Introducing the 3 Best Knee Braces for Hiking

What is the best knee brace for hiking? The UFlex Knee Sleeve is our top choice. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and breathable and provides great knee compression. 

Hiking is one of my favorite physical activities and an incredible way to explore the great outdoors. However, it can be very taxing on your knees, especially if you’ve got weak knees already or are prone to injuries. 

That’s where a hiking knee brace comes in. This guide will discuss the pros and cons of the most common knee braces used by hikers and what factors you should consider before making a purchase. 

Best Knee Braces for Hiking: Pros and Cons of Each Type

When it comes to choosing a hiking knee brace, there are so many options. Here’s a quick table summary of the most popular knee braces for hiking.  

Type of Knee BraceDescriptionPros for HikersCons for HikersBest For:
Patellar Knee StrapSimple strap that provides support and compression to the Patellar tendonComfortable, lightweight, adjustable, doesn’t restrict movementProvides low-level support, doesn’t compress the full knee, no side-side movement restrictionHikers with mild Patellar tendonitis, runner’s knee, or jumper’s knee
Knee SleeveA simple sleeve that provides support and compression to the entire knee joining. Lightweight, breathable, provides warmth and compression to the knee, and allows for full range of motion. Low-medium level of support, doesn’t provide side-to-side movement restriction, not adjustableHikers with mild knee pain or arthritis
Wraparound Knee BraceProvides hikers with similar compression to a knee sleeve but has the advantage of adjustable velcro strapsAdjustable straps provide compression and warmth to the knee and provide more support than a simple knee sleeve. Bulkier than traditional knee sleeves, velcro straps can be uncomfortableModerate instability, ligament sprains
Hinged Knee BraceFor more severe injuries, this brace has hinged parts on each side of the knee, providing the best knee support. It is usually used under the supervision of a doctor. Provides much more side-to-side support.  Usually under the supervision of a doctor. Bulky and uncomfortable, doesn’t breathe well on hikes.ACL/MCL tears, post-surgery

Should You Wear a Knee Brace When Hiking?

Wearing a knee brace has pros and cons. For many, it can provide compression and short-term pain relief after a minor injury. However, long-term use can mask an underlying problem.

For me, it’s given me great short-term relief when my patellar tendonitis flares up. The compression also helps my knee feel more stable on the trail.

Here’s a great video from El Paso Manual Physical Therapy explaining situations when you should and should not use a knee brace. 

This video summarizes the following points: 

  • Knee braces can provide stability and pain relief after minor injuries (patellar tendonitis flare-up or other overuse knee injury).
  • However, chronic, long-term use of a knee brace can sometimes cause muscle imbalances or make you become reliant on the brace.
  • A brace can provide relief for chronic knee pain, but it’s important to determine the underlying cause. 
  • For any serious injury (ligament tears, dislocation, etc, you should always see a physical therapist or another medical professional.
knee with open-patella adjustable knee brace in place
A good knee brace takes pressure off my knees after acute patellar tendonitis flare-ups

What to Look for in a Knee Brace

The best knee braces for hiking all have the following: 

  • Provide compression: Compression not only stabilizes the knee but also helps increase blood flow to the tissues. 
  • Adjustable and comfortable
  • Wick moisture well
  • Stay in place
  • Allow enough range of motion in the knee while hiking

The 3 Best Knee Braces for Hiking

The 3 best knee braces for hiking are the Uflex athletics knee compression sleeve, the IPOW patellar strap, and the Neo G open patella knee brace. Each brace provides compression, is comfortable to wear, and doesn’t overly restrict the knee’s range of motion. 

1. The UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve: The All-Around Best Knee Brace for Hiking

The Uflex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve is our top knee brace for hiking. It is inexpensive, provides great compression, and wicks moisture well. Also, the rubber gripping on the inside of the sleeve keeps the brace from sliding down with activity.

Pros of the UFlex Knee Brace:

  • Inexpensive (less than $20 on Amazon)
  • Provides slight compression for the entire knee
  • Has rubber grip lines, preventing the brace from sliding down while hiking
  • Different sizes ranging from small to X-large
  • This knee sleeve is made with 53% Nylon, 33% Elastodiene fiber, and 14% Spandex, and wicks sweat well
  • Lightweight and won’t affect range of motion
  • Compatible with either knee
  • Long-lasting: I’ve worn these braces for years before they stretched out

Cons of the UFlex Knee Brace:

  • Not adjustable
  • Provides less support than a wrap-around or hinged brace
the Uflex compression knee sleeve, one of the best knee braces for hiking, has silicone ribbing to keep the brace from sliding down
The silicone ribbing helps keep these knee sleeves in place
a knee with the Uflex knee sleeve in place
The Uflex sleeve provides compression to the entire knee

2. IPOW Patellar Strap: Best Knee Strap

The IPOW patellar strap is our top recommendation for the best knee strap for hiking. It is lightweight, adjustable, and stays in place. The front padding is comfortable, and the Velcro on the back of the strap is positioned to avoid rubbing against the back of the knee.

Pros of the IPOW Patellar Knee Strap:

  • Comfortable and padded
  • Easily adjustable
  • Very lightweight
  • Does not restrict movement

Cons of the IPOW Patellar Knee Straps

  • Provides no side-to-side stabilization
  • Does not provide the full knee compression and warmth of knee sleeves or wraparound braces
hand pulling on adjustable strap of IPOW knee strap
The IPOW strap is adjustable
IPOW knee strap in place on a knee
The strap supports the patellar tendon but does not provide any side-to-side stabilization

3. Best Wrap-Around Knee Brace: Neo G Open Patella Knee Brace

The Neo G open patella wraparound brace is the best hiking brace for those looking for more support and who don’t mind a slight compromise with range of motion. The Neo G brace is made with lightweight neoprene and has three adjustable straps.

Pros of the Neo G Open Patella Knee Brace:

  • Adjustable velcro straps allow you to adjust your compression level
  • Made with neoprene, helps warm the knee joint
  • Comfortable fabric with soft edges
  • Compatible with either knee
  • Offers additional support without being overly bulky
  • Open patella design increases mobility

Cons of the Neo G Open Patella Knee Brace:

  • Only comes in one adjustable size; may not work for larger individuals
  • Slightly restricts knee range of motion
hand tightening the Neo G brace on a knee
This brace has three adjustable straps
the three straps of the Neo G knee brace as seen from behind
The fabric and edges are comfortable and don’t cut into the back of the knee

How to Prevent Knee Pain When Hiking Downhill

The best ways to prevent knee pain when hiking downhill are to use trekking poles, increase your mileage slowly, and wear high-quality hiking boots with good traction. In addition, carrying a lighter load and stepping sideways down stairs will help take pressure off the knee.

Use Trekking Poles

Using trekking poles is our number one recommendation to prevent knee pain on the trail.  Trekking poles help distribute the force of each step more evenly between your legs and arms, taking pressure off of your knees, ankles, and feet.

Besides choosing fantastic hiking shoes, my trekking poles have made the biggest difference in preventing knee pain and Achilles tendon pain on the trail.

Glymnis trekking poles with interchangeable tips
I take my Glymnis trekking poles with their interchangeable tips with me everywhere

Increase Your Hiking Mileage Slowly

Increasing your hiking mileage slowly (no more than 10-20% per week) is another way to prevent knee pain.

Over time, you’ll be able to crank up the number of miles you can hike in a day, but it’s important to be patient in order to prevent knee problems and other injuries. 

Wear Shoes With Good Traction

One surefire way to injure a knee is slipping and landing awkwardly on the trail.  For loose gravel or dirt, I always use hiking boots with great traction.  

For icy trails, I always wear my hiking spikes. 

hiking boots with hiking spikes in place
Hiking spikes are a must-have for icy trails

Step Sideways While Descending Stairs

Stairs can be a killer!  For hikes with long stretches of stairs, try stepping sideways instead of facing forward.  This helps take pressure off the front of the knee.

Lighten your Load

I love my hiking gadgets, but sometimes the extra weight isn’t worth it.  Think about what you really need before heading out, especially if the trail is steep.

The less weight on your back, the happier your knees will be. 

Cross-train

Hiking works many muscles, but sometimes, the smaller muscles can be undertrained and weak. For example, many hikers have strong quads but weak glutes, which allows the quadriceps muscle to pull more on the kneecap.  

Be sure to fit in a few days of crosstraining at the gym each week to strengthen some of these smaller muscles. 

up-close photo of a set of weights and a resistance band
Cross-training and strengthening your leg and hip muscles is a good way to prevent knee pain on the trail

Fuel up Properly

Healthy hiking snacks are so important for muscle recovery and injury prevention.  Leave the Twinkies and candy bars at home and instead opt for foods with a good balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 

Our favorite hiking snacks are homemade protein and flax balls with shredded coconut and low-sugar beef jerky. 

Choose Milder Inclines

The biggest difference between a hike and a walk is usually the elevation gain, and steep slopes (especially coming downhill) can wreak havoc on your knees.

While I love steep trails, I’ve found that the best way to ensure I can keep hiking when my knee pain flares up is to cut back on the elevation gain for a few weeks. 

How to Properly Fit a Hiking Knee Brace

Before purchasing a knee brace, you’ll want to make sure it fits well, provides enough compression, and won’t slide down during your hike.  Here are a few things I recommend:

  • Use a sizing chart with your measurements before purchasing: This is a great way to make sure you get the right size.  Many of these sizing charts will have you measure the circumference of your thigh a few inches above your knee. 
  • Check for adequate compression: You’ll want to feel a slight squeeze, but your knee brace should never cause more pain. 
  • Test out your range of motion before heading out on a hike: Make sure that your knee can still bend and flex properly and that the brace won’t impede your motion on the trail.

Tips for Wearing a Hiking Knee Brace on the Trail

So, you’ve purchased your knee brace and are ready to keep hiking.  Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

  • Start slow: Just like with any other new hiking equipment, you don’t want to start off with a long hike.  These hikes are a great excuse to go on a relaxed hiking date or ‘stop and smell the roses’ hike with friends. 
  • Pay attention to how your knee feels. Is the brace making your knee pain worse or better? If it’s causing problems, don’t be afraid to take the brace off in the middle of a hike.
  • Log your miles: This is always a good idea.  I like to log my miles and take notes about how I’m feeling.  This will give you a great log to look back to.
smart watch with steps tracking
There are plenty of smartwatches and applications to help track your pace and miles
close-up photo of Fitbit Inspire 3
The Fitbit Inspire 3 is my top choice for an inexpensive fitness watch

Maintenance and Care for Hiking Knee Braces

Knee braces, especially simple sleeves or straps, are very easy to take care of.  Here are a few things I always do to increase the lifespan of my knee brace:

  • Clean regularly: This should be a no-brainer, but your sweat can make your hiking gear gross.  Especially after hot-weather hikes, I always wash my hiking shirt, pants, and knee sleeve.
  • Air dry: Knee braces don’t like the dryer. It’s better to hang them up to dry overnight.
  • Keep an eye on the compression level: many of these knee braces (especially knee sleeves) will stretch out over time and won’t be as effective.
  • Keep it somewhere dry: aka, not in the bottom of your backpack

The Best Knee Braces for Hiking: Key Takeaways

The best knee braces for hiking will be lightweight while still providing support and compression.  The UFlex Knee Compression sleeve is one of the best options.  It provides good knee support, is made of breathable material, and is very inexpensive.

For those with mild patellar tendonitis, the IPOW patellar strap is a lightweight choice that provides great support. 

For those who want a little extra support, the Neo G Open Patellar brace is our favorite.

Don’t let a bad knee keep you from the wild outdoors!  While I’ve had to cut back my mileage during injury setbacks, using devices like a knee brace has enabled me to stay active and keep myself on the trails.  

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