Essential Mountain Biking Gear for Beginners
So, you've got the mountain bike, but what else do you need to ensure that you're fully prepared while out on the trails? Here's the essential gear that a beginner will need to bike safely and properly. It's ranked in order from most important (aka you should have bought it yesterday) to least important (aka nice to have when your tax return hits). You can thank us for the ordering later.
For long days on the trail, you need mountain biking protective gear that will help give you the most efficient ride possible. Whether you're looking for mountain biking gear for beginners or you're an expert rider with the memory of a teeny, tiny baby and keep forgetting things as you pack, this list is meant to give you direction and acts as a reference point for every ride.
Keep this checklist graphic on hand, or just simply come back to the full list below it for a reminder of what you're missing, and why you need it before you even head out to ride.
Need to Have
Bike: Uh, duh. If you're not sure how to choose the best type of mountain bike, we've got you covered on that too.
Helmet: You need protection, whether it's your first ride or your millionth. Half-shell helmets are great for light riding, open face enduro helmets give you slightly more protection for midway adventures and full-face helmets cover your head, chin and face for maximum safety on rough, downhill rides.
Bike-specific clothing: This is pretty weather-dependent and based on your personal body temperature, but I recommend moisture-wicking materials such as nylon or wool. At a minimum, you'll need a bike jersey or other top paired with shorts (biking shorts with padding are most comfortable), bike shoes or other footwear, socks that promote airflow and bike gloves to prevent numbness or pain in your hands.
Hydration: Though it's not at the top of the list (the others are just slightly more necessary), this is probably the most important thing you could bring. Put a water bottle in a frame cage, which is great for short trips, or get a hydration pack, which is best if you'll be gone for two hours or more. You can also use both if you'll be gone for a long time and you're, like, super crazy thirsty all the time.
Eye protection: To prevent debris whipping into your eyes, get a helmet with a built-in/snap-on visor. For a low-budget, quick solution, you can use clear glasses (think: construction style). Sunglasses work as well, but keep in mind that you'll likely be in shaded areas, and you don't want to lose visibility when the sun isn't blasting you in the face.
Bike repair: You never know what will happen on the trails, so you're better off being prepared for it all. Bring a spare tube, even if you're running tubeless, because it's smart to have one on hand for any unexpected tire pops you can't quickly patch. It's possible to change a tube without a tire lever, but it could be helpful if you have the space for one. Make sure you also have a pump to re-inflate your tires. Another great item to keep on hand is a multitool, which should cover all your bases (i.e. chain break, wheel truing) if you end up having issues.
First Aid Kit: This should be pretty self-explanatory. Please, please disinfect and dress your wounds.
Snacks: Water may be enough to keep you energized, but you should definitely bring along some emergency protein to help you go the extra mile (or seven). If you're going to be riding a long time, you'll need more than hydration to keep your body exerting the same amount of energy.
Packs: Be careful, because bike packs can weigh you down, but if you keep things stored in a seat, frame or handlebar pack then you don't have to worry about choosing what to leave behind. You'll need more gear for longer rides, but if you pack everything efficiently then you shouldn't feel much of a difference.
Good to Have
Lights / Reflectors: Lights are really only necessary if you'll be riding at night, but it sometimes gets dark in the woods and it can't hurt to have some extra light. If you're riding exclusively in the daytime, you should at least have reflectors to give yourself extra visibility on the trail.
GPS / Trail maps: If you know the area you're riding in super well, you probably don't need any help navigating. That being said, things happen, so having a handlebar mounted GPS or trail map on hand could literally save your life.
Additional clothing: What you want to wear beyond the required clothing, and how you want to wear it, is up to you. Mother Nature is happy to throw rain at you any time she pleases, so it can't hurt to have weather-resistant clothing (like a small, packable jacket) on reserve if things look gloomy. Similarly, you may be cold at the start and heat up as you ride, so you could probably benefit from insulating layers that are easily removable, such as arm/leg warmers, a headband/cap or comfortable baselayers. Another thing to consider is padding to prevent injury in case of a fall, such as knee and elbow pads. Again, all of these are up to you, but I’ve found them handy more often than not.
ID/Medical card: There's a very good chance you won't need either of these items, but you don’t know what you need until you actually need it. They're small, so you may as well bring them.
Bring If You Want
Sunscreen / Insect repellent: I'm not here to lecture you about sunscreen, but you really should be wearing it every day. If not every day, then at least bring it on your trip. I also know that you're probably riding too fast for the mosquitos to catch you, but you'll feel better knowing that you have bug spray as a quick combat trick.
Electrolyte tabs: These are a really great way to prevent cramping and increase your performance. It's not an alternative to food and water, but they can give you a boost at the end of your ride if you start to lag a little.
Toilet paper: I'm not gonna lay this one out for you.
Cleansing wipes: You won't care about your stink during the ride, but you may want to wipe down before you get into your car. These are also handy to keep on you as you ride just in case you get something nasty all over you. Don't ask me what that could be; the forest is full of secrets.
Small towel: This comes in handy for wiping yourself down, but it can also be used to tidy up your bike if things start getting a little wet and wild on the trail. The main issue is that once these are dirty, they'll stay dirty until the end of your trip.
Now that you have everything you need set aside, you're ready to hit the trails. Pack up however best fits your riding style and ride until you're sick of it. If you just can't get enough, maybe consider a bikepacking trip for the future. Why ride one day when you can ride more?