We are mountain bikers, we fear no bad weather and thrive on big adventures. So what is it about our tribe that demands we take on the elements armed only with a pair of shorts? We say #dryknees for all, and put eight of the best trail-focussed riding trousers to the test.

Riding trousers (or pants if you hail from the USA) are still a rare sight on our trails. We’re not talking about lycra tights, but durable trousers made from the same materials that our shorts are constructed from. Traditionally, trousers are the chosen armour of race-pyjama wearing DH racers or the year-round urban commuter, and in the past they were thick, heavy and clunky. Things have changed, knee pads have grown slimmer, breathable fabrics have improved and stretch fabrics are now commonplace. If you ride year-round, a good pair of riding trousers can be the difference between a great ride and an ‘emotional experience’.

Eight of the best riding pants put head-to-head

Why wear riding trousers?

Riding is a high-intensity exercise, yes, and during summer, shorts are the perfect choice. However, how many of us have stood on the top of a trail shivering with the wind and rain clawing up our shorts? For the colder months, riding trousers are a little warmer, but there’s more to it than that. Riding trousers also offer protection from minor crashes and thorns, whilst helping keep knee pads in place. A good pair of trousers keeps you protected from the spray and mud, great for bike parks and trails alike. The latest trousers offer superb freedom of movement and comfort, perfect for a full day of trail riding

The test group

In pursuit of warmer knees, we assembled eight of the best riding trousers on the market. While all the trousers in this group offer some form of minimal weather protection, we specifically avoided ‘waterproof’ trousers which are intended to offer maximum weather protection at the expense of flexibility (and breathability). Trail focussed trousers like the ION Shelter, Fox Flexair, Scott Trail Progressive and VOID Range pants were put to the test against the more rugged Endura Burner, Fox Defend Kevlar, 100% R-CORE-X and Specialized Demo PRO pants. All the pants in the test were subjected to a winter of abuse, shuttle days, long rides and a few crashes for good measure. We rated each pair on flexibility, durability and comfort.

The deadly washing machine test

Trails, crashes and laps on the uplift truck are one thing, but nothing compared to the brutal treatment that every piece of riding clothing must face –the washing machine and tumble dryer test. Bad weather clothing needs to be easy to clean and tough enough to survive frequent washing, yet many garments come out of the machine a shadow of their former selves. To test the durability of the trousers in this test, they were all subjected to five trips through the machine at 40oC and some further abuse in the tumble dryer.

Tops

Dedicated phone pockets
We carry our phones at all times now, so the best riding trousers have dedicated pockets that support the phone and stop it moving around while you descend. The ION trousers even have a protective foam backing to the pocket.
Stretch fabric
For maximum mobility, stretchy fabric is essential. All the trousers in the test feature stretch fabric panels, though it’s the Specialized Demo Pro pant and VOID Range trousers that are the most flexible.
Additional padding
If you are a frequent crasher, you will love the additional padding on the Endura Burner pants, while knee pads will take the brunt of the impact, the additional pads will stop you ripping holes in the trousers.
Easy Access
The ION trousers are the only trousers in this group test that have zips up the lower legs, allowing you to quickly put them on over your shoes if needed.

Flops

Mesh pockets
While mesh pockets help cooling, items can catch on the netting causing holes and sharper items like car keys and multitools become uncomfortable. Many of the trousers like the FOX, ION and Specialized options have this problem.
Missing graphics
While lettering and designs look awesome on the trousers, they look a little less cool if they start to peel off. The lettering on the 100% R-CORE-X trousers started to peel after just a few washes.
No durable panels on the seat
Stretch fabric is awesome, but on some of the trousers, the stretch fabric panels also extended to the seat of the trousers, the 100% R-CORE-X started to show wear early.
Insecure
The single popper closure on the SCOTT Trail Progressive pants popped open when the trousers were wet and we were riding hard. Not a deal breaker for relaxed tours but not up to aggressive riding.

Conclusion

All the trousers in this group test proved up to the task of continual thrashing down the trail and we experienced no significant problems. The 100% R-CORE-X, although highly flexible, started to look tired the fastest with missing lettering and wear on the seat panel, indicating they would be better for DH antics stood out of the saddle. The rest of the trousers stood up to varied abuse well, but there were three stand out pairs that the team loved. The Endura Burner II pants gave us that full-bore DH feel without being uncomfortable on long rides, taking our BEST VALUE award. Newcomers VOID impressed with their Range trousers, offering up the perfect blend of stretch and durability, but in the end, the more affordable, but equally high performing, Specialized Demo Pro Pants took the BEST IN TEST award.

Best in test – Specialized Demo Pro Pant
Best value – Endura Burner II Pant

Here you’ll find the best waterproof mtb jacket: enduro-mtb.com/en/best-waterproof-mtb-jacket

About the author

Trev Worsey

A keen biker since the early 90’s Trev began his professional career as a research scientist and statistician, but it was the lure of the mountains that finally called him. After seven years working as an international Mountain Bike Guide he joined the ENDURO team and now coordinates exciting news, reports, reviews and group tests from the UK office.