Behind the Scenes

Backpacker Magazine: The New Knee Brace You Didn’t See Coming

Backpacker Magazine: The New Knee Brace You Didn’t See Coming
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The following was shared with permission and written by Caitlin Kelly for Backpacker Magazine.

I was standing at the top of a line I had skied at least twenty times before: one of my favorites at Whiteface Mountain—pop a little air off the cat track, maneuver through small fir trees, jump off of a cliff and sail through the runout. But then I pushed a little harder than normal, skied a little too fast as I launched over the cliff far past the landing and into a hidden hole in the snow. I heard a pop and felt the rubber band-like ligaments holding my knee together snap. I knew what I had done, but couldn’t yet admit it. I later found out I had torn my ACL, meniscus, and had a hairline fracture at the top of my tibia. 

For those who have suffered any sort of knee injury, it is absolutely life-changing, as common as the injury is. Depending on the severity, walking normally after surgery is months into the future. And if you love to recreate outside, it’s at least six to nine months to return to those wild spaces you love at full capacity.

New Knee Support is Born 

Just before the Grouse Grind Mountain Run in Vancouver, a 1.8-mile trail run up the steep Grouse Mountain, twenty-six-year-old Zack Eberwein was debating whether or not he should wear his bulky knee brace. As a last-minute decision, he left it behind – and suffered an acute knee injury as a result, leading him to ask the question: is there a better way to approach knee support? A mechanical engineer by trade, he ultimately co-founded Stoko to solve that problem, the world’s first supportive apparel company. 

Stoko’s inaugural product, the K1, is a compression tight that mimics the body’s natural structures, muscles, and ligaments while using its patented Embrace System technology to give the knee the support of a traditional brace without the bulk. And the latest iteration, the K1 Breathe, now enhances temperature regulation through knitted ventilation. 

The K1 completely reimagines recovering from knee injuries. Stoko used body mapping to place high-strength cables that are integrated into the fabric so that they mimic your muscles and ligaments, providing extra stability where you need it most. And those cables are adjustable with two dials, one for each leg, embedded in the back of the waistband. It’s a non-assuming garment that looks like any other legging, but with medical-grade technology that provides the same, if not better support than traditional knee braces. Designed by athletes, the K1 is functional: it’s a compression tight for skiing and snowboarding, while also acting as a baselayer. For running and hiking and other sports, it’s all you need. 

Testing Stoko’s K1 Breathe in the High Peaks Wilderness 

I’m five years post-surgery and my career and body has allowed me to work outside and protect those wild spaces, but not without weakness and pain in that bad knee. During the months of May through October, I work in the High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondacks in a remote outpost and act as an educator, first responder, and trail worker, while hiking around in some of the most rugged mountains in the Northeast. On my last hitch out in the High Peaks Wilderness, I packed the K1 Breathe and did a patrol up to Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. 

I put on the K1 for the descent, the movement that puts the most stress on my reconstructed ACL. I was blown away by how good my knees felt, and how supported I felt, without the volume of a knee brace. An added benefit was the support on my hips, which often compensate for my bad knee. Additionally, the compression of the K1 reminds those muscles around my bad knee to fire, instead of relying on the hips or the other leg. The K1 takes a while to get used to, but after wearing them a few times, they eventually conformed and morphed to my body. 

As I descended, not only did my knees feel stronger, but so did the entirety of my legs. Although it was a 70-degree day, the integrated breathability kept my legs cool while wearing this supportive apparel. And even with a 40-pound pack on, the dials on the back of the K1 weren’t very noticeable. 

Part of Stoko’s philosophy is to help create a strong body that doesn’t rely on a conventional knee brace, a design that hasn’t changed much in 50 years. Perhaps you’re post knee surgery and you don’t want to wear a brace but want that extra support, or you’re a runner or backpacker with chronic knee pain, or a freeride skier that continually pushes the limits and your knees. Stoko’s K1 uses targeted compression and technical knitting for the cables, so you don’t even feel them as they’re supporting you throughout the fabric. An added bonus is the extra hip stability and alignment. 

Wearing the K1 Breathe, I felt my legs working as they should—together. All my muscles, joints, and ligaments were working in synergy, a feeling I haven’t had since I got injured. It wasn’t just my knee that felt supported, the entire lower half of my body felt stronger. Stoko’s K1 is a total game changer. I highly recommend it to anyone who needs the extra stability and support in their knees. 

Read more about why Stoko is the future of knee support here.

Shop the K1 and K1 Breathe edition here