Photo: Suzie Dundas

I'm a Female Mountain Biker. Here's the Protective Gear and Clothing I Actually Use.

Outdoor Cycling
by Suzie Dundas May 23, 2022

You know how sometimes you read online gear reviews or round-ups and it kind of seems like the author based most of it on Amazon reviews?

Well, that’s not the case here. I’m an actual female mountain biker, and I actually use the gear below. I try to ride at least three time a week in the season so it’s pretty easy for me to test out mountain bike protective gear and clothing for women. I ride in all types of conditions; in fact, I just finished slogging through a mostly snow-covered trail. Hey, someone has to go see if they’re ready yet. Somedays, I opt for my usual four-mile, 600-foot climb hot lap, and other times I go all-in on 15-plus-mile rides with climbing measured by the thousands. Though I never say no to shuttle laps.

Most mountain biking accessories have no gender, like bike racks, hand pumps, and chain repair kits. If that’s what your after, scroll to the bottom of this beginner mountain bike buying guide for some good recommendations.

But when it comes to mountain bike clothing and mountain bike protective gear, there are some items that most women will prefer in women’s-specific option. Of course, if you like a “men’s” version better, you do you. As with many outdoor sports, some items are needlessly gendered. So if you like a pair of gloves or a helmet marketed to guys, go for it. But with items like padded shorts, shirts, shoes, and packs, you may see a noticeable difference when you rock a women’s version.

Some of the gear toward the bottom, like helmets and pedals, aren’t women’s-specific. They’re just awesome pieces of gear I recommend to my female mountain biking friends, whether they’re doing totally flat trails through a state park or getting seriously sendy in the woods. It’ll work for mountain biking (or mountain e-biking) and some can double for road biking, though road bikers usually have slightly different shorts and helmets, among other items.

We hope you love the mountain bike protective gear we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The best mountain bike protective gear and clothing for women

The best women’s mountain bike clothing

Outer layer: Backcountry Hero Dirt Hoodie ($55)

mountain bike protective gear women's clothing

Were it not for the hidden features, you’d never know it was a bike shirt. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Thumb holes, back zipper, pit zips, moisture-wicking
  • Cons: Tall collar may not work for all riders

Unless it’s 80 degrees out and it’s a no-brainer that you’re wearing a tank top or T-shirt, it can be hard to know what to wear as a top layer. While you’ll likely get hot if you’re pedaling up, the combination of higher speeds, wind, and sweat on your skin can make you pretty chilly on the downhill. So for spring and fall days when it’s not quite warm enough for just a thin T-shirt, try the Dirt Hero Hoodie from Backcountry. Because it’s a pull-over, rather than a jacket, it doesn’t billow out like a sail when you hit 20 miles per hour on a downhill.

I have and love this hoodie, mostly because it’s an insanely good price for a piece of women’s mountain bike clothing loaded with features. It’s made with moisture-wicking fabric — a must for mountain biking, in my opinion — and is abrasion resistant, so you don’t need to worry about ripping the arms when you take a spill. It also has pit zips for ventilation (like a ski jacket) and a big back zippered pocket like the ones you’d find on bike racing jerseys big enough for a phone. It’s true to size but has a slim fit; I’m 5-foot, 7-inches tall and usually wear a size 6 or 8 and the medium is fitted without being roomy. Size up if you like your layers baggy, but remember that you want it to be somewhat fitted if you’re wearing it while biking. Also note that it has a high neckline, so skip it if you don’t like having fabric around your neck.

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Chamois: Patagonia Nether Liner Bike Shorts ($59)

women's mountain bike protective gear chamois

My Patagonia liners, inside-out. The purple area is padding to cushion your butt a bit from the seat while riding. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Slim profile, quick-drying, sustainable materials
  • Cons: Padding isn’t removable

The first time I pulled on the Nether Liner Women’s Mountain Bike Short from Patagonia, I thought to myself “this ride is going to hurt.” A mountain bike chamois (but usually called  a”shammy”) is a snug padded short you wear under your baggies outer shorts. It’s extra padding to protect your butt and pelvic area on bumpy trails. Most of mine are quite thick, but the Nether Liner seems to have a slimmer padded area.

But someone on the design team gets an A+, because these feel like they offer just as much protection as my more padded shorts, but in a slimmer package. That means less bulk under my shorts, which is a lot more pleasant on hot days. They don’t ball or ride up on the waist or legs, and since they’re thin, they dry quite quickly. If you look at the reviews on REI, you’ll see that there’s only one negative, and I’m pretty sure that person was trying to use them as a pair of actual bike shorts, rather than the underwear-style use they’re meant for. A chamois is an essential pice of women’s mountain bike clothing — you’ll definitely notice an uncomfortable difference if you ride without one.

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Bike shorts: Wild Rye Kaweah Bike Shorts ($60+)

mountain bike protection gear and clothing women

My old pair of Wild Rye shorts, still serving me well. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Designed just for women, cell phone pocket, UPF fabric, durable
  • Cons: Run a little snug at first

Wild Rye is a relatively new brand but has managed to become not just one of my favorite women’s mountain bike clothing brands, but favorite brands, period. It makes super-technical, durable, and stylish mountain bike gear just for women and womxn and do a fantastic job of showing its gear in use by actual mountain bikers of various sizes, ages, races, and skill levels. Most brands make mountain biking look intimidating but Wild Rye is more about celebrating the spirit of the sport and encouraging women to go for it.

I have a few pairs of Wild Rye shorts but if you’re just buying one pair, pick up the Kaweah Short. It ends just above the knee to provide that crucial extra protection for you thighs and has a secure cell phone pocket actually big enough for a cell phone. I love the patterns, too. Many reviewers have said these run small, and that’s true — at first. In my experience, they stretch quite a bit, even over the course of one ride. But if you’re on the fence, buy your normal size and a size larger and just return the one that doesn’t fit — REI has an incredibly solid return policy, even if you’ve already worn the item.

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Shoes: Ride Concepts Flume ($160)

mountain bike protective gear flume women

The Flumes are waterproof, true to size, and come in a flat-bottom and clip-in version. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Very durable, good grip, strap to keep laces in place, reinforced toe
  • Cons: A little heavy, strong smell out of the box

I bike with a lot of women, and of the ones who wear mountain-bike specific shoes, I see two brands all the time: 5.10s, and Ride Concepts. I’ve worn 5.10s and they’re a good budget option, thought they run a little big. But my favorites are from Ride Concepts — specifically the Flume. It comes in a version for riders who clip in and flat-pedal riders.

The bottom (outsole) is extremely grippy, which both helps you keep your connection with the pedals and gives you extra grip when you have to walk on those gnarly hike-a- bike sections. They’re durable and protective without being overly stiff and felt good on my first ride with zero breaking-in. The Flume Clip is ideal for wearing with the pedals recommended below, and both versions have a useful velcro strap to keep the laces close to your shoe. If you’ve ever gotten your shoelaces caught in your bike chain (cough:me:cough), you’ll appreciate it.

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Mountain bike gloves: Fox Ranger Gloves ($20+)

mountain bike protective gear fox gloves

They’re inexpensive, grippy, and lightweight. Photo: Suzie Dundas

There isn’t much to say about the FOX Ranger Glove. But in this case, that’s a good thing. It’s affordable, comes in a host of colors, is easy to wash, and has extra grip on the thumb and index pad so your fingers won’t slip when shifting or adjusting your dropper. Oh, and the fingertips work with touch screens. They’re marketed as mens, but, like helmets, gloves are needlessly gendered. They’re completely unisex, though like most extreme sports gear, it somehow defaults to falling in the men’s product category.

I find them quite breathable, even during hot-weather rides. Sizing is pretty standard; I wear a medium, and my male fiancé wears a large.

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The best mountain bike protective gear

Everyday helmet: Giro Women’s Montara MIPS ($89+)

women's mountain bike protective gear half lid helmet

Functional, stylist, comfortable. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Low-key style, good ventilation, MIPS, affordable
  • Cons: Adjustment dial can be a bit hard to find with gloves on

If you need a helmet that offers the maximum level of protection but won’t break the bank, check out the Montara from Giro. You can usually find it online for under $100 and it has MIPS technology to stop motion from transferring to your noggin during an impact. There’s a quick-adjust wheel so you can tighten it up before you start your downhill, and the visor flips up in case you’re one of those mountain bikers who likes to stash their shades on their helmet.

It doesn’t have adjustable vents and it isn’t as lightweight as some of the Smith Helmets, but it makes up for that by being budget-friendly and comfortable on long rides. It basically says “I’m serious about biking, but I don’t have a trust fund.” Aside from Smith, Giro is probably the brand I see most often on the trails.

By the way: the Montara is the women’s and Montaro is the mens, but the only real difference is the color options.

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Downhill/shuttling helmet: Smith Mainline ($300)

women's mountain bike protective gear full face helmet

Protection for the side of your head and jaw when you’re a little steeper than you should be. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Full face protection, lots of ventilation, multiple inner pads to customize the fit
  • Cons: Expensive, works best with Smith Goggles

Like most mountain bikers, I hate wearing full-face helmets on trails where I’m pedaling uphill. They don’t breathe as well as they’re cumbersome to carry on a backpack. But I’m I’m at a bike park or shuttling a lap, you better believe I’m rocking a full-face. They offer extra protection for your jaw and face, so there’s no reason not to wear one. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert rider or just starting out — you always want as much protection as possible.

There’s a reason you’ll see Smith Helmets on the noggins of serious downhillers. The Mainline helmet is tried-and-true with full-facers, and it’s surprisingly breathable and airy (at least compared to most other full-face helmets). But the most important reason I love this piece of mountain bike protection gear is that it has both of the mainstream safety features you want in a helmet: MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection), which allows the helmet to shift a little on impact, greatly reducing the amount of sudden motion based to your head and brain. The second is Koroyd®, which is basically a lightweight crumple system. (It kind of looks like a honeycomb.)

Smith also has arguably the best safety-focused policy in the industry: you’ll get 30 percent off your replacement helmet after a crash as long as it’s less than two years old.

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Knee pads: IXS Flow Evo+ ($79)

women's mountain bike protective gear and clothing protection knee pads

Full knee protection without covering your whole leg — I love them. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Good for shorter legs, high-end protection, removable pads make them easy to wash
  • Cons: Expensive, mesh back can get snagged on pedals

Most knee pads are designed for men, who tend to have leaner, longer legs. I think I’m relatively in shape, but I’ve worn some men’s knee pads that felt way too tight around the thigh and the padding too long over my actual knee. However, the IXS knee pads are short and comfortable and provide the right amount of coverage over my knee cap without covering my entire leg.

I also love the high-tech pad. Rather than being inflexible and hard, like many pieces of mountain bike protective gear, they’re somewhat flexible, but harden immediately on impact. That makes them much more comfortable to wear pushed down around my ankles when I’m pedaling up. I have a longer pair of knee pads I wear for downhill riding, but these are my everyday go-to when I’m on my bike.

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Sunglasses: Smith Embark ($160+)

mountain bike protective gear smith shades

Ignore the tire marks on my arm. Focus on the shades. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Side shields offer extra protection, better suited to daily wear
  • Cons: Sells out quickly, only one frame size

I know, I know — it seems like I’m obsessed with Smith. But it just happens that Smith makes a lot of really excellent mountain bike protective gear.

And that includes sunglasses. Among seriously good mountain bikers, you’ll see one pair the most: the Smith Wildcats. But they have a very specific style and look, to be honest, are a little out of place if you wear them off the saddle. So I actually recommend the Embark instead. It has a similar look and offers a similar level of protection from wind and sun thanks to the removable side shields, but is much more versatile.

Even with the side shields, they look much more like a normal pair of everyday shades from the front. And if you pull off the side shields, they look very similar to the Smith Lowdown — one of the brand’s most popular everyday models. And bonus if you’re a backcountry skier or cross-country skier: the Embark shades are unbelievably good at deflecting glare from snow and ice.

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Women’s mountain bike hard goods

If you’re in the market for items like bike racks, pumps, or repair kits, scroll to the bottom of our beginner mountain bike guide.

Bike pedals: Hustle REMtech Avery Pedal ($219)

women's mountain bike protective gear pedals magnet hustle bike labs

Get ready to receive extreme compliments. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Benefits of clipping but easier exits,
  • Cons: Very large, heavy

In my experience as someone who rides frequently with both men and women, women are a little less likely to use clip-in pedals. I asked a few friends why, and most said they didn’t like the idea of being attached to their pedals in case of a crash.

Fortunately, there’s an amazing answer to that, and it’s the magnet pedals. And dang, I love these pedals. They give you all the benefits of clipping in, so they make climbing and pedaling easier and ensure your foot stays in place on bumpy rock gardens. And punchy, two-pedal climbs don’t even register anymore, now that pedaling is a matter of pushing and pulling, not just pushing. Oh, and you can expect a little extra boost on jumps, since you’ll get more lift when you pull up. (Can you tell I love them?)

However, because they’re magnet, rather than a clip, you don’t get the downside of being clipped in — i.e., being attached to your bike during a crash. If you clip in, you’ll need to make a specific twisting motion to release your foot from the pedal, but with the REMTech pedals, all it takes is a little pull and your foot is unattached. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to pull my foot off, and worried that meant there wouldn’t be any uphill pedaling benefits. But nope — they really do make climbing easier and faster. They also come in multiple color/peg combos. They work with any clipless/clip-in shoe, but not flat-bottoms.

Note that these pedals are rather large, so you may knock them on rocks a bit more during your adjustment period. But don’t worry — they’re durable. if you order directly from Hustle Bike Labs, you can choose your color/peg combo. Obviously, I recommend blue and pink.

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Pack: Dakine Hot Laps 5L Hip Pack ($90)

mountain bike protective gear small rock

Not a great photo, but zoom in, and you’ll see that I have a whole rain jacket rolled and clipped to my Hot Laps pack. Photo: Suzie Dundas

  • Pros: Comfortable on hips, no sweaty back, includes water reservoir, fun colors/patterns
  • Cons: Less carrying space than a backpack

Whether you make hot laps or reasonable-speed laps, you may want to consider a hip pack over a backpack. The sternum strap on mountain biking backpacks sometimes digs uncomfortable into my chest, and if I’m just biking for an hour or two, I really don’t need a large and mostly empty backpack that will probably flap around on the downhills. That’s why I’ve switched to almost exclusively wearing the Hot Laps Hip Pack from Dakine, especially since I have a water bottle holder on my bike. The padded hip straps are very wide and comfortable, and I don’t end up with a sweaty back like I often do with backpacks.

It actually stays in place way better than I expected, and you can always swing it to side of your hip when you’re pedaling uphill if you find it rubbing on your low back/top glutes — something you can’t do with a backpack. It has a water reservoir and plenty of extra room for a tube and some snacks, plus you can strap a pump or rolled-up jacket on the outside. The newest version also has a phone-sized pocket on the hip strap. But if you’re budget-conscious, you may be able to find the older version for around $50.

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Mountain bike snacks: Honey Stinger Nut and Seed Bars ($2.75)

women's mountain bike protective gear honey stinger

I had to use a promotional photo because I literally ate the ones I bought too quickly to even remember to take photos. Photo: Honey Stinger

  • Pros: Tasty, small, lightweight, protein-packed
  • Cons: A bit dry/crumbly

Not sure if snacks count as hard goods, but as far as I’m concerned, an essential part of women’s mountain biking gear is women’s mountain biking snacks. I’ve been a Honey Stinger fan since I first tried their energy waffles, but the current favorite are their protein bars. They’re super filling and loaded with protein, which aids in energy (and muscle repair). If I drink a lot of water while I’m eating one, I’ll be full for hours. I recommend eating them after your climb (before your downhill) or in the parking lot immediately after you finish a ride.

Maybe more importantly, they’re so tasty — I definitely don’t think they taste like an energy stack. If you try one and like it, I’d recommend just buying a box to keep in your cabinet so you can have them handy for hiking and other outdoor adventures, too.

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