Pretty much every accessory brand has a range of mountain bike pumps and CO2 inflators to choose from. Unfortunately, you have to work through a lot of them to find out which are genuinely good, which are generically okay and which are unreliable or rubbish. Luckily for you, our test team have decades of experience trying to inflate tyres in the darkest, dirtiest conditions and they know which products are worth putting their faith in.
How to buy a mountain bike pump: Volume
The bigger the tyres you run, the more air you need your pump to move. Bigger shafts like Blackburn’s Mammoth are more likely to stick if they get dirty though, and high-volume pumps are hard work once you get to higher pressures. That means something in the middle like Crank Brothers Klic HV is the best bet for use across both road bikes and mountain bikes.
How to buy a mountain bike pump: Features
The simplest pumps like SKS’s Airboy XL slap straight onto the valve with an interference fit. However, something that uses a lever to lock the head in place will make for much less chance of leaks. A head that automatically works with either valve type makes life easier in mixed groups and sealing caps (that actually work) are very useful in filthy weather. Frame clips are handy if you don’t use a bag, but make sure there’s an o-ring or handle lock to stop the pump rattling or extending. Fold-out handles, screw-in hoses and built-in storage can all make life easier if you’d use them but expect them to lift the price.
How to buy a mountain bike pump: Pump or CO2
The big choice for every purchase - and every ride - is whether to use a pump or inflator. Pumps are bulkier and slower to use, but the air you use is free and you can top up pressure accurately as many times as you need to. CO2 inflators are much smaller and an instant inflation hit if they work right, making them great for race or emergency situations. Cartridges are expensive though, even if you buy big catering packs on the internet, and make sure you recycle the cartridges to avoid the waste. If you want the best of both worlds then a combo package like Lezyne’s Pressure Drive is a great option.
How to buy a mountain bike pump: Gauges
Gauges are a common ‘upgrade’ option to get you to spend a bit more but their usefulness depends on two things: How well you can judge tyre pressure with just a squeeze and how accurate the gauge is. Obviously we don’t know how good your grip calibration is, but we can tell you that mini-pump dial gauges are very approximate, inline gauges only slightly better, leaving digital displays the best option but even they can be irritatingly inaccurate. Of all the pumps tested here, Topeak’s Mountain DA G gives the closest readings to a proper tyre gauge but it’s still vague enough to make it limited to use on low pressure 2.8-3.0in tyres.
If you're looking for a more road-bike-friendly pump, check out Cyclingnews' guide to the best bike pumps.
With big volume 27.5 and 29er mountain bike tyres now becoming standard fit on so many bikes, you need a pump that can push serious amounts of air. Or in the case of the Mountain DA, push and pull serious amounts of air. That’s because DA stands for Dual Action, with clever valving driving air into your tyre on both directions of the stroke to minimise pumping time up to 60psi. That makes it pretty labour intensive to use, but the wide shaft and alloy barrel make it a tough piece you can put plenty of muscle into without flexing and bending. The auto valve-adjust head has a solid locking lever for a tight seal and it comes without a gauge for £22. Topeak build quality is always excellent, making it a great long-term investment and it comes with a bottle cage clip if the length is too big for your bag or pocket.
Lezyne thinks harder than most about products and the Pressure Drive is a particularly neatly packaged version of a system that lots of brands also produce.
The alloy pump with separate screw-in hose design is decidedly retro and the short, relatively small-bore stroke takes a while to get pressure up by hand. However, the screw-in braided metal hose also has a puncture pin to open CO2 canisters for super-fast tyre inflation. You get a CO2 cartridge supplied with the pump too so you’re good to go straight away. Lezyne also includes a secure, rattle-silencing multi-clip bottle bolt mount as well as a cunning double-barrel neoprene sheath and twin-strap system. That means the pump and cartridge can sit on your frame or you just attach two cartridges and the hose to frame tubes or seatposts for racing, which creates a really versatile, decent value set-up that’s impressively tough. Just be careful when unscrewing the hose from Presta valves as they can sometimes unscrew the valve core in the process, dumping all the air you’ve just put in.
Pretty much every accessory brand produces some sort of head to stick on a CO2 cartridge for fast inflation but the LifeLine is a sweet spot of decent function at a discount price. The key feature is the addition of a regulator valve onto the cartridge head which lets you control airflow into the tyre. This is really useful to check that everything is seated right on a tubeless system or the inner tube isn’t protruding on a conventional setup. It also reduces the chance of overfilling small diameter tyres if you’re also using it on a gravel or road bike tyre. Metal construction makes it reliably tough and it’s half the price of some alternatives that do exactly the same job. You will need to be careful with how cold it gets as the CO2 discharges. There is a mostly plastic version for just £5 if you want a complete bargain or a miniature alloy hybrid pump that has a built-in CO2 head for just £16.
An inflation icon among mountain bike guides and other rugged riders who don’t mind carrying a few more grams if they always get the group home, Topeak’s Mountain Morph is much-copied but still the benchmark for easy trailside inflation. It doesn’t look that different when clipped alongside your bottle cage (mount included) but the handle turns sideways and a short foot stand flips out of the base to create a miniature floor pump. Change the miniature, lever locked head to whichever valve you’re using and then you’re good to go up to well past 100psi. That makes it great for road and gravel bike use (although there is a specific road version) and the long stroke means it gets fat tyres up to pressure with minimum effort too. Construction is totally bombproof and it’s a great price for a really smart - if slightly bulky and heavy - way to blow up any tyre with ease.
Decathlon is always worth a look for basic kit done well and while it’s a bit wobbly this telescopic pump gets plenty of air in quickly. The extending telescopic action of the twin-tube alloy construction pushes on to high enough pressures to make it road bike compatible too, and the built-in gauge will give you a vague idea if you’ve done enough pumping. The swivelling hose has a reversible end chuck for Schrader and Presta valves and means you don’t have to squeeze your hand and pump head between the spokes which is often awkward. You do have to be careful not to unthread the valve core when you remove the hose though and you need to pump straight to stop it flexing and sticking. The gauge is very much approximate rather than accurate, so double-check with a proper pressure checker as soon as you can. Considering you get a bottle clip and a locking head to stop rattle, it’s definitely a bargain at £15.
SKS are pump-building legends and they take pride in packing that heritage and performance into some hand-sized inflators as well. The Airboy XL is a larger volume evolution of the original Airboy with a dual-chamber, dual plunger design so it fills bigger tyres faster, although your biceps will be bulging to get much beyond 50psi so it’s not suitable for road use. The hooked head fits easily onto either valve type with an adjustable collar for a tight secure fit. The kinked rubber tip on the handle feels good in your hand and the smooth action makes it great for repeated use. It comes with a bottle cage clip and SKS also sells a full range of spares so as long as you don’t lose it you’re pretty much set for life.
OneUp is rapidly establishing itself as the kings of cunning stash components - this pump is naturally a masterpiece. As well as working as a tough, alloy, high-volume (100cc unsurprisingly), short-stroke pump it also has a pull-out CO2 inflator head. That’s smart enough but the really unique bit is that the big diameter shaft means you can not only slide the CO2 canister inside it for storage, but also EDC’s super neat trail tool. Or the tool and a separate stash capsule for whatever else you might want to carry in a discreet weatherproof way. Unlike a lot of combo set-ups the pump, inflator and mini tool all work extremely well in their own right too, so while the price is relatively high the convenience and packaging are brilliant for those wanting to minimise bulk on the bike or in their pack.
Crank Brothers is another company that always separate themselves from the masses with smart, stylish design. The Klic pump range also lets you choose exactly what gauge and CO2 add-on features you want as well as High-Pressure HP or High Volume HV chamber sizes. Either way the Klic name comes from the fact that the pull out hose connects to the pump magnetically, which might seem a bit of a gimmick but actually works simply and securely. You can choose whether or not to have a reasonably accurate inline pressure gauge (extra £10) built into the hose. You can also opt for a hidden CO2 inflator chuck in the handle (£9 extra). Even without the CO2 inflator option the fat-shafted HV pump gets even big tyres up to pressure fast. Just be careful not to grip the flip-out T-handle fully or the pump body will bite your knuckles. While pricing is slightly high, little touches like the rotating collar to keep the hose connector clean and a five-year warranty mean you won’t regret reaching a bit deeper into your pocket to pay for it.
Blackburn’s Mammoth pump isn’t genetically re-engineered out of shaggy, tusky, extinction; but it is a beast of a pump. The 25mm shaft means the 12cm stroke shunts a serious amount of air so it’s a good choice for tyres over 2.5in wide, or anyone in a hurry to get inflated again. The hefty head section can be used in situ or unlocked to reveal a 12cm hose to avoid fighting with spokes. Either way, the ‘Anyvalve’ head adjusts automatically to fit Presta or Schrader valves with a massive alloy lever to lock it into place. The hose also has a spring-loaded inline pressure gauge to give a rough idea of how much you need to keep pumping. The big volume action means you’ll need to be strong to get it near Blackburn’s claimed 50psi max. You’ll need to keep it clean as any dirt on the big shaft causes serious stiction and it’s a bulky, hefty piece to hide in anything but a backpack too.
Genuine Innovations are inflator specialists so it’s perhaps no surprise the AirChuck head is the nicest we’ve used. Like a lot of the best stuff, it’s a super-simple design. Screw the included 16 or 20g cartridge onto the head and then back it off to open it. The clever bit is that you then just push the spring-loaded head onto the valve which releases the air into the tyre. Pull it off and the cartridge shuts again, making it super easy to regulate the fill if you’re blowing up a smaller-volume gravel or road tyre or working with frozen fingers in winter. The fact you get two canisters included means it’s not as expensive as it looks at first glance either and the build quality is properly bombproof, making this the head we always pack if we’re not taking an integrated pump set up.