There are several styles of mountain biking, like cross-country, downhill, and enduro, and they each have specific gear. Cross-country, or XC as it's called, is the most common form of mountain biking and has some specific equipment that's easy to find, and that you can use later to cross over into other forms of off-road riding. Here's your essential gear to start mountain biking.
A good-fitting mountain bike
An XC bike for a newcomer to the sport should have disc brakes and appropriate gearing for where you'll be riding (i.e. if there are lots of hills). Most importantly, an XC bike needs to be the right size for the rider because a bike that's too big will be hard to manoeuvre while a bike that's too small will be hard to control. A bike that's difficult to manage can lead the rider to believe that he or she has poor bike handling skills when it's really a misfit bike. Nearly all XC bikes have a suspension fork in the front, but only dual-suspension bikes have a rear shock. A bike with only a suspension fork is called a "hardtail". It's a practical option if you're just getting into the sport. If you're serious about committing to mountain biking, then a dual suspension bike can help build confidence from the start by providing more stability on the trail.
In addition to all the required safety standards and proper ventilation, helmets for XC mountain biking often have built-in visors that help block the sun so you can see the trail better. Your helmet should fit snugly without constricting your head. If it's your first ride with a new helmet, take the time to adjust the straps so that the side adjusters are positioned just under the earlobes, and the chin fastener is centred underneath the chin. You should only be able to fit two fingers vertically between your chin and the fastener, so take up any slack in the straps to get a proper fit. If your helmet has a retention system, like a dial or push tabs in the rear, adjust the system until your helmet is snug but not tight.
We include eyewear as essential gear for mountain biking because threats to your 20/20 come both from above and below. Stones, mud, and sand get sent upward by your spinning wheels while bugs and branches assault you at eye level. Go for cycling-specific glasses that are rimless and fog-proof to promote drainage of sweat condensation. Opt for orange or yellow-tinted lenses if you'll be riding in the woods where there's lots of leaf cover, otherwise darker shades work better in open spaces on bright days.
A ride-along tool kit
There's a chance you could get stranded by a puncture or mechanical failure, but there's always a way out if you're carrying a ride-along tool kit. It should contain a portable pump, a spare tube, tyre levers, a multi-tool, and a bit of cash. Optional items include a patch kit and extra chain links.
Easy access to hydration while mountain biking means you can spend more time enjoying the trail and less time fiddling with a water bottle. A hydration pack sits on your back and has a tube that carries water from the bladder to a mouthpiece that mounts on the shoulder strap (you can choose either the left or the right side based on your personal preference). A hydration pack can easily replace traditional water bottles since it's more convenient for mountain biking.
Whether you're riding along wide-open dirt roads or narrow, sinewy singletrack, gloves are essential gear for protecting your hands while mountain biking. Overhanging brambles that can snag and tear your hands are spared by wearing gloves or, if you have the misfortune of crashing, gloves can save the skin on your palms. Full-finger gloves give you the most protection, but mid-finger gloves are the better option when it's hot outside.
You've heard that the mountain biking in your area is amazing, but how do you know for sure when you can't even find the trailhead? GPS data has become the global currency of mountain bikers worldwide via user-generated trail websites like Trailforks and Wikiloc, where you can download and follow routes for free. A huge range of GPS devices and smartphone apps, specifically for mountain biking, can broaden your trail options if you like to explore.
The essential gear for mountain biking is what ensures your comfort and put you at ease from your first ride. A mountain bike ride is almost never the same ride twice, so it makes sense to get the essentials right from the start.