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Cargo Shorts vs MTB Shorts

Cargo shorts are just cargo pants with the legs chopped off. Cargo pants were ideal for military personnel who needed robust and durable labor pants. Mountain bike shorts, or MTB shorts, are exactly what they sound like: mountain riding shorts. You might not be able to tell the difference between MTB shorts and cargo shorts if you're simply looking at them instead of wearing them.

Man wearing blie cargo shorts and a man riding a bike.

I’m new to the whole mountain biking thing, which means that my biking wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired. See, it turns out that having the right clothes really matters, especially with a sport that demands so much from you. 

For my first time on the trail, I did not know this. I assumed that any sports-type clothing would work well enough, so I put on a pair of cargo shorts. 

Reader, that was a mistake. 

Did I fall in love with mountain biking that day? Yes. But I also fell off my bike, because it turns out that cargo shorts and MTB shorts are not the same. I’ve bought two pairs of MTB shorts since then, and they’ve made a big difference in my biking experience. 

So, what exactly is the difference between cargo shorts and MTB shorts? Let’s find out. 

What are Cargo Shorts?

Men's cargo shorts in different angle isolated in white background.

Cargo shorts are simply a cutoff version of cargo pants. Cargo pants have an interesting history. In fact, they started in the military. When military members needed strong and durable work pants, cargo pants fit the bill perfectly. 

They’re made from rugged cotton, and they’re stitched for long-lasting wear. Cargo pants can withstand a lot of outdoor work, and so can cargo shorts. 

Of course, the defining factor of cargo shorts is the pockets. Cargo shorts have plenty of pockets. And these pockets usually close with a button or velcro. Thanks to all of these pockets, a person can carry their tools with them while keeping their hands free.

Related: Cargo Shorts vs. Hiking Shorts

What are MTB Shorts?

Man riding a bike while wearing biking gear and red mtb shorts.

MTB shorts, or mountain bike shorts, are exactly what they sound like: shorts designed for mountain biking. 

If you’re just looking at them instead of wearing them, you may not be able to tell the difference between MTB shorts and cargo shorts. They have a lot of similarities. 

For example, both styles are baggy. MTB shorts can also have pockets, though they don’t usually have as many as cargo shorts have. Those pockets often come with zippers, so the wearer can ride without worrying about losing items. MTB pants are also knee-length. And while cargo pants come in several lengths, the knee-length style is one of the most common. 

Like cargo shorts, MTB pants also have to be durable. Trust me, mountain biking creates a lot of wear and tear on your clothing. Tree branches, dirt, rocks, and gravel are all very normal parts of the sport. (By the way, this is why your helmet and knee pads are also extremely important.) 

If you don’t wear something tough, you’ll end up wasting a lot of money on new clothes.  Because MTB pants need durability, they’re also made from rugged cotton.

Related: How to Style Biker Shorts

What’s the Difference between Cargo Shorts and MTB Shorts?

There is one important difference between cargo shorts and MTB shorts: the stretch. MTB shorts provide just enough stretchiness to make biking more comfortable. They give bikers much more freedom of movement than other types of shorts. 

The other difference is that MTB shorts sometimes have padding, which also makes biking more comfortable. Of course, not all MTB shorts have padding, so make sure you know what you want before you buy a pair. Mountain bikers have different preferences, and you can find pros and cons for both options. 

Which Option Costs More?

Various color cargo shorts for sale in a retail clothing store.

MTB shorts and cargo shorts have similar costs, too. You can find either type for $20-$100. The price depends less on the type of shorts and more on other factors like durability. In general, the better the material, the higher the cost.

With both cargo shorts and MTB shorts, I’d rather pay a little more upfront, assuming that the material is good. Cheap shorts don’t last very long, so even though they may save me some money in the short term, I’ll eventually have to pay more to replace them. 

Cargo Shorts or MTB Shorts?

Should you pick cargo shorts or MTB shorts? That depends on why you want to buy new shorts. Cargo shorts work great for a lot of things, including working outdoors. I often wear mine when working in the garden, for example. The pockets help me keep track of my tools. 

For mountain biking, though, MTB shorts are the only choice. They provide the perfect balance between comfort and durability, and with options like padding, you can get the best ride possible. 

In fact, if I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose MTB pants. Because while I wouldn’t wear cargo shorts for biking, I would wear MTB shorts while working outside. They do the job just as well.