Need a fresh pair of shorts for your mountain bike rides? We researched dozens of the most respected models before buying 11 of the best for side-by-side comparison. We pitted the tried and true against the new and stretchy to help you find your perfect pair. We hit the trails hard in all kinds of conditions, racking up mileage in these shorts while comparing key aspects and features of each model. We assessed each model's comfort, freedom of movement, breathability, and protection. We stuffed the pockets and polled friends and bystanders on style. Whether you prefer rolling singletrack, shuttling downhill laps, or riding all-day enduro-style rides, this review guides you to your ideal pair of mountain bike shorts.
The Best Women's Mountain Bike Shorts
|Price||$99.95 at Competitive Cyclist||$73.73 at REI|
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|$89.00 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$89.95 at Competitive Cyclist||$98.00 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Feminine fit, burly material, glide patches for smooth pedaling, easy cinching at the waist, zippered pockets||Lightweight, four-way stretch, excellent fit, breathable, super comfortable||Durable material, 13-inch inseam works well with kneepads, comfortable||Lightweight, comfortable, flattering fit, perfectly placed zip pocket, four-way stretch||Fun patterns, good stretch, comfortable|
|Cons||Not the lightest weight||Not as protective for burly terrain||Not the most breathable, a little heavy||Not the best protection||Awkward waist adjusters, no zippered pocket|
|Bottom Line||A flattering and durable short built with an emphasis on downhill fun.||One of the best fitting shorts we have ever tested, the Dirt Roamer is comfortable and super lightweight.||For all day, big rides in technical terrain the Airmatic is protective, comfortable, and durable.||The Avery is a lightweight and comfortable riding short.||Shredly MTB Shorts are comfortable, durable, and have wild style.|
|Rating Categories||Yeti Cycles Norrie 2.0||Dirt Roamer||100% Airmatic - Women's||Yeti Cycles Avery||Shredly MTB Short|
|Fit And Comfort (30%)|
|Pedal Friendliness (30%)|
|Specs||Yeti Cycles Norrie...||Dirt Roamer||100% Airmatic -...||Yeti Cycles Avery||Shredly MTB Short|
|Shell Fabric||Stretch polyester with DWR||90-denier 87% recycled polyester/13% spandex||Polyester, elastane||Stretch polyester||90% polyester, 10% spandex|
|Lining Main Fabric||None||Sold seperately||None||None||None|
|Chamois||None||Sold seperately||None||None||Sold seperately|
|Inseam Measurement||12 in||11.75 in||13 in||11 in||10.5 in|
|Number of pockets||4||1||3||1||3|
Best Overall Model for Mountain Biking
Yeti Cycles Norrie 2.0
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 has all the features we loved about the Norrie plus a couple of improvements to ensure its place as the Editor's Choice. The most notable update is the pocket placement. Norrie 2.0 has two zippered pockets, one on the outside of each thigh, big enough to hold a phone, snacks, lip balm, or extra gear. There are also two hand pockets, great for post-ride casual wear. We also appreciate the new cut, which is flattering and practical on the bike.
These shorts feature internal glide patches on the tops of the thigh to prevent them from creeping up while riding. The clever waist adjusters are low-profile, easy to operate, and effective. The fabric features 2-way stretch that moves comfortably while riding. Is there anything we don't like about the Norrie 2? Nope. It is darn near perfect. Most of all, however, we love how comfortable these shorts are to pedal in, all day long.
Read review: Yeti Cycles Norrie 2.0
Best Shorts for Comfort
Patagonia Dirt Roamer - Women's
Well known for their outdoor clothing, Patagonia enters the mountain biking arena with the Dirt Roamer short for women. While the look may not be for everyone, these are truly a minimalist's dream, with lightweight fabric, sonic-welded seams that lay super flat, waist adjustment that is *integrated with the button*, and one zippered pocket that just fits an iPhone 8. There is no contrasting stitching (even the button is the same color as the fabric), no pleats, no bulk, no mesh. There is, however, excellent stretch and good coverage from stretchy and comfortable fabric that is so lightweight you might forget you are wearing shorts, which is why we awarded them our Top Pick for Comfort.
While we didn't experience any durability issues with the Dirt Roamer during the testing period, we would not choose these shorts for super rugged trails or those that have a lot of brush, as the thin fabric will not protect as well from scratches and pokes. The nearly 12" inseam length provides ample coverage from the sun and wind and while you could wear these with low-profile kneepads, we suggest enjoying them for the lightweight beauts that they are and chose a beefier short for when you need pads.
Read review: Patagonia Dirt Roamer Bike Shorts
Club Ride Apparel Ventura
The Club Ride Apparel Ventura is functional, practical, and affordable. The internal Velcro waist adjusters, though not the most innovative, are effective to dial in your fit. Two front side zippered pockets are deep enough to hold keys or lip balm, though their placement on the front of the thigh means they are not useful for larger items, like a phone. Finally, we appreciate the breathable and wicking fabric that makes these shorts a killer choice for everyday trail rides. The Ventura ranks highly in Fit and Comfort, one of the most heavily weighted metrics. And a bonus? These shorts offered a fun, preppy look that works as well on the bike as it does post-ride.
The lightweight fabric and shorter inseam doesn't protect as well as some of our other options, but for cruising mellow trails, we find it hard to argue against the Ventura's performance to value ratio.
Read review: Club Ride Apparel Ventura
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Review Editor Laurel Hunter leads our women's mountain bike shorts test team. She has her basecamp one short block from miles and miles of National Forest trails outside of Bend, Oregon. Laurel was raised by an avid outdoor adventurer and has been outside most of her life. Her obsessive pursuit of perfect gear is backed by decades of trail running, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and outdoor experience. Using her training as an artist, she thinks well beyond the box for her gear testing and pays attention to every detail. When she's not reviewing gear for OutdoorGearLab she is using gear on the trails right outside her home, playing with her pups, and dreaming of the perfect course for her mega pump track.Extensive field testing took place in each pair to assess comfort, protection, breathability, and pedal friendliness during real-world use. Additional testing included using and analyzing adjustments, waist closures, and pockets both on and off the bike. We switched between shorts frequently to help compare fit and comfort, performance, and design features directly. Each model was rated and ranked on our predetermined criteria — read on to find out how they compare to each other.
Analysis and Test Results
Wearing the right bike short is just as important as choosing the best bike for the ride. Do you live in a warmer climate and enjoy sweet, buff singletrack? A breathable, stretchy short might be the one for you. Or maybe you like to hit the rock gardens and root cellars for a little more challenging downhill ride. In that case, you might prefer more durable fabric and a longer inseam to accommodate kneepads.Regardless of your riding style, we are here to help put you in the right pair of shorts. We hand-selected the top-rated women's bike shorts and put them to the test and in the dirt. Comfort and fit are paramount, but we also evaluate protection, pockets, and a little bit of feminine finesse.
One of the metrics that we don't score for but consider in our reviews is the value of a product. While our goal is to determine the very best products available to you, sometimes the best can also be pricey, which doesn't necessarily work for everyone's budget. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Yeti Norrie 2.0, is made of high-quality materials and has a great look, and is also one of the most expensive that we tested. For $20 less the Club Ride Apparel Ventura Plaid is a stylish choice for rides that don't require as much protection and is cute enough to wear off the bike. Additionally, Troy Lee Designs Skyline will save you some cash and offers excellent stretch, but may not fit as well or offer the same durability over time.
Types of MTB Shorts
Where do you like to ride your bike? Are you riding laps on shorter local trails? Are you heading out for epic all-day adventures? Shuttling laps at the bike park? The answers to these questions will dictate which short you choose. From a basic standpoint, you can divide and group mountain bike shorts according to riding style, climate, and terrain preferences. Cross-country, downhill, trail, enduro… the list goes on. We went down this rabbit hole, so you don't have to.
"Mountain biking" is, at its most basic, pedaling a bike on a dirt trail. If the terrain isn't technical and has a rolling pitch, it's considered cross-country riding. For this you'll want a short that's breathable, lightweight, and stretchy. When a chairlift is involved, or if you're throwing your bike in the back of a truck to ride laps, you are downhill mountain biking. You'll want a full-face helmet, a longer pair of thicker shorts, elbow, and kneepads. In either situation, there is a specific short for the activity. And of course, there's a short for all rides in between, too. We call this middle ground trail riding.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Bike shorts may take the cake for the most challenging wardrobe item to purchase. Making performance, athletic apparel that also needs to match body types and ride styles is a tall order. They might be too big in the waist but too narrow in the hips. Or maybe they gap in the back. We want shorts that fit and we want to be comfortable, and in this very important consideration, we're assessing bike shorts that give women the ability to find a custom and comfortable fit. Thankfully, the range and quality of women's mountain bike shorts is better than it has ever been, and there are some great options available. The most basic way to make shorts fit is with waist adjustment to help cinch the waistband. It used to be that we wrangled Velcro tabs and bunchy fabric to accommodate our different waist sizes, but many manufacturers are coming up with innovative new designs for waist adjustment and improving the cut of their shorts to fit women's bodies without bulk and Velcro. Woohoo!
The Eden, Ventura Plaid, and Cadence use internal Velcro tabs, which make mid-ride adjustments challenging. The external Velcro tabs of the Skyline made mid-ride micro adjustments easier, though they are quite bulky and unflattering. The Shredly MTB Short uses internal buttons instead of Velcro, which testers found helpful when adjusting each side equally.
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 uses clever external webbing cinches that are low profile and effective. The Yeti Avery uses an internal pull-tab system that was easy to use, but harder to adjust mid-ride. Patagonia's Dirt Roamer is a very minimal webbing pull tab that is integrated into the button. By not using velcro tabs, all of these options use less fabric at the waist, making for a cooler ride and more flattering look. Velcro also has a bad habit of grabbing everything it can in the wash, so we appreciate that there are choices in this department.
Silicon grippers on the waistband of Yeti's Norrie 2.0 and Avery provide a no-slip system so your shorts won't slide down. The contoured waistline of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer and the Shredly MTB Short is quite effective at maintaining coverage of our backsides as well.
We found that the Dirt Roamer has the slimmest fit. We would recommend sizing up if you have a very athletic build, but it is also available in twice as many sizes as most models, making a dialed-in fit much easier. Club Ride seems to have changed the cut of the Ventura , as well, so if you have worn them in the past you may want to size up if you like a baggier fit. The 100% Airmatic provides a looser fit through the thigh, as does the Skyline. Shredly's MTB Short has plenty of room in the leg, with zippered vents on top of the thighs to keep you cool.
Only the Club Ride Eden came with an inner padded short, so we didn't weigh in on the liner. We suggest purchasing a high-quality liner short that suits your body and riding style, to wear under your mountain bike shorts.
Pedal friendliness is about how shorts work in action. Noisy fabric will drive you and your riding partners crazy on an all-day ride. Extra fabric catching on the saddle on the descent can be dangerous, while material bunching up in your thigh creases when you're grinding uphill can chafe and be a ride-ending experience. We also want our shorts to stay in place when we ride! No one wants shorts that slide down when we are cranking uphill. We are looking for the perfect amount of stretch and a cut that works with us while we ride. This combination allowed us to pedal with ease, both in and out of the saddle.
Fortunately, almost all mountain bike shorts are made with a gusseted crotch these days, which allows for greater freedom of movement and less fabric to catch on the saddle.
The Patagonia Dirt Roamer and Yeti Avery — with four-way stretch — allow for great freedom of movement both in and out of the saddle. The Club Ride Eden's four-way stretch also moves well, but the already short-shorts ride up even further when we pedal, leaving us feeling exposed to the elements. For a one-short quiver, look to the high scoring Yeti Avery, which we all agreed was as comfortable as it gets in and out of the saddle. Just be careful about the fit.
The Yeti Norrie 2.0 has less give in the material, but the stretch panel in the rear, combined with the internal glide patches, provide ample range of motion. The 100% Airmatic has a looser cut, longer inseam, and innovative waist adjustment system to provide a good fit with more protection and room for kneepads.
The lightweight fabric of the Dirt Roamer and Avery make them both excellent choices for hot summer pursuits. The Shredly MTB Short has long zippered thigh vents, as well as lightweight fabric, for those that run very warm.
Mountain biking involves rocks, roots, and inconvenient trees. Sometimes we zig. Sometimes we zag. Sometimes we spill. Often we get dirty. We want you to have adequate protection for your ride of choice, so we looked at the inseam, material, and knee-pad compatibility when comparing the protective qualities of our shorts. We want you to feel confident when you are charging on the bike so that your focus is on keeping the rubber side down, not on whether your shorts are holding up.
Also worth noting is that even lightweight fabric protects our thighs from harmful UV rays. We love the sun, but we love our skin more and hours of working in the saddle can wear off even the most diligently applied sunscreen.
Longer shorts offer more protection from the elements and trail hazards, and lightweight fabrics may not protect well from pokey branches. The 12-inch inseam is common and found on many models, including the Yeti Norrie 2.0 and the Troy Lee Skyline. The 100% Airmatic has a longer inseam at 13 inches. The shortest inseam was the 7-inch Club Ride Apparel Eden. That doesn't sound short, but it feels really short.
In addition to inseam, we considered fabric composition. The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, though long, feels too lightweight to handle a crash. The fabric of the Yeti Norrie 2.0 is both supple and durable, which is why it is our Editors' Choice.
Finally, our testers took turns wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. The shorts with longer inseams — the Yeti Norrie 2.0, the Troy Lee Skyline, and the 100% Airmatic — all shared a seamless overlap in our test, creating a protective system.
Of course, this will depend on your height and inseam. Taller testers may want a longer inseam, to ensure there is not a gap. If you prefer rolling cross-country trails over technical or downhill terrain and don't plan on wearing knee pads, we would suggest the Yeti Avery or the Patagonia Dirt Roamer which both provide good coverage from the sun and brush, but are lightweight and breathable.
We love a good pocket. We want to be able to carry our smartphone and pull it out for quick pics at the viewpoint. We want to burn through rock gardens knowing our keys are secure and that our snacks won't become marmot food if we bounce around a bit. We rode laps with and without backpacks to help determine exactly how functional the pockets were on all shorts. We considered all pockets on the shorts, but focused on pockets that are not on the traditional waistline, and therefore don't interfere with pedaling.
We noticed while pedaling in the Club Ride Ventura that if you placed anything more than an ID or credit card in the front pockets, you would feel it against your thigh during the ride. Better placement is seen on the Yeti Norrie 2.0, which has two zippered pockets on the outside of the thighs. We prefer fully zippered pockets to those that have a snap or nothing at all. Most of all, we favored the zippered thigh pocket of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer. The fact that it is welded on means that the bulk of fabric is at a minimum, yet it accommodates an iPhone and allows for unimpeded pedaling. We appreciate the placement of the side pocket on the Shredly MTB Short but were a little uneasy about the snap, rather than a zipper.
Ladies don't want to feel like they are wearing bike shorts cut for a man's body. While we recognize that style is a subjective area, everyone can agree that if you're looking good, then you're feeling great, and, most importantly, you're ready to rip the singletrack. We tried and tested ladies mountain bike shorts with styles ranging from feminine to no-frills and everything in between.
We all agreed that the high scoring Patagonia Dirt Roamer, with a lightweight, clean silhouette, made for a delightful ride. We also appreciated the attention to details, including welded seams, asymmetrical cut legs, and a well-placed zippered pocket.
Another high-scoring short in the style category is our Editor's Choice winner, theYeti Norrie 2.0. We felt it was a perfect balance of girly and burly with its longer inseam, and cute color touches throughout. The Club Ride Ventura and Bontrager Rhythm were both appreciated for transitioning flawlessly to the pub or beach. One pair of shorts that we didn't find as flattering was the Pearl Izumi Summit which was decidedly frumpy in its fit.
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down the bike short that is best for you. Many factors, including climate, weather, and terrain preferences, will play a role in the short you choose.
— Laurel Hunter and Cat Keenan