Best mountain bike shorts: comfortable, protective, waterproof, stash storage, stylish... whatever you're looking for in, you'll find it here.
The best mountain bike shorts in 2021 as reviewed and recommended by our panel of expert testers. This short list includes a spread of baggy mountain bike shorts at a wide range of price points as well as specialist waterproof examples and padded liners to make your time in the saddle more comfortable.
Looking for more leg for protection from falls or foul weather? Read our guide to the best mountain bike trousers for everything you need to know about full-length options.
Best mountain bike shorts as rated by our expert reviewers
Best trail shorts:
- Endura SingleTrack Lite – winner trail
- Sweet Protection Hunter
- Race Face Stage
- Fox Flexair
- Specialized Trail Cargo
Best waterproof shorts:
- Madison Addict – winner waterproof
- Polaris Discovery Zoned MTB
- Altura Five/40 Waterproof
- Ion 3-Layer Traze Amp
- 7Mesh Revo Gore-Tex
Best storage liner shorts:
How we tested the best mountain bike shorts
All the shorts here were tested over a variety of summer conditions, from really hot and humid, to damp and mild. We assessed the fit, sizing and comfort while pedaling, the position and capacity of pockets and the effectiveness of waist adjusters and fly closures. We looked for any knee pad gap, as well as measuring all the inseams. To test the DWR effectiveness, we also sprayed each pair of shorts with a set amount of water and measured how much had soaked through after a set period of time.
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You will notice that beneath each best mountain bike shorts product summary is a ‘View Deal’ link. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
Best trail shorts:
Endura SingleTrack Lite
So good you forget you’re wearing them
Price: £69.99 | Sizes: S-XXL | Colours: Blue, black, green, orange
Pros: Perfect combination of fabric, tailoring, sizing/length/colourway options
Cons: Not a lot wrong with these premium pants
If you’re like us at mbr, chances are the weather has to be pretty blinking warm before you opt to wear short instead of lightweight riding trousers. The fabric of these shorts is a combination of nylon and elastane. In other words, they’re a little bit stretchy but still hang away from body-clinging. Despite beig an overtly warm weather short, they are coated with a light DWR treatment to help prevent water from soaking in (it beads up and rolls off instead). The adjustment cinches are rear-mounted to prevent tummy bunching, which is a good idea. They carry off the trick of being on-trend fit-wise whilst still being actually decent performing sportswear.
Sweet Protection Hunter
Stylish, comfy and durable
Price: £119.99 | Sizes: S-XL | Colours: Black, green | Weight: 281g
Sweet Protection has the length spot on with the Hunter, they’re longer on the front than the back and the leg finishes with a separate panel of material that wraps around the knee horizontally like an oversized cuff. This makes the short hang perfectly when you’re riding, it stays perfectly in place even when wet, while the material is good too – light, but not so flimsy it gets blown around or rides up and sits on your knee pads. There’s some great detail inside the leg openings, where Sweet Protection has made the Hunter seamless and added a slippery ribbon to keep it moving on knee or pad. After three months use I’m seriously impressed by how robust this short has been, it still looks box-fresh. If you can live with the price, there are few shorts to match the Hunter’s blend of durability, style and sheer comfort.
Race Face Stage
Short for all seasons
Price: £89.95 | Colours: Blue, brown, grey | Sizes: S-XXL
A good short for wearing at any point in the year, bar total deluge days. It has a degree of water repellency and also a reinforced seat to stop things wearing through prematurely. They also are a good length, as is usual with Race Face, so they play nicely with knee pads with no readjusting or gapping experienced. They might not have any vents but that also means there’s fewer seams and less bunching, so it can be interpreted as a less-is-more bonus. They are a bit on the pricey side however.
Coolest short in the world
Price: £80.00 | Sizes: 28-40in | Colours: Black, grey, blue, green, red
Well, the best news is that to all intents and purposes the Short is a carbon copy of the Fox Flexair Pant. The Fox Flexair Pant (trouser, to us Brits) is my bottom of choice these days, it’s supremely comfortable, stylish and practical… I’d sleep in it if I was allowed. Naturally, the short version is missing the bottom half. The material is made from the same TruMotion 4-way stretch fabric, and that makes it ideally compliant when you’re riding, without being so stretchy as to hook up on your saddle. A perfect summer short, especially for those riders who prefer to wear riding trousers for the rest of the seasons.
Specialized Trail Cargo
Contemporary tailored cut
Price: £75.00 | Sizes: 30-40in
Pros: Great all-round fit for most riders with excellent material.
Cons: A smidge on the short side for taller riders.
The Specialized Trail Cargo Short is no leg hugging number, it’s very definitely a baggy short, but there’s less material to flap in the breeze than some out there. It’s stylish, but there’s a lot more going on than just good looks, starting with the material. It feels velvet-soft to the touch and it’s also extremely stretchy – put both those together and you have a very comfortable bottom half. Specialized says this space-age fabric is extremely durable too, but we can’t really vouch for that as we’ve (yet) to lay it down in the dust. What I can say is it shrugs off rain showers and splashes well enough.
Best waterproof shorts:
Price: £64.99 | Colours: Green, red, black | Sizes: S-XXL
As with arguably all weather-proof softshell-y shorts, if it’s absolutely hoofing down for extended periods then rain will permeate through and you’ll get damp. But if it’s showers and puddles you want to keep at bay, these are an excellent short option. The airier fabric, combined with generous venting, also means they’re less sweaty to wear than full-on waterproof shell shorts. Sizing all round is generous so we recommend sizing down.
Altura Five/40 Waterproof
100% waterproof and durable
Price: £69.99 | Colours: Black | Sizes: S-XXL
This short is intended to protect you from wet weather at all costs. It uses Altura’s Shield fabric which is significantly thicker than a lot of other fabrics. Which, while having an impact on weight and suppleness, does make for a reassuring barrier against the elements as well as being able to withstand scrapes and crashes better than most. Despite the sturdy material, the tailoring and use of stretchy back panelling, means the shorts are comfy to ride for a long time in. Warmer than most waterproof shorts too, which is a good thing in our book.
7Mesh Revo Gore-Tex
Ticks every box
Price: £150.00 | Colours: Blck, blue | Sizes: XS-XXL
If you need, or just want, the absolute best waterproof short currently available – here it is. And yes, it costs a fortune. These shorts are much better approached and understood as being a waterproof jacket for your legs. The fabric is excellent. It keeps you dry in all the worst of weathers without turning into a boil in the bag affair. But the best aspect of these premium shorts is the cut and tailoring. There’s a lot of sophisticated work and shaping going on here to goes some way to explain the price tag.
Polaris Discovery Zoned MTB
Best braced baggies for British biking
Price: £99.99 | Colours: Ink/lime, graphite/orange | Sizes: S-XXL
The Polaris Discovery Zoned MTB short has a set of removable braces to keep them in place without reverting to a restrictive waistband. The perfect baggy short for pretty much six months of the UK year. Are they good value? If you think of them as jackets for your legs – rather than as basic baggy shorts – yes they are.
Best storage liner shorts:
Bontrager Troslo Inform
Best way to stuff your stuff
Prie: £59.99 | Colours: Black | Sizes: S-XXL
The Bontrager Troslo inForm short comes in the most sizes and is excellent quality. It’s Lycra down the centre but you get mesh panels either side and in the bib area. Breathability is very good and it feels snug without being restrictive. Bontrager’s BioDynamic chamois is not overly thick but it still has good support and never felt clammy. The wide compression leg grippers are some of the best – they’re just as secure as silicone but they don’t rub or pull on leg hair. There’s a ton of storage at the back with three large elasticated pockets and yes, either of them can take a standard water bottle. Lower down there are two knee pockets but they’re too bit short and they don’t feature any elastic, so anything thing we put in them usually fell out. Comfortable, great and available in the most sizes, what stops it getting a prefect score is the saggy side pockets.
Specialized Mountain Bib Liner
Original and still amongst the best
Price: £80.00 | Colours: Black | Sizes: S-XXL
Specialized made the first storage shorts as part of its SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) range. It was originally included with a baggy short but the Mountain Liner is now available separately. Specialized has made a couple of changes since the last time we tested it. There are still three lumbar pockets but these are almost a third deeper. The centre pocket has looser opening, so is designed to take a water bottle, but you actually can fit a bottle in either side pocket. There are additional pouches on each thigh and on the old short these were split into two. They’re now single pockets that are also deeper and we found we could get a bottle in either of them too. The body of the short is a lightweight breathable mesh with elasticated band rather than silicone gripper on the legs. The short features a shaped Body Geometry Mountain chamois, with tons of padding over the sit bones. Loads of storage, super stable and great value.
Madison Flux Capacity
Not just a brilliant name
Price: £54.99 | Sizes: S-XXL
Like most storage shorts, the Flux Capacity features an integrated bib to stop it hanging low when fully loaded but it does means you will need to shed upper layers if you want to squat down for, you know, a few minutes. If you only need to stop briefly there is a fly opening at the front, handy since the front of this short sits quite high on the chest. Niggles? The chamois pad is on the bulky side, the pockets are a bit fiddly to access and the silcone leg grippers are rather basic.
What to look for in the best mountain bike shorts:
As befits mountain biking’s relaxed, chilled-out vibe, its clothing has always favoured a baggier, more casual disposition compared to the tight, performance-driven options worn by road riders. From the early jeans and work boots repurposed by the Repack pioneers, through surf shorts in the 90’s and heavy-duty protective freeride wear in the early noughties, mountain bike clothing has evolved dramatically, with standard issue kit boasting lightweight, hi-tech fabrics, built-in stretch, wicking properties and waterproof coatings. For a relatively simple garment, mountain bike shorts have been on quite a journey in the last 40 years.
And the reason shorts have made such great strides is that, globally, the sportswear market is worth a staggering 353 billion dollars. Annually. So there is no shortage of budget swilling around to fund research and development. And that means that MTB clothing benefits from innovations being made across the entire sportswear industry.
A good pair of shorts blends a whole host of factors, but if we focus on fabrics to start, we now see that most MTB shorts are made from a polyester/elastane mix. Polyester is, of course, a man-made fabric with excellent durability as well as resistance to shrinking and stretching. It’s also easy to look after and quick-drying. The elastane element gives the garment a stretchy property, making it more suitable for high intensity activities involving lots of movement. And yes, you probably know it better by one of its trade names; Lycra or Spandex.
On top of these highly technical fabric blends, many brands add a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. And while that might seem like a waste of time on a pair of shorts, where water can splash up the leg, it actually makes a lot of sense to prevent the seat area becoming saturated from spray. No one likes a soggy bottom, after all.
Mountain bike shorts also need to have a secure fly closure, pockets for storage and a cut that allows freedom of movement without billowing in the wind.
For this test we’ve assembled 10 of the latest shorts from an assortment of the most popular brands. Read on to find out which are pants and which are the bee’s knees.
All the shorts tested here use some variation of nylon/polyester/elastane mix. On average there’s around 10-15 per cent elastane to add sufficient stretch to the fabric. Flatlock seams are popular to join panels of material as they are strong and low profile, so there’s less abrasion on bare skin. Some shorts are now ultrasonically welded, or taped, which not only creates a more waterproof join, but it is impressively unobtrusive, eliminating chafing.
Fashions come and go, and with them hem lengths. Most trail shorts now have a relatively tailored, slim-line cut with a length at or around the knee. While length is really down to personal preference, it does depend to some extent on whether or not you wear knee pads. Too high and the short can ride up above the pad and expose an unflattering band of skin – known as the pad gap.
To add an element of adjustability, and room for a post-ride slice of cake, most shorts come with some form of waist adjuster. These can be subtle and hidden or external and easy-to-access.
Buttons, buckles and poppers – no, not the stomach contents of an 80’s raver, but different ways of fastening a fly. Whichever method is used, it needs to be quick and easy to fasten and unfasten, as well as secure; the last thing you want are your shorts falling down when you have to get off the back of the bike on a steep chute.
As riding packless has become more and more popular, so pockets have become more and more important on trail shorts. You don’t want huge cargo pockets that let you carry around the kitchen sink, as these will just flap against your thighs, but you do want enough space for a phone and a key at a bare minimum. Ideally the pockets should keep the contents secure against your body so they don’t rattle around.
Zipped vents let you tune the amount of cooling air that can enter your shorts on a hot day, but these add weight and cost. So the latest trend is for laser-cut holes around the inside thigh.
Durable Water Repellent
Or DWR for short. This is a treatment, or coating, added to the fabric to make water bead on the surface and run away, rather than pool and be absorbed. It’s useful on shorts to prevent uncomfortable wet bottoms while pedalling.