When the temperature begins to plummet, having the added coverage from the best MTB pants is a game changer. A good pair of pants or trousers offer protection from both the elements and flying debris. Thanks to improvements in both materials and design, contemporary mountain bike pants are almost unrecognisable from the original motocross garments of yesteryear - offering improved comfort and even waterproofing.
Mountain bike trousers as they are known in the UK, or pants to those of you in the US have come a long way since motocross-style gear was adopted for mountain biking. Riders looking for an increase in protection will find modern trousers a better choice than wearing regular baggy trail shorts with only the slightest compromises. Modern high-tech materials that incorporate venting, stretch panels and a tighter fit can also accommodate knee pads underneath.
Some of the best trouser designs incorporate specific features for mountain biking, such as secure zipped pockets for snacks or your phone. Some have hard-wearing panels to ensure that they fend off rubbing and survive longer than one crash. The best mountain bike trousers will ensure there is plenty of adjustments to tailor the fit perfectly around your waist and the ankle cuff and some even feature over-shoulder straps or bibs that help to secure them in place and prevent your trousers from slipping down when the material becomes wet and heavy.
Keep reading to learn more about the best MTB pants or skip to the bottom for answers to the most frequently asked questions about what to look for when buying a pair of mountain bike pants.
Best MTB pants 2022
The Madison Zenith 4-Season DWR trousers are all-weather trousers designed for year-round use. Despite this year-round protection, these are a lightweight offering that features stretch fabric, a DWR waterproof coating, as well as seam sealing and three-layer waterproof panels to danger areas. The three pockets featured on these trousers have waterproof zips to keep the contents from the elements.
With zipped leg vents, velcro ankle cuff and waist adjustments, you can personalise the fit and perfect the temperature comfort whilst on the trail. At £90 and with this level of versatility and protection they represent good value for money despite a couple of minor areas that could be improved.
Alpinestars' Tahoe Pants – or trousers if you're from the UK – are waterproof, rugged and simple in design. What they lack in frills they more than make up for with comfortable winter month ride protection. The Tahoe pants offer effective venting and will remain comfortable up to anything around 10 degrees, perfect on all but the hottest of late spring and summer rides.
The ripstop-type fabric is waterproof and bolstered by taped seams and zipped waterproof pockets. The strong and robust material is on the heavy side of the trouser scale making them warm enough to remain comfortable for the wetter seasons; despite having no vents the relaxed fit means they shouldn't cook you inside. As mentioned the material is weighty so waist sizing is critical to ensure that they don't cause embarrassment by slipping down.
Cube's Blackline Rain Pants are high quality and properly waterproof. The rip-stop fabric is durable and the 2.5 layers combined with taped seams will keep mud and water at bay. A nicely tailored fit means that they should avoid being snatched at by the wind but will restrict you to only being able to wear the slightest knee pad protection.
Despite the robust material the Blackline rain pants roll down nicely to be easily packable so you can chuck them in your bag just in case the conditions turn mucky whilst you are out. These pants are priced competitively and yet still feature velcro adjustment at the waist and ankles also with pockets and reflective patches. You can expect good-value trousers that will keep the harsh winter at bay without hitting your wallet hard.
The Trail pants from Specialized are not marketed as waterproof but the modern and thin material does a surprisingly good job of keeping the weather out. The plain styling will appeal to many riders, and the close-fitting, tightly tailored legs will keep stray branches and the breeze from snagging at them.
The closure duties are taken care of by an effective ratchet and zip combination. The thin material also features vent holes, and a single pocket and despite being tight the stretch in the material easily allows for knee pad protection to be worn comfortably.
These trousers from Specialized are worth considering, especially if you are after a lightweight, simple pair of close-fitting pants that are subtly styled for general trail riding and surprisingly apt even in the nasty weather.
2022 royal racing apex race pants hero.jpg, by Liam Mercer
The Apex Race pants from Royal Racing feature moisture-wicking, four-way stretch fabric that is dirt and water-resistant. With a pair of zipped pockets placed high on the thigh and a ratchet system closure, it is a premium-level design with lots to like.
With laser-cut vent holes dotted all over the garment, you can rest assured you won't boil in these pants. The venting behind the knee is particularly welcomed as most riders will opt to wear pads of some sort when riding. For race day pants, these are up there with the best; you might want to look at the simpler Trail pant from Royal Racing for a softer, lighter more general-purpose offering for the same money.
2022 fox defend fire bib pants hero.jpg, by Liam Mercer
The Fox Defend Fire Bib pants offer a slight deviation from the normal trouser garment game. The fleece-lined, rip-stop fabric has been designed to tackle the winter months. With the standout feature of these pants being the removable bib design, they will certainly keep you on the trail throughout the colder months whatever the weather.
Other noteworthy features packed into these trousers are the ratchet closure, and the bib's triple storage solution that more than doubles the amount of space when combined with a zipped pocket on each side of the thigh.
The price tag is at the premium end of the spectrum, especially for a pair of pants that are only best suited to the coldest months. The fabric is top-notch and works wonders at keeping the wet stuff out whilst you remain warm without boiling over.
The Rapha Trail pants are targeted toward the premium end of the market. They are super comfortable thanks to the use of features from their trail shorts and thinner summer trousers. The anatomical belt and cinch system take care of the waistline adjustments. The material used by Rapha is DWR coated to ward off the wet stuff. With the addition of the reinforced sections inside the ankle and around the knee add both warmth and a substantial increase in durability that sets them apart from the thinner warmer weather cousins.
There are no less than four pockets on these pants. Two open-topped hand warmers at the waist and two zipped pockets a little lower. The length reaches neatly to the ankle and offers ample space for the use of knee pads and manoeuvrability on the bike remains completely unhindered.
- Give our Rapha Trail pant review a look if you want to learn more about the specifications and all-around performance.
The 100% R-Core X pants take a slightly different approach to the closure system. This pair of trousers employs a Boa wire system that you will usually find adorned on riding shoes. Combine this wire closure with a strategically placed silicone band inside the waist, ensuring that these pants will stay put. A couple of hip-placed zipped pockets do the job of securing anything you need to carry.
With laser cut venting letting the built-up heat out and DWR-coated fabric keeping the rain and mud at bay, these pants are more than just a winter ride offering. The slim-ish fit is welcomed alongside the four-way stretch material, allowing space to manoeuvre without feeling restricted. The 100% R-Core X pants will allow for a thinner type of knee pad so you might want to consider that before attempting to pull them over any protection too bulky.
Alpinestars Stella nevada trousers-2.jpg, by Rachael Gurney
The Alpinestars Stella Nevada pants are aimed squarely at the female rider that is looking for a tough winter-resistant full-legged answer to your riding attire. The soft-shell material adopts a fleece lining and although not 100% waterproof, the DWR coating will easily match up to the odd rain shower and puddle splash.
With a couple of zipped pockets that secure the ride essentials and more durable material in the high-wear areas, there have been some well-thought-out features installed with these trousers. The material is mostly windproof locking in that valuable warmth when needed but a couple of zipped vents allow the rider to adjust the temperature inside boosting comfort and preventing you from getting too hot when the mercury rises.
How to choose the best MTB pants
Mountain bike trousers can be seen as a necessity, especially once the weather turns and the mercury begins to plummet. Once the trails become soaked and filled with mud and puddles you can rely on the best mountain bike trousers to offer you extra protection from the elements. They will give you a protective removable layer that once coated in trail filth can be simply pulled off, leaving your legs and knee pads cleaner post-ride.
The improvements over previous designs are unmeasurable. With stretchy materials, the placement of hard-wearing thicker panels and laser-cut venting allow breathability and airflow. That is before we mention PolarTech fleece lined and windproof designs that are coated in Durable Water Resistant (DWR) to repel water.
Yes, many of the best MTB pants aim to survive the winter months. Some riders prefer to wear long pants that are thinner for when the trails become overgrown, too. There is so much choice out there from designs to warn off the foulest weather to highly vented, lightweight numbers. The best trousers for you will come down to the weather you are facing and the type of riding you do most frequently.
Like with most mountain bike and cycling apparel, we recommend that you try on pants for sizing and to ensure the tailored shaping fits your figure to maximise your comfort in the bike.
What is the difference between MTB pants and trousers?
There is no difference between pants and trousers. It simply depends on where you come from and what they are called. In the UK they are called trousers. In North America, and South Africa pants is the general term used when referring to trousers.
Can I wear pants/trousers for mountain biking?
Once the weather turns for the worst, it won't be long before you come to terms with the fact that full-legged trousers (or pants) are the most sensible solution for mountain biking. They provide a significant level of protection from trail debris and they also offer a covering of the skin to prevent jack frost from biting at your legs making your ride uncomfortable.
In the warmer times of the year, they will protect your skin from biting insects, spiking from the trailside bush and rock strikes to your legs.
Should I buy waterproof MTB pants?
It is the same system as the best waterproof mountain bike jackets. There are both waterproof fabrics and softer, lighter options. There is a compromise with fully waterproof materials that will keep out the worst of the water but at the expense of breathability. The material is thicker and often constructed using multiple layers or a membrane. This means that the trousers will lose their ability to stretch and will reduce the level of comfort without tailoring the garment or adding thinner panels in areas that need flexibility.
The soft shell material pants will suit changeable conditions rather than a full deluge. They are usually thinner, lighter and as a result more comfortable. They often boast Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating to combat lighter rain showers and puddle splashes. The DWR coating will need to be topped up and reapplied after a few washes.
What is the best fabric for MTB pants?
The design of the trousers should incorporate multiple materials and fabrics across the garment. Fabrics that have stretch are better suited to areas around the knee to reduce bunching and chafing. High-wear areas like parts of the trousers that come into frequent contact with the bike, like the saddle or the cranks, require a more durable grade of textile.
A number of the best mountain bike pants use a layering technique to achieve weatherproofing. A dual-layer fabric is a waterproof membrane bonded to the outer material. A half-layer or microlayer can also be attached to a membrane. The three-layer pant material is usually made by sandwiching a membrane layer between two fabrics.
How important is fit?
A tighter trouser fit will help hold your knee pads in place while also reducing the amount of material that is caught by the wind but you don't want them so tight that you can't wear pads at all. The term used is form fitted. Having stretch panels and articulated materials will help to achieve the desired fit especially when on the bike.
Having an adjustable waistline is crucial and not having excess leg length that causes bunching at the ankle and shoe will prevent your trousers from being eaten and damaged in your chain. A tight fitting at the ankle will go some way to prevent this but will make pulling your trousers on more difficult, so ankle adjustment via velcro or zips is a good idea.
Should MTB pants have pockets?
Having pockets on your mountain bike pants is essential, especially if you hate wearing bags. While there are ways to mount some things on or even in your bike frame, you should look for pants with zips to keep your contents safe and secure in a pocket that is located well away from your waist and knee so that it doesn't impede your pedalling or manoeuvrability on the bike.
The size of the pocket is another worthy consideration. Too small and you will be forced to carry a bag. Too big and items will rattle about and move around causing damage to the items stashed and unwanted distraction.
Also, you don't want the pocket that houses your phone to be in a wet zone without any form of waterproofing.