Knee and leg protection isn’t the most controversial area of HEMA gear. While we as a community have been agonizing over gloves, jackets, and even masks, what happens below the thighs tends not to get much attention.
I think this is largely because there’s a lot of knee and shin protection options out there. A glut of options however presents its own challenges, namely wading through them to figure out which is best for you.
Here’s an option, and I think it’s a pretty damn good one: The Knee Pro Ultra Flex III. Does it have a name like it’s an action figure supplement pack? Yes. But don’t let that mislead you. It’s a simple, well priced product that does exactly what you need it to do.
The first thing to note is that the Knee Pro Ultra Flex III (or as I shall now dub it: the KPUF3, because I don’t want to type out the whole thing, and I like calling it ‘KPUF’) is not a knee and shin integrated system. It is just a knee pad and any school or tournament regulations calling for shin protection will not be satisfied with the KPUF3 alone.
That being said, I personally have disliked every integrated knee/shin system I’ve tried (from the Red Dragons to various BMX/Motocross systems, to even catchers pads), and I find that a separate knee and shin pad solution tends to be far more comfortable and stable. With that point out of the way, these are fantastic knee pads.
First off, they are admirably simple. Two molded plastic plates with 1/2 inch closed-cell foam lining the inside, and two straps. There is very little to go wrong and everything feels well made and durable.
The plastic is flexible but tough; I’ve taken many solid hits from steel and they’ve never left more than a scuff. The foam lining is comfortable and well formed as they were designed by and for construction and tiling experts, for people who have to kneel on hard surfaces for long periods of time.
The two metal rivets which connect the two plates are sturdy and allow a unlimited range of motion. The straps are at the top and bottom, meaning that rather than binding around the back of the actual knee joint, they instead wrap around the leg, making them fairly comfortable. Finally, the straps are quick snaps, so no fiddling around. The only thing quicker than putting them on is taking them off. Both are a matter of seconds.
Finally, they come in four colors, including HEMA black.
There are two parts to the performance: protection and range of motion.
As I mentioned, the KPUF3 are just knee pads, but one thing I like about them is that they cover a lot of area. They wrap fully around the sides of the knees and the plates extend a good two to three inches above and below the knee itself. The thickness of the foam padding means that all but the most violent of impacts are pretty much negligible.
The only flaw in the protection of the KPUF3 is that when they are bent back to full extension, such as when the leg is fully bent and the knee is hinged, a small gap appears between the two plates at the center of the pad, right over the knee cap. While small, it could conceivably allow a sword tip to slip in.
However, this gap only appears when the pads are at full extension and your leg would have to be nearly bent back up against your ass to get the KPUF3 to this point. I personally feel that the danger presented by this gap is almost non-existent.
(Editor's note: I've had one occasion since using these knees that I witness someone being struck between the plates. Having said that, despite the amount of force, the Knee Pro still kept him protected outside of a small mark.)
As for the range of motion, I feel completely unrestricted. The simple construction means there is little to get in the way, and the strap system is effective without binding or squeezing.
They don’t shift around while I move, nor do they add any extra effort to bending the knee.
The KPUF3 is advertised as one size fits all. As ever, this means that people on the ends of the sizing bell curve will most likely be left out.
That said, the pricing and delivery factors which I will cover below mean that most people will be able to afford purchasing a pair to see if they work for them and returning them if they don’t.
Pricing and Customer Service
The KPUF3 is not a HEMA product, which means it's a breeze to acquire.
While they have their own website where they cost $29.95 before shipping, they can be found in many other places online, such as Amazon, for a few dollars cheaper.
This means your customer service is standardized, you can pay for two day shipping if you like, and you’ll never purchase a product that doesn’t exist.
The KPUF3 is one of those products that doesn’t need fixing. Your knees are just as important as any other part of your body and they deserve just as good protection as your hands, face, or torso. The KPUF3 protects them well, protects them comfortably, and does it for under thirty dollars.