The best women’s mountain bike shorts will offer plenty of room to maneuver around the bike, a comfortable and unrestrictive fit, and added protection from the trail. This means robust materials, durable water repellent (DWR) treatment, and room for protective armor such as knee pads.
You may choose to wear baggy mountain bike shorts just because you don’t want to look like a roadie, but there’s more to them than just style. Paired with a decent MTB jersey, an MTB jacket, and a set of MTB shoes, you're in for a comfortable and fun-packed day on the trails.
You’ll find they come in all shapes and sizes, and styles will vary depending on the type of riding you do, whether you're mucking about on a hardtail, or putting your enduro bike through the ultimate test. If you’re a casual off-road rider, it’s easy enough to slip some lightweight baggies over your bib shorts, so if you’re hitting the technical stuff hard, you’ll have something that will survive some serious wear and tear.
We’ve rounded up our favorite women’s mountain biking shorts to help you choose the best ones for you, though if you’re not sure what sort of things to look for in a great pair of MTB shorts, head on down to our guide about what you need to know when making that all-important decision.
Best women’s mountain bike shorts
If you like to switch things up and require a pair of mountain biking shorts that can do it all, then the Fox Racing Ranger Women’s shorts could be what you’re looking for. They’re constructed from a medium-weight two-way stretch ripstop fabric for durability, with a DWR finish to ward away dirt and puddle splashes.
The Rangers have a loose cut that’s roomy enough for knee pads, but fit close enough to feel barely-there while you pedal. The crotch is cut high, reducing the risk of it snagging on your saddle, and the pocket provision is very respectable. The two hip pockets are large enough to put your hands in or store a phone, plus there’s a small zippered cargo pocket for your valuables.
In terms of closure and adjustment, the Rangers are a little different from most run-of-the-mill MTB shorts. They use the Fox Link Waist closure system, which is inspired by goggle straps and offers a decent amount of adjustment.
Included is a dual-density liner, which is actually pretty comfortable as far as included liners go, but it’s removable so you’re at liberty to pair these shorts with whichever liner you feel most comfortable wearing.
For a heavy-duty pair of MTB shorts that can tackle all types of riding from trail to enduro, the Nukeproof Nirvana Women’s shorts are a real contender. They’re constructed from rugged anti-abrasion Cordura fabric and built to withstand the rough and tumble that usually accompanies gravity riding. Fully bonded seams provide a comfortable fit, while the triple sticking on the inside legs reinforces their durability for long-lasting wear.
At the hips are two deep zippered pockets, ideal for keeping your valuables secure. A unique feature of these pockets is that one side has a built-in bag for storing goggles or sunnies, while the other has a key lanyard so you can always get back into your car or house when the ride is over.
The Troy Lee Designs Lilium shorts are designed with all-day riding in mind. Constructed from four-way stretch-woven fabric, they have a comfortable fit that allows plenty of movement while pedalling and manoeuvring through the trails. Adjustability comes in the form of a waist adjustment system, which consists of an elastic waistband and Velcro pulls that you can easily tighten or loosen as needed.
Strategic laser-perforated zones offer good ventilation to prevent overheating, while the zipper fly and snap button closure is simple to use and effective at keeping everything in place. Cargo storage is ample, thanks to two zippered side pockets and one phone-specific zippered pocket at the rear of the right leg. This pocket is designed to hold your phone in place so your mid-ride shots are within easy reach.
One downside to TLD’s shorts is that they tend to size up very small, so make sure you check their sizing guide very carefully before purchasing online.
Endura describes the MT500 Spray shorts as “like the mutant offspring of a waterproof and standard baggy short”, and it’s easy to see why. Being a Scottish brand, Endura knows a thing or two about tackling the muddiest and most waterlogged rides, so it stands to reason that these shorts are designed to excel in wet and variable weather conditions.
The seat panel is completely waterproof, allowing it to shed the worst of the muck that’s kicked up from the rear wheel, while the rest of the garment is treated with PFC-free DWR, in line with the brand’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. The durable four-way stretch nylon fabric feels light and doesn’t restrict your movement, making for a comfortable fit that doesn’t distract you from the trail ahead.
There’s ample room for knee pads, while the zipped hip pockets are large enough to put your hands in. A liner isn’t included but they are Clickfast compatible, so they’ll work with any of Endura’s Clickfast liners.
Having been around for a long time, Endura’s SingleTrack range has continually evolved as materials and designs improve. The latest iteration of the Women’s SingleTrack Lite is destined for dusty trails on summer rides, thanks to their lightweight structure and high ventilation.
Constructed from perforated nylon, they’re light and cool, and they don’t restrict movement or overheat, so you can focus all of your attention on the trail ahead.
They don’t come with a liner included, but they’re compatible with Endura’s Clickfast liner system, which needs to be purchased separately.
The Hunter Light shorts from Sweet Protection are constructed from two ergonomically-shaped stretch panels that result in a very flattering slim fit. They remain lightweight and stretchy however so your movement is completely unrestricted. This makes them a good option for mountain biking while also looking good enough to wear off the bike as well.
The lightweight Dupont Sorrona fabric is made from superfine Merino wool fibers, which not only makes the Hunter Light shorts comfortable against the skin, but they are also very good at trapping air while absorbing and releasing water. This basically translates to decent thermoregulation blended with superior moisture-wicking for a cool and dry freshness.
Best women’s mountain bike shorts: what you need to know
Not all mountain bike shorts are created equal, so it’s important to consider a few things before you make a decision. Lots of factors can make or break a ride, from how they fit to how much storage you have at your disposal. Here are some of the most important things to consider when choosing a pair of women’s mountain bike shorts.
1. Inner vs outer
If you’re coming to baggies from lycra, then you may wonder why on earth you’d wear two pairs of shorts, but the terms ‘inner shorts’ and ‘outer shorts’ are likely to come up over and over again as you shop around.
It’s not that strange, in fact it’s just like wearing a pair of shorts over your underwear: inner shorts are designed to be worn below outerwear, will be fitted and stretchy, breathable and moisture-wicking, and come with a chamois. You can choose between regular waist shorts and bib-liners, with the latter occasionally featuring pockets to stash your valuables.
Outer shorts, on the other hand, usually require a BYO liner, which makes sense since everyone tends to have their own personal preference. Some will include a short liner, though they tend to be of lesser quality in the chamois and fit. There’s nothing stopping you from wearing road bibs as a liner if you wish, though it’s worth bearing in mind that they won’t be as breathable as dedicated liner shorts.
It’s always a good idea to have some adjustability in the waist area, and mountain biking shorts will often have this either internally or externally. External adjustment is much better because there’s no risk of any irritation to the skin, though the downside is that there’s always a possibility of them catching on things, like your jersey or jacket.
In terms of external adjustability, one of the most common methods used is an elastic waistband that can be tightened or loosened with Velcro pulls at the hips. Some brands have been incorporating webbing and buckle-based adjustments that can work very well, but they’re vulnerable to damage in a crash.
Almost every woman will know how irritating it is to be offered up some clothing that has either zero pockets or badly designed ones that barely fit your hand, let alone your purse or phone.
Luckily, lots of women’s mountain bike shorts come complete with pockets, from cargo ones that can hold plenty of stuff, to hip pockets that place your belongings on the top of your thigh. Both come with pros and cons: cargo pockets are susceptible to swinging while you pedal, while hip pockets need to be deep enough to hold your valuables while you’re pedaling, or have a zip closure for security.
Fit is hugely important and can make or break a ride. Depending on your discipline, you may want a pair of shorts that don’t restrict your pedaling motion, or you may need something robust and abrasion-resistant, with room enough to accommodate knee pads.
Cross-country shorts tend to be more form-fitting, lightweight and slightly shorter in length with a focus on optimizing freedom of movement and ventilation. Gravity-oriented shorts, which will be constructed from heavy-duty materials, longer in length, and baggier to make room for armor put more priority on durability and abrasion resistance.
It seems so simple, but at the very least you should expect a good pair of mountain bike shorts to have a snap button closure and a zip fly. If you’re faced with something else like Velcro closure, do yourself a favor and walk away.
The best women’s mountain bike shorts are not only the ones that can handle the type of riding you do, but also the ones that you want to wear and be seen in. If you don’t feel good in them, you’re less likely to pull them out of your drawer, so what’s the point in even having them? Choose a style of shorts that you like the look of, that feel flattering, and that you’d be proud to be seen shredding in.