What To Wear Mountain Biking: How To Look Like A Shredder

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Mountain biker riding off small drop at bike park in California
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Mountain biking is a great way to get outdoors, enjoy nature, and get a little exercise. But if you’re new to the sport, you might be wondering – what do I wear mountain biking? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

When I first started out, I did not ‘look’ like a mountain biker. I wore soccer shorts, ankle socks, and tennis shoes. But did that stop me from having fun? Absolutely not. If that’s where you’re at – awesome. Keep doing you 🙂

Over the years, I have dialed in my mountain bike clothes to include my favorite pieces of gear and clothing. In this post, I wanted to share a few specifics of my gear closet as well as some tips on choosing the right pieces of gear for you. It changes frequently, but here’s what I’m loving in 2022!

Wondering what to wear mountain biking? In this post, I share everything you need to know about gearing up for your first ride


Do I really need mountain bike-specific clothing?

Honestly, when you’re first getting started, you don’t really need any specific mountain bike apparel. The most important thing is to just get out there and have fun! If you have a synthetic t-shirt, some athletic shorts, and some running shoes, you’re good to go. For a while.

But if you want to progress to longer rides and more challenging terrain, it’s a good idea to get a better sense of what to wear mountain biking. Being dressed in the right gear and clothes can make or break a mountain bike ride and even help prevent a trip to the hospital.


Quick Tips on What to Wear Mountain Biking

Choose quick-drying materials

Ideally, mountain bike clothes should be made from quick-drying and moisture-wicking materials like nylon, polyester, and Merino wool.

Cotton is not a great choice because it doesn’t dry quickly and can leave you feeling damp and cold out on the trail. You’ll most likely be sweating at least a little on your rides, so be sure to wear clothes that keep you dry and comfortable.

Dress differently for different rides

Not every ride is going to cover the same terrain or have the same weather, so before you get dressed for your ride, take a minute to think about what lies ahead.

Are you headed to the mountains and might need a warmer layer? Will you be doing mostly bike park descents in which case you’ll want some body armor protection? Will it be super hot and humid or cool with a chance of rain?

Dressing differently for different rides will ensure you have the best time out on the trail and stay as safe as possible.

Mountain biker standing on trail next to two bikes on the ground in cold, misty conditions
Dress differently for different rides and always check the weather before heading out!

Don’t skimp on the helmet

Investing in a good helmet could literally save your life. Don’t convince yourself that your 10-year-old helmet is ‘fine’ and don’t buy the cheapest one at your local big-box retailer.

At the minimum, buy a helmet that is MIPS certified or has another high-quality safety certification. And never ride without wearing a helmet, ok?


Mountain Bike Apparel

Alright, let’s get into what to wear mountain biking. First up is mountain bike clothing:

A Moisture-Wicking Jersey

For mountain biking, you’re going to want a jersey that is quick-drying and breathable. There are a lot of mountain bike jersey options out there with tons of different styles to choose from, sleeve lengths, cuts, colors, fabrics, you name it.

I personally prefer a jersey that has a looser fit so I don’t feel restricted, but some riders prefer a road cycling style that is more fitted and clings to the body.

There’s no one right answer, it really comes down to what you’re most comfortable in.

Here are a few mountain bike jersey’s I love:

I tend to wear looser, long (or 3/4 sleeve) jerseys for bike parks and more fitted short-sleeved jerseys for pedaly rides.

Quick-Drying Shorts

There are two different camps that mountain bikers fall into: those that wear ‘baggy’ shorts over their spandex liners and those that only wear spandex liners.

Typically, the ‘baggy shorts’ people are more downhill, gravity, and enduro-focused while the ‘spandex’ people like to pedal uphill.

You’ll discover pretty quickly which crowd you like to hang out with on the trail.

Personally, I’m a ‘baggies’ person and I prefer to wear mountain bike shorts over my liners.

If you fall into this camp, you want to look for a few things in mountain bike shorts: quick-drying material, stretchiness, pockets, and an adjustable waist (or elastic waistband).

My all-time favorite mountain bike shorts are the POC Essential Mountain Bike Shorts. I’m on the taller side for women (5’8) and a lot of shorts don’t cover my knee pads or fit my wider hips. The POC shorts fit me so well and are flattering and still have all the other important features like stretchiness, velcro waist tabs, and they’re made from quick-drying nylon fabric.

They also come in a men’s version.

Here are a few of my favorite mountain bike shorts:

Padded liners or Chamois (Shammies)

Padded liners, chamois, or shammies, whatever you call them, they are important when deciding what to wear mountain biking. They’re perhaps the most important piece of mountain bike clothes you can wear aside from a helmet! You gotta keep your tush and nether regions comfortable and cool, right?

As I mentioned above, some mountain bikers prefer to only ride in liners while others (like me) wear padded liners underneath baggy mountain bike shorts. Either way, these liners help keep your rear end from getting sore and can help prevent the dreaded chafing.

One of my favorite pair of padded liners are the DHaRCO Party Pants. Not only are they super fun, but they’re also very comfortable and fit like a glove, which is what you want for liners.

Check out the Men’s Party Pants here.

Here are a few great options for padded liners

Mountain Bike Gloves

Gloves help prevent your hands from getting sweaty and slipping off your grips. Depending on the weather, they can also help keep your hands warm. Some riders prefer to ride without gloves, but I personally always wear them.

There is a range of mountain bike-specific gloves out there from basic and simple gloves to ones that have padded protection in case you become friendly with a tree.

If you’re just starting out, a simple glove will do. I really love the HandUp Most Day Gloves because they have super fun designs and sayings across the palms. I’ve also found that HandUp gloves last a lot longer than most other mountain bike gloves that I’ve tried. I biked 630 miles across the state of Washington with one pair of HandUp gloves and they didn’t get one hole or rip.

Two female bikepackers giving each other a high five next to loaded bikes after finishing ride across the state of Washington
My HandUp gloves that I rode 630 miles across Washington with held up surprisingly well

Mountain Bike Socks

Typically, mountain bikers wear taller socks to help prevent our shins from getting shredded by trailside brush. A low-calf or mid-calf sock is great.

I love Darn Tough socks, in part because they’re from Vermont and I’m from Vermont, so… But also because Darn Tough has a lifetime warranty. That’s right, if you get a hole or rip in your sock, just send them back (clean) and Darn Tough will send you a new pair!

The Micro Crews are usually my go-to Darn Tough socks.

Extra Layers

For days when the weather looks a little iffy, I recommend stuffing a lightweight water-repelling windbreaker into your pack. Since you’ll be pedaling and working up a sweat, it’s important that the jacket also be breathable. I usually always have my Patagonia Houdini Jacket in my pack because it’s so light that I don’t even notice it. (Men’s version here).

Here are a few of my go-to extra layers for mountain biking:


Mountain Biking Footwear

Shoes are an important consideration for what to wear mountain biking. You can get away with sneakers at first, but you’ll quickly want to invest in some real mountain bike shoes as you ride more frequently.

There are two types of mountain bike shoes: flats and clipless. Flat shoes have rubber soles that grip to the pins on your pedals while clipless shoes actually clip into your pedals so that you’re attached to your bike.

Both have their pros and cons and you can read more about flats vs clipless in this post. If you’re just starting out as a mountain biker, I recommend flat mountain bike shoes.

Flat Shoes

One of the best and more affordable options for flat mountain bike shoes are the Five Ten Freerider’s. The soles on these puppies are super grippy so your feet don’t slide off your pedals and I find them to be really comfortable as well. They’re a great entry-level option. They come in men’s version as well.

Here are my top choices for mountain bike shoes

Clipless Shoes

If you know that you want to ride with clipless pedals, the unisex Bontrager Evoke Mountain Bike Shoe is a great entry-level SPD shoe. You’ll need to make sure you get a 2-hole SPD-compatible pedal and cleats like the Bontrager Comp MTB Pedals.


Body Armor & Protection

For a complete list of pads and protection, head to my post on mountain bike protective gear.

Here are the two most important pieces gear:

A Helmet

A helmet is the most vital piece when it comes to what to wear mountain biking. Promise me that you will never ride without a helmet, mkay? You may already own a helmet, but if it’s old, cracked, or dented it’s definitely time for a new one. The material can break down over time and helmet technology has advanced significantly over the past decade.

The current MIPS technology (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) is designed as a slip-panel system that reduces rotational forces during impact. If you’re buying a new helmet, make sure it has a little MIPS sticker on it or is certified in some other way.

One of my favorite mountain bike helmets is the POC Kortal Helmet. It has great coverage on the sides and rear as well as 17 vents for optimal airflow. It can be adjusted with a dial in the back to get the perfect and most comfortable fit. Most importantly, though, POC’s safety standards are very high. Plus, I think it looks super stylish!

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a great helmet, so take your time doing research to find one that you actually enjoy wearing.

Browse my top choices for mountain bike helmets

Knee pads

I almost never ride my mountain bike without wearing knee pads. I’ve had my brother (an ER Doctor) stitch me up too many times to risk it. Knee pads can be tricky, though, because oftentimes they slip down while you’re pedaling or they’re just so darn uncomfortable that you don’t even want to wear them in the first place.

So you better believe that I was super excited to find the Fox Enduro Sleeves because they stay right where they’re supposed to and they’re long enough so they don’t leave a gaper gap between your shorts (major mtb faux pax). The only downside is that the back mesh tends to tear easily, leaving big holes behind your knees.

If you’re planning on doing more high-stakes mountain biking and want some extra protection, I also have the Fox Launch Pro knee pads, which I use for the bike park.

Female mountain biker pedaling bike toward camera with high desert landscape behind her
The Fox Enduro Sleeves are the only knee pads I’ve found that don’t slide down when pedaling

Mountain Biking Accessories

Eyewear

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are definitely a must when it comes to what to wear mountain biking. Not only do they shade your eyes from the sun, but they also keep dirt and dust from flying into your eyeballs which could send you tumbling off the trail.

Many new riders ride with their normal everyday sunglasses, which work just fine at first. But once you progress to longer rides and more technical trails, you’ll want some mountain bike-specific shades because they’re designed to be used on the trail in varying light conditions.

There are tons of options out there for mountain bike sunglasses. Some come with interchangeable lenses to help you see better in different light conditions like dark forested trails or high UV terrain.

Others, like POC, are helmet-compatible, which ensures a comfortable, seamless fit. And others have transition lenses, or photochromic lenses, which darken in high-light terrain and lighten up during low-light situations.

I really like the POC Devour Sunglasses. Yes, they are pretty pricey, but you definitely get what you pay for. These shades are optimal for all types of riding whether you’re in the trees or out in the desert.

Mountain bike googles

Some mountain bikers choose to wear goggles instead of sunglasses, particularly at bike parks or when wearing a full-face helmet. Goggles provide a little more protection from sand and dirt and they’re strapped snug to your face, so there’s less worry of them shifting or falling down on particularly technical and rowdy sections.

The drawback of goggles is that they can get foggy and they can be hot. But they do make you look badass.

Continuing on with my love for POC (seriously, they’re the best), the POC Ora Goggles are affordable and provide great clarity on the trail with tinted lenses designed for both full sun to dark forests. They also have good airflow thanks to the 3-layer foam lining.

Mountain biker riding down rocky section of trail in Mexico lined with giant agave plants
Googles are a great option if you’re wearing a full-face helmet or riding rowdy trails

A Hydration pack

Not exactly mountain bike clothes or apparel, a hydration pack is nonetheless an important piece of gear for mountain biking. I always ride with a pack, even if it’s just a short spin around my local trails. I use my pack to carry water, my mountain bike ride essentials, snacks, and often an extra layer for just in case.

There are a few options for hydration packs:

  • Backpack-style hydration packs with a reservoir and hose. These are my personal favorites because I can store lots of snacks. More snacks = better. You can also easily sip water while pedaling from the reservoir hose. The Osprey Raptor (men’s) and Osprey Raven (women’s) are great choices and specifically designed for mountain biking.
  • Lumbar packs. I’ve honestly tried lumbar packs and don’t love them because the waist strap digs into my stomach (probably because I’m carrying too many snacks). But other people – like my brother and boyfriend – swear by them.

I hope this blog post helps you get a better idea of what to wear mountain biking!

What questions do you have about mountain biking clothes, footwear, body protection, or accessories? Leave a comment below!

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Wondering what to wear mountain biking? Learn everything you need to know about mountain bike-specific clothing, apparel, and more.
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2 Comments

  1. Dear I.W. (Iron Woman) otherwise known as Becky,
    Lots of helpful ideas from one who knows and rides! (a lot).
    Good luck/safe travel in Washington-beautiful country, fine people, and great
    Alaskan seafood.
    Thanks!
    Bill DeForest
The Woodlands Texas

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