Behold, the humble mountain bike short. For such a simple item, riders demand a lot, and finding the best pair often involves trial and error. Singletracks has tested nearly 100 different pairs of mountain bike shorts over the past few years, and these are the ones that stand out in our experience.
So what makes for a great pair of mountain bike shorts? For us, it comes down to several criteria: comfort and fit, durability and security, features like pockets and ventilation, and style and value.
Read on to get more info about the 17 best MTB shorts we’ve tested or skip ahead to the FAQ where we address questions like whether MTB-specific shorts are even necessary.
The Best MTB Shorts We’ve Tested
- Best budget MTB shorts: Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts
- Most versatile: Fox Ranger MTB Shorts
- Best fit for most bodies: Zoic Navaeh Women’s Mountain Bike Shorts
- Premium fit and function: Velocio Trail Shorts
|DHaRCO Gravity Shorts||$107||x||x||Gravity||13″|
|Endura Singletrack Lite Shorts||$99.99||x||x||Trail||12.5″|
|Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts||$70||x||x||Trail||12″|
|Fox Ranger MTB Shorts||$90||x||x||Trail||12″|
|Gore C5 All Mountain Shorts||$130||x||Gravity||14″|
|ilabb Traverse Shorts||$150||x||x||Gravity||12″|
|ION Traze Vent Shorts||$99.95||x||x||Gravity||12″|
|Norrøna fjørå flex1 Shorts||$139||x||x||Gravity||14.5″|
|Pactimo Apex Shorts||$93||x||x||Trail||13″|
|Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shorts||$130||x||x||Trail||13.5″|
|POC Essential Shorts||$100||x||x||Enduro||13″|
|Rapha Trail Shorts||$150||x||x||Trail||14″|
|Showers Pass Apex Shorts||$125||x||x||Trail||11-12″|
|Shredly MTB Shorts||$105||x||Trail||5″-12″|
|Specialized Trail Shorts||$75||x||x||Trail||11.5″-13.5″|
|Velocio Trail Shorts||$169||x||x||Trail||12″|
|Zoic Navaeh Shorts||$75||x||Trail||7″-11″|
DHaRCO Gravity Shorts
⭐️ ShrEditor’s Choice 2021: MTB Gear of the Year
DHaRCO mountain bike shorts and pants are routinely among our testers’ favorites, and their Gravity shorts in particular do not disappoint. Chris notes these fit slim body types best and the 13″ inseam should fall just below the knees for most riders. Even the hardware — buttons, zippers, etc. — is designed to take abuse on the trail, and the brand offers men’s, women’s, and kids’ versions of the Gravity short. If you’re looking for plenty of pocket storage you may want to choose another pair on this list; the DHaRCO Gravity shorts feature just two pockets: one front and one rear. The DHaRCO Gravity shorts are a stand out product and among our favorite mtb gear.
Endura Singletrack Lite Shorts
We’ve tested various iterations of these shorts over the years and they never let us down. Endura offers regular and short fits to ensure the length falls right around the knee no matter your size. Zippered pockets — two front and one rear — provide plenty of secure storage and laser-cut holes keep these well ventilated. Our only complaint is the printed graphics on the latest Singletrack Lites start peeling off after a few washes. The Endura Singletrack Lite shorts are a well-constructed and durable pair of mountain bike shorts for just under $100. Men’s and women’s shorts available.
Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts
⭐️ Best Budget MTB Shorts
The Adidas/Five Ten Brand of the Brave shorts were a surprise hit with our reviewers thanks to a straightforward, technical design at a reasonable price. These are lightweight, dry quickly, and offer four different pockets, including a secure, zippered side pocket. An inner drawstring and silicon waist grippers keep the shorts in place; for an even more secure fit there are belt loops as well. Falling just above the knee, these shorts are best suited for trail riding. Men’s and women’s styles available. We tested the Five Ten Brand of the Brave shorts alongside many men’s and women’s budget mtb shorts.
Fox Ranger Mountain Bike Shorts
⭐️ Most Versatile MTB Shorts
The Fox Ranger is perhaps the most popular baggy mountain bike short of all time, and for many of us it was the first pair we purchased on the advice of friends. It’s still a great choice, and Fox has expanded the line with women’s mountain bike shorts, lite, and utility versions for any type of adventure. The adjustable waist is super secure and two front, zippered pockets keep hands warm and gear secure. The nylon fabric dries quickly and is incredibly durable, while the shape is optimized for riding comfortably. See what Jamieelee has to say about the entire Fox Ranger women’s mountain bike kit.
Gore C5 All Mountain Shorts
The Gore C5 All Mountain shorts are a rare breed that’s designed for more aggressive riding, yet are also incredibly lightweight and well vented for summer riding. The generous 14-inch inseam falls at the knees, and a zipper on the legs can be opened to reveal thin mesh venting. There are two zippered pockets in the front plus slightly thicker mesh panels at the front and rear for continuous air flow. Read our full review of the Gore C5 All Mountain shorts.
ilabb Traverse Shorts
ilabb is one of the new-ish mtb apparel brands we have tested. The ilabb Traverse MTB shorts are made from a DRI-RYDE material blend that feels luxurious on the trail. Laser-cut ventilation keeps these shorts feeling cool, as does the above-the-knee length. We found these offer a slim fit and sleek look so if you want a truly baggy short, we recommend choosing a different pair from this list. Men’s and women’s sizes and styles are available.
- Price: $121.89
- Buy from ilabb
ION Traze Vent Shorts
There are a number of versions of the popular ION Traze mountain bike shorts. One of our favorites for enduro riding is the ION Traze Vent with its longish, 12-inch inseam and four-way stretch material. These should fit most body types and vent well enough to feel comfortable even on hot and humid days. Catch up on Chris’ experience racing enduro in these shorts. Mens’ and women’s styles available.
Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 Shorts
The Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 shorts are made from recycled material and feature a long, 14.5-inch inseam for nearly below the knee coverage. Rear waist coverage is good too, and there are three pockets. Two large, zippered vents open up on hot days, and there are multiple weights to choose form (light, mid, and heavy). Read more about the Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 shorts in our 2022 summer mtb apparel preview. Men’s and women’s styles available.
Pactimo Apex Shorts
Pactimo Apex mountain bike shorts are as simple as they are durable. There are two front pockets for hands plus a zippered rear and zippered side pocket for stashing valuables. These fall just above the knees (13-inch inseam) and utilize a dual snap and zippered fly. One of the snaps finally pulled out of a pair of shorts one of our testers has been wearing continuously for three years, which is a pretty good run in our book. Men’s and women’s sizes and styles available. Read a complete review of the Pactimo Apex shorts.
Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell Shorts
The Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell is a no-nonsense trail short designed for comfort and performance. Laser perforations ventilate the legs which are designed to fall just above the knee. The nylon material is coated to shed water and the two front pockets are zippered for keeping items secure. Read more about the Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell shorts in our last summer mtb clothing preview.
POC Essential Shorts
The POC Essential mountain bike shorts are designed to cover all the bases, from trail riding to gravity with men’s and women’s versions available. These offer a sleek look and feel with a length that falls right at the knees and velcro waist adjusters for a secure, yet comfortable fit. There are two hand pockets in the front and one centered pocket in the rear, all secured with zippers. A slightly tapered leg means these baggies aren’t caught flapping in the wind while you bomb down the trail. Get more info on the POC Essential shorts and other pieces, too.
Rapha Trail Shorts
The Rapha Trail bike shorts are premium baggies designed for both comfort and performance on the bike. The men’s Trail shorts feature external waist cinchers while the women’s version comes with a stretchy waist band. And while the men’s version includes two front hand pockets and two zippered side pockets, the women’s Trail shorts get just the side pockets. A repair kit is included for simple repairs. Read our complete review of the Rapha Trail shorts.
Showers Pass Apex DWR Shorts
Not to be confused with the Pactimo shorts of the same name, the Showers Pass Apex DWR shorts are made from a four-way stretch, nylon/elastic blend that moves well on the bike and dries quickly on sweaty days. The 12-inch inseam on the men’s shorts falls at or just above the knees and we found these generally fit true to size. Zippered thigh vents double as storage, and reflective accents make both ends of dawn-to-dusk rides safer. Read more about the Showers Pass Apex DWR shorts.
Shredly MTB Shorts
Shredly offers more than a dozen styles and various lengths of their women’s mountain bike shorts which means there’s a look and fit for pretty much every rider. Our testers are particularly fond of the yoga-style waistband on the MTB Curvy short, and the fact that Shredly shorts actually include usable front and side pockets. Zippered thigh vents on select styles keep these feeling cool on hot summer rides. Read more about Shredly’s unique styles for any body.
- Price: $105 – $110
- Buy from Shredly
Specialized Trail Shorts
The Specialized Trail Shorts are as simple as it gets for MTB shorts with a button fly, two front hand pockets (one with a zipper), and external waist adjusters for a dialed fit. There’s no venting to speak of, but the above-the-knee length and loose fit keeps things reasonably cool on hot days. These Specialized mountain bike shorts are another great option under $100 for men and women.
Velocio Trail Shorts
⭐️ Premium Fit and Function
The Velocio Trail shorts are the priciest baggy MTB shorts on our list, and they’re also among the most comfortable and fully featured. These shorts are designed to be fast and light on the trail and feature well placed zippered pockets, reflective accents, and a DWR coating for quick drying. External waist adjusters make for an easy fit to keep the shorts securely in place all day long. We reviewed both men’s Velocio Trail shorts and women’s Velocio Trail shorts.
Zoic Navaeh Shorts
⭐️ Best Fitting Mountain Bike Shorts for Most Bodies
Zoic Navaeh shorts feature a lightweight, thin material which makes them a good choice for summer trail rides. For most riders the standard 11-inch length falls right at the knee, and Zoic also offers a version with a shorter, 7-inch inseam. Our product testers note these fit most body shapes and sizes, and they’re offered in many colors and fun prints. Priced at $75, these are also some of the most affordable women’s mountain bike shorts we like. Read Hillary’s review of the Zoic Navaeh shorts. For men, check out the comparable Zoic Ether mountain bike shorts.
How to choose the best mountain bike shorts
For such a seemingly simple item, there’s actually a lot that goes into making a great pair of mountain bike shorts.
Every pair of mountain bike shorts seeks to balance comfort and security at the waist, and your own preferences will determine the best choice. Choose a pair of shorts with a yoga-style or simple elastic waist for maximum comfort.
If security is more important, or you find that a lot of shorts ride down during the ride, look for a waist with a built-in nylon belt, or a pair with belt loops. We’ve even seen shorts with ratchet-style, cable dial waist systems, though in our opinion this is overkill. More secure waist systems tend to be less comfortable, while comfortable waists tend to be less secure. For buyers, finding the right balance is the key.
There’s also a wide variety of waist closure styles available from zippers to snaps, and buttons to Velcro. All tend to work fairly well, but keep in mind every zipper and button adds to the cost of the garment. A single button and a zippered fly is tried and true without inflating the price of the shorts.
Inside the waist, most bike shorts will include a silicon or rubberized coating to prevent slipping when worn in conjunction with liner shorts.
Padded Liner / Chamois
Some mountain bike shorts are sold with a padded liner included. Included liners tend to be fairly basic chamois liners, and our preference is to purchase a liner, like the Club Ride 1-3 hour chamois, separately. Liners may be sewn in to mountain bike shorts, or they may use an attachment system that makes it easy to remove for washing. We’ve cut the liners out of plenty of shorts over the years to know they’re generally not worth the added cost, let alone the ill fit and discomfort.
Find a pair of mtb shorts you like, and do likewise for a separate padded liner, or even a pair of bib shorts. See our FAQ below about the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a short liner.
Pockets are convenient for warming hands and stashing small items, but full pockets are often annoying when it’s time to pedal. Pocket placement along the top and sides of mountain bike shorts can minimize jangling keys, and it’s nice to have at least one zippered or Velcro-sealed pocket to ensure valuables don’t fall out along the trail. Big, deep pockets are sorta worthless, unless you just don’t plan on pedaling. Some MTB shorts include rear pockets, though these aren’t usually a good stash spot when you’re in the saddle.
Mesh pockets double as venting in some shorts, and true warm-weather shorts skip pockets altogether for a lightweight, maximally-vented design. Women’s MTB shorts are more likely to skimp on pockets or omit them entirely (boo!), though there are plenty of women’s shorts that do include pockets. So whether you like having all of the pockets, or none of them, there are plenty of choices available.
Like fancy waist systems and closures, each pocket adds to the cost of a pair of shorts so if you don’t need them, choose a pair with fewer.
Will these mountain bike shorts cover knee pads? That tends to be a common question among mountain bikers shopping for shorts, and most brands offer at least one pair in their line that is designed to fall just above or below the knee.
Inseam measurements, the distance from your crotch to the end of the leg opening, can be extremely helpful (but sometimes hard to find) when shopping for mountain bike shorts online, so be sure to compare your own measurements to get an idea of the shorts’ length and coverage.
Knee pad coverage is actually a difficult thing to quantify since mtb shorts legs tend to move up and down while pedaling, let alone in a crash situation. If you’re looking for continuous coverage from the end of your shorts to below the knee for protective purposes then consider a pair of knickers or lightweight trail pants just to be safe.
And yes, it’s also fine to wear mountain bike shorts that don’t fully extend past the top of your knee pads, especially when it’s hot outside. If anyone makes fun of you, just wheelie past them.
For some of the more petite riders, there are a few mtb apparel brands that offer shorter inseam lengths on their women’s mountain bike shorts in particular — Machines for Freedom, Club Ride, Shredly, and Zoic. Just because your legs might be shorter doesn’t mean you have to settle for wearing potato-sack style shorts.
Most mountain bike shorts are made from synthetic blended materials like nylon and elastane. These types of materials tend to be durable and dry more quickly than natural materials, and can be selected and tuned to offer specific characteristics. It is possible to find cotton shorts designed for mountain biking but we generally do not recommend them.
Check the label for care instructions. Most mountain bike shorts can be machine washed and dried, but not all are easy to maintain.
Protection: Ripstop material prevents small tears from expanding. Gravity shorts tend to also use thicker materials for additional abrasion protection.
Some mountain bike shorts feature waterproof materials for wet and potentially cooler rides, though these are often more expensive and of questionable utility since the rider’s calves and feet will still get wet. Waterproof, DWR coatings are fairly common on mountain bike shorts to help shed mud and rain spray.
Temperature regulation and venting: Lightweight, thin materials are used for summer shorts and thicker, insulated materials can be found in shoulder-season pairs. Some shorts stitch panels of varying materials together to offer ventilation in some places while keeping other areas more protected.
Comfort: Riders tend to move around a lot on the trail, and four-way stretch materials can be very accommodating. We’ve tested many mountain bike shorts with materials that are best described as rough and crinkly, and needless to say we’re not fans.
Colors: Neutral black and grey shorts are generally a safe choice, though it’s possible to find mountain bike shorts in pretty much any color. Unusual colors tend to be discounted first for those looking to save money.
Finding the right fit with a pair of mountain bike shorts is very important. The shorts should stay in place AND stay out of the way of saddle snags. A loose, baggy fit may look good but it can also get annoying if your shorts are flapping in the breeze.
Speaking of looks, some baggy mountain bike shorts are designed to fit great and perform well while riding the bike, but are not necessarily the most flattering walking around town. It’s best if you can try on a pair of shorts before buying, and even better if you can hop on a bike with them.
Tight or Loose?
Wearing spandex and close-fitting bike shorts isn’t just a trend from the 90s. A lot of cross-country and gravel riders find this tighter style of mountain bike shorts more comfortable and aerodynamic for endurance riding.
Wearing spandex bike shorts also has other advantages like less restricted movement, no having to guess if you’re in between sizes, and depending how tight-fitting the shorts are, compression can aid in your muscles’ blood circulation. Of course, some disadvantages might include lack of pockets and limited protection from nature and the elements.
Good mountain bike shorts will have some form of venting built in, though it’s often hidden. Laser-cut holes may look like part of the overall short design, but actually are strategically placed for discrete ventilation.
Additionally, mesh panels can be placed on the upper thighs, at the rear just below the waist band, and even inside the pockets. Some shorts may offer zippered legs that can be opened up for extra airflow on the hottest days.
Screen-printed graphics tend to rub off and fade over time, though reflective accents are a nice safety feature. Reflective materials and piping are the most durable and visible.
If you’re still reading and didn’t fire up a browser window to Walmart.com after seeing the prices of our mountain bike shorts recommendations, one thing that is easily overlooked in mountain bike apparel is the clothing brand’s commitment to the environment.
Many cycling or mountain bike specific brands are mountain bikers, too, and care about the trails and nature just as much as you do. More brands are making mountain bike shorts out of recycled materials, incorporating Merino wool, and implementing sustainable manufacturing practices. Here are just a few environmentally-conscious mountain bike apparel brands worth considering:
- Kitsbow: Made-to-order apparel reduces waste
- Patagonia: Many environmental and social responsibility programs and gives back 1% for the planet
- Pearl Izumi: Eliminated hangtags and printed catalogs and uses sustainable fabrics
- Velocio: Facilities use sustainable renewable energy; recycled and natural fabrics are used; and products are packaged in biodegradable bags and compostable mailers
Finally, if you’re looking for a particular type of mountain bike short, the following review collections may be helpful.
- Women’s mountain bike shorts priced under $100
- Men’s mountain bike shorts priced under $100
- Women’s enduro bike shorts
- Summer MTB shorts
- Lightweight mountain bike shorts
- 4 jersey kits for gravel riding and XC mountain biking
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about mountain bike shorts
We get asked a lot of questions about mountain bike shorts; these are some of the most common.
Do I need mountain bike specific shorts?
No. However, mountain bike shorts tend to work best for riding since they are shaped and designed with mountain biking in mind. Baggy athletic shorts, and basketball shorts in particular, will snag on the saddle which is not only annoying, but it’s also dangerous. Mountain bike shorts are not cheap but keep in mind that if you only ride once or twice a week, a single pair should serve you well with frequent washing.
Baggy mountain bike shorts can be worn over tights or with knee/leg warmers on cold-weather rides, and many feature a casual style that works for days off the bike too. More and more riders are choosing this style of short for road and gravel rides as well.
Have you found a pair of shorts that work great for mountain biking, but aren’t MTB-specific? Tell us about them in the comments!
Should I wear a chamois for mountain biking?
That’s up to you! Many riders find a chamois liner is comfortable and effective at preventing saddle sores. Liners can also reduce chaffing. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to ride without one. Some riders prefer thinner, lighter wool or bike-specific undergarments under their baggies. Experiment to find what works best for you.
If you find that a chamois is uncomfortable, or feels bulky and diaper-like, a thinner chamois might be a better choice, or you may prefer to ride with no chamois at all.
Do mountain bikers need chamois cream? How do I apply chamois cream?
Chamois cream can help prevent chaffing and soreness on longer and sweaty rides, but not everyone uses it. It’s OK to wear a chamois without ever using chamois cream.
You can apply chamois cream directly to your chamois or liner, spreading it onto the fabric evenly before putting your shorts on. Or, apply it directly to your skin where you need it. Chamois cream is basically like lotion or diaper ointment. In fact you may find that baby diaper ointment works in a pinch if you’re out for a ride and your local drug store has a limited selection.
Do baggy mountain bike shorts come with padding or chamois?
Some baggy mountain bike shorts are sold with a padded liner, while others are not, so it’s important to read the product description carefully. For example, Fox sells two versions of their popular Ranger short, one with a liner, and one without. The version with the liner is only priced $10 more so if you want one, it can be worth purchasing together. However, keep in mind that a $10 padded liner generally isn’t going to perform as well as one that is priced closer to the typical cost of around $100 for a mid-grade liner.
Of the mountain bike shorts that do include a liner, some are removable for washing, while others are sewn in. We prefer a liner that is detachable for easy cleaning, and also for the option of riding with or without a liner, depending on the ride.
Why are mountain bike shorts more expensive than regular shorts?
There are a few reasons why mountain bike shorts are generally priced higher than basic athletic shorts. In an interview with Ryan from Pactimo, we learned that features like pockets, zippers, and snaps quickly add up in terms of cost. Not only that, mountain bike shorts are specialized apparel so they aren’t produced in the huge quantities that tend to result in cost savings. Highly technical materials also add to the cost, and these materials offer a significant upgrade in performance over basic technical materials.
We get it: $70 to over $100 is a lot to pay for a pair of shorts, and unfortunately none that we can recommend cost less than that. If you’re on a tight budget, look for sales and discounts especially off season and for discontinued styles.
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