Best Mountain Bike Shorts Review

What is the best short for mountain biking? We tested 8 of the best and most popular baggy mountain bike shorts on the market, and found which ones are the all-around best shorts for different types of trail riding, ranging from cross-country marathons to lift assisted downhill gnar fests. We rated each short on style, durability, features, fit, comfort, protection, and pedal efficiency. Based on these tests we found some excellent shorts, a couple great deals, and some some shorts we think you should steer clear of.

Check out our Mountain Bike Short Buying Advice to learn more about what to look for when buying a short for trail riding.

See our Dream Bike Gear List for a compilation of our favorite bikes and bike gear.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Luke Lydiard ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab September 8, 2013

Top Ranked Mountain Bike Shorts Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Troy Lee Ruckus
Troy Lee Ruckus
Read the Review
Video video review
Dakine Boundary
Dakine Boundary
Read the Review
Video video review
Sugoi RSX
Sugoi RSX
Read the Review
Pearl Izumi Canyon
Pearl Izumi Canyon
Read the Review
Zoic Ether
Zoic Ether
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award      Best Buy Award 
Street Price $42
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$125Varies $90 - $110
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Varies $32 - $75
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $79 - $80
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Overall Score 
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Pros Long inseam, Excellent Stretch Fabric, Ergonomic Cut Suited to mountain biking, comfortable liner shortThree zip pockets, Option of using pockets as vents, Articulated FitLightweight, Thick and dense foam chamoisLightest weight short and liner combo in the review, Velcro waist adjustmentRemovable Inner Liner, Many well placed pockets, Pass pocket for bike park riding
Cons Right hand pocket does not zipNon-Stretch outer short material is slightly restrictiveExpensive, Rear pocket, Boa waist adjustment pops open while riding, Bonded vents began to delaminateLiner doesn't fully separate, Only one pocketThin chamois with seams
Best Uses All types of mountain bikingCross country, Trail and All Mountain RidingCross-Country RidingXC mountain biking, biking in hot weather, in place of tight Lycra shortsAll types of mountain biking: XC, downhill, free ride
Date Reviewed Aug 31, 2013Aug 31, 2013Aug 31, 2013Aug 31, 2013Aug 31, 2013
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Protection - 20%
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Product Specs Troy Lee Ruckus Dakine Boundary Sugoi RSX Pearl Izumi Canyon Zoic Ether
Shell Fabric 2 way stretch polyester Nylon RS Flex Transfer Dry Rip Stop Nylon
Lining Main Fabric Stretch Mesh 4 Way Stretch Polyester Icefil Mesh Spandex Mesh
Chamois Foam Foam Foam Foam Foam
Inseam Measurement 14inches (option to trim) 12 inches 10 inches 11inches 12 inches
Number of pockets 2 3 1 1 6
Removable Inner Short? Yes Yes Yes No (Floating) Yes
Weight 430grams(140 liner)(290shell) 360 grams(120 liner)(240 shell) 340grams(140 liner)(200 shell) 260grams 390grams (130 liner)(260 shell)

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Zoic Ether
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Dakine Boundary
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Sugoi RSX
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Pearl Izumi Canyon
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Fox Ranger
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Endura Hummvee
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Canari Cyclewear Canyon II
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The 8 mountain bike shorts we tested, T to B, L to R: Troy Lee Ruckus, Zoic Ether, Fox Ranger, Dakine Boundary, Pearl Izumi Canyon, Canari Canyon Gel, Endura Hummvee, Sugoi RSX.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Style
Style is the most subjective area in which we compared our shorts, however it is an area almost every rider will consider before buying a short. Everybody wants to look cool, but that means something different to everybody. Our sampling of baggy mountain bike shorts includes a range of looks from gym short-esque to pro enduro racer. Our sense of style may be different than yours, but you should be able to find something that appeals to you across the range of shorts we tested.

The most stylish shorts we found were the sleek board short-like Dakine Boundary, the pro-looking Troy Lee Ruckus, and the casual but covert Fox Ranger. Two shorts we would rather not be seen in are the Endura Hummvee with its handyman look and the Canari Canyon Gel which looks like a high school gym short with pockets.

Durability
Mountain bike shorts need to hold up to the repetitive motion of pedaling as well as frequent washing, just like road shorts, but they should also hold up to crashes better than lycra.

This is mostly a test of the fabrics from which the short is made, but also of overall quality of construction. We looked closely at areas of potential weakness like exposed mesh or poorly placed seams. We also looked for bells and whistles that were likely to fail. We gave higher ratings to shorts constructed from abrasion resistant fabrics, shorts with well-placed seams, and shorts with double and even triple stitching.

The most durable short we found was the Endura Hummvee which is made from multiple layers of ripstop fabric with many of the seams triple stitched. The least durable short we found was the Sugoi RSX which is made from a super lightweight fabric more suited to a running short than for mountain biking. The RSX also has laminated mesh vents which began to delaminate during our test.

Fit
Our favorite mountain biking shorts have an articulated fit geared towards seated pedaling. What we looked for were shorts that have extra room in the seat, either by a stretch panel or added volume, combined with a short front rise. A shorter front rise makes for less volume in the front and prevents the short from bagging up when seated. We found that shorts with both added seat room and decreased front rise had legs which cant forward when off the bike, but feel comfortable when seated on a saddle.

The gold standard in fit was the Troy Lee Ruckus which combined perfect mountain bike specific ergonomics with an awesome stretch fabric. The Dakine Boundary and Pearl Izumi Canyon also had well articulated fits. In contrast, the Endura Hummvee lacks an articulated fit and is constructed from ripstop nylon, which does not stretch at all, making for an extremely restrictive short.

Features
The shorts in this review have a wide range of features, some of which we found to really benefit the rider while others just got in the way or weighed the short down. Here is a run-down of the most useful and noticeable features:

Pockets
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Well placed zippered pockets are a feature that we look for in mountain bike shorts. Our Editor's Choice Award winner the Troy Lee Ruckus has a medium size left hand pocket which is perfect for a multi-tool.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
First, we looked at the number and placement of pockets. While pockets seem like the simplest of features, we think that they are the most important feature a short can have, and make a huge difference in the functionality as a mountain bike short. We did about half of our test rides with a hydration pack and the other half without. Since most mountain bike jerseys lack the pockets found on road jerseys, we found pockets to be vital to carrying necessities on rides without a pack. We favored pockets which fully closed with zippers over those with velcro patches or no closure at all. While open pockets might be okay for a gel or a bar, we don't trust them for more valuable items like a phone or multi-tool. The very best configuration of securable pockets was found on the Dakine Boundary with two zippered hand pockets and one laminated, zippered cargo pocket.

Waistband Adjustments
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The various waist adjustment mechanisms. From top to bottom: Troy Lee Ruckus, Dakine Boundary, Zoic Ether, Canari Canyon Gel II, Fox Ranger, Pearl Izumi Canyon, Endura Hummvee and Sugoi RSX.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
All of the shorts we tested had some sort of built in waist adjustment mechanism. We think this is an important feature in a mountain bike specific short since it allows the outer short to be worn over a variety of layers like liner shorts or heavier shorts with armored panels. Waist adjusters also allow the short to stay in place without a full belt which can sometimes be uncomfortable when hunched over on the bike.

Most of the shorts we tested had velcro tabs on either side of the waist band attached to elastic to adjust the size of the waist. The tabs are located either on the inside or outside of the waistband. The Dakine Boundary and Fox Ranger both have the tabs positioned on the inside of the waist which proved to be our favorite design because it prevented the tabs from getting caught on a jersey and made for a sleeker overall appearance. The other shorts that used velcro tabs and elastic but positioned them on the outside of the short were the Zoic Ether, Pearl Izumi Canyon and Troy Lee Ruckus.

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Two features of the RSX that we don't care for are the hard to access center rear pocket and the Boa waist adjustment.
Credit: McKenzie Long
Each of the other shorts we tested had unique waist adjustment methods. The Canari Canyon Gell uses a simple elastic waist with a drawstring. The Endura Hummvee uses a similar elastic waistband but also has a built in and included nylon belt. The most interesting waist adjustment method we found are the dual Boa dials found on either side of the Sugoi RSX. While this method provided one handed on the fly adjustment it also proved to be unreliable and often released and loosened while riding.

Other Bells and Whistles
There were variety of other features besides pockets and waist adjusters some of which we found usable and others we found of little or no value. Some of the usable bells and whistles were the headphone guides found on the Zoic Ether and presewn trimmable legs found on the Troy Lee Ruckus. Features that we didn't find much use for were the key clip and leg opening adjusters on the Endura Hummvee and the mesh vents found on the Zoic Ether and Sugoi RSX.

When considering the score in this category we recommend that you consider if a feature is something you are likely to use or not. If a short has a feature that you aren't likely to use, then it is just going to weigh the short down, add bulk, or add to the price of the short. Overall we recommend seeking a short with the right amount of features for you as a rider rather than the short with the most features.

Comfort
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All eight of the shorts we tested had a padded chamois. From left to right: Pearl Izumi Canyon, Canari Canyon Gell II, Fox Ranger, Endura Hummvee, Zoic Ether, Dakine Boundary, Troy Lee Ruckus and Sugoi RSX.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
In this category we evaluated the feel and function of the liner short. All the bike shorts we tested came with some type of liner chamois to be worn underneath the exterior short. We looked for chamois that provided the right amount of padding, but that were also positioned properly within the liner. When pedaling a mountain bike, the rider is more upright than on a road bike, and we looked for chamois that were placed slightly more posteriorly to accommodate for this position.

The Canari Canyon Gel has a thick gel chamois while all of the other liners use foam chamois. The Canyon Gel also stood alone as the only short with a completely fixed and non-removable liner short. The Pearl Izumi Canyon has a partially attached liner short which can float against the outer short for better positioning of the chamois, and could be removed completely with a small amount of scissoring. All of the other shorts we tested had fully separating liners which allow the outer short to be worn without a liner, or the liner to convert another short to a bike short. We prefer the shorts which fully separate because they give us versatility and essentially add value to the short.

The very best liner short was found inside the Troy Lee Ruckus, which helped it win our Editor's Choice Award. This liner is made from a breathable four-way stretch mesh which holds the well padded foam chamois in place.

The legs of the Troy Lee liner short are finished with a wide band of doubled lycra rather than silicone or elastic leg grippers, and are similar to high end road shorts. We aren't fond of the silicone or elastic grippers because they tend to pull on the skin and sometimes feel restrictive. Pros and riders who spend tons of time on the bike often cut out silicone or elastic grippers to make their shorts more comfortable. While clothing companies often advertise silicone grippers as a selling point, there are better ways to keep form fitting shorts in place, like those found on the Ruckus.

Protection
Mountain biking is often a contact sport. Contact with dirt, rocks, and sometimes trees is what we are talking about. Wearing a short with more protection boosted our confidence on the bike and helped us pedal faster through the rough.

We considered a few things when evaluating the protection factor of each short. First, we looked at the length of each short's inseam. Longer shorts offer more protection. The longest inseam was found on the Troy Lee Ruckus with a 14” inseam (which is also made to be trimmed just in case you like them shorter or have short legs). The shortest inseams were found on the Sugoi RSX and the casually fitting Fox Ranger, both with 10” inseams. We also considered the outer fabric of each short. Shorts made from burlier material are more likely to stay in place in a crash and less likely to tear. Both the Dakine Boundary and Endura Hummvee have high protection scores for their burly materials. While neither short stretches, the Boundary has a well articulated shape which still allows for easy pedaling. In contrast, the Hummvee is very restrictive due to its lack of ergonomic shape, though it is the short we would want to be wearing if we went for a huge slider.

We did about half of our testing wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. If you often wear kneepads while riding, consider the Zoic Ether or Troy Lee Ruckus, both of which have a long enough length and wide enough openings to just cover the top of the pads while seated. If you only ride cross-country, or a are a cautious rider who almost never comes off the bike, consider the Pearl Izumi Canyon which trades protection for efficiency.

A few of the shorts advertise water resistant treatments. On one rainy test ride in the Sugoi RSX, we noticed bead up on the top of the legs while riding, but we didn't put too much value in this. Actually, these are the shorts and we feel are most likely to allow you to get wet, either from sweat or water coming up the legs if riding in a heavy rain. If you need to stay dry and warm on the bike, we recommend a full-on waterproof bike pant.

Efficiency/Pedal Friendliness
This is a measure of how well each short allowed us to pedal a mountain bike, both in and out of the saddle. We looked for shorts which combined well articulated fits with stretch fabrics to make for unrestrictive movement on the bike. We also took into consideration the comfort of the liner short and the placement of the chamois.

The two best shorts we found in this category are the Pearl Izumi Canyon and the Troy Lee Ruckus. The Canyon combines a lightweight stretch fabric with a slim but articulated fit, and makes a good choice for cross-country riding or an alternative to form-fitting lycra. The Ruckus also combines a great fit with stretch fabric, but provides for more coverage and makes for a better choice across the full range of mountain biking. If pedal efficiency is important to you, stay away from restrictive non-stretch shorts like the Endura Hummvee.

Editor's Choice Award:Troy Lee Ruckus
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Luke Lydiard testing our Editor's Choice Award winner the Troy Lee Ruckus. This short excelled in every field we tested and makes for a great short from cross-country to downhill.
Credit: McKenzie Long
The Editor's Choice Award goes to the Troy Lee Ruckus, which scored highly in every test. This short quickly became our favorite with its cool looks, long protective inseam length, and perfect weight stretch fabric. The Ruckus also includes a fully removable inner short, which was the best liner we tested. The liner is made from a breathable stretch mesh, has a well made foam chamois, and very comfortable leg grippers. The Ruckus is well suited for the full range of mountain biking, from cross-country to downhill and everything in between. At $110 it is pricier than all but two of the shorts we tested, but we think it is well worth the money for this near perfect short.

Best Buy Award: Zoic Ether
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Karl Anderson testing the Zoic Ether. The Ether wins our Best Buy Award for being packed with features and being the best value out of the shorts we tested.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
Our Best Buy Award goes to the Zoic Ether which retails for $79 and is packed with usable features. The Ether is $101 cheaper than the most expensive short we tested, while only retailing for $19 more than the least expensive. It has six pockets, an external velcro adjustable waistband, and comes in a variety of solid colors that look attractive on or off the bike. The Ether is also available in four plaid prints for $10 more. The RPL Essential Liner, which is included with the Ether, is fully removable and is middle of the trail in terms of quality and comfort.

Top Pick Award: Dakine Boundary
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Luke Lydiard testing the Dakine Boundary, our Top Pick Award winner for the most comfortable chamois and a versatile fit.
Credit: Karl Anderson
The Dakine Boundary earns our Top Pick since it scores just slightly behind our favorite short, the Troy Lee Ruckus. It has the most comfortable chamois and a well-articulated fit that is versatile enough for any style of mountain biking. It has the perfect pocket count and layout with two zippered hand pockets and a laminated zippered cargo. Choose the Boundary over the Ruckus if you highly value pocket space or prefer a less flashy appearance.

Luke Lydiard
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