- Will Wearing Compression Socks Help?
- How to look after your knees on the trail
- Hiking technique / gait
- How much support do you need?
- Brace Style & Design
- Knee strap vs knee brace
- Knee Brace Material
- How to choose the right size and fit
- How to Care for your Knee Brace
Best Knee Brace for Hiking: Reviews
Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Brace
- Great support above and below knee
- Doesn’t restrict motion
- Comfortable to wear
- Easy to get on and off
- Adjustable straps – Easier to select correct size
- Breathable fabric
- A little bulky to wear under pants without it showing
The Cho-Pat knee brace is the best general knee support if you’re not really sure what’s causing pain. If you want to cover all your bases on your next hike then try one of these. The patented design gives maximum support above and below the knee. Tension is applied to the tendon above the knee cap to compensate for weak quads; as well as to the patellar tendon below the kneecap to keep your kneecap stabilized.
The straps make it really easy to get on and off. It’s adjustable and offers a 2” tolerance within each size so it’s easier to select the right size. The fabric is breathable and comfortable enough to wear all day. We especially liked how the straps offered constant support without limiting your range of motion. You can wear it under or over pants – however, it’s just bulky enough for you to notice if you’re wearing it under long pants.
Shock Doctor 875 Hinged Knee Brace
- Very high quality materials and construction
- Dual hinges and side stabilizers add to already great support
- Very comfortable
- Air flow vented Neoprene – good breathability and moisture wicking
- Anti-odor treated
- Hinge stops prevent hyperextension of knee
- High price tag
- Sizing is a little tricky to get just right
If you’re recovering from a knee injury or tend to experience knee pain when walking downhill then this is a great knee brace. The hinges and side stabilizing stays combine with the rest of the sleeve to offer great support.
We like that the hinges have stops on them that prevent hyperextension of your knee. That’s often a real risk when you’re walking downhill with a heavy pack and a weak knee. Hyperextension of your knee is also not something that a regular knee brace will prevent.
The open patella design and highly breathable fabric make this brace ideal for high activity hiking, even in warmer weather. The fabric has also been treated with an antimicrobial to prevent odors. It’s mean to be tight so it takes some effort to get on but feels very comfortable once it’s in place. Just take a little time to measure accurately below your kneecap before consulting the sizing guide. If you’re not 100% sure then opt for a size up. Also, it takes a little breaking in so don’t be overly concerned if it feels a little tight on the first day or two.
PowerLix Compression Sleeve
- Comfortable enough for all-day wear
- Inner lining keeps sleeve in place – no slipping or sliding
- Fabric breathes and wicks well
- Great price
- It’s quite long
- Not adjustable
The 4-way compression keeps your knee well supported but still allows for a full range of motion. We like that the design is very low profile and the fabric has a smooth and soft feel to it for all day comfort. The fabric breathes well and does a good job of wicking sweat away from your leg.
I don’t like having to adjust straps every few miles so we were pretty impressed with how this brace stays in place with no rolling, slipping or sliding. The pricing is great too. If you’re after moderate support on long walks then it’s worth trying this backpacking knee brace before opting for one of the more expensive options.
IPOW Patella Stabilizer Knee Strap
- Fully adjustable
- Fabric is breathable and soft – comfortable to wear long-term
- Offers good relief for “hiker’s knee”
- Allows for good range of motion
- Great price – comes as a 2-pack
- Only good for limited causes of knee pain
- Straps are a little bulky
Bracoo Knee Support Open-Patella Brace
- Reinforced stabilizer ring keeps kneecap securely in place
- Offers good support above and below knee
- Fully adjustable
- Comfortable and offers good range of motion
- Good breathability and moisture wicking
- Great price
- Straps need readjustment from time to time
How to Reduce Knee Pain when Hiking
The quickest way to deal with the pain if you’re on a hike is to take some painkillers or anti-inflammatories. But the best way to stop knee pain is to stop hiking. Seriously. Just taking a break, sitting down for a few minutes and catching your breath can bring relief. Sometimes you’ll need a longer break and may need to rest your knee for a few weeks before hitting the trails again.
Use that break time to strengthen your leg muscles. One of the biggest causes of knee pain is weak glutes, quads and tight hip flexors. This causes your knee to have to compensate by picking up the slack and taking on extra pressure. It can also lead to your IT band (iliotibial band) shifting and rubbing on your knee joint. Doing strengthening and stretching exercises will result in your knee not having to do more than its fair share of the work.
If your knee pain is caused by Patellar Tracking Disorder your best bet is to wear a good knee brace. Patellar Tracking Disorder is when your patella (kneecap) shifts too far to the outside, or sometimes the inside, of your leg. This happens with the patellar tendon doesn’t do a good job of keeping it in place. A knee brace keeps the patella from shifting more than it should, reduces the friction on the inside of the kneecap, preventing the pain.
What is Hiker’s Knee?
Hikers knee manifests itself as a dull pain around or behind your kneecap. There could be any number of things that could be causing the pain in the first place. The pain is often aggravated by walking up and down inclines, kneeling, squatting or even just overuse, ie. walking long distances. Pretty much everything you’ll be doing on a hike, unfortunately.
Why do my knees hurt Walking Downhill?
Walking downhill is where your knees are going to feel the most pressure, and pain. With each step you’re actually falling down a little and then relying on your legs to break your fall. If you brace, or lock, your legs with each step then your knees end up absorbing the pressure, which causes the pain. If you focus on keeping your knees slightly bent with each step then you force your thigh muscles (quads and glutes) to take the pressure rather than your knees. A good set of walking poles can also help transfer some of that pressure from your knees to your arms.
Do I Need A Knee Brace?
A knee brace isn’t going to miraculously cure all your knee problems but it can bring relief and help your recovery. Here are a few conditions that may benefit from a knee brace:
- Chondromalacia patellae
- Dislocated patella
- ACL sprain
- Patellar tendonitis
- Iliotibial band stress syndrome
- patellofemoral stress syndrome
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with one of these specific conditions it’s worth considering a knee brace if you’ve had surgery or an injury anywhere along your leg or foot. If any part of your leg is in recovery it’s often your knee that has to pick up the slack and that can lead to pain.
Will Wearing Compression Socks Help?
Sometimes you might be able to get away without having to wear a knee brace if you wear a pair of good compression socks. These fit really snugly and compress your legs to improve blood flow. The improved blood flow can reduce swelling and discomfort in and around your knees.
How to look after your knees on the trail
It’s not just your gear that experiences wear and tear, your body does too. As with your equipment, if you treat your body carefully it’ll last longer and work better. There are a few things you can do to give your knees a better chance of giving you long term, pain free, performance:
- Get your knees in shape before hitting the trail. Walk regularly and increase your walking distance gradually in preparation for your hike.
- Reduce the weight by being frugal with what you put into your pack. Having weight evenly distributed helps.
- Wear a good pair of hiking shoes or boots. Boots with cushioning can reduce the shock your joints experience with each footfall.
- Take it slow when you’re going downhill.
- Use hiking poles to take pressure off your knees.
- Wear some kind of support even if you feel only slight discomfort. Don’t wait until the pain is too intense. Supporting your knee from the start can prevent further injury.
Hiking technique / gait
Often pain is caused by repetitive pressure being exerted on the same spot over and over again. If you vary your gait it might help alleviate this. Try lengthening or shortening your stride for a while. Varying your footfall can help too. Try landing your foot more heel-to-toe, rather than flat, for a while to mix things up.
Varying your technique according to the incline can help too.
- Get into a good rhythm.
- Walk slower and take fewer breaks. Stopping and starting during breaks can aggravate joint pain.
- Decrease the gradient by zigzagging rather than going straight up.
- Keep your centre of gravity low and directly over your legs rather than leaning backwards or forwards.
- Concentrate and make each foot placement deliberate and focused.
- Heel strike first and roll from heel to toes.
- Take shorter steps to maintain good balance.
- Keep knees slightly bent throughout to prevent hyperextension.
Having a good pair of hiking boots can also help improve your hiking technique and can help correct any tendency to overpronate. You’ll also get a firmer footing and will be less likely to twist your knee.
Open Patella vs Closed Patella
Knee braces will either have a closed or open patella design. This means they either cover the whole knee cap or the have a hole over the center. For the most part your choice really comes down to personal preference. Some people feel that an open patella design has their kneecap feeling a little less compressed.
Being open also allows for better breathability in warm conditions. In cold conditions you may want to opt for a closed patella design to keep warmer.
How much support do you need?
Knee braces are designed to provide varying degrees of support. The amount of support you need depends on whether you’re recovering from an injury or surgery or if you only experience mild pain or discomfort.
Light support – Straps or sleeves. Used for mild conditions like tendonitis, patellofemoral stress syndrome, and chondromalacia patellae.
Moderate support – Braces with significant strapping or articulated hinges and stays on either side. Design elements may also include patella control rings or braces or motion control elements to prevent hyperextension. These still allow for mobility and are better suited to aid with active recovery.
Total support – Immobilizer brace. Used after surgery where no mobility of the knee can be tolerated. If you need one of these you probably shouldn’t be on the trail!
Brace Style & Design
Most come in either a slip-on or wraparound style. The slip-on knee braces pull on over your foot and slide up to fit snugly. These are great if you prefer a low profile design without any straps or clips. They’re not adjustable though, so you need to get your sizing right when you buy. Also, you’ll normally need to get your shoe off when pulling it on or off.
The wraparound style are normally a little more bulky but they can be put on and removed without having to go over your foot. This style of knee brace is also adjustable so you don’t have to worry about getting the sizing spot on.
Knee braces come in five main designs:
- Supports – wrap around top and bottom of the knee and are adjustable
- Sleeves – designed to slip over the leg – not adjustable
- Stabilizers – have steel springs either side to provide support
- Hinged – hinges and stays offer high degree of support while allowing for greater range of movement
- Strap – Wrap around just below the knee
Knee strap vs knee brace
A knee strap fits above or below the knee and its main purpose is to put pressure on the respective tendons to take the stress off. If you suffer from a tight IT band or weak quads then a strap may be all you need.
A knee brace provides more protection and pressure and is likely what you’ll need if you’re recovering from surgery or an injury. If your pain is caused by your patella tracking badly (moving around too much) then you’ll need a brace to keep it securely in place.
Knee Brace Material
The material it’s made from will have an impact on its durability as well as how comfortable it is to wear. If it has hinges, straps, clips or velcro you want to be sure these are made from good quality materials and that the stitching securing these to the brace is done properly too.
The breathability of the material, especially in the case of sleeve-style support, is worth noting too. If it’s a closed design then it can get pretty sweaty underneath. Besides the risk of chafing, if the material doesn’t breathe well it’s going to end up smelling pretty funky after a day of walking in warm weather.
Keeping your knee warm can also help alleviate pain. If you’re out and about in cool weather then a one made from material that provides some insulation is worth considering.
How to choose the right size and fit
A poorly fitted knee brace could end up doing more harm than good. You want it to fit snugly around your knee but not too tight either. If it’s too tight you could end up doing more damage to an existing injury. If it’s too loose then you’re not going to get the support you need.
If you’re fitting a brace make sure you bend your knee as much as possible to check that your range of motion isn’t too restricted. Try stepping up onto a high step to see if you’ll be able to walk up a steep incline or even do a little climbing with it on.
A good rule of thumb is to see how many fingers you can slip in-between the brace and your leg. If you can get three fingers in then it’s too loose. If you can’t slip two fingers in then it’s too tight.
- Adjustability – If your legs are prone to swelling after a long hike then you’re probably better off using an adjustable knee brace.
- Comfort: heat/cold/sweat/chafing etc
How to Care for your Knee Brace
Inspect your knee brace regularly for any signs of wear and tear. At some point the straps and stitching will suffer some damage and its effectiveness can be compromised. Washing regularly will keep it odor free and in good shape but check the washing instructions first.
A cold water hand wash with mild detergent is probably your best bet. Be sure to dry it properly before storing. If it has any hinges or stays, check these for any damage and make sure there’s no grime buildup in any of the articulated areas to maintain mobility.
As with any medical condition, it’s always best to consult with your doctor. If you experience severe knee pain then even buying the best knee brace for hiking may not solve your problem. If the pain seems to only rear its head on the trail then buying a decent support can offer significant relief.
If you want a high degree of support then it’s worth paying a little more to get a really good brace. Any one of the quality knee braces reviewed above are great options that will help you cover more hiking miles with a lot less pain.