Mountain Bike Protective Gear – 11 Vital Items

11 Most important items of protective gear for Mountain Biking

As enthusiasts of the thrilling sport of mountain biking, our team has accumulated more than two decades of experience. In our time, we have learned the pivotal role that protective gear plays in case of an accident. Therefore, to keep you safe while you enjoy the thrill of speeding down mountain trails, we have curated a list of 11 essential protective gear items for mountain bikers.

Bike protective gear is an essential component for every mountain biker, ensuring their safety and minimizing the risk of injuries while out on the trails. From the full face helmet to knee pads and elbow guards, investing in the right protective gear can make a significant difference in your riding experience.

Before we delve into the list, it’s crucial to understand that the type of protective gear you need will depend on your style of mountain biking. There are different categories of mountain biking, and each comes with its own set of risks that necessitate specific types of gear.

The Best Mountain Bike Protective Gear: By Category

XC – Cross Country

Cross Country involves riding over a variety of terrain including singletrack, double track, fire roads and even some paved sections. XC mountain riding tends to be more endurance focused.

For cross-country riding, you’ll want to focus on protective gear that is lightweight and breathable.

You’ll need a good helmet, gloves, and shoes that provide adequate protection without being too bulky. Also, eye protection is strongly suggested for all categories.

Protective Gear:

  • Helmet: XC
  • Eye Protection
  • Gloves
  • XC Shoes

Trail

Trail riding is a bit more aggressive than XC riding. It typically involves riding over rougher terrain, with more obstacles such as rocks and roots. For this type of riding you will want to focus on protective gear that offers more coverage than XC gear.

the kind of gear a mountain biker wears on the trail

Focus on armor that is lightweight, durable and can take a few hits. You’ll also want gloves and shoes that have good support and grip incase you need to hike a bike up a trail. Kneepads are also a good idea for trail riding, as they will protect your knees in the event of a fall.

Protective Gear:

  • Helmet: Trail
  • Eye Protection
  • Bike Gloves
  • Knee Pads
  • Shoes: Trail

Enduro

Enduro mountain biking is a relatively new style of mountain biking that combines the technical aspects of downhill riding with the endurance required for XC riding.

Race Day: CES – California Enduro Series – James Mackie, Pro Mountain Bike

As such, you’ll want to focus on protective gear that is lightweight and breathable, but also durable enough to take hard hits. For enduro riding, you’ll want to focus on armor that offers good coverage without being too bulky. You’ll also want gloves that offer good grip and stiff shoes with toe protection. When riding rowdier terrain, you may also want to consider a full-face helmet, and body armor that will help protect your chest, back, shoulders and knees from impact.

Protective Gear:
  • Half-shell & full-face Helmet: You’ll need both depending on how rough the conditions are. I’ll wear my full-face on black-diamond trails with high exposure, big drops and 45 degree chutes. The half-shell is great for regular days out and race stages that are slightly more tame.
  • Eye Protection: Goggles if you’re riding with friends in dry conditions. Large lens glasses otherwise.
  • Gloves
  • Shoes: Enduro / DH
  • Knee Pads: Soft or Hard-shell
  • Chest and Shoulder Protection: Optional
  • Back Protection: Optional
  • Padded Shorts: Optional

DH – Downhill

Downhill is the most extreme form of the sport, so you’ll need the most robust protective gear for protection. A full-face helmet is a must, as well as body armor, which can help protect your chest, back, neck, elbows, hips and shoulders from impact.

Greg Minnaar, the most successful downhill racer of all time racing at Leogang. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.
Protective Gear:
  • Helmet: Full-face
  • Eye Protection: Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Shoes DH
  • Knee Pads: Hard-shell
  • Chest and Shoulder Protection
  • Back Protection
  • Padded Shorts

You may jump to the relevant topic by using one of the links below, or you may read on for all the information you’ll need to choose the right protective gear.

#1 – Helmets
#2 – Gloves
#3 – Eye Protection
#4 – Shoes
#5 – Kneepads
#6 – Elbow pads
#7 – Chest and Shoulder Protection
#8 – Back Protection
#9 – Padded shorts
#10 – Neck brace
#11 – Wrist brace


Protective Gear

#1 – Mountain Bike Helmets

The helmet is an essential piece of protective gear that should never be overlooked. A full face helmet will protect your head from impact in the event of a fall or crash.

There are three main types of helmets: XC / Trail / DH

  • XC helmets are the lightest weight and most breathable option. They offer the least protection on the sides and back of your head in the event of a fall, so they are only recommended for cross-country riding on smooth trails.
  • Trail helmets only cover the top and back of your head, leaving your face exposed. They are lighter in weight and more breathable than full-face helmets, making them a good choice for cross-country and trail.
Fox Flux Mountain Bike Helmet
  • Enduro (new helmet style) Open-faced enduro helmet features MIPS™ with increased coverage for the jaw, ears, and back of the head.
  • DH Full face helmet offer the most protection, as they cover your entire head, including your chin and face. They are ideal for downhill, enduro riding and the bike park where the risks are higher. Full face helmets provide comprehensive protection for extreme riding conditions.

Look for helmets with an integrated MIPS™ system, which can help to reduce the rotational forces on your brain in the event of a crash. It has been proven to drastically reduce the chances of a concussion. I’ve landed on my head at high speeds a handful of times and walked away thanks to the MIPS system.

It’s also important to choose a helmet that is compatible with any other safety gear you might wear, such as goggles or glasses.

Helmet sizing – Always refer to the manufacturer’s size chart you’re purchasing from. When choosing a helmet, it’s important to find one that fits well and is comfortable to wear. Most helmets will have an adjustable retention system that allows you to tighten or loosen the fit. The helmet should be snug with very little movement when secured properly. It makes sense to wear a properly fitting full face helmet as it is crucial for maximum protection.

#2 – Gloves

Fox Defend Mountain Bike Gloves
Fox Defend Gloves

Gloves are another essential piece of safety gear, as they protect your hands in the event of a fall. Gloves should be lightweight and breathable, yet durable enough to withstand abrasion in the event of a crash.

Gloves offer grip so that you can keep better control of your bike, even when sweating.

Some gloves also come with built-in features, such as touchscreen compatibility or padding in key areas. Padded gloves are for beginners only, while advanced riders use gloves with thinner material on the palm of the hand. This is so you can feel the feedback that the bike is giving you as you feel for traction on the trail.

When choosing gloves, it’s important to find a pair that fits well and is comfortable to wear. The rule of thumb for sizing gloves is that they should be snug but not too tight when clenching a fist.

#3 – Goggles or Glasses

Oakley Wind Jacket Glasse with Prizm Trail Lens
Oakley Wind Jacket – Prizm Trail Lens

Goggles or Glasses protect your eyes from the elements and debris that can be kicked up while riding as well as tree foliage. Goggles or Glasses should be shatterproof, fog-resistant, and offer good UV protection. A wide lens is the best choice when choosing a pair of mountain bike sunglasses. This gives you the most coverage against trail spit.

Goggles or Glasses come in a variety of styles and lens tints. Some come with built-in features, such as ventilation or anti-fog lenses. Good quality frames should be lightweightdurable, and scratch-resistant. As an optional feature, interchangeable lenses are a great way to increase versatility across daylight and low-light conditions.

#4 – Shoes

Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa Shoes
Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa Shoes

Mountain bike-specific shoes are designed to provide a good grip on the pedals while still being comfortable enough to walk in, in case you need to hike a bike. They often have a lugged sole and a recessed cleat to make walking easier. Shoes are also typically more robust than road cycling shoes to protect your feet from rocks and roots on the trail.

When choosing mountain bike shoes, it’s important to pick a pair that will work with the type of pedals you have. The two most common types of pedals are platform clipless pedals and flat pedals. Clipless pedals require special shoes with cleats that clip into the pedal. This provides a more efficient pedaling motion but can be difficult to get out of in an emergency situation. Flat pedals have no clipping system and are simply placed on the pedal. They work with any type of flat shoe but can be less efficient for pedaling.

Mountain bike shoes come in a variety of styles, including lace-up shoes, velcro shoes, and BOA closure shoes.

Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to choose the type of shoe that will work best for you. Lace-up shoes are typically the most affordable option but can be difficult to get a tight fit. Velcro shoes are easy to get on and off but may not provide as snug of a fit. BOA closure shoes use a dial system to provide a custom fit, but they can be more expensive.

No matter what style or type of shoe you choose, make sure it’s comfortable and fits well. The last thing you want is for your shoes to rub or cause discomfort while you’re out on the trail.

#5 – Knee pads

Kneepads protect your knees in the event of a fall or crash. Kneepad protection should be lightweight and breathable, yet durable enough to withstand abrasion in the event of a crash.

Fox Enduro Knee Pads
Fox Enduro Knee Pads

There are three main types of knee pads:

  • Light: Light trail riding, usually the slip-on leave kind.
  • Medium: Enduro and DH, slip-on or adjustable. Padding material is usually soft pads.
  • Hard: DH, adjustable pads that have a hardshell design.

Knee pads for biking come in a variety of styles, from simple knee sleeves to full-length shin guards. Some kneepads also come with built-in features, such as impact-resistant padding or adjustable straps.

When choosing knee pads, it’s important to find a pair that is appropriate for the kind of riding you do, fits well, and is comfortable to wear. Knee pads should fit snugly around your knees without being too tight. Also, it is important that mountain biking shorts that you use don’t snag on your pads.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s size chart when purchasing knee pads to ensure a proper fit.

#6 – Elbow Pads

Elbow Pads protect your elbows in the event of a fall or crash. These Pads are usually lightweight and breathable but durable enough to withstand abrasion in the event of a crash.

Mountain Bike Elbow Pads
Fox Enduro Elbow Pads

There are two main types of Mountain Bike Elbow Pads:

Soft Pad: These pads have a soft padded shell that covers the elbow joint and is held in place using a slip-on sleeve design. Trail riders will occasionally use elbow pads if the trail gets gnarly enough. You won’t see XC riders sporting pads, ever.

Hard Shell: These pads used primarily with downhill riding have a hard plastic shell that covers the elbow joint and is held in place by straps usually.

Culture Note: Currently, it’s considered “uncool” to wear elbow pads out on the trail. However, we believe that safety is more important than looks.

Elbow Pads come in a variety of sizes and colors. Some pads also come with built-in features, such as impact-resistant padding or adjustable straps.

When choosing pads, it’s important to find a pair that fits well and is comfortable to wear. The pads should fit snugly around your elbows without being too tight when bending your arms.

#7 – Chest, Rib, and Shoulder Protection

mountain bike Chest, Rib, and Shoulder Protection
Alpinestars Paragon Lite Protection Jacket SS

Safeguarding oneself with chest, rib, and shoulder protection is of utmost importance when it comes to body armor. This kind of protective gear can be broadly categorized into two main types, which are:

Soft Shell: These are usually lightweight and breathable but not as durable as hard shell protection. They’re typically worn by Enduro riders who don’t need the extra weight or bulk of hard shell protection.

Hard Shell: These are designed for more aggressive riding, such as downhill and freeride. They offer more protection than soft shell protection but are also heavier and bulkier. This type of bike protective gear is perfect for the bike park.

You can find complete vests with built-in chest, rib, and shoulder protection with a back protector insert.

#8 – Back Protection

Back Protection for Mountain Biking
Alpinestars Paragon Lite Protection Jacket SS + Built-in Back Protector

Back protection is an essential piece of protective gear for mountain biking. Back protection protects your spine in the event of a fall or crash. It’s an essential piece of safety equipment for Enduro and Downhill mountain biking. You will have softshell and hard shell options to choose from; however, there is a tradeoff of comfort vs protection.

Some back protectors come with a hydration pack built-in, which is convenient for longer rides.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s size chart you’re purchasing from.

#9 – Padded Chamois & Liner Shorts

Padded Chamois & Liner Shorts come in a variety of styles. The liners we are looking for come with built-in features, such as impact-resistant padding for your hips and lower back.

Mountain Bike Padded Chamois & Liner Shorts
Baseframe Pro Padded Short

When choosing liners, it’s important to find a pair that fits well and is comfortable to wear. Liner Shorts should fit snugly around your hips and buttocks without being too tight.

#10 – Neck brace

A Mountain Bike Neck brace is an essential piece of safety equipment designed to prevent neck injuries in the event of a fall or crash. Neck braces are typically made from lightweight premium plastic and carbon fiber.

mountain bike neck brace
Leatt 35 Neck Brace

It is primarily used for Enduro or Downhill racing. We highly recommend it for the bike park as well.

#11 – Wrist brace

A wrist brace can help you heal from a previous wrist injury while also reducing your risk of re-injury. Additionally, the brace helps to stabilize weak joints. Wrist braces are typically made from quality plastics or carbon fiber. This is a must-have if you’ve suffered from a wrist injury in the past.  

mountain biking wrist brace
Leatt 5.5 Wrist Brace

Ultimately, investing in high-quality bike protective gear is a small price to pay for the peace of mind and added safety it provides. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, the article on ProMountainBike.com serves as a comprehensive resource to help you navigate the world of bike protective gear, enabling you to make informed choices that prioritize your safety and enhance your riding adventures. Remember, protecting yourself with the right gear allows you to fully enjoy the thrill of mountain biking while minimizing the risks associated with the sport.

We hope you found this Mountain Bike Protective Gear guide helpful. Remember, safety is more important than looks. So, don’t sacrifice safety for looks. Always choose Protective Gear that suits your riding style, fits well, and is comfortable to wear.

What do I need to wear out on the trail?

There are 11 key items of bike protective gear that are essential for every rider, these essential items can ensure your safety and enhance your biking experience.

Mountain biking is a strenuous activity that takes place in often extreme conditions, so it is important to be aware of what to wear before heading out on the trails.

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