Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Women
Best Overall Women's Mountain Bike Shorts
Yeti Cycles Norrie 2.0
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 packs all the features we loved about the original Norrie, plus a few improvements that helped secure its position at the top of the podium. Most notably, the pocket placement has been improved. The Norrie 2.0 has two zippered pockets, one on the outside of each thigh, that are big enough to hold a phone, snacks, lip balm, or extra gear. The zippers are at the top of the pocket, providing extra security if you fail to zip them completely. Additionally, there are two hand pockets, that we found to be most useful for post-ride casual wear. We also appreciate the new cut, which is both flattering and practical on the bike.
The Norrie 2.0 features internal glide patches on top of the thigh to prevent them from creeping up while riding. Clever waist adjustments are low-profile, easy to operate, and effective. The fabric features a 2-way stretch that moves comfortably while riding. Is there anything we don't like about the Norrie 2? Nope. These shorts are darn near perfect. Most of all, however, we love how comfortable these shorts are to pedal in, all day long.
Read review: Yeti Cycles Norrie 2.0
Best Shorts for Comfort
Patagonia Dirt Roamer - Women's
Better known for their other outdoor clothing, Patagonia has made a strong entry into the mountain biking arena with the Dirt Roamer short for women. While the look may not be for everyone, these shorts are truly a minimalist's dream. These simple shorts feature a lightweight, stretchy fabric, sonic-welded seams that lay super-flat, a button-integrated waist adjustment, and a single zippered pocket that just fits an iPhone 8. There is no contrasting stitching (even the button is the same color as the fabric), no pleats, no bulk, no mesh. There is, however, excellent stretch and good coverage from a comfortable fabric that is so lightweight you might forget you are wearing shorts.
While we didn't experience any durability issues with the Dirt Roamer during the testing period, these wouldn't be our first choice for super-rugged trails or those that have a lot of brush. The thin fabric will not protect as well from scratches, pokes, or hard crashes. The nearly 12" inseam length provides ample coverage from the sun and wind and they work okay with low-profile kneepads. That said, we suggest enjoying them for the lightweight beauties that they are and chose a beefier short for when you need pads.
Read review: Patagonia Dirt Roamer Bike Shorts
Best Shorts for Style
Wild Rye Freel
Looking for a little more style and flair in your mountain bike shorts without sacrificing functional features? The first thing you notice about the Wild Rye Freel are the very fun patterns that range from an understated "Geo Dot" to the charming "Vicuñas," and a casual style that easily rolls from the trail to the brewpub. The distinctive fabric means you will always recognize your Freel sister on the trail. Beyond looking good, however, the Freel also performs really well. These shorts are equipped with a super functional zippered side pocket, as well as two hand pockets, and a long enough inseam to protect you from brush and abrasions.
Our biggest gripe with the Freel is the lack of a waist adjustment system. It is equipped with belt loops, and while that is a cute feature on mountain bike shorts, we don't love the bulk of a belt holding up our shorts. We tried a size 2 and a size 4, and neither one was a perfect fit. Having a waist adjustment on the size 4 would have solved this problem while allowing for a looser fit in the legs. That said, even in the snugger size 2, the Freel shorts have enough flex and stretch for a very comfortable ride.
Read review: Wild Rye Freel
Best Bang for the Buck
If you are looking for a functional mountain bike short at a reasonable price, take a look at the Zoic Navaeh. This model has been around for a while, although the current version has some nice updates. They are a very comfortable pair of shorts, with four-way stretch and good breathability, all at an affordable price. They are especially notable for their plethora of zippered pockets - four!- so riders that like to cruise without a pack will appreciate all the places to squirrel away gels, snacks, keys, phone, and other trail necessities.
The waist adjustment consists of old-school external velcro adjustment tabs that add some additional bulk in the waistband, although they are effective at dialing in a good fit. While not water-resistant, the Navaeh is quite lightweight and is a great choice for riding in the summer or warmer climates. They are a workhorse short that provides a good price to performance ratio.
Read review: Zoic Navaeh
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Review Editor Laurel Hunter leads our women's mountain bike shorts test team. Her basecamp is situated just a short distance from miles and miles of National Forest trails in Central Oregon. Laurel was raised by an avid outdoor adventurer and has been outside most of her life. Her obsessive pursuit of perfect gear is backed by decades of trail running, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and outdoor experience. Using her training as an artist, she thinks well beyond the box for her gear testing and pays attention to every detail. When she's not reviewing gear for OutdoorGearLab she is using gear on the trails right outside her home, playing with her pups, and dreaming of the perfect course for her mega pump track.
Extensive field testing took place in each pair to assess comfort, protection, breathability, and pedal-friendliness during real-world use. Additional testing included using and analyzing adjustments, waist closures, water resistance, and pockets both on and off the bike. We switched between shorts frequently to help compare fit and comfort, performance, and design features directly. Each model was rated and ranked on our predetermined criteria — read on to find out how they compare to each other.
Analysis and Test Results
Wearing the right bike short is almost as important as choosing the best bike for the ride. Do you live in a warmer climate and enjoy sweet, buff singletrack? A lightweight, breathable, stretchy short might be the one for you. Or maybe you like to hit the rock gardens and root cellars for a more challenging downhill ride. In that case, you might prefer more durable fabric and a longer inseam to accommodate kneepads.
Regardless of your riding style, we are here to help put you in the right pair of shorts. We researched and selected the top-rated women's mountain bike shorts and put them to the test in the dirt. Comfort and fit are paramount, but we also evaluate protection, pockets, breathability, and a little bit of feminine finesse.
We don't consider the price of the products we test in our evaluation of performance, but we do consider their value. While our goal is to determine the very best products available to you, sometimes the best can also be the most expensive, which doesn't necessarily work for everyone's budget. The Yeti Norrie 2.0, is made of high-quality materials and has a great look, and is also one of the most expensive that we tested. If you're not willing to spend that much, the Zoic Navaeh is a lightweight option with loads of zippered pockets that gets the job done.
Types of MTB Shorts
Where do you like to ride your bike? Are you doing laps on shorter local trails? Heading out for epic all-day adventures? Or maybe you like shuttling laps or riding lifts at the bike park? Your answer will dictate which shorts you choose. From a basic standpoint, you can divide and group mountain bike shorts according to riding style, climate, and terrain preferences. Cross-country, downhill, trail, enduro… the list goes on. We went down this rabbit hole, so you don't have to.
"Mountain biking" is, at its most basic, pedaling a bike on a dirt trail. If the terrain isn't technical and has a rolling pitch, it's considered cross-country riding. Cross-country riders often opt for tight-fitting spandex or lycra, though many choose baggy shorts that are breathable, lightweight, and stretchy. When a chairlift is involved, or if you're throwing your bike in the back of a truck to ride laps, you are downhill mountain biking. You'll want a longer, thicker pair of shorts, and possibly a full-face helmet, elbow, and kneepads. In either situation, there is a specific short for the activity. And of course, there are all the rides in between, with shorts to accommodate. We call this middle ground trail riding.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Women's mountain bike shorts may take the cake for being the most challenging wardrobe item to purchase. Making performance athletic apparel that also needs to match body types and ride styles is a challenging undertaking. They might be too big in the waist but too narrow in the hips. Or maybe they gap in the back when you bend over the bike, or worse, slide down as you pedal. We want shorts that fit and we want to be comfortable, and in this very important consideration, we're assessing bike shorts that give women the ability to find a custom and comfortable fit. Thankfully, the range and quality of women's mountain bike shorts is better than it has ever been, and there are some innovative options available.
The most basic way to make shorts fit perfectly is with a waist adjustment system to help achieve your desired fit in the waistband. It used to be that we wrangled Velcro tabs and accepted bunchy fabric to accommodate our different waist sizes, but many manufacturers are coming up with clever new designs for waist adjustment and improving the cut of their shorts to fit women's bodies without bulk and Velcro. Woohoo!
Many manufacturers are still embracing the simplicity of Velcro. Some, including the Eden, Ventura Plaid, and Cadence, use internal tabs, which look cleaner but make mid-ride adjustments more challenging. The external Velcro tabs of the Skyline, Zoic Navaeh, Backcountry Empire, and others make mid-ride micro-adjustments easier, though they are quite bulky and unflattering. The Shredly MTB Short employs internal buttons instead of Velcro, which testers found helpful when adjusting each side equally.
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 uses clever external webbing cinches that are low profile and effective. The Yeti Avery uses an internal pull-tab system that was easy to use, but harder to adjust mid-ride. Patagonia's Dirt Roamer has a very minimal webbing pull tab that is integrated into the button closure. By not using velcro tabs, all of these options have less fabric at the waist, making for a cooler ride and a more flattering look. Velcro also has a bad habit of grabbing everything it can in the wash, so we appreciate that there are new options available.
Silicone grippers on the waistband of Yeti's Norrie 2.0 and Avery, as well as the Backcountry Empire, provide an extra bit of no-slip security to keep your shorts from sliding down. The contoured waistlines of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and the Wild Rye Freel are quite effective at maintaining coverage of our backsides as well. The Freel does not have any waist adjustment system, however, so you will want to make sure that you buy the correct size (and sizing down if you are on the cusp).
We found that the Dirt Roamer has the slimmest fit. We would recommend sizing up if you have a very athletic build, but it is also available in twice as many sizes as most models, making a dialed-in fit much easier. Club Ride seems to have changed the cut of the Ventura , as well, so if you have worn them in the past you may want to size up if you like a baggier fit. The 100% Airmatic provides a looser fit through the thigh, as does the TLD Skyline. Shredly's MTB Short has plenty of room in the leg, with zippered vents on top of the thighs to keep you cool.
Only the Club Ride Eden came with an inner padded short, so we didn't weigh in on the liner. We suggest purchasing a high-quality liner short that suits your body and riding style, to wear under your mountain bike shorts.
Pedal friendliness is about how shorts work in action. Noisy fabric will drive you and your riding partners crazy on an all-day ride. Extra fabric catching on the saddle on the descent can be dangerous, while material bunching up in your thigh creases when you're grinding uphill can chafe and be a ride-ending experience. We are looking for the perfect amount of stretch and a cut that works with us while we ride. This combination allows us to pedal with ease, both in and out of the saddle.
Fortunately, almost all mountain bike shorts are made with a gusseted crotch these days, allowing for greater freedom of movement and less fabric to catch on the saddle.
The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, Yeti Avery, and Zoic Navaeh — all with four-way stretch — allow for great freedom of movement both in and out of the saddle. The Club Ride Eden's also moves well, but the already short-shorts ride up even further when we pedal, leaving us feeling exposed to the elements. For a one-short quiver, look to the high scoring Avery, which we all agreed was as comfortable as it gets in and out of the saddle. Just be careful about the fit.
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 has less give in the material, but the stretch panel in the rear, combined with the internal glide patches, provide ample range of motion. The 100% Airmatic has a looser cut, longer inseam, and innovative waist adjustment system to provide a good fit with more protection and room for kneepads.
The lightweight and quick-drying fabric of the Dirt Roamer and Avery make them both excellent choices for hot summer pursuits. The Shredly MTB Short has long zippered thigh vents, as well as lightweight fabric, for those that run very warm. The Empire has perforated fabric on the legs for additional air movement.
Mountain biking involves rocks, roots, twisty trails, and inconvenient trees. Sometimes we zig. Sometimes we zag. Sometimes we spill. Often we get dusty. We want you to have adequate protection for your ride of choice, so we looked at the inseam, the thickness, and durability of the material, and knee-pad compatibility when comparing the protective qualities of our shorts. We want you to feel confident when you are charging on the bike so that your focus is on keeping the rubber side down, not on whether your shorts are holding up.
Also worth noting is that even lightweight fabric protects our thighs from harmful UV rays. We love the sun, but we love our skin more, and hours of working in the saddle can wear off even the most diligently applied sunscreen.
Longer shorts offer more protection from the weather and trail hazards, and lightweight fabrics may not protect well from pokey shrubs and branches. The 12-inch inseam is common and found on many models, including the Yeti Norrie 2.0, Wild Rye Freel, and the Troy Lee Skyline. The 100% Airmatic has a longer inseam at 13 inches. The shortest inseam was the 7-inch Club Ride Apparel Eden. That doesn't sound short, but it feels really short.
In addition to the inseam, we considered fabric composition. The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, though long, feels too lightweight to handle a crash. The fabric of the Yeti Norrie 2.0 is both supple and durable.
Finally, our testers took turns wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. As expected, the shorts with longer inseams — the Troy Lee Skyline and the 100% Airmatic — all shared a seamless overlap in our test, creating a protective system.
Of course, this will depend on your height and inseam. Taller testers may want a longer inseam, to ensure there is not a gap. If you prefer rolling cross-country trails over technical or downhill terrain and don't plan on wearing knee pads, we would suggest the Yeti Avery or the Patagonia Dirt Roamer which both provide good coverage from the sun and brush, but are lightweight and breathable.
We love a good pocket. We want to be able to carry our smartphone and pull it out for quick pics at the viewpoint. We want to fly over roots and bumps knowing our keys are secure and that our snacks aren't being left by the side of the trail if we bounce around. We rode laps with and without backpacks to help determine exactly how functional the pockets were on all shorts. We considered all pockets on the shorts, but focused on pockets that are not on the traditional waistline, and therefore don't interfere with pedaling.
We noticed while pedaling in the Club Ride Ventura that if you placed anything more than an ID or credit card in the front pockets, you would feel it against your thigh during the ride. Better placement is seen on the Yeti Norrie 2.0 and the Wild Rye Freel, which both have zippered pockets on the outside of the thighs. We prefer fully zippered pockets to those that have a snap or nothing at all. Most of all, we favored the zippered thigh pocket of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer. The fact that it is welded on means that the bulk of fabric is at a minimum, yet it accommodates an iPhone and allows for unimpeded pedaling. The Backcountry Empire has good pocket placement, but the shape of the pockets and zipper orientation is not ideal, meaning accessing items was tricky. We appreciate the placement of the side pocket on the Shredly MTB Short but were a little uneasy about the snap, rather than a zipper.
For those that truly love a lot of secure pockets, the Zoic Navaeh has four functional zippered pockets! With so many, you might not remember which one holds your lip balm.
Ladies don't want to feel like they are wearing bike shorts cut for a man's body. While we recognize that style is a subjective area, everyone can agree that if you're looking good, then you're feeling great, and, most importantly, you're ready to rip the singletrack. We tried and tested ladies' mountain bike shorts with styles ranging from feminine to no-frills and everything in between.
We all agreed that the high-scoring Patagonia Dirt Roamer, with a lightweight, clean silhouette, made for a delightful ride. We also appreciated the attention to detail, including welded seams, asymmetrical cut legs, and a well-placed zippered pocket.
The Wild Rye Freel balances fun, stylish patterns with a flattering cut and functional features. Another high-scoring short in the style category is theYeti Norrie 2.0. We feel it is a perfect balance of girly and burly with its longer inseam, and cute color touches throughout. For those that like a really wild style, the patterns and colors available from Shredly will not disappoint. One pair of shorts that we didn't find as flattering is the Pearl Izumi Summit, which was decidedly frumpy in its fit.
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down which bike shorts are best for you. Many factors, including climate, weather, and terrain preferences, will play a role in the short you choose.
— Laurel Hunter