Every single rider should own a pair of modern mountain bike trousers
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
- Specialized Demo Pro Pant
- Endura MT500 Spray Trouser II
- Ion Shelter Softshell Pants
The best waterproof trousers
- Fox Ranger 3L Water Pant – WINNER
- Endura MT500 Waterproof Trousers
- Gore Bike Wear C5 GTX Trail Pant
- Scott Trail Storm WP
- Madison DTE, £109.99
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
A trouser is usually too hot in the summer so I tend to swap to a short (I also like to get some sun on my pasty legs) but with the Sprint Ultra’s excellent venting I’ve been riding in the recent hot spell without any problems. This trouser feels a lot lighter than most rivals, but still offers plenty of protection when riding in dense undergrowth, or when the inevitable happens and you end up on the deck. It’s snug but roomy in all the right areas – the only thing missing is a pocket or two for car keys, phone and such like, but that is the dad in me talking.
Specialized Demo Pro Pant
Slim-fitting, stretchy, water repelling and with enough insulation to keep you toasty in the winter, Specialized’s Demo Pro Pant works just as well mucking about in the woods as it does against the clock between the course tape. There’s a thigh pocket that holds your phone stable and close to your body, along with another, smaller one on the back of the waistband that’ll take a car key. Keeps you warm and dry through the off-season, which means more comfortable riding and less faff when getting changed afterwards.
Endura MT500 Spray Trouser II
Endura’s Spray trouser is not only super secure, it’s breathable, comfortable and durable too. The thick, tough fabric should last years (even if you snag it with the inevitable crash or vegetation fight) making the MT500 a sorted reliable bit of kit to break out when the seasons change. Overall, Endura’s MT500 trousers are a well thought out, seriously practical bit of kit that’s brilliant for all but the most biblical weather.
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.
The best waterproof mountain bike trousers
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 Bke 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.
Scott Trail Storm WP Waterproof Pant
We’re not big fans of the orange leg but Scott’s Trail Storm mountain bike trousers are impressive. Made from a branded DRYOsphere three-layer material, which has high-wicking and waterproof properties. It’s also coated with a DWR (Durable water repellent) to promote beading and run off and this is also PFC free, which Scott claims it’s better for you and the environment.
The overall shape if this trouser is good too. It has a nice taper in the leg and plenty of articulation at the knees and extra material in this area, so you can wear knee pads without the trouser snagging or feeling tight. Scott even adds two mess panels at the back of the knee to take some of the heat away when you’ve got pads in place. Two hips vents let you vent more heat and these are a good size and feature waterproof zips.
The Trail Storm is one of two pants on test with a zipped fly but it’s backed up with an inner storm flap and Velcro button. Two Velcro waist adjusters let you fine-tune the fit but like the Madison DTE pant, this trouser a little bit low at the back and water thrown up from the back wheel did work its way in quite quickly. We definitely like to see the back of the trouser extended a little bit to protect this area.
The Scott Trail Storm is a mid-weight trousers and as such the material offers a high-level of protection – equal to the Gore and Endura trousers. The leg shape and detailing are also up there but where the Scott Trail Storm is lacking is in the low waist band and not overly generous sizing, which means we’d definitely recommend trying for before buying.
The best mountain bike trousers in 2020: verdict
Of the regular all-round fairer-weather riding trousers we give the nod to the Fox Flexair Pant and the Specialized Demo Pro. Both are really hard to get hold of (demand is high, supply is rather low). If you can’t find either of those then go for a pair of Endura trousers.
The top three waterproof duds in this test are all very good and while we’ve rated them you can pick and choose depending on whether you prioritise ultimate weather protection (Endura MT500), packability (Gore Bike Wear C5 GTX Trail) or fit (Fox Ranger 3L).
We scored the Fox Ranger 3L trouser better than the other because we felt it was better value and nicer to ride in.
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.