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Best cargo bib shorts: Cycling shorts for gravel and adventure riding

best cargo bib shorts
(Image credit: Sportful)

The most important piece of clothing in a rider's cycling closet is bib shorts. They represent a convergence of style and function and as gravel cycling has become more popular, a new type of bib shorts has emerged: the cargo bib short.

Typical bib shorts are all about going fast and looking fast, modern designs are heavily influenced by wind tunnel tests. The emphasis on speed leaves a hole in the market for those who are less concerned with average speed and more concerned with the journey. Those same riders might find themselves spending long days riding through remote locations in jerseys without pockets. Cargo bib shorts, with pockets, have come about as a solution.

Scroll down for our pick of the best cargo bib shorts available today, or head to the bottom for a guide on what to look out for when choosing. Alternatively, for road-focussed bib shorts, check out our guide to the best cycling shorts

Best cargo bib shorts

(Image credit: Courtesy)

Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts

Wear them with a technical t-shirt and shorts or on their own with a jersey The Rapha option has tons of flexibility for personal style

Material: 79% Nylon, 28% Elastane | Pockets: 4 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 3

Quick drying and water resistant
Lots of storage
Works with or without shorts

No discussion of cargo bib shorts would be complete without including something from Rapha. They weren't the inventors of cargo bib shorts but Rapha, arguably, was the brand to bring the idea into the forefront of modern cycling.

The Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts work hard to cover a wide range of different needs. The style is close to the Brevet Bib Shorts and if you choose to wear them on their own with a traditional jersey they won't look out of place. If you prefer a more casual style instead there are pockets on the low back, high enough to allow for shorts worn over the bibs, to replace those found on a cycling jersey.

Best cargo bib shorts

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Sportful Supergiara

Sportful looks to the gravel race crowd with their latest Supergiara bib short

Material: Stretch woven 71% nylon 29% lycra | Pockets: 3 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 2

Rear pockets positioned below jersey pockets
Gravel specific chamois design
Missing a cargo pocket on the right leg

With the Supergiara bib shorts, Sportful has taken aim at the gravel racing market. Some designs are looser to match the laid-back style of off-road riders. Sportful has gone in the opposite direction with highly compressive fabrics matched to all-out efforts. If you are comfortable with road-focused bib shorts, the Supergiara will be a good match.

Along with the highly compressive fabric choice is a pocket design with considerations for a pocketed jersey. By positioning the pockets far down the back Sportful makes it possible to use both the pockets in the bibs and the pockets in a jersey. It's a smart design that adds pockets instead of replacing them. It also makes the inclusion of a pocket on only one leg a little easier to deal with.

A gravel-specific chamois, which Sportful calls the DMS seat pad, shifts the padding rearward to offer increased comfort in the slightly more upright position that gravel riding tends to require.

Best cargo bib shorts

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Castelli Unlimited

A heavy emphasis on mixed-surface riding makes the Castelli Unlimited a good all around option

Material: 80% nylon 20% lycra | Pockets: 4 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1

Less likely to snag if a branch catches the fabric
Rear pocket placement isn’t as useful as other designs

Catelli's Unlimited design is all about riding wherever it makes sense. The design uses the same chamois and fabrics from the Castelli road-focused bib shorts and really just adds pockets to proven designs. This is a great approach for a heavy emphasis on mixed surface riding.

The chamois is the same Kiss Air2 found on the Competizione Bib short while the fabrics come from the Free Protect Race Bib short. For the Unlimited bib shorts, small pockets get added to the area of the lower back under the space jersey pockets occupy. On the outer thigh, the dual-layer construction helps reduce injury if you experience a slide on gravel, or pavement. In the case of the Unlimited bib shorts the two pieces of fabric have a flap instead of a seam at the top. The design allows for storage between the layers.

Best cargo bib shorts

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Pearl Izumi Interval Cargo Bib Shorts

Sustainable design using recycled materials and a focus on hot-weather riding makes these a good choice inside or outside

Material: Front Panel: 80% recycled nylon, 20% elastane Side Panel: 47% recycled polyester, 42% polyester, 11% elastane Upper: 75% nylon, 25% | Pockets: 4 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1

Use of recycled materials
Lots of compression
Soft straps
Not a lot of detail in the chamois

Giving back and sustainability is an important consideration. It's not the only consideration but when a company makes it easy, it's worth considering. Pearl Izumi works hard to use as many recycled, renewable, and organic materials as possible and they do it without compromising performance.

The Pearl Izumi Interval Cargo bib short puts a small pocket on each leg and two on the low back. Placement of the rear pockets means they are under any jersey pockets you may have. The fabric used on the lower section of the bibs is one of the more compressive options on the market. The straps are a similar material to a jersey so they practically disappear while riding. As a package, it's not far off a traditional bib short design. Just add pockets.

Best cargo bib shorts

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7mesh Mk3 Cargo Bib Short

A road-focused option with enough generous pocket space to forego a typical jersey

Material: 62% nylon, 38% elastane | Pockets: 5 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 2

Plenty of sizes to fit every body type
Lots of storage space
Soft straps

Cargo bib shorts encompass a huge range of end uses and every company is trying to carve out their little piece. 7Mesh has targeted endurance road cycling and built a product that fits the needs of this audience.

The 7Mesh Mk3 Cargo bib shorts start from a base of the regular mk3 bib shorts. There's an elastic interface chamois designed for long-distance riding day after day and 45mm wide shoulder straps. Added for the cargo bib shorts are large pockets on each thigh as well as three large pockets in the rear. If you decide to go with a technical t-shirt instead of a jersey, there's plenty of storage in the mk3 cargo bib shorts.

Best cargo bib shorts

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Mavic Allroad Bib Short

Mavic was one of the first big brands to go all in on gravel cycling clothing. The Allroad system covers everything you are likely to need with a style that fits with gravel cycling

Material: 87% nylon, 13% elastane body : 78% nylon, 22% elastane | Pockets: 2 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1

Part of a system of matching pieces
Longer inseam
Not many pockets

Many of the big-name cycling brands seem to be behind the curve of gravel cycling. Despite its popularity, not every brand offers products that match the style of gravel cycling. Even though Mavic is one of the oldest cycling brands still around today, it recognized the trend early. Available early 2019 the Allroad line of clothing is a collection of options that does a good job straddling the line between road cycling and mountain biking.

The Allroad style is more relaxed but the bib shorts in the collection are still high tech and high performance. There's not a lot of storage with only two pockets but you will find flatlock seams and an Ergo 3D Pro Endurance chamois featuring Ortholite.

Best cargo bib shorts

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Yeti Cycles Enduro Bib Liner and Shorts

Gravel cycling has roots in both road cycling and mountain biking. If the mountain biking heritage speaks to you then you might want to look for mountain bike-inspired gear solutions

Material: Bibs: 72% polyester 28% spandex, Shorts: 100% Polyester | Pockets: 4 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: Bibs: 1, Shorts: 3

A casual look
Lots of storage
Works with shorts or without
Extra layers and material
Not aerodynamic

As modern gravel bikes become closer in design to early mountain bikes than road bikes, it introduces different needs. If the kind of riding you are doing has more in common with mountain biking than road cycling, you might want to look at the mountain bike industry. Yeti Cycles has been producing mountain bikes since the beginning of the sport and they know what works.

The Yeti Enduro bib shorts can pair with the Enduro shorts for a system that can handle the most aggressive riding possible on a drop-bar bike. The shorts are tough enough to shrug off branches and gravel slides plus there are pass-throughs to the pockets on the bib shorts. The bib shorts have more than enough storage so that a cycling jersey with pockets isn't necessary.

Best cargo bib shorts: Specialized

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Short w/SWAT

The Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Short w/SWAT has more storage than anyone else and a patented design to keep items from bouncing

Material: Main short/body: Knit 68% Nylon, 32% Elastane, Upper straps & mesh pockets: Knit 77% Nylon, 23% Spandex | Pockets: 7 | UV Protection: UPF 50 | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1

More than enough Storage
A patented design that keep stored items stable

If you want storage, and a lot of storage, then the Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Short w/SWAT is the place to look. The pockets on the thigh alone are larger than other options and those are only the start of what's available. Besides the thigh pockets there are a total of 5 pockets on the rear of the bibs. Two large pockets centered on the back, with a small zippered pocket over the top, and two smaller pockets off to each side.  All together 7 pockets are available with plenty of storage for anything you might need to carry. 

Best cargo bib shorts

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Alé Stones Cargo Bib Shorts

A road-oriented design with a highly compressive fit and added pockets. A good choice If your riding is aggressive road riding but you want to add some pockets

Material: Main fabric: 88% polyester, 12% elastane Back: 86% polyamide, 14% elastane Pocket: 88% polyamide, 12% elastane Leg hem fabric: 75% polyamide, 25% elastane Leg hem coating: 100% silicone | Pockets: 4 | UV Protection: UPF 50+ | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1

Performance-oriented design
Generous pocket space on the thighs
Sizing might be tight for some

The Ale Stones Cargo bib shorts fall under the Ale Off Road collection but make no mistake these are a road-oriented product. The fit and feel is the same as the Ale road bib shorts. The fabric is thick and compressive making for a product that looks good and feels good as long as it fits your body style.

Pockets on the Ale Stones Cargo bibs include a total of four. The pockets on the low back are small and under any jersey pocket. These aren’t going to hold a lot but will help with organization in conjunction with a cycling jersey. Over the thigh the pockets take advantage of all the space available and provide a lot of storage.

How to choose

1. Chamois

With any bib shorts, the first consideration is likely going to be the chamois. Everyone's a little bit different so fit and performance will not be exactly the same person to person. The point where the riders sit bones make contact with the saddle is the most important place to pay attention to. There should be no seams or bunching, and there should be enough padding to keep you comfortable for long rides.

Cargo bib shorts go hand in hand with gravel cycling and gravel bikes. This matters because gravel bikes tend towards a more endurance-focused geometry that puts the rider in a more upright position. A more upright position requires a different design. Along with the change in position gravel rides are often slower, requiring more time in the saddle, and rougher. The best cargo bib shorts keep these considerations in mind. 

2. Fabric and design choices

The chamois is important but it's only one part of the package. Designers also have to choose appropriate materials to pair with the chosen chamois. The best cargo bib shorts will use a variety of materials depending on the area. Choosing the right material for each part of the bib shorts allows for the right fit in the right location.

Some areas of a bib short will need more stretch and some will need more compression. Most designs call for higher compression over major muscles such as the thigh. Other areas, such as the low back, don't need compression. Instead, cooling becomes the dominant design consideration. More materials also mean more seams. There should be a consideration for where the seams fall, and how noticeable they are.

The shoulder straps of any bib short design are one of the trickiest to get right and there are a lot of available variations on the market. Consider if you prefer a wide or narrow strap. Does it feel better for you to have the straps connected to the lower part of the bibs more like a pair of suspenders? Or maybe you like the idea of the lower part coming up high with a slow transition into the straps. Lots of different approaches can be successful but people have different preferences. Consider what is going to work best for you.

3. Pocket design

A unique consideration for cargo bib shorts is the design of the pockets. The general term 'gravel cycling' encompasses a huge range of different riding styles. To some people, gravel cycling means mountain biking with road bike style handlebars. For other people, gravel cycling is more like road cycling on unpaved roads. Also, nothing says cargo bib shorts are exclusive to gravel bikes and some people prefer them even when road cycling.

All the variation in how cargo bib shorts get used means a lot of variation in the design of the pockets. Riders who take a more road-oriented approach will likely be wearing a traditional cycling jersey with pockets. If you already have pockets in your jersey it's less important to have pockets on the low back of your bib shorts. The thigh pockets become the focus in this scenario. Alternatively, riders coming from a more mountain bike focused background frequently use technical shirts without pockets. Without pockets available elsewhere it's important for the chosen cargo bibs to have lots of storage both on the thighs and on the low back.