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What To Wear Mountain Biking: Everything You Need To Know!

If you’ve just started exploring the rocky and rugged terrain of mountain biking, it can be somewhat daunting to navigate the myriad of clothing options. This article aims to be your compass, guiding you through the mountain of choices (pun totally intended).

Whether it’s gloves, helmets, shoes, or shorts, I’ve got you covered. So let’s dive in!

Start With What You Have

Before we get into all of the greatest clothing and gear, let’s be clear about something up front: it’s okay to start with what you have. Mountain biking can be an expensive sport, and sometimes you have to obtain gear slowly over time.

Gym clothes will work okay in the beginning. I’d recommend sticking away from cotton (it gets sweaty and stinky fast), but most athletic wear will work just fine. Gym shoes are okay for your feet.

Yes, you’ll want to upgrade to other, better gear soon, but there’s nothing wrong with starting with what you already have.

Mountain Bike Shorts Or Pants

Finding the right lower body wear can make a world of difference in your comfort on the mountain bike. A good pair of mountain bike shorts (or pants) provide freedom of motion and protection in crashes.

Shorts or pants designed for mountain biking often feature reinforced stitching in high-wear areas, and some even offer water or mud-resistant coatings. Additionally, they may (or may not) provide a chamois for additional comfort. (More on that in a moment).

shredly mtb short review

When it comes to the type of shorts you wear, personal preference comes into play. Mountain bike shorts are generally “baggie shorts.” These are loose fitting and quite durable.

While most mountain bikers will wear baggies, it’s okay to wear traditional cycling shorts as well. They provide freedom of movement and can be really comfortable.

woman mountain biking while wearing the wild rye baddie bib

If you choose traditional cycling shorts, they will come with built-in padding, called a chamois. If you get a pair of baggy mountain bike shorts, they may come with a chamois liner, but more likely, they won’t.

Most mountain bikers do choose to wear a chamois liner. It can definitely help with saddle pain and chafing.

2 hour chamois

Other riders choose not to wear a chamois at all. If you have a good saddle, you may not need one.

Downhill mountain bikers, in particular, tend not to wear a chamois. That’s because they are mostly standing up and aren’t spending a ton of time sitting down on the saddle.

You can also choose to wear mountain bike pants rather than shorts. As the temperature drops, switch to cozy, thermal tights or pants. If the weather’s looking wet and muddy, waterproof or water-resistant pants will be your best friend on the trails.

wild rye freyah

Mountain bike pants are also ideal for downhill mountain biking as they provide more coverage and protection in the event of a crash.

Jerseys And Tops: Comfort Meets Functionality

The ideal mountain biking top is a blend of practicality, comfort, and a sprinkle of style. Because we all like to look good while riding, don’t we?!

For those sweaty summer rides, go for a short-sleeved jersey made from a lightweight, breathable material. Compared to a regular tee, mountain bike jerseys are designed to wick sweat and keep stink under control.

Wild Rye Sandia Jersey (1)

Many jerseys come equipped with back pockets, perfect for stashing some trail snacks or your smartphone. This is particularly important if you want to ride without a hydration or hip pack.

When the weather turns chilly, layer up with a long-sleeved jersey or a flannel. Keep an eye out for tops made from materials like Merino wool; it’s warm, wicks away sweat, and is naturally odor-resistant.

Again, long sleeve jerseys are also a good choice for downhill mountain biking as they offer more coverage and protection.

A Helmet Is Your Best Friend On The Trails

In addition to clothing, don’t forget to wear the most critical piece of safety equipment for any cyclist: a helmet. This is a non-negotiable item.

When choosing a helmet for mountain biking, it’s essential to note that not all helmets are created equal. Compared to a road or commuter helmet, a mountain bike helmet is designed to provide more coverage, especially towards the back of your head, offering increased protection in case of a tumble.

tld helmet with ponytail

Most mountain bike helmets feature a built-in visor, which can be a real game-changer. The visor acts as a sunshade and helps keep rain, mud, or even the occasional low-hanging branch off your face.

While a half face mountain bike helmet is appropriate for most types of riding, for more aggressive riding like downhill mountain biking or dirt jumping, you will want a full face helmet instead. This provides additional head coverage as well as protection for your face.

Eye Protection: Don’t Underestimate It

Mountain biking is an exhilarating sport, but it’s not without its hazards. When you’re whizzing down trails, everything from dust and dirt to bugs and small stones can fly up into your face. Good eye protection isn’t just about comfort; it’s a safety necessity.

When shopping for biking glasses or goggles, prioritize lightweight designs that won’t slide down your nose mid-ride. Look for features like anti-fog coating and UV protection to shield your eyes from harmful rays.

Remember, your glasses need to work with your helmet, so consider trying them on together. You can also experiment with different lens colors: lighter hues like amber can enhance contrast on cloudy days, while darker shades can reduce glare in bright sunlight.

Glasses work well for most riding. Goggles are best suited for use with a full face mountain bike helmet for downhill riding.

Gloves For Safety And Comfort

A good pair of gloves is like a trusty sidekick on your mountain biking adventures. They not only provide protection but also offer increased grip and cushioning, which can make a big difference on long rides or challenging terrain.

giro mtb gloves

Most mountain bikers opt for full-finger gloves for the extra protection they provide. Look for a pair with sufficient padding in the palm area, particularly if you’re tackling technical trails or rocky terrains. Many modern designs also feature touchscreen-compatible fingers, allowing you to use your phone without taking them off.

For colder weather biking, you can also get insulated gloves or one’s that are waterproof.

Mountain Biking Shoes: Stick to the Pedals

Let’s talk about one of the most connection-critical gear items: your shoes. The right pair of mountain biking shoes can significantly enhance your riding experience by improving your connection to the bike.

After a helmet, gloves, and bike shorts, I’d highly recommend mountain bike shoes be your next investment.

ride concepts flume review

Compared to gym shoes, mountain bike shoes have stiff soles for better power transfer, along with some tread for when you need to dismount and walk.

The type of shoes you need depends on your pedals. Riders using clipless pedal systems should look for shoes with compatible cleats, while those with flat pedals can opt for flat-soled shoes.

Whichever style you choose, look for a well-fitting, durable shoe with a rugged sole to provide traction off the bike.

Protective Gear and Pads: Extra Safety on the Trails

Mountain biking can be an exhilarating thrill ride, but it can also be rough and tumble at times. For those more adventurous or downhill days, additional protective gear can offer a welcome safety net. This gear can include knee pads, elbow pads, and even body armor.

Knee and elbow pads come in a range of styles from light and flexible to heavy-duty. Lighter options, like the G-Form pads, offer more comfort and are suitable for most types of riding, while heavier-duty pads are best for downhill or more aggressive riding.

When selecting pads, look for a snug fit that won’t slip down during a ride but is still comfortable enough to wear for a few hours.

Body armor is another option for those particularly gnarly rides. These vests or jackets include padding for your chest, back, and sometimes shoulders and arms. While you might not wear these for a casual ride, they can offer peace of mind when you’re pushing your limits.

Mountain Bike Socks: A Small Detail with Big Impact

Socks may seem like a small detail, but a good pair of cycling-specific socks can significantly impact your comfort level on the bike. Mountain bike socks are designed to provide cushioning in the right spots, wick away sweat, and offer a snug fit that won’t bunch up or slide down.


Look for socks made from moisture-wicking materials like Merino wool or technical synthetic blends. In warmer weather, a pair of thin, lightweight socks can help keep your feet cool. In contrast, cooler weather calls for thicker, warmer socks.

Some riders also prefer taller socks for a little extra protection against scrapes and scratches from trailside vegetation or pedal strikes.

Rain Gear: Don’t Let the Weather Slow You Down

Mountain biking is an outdoor sport, and sometimes, Mother Nature has her own plans. Rather than letting a little rain dampen your spirits, having the right rain gear can let you embrace the elements. After all, who doesn’t love splashing through muddy puddles?

A waterproof or water-resistant jacket is a must. Look for one that’s designed for active use, with features like ventilation zips to help you regulate your body temperature. Some jackets also pack down small so you can stow it in a pack or pocket when not in use.

pactimo ridgeline jacket

Water-resistant pants or shorts can also make rainy rides more enjoyable. Like with jackets, look for breathable fabrics to avoid getting sweaty.

For your feet, consider waterproof shoe covers or even waterproof socks.

When dressing for wet weather, remember that body temperature management is crucial. It’s better to be a bit chilly at the start of your ride than to overheat halfway through, so dress in layers and adjust as necessary.

Layering: The Key to Comfort in Changing Conditions

As every outdoor enthusiast knows, layering is the holy grail of comfort in changing weather conditions. The concept is simple: dressing in multiple lightweight layers allows you to add or shed clothing to regulate your body temperature throughout the day. But how does it work for mountain biking?

Start with a base layer, which is closest to your skin. This layer should be made from a moisture-wicking material, like Merino wool or a technical synthetic, to pull sweat away from your body and keep you dry. In warmer weather, your base layer may be a short-sleeved cycling jersey. In colder conditions, you might opt for a long-sleeved thermal top.

Next up is the mid-layer, which provides insulation. This might be a long-sleeved jersey, a fleece jacket, or even a lightweight down vest, depending on the temperature. Remember, this layer should provide warmth but also be breathable to prevent overheating.

Your outer layer is the shield against the elements. This could be a windproof jacket, a rain shell, or even a heavy-duty winter coat for frigid conditions. Look for options with ventilation, like armpit zips or back vents, to allow excess heat and moisture to escape.

For your lower body, cycling shorts or tights can serve as a base layer. You can layer thermal tights or waterproof pants on top if necessary.

When layering, remember that versatility is key. Choose pieces that pack down small so you can easily stash them in a pack or pocket when not needed. It’s always better to have an extra layer and not need it than to be caught out in the cold!

Bottom-Line: Get Out There And Experiment!

Well, there you have it, my mountain biking mavens – your comprehensive guide to dressing for success on the trails. The world of mountain biking gear can be overwhelming, but remember: everyone’s different.

The most important thing is finding what works for you. Experiment with different items, listen to your body, and above all, have fun with it!

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About The Author

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @kristenlbonkoski

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