Is the Stoko™ K1 now the best knee brace for skiing?
Is the Stoko™ K1 now the future for knee braces when skiing?Knees are so often an issue when it comes to skiing, as I know so well. The classic ski brace enables many to carry on skiing, protecting instability of the knee and giving skiers the confidence to carry on doing what they love, now there maybe is a better alternative to the ski brace?
Over the years I have had many a knee injury, with my tally being two arthroscopies (keyhole surgery) on both knees and one ACL reconstruction, and evidently, I had also torn the ACL in my other knee - the surgeon advised me of that when he was performing the arthroscopy on my right knee, while rehabbing after the ACL construction on my left!
There's more here on how I did my ACL and the ensuing ACL reconstruction.
After the reconstruction and arthroscopy, I worked hard on regaining strength and fitness in order to be able to ski the following season. After the operation on 1st September I was skiing the following March.
But as you can see it was a bit of a faff!
I gradually stopped wearing the Donjoy braces as they were so uncomfortable, plus the majority of my skiing is ski touring, so they were not the best things to wear for the ascent.
Maybe on and off for the past 10 years, I have used a brace when I've tweaked my knee. Then three years ago in Japan, I broke my knee, but, luckily, I could still ski tour using the brace on the right in the picture below, as I took it with me to Japan (we call it the 'just in casey bracey'). On my return to France, I skied a little using the Donjoy brace and then lockdown happened.
Knees and skiing are something that I like to think I know something about. In fact, one of my website clients is the top UK knee consultant Mr James Lewis who has written various articles on skiing and knee injuries for Style Altitude.
As I obviously want the best for skiing performance and to keep my body fully-functional, I am always on the lookout for new and better equipment, so when the Stoko™ K1 came to the attention of Style Altitude, I was keen to try it out. And, BTW, if you're looking for gear to protect your knees, don't forget to change country Amazon to find the best deals and options available.
The only issue when I was offered the Stoko™ K1 to review, was that my knees had survived the first three months of the season really well, both downhill skiing and ski touring interspersed with numerous cross country skiing (skating) sessions, so ironically I was not best placed to test a knee brace for skiing. But I knew a few others who maybe could.
However, the gods had other plans for me, and after a nigh on nine-hour non-stop* drive to the UK, with only a three-day break before repeating the return journey, my left knee complained so much that running, skiing and ski touring really aggravated the pain. It became progressively worse with quite severe swelling, during which time the Stoko™ K1 arrived.
*one 10 minute fuel stop
By then my ROM* was at around 80 percent and things were not getting any better along with some instability when walking down our steps, so it was off to the physio followed by a major cutback on all activities.
*Range of movement
Luckily the E-MTB I had invested in for accessing long approaches when ski touring (more on that here) came into its own for exercising our new, but more demanding dog so he could still get his 10km runs.
I did wear the Stoko™ K1 when cycling and then walking a little, but that is not really a test or the basis for a review.
The real test would be skiing, but I had decided not to ski at all until conditions and/or my knee was better which, given the state of the snow this season, was not too difficult a choice, with all the lift-accessed off-piste more or less devoid of snow or just tracked out, and a similar story for our ski touring routes, so a good time to rest the knee.
However, the equivalent of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden did break my resolve as we had one morning of 25cms of fresh cold powder and not even a knackered knee was going to stop me!
The night before all the kit was made ready, along with the Stoko K1 tights and we made first lifts even getting untracked onto the first chair lift.
Tights vs Brace the Stoko K1 Review
If I'd not had the Stokos then I would have been using my Donjoy brace such was the condition of my knee.
Most sports people recovering from a knee injury know when they're ready to start their chosen discipline, as they gain confidence in the stability of their knee. Obviously cycling is often a precursor to a more demanding sport, and skiing is pretty demanding.
When I wear a Donjoy brace for skiing I wear it over compression tights as the brace will rub. No matter how well you set the straps up, there will be some movement.
The Stoko is great for someone like me who outside of the winter months is kite/windsurfing and is well used to wearing a wetsuit, which really does help with the necessary tactical logic of getting the Stokos on, as they do require some technique due to their unique design.
Essentially the Stoko K1 is a compression tight with a Boa cable system (just like snowboard boots) running down and across your legs. As their website reads, which is better than I can describe the way it works: the K1 relies on tension throughout the Embrace System™ to generate support, which is made up of cables that are integrated into the tights. The result is support that moves with your body and doesn't make you compromise on comfort, aesthetic, or support.
My best advice is to sit down and get the 'bad' leg/knee in first so you don't have to put too much strain on it, then once you have the other leg in, stand and pull them up making sure of the cross on your shin and align the two light grey bars on the inside and outside of your knee with the bend of your knee.
Then you push the dials at the back of the waistband in and turn them to tighten the cables as you feel the support engage.
The left dial controls the left leg, and the right controls the right leg, so in effect, you're getting two braces!
The best option is to read the FAQs on the Stoko site as to how to put them on, and take them off. The good news is that it does get easier over time, and the video below is really helpful.
The first ski using them that I mentioned above was not really a good test as the untracked snow was so light, so the skiing was not too demanding riding 105 skis which is often the case. However, as the temperatures rose so the snow became heavier and I could feel my knee more especially when back on the piste in the chopped up snow that was evolving into bumps.
An hour or so later back home and the ice pack was back on a swollen knee. I made a promise not to ski for at least two weeks to really rest the knee along with a few more physio sessions combined with an intense stretching and strengthening protocol.
Where we live we have 30 or so steep steps to the parking area, so I sort of know-how well the knee is feeling, and how stable or not it is. My worry was that I had somehow damaged my ACL that was reconstructed as there was some instability, which was frustrating as the injury was not due to a trauma impact.
Eventually, the two weeks were nearly up and with family visiting it was time to get back on the horse, as the weather was beautiful if a little warm.
With the Stoko's on I opted for light shell trousers with vents as I suspected some temperature management might be called for, but it was not too bad.
I was also a little concerned that the tights were full length as all my other tights are three-quarters, but once on I didn't even notice the difference.
So I've now piste skied six times in them and five ski tours.
I'm quite a powerful aggressive skier and on the piste, especially early morning groomers that have still to soften up I did not even think about the knee. It was only four or so hours later when the spring slush and Velcro snow was prevalent that I could feel my patella shouting, but I get that even when my knees are 100 percent.
The three spring ski-tours, where T-shirts were in order for the ascent, again I didn't even notice the Stoko's on the climb, nor on the descent in sublime spring corn, though I have to admit to getting a bit warm, so maybe best to climb up in them and then put some trousers on when transitioning, but that could be a bit of a faff?
Full length zipped pants would be the answer to that!
As in many a review nowadays, the 'out of the box' moment is a must and for the Stoko™ K1 their box is simply a work of art. And that quality is reflected in the tights themselves.
The big question is how does the Stoko K1 support compare to a typical Donjoy type brace?
And here you have to trust what Stoko say, which is that it is proven to offer 100 percent support of traditional braces.
Stoko is FDA and Health Canada registered as a Class 1 medical device for moderate to severe ligament instabilities, mild strains, sprains and other knee injuries.
The K1 is designed for all activity levels including those with medium to high impact and for cases including:
• Moderate to severe ligament instabilities (such as MCL, LCL, ACL, and PCL)
• Combined mild strains and sprains
• Instabilities of the knee
Stoko's claims are backed up by some very detailed laboratory testing against some of the more popular hinged knee braces such as Donjoy.
Most sports people I know who have had to deal with ACL type injuries do tend to become reasonably knowledgeable about the knee and would find this an interesting document to read.
The Stoko K1 undergoing laboratory testing.
The Stoko K1 initially does seem expensive at $500 CAD, which equates to $400 US, €362 Euro, £305 GBP which is similar in pricing to a Donjoy, however with the Stoko K1 you get two braces in effect for the price of one!
When the season is sputtering to an end, so the Stoko will be used almost on a daily basis, snow conditions allowing. For sure I'll still be icing and carrying on stretching/massaging but those uncomfortable Donjoy braces are going to remain in the wardrobe and I will also be able to start trail running again, a lot sooner than if I didn't have the Stokos.
For far more in-depth information about the Stoko K1 and additional testimonials/reviews go over to the Stoko site.
Powered by Stoko, on the UP as well as the DOWN
How does the Stoko K1 work when running / ski touring?
With temps in the low to mid 20's I decided to see what my knee is like running, as we've done a couple of hikes, with me wearing the Stoko, and it's not been too bad on the downhill.
I've been ski touring using the tights and one key advantage over a hinged brace is that I release the cable when climbing and then crank it up for the descent, which I repeated again today on a 2km climb.
The descent was a tad gnarly with lots of scope to go base over apex, and it always takes a handful of runs to get dialled in and gain confidence in your footing and with a suspect knee even more so, so was quite please with the result, again something I'd never countenance with a hinged brace.
You can just about work out how the support is embracing my right knee in the picture below.
Stoko as a brace for Cross Country Skiing
I've now used the Stoko knee brace twice for Cross Country Skiing; skating style, as I've been giving my knees a lot of abuse recently.
Especially having purchased some GS Race Type skis which exert tremendous pressure on the knees, not really a discipline someone of my vintage should be pursuing.
I could never ever have countenanced the idea of doing Cross Country Skiing with a more typical rigid brace such as the Donjoy, you might be able to get away with Classic style but not skating!
The Stoko, as you'd expect was superb, you didn't know you were actually wearing a brace, and in the realms of Lycra XC fashion, it didn't look at all out of place!
I ended up doing a PB on a 2.5km segment, now was it the Stoko helping my legs or just better technique :)
In the pictures below you can clearly see how the Boa system wraps around my knee, lower leg and thighs.
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