With the approach of warm sunny days, I started wondering what I should wear while mountain biking this summer. My cool-weather attire of long sleeves and pants are great at providing protection but would have me quickly drenched in sweat while riding on a hot day.
The best attire for mountain biking on a hot day includes a well-ventilated helmet, moisture-wicking shorts and shirt, gloves to prevent sweaty hands from slipping, and polarized sunglasses to cut down on glare while also protecting your eyes from the sun, dust, and dirt. Avoid wearing any clothes made out of cotton.
Picking the right gear for riding in hot weather not only makes the riding experience more enjoyable but also safer by helping to avoid overheating and dehydration.
Clothing considerations for mountain biking in the summer
Helmets for hot weather
While your helmet doesn’t technically count as a piece of “clothing” it’s certainly something that you’ll be wearing (at least it better be). According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), we release up to 10% of our internal body heat through our heads.
During colder months a helmet creates a fantastic barrier for helping to prevent this heat loss. Unfortunately for us, it has the same effect when riding in hot conditions.
Instead of allowing the heat to escape (which is good on a hot day) it instead traps it close to the head. For this reason, it’s important to find a well-ventilated helmet for riding in hot conditions.
Many cross-country helmets come with better ventilation, but you can also find trail and enduro versions that have good venting as well.
If you’re just out enjoying singletracks, a full-face helmet is going to be out of the question. They trap even more heat, and would likely turn your ride into a miserable sweaty experience.
In addition to ventilation, helmet color is another consideration. When light hits an object, some of the light is absorbed while the rest is reflected. The light that is absorbed translates into heat. Because darker colors reflect less light, it means that they absorb more energy. This, in turn, makes them hotter than lighter colors.
For this reason, it’s better to choose a lighter colored helmet for riding on hot days. While that jet black helmet may look downright sexy, you’ll really be feeling the heat if you choose to rock it on hot and sunny days! And I don’t mean in a good way 😉
Mountain biking shorts for hot weather
The choice to wear fitted or baggy shorts for mountain biking really comes down to personal preference. Regardless of which route you go with, you need to ensure that the shorts are made from a breathable material. No – cotton is not an option here!
Most mountain biking shorts come with a padded mesh liner. The padding is key for preventing chafing, but so is the mesh material itself. You want to allow for as much airflow as possible to reduce moisture build up.
While jeans may work in cooler weather, they will not be your friend in hot conditions!
Many mesh liners also come with rubberized anti-slip strips around the end to help prevent them from sliding up your leg during rides. While not a foolproof setup, it’s better than nothing!
Once you’ve got a good pair of shorts picked out, make sure that you don’t ruin your good choice by wearing cotton underwear beneath them.
Finally, make sure to wash your shorts after every ride. Hot and humid conditions are a breeding ground for bacteria, and allowing them to build up will quickly lead to a case of saddle sores.
Upper-body attire for hot weather
Much like mountain biking shorts, there are two style of upper-body attire – fitted and loose. The key for each is once again that they are made of a breathable and moisture wicking material. Moisture wicking is essential because it creates a net cooling process by pulling sweat away from the skin.
Opt for short-sleeved varieties that are made of lightweight material. You can find an endless array of shirts that fit this bill at any sporting goods store, but they won’t be the most durable option.
Mountain bike-specific jerseys are made of more durable materials that will hold up better to the inevitable crashes or snags while riding.
Gloves for hot weather
While it may seem a little counterintuitive, gloves are a great choice in hot weather. The added grip is especially helpful for sweaty hands that you might otherwise find slipping around the handlebars.
Because most handlebar grips are made of dark-colored material, they can quickly heat up in direct sunlight. Wearing gloves helps to prevent your hands from getting scalded by these hot surfaces.
If you’re worried that your full fingered gloves will be too hot, you may want to invest in a pair with better venting or that are fingerless. While fingerless gloves may be somewhat cooler, they don’t provide as much hand protection or grip.
Sunglasses for hot weather
While sunglasses may seem like a no brainer for reducing the sun’s intensity they also have other benefits.
Polarized glasses are fantastic for cutting glare and increasing your ability to read the terrain. Certain manufacturers also make photochromic lenses. These automatically adjust the amount of tint (light blocking) as you ride.
While this may seem like a minor feature, it’s incredibly helpful on rides that have many shaded and lit sections. Riding in a shady section with full tint is just asking for a tumble.
Grips are another minor feature of sunglasses that often overlooked. Look for a pair that has good grippy rubber on the contact points around your nose and ears. Many everyday sunglasses have completely smooth metal or plastic surfaces in these areas that would allow them to easily fall off while mountain biking.
For dry environments, sunglasses can also be very helpful for protecting your eyes from dust and dirt in the air.
Finally, consider looking into shatterproof varieties to further protect your eyes in the event of a crash.
If you don’t already have a pair of sunglasses that meets these standards, I’d recommend taking a look at this pair.
Socks for hot weather
Taking a head to toe look at your hot weather mountain biking attire means that we can’t ignore your socks! As always, avoid wearing cotton at all means. Socks made from merino wool are a great choice because they not only have moisture wicking properties but are also antibacterial.
While you can wear merino hiking socks, you may want to look into a mountain bike-specific pair because they are often seamless to help prevent blisters from forming.
What about knee pads for hot weather?
Compared to a helmet, knee pads aren’t a riding necessity but they sure are a smart choice! Having to cut a ride short because you’ve gashed open a knee isn’t fun for you or your fellow riders. The major downside to knee pads while riding in hot weather is that they can be so stinking hot!
Look for pairs with cutaways at the back of the knee. This design lowers friction and increases airflow. You can also find versions that have honeycomb textures on the front of the knee to allow more air to pass through.
Take a look at this pair if you’re in need of a new set of knee pads / guards!
Drink 32 ounces (1 liter) of water every hour on the trail
As a general rule of thumb, aim to take in ~32 ounces (1 liter) of water for every hour on the trail. While this may seem like a lot of water, your body is losing critical fluids and electrolytes through sweat that need to be replaced. Not keeping up with your fluid intake can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
In addition to making smart clothing choices, staying hydrated will be absolutely critical to having a good ride in hot weather. The mistake that most people make is to wait until they get on the bike to start hydrating.
Instead, you should be focusing on taking in plenty of water and electrolytes well before your ride. Waiting until you’re already thirsty on the bike is a lost cause. Due to the increased sweating that will occur on hot rides, water alone won’t do the trick. You also need to replace the lost electrolytes to prevent yourself from bonking.
Additional electrolytes can be gained through pre-mixed solutions like Gatorade, Accelerade, and Cytomax. You can also find power and tablet forms that are then mixed with water to ensure that you’re getting enough electrolytes.
Mix these with water before your ride and keep them in your water bottle or hydration pack for easy access.
How do you know if you’re running low on electrolytes? A few common signs that you’re running low include weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, twitching, numbness, and muscle spasms are just a few of the signs that your body is low.
Even if you don’t feel thirsty, try to stop every 15-20 minutes to take a quick break in the shade and drink some fluids.
Whether you bring a water bottle or hydration pack, make sure that it’s more than enough for how long your ride will be. While hydration packs do hold more liquid, they don’t allow for as much airflow around the back. Like many of your previous clothing choices, this will also boil down to a matter of personal preference.