Mountain biking is among the fastest-growing outdoor sports in the United States. Aside from the fact that two years of COVID-19 sent Americans scrambling toward new adventures in their local forests, it’s partly because of better bike technology and the huge number of trails built in the last five years by local trail and stewardship foundations. And on top of that, no longer is a hardtail bike with limited sizing your only option. New bikes have dual suspension to absorb impact in the front and rear, longer (slacker) frames that make it easier to send it faster and steeper without taking a header, and options like dropper posts and low-fill tubeless tires that can save the butts (and guts) of riders as they progress to increasingly challenging and rocky terrain.
Increased access to backcountry trails and better maintenance of those trails has grown with the demand; even GoogleMaps now shows legal trails. And, above all else, a slew of specialized and eco-friendly clothing and gear means you can hit the trails without hitting the planet and carry your bike and tools without using brand new plastic products. No matter your skill level or destination, the following items are essential for a successful mountain bike trip, whether it be one day or one week long.
Before you hit any backcountry trail, download a GPS-enabled trail map app. There are many available for mountain bikers but MTB Project, a trail app developed by REI, is the most comprehensive mountain bike trail guide you can have on your phone, and it’s free to download on iOS and Android. The app features mountain bike trails around the world, searchable by specific location. Riders can check into a trail, share conditions, post photos, and offer advice for important issues like where to grab a post-ride beer. The app is the ultimate trip-planning tool for riders, especially when paired with a trail map from the local bike shop.
Many riders opt for the Trailforks app, which is ideal for downloading maps before heading deep into the backcountry. It also allows you to quickly check trail conditions based on recent rider reviews.
Oh, and ladies, don’t you worry: we’ll have our women’s mountain bike gear guide up and running soon. And of course, all the gear and recommendations for storage and repairs are exactly the same, so scroll down to racks and more if you’re just on the prowl for hardgoods.
We hope you love the eco-friendly mountain biking gear we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to buy anything. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
Eco-friendly mountain bike gear basics
Mountain bike shoes
While you could head out in a pair of athletic or skate shoes, your performance on tough terrain will be far better with mountain bike shoes that either clip to or stick to your pedals. Clip-in shoes aren’t a requirement, especially for beginners and casual riders who are more likely to hop off the bike frequently or who may need to push up parts of hills — they require a bit of practice. Also, clip-in shoes make it far tougher to bail off the bike should you lose control near a cliff. After all, replacing the bike is far cheaper and easier than replacing yourself. Consider grippy mountain bike shoes when you’re first starting out.
Adidas-owned Five Ten’s Freerider Pro shoe (available in men’s and women’s) is made of Primeblue Parley Recycled Ocean Plastic, placing it among the most eco-friendly mountain bike shoes on the market and likely one of the most eco-friendly pieces of mountain bike gear out there. Spend some time at a bike park and you’ll see multiple pairs of Five Tens. That’s because this shoe is affordable, durable, and comfy, with the best traction and pedal grip of any MTB-specific shoe. Bonus because it’s available through REI with rapid shipping.
A comfy chammy and bike shorts
A breathable, comfortable chamois is an essential piece of mountain bike gear for long rides. The Zoic Ether 9″ Bike Shorts and Liner top the list because the chammy (the inner layer) has a lightly padded rear and cool mesh fabric. The outer short has an adjustable waistband, and the shorts fall above the knee so as not to inhibit movement. These shorts will keep you relaxed and comfortable on every ride, no matter the quality or shape of your bike seat.
A good helmet
Concussions are not the name of the game, no matter how rocky the trail is. You need a solid helmet, and fortunately, in the MTB world, there’s no need to buy one of those dorky, striped, oblong road bike helmets. Mountain bike helmets are stylish, similar to snowboard helmets. Giro makes the Fixture Helmet, suitable for both men and women and durable enough that you won’t have to replace it unless to take a major spill (and it does its job). Look for a helmet with MIPS technology, which essentially allows the exterior of the hemet to shift a bit on impact — that absorbs most of the impact, rather than transferring that sudden, jarring impact to your skull.
You don’t need a full-face helmet unless you’re regularly shuttling or doing gnarly lift-accessed downhill lines, in which case you probably already know everything on this list, anyway. You may think it looks cool, but they’re super uncomfortable to climb in and the visor of your non-full-face helmet will protect your chin from impact in all but the most insane of crashes.
Shin guards and knee pads
Like everything in life, getting up to snuff in mountain biking involves making mistakes and learning from them. One mistake you’ll only make once is sometimes called the “snakebite.” This involves a sudden stop, fall, or anything else that results in your pedal suddenly slamming into your shin. It’s quite painful, but it’s also a near-guaranteed way to go home with an unwanted collection of small scars on your leg from the pedal’s grippy pegs. You can avoid both the “snakebite” and other minor shin and knee scuffs by wearing the Elite Knee-Shin Guards from G-Form.
Durable mountain bike gloves
You can trust Dakine to come through with a pair of comfortable, durable, and functional mountain bike gloves — the Covert. Touch-screen compatible and with a thumb wipe, silicone gripper fingertips, and suede palms that won’t rip if you take a tumble, these gloves are the best way to protect your hands from dirt and handlebar without sacrificing the ability to check your GPS location on the trail via your phone. I’m two seasons into mine and they still ride strong. Plus, the glove’s odor control technology keeps glove funk to a minimum.
When looking at backpacks, consider two options: a day pack and a multi-day pack. When heading out for a day on the trail or embarking on a trip where you’ll be returning to the trailhead each day with a chance to replenish basic supplies like water, opt for a small pack with a water bladder. It doesn’t need to be one specifically for mountain biking — though the Dakine Seeker 10L is perfect and from a company with a good track record on sustainability.
For longer or overnight excursions, a larger option like the Dakine Seeker 18L is ideal. You want at least 12-15 liters of storage space for gear, food, and other essentials, and water bladder storage and access, which this pack provides. Its real advantage over a traditional backpacking pack is that it doesn’t sacrifice the huggy, compact design of a biking daypack. The Seeker won’t get in your way and won’t spill out should you take a tumble. Whether you buy one of these packs or not, make sure the pack you do choose has a chest clip and a hip belt, both of which you’ll need to keep the pack snug on your back on the downhills.
Water bottle (and bonus coffee mug, for those early morning rides)
Crafting eco-friendly mountain bike and outdoor gear is trendy, as this list demonstrates. The thing is, very few brands go beyond offsetting their negative impact. Miir, on the other hand, goes a step further. Launched on April 1, 2022, the Climate+ series actually creates a positive environmental impact. The brand created fully a line of fully-sealable drink containers in 12-ounce, 16-ounce, and 20-ounce sizes made with zero new plastic. Additionally, the brand offsets 110 percent of the carbon impact of each bottle’s creation, and designed the bottles to use 25 percent less stainless steel than the brand’s previous options. However, the brand has been a certified B-Corp and certified Climate Neutral for years.
The 20-ounce water bottle tested very well on a recent bike ride through the bumpy Lunch Loops trails in Grand Junction, Colorado. Fitting in the bottle holster and easy to drink from while on the bike, you loose a bit of the convenience without the squeezable plastic, but you get it back temperature control. Fill with cold water before leaving for a ride and it’ll still be just as cold when you’ve finished the ascent and are ready to drop into the downhill.
Smith Wildcat ChromaPop Sunglasses
When riding, you want a pair of shades that will stay on your face. You also need those shades to remain in place without straining your ears or nose. For this, there’s no better option than the Smith Wildcat Chromapop Sunglasses, available through REI. The ChromaPop lens shields bright light, ideal for high-altitude rides or anytime you’re in Moab, Fruita, or elsewhere where slickrock desert forms the base of your ride. Keep them in the case in your pack when not in use and never worry about them being lost under the car seat or sat on during an après-ride beer session. The larger, google-like frame shape also prevent your eyes from getting windblown on speedy downhills — no one wants to take a header because their eyes started watering.
What to keep in your backpack:
- A filled water bladder
- A rain jacket
- A first-aid kit
- Protein bars and snacks. I’m all about GoMacro’s Macro Bar vegan protein bars
- A pair of mountain bike (or otherwise athletic) socks such as Smartwool’s eco-friendly Bike Zero socks for women and men
To get to the trailhead
Outside your vehicle
Beyond your bike and the gear on your body, the most important piece of mountain bike gear you need is a way to get your bike to the trailhead. Unless you’re riding a Huffy, folding your backseats to maneuver your fully assembled bike into the trunk is a solid way to ruin your investment — both the bike and the car. If you drive a truck, you can load the bike into the back without inherently damaging the tires or your interior, but it won’t help if you slam on the breaks or take a tight turn at some speed.
If you’re going to bike more than a few times, put a few hundred bucks into a rack for your vehicle. The best mountain bike rack for a tow hitch (which you can install for usually around $300) is the Küat Racks’ Transfer, both for day trips and mountain bike road trips. It takes less than an hour to mount and you can easily unhitch and remove the rack for in-town travel when you’re not carrying a bike. The steel rack has over-the-wheel and bike tire attachment points to safely hold your bikes. It’s also easy to lock the bike onto the rack or vehicle, whether with the Küat’s specific lock or, in a pinch, with some general bike locks.
Plan to spend $349 for a one-bike rack and $449 for a two-bike rack. Add-on pieces to convert a one-bike rack into a double are also available, should need to carry a second bike down the line. Just be sure to check the weight rating for your vehicle and hitch as some heavier mountain bikes and e-bikes can push the limits on smaller sedans.
What to keep in your vehicle
Mountain bike gear for when something goes wrong
Gear to change or patch a tire tube
No one should enter the backcountry on a bike without knowing a few basic repair necessities, starting with how to patch and change a tire or install a tube, should you get a flat. For this, you need five essential pieces of mountain bike gear:
- Steel tire levers — there are cheaper plastic ones, but spending a few extra dollars for steel prevents the risk of them snapping on you (and because they last, less material is needed to keep you stocked)
- Spare tubes specific to your tire diameter (26, 27.5, or 29 inches), unless you ride a tubeless setup. If you ride a tubeless setup, you’ll still want to carry a tube in case you pop a tire or have trouble maintaining a seal. Flat tires are less likely with tubeless, but possible.
- A hand pump
- A patch kit
- Crankbrothers Multi-Tool with chain tool
YouTube is full of videos that will walk you through the process of changing a tube, and you should practice a couple of times before embarking on a serious ride that could leave you stuck miles from a trailhead or road. To stock yourself quickly and easily, grab the Topeak Deluxe Accessory Kit, which mounts onto your bike and contains levers, a hand pump, and a multi-tool in an under-the-seat storage pouch. You may have to mount the items separately (for example, pumps can mount along your top bar) if you’ve got a tall dropper post.
Gear to fix a broken chain
A snapped chain can quickly lead to panic, but it doesn’t need to. After stocking the items listed above, you should already have the proper chain tool. Again, YouTube is your training reference here, and a quick practice round should get you up to speed. Here’s what else to add to your mountain bike gear arsenal:
- Masterlinks (to replace the broken link), with male link on both ends
- Chain lube. We recommend Green Oil both because it works very well and because it’s PTFE-free, is biodegradable, and its bottles are made from recycled plastic. It’s best to tube your chain before most rides anyway, especially if you ride in dusty or dry conditions.
Gear to fix a broken derailleur hanger
A broken derailleur hanger is a consistent threat if you ride hard and frequently. Without being able to fix it, you might find yourself stuck, or in a best-case scenario, having to complete the rest of your ride in the gear you were in when it broke. While being stuck is worse, both situations are a major bummer. Keep a derailleur hanger specific to your bike on hand.