Riding trousers have become more and more popular in recent years, with summer options now lighter, more breathable and less restrictive, while waterproof winter trousers make a lot of sense for keeping you warm and dry in muddy conditions.
All these mountain bike trousers on test will get the job done, but the expensive stuff will be a little bit more durable and more comfortable to wear.
The best trail trousers
- Fox Flexair Pant – WINNER
- Troy Lee Designs Sprint Ultra – WINNER
- Endura MT500 Burner Pant II
- Ion Shelter Softshell Pants
- IXS Trigger Pants
The best waterproof trousers
- Fox Ranger 3L Water Pant – WINNER
- Troy Lee Designs Resist pant
- Endura MT500 Waterproof Trousers
- Gore Bike Wear C5 GTX Trail Pant
- Madison DTE
If you want to ride throughout the whole year – in the UK at least – there’s a bit of clobber you should own – a pair of mountain bike trousers. These will ensure you stay warm, dry and relatively clean because you can just peal both things off at the end of the ride ensuring all the mud and filth goes with them.
Upper end clothing doesn’t just cost more, it will be more effective. It’ll breath better and may even be lighter and have more features.
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The best trail trousers
Fox Flexair pant
This is the last year’s Indicator pant renamed – everything else from the four-way stretch fabric to the zip pockets remains the same. While not a full waterproof winter trouser, there’s a durable water repellent coating that shrugs off damp days cursed with constant drizzle and frequent splashing. The tapered fit keeps it tangle-free, while the stretch fabric gives you plenty of freedom to move around the bike. And even though riding pants are the hot ticket right now, the Flexair remains breathable enough to keep you comfortable as well as stylish.
Troy Lee Designs Sprint Ultra
The Sprint Ultra is also lighter weight than the old Sprint simply because Troy Lee has ditched the mesh liner, but to retain the durability there’s an abrasive resistant material in the seat area and a cowhide leather patch on the ankle to stop chain wear – it’s the only trouser to get this feature. With its excellent venting and superb fit the Sprint Ultra is a great trail trouser, that’s also durable enough for downhill use – a jack of all trades and master of some then. At £175 it is pricey and we really struggled with that, but this is easily the best on test and in that regard it’s definitely worth it.
Endura MT500 Burner Pant II
This trouser was developed with the help from the Athertons, so it has a bit of a gravity focus in terms of the cut, and extra room at the knees for pads. On the outside edge you also get a little bit of 3D moulded knee protection – it’s a bit of a token gesture, especially when you have a full pad underneath, but it’s better than bare skin. That said, the 500 Burner Pant II is also a great trouser for just riding trails – it fits well, the breathability is good, the fabric is harder wearing than the rival Specialized Demo Pro pant, and it is better value.
Ion Shelter Softshell Pants
These fit and fasten great and move well while pedalling. The Shelters also breathe well and fend off wind, but the mixture of thicker and thinner fabrics crumples up a bit and feel a bit conspicuous at the knee and ankle, so fit isn’t as invisible as the Specialized Demo Pant I use a lot. The Ion copes better on really wet days though, staying drier and warmer when constantly splashing through puddles.
IXS Trigger Pants
The material is lightweight, dries incredibly quickly and feels great next to the skin. It’s not the most durable though, and there’s a lack of reinforcement in the knees, seat or driveside ankle area, so one hard smash on gravel and you could go through it. The Trigger hasn’t cut up though, despite lots of riding through brambles and the dense undergrowth.
To keep the trouser stable there’s some silicone print on the inside of the waist and two Velcro adjusters. Despite the extra volume in the rear, the Trigger is probably the most comfortable trouser on test. The Trigger feels great to ride in, especially in warmer conditions.
The best waterproof mountain bike trousers
Troy Lee Designs Resist Pant
For a brand based in sun-kissed southern California, Troy Lee has nailed the winter trouser brief with its new Resist pant. It fits well (although you may need to size down as the fit is generous at the waist) with plenty of mobility, so it doesn’t actually feel like you are wearing a waterproof pant. In fact we’d happily wear these on cool spring and autumn days, even when it wasn’t raining. Zipped hip pockets and well-placed reinforced panels add to the practicality. Only the price washes a little of the lustre away.
Endura MT500 Waterproof Trousers
To balance breathability and durability, Endura combines two materials on the MT500 mountain bike trousers – a four-way stretch reinforced material with DWR finish on the seat with a durable three-layer waterproof Exoshell60 fabric everywhere else, which is fully taped for added protection. As a result, this trouser doesn’t feel like typical clammy waterproof – it’s a lot more flexible, fits better and breathability is off the chart at 60,000 gm/m2/24hr. Obviously this trouser is also 100% waterproof and it also dries out really quickly too.
The waist band features a semi-elasticated section but if you need to take up some slack there are also belt loops and a silicone strip on the inner waist to stop the trouser slipping down. The MT500 is slightly taller at the back, so offers a bit more coverage, but we’d still like it to be higher.
The unique feature on the MT500 is the side vents – they have two-way waterproof zips that actually go all the way to the ankles, which means you can put on/take off this trouser without having to remove your footwear or knee pads. This a really versatile feature because it allows you to just carry the trouser easily in a pack for when you need it and also peel the whole thing off at the end of a ride taking all that mud with it.
Twin side pockets get waterproof zips and they’re really generous size – we actually did one ride with a water bottle stashed in one of them.
The MT500 is the most expensive pant on test but it has some great features and is exceptional quality. It also amazingly breathable and waterproof, so no matter what the weather is doing you’re going to stay dry and warm. It doesn’t take top honours because of the cost and more testers preferred the cut of the Fox pant.
Fox Ranger 3L Waterproof Pant
You might not be able to tell from the pictures but the Fox Ranger 3L Water Pant doesn’t have that typical nylon trouser construction, it’s more of a soft shell. The face fabric contains a high percentage of Spandex, which means it has a four-way stretch ability, is less noisy and, in our opinion, way more comfortable. But don’t let that imply this trouser is less effective at keeping you dry because it’s actually really good. It’s uses Truseal, a three-layer fabric that features a membrane middle layer to boost wicking and waterproofness. We don’t have any figures but during tests we’ve found it breathes as good as the Endura MT500 pant and is close in terms of waterproofness.
To stop water ingress, all the seams a fully taped, there’s a high quality DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish on the surface layer to sheds moisture and dirt and the fly has a sort of internal baffle to stop water getting in. There’s not a wide range of adjustment with the moto-inspired Race Ratchet Closure System but this pant is tighter fitting at the waist than the Flexair pants we tested previously.
One of the best features of the Ranger is the tapered leg. This is featured on all Fox pants and not only does it keep any flapping material out of the chain it also stops it sagging down at the bottom, which is not a good look.
Compared to the Endura and Gore pants, the Ranger 3L is not quite as waterproof but it was the preferred choice with testers. Some of this was definitely due to the styling but on-the-bike comfort was way higher and we didn’t feel like we were riding around in a pair of hiking trousers. Combine performance, comfort, fit and the price and you have the best on test – totally recommended.
Gore Bike Wear C5 GTX Trail Waterproof Pant
The Gore Bike Wear C5 GTX Trail pant is the matching bottom to the C5 jacket tested elsewhere and uses the same Gore-Tex fabric. Gore doesn’t published figures for the GTX Trail pant but during testing the breathability felt very similar to the jacket and it kept out most of the wet.
One of the feature Gore is keen to promote with the Gore-Tex Active fabric, is it’s softer, more comfortable and quieter. The GTX Trail pant doesn’t has the plush feel of the Fox Ranger 3L but it’s not as heavy as the Madison trouser and is way more packable and dries quicker. It also didn’t feel too clammy and uncomfortable against bare legs, which is often one of the downsides with waterproof trousers. There’s not as much shape in the front of this trouser compared to the Endura Mt500 but it is articulated at the knee, so works well with pads. It’s also reinforced in the seat, which is a really high-wear area especially when grinding dirt into your saddle.
There’s a slight taper in the leg with a fold over flap at the bottom, held in place via a press stud. The waist is elasticated and features Silicone gripper and simple draw string to fine-tune the fit. Inside the waist there’s a tiny pocket for a key, it’s only mesh construction and doesn’t have a permanent closure, so we didn’t trust it.
Compare to the Altura Nevis III, the GTX Trail has a bit more shape and the fit is slightly better but it’s essential it’s very similar in design. The difference though is the Gore trouser is way more breathable, it’s fully waterproof and the overall fit and shape is way more refined. It’s also three times the price but if you really want to stay dry and clean it’s worth paying.
Madison DTE Waterproof Trousers
Madison offers several waterproof bottoms starting at the basic Protec, which is similar to the Altura pants tested here and topping out with the DTE (Defy the Elements) a heavy-hitting waterproof trouser. Madison uses a 2.5layer fabric (basically an outer Nylon skin over a membrane with a printed inner surface) for the bulk of this pant but at the seat, where most of the water can get through, it gets a thicker three-layer fabric. This reinforces this area but it adds weight, making it heaviest trouser on test, and we found the DTE can hang down a bit at the back, especially when it’s covered in mud. There’s Silicone gripper on the waist to stop slipping bit it’s not particularly deep here and we’d actually like this, and most other trousers for that matter, to extend slightly upwards to stop any underlayers being exposed.
The waist band also features two Velcro straps and press-stud fly but the Velcro isn’t particularly long so we couldn’t get it tight enough. Fully tape seams are featured throughout and, if you do overheat there are some big side vents, secured with waterproof zips. We used them constantly during this test to vent condensation because the DTE does run quite warm when you’re pedalling hard.
Down below there are a couple of adjuster straps on the ankles to fine tune the fit but the shape isn’t as tapered as the Gore and Endura trews. The knees are articulated and roomy, so you can easily where pads underneath and this area is also reinforced with the three-layer material.
The DTE is heavy and it’ll get heavier as it gets wet and dirty so it runs hot than most. This is okay for e-bikes but for unassisted riding there are lighter and breathable options available.
Know your mountain bike trousers
Most quality waterproof trousers are built from a laminate fabric, which consists of a waterproof/breathable membrane which is either sandwiched between two nylon layers or stuck to the inside of one. The membrane is the bit that keeps you dry and Gore-Tex is the most common brand.
All waterproof fabrics are rated for waterproofness and anything over 10,000mm is pretty watertight in normal conditions. Breathability is also rated – look for the MVTR (Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate) figure. Above 20,000g/m²/24hr means good breathability.
Manufacturers describe their garmetns as having three two or layers but what does this mean? A two-layer fabric is made up of an outer face fabric bonded to the waterproof membrane, usually with a mesh liner hanging inside. On a 2.5 layer, the mesh liner is replaced with a micro (or half) layer, which is either bonded or printed onto the membrane. A three-layer garment has the membrane sandwiched between two Nylon layers.
To be honest, on legs, vents are generally unnecessary but some of the pants here do have them.
Adjustable cuffs and hems stop water getting in but also help regulate airflow the inside of the garment. To reduce weight, Velcro cuffs and ankles are often replaced with simple elasticated band.
Pockets are handy on the trousers but a waterproof zip is a must if you intend stashing a phone down low.
On waterproof trousers look for a baffle gutter behind the fly to stop water ingress.