Turns out MTB pants are not just for downhill racers and freeriders.
Best MTB Pants – Scroll through any MTB media at the moment and you’ll see that riding pants are a hot ticket item. I mean just look at the folks in BC, Canada crushing in pants all day long. I want to be like the cool kids so I’ve been riding in pants since late last year. They offer great protection from cuts and scrapes, they look pretty neat and a lot of them cover a wider range of comfortable temperatures than you might think. They’re now my go-to clothing to put on the bottom half of my body when I go for a ride. Let’s talk about a handful of our favorite pairs and why you should be a cool kid and try riding in pants.
Best MTB Pants: Pants tested
We have five of our favorite riding pants on offer today. They include:
- *Update* POC Rhythm Resistance – $200
- *Update* Pearl Izumi Summit AmFIB Lite – $160
- Yeti Renegade – $150
- Fox Ranger – $99
- Giro Havoc – $170
- Troy Lee Designs Skyline – $109
- Pearl Izumi Rove – $115
Top MTB Pants Criteria
To make this test fair, I’m going to outline my preferences in bike pants so you know the judgment criteria. While my preferences might not be the same as yours, I can defend each of my choices based on my experience riding in bike pants. If you think I’m wrong, that’s fine — you do you. Go try some on and find what works best for you.
Here’s what you need to know about me for this test. I’m 6’2” and on the slim side of an average build. I always wear a large or 34” waist. I have legs up to my armpits so when I buy jeans I need a 34” length too. I realize that I have giraffe legs, so I’ll be understanding/forgiving of pants that are a little short.
How your pants fit should be the number one priority. For me, the most important aspect of bike pant fit is the cut. I want a slimmer cut so my pants don’t get hung up on the saddle, bike, and trailside clothes grabbers (tree branches). I’m not looking for 2006 punk rock band tight, but I like a slightly slimmer fit. I also like the length to fall right at or just above my ankle. Baggy riding pants that bunch up at your shoe are a recipe for disaster. Not only do you like you’re wearing your dad’s church slacks, but they’re also going to get snagged in your chainring — not ideal. Stretchy ankle cuffs come in handy too. They keep your pant legs even further from getting snagged in your chainring — plus they look cool and trendy these days.
Now we need to talk about a few bonuses in the fit department, the first being an adjustable waist. I don’t know about you but I find that once I get started on a ride, my pants start to loosen up. I don’t know if it’s because the fabric gets a little sweaty and starts to sag, or if I magically lose an inch from my waistline 10 minutes into a bike ride. Either way, I find myself needing to cinch up the waist on my pants throughout a ride. An easily adjustable waistband solves this problem and eliminates the need to ride in a belt. I also want my pants to fit knee pads easily. Unless I forget them in the dryer at home, I always wear knee pads on bike rides — you never know when your knee is going to find a pointy rock. Knee pads need to fit comfortably under my pants in order to score all the points in the fit department.
All of the following test criteria are secondary to fit. Let’s go over them quickly and then get to the meat and potatoes of this article. First up, stretchy fabric. I like my pants to have a bit of stretch to them. You move around a lot on a bike and being restricted by your pants isn’t any fun. Next, I like to feel as fresh and dry as possible on my bike. I don’t really enjoy having swamp crotch. Breathable fabric makes a huge difference between staying comfortable and being a sweaty mess. Temperature versatility goes hand in hand with breathable fabric. The wider the range of comfortable temperatures for a pair of pants, the more versatile and usable they’re going to be. Next up, I like to carry my phone and snacks on my rides. Coincidentally, I don’t like getting to the top of the trail and realizing I’ve lost all my snacks and phone somewhere along the trail. Secure pockets are key.
Last of all, pants that look cool, are… cool. Alright, let’s do this.
*UPDATE* POC RHYTHM RESISTANCE – $200 – BEST OVERALL (Best MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 35-75°
The POC Rhythm pants quickly shot to the top of my list for pants to ride bikes in. They’re very similar to the Yeti Renegade with an ever slightly more generous cut. The waistband is elastic for a perfect fit. They’re never too tight or too loose. A lot of MTB pants can be tight at the start of your ride and loose by the end. The POC pants stay put for the entire performance. The knees are reinforced with kevlar fabric so these should last for more than one off-the-bike excursion. With the help of some ankle cuffs, the tapered leg stays out of the way of your cranks and chainring. The fabric itself is stretchy and breathable, although the Giro Havoc pants still take the top spot for breathability. The branding is minimal and subtle so you don’t look like a two-wheeled billboard.
The cons list is going to be pretty short, but for $200 you would want these to be damn near perfect — and they are.
- Stretch Waistband
- Great Fit
- Ankle Cuffs
- Reinforced knees
*Update* Pearl Izumi Summit AmFIb Lite – $160 – best for cold weather (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 20-55°
The updated Pearl Izumi AmFIB Lite pants are a huge improvement over years past. The fleece lining is gone and the fit is much better for bike riding activities. I’m personally not a fan of fleece-lined pants for MTB. They’re almost always too hot. I’d prefer to add a layer of long johns underneath if it’s going to be really cold. The New AmFIB pants ditch the fleece in favor of a lighter, more versatile fabric. The fabric itself is still made for cooler days. I wouldn’t grab these for summer DH laps at the park. They’re great for those fall, winter, and early spring days with wet and cold conditions. I’ve always been a fan of Pearl Izumi pockets. They get it right. The pockets are the right size and in the right place. Your phone fits nicely and seems to disappear when riding. The fit is a bit more on the generous side without being baggy.
I struggled a little with the velcro waistband adjustments. The velcro starts to come undone as the pants get wet. I also had to keep adjusting the waist during my ride.
- Great for chilly days
- Perfect pockets
- Ankle cuffs
- Waistband adjustment could be more refined and secure
Giro Havoc – $170 – MOST BREATHABLE (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 35-70°
The Havoc pants were my gateway to pants biking. They’re still one of my favorites to this day. They have a good cut and length, the laser cut vents on the back are a nice touch, and the adjustable velcro waist tabs do the job very well. Additionally, it has belt loops if you are into that. They have three pockets, with one of them having a zipper. The zippered thigh pocket easily fits my iPhone. The fabric stretch is about a 5 on the scale of Wrangler jeans to yoga pants. I also really like the subtle graphics and branding.
The pant legs are tapered and get slimmer at the ankle. They lack an elastic ankle cuff, but I haven’t had them get snagged in my chainring. Knee pads get a little cozy but fit well enough underneath. They are the most expensive pants in the test at $170. They’re also one of the highest performing pants. I guess this is a case of “you get what you pay for.”
- Breathable fabric with laser-cut vents
- Effective adjustable waistband
- 3 pockets – 2 standard, 1 Zippered
- Most expensive in test
- No ankle cuffs
Fox Ranger – $99 – TOUGHEST (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 30-60°
The Ranger pants are the toughest in the test. Coincidentally, they cost the least. They have very durable fabric and a great cut. The fabric feels a bit windbreaker-y and a little less breathable than some of the other offerings, but they’re good for cooler and wetter days. They have three pockets — two really deep hand pockets (that my phone has never fallen out of) and one small zippered thigh pocket that just barely fits my phone. They have the best ankle cuff in the test — tight enough to keep them from getting snagged, but loose enough you can get your hobbit feet in and out without any issues.
The waist is adjustable but it’s a little tough to cinch down with the pants on. The adjustment works like one of those sliding knot bracelets you won at a carnival as a kid. These pants are on the shorter side — and not just short because I have orangutan arms for legs. They’re still one of the first pairs I grab after laundry day. Probably because they look so cool.
- Durable fabric
- Good cut
- Best ankle cuffs
- Fairly short – good for showing off your sock collection
- Tougher to adjust waist
Pearl Izumi Rove – $115 – MOST VERSATILE (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 35-65°
The Rove pants are the chameleons of the group. They work equally well on and off the bike. No one would bat an eye if you wore them on a date — just make sure to wash them before you do. The Rove pants look like traditional 5-pocket pants, but they have a bunch of stealthy technical features built in. The fabric stretches a fair amount, they have a hidden zippered pocket and the cut is very conducive to riding bikes. Even on warmer days the fabric breathes and handles moisture (nice word for sweat) rather well for being 70% cotton. They have five pockets total, although all five are rather small — iPhone Max user beware. The thigh stash pocket and right rear pocket are both zippered for your valuables.
The waistband isn’t adjustable, and it seems to be a little looser fitting than the thighs. I have to wear a belt with these pants. I have one of those stretchy Arcade belts that isn’t the worst to ride in.
- Style – look good on the bike and at the grocery store
- Waistband isn’t adjustable – needs a belt
- Phone pocket is on the smaller side
Yeti Renegade – $150 – BEST FIT (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 35-75°
The Renegade pants are the newcomers to the market. They are loaded with features that make them one of the highest performing and most comfortable pants in the group. They’re a little tighter than all the other pants, but the fabric is the stretchiest on offer. They don’t feel restrictive at all. They also have the most breathable fabric in the test, although the Giro Havoc pants take the win in breathability from the laser-cut ventilation. The waistband is adjustable via a moto-style ratchet buckle. The knees have stretchy and abrasion-resistant fabric panes. They fit knee pads very comfortably.
Unfortunately, the Renegade pants only have one pocket. I’m fine stuffing my phone and snacks into the same pocket, but I’m left with the dilemma of where to put my keys. I’m not a fan of keys shredding my phone screen. They also feature a big “Yeti” graphic down the entire lower right pant leg. I prefer my branding to be a little more subtle. Bonus”: they come in “European Motorcycle Cop Yellow” for those fast enough.
- Great cut
- Very stretchy
- Stretch knee panels – great fit with knee pads
- Very breathable
- Only one pocket
Troy Lee Designs Skyline – $109 – BEST VALUE (Top MTB Pants)
Ideal temperature range: 30-65°
Newly redesigned for 2021, the Skyline pants round out the test nicely. They’re rather similar to the Giro Havoc pants, with a slightly softer, less windbreaker feeling fabric. They have tons of stretch, great breathability, and nice bonus features like an abrasion-resistant lower right leg panel. The waistband adjusts via two tried and true velcro tabs. They have the best performance to cost ratio (read: value) in the group.
They have the roomiest cut in the entire test. I noticed that the crotch would snag on my saddle from time to time. That baggier fit does allow for a comfortable and unrestricted feel, however. It’s worth noting they’re the longest pants in the test. They worked great with my long legs.
- Easy adjust waist
- 2 zippered pockets
- Price to performance ratio – AKA value
A little baggy
So there you have it — the best MTB Pants. Long pants are more versatile than they seem at first. Most have a pretty wide range of comfortable temperatures, better abrasion resistance and they make you look like a cool kid.
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