The best mountain bike shorts (or baggies) came to be because mountain bikers didn't want to look like roadies. It started with downhillers and has since permeated through mountain biking all the way to cross-country riders, and even quite a few drop-bar gravel grinders, too.
But there is more to it than just style; the best mountain bike shorts offer a bit more protection from the trail itself and grabby fauna because the materials are more robust than Lycra. Most also receive a DWR or durable water repellent treatment that will cause water to bead and run off, rather than soaking straight into the fabric.
We've also got a separate guide to the best women's mountain bike shorts with our top picks for female riders, and if you're after something to wear beneath your baggies, have a look at our guide to the best MTB liner shorts.
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Mountain bike shorts come in all shapes and sizes, but riders generally slip on a pair over the top of their bibs or short liners and some could almost double as everyday shorts. Expect technical features like zippered pockets and a reinforced crotch area, while laser-cut vents (aka holes) are appearing on many new models designed for use in warmer weather.
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Rich has been riding mountain bikes since the early nineties and testing bikes and kit for over a decade. A very experienced trail rider, he knows what makes a great pair of baggy shorts and what doesn't.
David has been reporting and reviewing the latest bike tech for most of the biggest cycling publications for more than 15 years and tested a lot of shorts in process.
Best mountain bike shorts
Madison's Flux shots have been constantly evolving over the many years that they've been around. Super smooth, light feeling material with laser-cut vents near the outer seam on each leg and just below the waistband to the rear, make this latest 2022 incarnation a great choice for use in drier conditions.
The polyester fabric contains elastane to help give a really flexible stretch in all directions, this combined with a slightly pre-bent shape at the knee helps make the shorts feel really comfortable. An elasticated waistband with silicone grippers to the rear and a ratchet closure system keep the shorts firmly in place during all my test riding. There's a zipped pocket on each leg with plenty of room for cargo, while a side-zipped rear pocket just behind the right hip has been designed with phone stashing in mind.
I rode in these shorts on a series of warm, dry days and they were ideal for the conditions. My only slight gripe is when pedaling in knee pads, the Flux come up a little short and exposed my thighs at the top of each pedal stroke – which may or may not be a concern for you. While I'm yet to test the shorts in the wet, the Flux have DWR coating designed to help keep light rain and splashes at bay.
Endura's MT500 range of clothing is designed to be both functional and durable. While it's been around for a while, they've teamed up with enduro racers, such as the Athertons, to help develop the latest updates to the clothing line.
The MT500 Burner shorts are a great option for the majority of riding conditions. The four-way stretch Nylon and Elastane fabric has plenty of give and feels good against the skin. While I'm yet to ride with them in the wet, the shorts have non-toxic water repellent finish and a reinforced rear panel to protect against wear and the elements.
The legs taper are slightly tapered inwards and are cut so the front panels are slightly longer and sit just over the knee – making them a great fit with knee pads. In testing, the shorts never snagged on my pads and my thighs weren't exposed while pedaling.
A ratchet closure system on the waistband and Velcro pull-tabs to the sides mean there's tons of adjustment available. Silicone grippers to the rear of the waistband help keep the shorts in place and there's also press-studs that allow you to attach them to compatible Endura bib shorts worn beneath for extra security.
There's a zipped side pocket on each leg which are deep enough for a phone, though there isn't a dedicated phone pocket as found on some rival models.(opens in new tab)
Swedish outfit POC makes its resistance shorts in three different cuts; XC, Enduro and DH (also available in women's specific versions of each cut). From the former to the latter, the inseam gets longer and the fit baggier to accommodate the increasing levels of padding for each riding style.
The shorts are all made from four-way stretch fabric, each is 'pre-shaped' with more material on the front of the knees and a taller back of the waist to offer a better fit in the riding position. What makes these shorts unique is the built-in Cordura and Vectran tear-resistant panels strategically placed to provide optimal protection in a crash.(opens in new tab)
Patagonia is far from the first big outdoor brand to start making mountain bike gear, but I'd argue they've done it pretty well. The Dirt Roamer shorts are made from 87% recycled four-way stretch pedal-friendly polyester and see sonic-welded seams throughout the entire short. There is no ventilation to speak of, but the fabric is so light you don't need it. They are slim-fitting and feature a scalloped knee and tall back, yet don't suffer from an overly XC fit like the brand's first mountain bike shorts, the Dirt Craft.
Instead of Velcro waist adjusters, the Dirt Roamers feature what Patagonia calls the 'Opposite closure' which uses a piece of webbing connected to the button closure and zippered fly. The Dirt Roamers only feature a single pocket, which limits what you can carry, but it's well placed, meaning your phone or keys won't flop around as you pedal.(opens in new tab)
As the name suggests, Morvelo's Rise and Descend are a pair of trail shorts that are designed to take on all riding and get R.A.D. while doing so. Four-way stretch gives the freedom to through shapes while the ripstop fabric wards off tears when it goes wrong. The shorts also get a DWR treatment for when the weather is unpleasant and vents for when the weather is too nice.
Two front pockets give some storage and rear zippered pockets stop your keys and coins from flying out down the trail. Morvelo's Rise and Descend are available in both men's and women's versions. Simple styling means you won't look out of place in the pub after a ride as well.(opens in new tab)
Made from medium-weight two-way stretch ripstop fabric with a Durable Water Repellent finish to ward off puddle splashes and dirt. The Fox Ranger has a middle-of-the-road fit, with room for the best knee pads for mountain biking, but the legs are still trim enough not to get in the way while you pedal. The crotch sits high, so it's not going to snag on your saddle and the combo of two hip pockets and a small zippered cargo pocket do well to keep their contents stable and out of the way.
The Ranger shorts don't feature velcro size adjusters or a built-in belt system, instead, it uses a goggle strap-inspired system that offers plenty of adjustment, which most of all keeps your pants up. They do come with a detachable dual-density liner, which isn't terrible as far as included liners go, but we still prefer to use our own.(opens in new tab)
We are big fans of Troy Lee Design and have used the same pair of shorts for a number of years now and, despite the rough and tumbles of enduro racing and backcountry epics, they are holding up incredibly well.
The 2020 Flowline shorts strike a balance between pedaling efficiency and toughness so they are as suited to nipping out for a casual trail ride as they are turning to something more gravity orientated. The legs are baggy enough to comfortably accommodate knee pads and waistband grippers help stop them from sliding down mid-descent.
Best mountain bike shorts: what you need to know
Do I need an inner short as well as an outer?
If you're looking to swap your lycra for baggy mountain bike shorts, you'll often see terms such as inner shorts and outer shorts. It may seem nonsensical to wear two pairs of riding shorts, but it's not all that different from your undies and your regular pants. The inner shorts or liner will be tight-fitting, made from highly wicking breathable fabric and feature a chamois pad to protect sensitive areas. They come in both shorts and bibs, and some have pockets in strategic areas for extra gear stashing.
Most outer shorts are BYO liner and this is because everybody has their own personal preference - you can also wear standard road bibs or shorts here, too, but they don't breathe quite as well. Some shorts do come with a short liner, we have often found that included inner shorts will be of lesser quality, especially in the chamois and fit.
Are MTB shorts adjustable?
Even if your shorts match your exact dimensions on the size chart, you're still going to want some adjustability in the waist which often comes in the form of Velcro pulls on the waistband. We prefer shorts with the adjustment on the outside because it's easier to access and won't irritate your skin or eat up inner shorts; the downside is that the adjusters can catch on things like the inside of your jersey. We are also seeing a lot of brands incorporate webbing and buckle-based adjustments, which work well, but can be damaged in a crash and leave you stuck with your pants down.
Are pockets a good idea?
When you go for a mountain bike ride, you're going to have your phone, keys and maybe a bar or gel to take along, amongst other things. Cargo pockets can hold plenty of gear but are susceptible to swinging as you pedal and we've had more than a few gels pop inside pockets in a crash. Hip pockets tend to place gear on top of your thigh and are less susceptible to movement or crash damage. Zips are useful too for keeping your pocket's contents free from the elements.
What fit of MTB shorts is best?
Depending on the style of riding you're doing, you may be looking for a short that doesn't restrict pedaling motion or possibly something a bit burlier with room for knee pads, offering a bit of abrasion resistance. Shorts targeted at XC riders will be more form-fitting, slightly shorter in length and made from lighter materials. Gravity-oriented shorts will be made from heavier materials and will be longer and baggier for more coverage and to make room for armor.