Reviews You Can Rely On

The 8 Best Mountain Bike Shorts of 2022

We tested mountain bike shorts from Fox Racing, Troy Lee Designs, POC, Patagonia, and more to find the best
Best Mountain Bike Shorts of 2022
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
Wednesday November 9, 2022
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Are you searching for the best mountain bike shorts? We purchased 15 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 lift-served bike park laps and everything in between. We rode a huge range of terrain and weather conditions while scrutinizing every aspect of design and performance. We kept ultra-detailed notes, 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 exactly the same for both men and women. Not to worry, we performed in-depth testing by female reviewers in our women's mountain bike shorts review. If you are indecisive about your bike gear, we've got recommendations to complete your cycling setup, covering our favorite bike gear including half-shell helmets and mountain bike specific shoes.

Editor's Note: Our mountain bike shorts review was updated on November 9, 2022, after testing the latest version of the Fox Ranger and 7Mesh Glidepath, along with the addition of the Endura MT500 Spray, Pearl Izumi Summit Shell, and Ripton Cut Off Jorts.

Related: Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Women

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 6 - 10 of 15
 
Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  
Price $175 List$111.30 at Evo
Compare at 2 sellers
$74.97 at Backcountry
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$83.30 at Backcountry
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$150 List
$179.95 at Backcountry
Overall Score
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78
Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, ventilated, articulated fit, quality construction, thoughtful designVersatile, adjustable waist, chamois liner includedLightweight, comfortable, great fit, quick-dryingTrim and clean fit, quality chamois, pedal-friendlyQuality of materials and construction, good pocket design, work great with knee pads
Cons Expensive, short inseamExpensive, short inseam, limited waist articulationSlightly longer and roomier than previous versionA little heavy, below average ventilationLong insean for a trail short, somewhat noisy material, a little expensive
Bottom Line They are expensive, but Kitsbow's quality construction, attention to detail, and high performance design can't be beatA versatile pair of mountain bike shorts that can serve dual duty for hiking or climbingComfortable, lightweight, minimalist shorts for big days in the saddleA trim pair of trail riding shorts that deliver exceptional comfort and pedal-friendliness but don't breathe particularly wellQuality mountain bike shorts that have a stylish cut, and pockets that are useful on and off the trail
Rating Categories Kitsbow Mescal Vent... Patagonia Dirt Craft Patagonia Dirt Roamer Troy Lee Designs Sk... 7Mesh Glidepath
Comfort (20%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.5
8.0
Fit and Pedal Friendliness (20%)
9.0
7.0
9.0
8.5
7.5
Features (20%)
7.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
8.0
Durability (20%) Sort Icon
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.5
Style (10%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Protection (10%)
7.0
6.0
6.0
7.0
8.0
Specs Kitsbow Mescal Vent... Patagonia Dirt Craft Patagonia Dirt Roamer Troy Lee Designs Sk... 7Mesh Glidepath
Shell Fabric 4-way stretch softshell, mesh vent panels Nylon/spandex plain weave with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish 4-way stretch 90 denier 86% recycled polyester/14% spandex with a DWR 95% Coolmax polyester, 5% Lycra 4-way stretch, 85%nylon, 15% elastane with DWR
Removable Inner Short? No Yes Sold separately Yes No
Lining Main Fabric None Polyester/spandex blend with breathable panels of nylon/spandex power mesh None AIR COMP None
Chamois None Foam pad None, but compatible with Patagonia bibs and liners(sold separately) TMF 4-hour None
Inseam Measurement (inches) 12.5 11.5 12.5 12.5 14.5
Number of pockets 2 3 2 2 4
Weight (grams) 261 grams 190 grams 164 grams 244 grams 172 grams
Weight (ounces) 9.2 oz 6.7 oz 5.8 oz 8.6 oz 6.05 oz
Weight Liner N/a 4.8 oz N/a 4.3 oz N/a


Best Overall Mountain Bike Short


Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 9.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Durability 8.0
  • Style 7.0
  • Protection 7.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 12.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Articulated, streamlined fit
Quality construction
Thoughtful design features
Ventilated
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
No liner short included
Shorter inseam

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 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. Still, if you're looking for a beautifully made, impeccably designed, high-performance pair of baggy shorts, the Mescal Ventilated is one of the best we've ever tested.

Read more: Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated review

mountain bike shorts - best overall mountain bike short
The Mescal Ventilated shorts are a great option for long days in the saddle.
Credit: Heather Benson

Best Overall for Trail Riding


Troy Lee Designs Skyline


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 8.5
  • Features 7.0
  • Durability 8.0
  • Style 8.0
  • Protection 7.0
Liner Included: Yes | Inseam Length: 12 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Trim, clean fit
Quality chamois liner included
Pedal-friendly
REASONS TO AVOID
A little heavy
Below average ventilation

The Troy Lee Designs Skyline shorts impressed our testers, and they are a dialed pair of mountain bike shorts ideal for everyday trail riding. They have a slim, performance fit with a shorter inseam, making them especially pedal-friendly. They have thoughtful design features like zippered pockets, 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, 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, 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.

Read more: Troy Lee Designs Skyline review

mountain bike shorts - best overall for trail riding
Whether you're getting chased by your pup or not, the Skyline are a great all-around pair of shorts.
Credit: Annie Clark

Best Bang for the Buck


Fox Racing Ranger


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 8.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Durability 8.0
  • Style 7.0
  • Protection 8.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 12 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Good value
Adjustable waistband
Casual style
REASONS TO AVOID
No ventilation
Small pockets

The recently redesigned Fox Racing Ranger shorts are versatile and comfortable at a very reasonable price. Not only are they a great deal, but these shorts have a casual and straightforward style with a comfortable, athletic fit. They have two zip-closed pockets and an articulated waistband for seated pedaling comfort. The waist adjustment system consists of ¾" flat webbing and a friction buckle that pulls tension evenly around the waist for a comfortable and secure fit. The 2-way stretch ripstop fabric feels durable yet not too heavy. Overall, we found these shorts to be sturdy and reliable at a reasonable price.

The Fox Ranger left us with few minor complaints. We found the lack of ventilation options to leave us a bit warm on midsummer rides. The position and small size of the pockets were also slightly bothersome. The pockets are on the front of the thigh and are backloaded. This size design barely accommodates a phone and presses the contents of the pocket against the leg with each pedal stroke. Other than that, we found these shorts to be comfortable, perform well, and look good doing it, especially for the price.

Read more: Fox Racing Ranger review

mountain bike shorts - best bang for the buck
The Ranger shorts provide a great combination of performance and price.
Credit: Nick Miley

Best for Minimalists


Patagonia Dirt Roamer


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 9.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Durability 8.0
  • Style 8.0
  • Protection 6.0
Liner Included: Sold Separately | Inseam Length: 12.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Super comfortable
Timeless style
Lightweight
Quick-drying
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.

Read more: Patagonia Dirt Roamer review

mountain bike shorts - best for minimalists
The lightweight, minimalist Dirt Roamer shorts are barely noticeable while you're riding.
Credit: Jeremy Benson

Best for Ventilation


Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Shorts


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 9.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Durability 7.0
  • Style 8.0
  • Protection 7.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 12.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Minimalistic
Highly breathable
REASONS TO AVOID
Asymmetrical waist adjustment
Small pockets

The Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short is a pedal-friendly, hot weather, minimalistic short. The perforated inner thigh panels provide consistent airflow where it's most needed, while the lightweight polyester and spandex material provides multi-directional give and breathability. The Summit Shell has a built-in, quarter-wrap flat webbing waist adjustment belt to fine-tune the fit, while the low-profile buckle serves as the waist closure. Dual zippered pockets are positioned high and to the back of the thighs, making them better suited to pedaling. The hem of the leg openings is welded to keep friction to a minimum as the short slides back and forth through the pedal cycle, thus adding to the comfort.

While we like the minimalistic design of the Summit Shell for longer, warmer weather rides, some might find the distinct lack of features limiting. Certainly, we found that the pockets were small and not ideal for carrying a cell phone. Additionally, the waist adjustment pulls the shorts to one side, which could be problematic for those on the small side of the size. Despite these design flaws, these shorts proved to be extremely comfortable on the longest and hottest day. Moreover, the short is stylish and will find a place in the wardrobe next to casual attire.

Read more: Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short review

mountain bike shorts - best for ventilation
The lightweight and pedal-friendly Summit Shell shorts have great ventilation for those long rides on hot summer days.
Credit: Nick Miley

Best for Weather Resistance


Endura MT500 Spray Shorts


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 6.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Durability 9.0
  • Style 6.0
  • Protection 8.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 13.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Water-resistant
Heavy-duty
REASONS TO AVOID
Cluttered waist area
Tapered leg opening

The Endura MT500 Spray Shorts were designed with wet riding conditions in mind. The seat of the short has a 3-ply waterproof panel that is seam taped to keep the rider's chamois and behind dry and comfortable. These shorts set a high standard for fit features and durable construction. The articulated waist area boasts grip strips at the small of the back, Velcro adjustment tabs at the hips, and belt loops to prevent short slippage. The heavy, 4-way stretch nylon offers great protection and durability, too. While the short doesn't come with liners, they have built-in snaps to secure Endura's "Clickfast" liners. The double-stitched seams are "serged" to prevent fraying, and the inseams are bar-tacked to prevent splitting. Added to the mix is DWR water-resistant coating throughout, and you can bet these shorts are ready for sloppy wet, rough, and tumble riding.

While there is no arguing that the MT500 are built to last, we were a little put off by the cut of these shorts and the busy waistline. The shorts are designed with knee pads in mind, yet the leg openings are pegged which causes the shorts to pile on the knee pad and ride up when pedaling. Additionally, the zippered pockets are located on the front of the thigh and the mesh linings are not sown in place allowing items to shift around while riding. Finally, the large logos on both legs are far from subtle. Despite these criticisms, we think the MT500 is a beefy short that will stand up to the toughest conditions and rider abuse.

Read more: Endura MT500 Spray Shorts review

mountain bike shorts - best for weather resistance
The MT500 Spray shorts are a solid option when the leaves start changing or if you live in a wetter climate.
Credit: Nick Miley

Best For Knee Pad Integration


POC Infinite All-Mountain Shorts


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Durability 7.0
  • Style 8.0
  • Protection 8.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 13 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent integration with knee pads
Smart cut in the knees
Killer fit
REASONS TO AVOID
Hip pocket closure design isn't user-friendly
Expensive

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, we think these quality shorts work great for trail and all-mountain riding.

Read more: POC Infinite All-Mountain Shorts review

mountain bike shorts - best for knee pad integration
The unique cut of the Infinite All-Mountain shorts provides extra leg coverage and won't leave you with a pad-gap.
Credit: Pat Donahue

Best for Gravity Riders


Troy Lee Ruckus Shell


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6.0
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness 5.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Durability 9.0
  • Style 7.0
  • Protection 9.0
Liner Included: None | Inseam Length: 13.75 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Durable
Good coverage
Compatible with knee pads
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Heavy
Poor ventilation

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 generous fit and long inseam that plays very well with knee pads.

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.

Read more: Troy Lee Ruckus Shell review

mountain bike shorts - even though they are made from a ticker material, the zippered leg...
Even though they are made from a ticker material, the zippered leg vents on the gravity-focused Ruckus shorts still allow for some airflow.
Credit: Annie Clark

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
80
Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated
kitsbow mescal ventilated mountain bike short review
$175
Editors' Choice Award
79
Troy Lee Designs Skyline
troy lee designs skyline mountain bike short review
$119
Editors' Choice Award
78
100% Airmatic
100% airmatic mountain bike short review
$89
78
Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Shorts
pearl izumi summit shell shorts mountain bike short review
$100
Top Pick Award
78
Patagonia Dirt Roamer
patagonia dirt roamer mountain bike short review
$129
Top Pick Award
78
7Mesh Glidepath
7mesh glidepath mountain bike shorts
$150
77
Specialized Trail Short
specialized trail short mountain bike short review
$80
77
Fox Racing Ranger
fox racing ranger mountain bike short review
$100
Best Buy Award
77
Rapha Trail Shorts
rapha trail shorts mountain bike short review
$150
76
Endura MT500 Spray Shorts
endura mt500 spray shorts mountain bike short review
$130
Top Pick Award
74
100% Celium Shorts
100% celium shorts mountain bike short review
$129
74
POC Infinite All-Mountain Shorts
poc infinite all-mountain shorts mountain bike short review
$130
Top Pick Award
74
Patagonia Dirt Craft
patagonia dirt craft mountain bike short review
$159
70
Troy Lee Ruckus Shell
troy lee ruckus shell mountain bike short review
$109
Top Pick Award
66
Ripton Cut Off Jort
ripton cut off jort mountain bike shorts
$69

mountain bike shorts - our testers put in some serious miles in each pair of shorts. you...
Our testers put in some serious miles in each pair of shorts. You can rest assured they have been put through the wringer.
Credit: Laura Casner

Why You Should Trust Us


As mountain bike fanatics, we constantly scour the internet for the most intriguing mountain bike shorts. While all of these shorts in our review are "baggy mountain bike shorts," they run the gamut from fitted cross-country-style shorts to longer, baggier, gravity shorts. Before our testing begins, we carefully design testing categories (metrics) that collectively cover every aspect of quality shorts. Next, we ride the heck out of these shorts with the metrics of interest in mind. We tested these shorts in every weather and trail condition possible. We kept detailed notes and scored the shorts based on our comparative analysis.

Our Mountain Bike Short testing is divided into six rating metrics:
• Comfort (20% weighting)
• Fit and Pedal Friendliness (20% weighting)
• Features (20% weighting)
• Durability (20% weighting)
• Style (10% weighting)

• Protection (10% weighting)

Our mountain bike shorts test is a collaboration between several 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 Pat Donahue, 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 including owning a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

The most recent update of this review brought on board Nick Miley. Nick cut his teeth racing BMX bikes in the early nineties and took up mountain biking soon after. He has over a decade of experience testing consumer products and writing reviews. Nick rode hundreds of miles of Sierra singletrack to contribute to this review.

Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Shorts

We assess the quality of each short's waist adjustment system.
We assess the quality of each short's waist adjustment system.
Most importantly, we spend lots of time riding in each short to see...
Most importantly, we spend lots of time riding in each short to see how they work on the trail.
We also examine features like pockets including their placement...
We also examine features like pockets including their placement, size, and ease of access.

Analysis and Test Results


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.

Related: How to Choose Mountain Bike Shorts for Men

Value


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 Racing Ranger and Specialized Trail Shorts cost about half as much and still perform very well on the trail.


Comfort


Comfort is critical. It is easy to fixate on how shorts look or the features function. That said, how shorts feel 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. We used a variety of liners (including bibs) to test the shorts that didn't include a chamois.


Several pairs of shorts rate very highly in the comfort metric, including the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and the Fox Racing Ranger. The Dirt Roamer's comfort has a nicely tailored and articulated fit, while the 4-way stretch fabric delivers a great feel against the skin and outstanding mobility. These shorts make it feel like you aren't wearing shorts at all. The Racing Ranger is a bit heavier-weight short though it proved to be quite comfortable on longer rides thanks to its trim, athletic cut, and 2-way stretch.

mountain bike shorts - comfortable shorts allow you to focus on the task at hand.
Comfortable shorts allow you to focus on the task at hand.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Rapha Trail Shorts prove that high-quality construction and material can be critical. The fabric feels very pleasant against the skin, the stitch is tidy, and it 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, but like the Rapha, riders pay for the performance. 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.

Objectively speaking, the Endura MT500 Spray Shorts are not the most comfortable shorts we tested. Yet, when it comes to weather resistance, these shorts go a long way to keep the rider comfy in cooler temperatures or unsettled weather. These shorts have a waterproof, seam-taped seat that helps to keep riders dry despite tire spray, and the thicker material helps to block wind, fighting the chill on shoulder-season rides.

mountain bike shorts - pedal friendly shorts typically are made from lighter, stretchier...
Pedal friendly shorts typically are made from lighter, stretchier materials and have a shorter inseam and slimmer fit.
Credit: Laura Casner

Fit and Pedal Friendliness


Depending on your riding style, 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 hug the body, stretching and giving with each movement. On the other hand, gravity-oriented riders are more likely to be concerned with a short's durability, leg coverage, and compatibility with knee pads as opposed to how well they work for pedaling.

Even shorts with the perfect fit can still cause agony over a long ride. We use Chamois Butt'r or other creams on rides over three hours.

We assessed the cut and shaping of the fabric. Additionally, we evaluate the material for its ability to stretch and move fluidly with a body in motion. The shorts that scored the highest in our metric were almost unnoticeable when in use. Such models facilitated unimpeded movement while in the saddle, with no resistance from the fabric of the short. Conversely, the lower-scoring shorts tended to inhibit the pedal stroke due to poor fit, stiffer materials, or lack of an appropriately articulated cut.


The Pearl Izumi Summit Shell short is the closest riders are going to get to the pedaling comfort of riding in spandex when it comes to baggy shorts. These shorts stand out in a competitive class due to their lightweight construction, trim fit, and soft material. The trim and fitted design offers just enough material for smooth movements while reducing any excess material that would flap around, bunch or snag. They also have tremendous airflow that keeps the rider cool on the hottest summer days. Testers felt the same way about the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated and Patagonia Dirt Roamer for the same reasons. The Dirt Roamer shorts are so lightweight and stretchy that they feel like you're not even wearing them. The Mescal shorts have a precise, articulated fit and little excess material.

mountain bike shorts - the kitsbow mescal ventilated shorts are made from comfortable...
The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated shorts are made from comfortable materials with a pedal friendly design.
Credit: Heather Benson

Right on the tail of these leading models is the Troy Lee Designs Skyline. These short's cut is also on the tighter, slimmer end of the spectrum. The Skyline ticks many of the same boxes as the Pearl Izumi Summit Shell, they have a nice fit but are substantially heavier. The understated Fox Racing Ranger also delivered a note-worthy in-saddle experience due to the shorter cut and 2-way stretch material.

mountain bike shorts - external waist adjustments, like these on the patagonia dirt craft...
External waist adjustments, like these on the Patagonia Dirt Craft, are some of the features we appreciate.

Features


Functional features like ventilation, pockets, waist adjustment, and the short's waist closure system impact a rider's experience when climbing and descending in a pair of mountain bike shorts. Our assessment of each short measures how useful the incorporated features are and their impact on the rider's experience. While the layout and ease of use of features like pockets and waist adjustment seem to be an afterthought in some short designs, others appear to have been agonized over. The result in the latter's case is a short that is intuitive, sleek, and functional. We used and abused these shorts during testing, and after hundreds of hours, we can tell you what works and what doesn't.


The Endura MT500 is peerless in the features department. These shorts have grip strips at the back of the waist to prevent slippage and Velcro waist adjustment tabs at the hips to ensure the perfect fit. And, if that's not enough, they have belt loops, too. Two snaps and a heavy gauge YKK zipper close the waist. Finally, the shorts have 2 large hand pockets with zipper closures.

mountain bike shorts - the mt500 has a lot of features, including grip strips, seam taped...
The MT500 has a lot of features, including grip strips, seam taped seat, and the Clickfast chamois attachment system, to name just a few.
Credit: Nick Miley

Without a doubt, pockets are an advantageous feature on mountain bike shorts and often the feature that is the most difficult to get right. For many, the days of carrying a hydration pack are long gone. Nowadays, riders roll with minimal tools and gear to eliminate the backpack burden. This change in the kit makes pockets more important than ever. During testing, we assessed the pockets for their ability to carry tools, food, and phones. We also evaluated their ease of accessibility, comfort, and capacity. And we wore these shorts around town with wallets and other daily carries to assess the pocket system's versatility.

mountain bike shorts - the glidepath shorts host 4 pockets. the hand pockets make the...
The Glidepath shorts host 4 pockets. The hand pockets make the shorts useful for around town items like keys, while the back of the thigh pockets work well for riding applications.
Credit: Nick Miley

The 7mesh Glidepath and Rapha Trail Shorts have four pockets --- 2 zippered thigh pockets and 2 open hand pockets — the most in the class. The thigh pockets garnered nods of approval from testers as they easily accommodated a phone, while the hand pockets made these shorts much more useful for off-trail activities. The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated and Summit Shell 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 has similar pockets on the outside of the thighs that keep the contents organized and bounce-free while riding.

mountain bike shorts - we're big fans of the new trend of backloading thigh pockets that...
We're big fans of the new trend of backloading thigh pockets that are easy to access while riding and hold items close to the body yet out of the way.
Credit: Jeremy Benson

Every short we tested has an adjustable waist mechanism that provides several inches of adjustment. An adjustable waist is an important feature that allows the rider to tighten the waist for a perfect fit. If you 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 exterior Velcro band design.

The most critical element of either system is placement. Some of the shorts we tested have an internal Velcro waist adjustment. Such designs have a cleaner look but are 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 Endura MT500 feature a user-friendly Velcro-based adjustment system on the outside hip area of the shorts. The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated and 7Mesh Glidepath are favorites, too. They use a slick alloy slip hook that slots into a webbing loop and offers 3 inches of adjustment. The Summit Shell has a flat webbing strap and a slip hook that doubles as the waist closure. This system is easy to use and quite effective. All three systems are easy to manipulate, given their external position on the waistband of the shorts.

mountain bike shorts - the unique alloy slip hook and webbing band on the mescal ventilated...
The unique alloy slip hook and webbing band on the Mescal Ventilated offer up three inches of waist adjustment.
Credit: Heather Benson

All the shorts we tested use zippers, buttons, snaps, or a combination of these. Once again, the Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated and the Summit Shell outdo the competition with their slick low-profile fly and offset slip hook system. These robust designs will likely outlast the shorts. Patagonia's recently redesigned Dirt Roamer shorts now have a secure two-snap waist closure and a super low profile waist adjustment system — a definite improvement on the Opposet system previously used.

While we didn't love the POC Infinite All-Mountain pocket design, one feature stood above amidst the competition. The knees are cut in a very interesting manner. The front of the leg opening on the Infinite All-Mountain is longer than the sides and rear. This allows for tremendous integration with knee pads. Any style of knee pad 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.

mountain bike shorts - if you tend to ride aggressively in gnarly terrain, you might be...
If you tend to ride aggressively in gnarly terrain, you might be more interested in how durable your shorts are.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Durability


We wanted to know how durable these shorts are 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 Endura MT500 are the most heavy-duty shorts in the class. From the heavy gage zippers to the robust 4-way stretch nylon material and 3-layer rear waterproof panels, the MT500 is built to last. Heck, these shorts even bar-tack the leg openings to ensure the longevity of the seam.

mountain bike shorts - the double-stitched seam of the mt500 is bar tacked to add an extra...
The double-stitched seam of the MT500 is bar tacked to add an extra measure of durability.
Credit: Nick Miley

The Troy Lee Ruckus Shell is a highly durable short, and 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 is top-notch, with well-placed seams and double stitching in high-stress areas. Like the MT500, the Ruckus is geared toward the gravity crowd, and its thicker, protective material and exceptional durability are apparent. The 100% Airmatic was a favorite amongst our testers for park riding and shuttle runs due to its sturdy fabric and great leg coverage.

The 100% Celium and Fox Racing Ranger are also quite durable. None of these shorts are as thick and burly as the MT500 and Airmatic. That said, they bridge the gap between the super burly shorts and the mid-duty trail shorts. In addition, the Celium has burly taped seams and very substantial zippers.

mountain bike shorts - not everyone will agree on style, but it is certainly worthy of...
Not everyone will agree on style, but it is certainly worthy of mention. We prefer to look good, and we imagine you do too...
Credit: Laura Casner

Style


As much as we don't like to admit it, style matters! If all-mountain bikers were concerned with was the performance of their shorts, we'd probably all still be suiting up in lycra like our roadie, cyclocross, and XC racer compatriots. 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, many different styles, colors, themes, and looks 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 less heavily 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 and the 7Mest Glidepath have a decidedly casual look with subtle styling that hides their true identity.

The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated has a tailored fit and casual style that belies its on-the-bike performance. The Rapha Trail Shorts share many of these characteristics. These shorts sit a bit higher above the knee and are well-liked by some of our, ahem, middle-aged testers. We realize this is a subjective assessment, but we sought consensus amongst our testers to ensure 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.

mountain bike shorts - shorts like the patagonia dirt roamer have a subtle and timeless...
Shorts like the Patagonia Dirt Roamer have a subtle and timeless style that looks good on the bike and off.
Credit: Jeremy Benson

For 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 maintaining a well-executed design.

Looking for something in between the tailored fit and the baggy gravity shorts? The POC Infinite All Mountain Shorts and 100% Celium somewhat bridge the gap in terms of fit and style. The Ripton Cut Off Jort is a completely different style of shorts that is a stretch version of the old cut-offs many folks keep around for working in the yard. Thanks to the hipster movement, these tight-fitting, high-cut shorts have a lot of appeal to those who like to look like they're wearing cut-off jeans at all times.

mountain bike shorts - gravity riders are the most likely to concern themselves with the...
Gravity riders are the most likely to concern themselves with the coverage and protection a pair of shorts provides, as well as compatibility with knee pads.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Protection


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 durability scores also scored well for rider protection. Shorts with a longer inseam provide more leg coverage and typically mesh better with knee pads, so the short length is an important factor when scoring the shorts for protection.


Among 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 have robust materials and a slightly more substantial feel. They 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 long enough inseams 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 consideration is protection from the elements. The Endura MT500 is one pair of shorts that stands out for their water resistance. These shorts are constructed from heavy 4-way stretch nylon and a waterproof seat that keeps the chamois dry from tire spray. They won't keep you dry in a downpour but will help to keep you comfortable if the weather turns or during cool temperatures with mixed weather conditions.

mountain bike shorts - there's a lot to consider when searching for mountain bike shorts...
There's a lot to consider when searching for mountain bike shorts. We hope this detailed comparative review helps you find your pair.
Credit: Heather Benson

Conclusion


There are a mind-boggling number of mountain bike shorts on the market. Finding the right pair for your body and riding style can be daunting. 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 and sleet. This thorough comparative analysis should guide you to the right pair of shorts to fit your needs and budget.

Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Nick Miley


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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.

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