With advancements in fabric technology and tailoring, MTB trousers have gone from something reserved just for downhill racers into something you might now reach for on a cold and/or wet trail ride.
Gone are the days of bulky and thick pants that didn't breathe, now MTB pyjama pants are made from the same materials as baggy MTB shorts, with stretchy fabrics, and even feature vents. Brands have realised that a slimmer fit is less obtrusive, and can help to keep your knee pads in place, too.
Wait, why would I wear long pants?
It only takes one or two rides in cold temperatures trying to ride with leg warmers under knee pads to realise it's far from the best solution. Not only do they provide a bit of extra warmth, but MTB trousers also serve as the first line of defence from the muddy projectiles being flung off your wheels. When you arrive at the trailhead after a mucky ride, you can just peel off the muddy clothes rather than trying to scrub the lower portion of your legs before you get into the car.
Trousers also offer a first line of defence from gravel rash, fern burn and your pedals when you slip one over a techy feature or in a g-out.
What to look for?
1. Waterproof or non-waterproof
Just like jackets, there are distinct differences between waterproof and non-waterproof garments. While truly waterproof fabrics will keep the wet weather on the outside, the moisture-proof membranes are at a disadvantage in terms of breathability, feel 'crunchy' and usually don't have much in-built stretch.
If you live in a place where winter riding also requires a snorkel, waterproof trousers will be your best choice. Otherwise, we'd recommend their softshell cousins — they are considerably more comfortable and often have a DWR treatment to help light rain and splashes roll off the fabric.
2. Fabric choice
Yes we know we've just alluded to fabrics, but using the right textile in the right place can make or break a set of trousers. Look for lots of stretch fabric used throughout because if the materials aren't moving with you, they will bunch, bind, pinch and chafe.
While skinny jeans may not appeal to your fashion sense in the real world, you want riding trousers to be form-fitting as this will help keep your knee pads in place and prevent the trousers from flapping in the wind and catching on your saddle. We are not talking painted-on, but form-fitting. Also, look for articulated knees which will help the pants fit you better in the riding position.
Everybody is built differently, so adjustability is key to a good fit. Look for hook and loop adjustment at the waist as well as Velcro, snaps or zips around the ankle to make sure the lower cuff is snug around your leg.
Some riding trousers feature extra padding or abrasion-resistant materials around the knees, hips and shins, while others have a mesh liner that runs part of the way down the leg to create a slip plane. We are big fans of additional features like these that create a point of difference, but make sure they don't come at the cost of fit or comfort.
The mountain bike trousers (or pants) you can buy today
Troy Lee Designs Sprint
Eco-friendly crash-proof pants
Pockets: 2 | Waist closure: Pop button | Vents: Calf
Made from a blend of Bluesign approved rough-and-tumble 600D polyester and spandex, the Troy Lee Designs Sprint trousers can survive an extended slide through the underbrush without pinching the back of your knee as you pedal. The knee and outside of the thigh are made of a tougher fabric still to stave off crash damage, and there is a mesh liner on the inside that creates a primitive slip layer and wicks sweat too.
The calves feature a few mesh panels for airflow, and the inside of the right ankle is reinforced with a sonic welded patch to prevent wear from your drivetrain. The fit is tapered with hook and loop adjusters at the hip, and there are good-sized zippered pockets to carry your essentials.
Leatt DBX 4.0
The best pants for bulky pads
Pockets: 2 | Waist closure: Pop button | Vents: No
Leatt's background is in neck braces, so it comes as no surprise that its DBX4.0 pants have ample room for armour underneath. The fit is still tapered, the knees are pre-bent, and they have a mesh lining that helps to wick sweat off your skin.
The seat is seamless, and the knees feature 1000D fabric to stave off premature wear. Even though there aren't any vents, they still breathe surprisingly well, and the waist features heaps of adjustment thanks to generous velcro pulls.
Fox Racing Women’s Defend Fire Pant
Lightly insulated pants to keep you riding through blustery weather
Pockets: 1 | Waist closure: Ratchet | Vents: No
When the temperature drops and the weather leaves the trails a sloppy mess, a bit of extra protection is needed to keep you comfortable on your ride. The Women's Defend Fire Pant is made from a water-resistant shell and also features a fleece lining to take the bite out of the cold.
The seat and knees are made from Cordura, so they won't be shredded after your first tumble, while the softshell material has plenty of flex built in to move with you on the bike. At the bottom, an elastic cuff prevents the tapered leg from creeping up as you pedal while a ratchet buckle and zippered fly keeps them from falling down as you descend.
Featherweight breezey trousers
Pockets: 2 | Waist closure: Ratchet | Vents: Bum, Thigh, and Knee
Like Fox's Flexair garments, the long pants are designed to be lightweight and well ventilated. Made from the same material as the Flexair shorts, the feature laser-cut perforations on the front of the thighs, bum and knee, and the pants are cut slim, but with ample room underneath for heavy-duty pads.
Fox didn't add any extra abrasion-resistant material, or double reinforced panels on high-wear areas, however, the company did give the trousers a C6 eco-friendly DWR treatment to allow them to shrug off slashes and light rain. At the top, there is a ratchet-style closure which combines with a silicon band that runs the entire circumference of the waistband to keep your pants up — even when the pockets are loaded.
POC Resistance Pro
Well vented pants with plenty of storage
Pockets: 2 | Waist closure: Pop button | Vents: Yes
POC's Resistance Pro pants feature an articulated cut, designed not only for comfort in the riding position but also to provide the best possible protection while on the bike. They no longer feature the ceramic abrasion-resistant ‘super fabric,’ but the high-wear areas around the knees and seat are reinforced.
The rear of the pants also features a high back and taped seams to prevent water from sneaking into where the sun doesn’t shine — the entire garment is treated with DWR. They also feature size adjustment at both the hip and the ankle, and there is a zip below the knee which can be used for ventilation or to help you slip them over your shoes.
100% R-CORE-X DH
Painted on race pyjamas
Pockets: 3 | Waist closure: BOA | Vents: Inseam and knee
It wouldn’t be a MTB trousers roundup without a set of fully-fledged pyjama pants, and the R-CORE-X DH Pants fit that bill. Like many of the other trousers here, they are made from a DWR-treated four-way stretch material, but what's really unique is the waist closure. Instead of a popper or ratchet system, the pants feature a BOA dial that literally allows you to reel-in the waist.
100% has taken a laser to the inseam and behind the knees, cutting vents to prevent these areas from getting overly funky. There's a zippered hand pocket on either side and stabilised inner pocket to store your phone. Be warned, the R-CORE-X DH Pants are skinny and those who aren't about the painted-on look need not apply.
Norrøna Women's fjørå Flex1 Pants
Heavy duty well-vented pants
Pockets: 3 | Waist closure: Pop button | Vents: Yes
Designed specifically for women, Norrøna Women's fjørå Flex1 Pants are made from a mix of 175d Nylon with the brand's Flex2 softshell material used in the knees and seat. At the top, velcro waist adjusters work in collaboration with a silicone gripper inside the waistband keep them securely attached to your hips.
They also feature a thigh pocket and two zippered waist pockets and a zipper that runs 9/10 of the outside of the leg with a pull on either end so it can be utilised for ventilation or to pull them off without having to take your shoes off.
Endura Burner II
Bombproof pants designed by the Athertons
Pockets: 2 | Waist closure: Ratchet | Vents: Thigh and Knee
Made from four-way stretch fabric, the Endura Burner II pants were designed in collaboration with the Athertons, and feature heavy-duty panels on the bum, a ratchet-style waist adjuster and zippered fly.
To make sure the pants don't bind when you really need to get your butt back, the crotch and rear panels are extra stretchy.
The knees feature moulded protectors and prevent the fabric from ripping when you crash, and have a mesh back to combat back-of-the-knee sweat. There's also a couple of zippered pockets on the thighs, so you don't need to carry a pack or bum bag to tote your phone and keys.