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; wearing the right clothing will help you get the most out of your best mountain bike, and the best MTB shorts offer a bit more protection from grabby fauna and the trail itself because the materials are more robust than Lycra. Most also receive a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment that will cause water to bead and run off, rather than soaking straight into the fabric.
For information on Bike Perfect's testing procedures and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.
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.
If you'd rather get a bit more coverage through the winter months, it's worth checking out our guide to the best MTB pants, 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 best mountain bike shorts, have a look at our guide to the best MTB liners.
Best mountain bike shorts
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7mesh's Glidepaths have ranked among the best mountain bike shorts you can buy for a while – if you could afford them. The latest versions feature significantly tweaked fit, fasteners and pocket detailing, and remain an absolutely outstanding pair of pants.
More than just a pricier, more pocketed version of 7mesh’s Slab shorts – the Glidepaths feature mesh-backed hand pockets and big zippered 'phone' pockets on the back of each thigh – they're an awesome investment in lightweight high performance.
While the DWR fabric, obsessive level of detailing and fancy panel shapes definitely contribute to the high cost of the shorts, they deliver dividends right from the start. Leg length is generous so there’s no danger of a gap above your knee pads, and while the legs are tapered, the ‘Relaxed fit’ is noticeably roomier than the ‘Trim fit’ of the Slab shorts. The way the 7mesh Glidepaths are cut, seam-sealed and stitched also means the pockets sit really well when you’re pedaling.
Should something go really wrong then 7mesh offer discretionary free replacement for the first 30 days you have them and then cost price repairs where possible for the rest of their natural lifetime.
Check out our full review of the 7mesh Glidepath shorts.
The Trail 3.0 V22 shorts are designed for faster/further riding and they’re among the best XC/trail shorts AND best gravel shorts we've used.
The outer shorts use a multi panel cut that sits slightly higher on the leg than a full short so there's potential for some flesh flash above kneepads, though the fabric is very stretchy and soft backed, avoiding the flimsy ‘running shorts’ flap of some lightweight baggies. They also come in a really wide range of sizes, and even look good off the bike, where the hand pockets come in useful. You also get a thigh pocket.
The liner short uses a flat-locked, four-panel mesh construction shaped to keep your bits from bouncing around too much. There are long gripper sections to stop them riding up too. The real win is the dual-density pad from top road brand, Elastic Interface, which was a very welcome surprise as Leatt massively undersell it as just an ‘Italian Sport Chamois’.
Even at full price value is good, but as Leatt is distributed by the firm behind Chain Reaction/Wiggle you’re likely to find significant discounts online.
Want to know more? Read our in-depth Leatt MTB Trail 3.0 V22 shorts review.(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 offers freedom to move 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, either.
Learn more in our deep-dive Morvelo Rise and Descend shorts review.(opens in new tab)
Swedish outfit POC makes its resistance shorts in three different cuts; XC, Enduro and DH, and each are available in women-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.
Get more of our thoughts in our in-depth review of the POC Resistance Enduro shorts.(opens in new tab)
Patagonia is far from the first big outdoor brand to start making mountain bike gear, but we'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 flap around as you pedal.
Find out more in our Patagonia Dirt Roamer shorts review.
Scott’s Gravel Tuned shorts are a sweetly versatile and innovatively detailed design with both wet and warm weather features. They work well for every aspect of gravel biking, from racing to wilderness adventures, as well as MTB too. The short style and contrast white zips won’t be to everyone’s tastes, however.
The fabric is actually pretty stiff and noisy rather than light and floaty and it’s got a non PFC DWR coating to shrug off showers and spray. That could potentially make them quite hot but the perforations up the inner thigh provide a refreshing breeze. You can also open up the hand pockets and let the mesh inners act as exhaust vents for extra cooling flow.
But the length of the leg will be the deciding factor in whether you’ll get on with the Scott Gravel Tuned shorts or not. In testing, the hem just about skimmed the top of our knee when standing up, but sat down/pedaling it’s a fair way up the thigh. That's far enough up that under shorts (like Scott’s Gravel bib shorts ) will stick out from underneath and that there’ll be an embarrassing amount of flesh between short and knee pads. That’ll make some folk recoil in horror and definitely puts dual duty use for Enduro out of the picture for anyone with more aesthetic sensibilities.
If you’re fine flashing thigh then these are tough, weather versatile, tailored fit shorts with useful storage. Throw in the seamless crotch and they work really well for long distance riding whatever your gender or your bar shape.
Read Bike Perfect's full verdict in our Scott Gravel Tuned shorts review.
If you're prepared to pay a lot for tough, light construction and a fantastic tailored fit – but don’t need as many pockets as you get on 7mesh’s Glidepath shorts – the Slabs could be the best mountain bike shorts for you.
They might look simple at first but there’s some subtle leg tapering and diagonal darts over each buttock. With the exception of the double-stitched center seam, all the seams are ultrasonically welded with a really narrow strip, maximising the breathability and slick aesthetics. All these little tailoring touches combine with easy stretch in the fabric for an awesome flap-free, but not weirdly tight, fit – they’ve even passed the ‘smart casual’ benchmark for summer functions a couple of times. More importantly, the firmer waistband means they don’t slip down or shuffle about when riding, meaning that once they’re on, you forget about them completely.
7mesh’s Slab shorts are very expensive for a minimalist single pocket design, but the detailing and no-quibble lifetime guarantee against defects (along with a crash replacement scheme) make them much better value.
Get the full lowdown in our 7mesh Slab shorts review.
The Gore Explore Shorts sit neatly between traditional baggies for rugged trail riding and full-on Lycra for cross country – they look casual but have a slim fit, weigh little and leave nothing to flap about. The legs are shorter than some (especially once you're on the bike) and you'll need your own liner, but for fast gravel and XC blasts they're up there with the best mountain bike shorts we've tried.
We found the legs sat clear above the knees when standing and pulled up a good hand-width further when pedaling. They'd probably leave a skin gap if you wanted to wear these with pads, but they're not really for that kind of riding. On the rear you'll find a large water resistant panel to help keep rear-wheel spray from soaking through; it won't stop it as it's not fully waterproof, but a full barrier would only make these shorts heavier and less breathable. They're actually very lightweight and airy, so this makes perfect sense and the protection is welcome.
In fact, the Gore Explore shorts are stretchy, slim and cool enough to never feel a hindrance, while lookiné 'normal' enough you won't feel self-conscious on café stops.
Read what happened when we put the shorts through their paces in Bike Perfect's Gore Explore review.
Madison's Flux shorts have been constantly evolving over the many years that they've been around. The super smooth, light feeling material – along 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 and. 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 helped keep the shorts firmly in place during all our 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.
We rode in these shorts on a series of warm, dry days and they were ideal for the conditions. Our only slight gripe is that when pedaling in the best knee pads for mountain biking, the Flux came up a little short and led to exposed thighs at the top of each pedal stroke – which may or may not be a concern for you. We haven't tested the shorts in the wet, but the Flux have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating designed to help keep light rain and splashes at bay.(opens in new tab)
The Fox Ranger shorts are made from medium-weight two-way stretch ripstop fabric with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) water finish to ward off puddle splashes and dirt. They also have a middle-of-the-road fit, with room for knee pads, 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, they use 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.
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 we're 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 our pads and our 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)
We are big fans of Troy Lee Designs and have used the same pair of shorts for a number of years now. 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, while waistband grippers help prevent them from sliding down mid-descent.
Meet the testers
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.
Guy's been testing and writing about mountain bikes for over 30 years. In that time he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear.
What you need to know about the best mountain bike shorts
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 – however comfortable your best MTB saddle is, chances are you'll feel the benefit. Inners and liners 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 – as with most questions of what to wear mountain biking – everybody has their own personal preference – You can also wear standard road shorts or gravel bike bib 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, among 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.