Mountain Biking: What To Wear On A Ride

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Mountain biking is a great way for the adventurous type of person to exercise while getting outside to enjoy the sights. The scenery, fresh air, sounds, and excitement is unlike anything else you’ll ever experience.

That’s why you’ll want to take advantage of the fantastic variety of gear that will help keep you comfortable and safe. All while conquering the challenges that the wild will present to you.

Remember that riding a mountain can be risky if you’re pushing your skills to the limit. Common mountain biking injuries include bruises, scrapes, broken collar bones and wrist injuries.

Keep this in mind as you head out on your next or first adventure by bringing the proper clothing and gear along with you.

What to wear while mountain biking

What to wear while riding a mountain bike.
What to wear while riding a mountain bike.

Similar to commuting and road cycling, mountain biking requires clothing that provides comfort. Keeps you warm and dry from all weather conditions. And provides protection from the hazards of brush, branches, roots and rocks.

Unfortunately, your chances of crashing during mountain biking is much higher. So, there’s some additional gear that might be needed depending on how and where you decide to ride.

Just starting out? NOT TO WORRY!

If you’re just starting out, that’s no problem. Just use the kit that you already have. As you progress the chances are you’ll want clothing designed for the specific demands of mountain biking.

Where you ride and the time of season matters

It matters when and where you ride.
It matters when and where you ride.

Where you ride and the time of year/season will have a significant impact on what you decide to wear. When the weather is warm and the trails (mostly) are dry in the middle of summer, you’ll require less protection from the elements than the depths of winter.

You also need to factor in the demands of your ride. If you’re heading off for an all-mountain adventure in the Alps or Rockies, for example, you’ll need to bring more serious kit because you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared for mountain weather conditions.

However, whenever and wherever you’re riding, there are a number of essentials you’re likely to need.

Mountain Biking Shorts and Padding

Mountain bikers wear baggy shorts because they have extra pockets, are abrasion resistant, are more comfortable than Lycra, and offer more range of motion. They are also warmer, look better, and are part of mountain biking culture and fashion.

Like their road counterparts, mountain-bike shorts offer stretch for easy leg movement and a padded crotch liner to reduce friction and wick moisture. Padded liner shorts and shell shorts can also be purchased separately.

For most styles of mountain biking, aerodynamics is rarely a concern, so your shorts can have a baggy fit. However, if you race or ride a cross-country bike, you’ll likely choose shorts that are tighter fitting and more aerodynamic. And some fitness riders prefer form-fitting shorts because they provide muscle support.

Most mountain biking shorts have sturdy fabrics and plenty of pockets. As your need for abrasion protection increases, so should the weight of the fabric and the length of the shorts. Downhill riding shorts, for example, should be thicker and longer than shorts worn for other riding styles.


Integrated padding in mountain bike shorts can be slightly thinner than in road shorts because you sit more upright and your riding position continually varies between seated and standing.

Most liners are removable, which gives you the option of buying bike underwear—separate, padded liner shorts. (Note that, regardless of the option you choose, don’t wear non-bike underwear with your liners, because you’ll likely suffer from chafing.) Whether you choose the integrated liner or separate bike underwear is largely a matter of personal preference.

Mountain Biking Jerseys

First, mountain biking is a good workout, you’re going to get sweaty! Wicking merino wool and synthetic materials are the go-to for most mountain bike jerseys to help you regulate your temperature. Second, crashes happen, and clothing is protection.

Generally, mountain-bike jerseys don’t differ too much from road styles. In order to efficiently wick away sweat, they will be close-fitting, but perhaps a bit looser than road-bike jerseys.

For more gravity-oriented riding styles, the fit can be even looser. Longer sleeves provide additional coverage from brush and branches.

If you plan to wear a pack, rear pockets won’t be needed. For packless rides, pockets are handy for stashing keys, food, a tire-repair kit, a phone and cash.

A ventilating front zip is nice to have when you’re pushing the pace or climbing hard, so many cross-country riders look for this feature.

Mountain Biking Gloves

Two features distinguish the gloves mountain-bike riders wear from the gloves of road cyclists: padding and finger coverage.

Despite staying off trails when they’re wet, many trails will open with a few sloppy spots that are prone to fling water and mud. It’s even more likely you’ll encounter wet creek crossings. A good pair of gloves will keep you moving forward with a solid grip and confident brake and shifter control.

Because grips are padded on a mountain bike, having padding in gloves is optional. For rides lasting several hours or more, you may appreciate the increased comfort padding provides.

Gloves with no padding, though, are lighter, cooler and allow you to maintain better bar feel—a plus when you’re doing steep, fast or technical descents.

And you see far fewer fingerless gloves in the wilds. Sweaty hands are a minor discomfort compared to bloody knuckles, so full-fingered gloves are almost always the wiser way to go.

Cold-Weather Clothing for Mountain Biking

Riding a mountain bike in cold weather.
Riding a mountain bike in cold weather.

Cold-weather gear extends your riding season earlier into spring and later into fall. Rain/wind protection is a wise addition to your pack year round. Add insulating layers and you can be ready to roll any time the forecast mentions “cold front.”

Tip: Before the start of a long climb, remove layers until you feel cool. If you start out feeling warm and comfortable, you’re likely to feel overheated for most of the climb.

Bike Jackets

You find fewer mountain-bike-specific designs in outerwear. The primary difference from road outerwear is more durable fabrics. You do want a cycling-specific design, though, because it can offer better wind protection on front and will be tailored to provide comfort through the shoulders and coverage when you lean forward in the saddle. It should also have a helmet-compatible hood.

For serious protection, a waterproof/breathable jacket is a must. For short rides and moderately gloomy weather, some riders take a featherweight shell that packs small enough to fit in a jersey pocket.

Bike Tights and Pants

Bike tights, most of which are padded, can be substituted for your liner shorts on cold days. And similar to bike jackets, you’ll want a pair of waterproof/breathable pants if you intend to ride when the weather gets damp.

Insulating layers

Proper layering can keep you warm (but not too warm) and dry while still having fun on your ride. For optimal layering, you should wear a cycling base layer to wick away sweat, an insulating second layer to help keep you warm, and an outer waterproof or windproof layer to keep you protected from wind, rain or snow.

For your upper half, you can get the wicking and warmth you need from a long underwear top or a lightweight fleece jacket.

Avoid cotton: Wool, polypropylene and nylon all perform well.

Arm/Leg Warmers and Hats

Arm warmers, leg warmers and a cap or headband are versatile layering options because they’re easy to put on and take off as conditions change throughout your ride.

Mountain Biking Footwear

Get the proper footwear.
Get the proper footwear.

Proper mountain bike shoes give you a solid connection to your bike that you can trust. If you ride with clipless pedals, the right pair of shoes is obviously essential, but shoes are also important for flat pedal riders.

Pedal Compatibility

Your first consideration is compatibility with the type of pedal system you choose. You can also get shoes that work now with platform pedals and can accept a cleat later to work with a clipless pedal system.


Another big consideration for mountain biking is how much walking you anticipate. Grippy rubber outsoles with lugs make walking on trails and scrambling over obstacles easier to do, which you will do more often if you’re a newer rider. And if your bike becomes unrideable after a mishap, you might also be going on a hike.

Pedaling Efficiency

Stiff cross-country/trail shoes are designed for efficient pedaling, but can be more difficult to walk in. These shoes are also usually better vented than softer, street-shoe-styled options.

Waterproof Protection

For wet, cold conditions look at shoes with waterproof liners. Another option is to buy a pair of shoe covers.

Mountain Biking Helmets

Wear a helmet.
Wear a helmet.

Your style of mountain biking is the main consideration when you’re picking a helmet. Disciplines that require more technical skill and have steeper descents simply require more coverage.

Cross-Country Riding

Speed on the uphill counts here and the downhills typically aren’t all that steep. So look for a helmet with similar coverage to a road helmet and one that offers plenty of ventilation.

Trail Riding

Trail riders usually encounter more technical terrain than cross-country riders. So you can look for more protection and coverage—longer on the sides and back—than you’ll find in a road or cross-country helmet.


This type of riding often includes steep, technical, and high-speed descents, so you need more coverage than trail riders do. A good feature to look for is a detachable chin bar: You can ride without it much of the time, but you’ll want to snap it on when you’re preparing for a big descent.


This is a maximum coverage style of riding. That means a full-face helmet, and perhaps a pair of goggles rather than sunglasses.

Mountain Biking Pads and Armor

The advice for pads follows that for helmets: You want more padding and more coverage as you get into more extreme styles of riding.

Trail and cross-country riders can go with more lightweight padding. More experienced riders might carry only knee pads, while newer riders might want to protect their elbows, too. In order to stay cooler, more experienced riders sometimes won’t put on any of their padding until they’re poised at the top of a long downhill stretch.

All-mountain/enduro riders need thicker, longer pads.

Downhill/park riders will also need them, often adding a pair of shin guards to complete their coverage.

Mountain Biking Packs

Unless you’re racing or on a really short ride, you’ll want a pack that can carry all of this great gear you got. That includes the Ten Essentials plus your bike-repair gear. Most riders prefer packs that come with a reservoir or are set up to carry one.



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