Are you searching for the best mountain bike shorts? We purchased 17 of the most compelling options on the market for this comparative analysis. Since 2015, we have tested over 46 different mountain bike shorts. In this update, we spent hundreds of 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 many of the best shorts are available in both men's and women's versions, they don't always perform the same for both genders. Not to worry, we performed in-depth testing by female reviewers in our women's mountain bike shorts review.
Editor's Note: We updated this review on August 12, 2023, to include some analysis of the pant versions of some award winners.
The new and improved Troy Lee Designs Skyline are well-designed, sturdily constructed, stylish, and comfortable short, knocks the ball out of the park in our on-trail testing and off-trail evaluation. The Skyline is on the baggier side than others in the class but is decidedly not a downhill cut. On the contrary, the fit is great for longish rides. The waist adjustment is clean, discreet, and effective. The construction materials are stretchy – particularly at the small of the back – and have a smooth microfiber on the inside that limits chafing. With an inseam of 13 3/4" and leg openings of 21 1/2", the short offers a lot of protection as the cuffs overlap the kneepads and don't ride up when peddling. The Skyline is a great riding short offering a sharp look and useful pockets for use off-trail.
We don't have much in the way of criticisms for this short. The Skyline checks all the boxes for a great short of on and off the trail. However, those looking for lightweight, tight-fitting, highly breathable shorts for long, hot rides prefer a different model. The material is a bit heavier and stiffer, which could irritate on a long ride. Additionally, the phone pockets are positioned on the top of the thigh, which is not bad for peddling, although we prefer the back of the thigh. Finally, the Skyline has a single snap closure at the waist. While we had no problems with it, its lack of redundancy is concerning. That said, these shorts exceed all the requirements of a great bike short while not feeling or looking too busy or techy. We also purchased the Troy Lee Skyline Pant and are similarly impressed. It is a little heavier and burlier compared to the Patagonia Dirt Craft Pants. We take the Dirt Craft on longer rides in warmer conditions and the Skyline Pant for everything else.
Liner Included: No (can be purchased with liner) | Inseam Length: 13.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
No ventilation features
Deep pockets allow contents to move around
The Specialized Trail Short is 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 fit. They have two pockets; one zipped and one open, and an articulated waistband for seated pedaling comfort. The waist adjustment system is low-profile and effective, providing a comfortable and secure fit. The Vaporize woven fabric is lightweight and stretchy and allows for excellent freedom of movement and pedal-friendliness. The 13.5-inch inseam hangs right around the knee cap and plays well with most knee pads. Overall, we found these shorts sturdy and reliable at a reasonable price.
The Trail Shorts left us with a few minor complaints. They do not have dedicated ventilation features, so they rely on the material, its weight, and its wicking properties to control and regulate heat. They could feel a bit warm on hot days. The depth of the pockets can allow items to flop around a little while pedaling. Other than that, these shorts are comfortable, perform well, and look good, especially for the price.
Liner Included: No, 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, now 12.5 inches, providing 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 maintaining their minimalist aesthetic. All those changes aside, the Dirt Roamer shorts 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 this is generally a positive change, those who loved the fit of the previous version may find these to be a little baggier. This will also work better for those with larger legs and 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. There isn't an exact pant version of this short. Patagonia makes the Dirt Roamer Storm but it is more of a rain pant. The Dirt Craft short has an impressive pant version that we've tested called the Patagonia Dirt Craft Pants. They are light, stretchy, breathable but not the most durable.
The Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short is a pedal-friendly, hot weather, minimalistic short. The perforated inner thigh panels provide consistent airflow where 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 is 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.
The Endura MT500 Spray Shorts excel in wet riding conditions. The short seat 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 located on the front of the thigh have mesh linings that are not sown in place, which allows items to shift around while riding. Finally, the large logos on both legs are far from subtle. Despite these criticisms, the MT500 is a beefy short that will withstand the toughest conditions and rider abuse.
The Troy Lee Ruckus Shell shorts are burly and substantial shorts designed for mountain bikers who trend 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 withstand 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 okaybut aren't the best choice for warm days.
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, high 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 particularly user-friendly. An overlapping "envelope" style closure works okay, but retrieving items from it is somewhat annoying. The unique cut and articulation of the knees may also not be everyone's cup of tea. These quality shorts work great for trail and all-mountain riding.
We're mountain bike fanatics. And we constantly scour the internet for the most intriguing mountain bike shorts. While all of the 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 began, we designed testing categories (metrics) that collectively cover every aspect of quality shorts. Next, we rode out of the shorts with the metrics in mind. We tested in all weather and on every trail type to inform the score that each model received in our comparative analysis.
Our Mountain Bike Short testing uses six rating metrics:
• Comfort (20% weighting)
• Fit and Pedal Friendliness (20% weighting)
• Features (20% weighting)
• Durability (20% weighting)
• Style (10% weighting)
• Protection (10% weighting)
To cover the various trail types and rider builds, our testing is a collaboration involving several veteran testers. Former Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor and author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, Jeremy Benson was joined by Pat Donahue, and Nick Miley. These three riders bring several decades of riding and bike industry experience. From building bikes at Pat's bike shop to building trail – these guys put their bike clothing to work. More than that, thousands of miles of singletrack were ridden to make this review. Nick Miley has been riding mountain bikes for over two decades and has ridden in most of the iconic areas in the Western United States.
Our team of expert testers puts every pair of shorts in our selection through the wringer, riding in each on diverse terrain, on short and long rides. We scrutinized every aspect of their performance and analyzed how the design, materials, fit, and features play into their comfort and performance on and off the trail. We rated each pair of shorts on six metrics: Style, Features, Durability, Protection, Fit and Pedal Friendliness, and Comfort. Each metric is described in detail below with examples of the best-performing products.
We don't consider the cost when we score a product. However, do we appreciate a good value and take note when we see it. Usually, price and performance go hand in hand, but this is not always the case. Sure, many top-rated models are this class's most expensive shorts — but not always. The 100% Airmatic and Specialized Trail Shorts register at a fraction of the cost and perform very well on the trail.
Comfort is key on long and short rides. While it's normal to fixate on how shorts look or even the features included in the design, all those considerations fall by the wayside when riding. All that matters on the trail is how shorts feel. In the best cases, one doesn't notice the shorts at all. Accordingly, comfort scores are based on several factors, including ventilation, fabric quality, and waistband design. The leading models in this evaluation are the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and Rapha Trail Shorts. These shorts go unnoticed when riding as their design, cut, construction, and fabrics are well thought out and of the highest quality.
While the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and the Rapha Trail Shorts set the bar in the comfort evaluation, two other models were recognized by testers as being very close seconds. Namely, the Try Lee Designs Skyline and Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short. Like the better-scoring Dirt Roamer and Trail Shorts, the Summit Shell and Skyline have great fabrics and excellent cuts. Let's delve into the specifics of each of these shorts to see how these materials and designs make for a better experience on-trail.
The Dirt Roamer was adored by all that tested it. This fondness is the result of the nicely tailored and articulated fit. The 4-way stretch fabric in this short's construction delivers a great feel against the skin and outstanding mobility for energetic pedaling. These shorts make it feel like you aren't wearing shorts at all. Likewise, the Rapha Trail Shorts prove that high-quality construction and material can make all the difference. The Trail Short's fabric feels very pleasant against the skin, the stitching is tidy, and it doesn't cause any irritation. The short's high-end construction is paired with an athletic, trim fit, making them great for casual lunch laps or all-day peddling marathons.
The Troy Lee Skyline and the Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short share the same characteristic as those models discussed above though slightly less well executed. The Skyline is a slightly baggier short with a heavier, stiffer polyester weave. However, 4-way stretch vent panels just below the waistline and at the inseam make this model more suitable for long rides. Additionally, larger riders found that the Skyline's "baggier" cut was more comfortable as it limited the legs riding up when pedaling. Additionally, the waist design is low profile despite having Velcro adjustment tabs at the hips and a grip strip at the small back.
On the other hand, the Pearl Izumi Summit Shell is a more athletic fitting short. The polyester and spandex blended construction material is lightweight gives when stretched, and has a smooth finish. Cleverly, the inner thigh is perforated, offering maximum breathability for hot rides without adding extra material and seams – a great design decision for peddle-intensive rides. Finally, unlike some of the other tighter-fitting models we tested, the Summit Shell accommodated a chamois quite well without being baggy in the seat.
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 and 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.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
Depending on your riding style, the pedal friendliness of mountain bike shorts may be one of the most critical considerations or an afterthought. Cross-country and trail riders spending 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. The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, Pearl Izumi Summit Shell Short, and Troy Lee Designs Skyline topped the charts in this assessment.
Even shorts with the perfect fit can be uncomfortable on long rides – particularly in the seat and crotch. We use Chamois Butt'r or similar creams on rides over three hours.
The Patagonia Dirt Roamer short is the closest that riders will get to the pedaling comfort of riding in spandex in a baggy short. This model stands out in a competitive class due to their lightweight construction, trim fit, and soft material. The trim, fitted design offers enough material for smooth movements while reducing flapping, bunching, and sagging. Testers felt the same way about Pearl Izumi Summit Shell for the same reasons. The Summit Shell shorts are so lightweight and stretchy that they felt like we forgot to put our britches on over our chamois
The Troy Lee Designs Skyline is a different beast than the abovementioned models. This short is cut to the baggier side of a fit spectrum for peddle-oriented shorts. The construction material is also substantially heavier though vent panels at the back and inseam do much to increase mobility and decrease friction. Balancing comfort on long rides with heavy materials is one of the impressive features that make the Skyline a great, do-it-all riding short.
Finally, Specialized's Trail Shorts performed well in the saddle while pedaling for hours thanks to the stretchy and soft Vaporize woven fabric used in their construction. The understated Fox Racing Ranger also delivered a noteworthy in-saddle experience due to the shorter cut and 2-way stretch material.
Functional features like ventilation panels, sewn-in mesh pockets, waist adjustment, and waist closure systems greatly impact a rider's on-trail experience. Our features assessment measures the usefulness of features and not just their presence. After all, what good is a phone pocket if it's too small or uncomfortably placed? And, what good is a waist adjustment if it is bulky or ineffective? We used and abused these shorts during testing. After hundreds of hours, we can tell you that the Endura MT500, Troy Lee Designs Skyline, and Specialized Trail Shorts get the features right.
The Endura MT500 takes the lead position in the features department. These rugged 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 two large hand pockets with zipper closures that will take modern-sized smartphones.
The Troy Lee Skyline is also flush with useful features. For example, the shorts sport two hip pockets that are mesh lined for breathability and sewn in to prevent the contents from shifting while peddling. The Skyline uses quality YKK zippers throughout the short, making for a smooth pocket opening even when peddling. Finally, these shorts boast excellent waist design features. Low-profile Velcro waist adjustments and grip strips at the small of the back ensure that the shorts will stay at the hip throughout the ride.
The Gorewear C5 Shorts and Leatt MTB Trail 1.0 offer riders a similar arsenal of features as the Skyline. However, both shorts add a third pocket at the thigh and redundant closing at the waist – the C5s uses two snaps, and the Trail 1.0 uses a hook and snap. Both models have Velcro waist adjustments as well. These models didn't score higher in this evaluation because the C5 hip pockets have chunky zippers that are uncomfortable against the skin, and the Trail 1.0's hook closure has a high profile that could irritate some. Finally, the vents on the Trail 1.0 seem gimmicky, requiring a lot of stitching in a sensitive area without providing a whole lot of benefit.
The 7mesh Glidepath has four pockets — 2 zippered thigh pockets and two unsecured hand pockets. The thigh pocket garnered high marks from testers as it easily accommodated a phone, while the hand pockets made the shorts more useful for off-trail activities. The thigh pocket on these shorts loads towards the back of the leg. This design makes the pockets' contents accessible while peddling, allowing riders to access food and phone while keeping the contents from jostling about.
Mountain bike short manufacturers attempt 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 challenging. With that in mind, it shouldn't be surprising that the most durable shorts performed marginally in the comfort assessment. Yet, while the Endura MT500 and Troy Lee Designs Ruckus Short Shell lead the class in rugged construction and heavy-duty fabrics, the Skyline wasn't far behind. That's quite an accomplishment considering the Skyline's high comfort rating.
Generally, we found that shorts with thicker and more abrasion-resistant fabric did a better job brushing off crashes and grazing encounters with trailside hazards. The Endura MT500 is 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, Endura even bar-tack the leg openings to ensure the longevity of the seam.
The Troy Lee Ruckus Shell is also a highly durable short. The Ruckus Shell has a thick, abrasion-resistant fabric with top-notch construction marked by 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 Skyline is like the little brother of the Ruckus Shell. The Skyline has high-quality surged stitching that is redundant in heavy-wear locations. However, the material is noticeably lighter and more supple. Additionally, the Skyline lacks the redundant waist closure, which is a concern for long-term durability.
We include machine washing in the durability assessment, as washing can shorten the life of a poorly made garment. Each model was washed multiple times. Across the board, we did not observe any negative consequences when following the manufacturers' instructions for laundering.
If all mountain bikers were concerned with was performance, we'd all be wearing lycra like our roadie compatriots. Yet, seeing an enduro or downhill sporting skintight attire is rare. As it is, a typical mountain bike kit consists of loose-fitting shorts over a padded liner. While many riders are concerned with looking like mountain bikers, we weighted the style metric lightly as style is subjective and contributes nothing to performance. While most of the shorts rated the same in this metric, the Skyline was seen to be just a bit sharper than the rest.
During the testing process, we sought input from friends, partners, and other riders out on the trail, taking note of compliments or, in some cases, heckling. We wore the shorts to bars and restaurants for post-ride beverages and a bite to eat. We also wore them around town or out on the water. As was mentioned, the Skyline has a nice cut, but it also has low-key branding (logos) and coloring options. Despite being made of technical fabric, the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and the 7Mesh Glidepath have a decidedly casual look with subtle styling that masks their true identity.
The Rapha Trail Shorts has a tailored fit and casual style that belies its on-the-bike performance. These shorts sat a bit higher above the knee and were favored by some of our, ahem, more mature testers. This preference is evidence that this is a subjective assessment.
Regardless of your preferred cut, there is a pair of shorts in this review that will look good on you. So, if the laid-back, gravity-inspired style is in order, the 100% Airmatic and Troy Lee Designs Ruckus are great options. Or, if you want to go in the opposite direction, the Ripton Cut Off Jort is the stretch version of the old cut-offs many folks keep around for yard work. Thanks to the hipster movement, these ironic shorts have a lot of appeal.
Mountain bike shorts don't offer much protection to a wearer. Still, some offer more than others, particularly where abrasion is concerned. Accordingly, the protection category receives less weight. Unsurprisingly, the shorts that received higher durability scores also scored well in this assessment. Shorts like the Troy Lee Ruckus and Endura MT500 have longer inseams providing more leg coverage and typically mesh better with knee pads.
More than just having longer inseams (other shorts in the review have slightly longer), the Ruckus and MT500 are constructed with heavy-weight material making them more likely to withstand a crash, thus protecting the skin beneath the garment. After these two shorts rugged shorts, the protection scores are split between the middle and lightweight shorts. Shorts like the Troy Lee Skyline and Gorewear C5 offer relatively decent protection with materials that will hold up to bumps and scuffs. However, the lightest-weight models like the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and 7Mesh Slab Shorts are less liable to survive an encounter with a rock or sharp branch, exposing skin.
The Endura MT500 stands out for its protection from the elements. These shorts are constructed from heavy 4-way stretch nylon and a waterproof seat that protects the chamois from tire spray. They won't keep you dry in a downpour. Still, they will help to keep you comfortable if the weather turns or during cool temperatures with mixed weather conditions.
Given the staggering number of mountain bike shorts on the market, finding the right pair for your body type and riding style can be daunting. Our testing structure and extensive time in the field allow us to quantify the objective characteristics of a good pair of shorts. We rode these shorts on every type of trail and in every condition, from sweltering heat to snow and sleet. Thus, this thorough comparative analysis will guide you to the right pair of shorts to fit your needs and budget. Hungry for more bike gear? We've got recommendations to complete your cycling setup, covering our favorite bike gear including the best mountain bike helmets and the best mountain bike shoes.