Mountain biking can be a great way to explore the great outdoors, reconnect with nature and test your endurance. It can also be a great way to get hurt or find yourself stranded in the woods with a flat tire, if you’re not adequately prepared. For that reason, after our SPD Pedal reviews, today, we’re counting down the 10 must-have mountain bike essentials any MTB enthusiast shouldn’t leave the house without.
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Mountain Bike Essentials At a Glance
- Mini Pump
- Digital Tire-Pressure Gauge
- Bike Cleaner
- Hydration system
- Premium Tires
- Two spare tubes
- Protective eyewear
If you’re planning any sort of long-distance riding, a reliable bike pump is a must.
There’s a wide variety of pumps available on the market, each one serving a distinct purpose, and not all of them are ideal for the trail. When it comes to mountain biking, a high-powered hand pump (also known as a mini pump) is always a solid choice. Hand pumps are compact and light compared to a standard floor pump, making them very practical for bikepacking or long-distance cycling trips.
A Blackburn Airstick SL pump, for example, weighs a measly 59g which can easily fit into your jacket pocket. It does only fit Presta valves. However – if you need a pump compatible with both presta and Schrader valves, something like a Blackburn Mammoth 2Stage should do the trick.
Digital Tire-Pressure Gauge
Getting the right tire pressure is crucial for a smooth bike ride. A low-pressure tire typically handles badly and will feel squirmish under braking, whereas an over-pressured tire is not going to offer the grip you need to really enjoy the trail.
A cheap pressure gauge is likely to restrict you in terms of measurable pressure ranges and compatible valve types, so a mid-range gauge is usually the best value for your money. If you own a few pairs of performance tires, though, it might be worth investing in a high-tier unit for some nifty extra functionalities.
Your desired pressure range will often be 20-35psi, so whichever unit you end up going for make sure it’s able to read low pressures. Schwalbe Airmax Pro Digital Pressure Gauge for example, is only 4 inches tall, and easily connects onto any valve.
If you like your pressure gauges packed with additional features, Topeak D2 SmartGauge is a bit more pricey, but has been designed specifically for cyclists, and is used by professionals and amateur riders alike.
Here’s something no mountain biker should ever leave the house without. Choosing the right multi-tool could very well mean the difference between cycling – and walking back home.
Multi-tools help with anything from adjusting your saddle position to tightening a loose bolt. For mountain bikes in particular, you’d be wise to choose a tool with a built-in chain breaker, to save yourself a potentially long hike back.
A Blackburn Wayside Multi Tool is a pocket-sized unit comprised of 19 different handy appliances. It sports five removable L-type hex wrenches, a slotted screwdriver, Torx wrenches and a serrated knife, an omni-compatible chain breaker and more.
For a true heavy-duty tool, you might want to look into the likes of Crank Brothers Pica or the Lezyne Chainless 20. Lezyne’s unit packs two screwdrivers, pretty much all the Allen keys you might need, 10-speed compatible chain tool, regular 14g and 15g spoke wrenches, as well as a serrated steel blade.
Bike Cleaner (and Chain lube)
A grimy mountain bike will only take you so far. And while soapy water can suffice, many soaps include harmful particles that could leave your bike’s frame or paint job worse for wear. With that in mind, it pays to invest in a specialized bike cleaner, and a top-shelf chain lube.
Bike cleaning sprays help remove the gunk and grime without damaging your gear or the bike’s paintwork. After applying, let the solution work its way through the gunk for a few minutes, before rinsing or wiping it off.
Cleaning sprays are a dime a dozen, with Muc-Off’s Bike Cleaner being one of the most popular options around. Biodegradable and sans harmful acids, a liter of this bad boy typically sets you back around $10-$15, and keeps your frame sparkling and your ride grit-free.
Additionally, if you often cycle in the rain or on very dusty trails, it’s worth packing a small bottle of chain lube to keep the bike running smoothly. Bring an old rag or a sponge as well, so you can clean the chain prior, and wipe off any excess lube afterwards.
Another ‘must have’ for any long-distance cyclist. If your typical ride lasts for more than a couple of hours, a standard water bottle is simply going to be too small to keep you well hydrated. Although pricier, a hydration pack can hold enough fluids for the day, while providing ample space to carry other essentials.
In a nutshell, a hydration pack is a custom backpack, specially designed to hold a water reservoir (also called a ’bladder’), connected to an easily-accessible hose. These bladders typically come in three sizes: 50oz, 70oz and 100oz, and are separated from the rest of the backpack with a padded section.
Most of these backpacks cost a pretty penny, though there are several budget options on the market. For one, WACOOL Waterproof Hydration Bladder Pack includes a 70oz bladder, a net for helmet storage, as well as a ventilation system for keeping your back dry.
If you want the best in class, however, you might want to look into something like the Osprey Packs Raptor 14. Suitable both for biking and hiking, the pack features a 100oz bladder, a blinker light attachment, and a roll-out tool pouch, ideal for your newly-purchased multi-tool.
Most cyclists will tell you that a fresh set of tires is one of the most efficient – if not most affordable – ways to upgrade your bike. Quality tires can make your bike lighter, improve handling and increase traction, making it a no-brainer purchase for any serious cyclist.
Word of advice from my own experience running a bike service shop: when it comes to mountain biking, you want a tire that grips well on most terrain and easily sheds mud. That being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all here – your tire choice should depend on your personal trail’s prevalent conditions.
One popular contender is the Maxxis High Roller II, a spiritual successor to the well-renowned, original High Roller tire. Available in 3 diameters (26″, 27.5″ and 29″), the rubber grips well on most surfaces, making it a capable tire year-round for most trails.
If you’re not looking to break the bank on a pair of tires, however, the Continental Trail King is another solid choice. An all-purpose tire, the Trail King performs well on myriad trail features, including roots and rocks. It’s also available with Continental’s unique Black Chili rubber compound, which offers solid grip on most tricky surfaces.
Two spare tubes (and a patch kit)
Double flats happen – and you should be ready when they do. Carrying two spare tubes might seem like overkill, but for most long-distance rides it really should be a given. Unless, of course, you prefer a 10-mile walk home, or hailing a cab?
Patch kits are also super useful, as they take up little room and can pretty much save your ride in a pinch. There are several types of patch kits available – glueless patches are faster to apply, whereas vulcanizing kits are typically more durable. Park Tool VP-1 Vulcanizing Patch Kit, for example, features six flexible patches with tapered edges, so they can blend with the tube’s profile. See, how patch kits can help you.
There’s lots of good reasons to wear shades when mountain biking, looking suave being pretty far down on the list. For one, sunglasses offer protection from piercing winds, UV rays and intense sunlight, giving you a clearer view of the trail ahead without having to squint through the ride. They also provide a physical barrier between your eyes and all sorts of menacing trail debris, including dust, tree branches and unsuspecting flies.
As with most things, when it comes to cycling glasses, you mostly get what you pay for. High-end optics often come with interchangeable parts, and many now feature special, light-sensitive photochromic lenses, which can be used on both very bright and cloudier days.
Madison’s Recon, a pretty sensible budget option, comes with ergonomic ‘arms’ and sports six tiny, anti-fogging vent slots across the top of the lenses. The lemon-dyed goggles also have rubber grippers on the inside to stop them from slipping, and feature a soft, extensible nose piece.
When it comes to top-shelf specs, Oakley’s Radarlock Path offer admirable build quality, great lenses and a quick-and-easy lens replacement system. They are rather comfortable as well – though frankly, if you’re splurging $200+ on a pair of sunglasses, that’s the least you should expect.
Another critical safety accessory. Riding gloves help control your bike and protect your hands from nasty falls or brushing past prickly bushes and sharp branches. Remember, full-fingered gloves are a must when hitting the trail – leave your trendy mitts at home.
No matter your style and preferences, most cycling gloves will set you back anywhere from $25 to $60. Sitting at the lower end of that range, the Madison Alpine and 661 Comp Slice are both solid, roomy lycra-backed gloves that should do well by most riders.
On the other hand (pun entirely intended), the Leatt DBX 4.0 Lite is certainly costly and will probably even feel unnecessarily extravagant for some, but if you can overlook its hefty price tag, it has been lauded as one of the best-fitting gloves on the market.
While I do hope most would agree this one’s a given, a proper bike helmet still seems to fall squarely in the ‘nice to have’ category for many cyclists. If you’ve already stretched your cycling budget thin, it might seem like skipping headwear is not that big a deal. However, it only takes one dangerous fall to prove you thoroughly and unmistakably wrong.
If you’re a casual rider whose idea of a demanding trail is your local park, the Bell Traverse ticks many boxes, and comes at a great price. Featuring absorbent padding, moderate head coverage and a visor, the Traverse weighs just 11oz, and provides reasonable ventilation thanks to its large oval cutouts.
That being said, the helmet is unlikely to win any awards for comfort, mainly due to its one-size-fit-all design, and can still feel bulky despite its relatively light weight. If you’ve got some extra amount lying around and want to further reduce the risk of a serious injury, you might want to consider investing in a more recent Bell Traverse model, which includes a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), a welcoming safety addition present in many high-end helmets.
At the premium price, the Giro Chronicle MIPS is certainly more pricey, but should resonate well with serious mountain bikers. The contemporary design provides solid coverage, and includes a MIPS liner as well as copious padding on the inside. The large, adjustable visor helps shield the rider from the sunlight, and can slide enough to accommodate your goggles as well. And though the Chronicle is still relatively cheap – compared to the likes of Bell Super 3R (or POC Trabec Race – it seems to be an appealing contender to many other high-end alternatives currently on the market.
Finally, please note that this is in no way an exhaustive list of all MTB gear one can – or indeed should – own. There are plenty of other essentials and peripherals to consider – including bib shorts, bike racks, repair stands, first-aid kits, packable rain jackets, headlights and more.
That being said, this mountain bike essential kit list should at least give you a good overview of just how well-equipped you should be before saddling up. Just hopping on the bike and hitting the trail isn’t going to cut it, and leaves way too much to chance. So instead of relying on dumb luck and perfect trail conditions, do your homework and be prepared. And I’ll see you on the road!