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Are you searching for the best mountain bike shorts? We purchased 16 of the most compelling options on the market for this comparative analysis. We spent countless hours in the saddle riding everything from mega cross country loops to bike park laps and everything in between. We rode in a huge range of terrain and weather conditions while scrutinizing every aspect of their design and performance. We kept ultra-detailed notes and nitpicked the smallest details and scored each pair of shorts on predetermined performance metrics to help you find the best mountain bike shorts for your riding style and budget.
While most shorts are available in both men's and women's versions, they don't always perform similarly for both men and women. Not to worry, we perform in-depth testing by female reviewers in our women's shorts review.
The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated short is the updated version of the A/M Ventilated, and returns with the same quality construction, attention to detail, and performance, but at a lower price. Although significantly less expensive than the previous version, they are still pretty spendy, yet we feel these shorts are worth the asking price. They've got subtle and casual styling that is equally suited to post-ride beers at the local brewery as it is to ripping single track beforehand. The Mescal has a tailored slim fit and shorter inseam that testers found to be incredibly comfortable and pedal-friendly, perfect for trail and cross country style riding, and anything from short after-work spins to all-day epic suffer-fests.
Constructed with a 4-way stretch soft-shell treated with a durable water repellent finish, the shorts are comfortable on the skin and quick drying. The addition of stretch mesh ventilation panels also helps to keep things cool. Unique design features like a low profile zipper and an alloy slip-hook waist adjustment system dial in the fit while keeping the bulk at the waistline to a minimum. Thoughtfully designed rearward loading pockets are also easy to use and hold items securely and comfortably in a pedal-friendly position. The fit may not be for everyone, especially people who always wear knee pads, but if you're looking for a beautifully made, impeccably designed high-performance pair of baggy shorts, we think the Mescal Ventilated is one of the best we've ever tested.
The Skyline shorts impressed our testers, and we feel they are a dialed pair of mountain bike shorts ideal for everyday trail riding. They have a slim, performance fit with a shorter inseam that makes them especially pedal-friendly. They have thoughtful design features like zippered pockets and external waistband adjustments and durable construction. Troy Lee gave them clean lines and a casual aesthetic that looks as good on the bike as it does kicking around town. Additionally, we feel they are a great value at a reasonable price with a quality chamois liner included.
Our biggest complaint about the Skyline is that they don't offer the best ventilation. They don't have any real vents to speak of, and the material is a little thicker and clammier than some of the competition. That said, we were impressed with everything else about these excellent trail riding shorts.
Liner Included: Fox liner | Inseam Length: 12 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Secure adjustable closure
Chamois liner included
REASONS TO AVOID
No zipper fly
The recently redesigned Fox Ranger shorts are versatile and comfortable shorts with a chamois liner included at a very reasonable price. Not only are they are a great deal, but these shorts have a casual and straightforward style both on and off the bike, with a comfortable, slimmer fit. They have three functional pockets and an articulated waistband for seated pedaling comfort. The waist closure consists of a low-profile goggle strap-like system that pulls tension evenly around the waist for a comfortable and secure fit. The 2-way stretch ripstop fabric feels durable yet lightweight. They also come with a chamois liner, it's far from the best, but it's way better than none at all, adding to this shorts' list of features and impressive value.
There was little we didn't like about the Ranger, but we found the lack of ventilation to be on the warmer side compared to some of the other shorts in our test. The hanging mesh lining of the hand pockets also allows their contents to move around while riding. Other than that, we found these shorts to be comfortable, perform well, and look good doing it, especially for the price.
Liner Included: Fox Comp liner | Inseam Length: 13 inches
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Fit may be too slim for some
Thin material may not survive a crash
Fox Racing has a wide range of shorts in their lineup. Traditionally, they have been known for the gravity/downhill side of the spectrum. The Flexair shorts are a deviation from this moto-inspired trend. The Flexair deliver a high level of pedal-friendliness and an incredibly comfortable fit. These shorts have a tailored trim/slim fit. This reduces the amount of excess material that bounces and flops around as you pedal. The lightweight construction with oversized laser-cut perforations allows for a tremendous amount of airflow, making these a great, well-ventilated option for riders in warmer climates.
The Flexair shorts aren't perfect. The super-light construction and the thin, comfortable fabric may be susceptible to damage in the event of a crash. These shorts also have a smaller leg opening that doesn't play well with all knee pads. One more small criticism is that the black waistband on our dirt colored shorts seems a little out of place. The other colors of these shorts have a matching waistband and better overall looks.
The 7Mesh Glidepath is a lightweight trail riding model made to have more weather resistance than your average shorts. They are constructed from a light but tough 2-way stretch Soma woven fabric that has been treated with a water-repellant coating. This material is highly water-resistant and effectively sheds moisture from light rain, mist, or splashes from puddles. The Glidepath have a casual style with a relaxed fit and a 15-inch inseam, and we found them to be quite comfortable. The longer inseam and spacious opening around the knee also works well with all styles of knee pads. The material isn't the softest, but it moves with you pretty well and doesn't restrict the pedal stroke or mobility in any way. Features like a low-profile waist adjustment system and good pocket design with internal organization sleeves are thoughtful and well-executed. The quality of construction appears to be very high, and despite its light weight, the material feels surprisingly robust and durable.
7Mesh's sizing is slightly different than most other brands, so we would urge potential buyers to reference the size chart on their website to ensure you get the correct size. The Glidepath's high level of weather resistance also includes a bit of wind resistance. While this can be a huge benefit in certain conditions, it makes them less ideal for use in the heat. That said, we feel these are a great option for shoulder season riding in cooler temperatures or anytime you might get a little wet out on the trails.
The POC Infinite All-Mountain Shorts have a unique design that provides more knee coverage and works very well with knee pads. The hem of the shorts is cut at a dramatic angle making them significantly longer in the front than the back. They work well without knee pads, and the unique cut helps to prevent any pad gap when used with light to medium-duty pads. These shorts have a trim fit and a high level of comfort and pedal-friendliness. The wind-resistant stretch material is blended with Cordura for added durability and treated with a DWR to resist moisture. The seat is reinforced with a Nylon Ripstop and zippered thigh vents help to keep the air flowing on warm days. External Velcro tabs on the waistband allow you to dial in the fit, a zippered back pocket is ideal for stashing cash or a card while you ride.
While we liked almost everything about the Infinite All-Mountain shorts, we didn't find the hip pocket design to be particularly user-friendly. An overlapping "envelope" style closure works okay, but we found it to make getting items in and out of the pockets more of a pain than it needs to be. The unique cut and articulation of the knees may also not be everyone's cup of tea. That said, these quality shorts work great while trail and all-mountain riding.
Liner Included: Sold Separately | Inseam Length: 12.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
A little longer and roomier than the original
Patagonia is well known for producing some of the highest quality outdoor gear available, and they are becoming a larger player in the mountain bike apparel market. They recently updated their flagship Dirt Roamer shorts, and we feel they have made some notable improvements. Patagonia added an inch to the inseam, which is now 12.5-inches, providing a little more leg coverage and better compatibility with knee pads. They also revised the waist closure with two secure metal snaps and a dual-sided and super low-profile waist adjustment system. The shorts now feature two zippered thigh pockets, doubling their cargo-carrying capacity, while still maintaining their minimalist aesthetic. All those changes aside, the Dirt Roamer still stand out for their impressive comfort level and pedal-friendliness. These shorts are so lightweight you barely even notice you're wearing them, and we feel they are an excellent option for XC and trail riders who spend long days in the saddle.
The updated fit of the Dirt Roamer shorts is a touch longer and roomier in the legs than the original. While we feel this is generally a positive change, those who loved the fit of the previous version may find these to be a little baggier. That said, this will also work better for those with larger legs/buttocks. These shorts also don't have any ventilation. Instead, the light material used in their construction is so breathable and quick-drying that you don't need any. Our testers found the Dirt Roamer shorts to be so comfortable that they found themselves opting for them more often than not.
The Troy Lee Ruckus Shell shorts are burly and substantial shorts designed for the mountain biker who trends towards the downhill/gravity side of the spectrum. This rider is more concerned with charging down gnar as opposed to spinning uphill for hours. These shorts have a burly and tough feel that will stand up to crashes. Also, the Ruckus are quite comfortable and have a nice fit despite their bagginess.
Because of their heavy feel, these shorts cannot match the pedal-friendly nature of other shorts. While you can do a huge, half-day ride with these shorts, it is not their strong suit. They breathe okay, but they still aren't the best choice for warm days.
Our mountain bike shorts test is a collaboration between three veteran testers. Jeremy Benson is the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor for OutdoorGearLab, and he's been mountain biking since the early 1990s. He moved to the Lake Tahoe area in 2001 and has been obsessively riding the wealth of trails in the region ever since. He is the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, a guidebook to the greater Tahoe area published by Mountaineers Books. Benson is an avid mountain bike and gravel racer. He enjoys all types of riding, from long XC epics to short backyard laps to shuttle runs. Benson was joined by Curtis Smith, a long-time contributor to OutdoorGearLab. The South Lake Tahoe resident is an avid racer of all types of bikes and can often be found mountain biking on the trails throughout the area. Pat Donahue is the former In-house Mountain Bike Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab. Pat's decades of riding experience are complemented by many years in the mountain bike industry, and he is now the co-owner of a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe, CA.
As mountain bike fanatics, we are constantly scouring the internet for the most intriguing mountain bike shorts. The selection of which shorts is versatile. While all of these shorts are "baggy mountain bike shorts", they run the gamut from fitted cross-country-style shorts to longer, baggier, gravity shorts. We tested these shorts in every weather and trail condition possible. We kept detailed notes and scored the shorts. Then, we compiled this review.
Our team of expert testers put every pair of shorts in our test selection through the wringer, riding in each pair for countless hours and hundreds of miles. Through it all, we scrutinized every aspect of their performance and analyzed how the design, materials, fit, and features all play into their comfort and performance out on the trail. We rated each pair of shorts on several predetermined metrics: Style, Features, Durability, Protection, Fit and Pedal Friendliness, and Comfort. Each rating is described in greater detail below. We tallied the scores from all of our rating metrics to determine our award winners.
While we don't score the products we test based on their price, we appreciate a good value. Often price and performance go hand in hand, but this is not always the case. Sure, our top-rated model, the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated, is one of the most expensive shorts in this test. That said, the Fox Ranger, Specialized Trail Shorts, and Zoic Ether Shorts + Liner cost about half as much and still perform very well on the trail.
Comfort is critical. It is easy to get fixated on how shorts look or how the features function. That said, how a short feels when riding in them is the most important. Comfort scores are based on several factors like ventilation, fabric quality, and the inclusion of a chamois liner, or not. We used a variety of liners with the shorts that didn't include a chamois liner, like the Pearl Izumi Cargo Liner, the Fox Evolution Liner, and the Specialized SWAT Bibs.
We have several pairs of shorts that rate very highly in the comfort metric, including the Fox Flexair. They have an exceptional tailored performance fit and are made from a lightweight, thin, and soft material. The fabric feels pleasant sitting against the skin. When paired with the laser-cut perforations on the inner part of the lower legs, the fabric is exceptionally breathable and quick-drying. These shorts are so comfortable that you may forget you are wearing shorts at all. Just don't crash in them; the thin construction will be far less comfortable when being dragged across gnarly rocks or gravel.
The Patagonia Dirt Roamer shorts are another very highly scoring short in terms of comfort. Their comfort begins with the nicely tailored and articulated fit, while the 4-way stretch fabric delivers a great feel against the skin and outstanding mobility. Much like the Fox Flexair, these shorts make it feel like you aren't wearing shorts at all. These shorts can't match the ventilation of the Flexair, but they are so lightweight that it hardly matters.
The Rapha Trail Shorts are evidence that a high-quality construction and material can be critical. The fabric feels very pleasant against the skin, the stitching is tidy and doesn't cause any irritation. Pair this high-end construction with a dialed, trim, fit and you have a recipe for success. Yes, these shorts are expensive, but the well-executed design and construction deliver an exceptionally comfortable product.
The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated also scored highly in this rating metric. The fabric feels good on the skin and doesn't absorb sweat, so the shorts always feel dry even when sweating like a pig on a long climb. The articulated cut makes for exceptional comfort when seated in the saddle, and stretch mesh panels handle ventilation in strategic areas. The 7Mesh Glidepath aren't the most objectively comfortable shorts we tested, but their weather resistance may really help to keep you comfortable in cooler temperatures or unsettled weather conditions. These shorts shed water quite effectively to help keep you dry, and they block wind to help fight the chill on those shoulder-season rides.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
Depending on the style of riding you do, the pedal friendliness of a pair of mountain bike shorts may be one of the most critical considerations or just an afterthought. XC and trail riders who spend long hours pedaling up steep climbs will typically appreciate shorts with a more performance-oriented fit and materials that have virtually no resistance while pedaling. Gravity-oriented riders, on the other hand, are more likely to be concerned with a short's durability, leg coverage, and compatibility with knee pads than how well they work for pedaling.
Even shorts with the perfect fit can still cause agony over a long ride. On rides over three hours, we use Chamois Butt'r or other creams.
We assessed the cut and shaping of the fabric as well as the stretch of the material for its ability to move fluidly with the pedal stroke. The highest scoring shorts we tested were almost unnoticeable when in use, providing a smooth pedal stroke with no resistance coming from the fabric of the short, while lower-scoring shorts tend to inhibit the pedal stroke due to poor fit, stiffer materials, or lack of an appropriately articulated cut.
The Fox Flexair short is the closest you are going to get to the pedaling comfort of riding in spandex when it comes to baggy shorts, earning them a high score from our testers. There are a few reasons these shorts are a cut above the competition. First, they have an extremely lightweight construction. Second, the trim and fitted design offers just enough material while reducing any excess material that may bounce around or restrict your legs. Third, they have tremendous airflow that will keep you cool on the hottest of summer days. Testers feel the same way about the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated, Rapha Trail Shorts, and Patagonia Dirt Roamer for virtually all the same reasons. The Dirt Roamer shorts are so lightweight and stretchy that it feels like you're not even wearing them. The Rapha shorts make their money on a precise fit with little excess material.
Also near the top of the rankings, you will find the Troy Lee Designs Skyline. The cut of these shorts is also on the tighter, more trim side of the spectrum. They tick a lot of the same boxes as the Fox Flexair; they just don't function quite as well. The Skyline has a nice fit but is substantially heavier than the Flexair. The understated Specialized Trail Shorts also deliver an exceptional in-saddle experience due to the shorter cut and light materials.
Functional features like ventilation, pockets, waist adjustment, and the short's waist closure system can and do impact the user's experience when wearing (and especially riding in) a pair of mountain bike shorts. Our overall score for each short is a measure of how useful the included features are and whether they enhance the functionality of the short. Some manufacturers seem to put a minimal amount of thought into the layout and ease of use of features like pockets and waist adjustment, which often seem to be added to check a box on their specification list. We used and abused these shorts during testing, and after hundreds of hours of use, we can tell you what works and what doesn't.
Pockets are, without a doubt, an advantageous feature on mountain bike shorts. The days of every rider carrying a hydration pack are long gone. Many of us prefer to roll with a minimal amount of tools and gear to avoid wearing a pack. This change in dynamics makes pockets ever more critical for many riders, while others would prefer to have none. During testing, we assessed the pockets for their ability to carry tools, food, and smartphones. We evaluated the pockets for ease of accessibility, placement, and ease of access while riding. We also wore these shorts around town with wallets and other essentials to assess the versatility of the pocket system.
The Zoic Ether has the most pockets of any short we tested and gets a nod of approval from our testers for the smartphone pocket on the right thigh that features a headphone port. In sharp contrast to the six pockets found on the Ether, the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated and Pearl Izumi Summit have only two pockets, one on each side in the hip area. The pockets are not large, but their layout makes them very user-friendly. Rather than a standard front hip pocket like you find on a pair of jeans, these pockets have a vertical opening, and the pocket itself loads towards the rear of the shorts. The design makes the pockets accessible while riding for easy access to food or your phone and holds the contents securely against the body. The 7Mesh Glidepath have similar pockets on the outside of the thighs that also feature internal sleeves to keep your contents organized and bounce-free while riding.
Every short we tested has an adjustable waist mechanism which provides an additional 2" or so of adjustment. An adjustable waist is an important feature that allows the rider to tighten the waist for a perfect fit. If you happened to gain a little weight in the off-season or drop a few pounds during the riding season, no worries, a quick adjustment will get you back in your favorite short. The design and execution of the adjustment mechanism vary between manufacturers. Some of our favorite designs are the slip hook system, locking webbing straps, and the external Velcro band design.
The most critical element of either system is placement. Some of the shorts we tested have an internal Velcro waist adjustment; this design has a cleaner look but is more difficult to adjust, requiring you to unbutton the shorts to make changes. External waist adjustments are much more convenient and make mid-ride adjustments more manageable. The Troy Lee Skyline and Pearl Izumi Summit feature a user-friendly Velcro-based adjustment system on the outside hip area of the shorts. The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated is another of our favorites, with a slick alloy slip hook that slots into a webbing loop and offers 3 inches of adjustment. The 7Mesh Glidepath has thin webbing straps on both sides of the waistband that feed through low-profile locking plastic clips. This system is very easy to use and quite effective. All three systems are easy to manipulate, given their external position on the waistband of the shorts, but Velcro lacks the long-term durability of a slip hook system.
Every pair of shorts needs some form of closure at the fly. All of the shorts we tested use some combination of zippers, buttons, and snaps to get the job done. Once again, the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated outdoes the competition with a slick low-profile fly and offset slip hook system. It is robust and designed to outlast the short itself. Patagonia's recently redesigned Dirt Roamer shorts now have a secure two snap waist closure along with a very well-designed and super low profile waist adjustment system. This is an improvement over the Opposet system used on the previous version.
While we didn't love the design of the pockets, the POC Infinite All-Mountain Shorts had one exceptional feature that stood above the competition. The knees are cut in a very interesting manner. The front of the knee is longer than the sides and rear. This allows for tremendous integration with knee pads. Any style of knee pads will work well with these shorts given the longer cut in the front of the knee that prevents any gap between the top of the knee pad sleeve and the bottom of the shorts.
How durable are these shorts? We wanted to know, so we didn't hold back during testing. If you shell out your hard-earned cash for a pair of mountain bike shorts, you want to be sure that you'll get at least a season of hard riding out of them, and hopefully more. Beyond the demands of daily abuse on the bike, we also machine washed and dried the shorts after every use to see how they hold up to real-world laundering.
Manufacturers are often attempting to straddle a line between durability and comfort. It's easy to make a durable short, and relatively easy to make a well-ventilated, comfortable short, but striking a balance between the two is a challenge. The most durable shorts we tested are not the most comfortable and certainly not the shorts we'd choose for a 30-mile ride involving loads of pedaling.
As a general rule, we found that shorts with thicker and more abrasion-resistant fabric tend to shrug off crashes and random encounters with trailside hazards better than shorts made from lighter-weight fabrics. The Troy Lee Ruckus Shell is the highest scoring short for durability. The 100% Airmatic shorts have a similar feel and construction. Both models have a thicker and more abrasion-resistant fabric than any short we tested, and the overall construction of the shorts are top-notch, with well-placed seams and double stitching in high-stress areas. The Ruckus is geared toward the gravity crowd, and its thicker, protective material and exceptional durability are apparent. The 100% Airmatic follows close behind and was another favorite amongst our testers for park riding and shuttle runs due to its sturdy fabric and great leg coverage.
The Pearl Izumi Summit, 100% Celium, and 7Mesh Glidepath are honorable mentions in this metric. None of these shorts are as thick and burly as the Ruckus and Airmatic. That said, they sort of bridge the gap between the super burly shorts and the mid-duty trail shorts. In addition, the Celium have burly taped seams and very substantial zippers.
As much as we don't like to admit it, style matters! If all-mountain bikers were concerned with was performance, we'd probably all still be suiting up in lycra like our roadie, cyclocross, and XC racer compatriates. Loose-fitting baggy shorts tend to generate more wind drag than lycra, and in a discipline like enduro or downhill racing, which is often decided by seconds or fractions of a second, it would make more sense to wear the tight-fitting kit. We mountain bikers tend to be a stylish bunch, however, and it's pretty rare to see an enduro or downhill rider clad in lycra. A typical mountain bike kit consists of baggy shorts over a padded liner, and a looser-fitting shirt. Of course, there are many different styles, colors, themes, and looks, that permeate this basic generalization of dress. Of all the criteria that contribute to the overall score of the shorts in our test selection, style is the most subjective and therefore, is weighted at a lower percentage than the other metrics.
During the testing process, we sought input from friends and other riders out on the trail, taking note of compliments or, in some cases, lack thereof. We wore them out to the bar for post-ride beverages, or the grocery and around town doing errands after a ride. Despite being made of technical fabric, the Patagonia Dirt Roamer also has a decidedly casual look with subtle styling that hides their true identity. Similarly, the Fox Ranger shorts have a clean, casual style that looks as good off the bike as it does while riding.
The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated have a decidedly tailored fit and casual style that belies their on-the-bike performance. The Rapha Trail Shorts share many of these characteristics. These shorts sit a bit higher above the knee and seem to be well-liked by some of our, ahem, middle-aged testers. We realize that this is a subjective assessment, but we sought consensus amongst our testers to make sure you look good out there. After all, if you're going to spend hard-earned cash on a pair of shorts, they ought to look good.
For those who are fans of the laid-back, gravity-inspired style, the 100% Airmatic and Troy Lee Designs Ruckus are great options. These shorts offer a relaxed, baggy fit while also maintaining a well-executed design.
Looking for something in between the tailored fit and the baggy gravity shorts? The POC Infinite All Mountain Shorts, 100% Celium, and 7Mesh Glidepath somewhat bridge the gap in terms of fit and style.
As a general rule, mountain bike shorts can only provide so much protection to the rider. Therefore, the protection category is weighted less than other metrics, only 10%, because the differences in the protection provided by the highest scoring and lowest scoring shorts are fairly minimal. If you crash, shorts can help to prevent or limit abrasion, but beyond that, they don't offer much more protection than spandex. Thicker fabrics can also help to ward off the effects of random encounters with brush and branches on the edge of the trail. We primarily considered two factors when scoring the shorts on protection, the ability of the short's fabric to protect from abrasion and the overall coverage (the length of the shorts). Not surprisingly, the shorts that received higher scores for durability also score well for rider protection. Shorts with a longer inseam provide more coverage of the leg and typically mesh better with knee pads, so the length of the short is an important factor when scoring the shorts for protection.
The highest scoring shorts are the 100% Airmatic and the Troy Lee Ruckus Shell. It is no coincidence that these two shorts were also top-scorers in the Durability metrics. These shorts both have burly and robust materials and a slightly more substantial feel. These shorts will survive the occasional crash more effectively than the other shorts. The 100% and the Troy Lee Designs Ruckus Shell work well with knee pads. They offer enough space in the leg hole to allow proper movement and also are long enough to prevent the dreaded pad gap. Balancing protection and proper ventilation is extremely difficult. A thicker construction is detrimental to airflow. Cycling is a game of tradeoffs, and you need to figure out if you are willing to trade off a bit of comfort and airflow in favor of added durability and protection.
Another interesting consideration is protection from the elements. The 7Mesh Glidepath is one pair of shorts that stands out for their water resistance. These shorts are constructed from a light but tough water-repellent fabric that effectively sheds moisture from light rain, mist, and splashes from puddles. They won't keep you dry in a true downpour but will help to keep you comfortable if the weather turns or during cool temperatures with mixed weather conditions.
There are a mind-boggling amount of options on the market, and it can be a daunting task to find the right pair of mountain bike shorts. There are several factors to consider, and our testers spent months figuring them all out for you. Rest assured, we rode these shorts on every type of trail and in every condition, from sweltering heat to snow/sleet. This thorough comparative analysis should guide you to the right pair of shorts to fit your needs and budget.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.