Knees are infamous for giving out. Our bodies may last 80 years, but for some inexplicable reason of bad design, our knees are engineered to hold out for 50.
So whether you’ve got a bad knee, you want to keep the knees of your pants from blowing out from wear, or you’re tired of perennially muddy knees, it might be time to invest in knee protection.
Even if you’re a young gardener with knees like springboards, kneeling pads or strap-on kneepads are great for times when you don’t feel like changing into your garden grubbies for quick weeding or planting. If you’re wearing shorts, kneepads and kneeling pads protect your skin—and if you’re wearing pants, they save your clothes. I especially like them when I’m planting along my gravel path or kneeling in my woodchip-mulched flower beds.
Depending on the design of your knee protection, you may find other uses for it, too. Water-resistant kneepads and kneeling pads are great when scrubbing floors, washing the dog, laying tile, installing baseboard, or getting under that dusty deck to fetch a soccer ball.
Types of knee protection
Kneepads and kneelers come in one of three types: kneepads (strapped on), rectangular kneeling pads (carried out into the garden and kneeled on), and kneeling pads with supports to help you get up and down.
Strap-on kneepads are probably the most popular. They’re easy to put on and most are extremely lightweight—you can wear them for hours and hardly know they’re there as you go about various garden tasks. However, the lightest fabric and foam-plastic types often have short lives. The elastic straps stretch out or the Velcro fasteners fail after a year or two. Heavy-duty rubber pads with buckles last much longer, but they’re heavier, making them useful only when kneeling.
Kneeling pads are usually 2 to 2½ feet across and 1 to 2 feet wide. You put them down on the ground to keep your knees clean and dry. Some gardeners swear by them. However, you have to move the pad every time you switch to a new spot—which means you have to haul yourself to your feet or scoot the pad in an awkward move that makes you look like you’re playing Twister.
Kneeling pads with supports are a great idea for gardeners who can use a little help getting up and down. But again, they’re not perfect. They can be cumbersome to lug out into the garden, unfold, and refold. But once they’re set up in the garden, they’re wonderful.
New on the scene are Green Jeans, a cross between kneepads and old-fashioned coveralls. Billing themselves as garden chaps, they’re faster to put on and more water resistant than coveralls, but give more coverage than kneepads, making them great for messier jobs.
For me, any inexpensive tool that makes it easier for me to get out in the garden is worth every penny. And if it makes my body feel better and keeps my clothes and skin in better shape, I just might have to get down on my knees and give thanks.
Choosing knee protection
Our buyer’s guide to getting what you need
Advantages: Great for when you need to get up and down a lot. Look for wide, comfortable straps. Good for gardeners with bursitis or other conditions that make kneeling on hard surfaces painful. Some garden kneepads are designed like athletic kneepads and slip over the foot and up the leg—no painful fasteners or narrow straps.
Disadvantages: Pads with narrow elastic straps are inexpensive but the elastic stretches out over time. Also, narrow straps can cut into your skin and be uncomfortable. Gel-type kneepads are comfortable but less durable than solid-rubber types.
Price: $3 to $40.
Advantages: If you make a mess when you’re out in the garden, garden chaps may be a quick solution. A hybrid between a garden apron and very long kneepads, they quickly strap on and give you full-body protection. They’re great for carrying armfuls of muddy branches or hauling a heavy pot braced against your body.
Disadvantages: They are not cheap and certainly don’t cover everything, but for certain kinds of gardening they’re great. Often sold under the brand name Green Jeans.
Advantages: If you park yourself in one spot while weeding or planting on your knees, a kneeling pad may be for you. Gel types provide maximum comfort.
Disadvantages: While there are some cheap kneeling pads on the market, consider a better one with dense padding. The inexpensive pads get damaged within just a few uses. They can be a bit bulky to drag around the garden.
Price: $2 to $35
Kneeling pads with supports
Advantages: There are various designs for kneeling pads with supports, but the most common has a kneeling pad with two “arms” on either side to help you lower yourself and push yourself up. You can also flip it over for a handy garden stool. The unit folds up for easy storage.
Disadvantages: Check the weight. For gardeners with limited mobility, it may be a pain to lug around in the garden.
Price: $25 to $50
Kneepad and kneeler tips
Keep ‘em clean. Wipe off plastic kneepads each time you use them. Occasionally, toss kneepads in the washer (no bleach) and air-dry to preserve foam. Fasten the straps first so they don’t wrap around other laundry or each other. They’re inexpensive, so you may want to buy a couple pairs—one to wear and one to wash.
Protect knee gear from the elements. Store kneepads out of direct sunlight because ultraviolet rays will break down the foam. Also, rain isn’t good for the metal parts of the kneeler with supports.
Keep the receipt. Inexpensive kneepads that strap on may stretch out after a month or two. Inexpensive kneeler pads may get trashed after just a few uses. If you end up with one of these lemons, have your receipt on hand so you can make a return.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is a garden writer in Ames, Iowa.