There’s no wrong or right answer when it comes to what cycling clothing to wear when riding your gravel bike. Nothing is stopping you from wearing your full road kit or mountain bike gear, although some new developments may make the ride more enjoyable if you opt for clothing designed with gravel riding in mind.
Even within gravel cycling, there’s plenty of sub-genres, from flat-out racing to chilled touring and hardcore bikepacking. All of these create different demands for what we need our kit to do for us. Throw in weather and trail conditions into the mix too, and there’s a real variety of scenarios to dress for.
A growing number of cycling clothing brands have noticed the upsurge in the popularity of dropbar off-road riding, and are taking these demands into account to design new collections specifically with the gravel rider in mind. If you’re in the market for a new steed too, check out our pick of the best gravel and adventure bikes and women’s specific gravel bikes.
Our pick of the best gravel clothing
Here’s our pick of the best gravel-specific clothing on the market right now. Read on for more tips on what to consider when choosing what to wear for your dirt rides, whether you’re out for a gravel smash fest or a relaxed multi-day bikepacking trip.
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Morvélo Overland Selector Shorts
- RRP: £90 / $120
- Review score: 9/10
- Sizes: XS – XXL, unisex fit
- Colorways: black only
- Pros: quick-drying, super stretchy and comfy, zipped pockets, DWR treated
- Cons: synthetic material will need more regular washing
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another pair of baggies that are as comfortable as the Morvélo Overland Selector Shorts, which are made of incredibly stretchy and fast drying material. They’re a slim cut, so more casual than lycra shorts, but definitely not as baggy as some MTB shorts either.
Choose to wear these shorts over bibs for longer gravel rides, or sans chamois for casual wear or short rides. Three zipped pockets make storing valuables easy and secure. Check out our review for the other items in Morvélo’s gravel-friendly Overland collection.
Read more: Morvélo Overland collection review
Rapha Cargo Core Bib Shorts
- RRP: £110 / $150
- Review score: 10/10
- Sizes: XS-XXL men’s and women’s XXS-XL waist shorts only
- Colorways: black only
- Pros: very comfortable, great chamois, pockets work well to take weight off the back
- Cons: none!
The concept of pockets on the thighs of bib shorts was first introduced a couple of years ago, seemingly simultaneously by Specialized and Rapha. This feature has since become popular across many brands, and for good reason too.
With storage options on the legs, riders are now free to opt for a looser-fitting top, as pockets are no longer restricting how baggy you can make the tee or jersey.
This feature is now available in Rapha’s entry-level Core range, and as we found out in our 10/10 review, work really effectively at a reasonable price. Rapha also has an Explore range of clothing dedicated to off-road riding, available in both men’s and women’s fits.
Read more: Rapha Cargo Core bibs review
Read more: Rapha Cargo bibs review
Velocio TRAIL Mesh Bib Liner
- RRP: £118 / $139
- Sizes: XS-XXL, men’s and women’s
- Colourways: black only
Traditionally, baggies haven’t been the choice for riders chasing longer miles, as wearing them with bib shorts underneath in hot conditions can be too hot and sweaty. Some neat new bib liners from American brand Velocio are quickly challenging that.
These bib shorts are designed to be worn under baggy shorts only, as they are made from light, elasticated mesh all over bar the quality chamois! This means you can enjoy the same level of support from a proper chamois without compromising on breathability. As these are totally see-through, you’ll also need a set of baggies, and the Velocio Trail shorts are lightweight, comfortable and have well thought out pockets that don’t swing as you pedal.
The women’s fit also benefits from Velocio’s FLYfree design, making trailside nature breaks super easy.
7mesh Sight Shirt
- RRP: £45 / $60
- Sizes: XS-XL, men’s and women’s
- Colorways: black, lime, and ‘dusty rose’ for women, black, navy, beige and red for men
With simple styling just like a t-shirt and tailored fits for men and women, the Sight Shirt from 7mesh is a solid option for a more casual look. Team it with baggy shorts or cargo bibs so you still have some bigger pockets in addition to the small zipped pocket in this tee.
Made from polyester, the Sight Shirt is designed for hot summer rides and 7mesh claim it’s great for moisture-wicking to help you keep cool. It’s also super light at just over 100g.
Café du Cycliste Solenne Cycling Jersey
- RRP: £167 / $298
- Sizes: XS-XXL, men’s only
- Colorways: blue or light grey
Is it a hoodie? No, the Solenne is actually a technical cycling jersey, but you probably wouldn’t notice the difference if you sidled up to someone in a bar at the end of a hard day’s pedal.
A blend of on-the-bike functionality and super casual styling, the Solenne is a great choice for slightly colder weather in the transition months when you need something more than just a tee. The fit is a little baggier than a normal long-sleeved jersey, but still features three rear cargo pockets and a smaller zipped one for your kit and snacks.
At £167 / $298, it’s certainly not a cheap bit of cycling kit, but should be pretty handy for use both on and off the bike.
PedalEd Kyoto Gravel T-Shirt
- RRP: £68 / $96
- Sizes: XS-XL, men’s only
- Colorways: black, navy or burgundy
A simple tee design woven made with a merino blend, the Kyoto Gravel T-Shirt from PedalEd is a popular choice for riders seeking longer adventures by bike. This natural fiber gives exceptional odor control and breathability, making the t-shirt great for multi-day backpacking trips and day rides alike. Elastane is added to the blend for a little stretch, too.
A dropped hem helps to give optimal on-the-bike coverage, while the contrast cotton pocket adds a little design flair.
Cascada Cross Socks
- RRP: Approx £18
- Sizes: S-XL (35-50EU)
- Colorways: two-tone khaki, purple, blue or grey
It might seem bizarre to list socks in a collection of gravel clothing, but the demands placed on these are quite different from road cycling socks, especially when more technical terrain and hike-a-bike is involved. Durability is key, and that’s where the Cross Socks from Italian start-up Cascada excel.
With padded toes and heel, these socks are somewhere between a normal cycling sock and a hiking sock, with reinforcement exactly where the shoes might rub when walking. They also come in some great colors, including what seems to be the gravel favorite; khaki.
Castelli Unlimited Bib Shorts
- RRP: £120 / $139.95 (men’s), £130 (women’s)
- Sizes: XS – XL (women’s), S-3XL (men’s)
- Colorways: black only
The Castelli Unlimited Bib Shorts may look like just another pair of road bibs, but just under the surface, there’s more to make them a great choice on dirt roads. Just like Rapha’s Cargo bibs, these also feature pockets on the thighs.
The thigh panels are made from a double layer of Castelli’s Unlimited Lycra, aiming to reduce abrasion if you have a nasty slide on the gravel. You’ll find other gravel-friendly clothing in Castelli’s Unlimited range too, including baggy shorts and jerseys for both men and women.
Read more: Castelli’s new Unlimited gravel range
What’s best for gravel riding, lycra or casual?
The best style of kit for gravel riding ultimately depends on two things; the situation and rider preference. You’ll tend to see most people in competitive gravel races wearing aerodynamic lycra kit much like road cycling, whereas for multi-day bikepacking trips many riders opt for loose-fit casual gear.
Lycra or baggy, the choice is down to you. There’s more choice than ever in between with brands launching constantly launching gravel-specific threads in addition to road and mountain biking gear, for example baggy shorts that are slim-fit and shorter than traditional mountain biking shorts.
For many, gravel riding can be a more casual alternative to road cycling, and their clothing style reflects this.
Can’t I just wear my everyday clothes?
You certainly can wear your normal casual gear for gravel riding, although you might soon realize the benefits of more technical fabrics and fits that are specific to cycling or at least activewear. Cotton t-shirts don’t tend to dry out very well, and riding without any chamois support can leave you sitting less than pretty.
What materials are best for gravel clothing?
You can largely divide technical materials adopted for cycling gear in two; synthetic and non-synthetic. On the whole, non-synthetic materials including merino and bamboo can help significantly with odor control, which is important for rides over multiple days.
Some synthetic technical tees excel at moisture wicking and breathability, which is really important for hot days in the saddle.
Even though you probably won’t be going as fast as you would be on the road, the extra resistance from riding off-road can really make you work up a sweat, so breathable fabrics and layers are key.
You’re also likely to need a greater range of movement for riding off-road compared to road cycling, as you maneuver over the bike and out of the saddle for technical descents. Look for fabrics that have plenty of stretch to prevent binding and pinching.
Baggy shorts or bib shorts?
The age-old question. Again, this tends to be personal preference, however there have been technological advances on both sides recently. Cargo pockets on bib shorts now make carrying kit like your phone or snacks easier, and advanced mesh liner bibs for wearing under baggies mean that you don’t have to compromise on chamois comfort.