Roundup: 3-Season Riding Pants
For the times when shorts come up ... short
Riding pants have not always been a staple in my wardrobe. I used to ride in shorts no matter what the weather. We’re talking sun, rain, mud or snow—it was all skin below the knee pads. Really, it wasn’t bad, especially considering that after a point, I had forgotten what having my shins covered felt like. And then I moved to Montana and very quickly discovered the wonders of not getting frostbite.
While protection from the colder seasons is the obvious reason for opting into complete coverage, there’s a lot to be said for year-round protection. In fact, through this test extravaganza of trail-ready trousers, I’ve discovered pants I would wear instead of shorts in the hottest weather, pants so comfy I’ve used them as pajamas and even a pair I plan on (sneakily) using for my business casual getup. Of course, all are pretty great on the bike as well.
In truth, this lineup started with a much longer list, but a few ended up better suited for especially cold or wet weather. So, we’re starting with what we’ll call three-season pants. These pants are the ones seen shredding bike park laps, pulling bikepacking duties and cutting the slight chills of spring and fall rides. What these pants are not are full-on wet and wild winter wear—but don’t worry, there’s a whole other roundup review on tap for those later this year.
For now, the focus is all on the do-it-all pants. These beasties have been put through the wringer of riding for the past spring, summer and fall (or longer, in some cases). Eight pairs in total, these are pants from the industry that exceed expectations in function, form or fashion—or sometimes all three at once.
About the tester, before I begin. I should note that all pants tested here are men’s or unisex versions. Some of the pants come in a women’s version, but most do not (even though they should). If there is another, not tested, version of the pant, I’ve noted and linked it at the end of each section.
Troy Lee Designs Skyline | $110
- Plain styling
- Exceptionally comfortable
- Runs true to size
- Mid-weight, not particularly warm nor particularly cool
- Plain styling
- Two generic zippered pockets
- Fabric shows wear easily
If we’re talking pants, the first name off the tip of the tongue is probably going to be Troy Lee Designs. With a name almost synonymous with the game, TLD gear has been a part of riding culture for decades. Their pants, which originally came from the moto sector, have been refined over the years into something tailor-made (pun intended) for pedal power. The Skyline pant is the latest offering from TLD, intended to be pretty general-purpose. That last bit is important to keep in mind, as TLD usually specializes its trousers for racing, as seen in the Sprint Ultra, which I cover lower down on this list. The Skyline, however, is not pigeon-holed between the tape—it’s actually been the most-used pair of pants during this test.
The Skyline sits right smack in the middle of every aspect of riding pant design. It’s fitted, but loose enough to not turn heads in the grocery store. The material is mid-weight, light and breathable for pedaling days, but burly enough to take the edge off road-rash. The cut of the Skyline meshes well with the generous degree of stretch, leading to an ultra-comfortable experience on and off the bike. I will wear these pants as a day-to-day go-to, even if all I’m riding is the couch.
In wet weather, the material does nothing to resist water, but it also doesn’t become too soggy and uncomfortable, even when saturated. It dries quickly enough, although there are other pants, like the NF DP3, Fox Defend and TLD Spring Ultra I’d rather use on wet rides. The Skyline is a go-to for crisp fall afternoons, damp spring days and early-AM summer rides that might have some moisture, but are mostly limited to small puddles and not trail-rivers.
There are two pockets on the Skyline, zippered and big enough to hold an average phone, but not as specialized to riding as some other pants. While riding it can be difficult to get things in and out of the pockets, and larger phones might be uncomfortable as they tend to get pushed up into the hip crease.
The material of the Skyline goes from looking new to used in about, well, as soon as you use the pants. After one ride the threads start to pill up and look like a worn, bleached old pair of jeans—only worse. “Pilling,” as they call it in the textile industry. Seriously, if you really care about looks, these might not be for you. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the cosmetic downside to the Skyline, but then again I wore red and black camo Oakely shorts in high school so maybe you shouldn’t take fashion advice from me.
There are no women’s pants offered by TLD at this time.
POC Resistance Pro | $175
- Very stretchy
- Reinforced knees
- Runs true to size
- Zipper-calves for easy on/off
- Two large pockets on top of thighs
- Warmer, thicker material than some other pants
The POC Resistance Pro is dedicated to the gravity end of the spectrum. That might be a strong line to lead with, but the Resistance Pro is strongly on one side of that line.
For starters, the material of the Resistance Pro is, well, resistant. It feels the burliest of the bunch tested here, still with plenty of stretch but gives the impression you could baseball-slide down a scree slope without tearing a thread. The knees are reinforced as well, the only pant in the test that boasts that feature.
The cut of the Resistance Pro is fitted, but it’s generous enough around the knee for large pads, adding to their gravity-focused intent. On that note, knee-high zippers run on each leg, so if you’re going to tote big pads up the hill and don’t want to wear them, you won’t have to disrobe to get them on at the top of the hill.
On another material note, the Resistance Pro runs a bit warmer than the test average, and I found that I would reach for other pants on rides with a lot of pedaling. However, they weren’t so warm as to shy away from self-shuttling usage where having some extra protection on the way down is worth the trade. In cooler weather or a wet day at the bike park, the Resistance Pro will help keep some heat in where other pants that are vented or thinner might get a bit chilled.
Downsides to the Resistance Pro? Foremost, the inseam of these pants is pretty short. With kneepads on, the reinforced knees of the pants were nearly mid-thigh on me. I also have a 36-inch inseam, so keep that in mind, but I only experienced this level of ill-fit with the Resistance Pro. Secondly, the thigh pockets are set right on top of the thigh, which puts extra material—plus whatever you have in the pocket—right over an area that needs to breathe on long climbs. I found riding with a phone in that pocket was an uncomfortable and sweaty affair.
There are no women’s pants offered by POC at this time.
Fox Defend | $150
- Mid-weight fabric with good calf vents
- Fitted cut will suit many rider/knee pad combos
- Dries quickly
- Two large pockets
- Very, very tight ankle. Hard to get on/off
- Stiff ratchet waist closure that runs small
If simple style is your game, the Fox Defend might be up your alley. With minimal but bold graphics and, at least what I thought, the cleanest cut of the bunch, the Defend just feels sleek on the bike. The mid-weight fabric is very stretchy and moves well while pedaling or moving through bike yoga, and the slim fit stays out of the way of things it would otherwise catch on, like the saddle or chainring. There’s enough room in the knees for most pads, although the largest gravity opinions might get a bit cramped, leaving you with a bit of a comic-book superhero silhouette. But hey, you’ll just look like Super Bruni at that point.
The two pockets on the Defend are placed slightly outwards of the hip creases, and I found this to help with accessibility and comfort while on the bike. Those pockets are also generously deep, which really helped keep larger phones from migrating up towards the hip crease.
In wet weather, the Defend dried nicely, and even when saturated didn’t become uncomfortable and bloated. The material is fairly light, not offering tons of protection in a fall, but it certainly didn’t feel paper thin either. Rather, the Defend lends itself to trail and enduro riding more than shuttles and park laps—it’s comfortable to pedal in and wear all day long.
Two things kept me from wearing the Defend more often, though. First, the ankle openings are downright minuscule. I usually need to perform the jumping one-footed hop routine to get the pants off and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight. Some extra stretch in that area would be nice. Secondly, the ratchet-style waist adjuster is a hard plastic and not very comfortable under a waist strap from a hip pack or the like. And the waistband has no give in it, so getting the perfect tension is sometimes a balance between too tight or too loose.
Fox offers a range of women’s pants, like Defend, which is found here.
Troy Lee Designs Sprint Ultra | $185
- Drive-side ankle protection patch
- Very well vented
- Dries quickly, light-weight materials
- Runs small in the waist
- No pockets
If you wanna go fast, get these pants. The most race-oriented of the group, the Sprint Ultra holds back nothing when it comes to pure performance. The cut is slim and fitted, with room enough in the knees for mid-weight pads and some bulkier gravity options. The material isn’t the most stretchy out there though, which is both a gift and a curse. You’re highly unlikely to catch the Spring Ultra on anything due to the stiffness of the material, but at the same time, if the fit isn’t right, the pant might restrict movement slightly. If the fit is on point, these are very comfortable, light-feeling pants.
On the note of fit, the Sprint Ultra fit about a size smaller than the Skyline, as well as most of the other pants here. That is to say, the size 34 tested felt more like squeezing into a generous 32.
The Sprint Ultra is very, very well vented, with many perforations to let air run through and keep things cool. In hot weather, these were some of the more comfortable pants, perfect for hot park laps or shuttles. However, they might be a bit chilly in fall weather due to all that ventilation.
The right pant leg features a leather patch for chain protection—I never felt like I needed such a feature, but it also never got in the way. However, in wet weather I would rather have normal material there as that patch held more water than the rest of the pant.
The biggest drawback to the Sprint Ultra is that it has zero pockets. On their website, TLD lists the Sprint Ultra as featuring a side zippered pocket, but my test pair held no such feature. If you’re a rider that carries their phone in a hip or backpack, great. I’m not one of those riders, however, and I frequently chose to ride in other pants over the Sprint Ultra due to its lack of pockets. However, I also have to admit that not having pockets, and therefore nothing in them, definitely increases the comfort and breathability of the pants.
There are no women’s pants offered by TLD at this time.
Ion Scrub | $165
- Very stretchy and comfortable
- Runs true to size
- Many, many pockets
- Heavier fabric, better for shoulder seasons
- Tight in the calves compared to other pants
Ion’s Scrub pant has been a cooler-weather favorite. It’s not a winter pant by any means, but its slightly heavier fabric lends itself to crisp rides as it blocks a bit of wind chill. There are no vents either, which keeps warm air inside. The fabric breathes surprisingly well despite all this, and I never minded doing long pedals in the Scrub, especially morning laps that started a bit cooler.
The pockets in the Scrub are plentiful, with two main pockets right on top of the thigh, like the POC. In the cold, this helps with some insulation, but just like the POC, heat builds up there when pedaling. There’s plenty of room to store large phones in both the zippered thigh pockets and the two non-zippered high pockets.
The cut of the Scrub is fairly fitted, like most pants on test, and the material is some of the stretchiest. The pants are quite comfortable with a variety of knee pad sizes, with that stretch in the material allowing for the thigh panels to conform even with bulky pads. The pants also have an extra-stretchy piece just below the waistband in the back of the pant, which keeps the waistband from getting pulled down during deep movements on the bike. Take note, plumbers.
The only odd part of the cut of the Scrub is that the calves are quite slim compared to other pants here. The ankles flare out, almost like bell-bottoms, which feels a bit weird, especially when that part of the pant is wet. The larger ankles do make donning and doffing a breeze though, so the slightly odd fit might be worth the trade-off for some riders.
The Scrub pants are also available in a women’s version, found here.
Tasco Scope MTB pant | $135
- Looks almost like a dress pant
- Phone pocket on the side of the thigh
- Runs true to size
- Belt loops
- Heavier fabric is best for cooler temps
- Short crotch length won’t work for everyone
Tasco is a rising name in the MTB apparel scene, notably offering unique and interesting colorways for their products, particularly their gloves. However, their new pants come in straight black, no fuss about them. In fact, Tasco’s pants are so neat and tidy as to almost look formal. There are even belt loops if you want to get fancy with things. Don’t tell my boss, but I actually use these as commuter “business casual” apparel when commuting by bike.
On the trail, the Scout MTB are also quite good. They aren’t as slim fitting as other pants on test, which might be just what some riders are after. They aren’t baggy by any means, but they won’t get confused for yoga pants either. Like yoga pants, though, the material is quite stretchy, including the waistband, which makes all those weird positions we get into on the bike feel less like awkward. Tasco uses 90% REPREVE fabric, which is a spandex blend made from traceable, recycled plastics. It’s great to see brands using materials like this, and a few do, but usually just enough to put it on the label, not Tasco’s impressive 90%
As the performance of the material goes, the Scout MTB is a great cool weather option for the shoulder seasons. It blocks some wind and offers good insulation in cooler temps without being overly hot. That being said, in the summer months, the Scout MTB can get a little steamy on pedal missions. The best use case for these trousers is probably shoulder season insulation, early or late season bike park/shuttle laps or perhaps as the one pant you bring on summer road trips. They have a fairly upright cut, as I mention below, which lends themselves to off-bike more than other pants on test.
The pockets are a real standout on the Scout MTB; the side thigh pockets are perfect for a phone, placing the device along the side of the thigh where it’s less likely to get wet from spray and cause heat build-up. The two other pockets are zippered and in the standard hip placement, good for off-bike use but can be hard to access while riding.
There’s one caveat to the Scout MTB, and that’s a short waistband to crotch length. The cut seems to be aimed a little more toward traditional pant design, rather than on-the-bike specific articulation. Things can get a bit tight when bent over in the saddle, even though the pants are comfortable when upright. If you’re on the upper end of Tasco’s sizing, consider sizing up.
Tasco only offers a men’s version of the Scout MTB pant.
NF DP3 Team | $218
- Comfy, like pajamas
- No waist buckle, zipper or snaps
- Best feeling fabric on test, very stretchy yet burly
- Three pockets, including thigh phone pocket
- True to size, although very trim fit
- Slightly warm on climbs, but still summer-weather worthy
I’ll just come out with it, the NF DP3 pant lives up to the hype. If you haven’t heard the hype, let me spell it out. C-O-M-F-Y. The DP3 is like a pair of pajamas, but I’d, like, actually wear these as pajamas—they even beat out the TLD Skyline in terms of sheer comfortability. The key to the DP3’s success is a lack of any waist closure like snaps, zippers or Velcro. In lieu of this, NF uses a wide elastic “belt” laced through the waistband. The effect is a fit like actual yoga pants (if you’ve ever worn those). See also: sweatpants or PJs.
The material is ultra stretchy despite its burly feel, and the pant really moves with you as you ride. The cut of the DP3 is perhaps the most fitted of the pants on test, albeit with plenty of stretch in the pre-articulated knee area for bulky pads.
There are three pockets, all accessible while on the bike, including a thigh pocket that, like the Tasco, sits on the side of the thigh rather than the top. This pocket is perfect for phone storage, with the zipper easily usable with one hand.
When it comes to breathability and temperature control, the DP3 is best suited to a PNW climate where temps only reach unreasonable heights for a month or so out of the year. While the DP3 do breathe fairly well, they have no vents and can get a bit steamy on long climbs. I wouldn’t shy away from wearing the DP3 in hot weather, but there are more comfortable pants here when it comes to shedding heat.
For most of the year, however, the DP3 is my personal favorite with its super comfortable waistband, excellent cut and nicely thought-out pockets. Of the pants on test, this pair from NF feels the most as if it has come from a company of riders, for riders. That’s no shade on any other pants here, just extra kudos for the NF team.
The DP3 pant is a unisex pant, with NF providing sizing recommendations and extensive measurements of the pants on the product page.
Giro Havoc | $170
- Very well vented, best on test for pedaling in hot weather
- Quite stretchy
- Minimal belt loops
- Very light-weight compared to the other pants
- Cool in cool weather
- Thin fabric doesn’t offer much slide protection
- Two of the three pockets don’t have zippers
Wearing pants in the heat of summer seems a bit counterintuitive. The Giro Havoc pants make a good case for doing the opposite, however, with their generously vented panels and lightweight material dumping heat better than any other pant here. With a set of light-weight knee pads, the Havoc’s would be an excellent choice for adventure biking or bikepacking—cool enough for mid-day slogs but offering the coverage of pants when it comes to bushwacking or camp-fire-side bug battling.
On that note, the cut of the Havoc is such that wearing them without knee pads feels completely normal, whereas many of the other pants here have extra material in that area to deal with the bulk of padding. The light and stretchy fabric of the Havoc takes up that slack nicely (mostly, hold that thought), and leaves options open to those who ride without protection.
Of course, the downside to the lightweight material and venting is that in cooler temps, the Havoc doesn’t retain the same heat as other pants tested here. They’re still warmer than wearing shorts, no doubt, but these won’t be a go-to when the skies really start opening up and the mercury drops. However, if that mercury doesn’t drop, the Havoc would be the go-to for wet but warm rides as the fabric doesn’t hold water and dries very, very quickly.
The pockets on the Havoc will be hit or miss depending on the individual—two are zipper-less hip pockets and the one zippered pocket is on top of the right thigh. As stated a few times above, I’m not a fan of this pocket placement for a few reasons, heat being one. The other two pockets are pretty useless when riding as they aren’t deep enough to ensure whatever you put inside stays inside. Around camp, though, they’re nice for quick access items.
While most knee pads fit well under the Havoc, bulky pads don’t play as nice and will considerably shorten the ankle cuff height of the pant, making them more capris than pants on taller riders. However, on hot rides, that might be exactly what you want from pants, as they are still long enough to overlap with most riding socks and keep skin hidden from the elements while venting the most excess heat.
A women’s version of the Giro Havoc can be found here.