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Over five years, we've trail-tested 28 pairs of women's mountain bike shorts. This review compares 14 of the best head-to-head. From branch-whipping backwoods adventures to hot laps on hotter days, from cranking uphills to pinning gnarly downhill lines, we've tested these baggies in every conceivable condition. On every ride, we took notes on their comparative comfort in the saddle, how well they let our legs breathe, and we tried out each pocket along the way. Then we passed them around our posse to assess how well they suited various builds. No matter how powerful your legs and bum are, or what type of riding you prefer, there's a perfect pair of shorts for your style.
The Rapha Trail Shorts check all the boxes for a really great pair of mountain bike shorts. They are lightweight yet durable, weather-resistant and still breathable. The overall style is minimal but does not scrimp on functionality. Symmetrical pockets hold essentials like a phone, snacks, and lip balm easily and close to the body so nothing interferes with pedaling. Perhaps most importantly, the shorts move so well on the bike that you never have to think about them at all.
The Trail Shorts offer a performance fit that is somewhat slim, but the four-way stretch material is very accommodating and most riders should be able to find a comfortable size. The waist material relies on stretch to fit, with no other adjustment device, so that will be the most critical measurement to look at for sizing. While the 13 1/2 inch inseam offers excellent protection from the elements and works well with knee pads, not everyone will like this longer length.
Mountain bikers that want to stretch their riding season or who live in wet climates will appreciate the incredible weather resistance of the Endura MT500 Spray Shorts. Most impressively, for a water-proof and water-resistant short, the material still offers loads of flex to make these a really comfortable option even when the weather is dry. While too heavy for summer riding, the coverage and weight of the material were welcome in relatively cool temperatures. The MT500 is packed with thoughtful details, such as the shape of the knees which pair well with knee pads, and the slightly shorter length in the back of the legs, which means less fabric to bunch behind the knee when pedaling.
The roomy pockets zip closed for security, but their placement on the front of the shorts means you won’t want to put much in them, as it will quickly interfere with pedaling. Small items, such as a key fob, will be held secure, but if you like to carry a phone or snacks, you’ll probably want a pack. The back of the waistband is quite high to offer additional protection from spray and mud and is adjusted with hefty velcro tabs. These can feel bulky under a pack, but since we chose these for colder riding days, sweat build-up was not an issue.
Better known for their other outdoor clothing, Patagonia made a strong entry into the mountain biking market with the Dirt Roamer short a few years ago. The updated version of these shorts carries over the minimalist design and aesthetic of the original, with some notable changes that we feel have made these shorts even better. While the slim, form-fitting look may not be for everyone, these are truly a minimalist's dream. These simple shorts feature a lightweight, stretchy fabric, sonic-welded seams that lay super-flat, low-profile and secure waist adjustments, and two zippered pockets. There is no contrasting stitching, no pleats, no bulk, no mesh. There is, however, excellent stretch and good coverage from a comfortable fabric that is so lightweight you might forget you are wearing shorts.
While we didn't experience any durability issues with the Dirt Roamer during the testing period, these wouldn't be our first choice for super-rugged trails or those that have a lot of brush. The thin fabric will not protect as well from scratches, pokes, or hard crashes. The 12.5-inch inseam length provides ample coverage from the sun and wind and they work fine with low-profile kneepads. That said, we suggest enjoying them for the lightweight beauties that they are and choosing a beefier short for gravity-oriented riding.
Looking for a little more style and flair in your mountain bike shorts without sacrificing functional features? The first thing you notice about the Wild Rye Freel is the very fun patterns that range from an understated "Geo Dot" to the charming "Vicuñas," and a casual style that easily rolls from the trail to the brewpub. The distinctive fabric means you will always recognize your Freel sister on the trail. Beyond looking good, however, the Freel shorts also perform really well. These shorts are equipped with a super functional zippered side pocket, as well as two hand pockets, and a long enough inseam to protect you from brush and abrasions.
Our biggest gripe with the Freel is the lack of a waist adjustment system. It is equipped with belt loops, and while that is a cute feature on mountain bike shorts, we don't always love the bulk of a belt holding up our shorts. We tried a size 2 and a size 4, and neither one was a perfect fit. Having a waist adjustment on the size 4 would have solved this problem while allowing for a looser fit in the legs. That said, even in the snugger size 2, the Freel shorts have enough flex and stretch for a very comfortable ride.
If you are looking for a functional mountain bike short at a reasonable price, take a look at the Zoic Navaeh. This model has been around for a while, although the current version has some nice updates. They are a very comfortable pair of shorts, with four-way stretch and good breathability, all at an affordable price. They are especially notable for their plethora of zippered pockets - four!- so riders that like to cruise without a pack will appreciate all the places to squirrel away gels, snacks, keys, phone, and other trail necessities. We tested just the outer shorts, but Zoic also sells the Naveah with a padded liner for a slight increase in price.
The waist adjustment consists of old-school external velcro adjustment tabs that add some additional bulk to the waistband, although they are effective at dialing in a good fit. While not water-resistant, the Navaeh shorts are quite lightweight and a great choice for riding in the summer or warmer climates. They are a workhorse short that provides a good price to performance ratio.
Senior Review Editor Laurel Hunter leads our women's mountain bike shorts test team. Her basecamp is situated just a short distance from miles and miles of National Forest trails in Central 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 GearLab she is using gear on the trails right outside her home, playing with her pups, and dreaming up 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, water resistance, 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 almost as important as choosing the best bike for the ride. Do you live in a warmer climate and enjoy sweet, buff singletrack? A lightweight, breathable, stretchy short might be the one for you. Or maybe you like to hit the rock gardens and root cellars for a more challenging downhill ride. In that case, you might prefer a 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 researched and selected the top-rated women's mountain bike shorts and put them to the test on the trail. Comfort and fit are paramount, but we also evaluate protection, pockets, breathability, and a little bit of feminine finesse.
We don't consider the price of the products we test in our evaluation of performance, but we do always appreciate a good value. While our goal is to determine the very best products available to you, sometimes the best can also be the most expensive, which doesn't necessarily work for everyone's budget. The Rapha Trail Short, is made of high-quality materials and has a great look, and is also one of the most expensive that we tested. If you're not willing to spend that much, the Zoic Navaeh is a lightweight option with loads of zippered pockets that gets the job done at a very reasonable price.
Types of MTB Shorts
Where do you like to ride your bike? Are you doing laps on shorter local trails? Heading out for epic all-day adventures? Or maybe you like shuttling laps or riding lifts at the bike park? How you answer will dictate which shorts 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. Cross-country riders often opt for tight-fitting spandex or lycra, though many choose baggy shorts that are breathable, lightweight, and stretchy. When a chairlift is involved, or if you're throwing your bike in the back of a truck to ride shuttle laps, you are essentially downhill mountain biking. You'll want a longer, thicker pair of shorts, and possibly a full-face helmet, elbow, and kneepads. In either situation, there is a specific short for the activity. And of course, there are all the rides in between, with shorts to accommodate. We call this middle ground trail riding.
Chamois — Most mountain bike shorts do not have a sewn-in padded liner. Frequently, companies will also produce a liner short for separate purchase or possibly offer the shorts with or without one, which the initiated call a chamois (pronounced shammy). Personal preference is a huge factor in the choice of a liner short. Few of the shorts we tested included a chamois. Therefore, we did not consider the quality of the liner and instead focused our attention on the "outer" baggy short, the mountain bike short.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Women's mountain bike shorts may take the cake for being the most challenging wardrobe item to purchase. Making performance athletic apparel that also needs to match body types and ride styles is a challenging undertaking. They might be too big in the waist but too narrow in the hips. Or maybe they gap in the back when you bend over the bike, or worse, slide down as you pedal. 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 options available to fit most body types.
The most basic way to make shorts fit perfectly is with a waist adjustment system to help achieve your desired fit in the waistband. It used to be that we wrangled Velcro tabs and accepted bunchy fabric to accommodate our different waist sizes, but many manufacturers are coming up with clever new designs for waist adjustment and improving the cut of their shorts to fit women's bodies without bulk and Velcro. Woohoo!
Many manufacturers are still embracing the simplicity of Velcro. The Club Ride Eden uses internal tabs, which look cleaner but make mid-ride adjustments more challenging. The external Velcro tabs of the FlyLow Eleanor, Zoic Navaeh, Backcountry Empire, and others make mid-ride micro-adjustments easier, though they tend to be quite bulky and unflattering. The Shredly MTB Short employs internal buttons instead of Velcro, which testers found helpful when adjusting each side equally.
The Yeti Norrie and Specialized Trail Cargo use clever external webbing cinches that are low profile and effective. Patagonia's Dirt Roamer has a very minimal webbing pull tab that is integrated into the button closure. Rapha’s Trail Short relies on high-stretch fabric to accommodate different waist size. By not using velcro tabs, all of these options have less fabric at the waist, making for a cooler ride and a more flattering look. Velcro also has a bad habit of grabbing everything it can in the wash, so we appreciate that there are new options available.
Silicone grippers on the waistband of Yeti's Norrie , the Endura MT500 Spray Short, as well as the Backcountry Empire, provide an extra bit of no-slip security to keep your shorts from sliding down. The contoured waistlines of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer, the Rapha Trail Short, the Troy Lee Luxe, and the Wild Rye Freel are quite effective at maintaining coverage of our backsides as well. The Freel does not have any waist adjustment system, however, so you will want to make sure that you buy the correct size (and sizing down if you are on the cusp). The Luxe has only an elastic drawstring for micro-adjusting, but the 4-way stretch helps aid in a good fit.
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. The 100% Airmatic Short provides a looser fit through the thigh. 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 are looking for the perfect amount of stretch and a cut that works with us while we ride. This combination allows 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, allowing for greater freedom of movement and less fabric to catch on the saddle.
The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, Rapha Trail Short, and Zoic Navaeh — all with four-way stretch — allow for great freedom of movement both in and out of the saddle. The Club Ride Eden's 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 Trail Short or the Luxe, which we all agreed are about as comfortable as it gets in and out of the saddle.
The Yeti Norrie has less give in the material, but the loose cut of the legs provides ample range of motion. The Eleanor has a looser cut and longer inseam to provide a good fit with more protection and room for kneepads.
The lightweight and quick-drying fabric of the Dirt Roamer and Pearl Izumi Summit make them both excellent choices for hot summer pursuits. The Trail Cargo is made of lightweight fabric and also features ventilation holes on the inner thighs. The Shredly MTB Short has long zippered thigh vents, as well as lightweight fabric, for those that run very warm. The Backcountry Empire, Yeti Norrie, and the TLD Luxe have perforated fabric on the legs for additional air movement.
Mountain biking involves rocks, roots, twisty trails, and inconvenient trees. Sometimes we zig. Sometimes we zag. Sometimes we spill. Often we get dusty. We want you to have adequate protection for your ride of choice, so we looked at the inseam, the thickness, and durability of the 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. Some shorts, such as the Endura MT500 Spray Short II, offer excellent water-resistant protection, as well, if you live in a rainy climate or ride during shoulder seasons.
Longer shorts offer more protection from the weather and trail hazards, and lightweight fabrics may not protect well from pokey shrubs and branches. A 12-inch inseam is common and found on many models, like the Wild Rye Freel. The 100% Airmatic and FlyLow Eleanor have longer inseams at 13 and 12-1/2 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 the inseam, we considered fabric composition. The Patagonia Dirt Roamer, though long, feels lightweight and therefore less protective than thicker materials. The fabric of the Rapha Trail Short is both supple and durable.
Finally, our testers took turns wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. As expected, the shorts with longer inseams — the FlyLow Eleanor, the Endura MT500 Spray Short II, the Rapha Trail Short, 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 Specialized Trail Cargo 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 fly over roots and bumps knowing our keys are secure and that our snacks aren't being left by the side of the trail if we bounce around. 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.
Good placement is seen on the Yeti Norrie, the Rapha Trail Short, and the Wild Rye Freel, which both have 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 pockets of the Patagonia Dirt Roamer, the TLD Luxe, and the Specialized Trail Cargo. The Dirt Roamer pockets are welded on, meaning that the bulk of fabric is at a minimum, yet they accommodate an iPhone and allow for unimpeded pedaling. Both the Luxe and the Trail Cargo could fit a smartphone, hold it close to the thigh, and provide easy access. The Backcountry Empire has good pocket placement, but the shape of the pockets and zipper orientation is not ideal, meaning accessing items was tricky. 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.
For those that truly love a lot of secure pockets, the Zoic Navaeh has four functional zippered pockets! With so many, you might not remember which one holds your lip balm.
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 detail, including welded seams, asymmetrical cut legs, and well-placed zippered pockets. The Specialized Trail Cargo is also quite understated with excellent attention to detail.
The Wild Rye Freel balances fun, stylish patterns with a flattering cut and functional features. Another high-scoring short in the style category is theRapha Trail Short. We feel it is a perfect balance of girly and burly with its longer inseam, and very flattering cut without any bulky waist adjusters. For those that like a really wild style, the patterns and colors available from Shredly will not disappoint.
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down which bike shorts are best for you. Many factors, including climate, weather, and terrain preferences, will play a role in the short you choose.
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