Last updated on November 26, 2023 to include the Five Ten Trailcross GTX.
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Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just starting out, a pair of quality mountain bike shoes can really improve your experience on the trail. But with so many options, it’s hard to know which pair is best for you. Fortunately, we bring more than 20 years of mountain biking experience to our reviews, making our expertise impossible to match. Read on to learn more about the best mountain bike shoes of 2023.
We’ve pedaled well over 20,000 miles (and counting) in dozens of mountain bike shoes over the past 20 years. When selecting our top picks, we carefully consider factors like comfort, protection, features, weight, and price.
Price:$150 MSRP Best Use: Trail, Enduro, Downhill Pedal Type:Flat pedal Closure:Laces Weight (pair): 1 lb. 8 oz. Warranty: 6 months
Pros: – Excellent blend of grippy rubber, supportive sole, and foot protection. – Quite light. Cons: – A bit on the pricey side (although often on sale).
Why it’s Great
If you’re looking for one of the best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals, it’s hard to beat the Five Ten Freerider Pro. The main talking point of the Freerider Pro–and a benchmark against which all other flat pedal shoes are judged–is its exceptionally sticky rubber outsole. The dot-patterned lugs and Stealth rubber simply grip pedals better than most, ensuring your feet stay planted during rough descents. The sole is nicely balanced and offers plenty of support while pedaling and during hard compressions, yet it has just enough flex to give a nice feel on the pedals.
In terms of foot protection, the Freerider Pro offers an excellent balance between weight and padding. The shoes do an excellent job of protecting feet from roots and rocks, yet they don’t feel overly bulky or cumbersome on the trail. And while the old-school laces could be a negative to some, we found them to do an excellent job of holding our heels down and allow for infinite adjustability. Whether you’re heading out for a casual trail ride or gearing up for a local enduro race, it’s hard to beat the Five Ten Freerider Pro.
How it Compares
With its sticky rubber, comfortable fit, and casual good looks, it’s easy to see why Five Ten’s Freerider Pro is currently the best pair of mountain bike shoes for flat pedals. Along those same lines, we have the Ride Concepts Livewire listed below. Compared to the Freerider Pro, the Livewire has more of a skater-shoe look and offers more padding, particularly in the heel. Fit is neutral for both models–we didn’t experience issues with either–and each offer a nice feel on the pedals. In terms of grip, the Five Ten edges out the Ride Concepts. However, the Livewire features a gusseted tongue, which is a nice option that the Freerider Pro omits. For most mountain bikers, the Freerider Pro and its grippier sole make it the easy choice. But for more casual riders or those on a budget, the still excellent Livewire is a solid second choice.
Price: $110 MSRP Best Use: Trail, Enduro, Downhill Pedal Type: Flat pedal Closure: Laces Weight (pair):1 lb. 15 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – Excellent price to performance ratio. – Grippy sole and lots of foot protection. Cons: – Heavy and a bit clunky feeling compared to our top pick.
Why it’s Great
Ride Concepts may not have the same brand recognition as Five Ten, but the relatively new company from Nevada is off to an impressive start. Updated for 2023, the budget-friendly flat pedal Livewire gets a boost in traction by employing the company’s slightly softer and grippier “MAX GRIP” outsole (previous generations used their “HIGH GRIP” rubber compound). The new model also drops the D30 impact-absorbing insole, which is likely a cost-cutting effort. While some may be saddened by this news, we’ll happily take better flat pedal grip over a more protective insole. Other notable features include a gusseted tongue, which helps to provide a lock-in feel, and the elastic lace keepers do a great job of keeping things tidy. All things considered, the Ride Concepts Livewire is a heck of a flat pedal mountain bike shoe for just over $100.
How it Compares
With its reasonable price tag and great performance, the Livewire is the best budget flat pedal mountain bike shoe on the market. However, it would be impossible to talk about wallet-friendly options and not mention the venerable Five Ten Freerider (not to be confused with the “Pro” model listed above). Compared to the Livewire, the Freerider has a slight edge in terms of all out traction, but that’s where the advantage ends. We think the Livewire is more comfortable, looks better, and offers more protection throughout. Further, we’ve had some quality-control issues with past Freerider models, something that hasn’t cropped up with the Livewire as of yet. Finally, the slightly stiffer sole of the Livewire offers more support on the pedals and is a better match for today’s riders. So while the Freerider is an ok flat pedal mountain bike shoe, we think the Livewire is the clear winner for the reasons listed above.
Price: $160 Best Use: Trail, Enduro Pedal Type:Clipless Closure: BOA Weight (pair): 1lb. 15 oz. Warranty: Lifetime
Pros: – Comfortable, durable, and reasonably priced considering the features and quality materials. Cons: – Lots of ventilation means cold toes during the winter.
Why it’s Great
Choosing the best clipless mountain bike shoe can be a challenging task. It needs to be comfortable, durable, reasonably priced, and widely available. And it has to work well across a wide range of mountain biking disciplines. Enter the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD mountain bike shoe, which checks all the boxes and more.
Noteworthy features include a BOA dial for quick and easy adjustments, a lightweight and breathable upper that is cool and dries quickly, and a Vibram outsole that shows little signs of wear even after enduring over a thousand miles of abuse. From local XC loops to downhill trails and all-day backcountry missions, we’ve put them through two full seasons of thrashing and have come away thoroughly impressed. For these reasons, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD is our top-rated clipless mountain bike shoe at the moment.
How it Compares
In a sea of worthy options, the X-Alp Launch SPD stands above the rest for its overall versatility, comfort, and good looks. Another great all-arounder and longtime favorite clipless mountain bike shoe is Shimano’s ME5. Recently updated, the ME5 looks more cross-country, is marginally stiffer, and has a lower-volume fit compared to the X-Alp Launch SPD. Both models feature grippy rubber outsoles that work well off the bike, and transfer power efficiently to the pedals. If your riding is more all-mountain or enduro focused and less cross-country, go for the Pearl Izumi. However, if you prefer something slightly more streamline in looks and a bit more responsive on the pedals, then we recommend the Shimano. In the end, both models work exceptionally well as an everyday mountain bike shoe across a wide range of riding styles.
Price: $110 MSRP Best Use: XC, Trail Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: Hook-and-loop Velcro Weight (pair): 1 lb. 6 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – High quality materials used throughout (despite the low price). – Very well ventilated. Cons: – Lacks premium features like a carbon sole and BOA dials.
Why it’s Great
Comfortable, lightweight, and reasonably priced, the Giro Ranger checks all the boxes when it comes to a budget-oriented clipless mountain bike shoe. Aimed squarely at recreational riders who prefer a cross-country (XC) styled shoe, the Ranger features a stiff sole for efficient power transfer, grippy rubber lugs for easy walking, and streamline looks that blend in well. Besides its low price, one standout feature that really impressed us was how cool they kept our feet while out on the trail. And while you won’t find fancy BOA dials or a speed lace system on the Ranger, the three Velcro hook-and-loop closures were easy to adjust and did an excellent job of keeping our feet comfortable on long rides. Giro did a great job putting together a well-rounded package with the Ranger, which makes it an easy pick for our best budget clipless mountain bike shoe.
How it Compares
With nearly 40 years of experience under their belt,California-based Giro has a rich history of producing quality mountain bike gear, as is evident with their Ranger shoe. That said, there is strong competition in the wallet-friendly segment, and in our opinion, Shimano’s XC1 is a close competitor. The XC1 undercuts the Ranger by about $10 and also weighs about 1 ounce less per shoe. However, The Ranger is easier to get on and off (working with the XC1’s tongue design is a bit more challenging), has much better ventilation, and is more comfortable overall. The upper material of the Ranger feels much nicer and the shoe is also available in four different color options (the XC1 only offers one). While none of these differences are a deal breaker on their own, it’s the sum of them that sways our opinion in favor of the Giro shoes.
Price: $200 MSRP Best Use: Enduro, Downhill Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: BOA, Velcro Weight (pair): 1 lb. 14 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – The combination of Velcro strap and BOA dial offer a very secure fit. – Comfortable on and off the bike. Cons: – Lack of ventilation and run warm.
Why it’s Great
A popular choice among professional downhill and enduro athletes, the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA mountain bike shoe offers the perfect blend of comfort, pedaling efficiency, and protection.
Slipping on the Mallet BOA’s, we were surprised by just how comfortable they were right out of the box–a sentiment which holds true as we continue to log more miles. We also love the combination of Velcro strap and BOA closure, which do an excellent job of keeping our feet in place and allow for easy adjustments on the trail. Other notable features include a gusseted tongue for a secure fit and little grippers on the inside of the heel of the shoe, which only added to the locked-in feel. Finally, the soles strike a really nice balance of stiffness for efficient power transfer, yet they’re soft enough to offer a nice feel and connection with the pedals.
How it Compares
For an everyday enduro- and downhill-oriented mountain bike shoe, it’s hard to beat the Mallet BOA. However, for something a little less DH and a bit more trail, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD shoes are worth a look. The Pearl Izumi’s (listed above) are more breathable and weigh about 3 ounces less, making them the better choice for warm rides and long pedals. That said, the Mallet BOA’s offer additional protection around the toe and heel areas and provide a more locked-in feel, which helps them excel on gnarlier downhills.
Another popular option for enduro and downhill riding is the recently released Fox Union BOA (listed below), which is Fox’s first go at the mountain bike shoe market. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Fox, but the Crankbrothers offer a more locked-in feel, have more padding and protection throughout, and are about $50 less than the Union BOA. The dual BOA Li2 dials that turn in either direction are sure handy for quick adjustments while riding, but overall, the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA are the better choice for downhill and enduro use.
Price: $230 MSRP Best Use: XC, Gravel Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: BOA Weight (pair): 1 lb. 6 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – BOA dials are quick and easy to adjust. – High-quality materials used throughout. Cons: – Singular in purpose and wouldn’t be our everyday shoe choice.
Why it’s Great
Shimano may be better known for its pedals and drivetrain components, but the Japanese-based company has had an impressive lineup of mountain bike shoes dating back to the early 90s. Near the top of their off-road offerings, the recently updated XC7 makes for a great all-around cross-country mountain bike shoe.
Internally rated as a 9 out of 12, the XC7 is one of the stiffest models available and displays minimal deflection when laying down the power, which really makes the bike lurch ahead. The dual BOA system is easy, quick, and intuitive to use on the fly, and in typical Shimano fashion, the fit and finish of the shoe is excellent. There’s certainly a premium feel to the Shimano XC7. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced and no-nonsense XC mountain bike shoe, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Shimano XC7.
How it Compares
If the XC7’s $230 price tag is just out of reach, but you still need a dedicated cross-country mountain bike shoe, then we recommend looking at their $175 XC5 model. For about $50 less, you can get a quality shoe with a similar fit and feel. That being said, the XC5 uses a nylon sole, instead of the carbon fiber one found on the XC7, so power transfer suffers. Additionally, the XC5 features a single BOA dial and Velcro strap, which don’t offer the same level of custom fit as the XC7. Overall, the XC5 is a nice alternative, but for high-stakes racing and true XC riding, the XC7 is the superior choice.
Pros: – Perfect blend of comfort and grip both on and off the bike. – Lots of ventilation. Cons: – Tall heel area can cause discomfort for some.
Why it’s Great
We don’t know about you, but most of our bikepacking trips include a lot of time slogging our gear-laden bikes up steep hills and hanging out around camp. For this reason, we think a comfy flat pedal shoe that hikes as well as it bikes makes the most sense. We look for models that remain comfortable after long days in the saddle, pedal well, and they must be highly breathable and quick to dry. We also find traditional laces to be the most reliable and they’re easy to repair on the trail. And unlike clipless models, flat pedal bikepacking shoes allow you to adjust your foot position throughout the day, which in our experience, helps reduce overuse injuries, niggling knee pain, and saddle sores.
It’s for all these reasons that we think the Five Ten Trailcross LT is the best bikepacking shoe. The sticky rubber outsoles grip pedals and dirt equally well, the relatively soft flex remains comfortable while walking around camp or gas station pit stops, and their breathable upper dries quickly after mandatory creek crossings. We also love that Five Ten offers a number of different Trailcross models, from the LT described here all the way up to the waterproof Trailcross GORE-TEX (listed below), there’s likely something for you.
How it Compares
We’re pretty smitten with the Five Ten Trailcross LT, however, pretty much any flat pedal shoe is a viable choice for bikepacking adventures–albeit not as good. If you’re mainly a singletrack shredder who is being lured by thoughts of endless adventures and overnight gear (aka bikepacking), then the Five Ten Freerider Pro might be a good choice. First and foremost, the Freerider Pro excels at mountain biking, but the shoe shares a lot in common with the Trailcross LT. It’s relatively light at 1 lb. 8 oz. for the pair, breathes well, and has a really grippy outsole. That said, the stiffer sole doesn’t walk nearly as well and it’s overbuilt for multiday adventures, which makes the Trailcross LT the better bikepacking shoe.
Pros: – GORE-TEX membrane and tall cuff keep feet dry and warm on wet rides. – Grippy rubber outsole offers lots of traction. Cons: – Laces can be hard to tie with cold and wet hands. – Expensive.
Why it’s Great
If you’re looking for the best pair of winter mountain bike shoes for wet and sloppy trails, then it’s impossible to beat the popular Five Ten Trailcross GORE-TEX. The standout feature of the Five Ten is the GORE-TEX membrane that’s both waterproof and breathable. We’ve had great luck with this time tested material and it does an excellent job of keeping water at bay while simultaneously allowing feet to breathe. Another noteworthy feature of the Trailcross GORE-TEX, and why it excels at winter riding, is the extra tall neoprene cuff that helps keep water, dirt, and mud from entering the shoe. Rounding out the package is Five Ten’s Phantom rubber, which provides plenty of grip on the pedals, and the slightly roomy fit easily accommodates thick wool socks. All told, the Five Ten Trailcross GORE-TEX checks all the boxes for a foul-weather mountain bike shoe.
How it Compares
For top rated winter mountain bike shoes, we look for models that are waterproof, breathable, and they must dry quickly between rides. And most importantly, they need to provide outstanding grip on flat pedals–all of which are characteristics of the Five Ten Trailcross GORE-TEX. Along those same lines, you have the recently released Shimano GF800 GTX. Both the Shimano and Five Ten shoes feature tall neoprene cuffs and utilize a GORE-TEX membrane for waterproofing. However, as much as they are alike, there are a few key differences between these two winter mountain bike shoes.
In typical Five Ten fashion, the Trailcross GORE-TEX offer phenomenal grip on the pedals, which the Shimano shoes simply can’t match. If all-out grip is what you seek then go with Five Ten. However, Shimano utilizes a BOA dial closure, instead of laces like on the Five Ten, which is easier to use with cold hands and the better match for winter riding. One point Shimano. The final main difference is related to fit–we find the Shimano’s to be much lower volume than Five Ten, which doesn’t leave much room for thick and warm socks. In the end, both models are great winter companions, you’ll just need to decide which features are most important to you.
Price: $170 MSRP Best Use: Trail Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: BOA, Velcro Weight (pair): 1 lb. 10 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – A well-rounded shoe that works across a wide range of riding disciplines. Cons: – Low volume fit isn’t the best for those with wide feet.
Why it’s Great
A longtime favorite among trail riders, Shimano’s ME5 clipless mountain bike shoe recently saw a host of updates. The new ME5 forgoes the well-received Michelin outsole of the outgoing version in favor of Shimano’s own rubber blend, and the styling now looks slightly more cross-country than all-mountain or enduro. Other notable changes include a slightly snugger fit and a big bump up in terms of the quality of materials used–the previous version’s upper always felt a bit cheap to us. Finally, the overall cut of the shoe has been lowered, which is great for keeping your feet cool and cutting weight. That said, it does leave your ankles more exposed to rocks and trail debris. All said, Shimano has streamlined the overall fit and feel of the ME5 as it now rests directly in the light trail category.
How it Compares
Another great all-around clipless mountain bike shoe is the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD (listed above). Both models work well for all-day pedals, keep your feet cool as the temperature rises, and are reasonably lightweight. Further, quality materials are used throughout on both models and neither show major or rapid signs of wear after a season of use. Although neither shoe is considered roomy–both offer a nice snug fit for efficient pedaling–the ME5 is slightly narrower overall. In terms of off-bike manners, we prefer the slightly more flexible X-Alp Launch SPD as its ¾-length shank allows the shoe to flex more in the toe area. However, there is a tradeoff, and the ME5 offers marginally better power transfer to the pedals. Taking everything into account, both models work well as daily drivers at slightly different ends of the trail spectrum.
Price: $249.95 MSRP Best Use: Enduro, Downhill Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: BOA Li2 Weight (pair): 1 lb. 15.2 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – Two-way BOA Li2 dials provide a great fit and offer quick adjustments. – Nicely padded soles are great at absorbing trail chatter. Cons: – Expensive and a bit heavy.
Why it’s Great
Fox has been producing quality mountain bike apparel for over 30 years, but the Union BOA mountain bike shoes are the company’s first foray into footwear, and boy, did they deliver. Positioned at the top of their shoe lineup, the flagship Union BOA is aimed squarely at aggressive enduro and downhill riders.
Standout features of the Fox Union BOA include dual BOA Li2 dials, which both tighten and loosen in small increments (other BOA versions only tighten), and a heavily padded sole which does a phenomenal job of reducing trail impact and chatter felt through the pedals. We also really appreciate the inclusion of two different insoles with high and low arch support for dialing in the perfect fit, and the casual good looks have received more than a few compliments out on the trail. Developed in collaboration with the Santa Cruz Syndicate downhill race team, it’s no surprise that Fox nailed the execution of the Union BOA mountain bike shoes.
How it Compares
The Fox Union BOA is an excellent mountain bike shoe with downhill and enduro intentions, and has the chops to back it up. In that same realm, you have the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA. Compared to the Unions, the Mallet BOA’s are more heavily cushioned throughout, particularly in the heel, tongue, and ankle regions, giving them the edge in terms of foot protection. We also find the Mallet BOAs to have a slightly softer sole, making them easier to walk in and providing a better feel on the pedals. Finally, the Velcro strap found on the Mallet BOA offers a more locked in feel compared to the Union BOA. Ultimately, these small differences give the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA (listed above) a small advantage, making them the best mountain bike shoes for downhill and enduro use. It also doesn’t hurt that the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA are about $50 less than the Fox Union.
Pros: – Super comfy right out of the box. – Reasonable price tag considering premium features and materials. Cons: – None at the moment.
Why it’s Great
Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Summit is one of the most comfortable and versatile mountain bike shoes we’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing. This makes it an ideal partner for adventure rides, bikepacking trips, and plain old mountain bike riding. From the moment we slipped our feet into the X-Alp Summit, we knew it was a winner. The combination of a lightly padded tongue and cushioned heel envelops your foot and remains comfortable on long rides. And the BOA dial and Velcro closures securely lock down your foot and are easy to adjust on the fly. The slightly soft nylon shank isn’t the best at transferring power to the pedals, but the tradeoff is excellent walkability both on the trail and around camp. Although the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit was designed with bikepacking in mind, we would happily use it for more general trail riding.
How it Compares
For bikepackers and adventure riders seeking a versatile clipless mountain bike shoe, it’s hard to beat the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice some pedaling efficiency for improved comfort off the bike, then the flat pedal Five Ten Trailcross LT (listed above) is the better option. It’s not that we think the X-Alp Summit is a poor choice–it did make our list for a good reason–it’s just that flat pedal shoes are the better option for bikepacking adventures. We have no hesitation recommending either model, it simply comes down to the age-old flats vs. clipless pedal debate.
Price: $80 MSRP Best Use: Trail Pedal Type: Clipless Closure: Velcro Weight (pair): 1 lb. 13 oz. Warranty: 1 year
Pros: – A great price point to get started in the sport. – Easy to walk in. Cons: – Soft sole isn’t the best at transferring power to the pedals.
Why it’s Great
For a true budget clipless mountain bike shoe option, look no further than the Giro Berm. You won’t find a stiff carbon sole, fancy BOA dials, or expensive and flashy materials. However, you do get a capable mountain bike shoe that doesn’t break the bank. For about $80, the Giro Berm includes two oversized hook-and-loop Velcro closures that provide a secure fit, lots of ventilation to keep your feet cool in the summer months, and a grippy rubber outsole that’s easy to walk in. Finally, Giro has been pumping out quality bike shoes for nearly 25 years, so you know that a wealth of expertise has gone into the design and development of the Berm. Whether you’re a brand new rider just entering the sport or trying to save a buck or two, the Giro Berm is a great option for the budget-conscious shopper.
How it Compares
Most similar to the Berm is the Giro Ranger (listed above). So why choose the Ranger over the Berm? We’re glad you asked. With its stiffer sole, third Velcro closure (the Berm has two), and more streamlined fit, the Ranger prioritizes on-bike performance over the Berm. Furthermore, the Giro Ranger weighs in at 1 lb. 6 oz. and is significantly lighter than the Berm (1 lb. 13 oz.), which makes a big difference when you’re pushing the pace or spending long days in the saddle. That said, many new riders could probably care less about these performance benefits, and for you, we recommend the well-appointed Berm.
Mountain bike shoes come in a wide variety of styles with each designed for a particular type of riding. For the best experience on the bike, it’s important to match the types of trails you typically ride with the style of shoe you purchase.
Cross-country (XC): Best for Speed and Efficiency
Cross-country mountain bike shoes are specifically designed for optimal efficiency, and are characterized by their lightweight construction and sleek appearance. Shoes like Shimano’s XC7 prioritize maximum power transfer through a stiff sole, and are made out of carbon. Key features include a stiff sole (often made of carbon fiber) for maximum power transfer, low weight, and a minimalist build. Further, cross-country mountain bike shoes tend to be snug fitting and feature minimal protection around the toes and ankles. If your primary focus is on racing and or cranking out the miles, this style is an ideal choice. Finally, cross-country mountain bike shoes are well-suited for gravel rides as well.
Trail: Best All-arounder
Trail-style mountain bike shoes offer a nice blend of on-bike efficiency while still remaining comfortable during hike-a-bikes or post-ride hangouts, making this one of the most versatile options. Take Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp SPD for example. You get a stiff sole for excellent power transfer and a little bit of protection around the toes and ankle to help defend against trail debris, and they come in at a relatively low weight. For one style of shoe that can do it all pretty well, look to trail-oriented mountain bike shoes.
Enduro and Downhill: Best for Aggressive Riding
Aimed at the gravity crowd, downhill- and enduro-style shoes prioritize descending and protection above all else. These models typically have a thicker upper and additional protection around the toes and ankles to help ward off trail hazards and rock strikes. Their sticky rubber outsoles offer improved traction on flat pedals, and clipless shoes like the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA allow cleats to be positioned further back which helps improve body position while descending steep tracks. These features do come with a cost, however, and these models can weigh considerably more than their XC counterparts.
BOA closures use a dial-and-wire system to provide a secure and comfortable fit. They’re very convenient and easy to use on the fly, and they offer the ability to make very small micro adjustments, which is ideal for those who demand a perfect fit. BOA dials are also easy to replace should they come in contact with a rock or tree (although we’ve never had one break). That said, BOA dials typically cost more than other closure systems and are reserved for more expensive mountain bike shoe models. We love the adjustability and customized fit of dual BOA closures, like those found on the Shimano XC7 mountain bike shoes.
Hook-and-Loop Velcro Strap
Easy and convenient, hook-and-loop Velcro straps are a popular choice for many mountain bike shoes. Models like the Giro Ranger use three straps and can be quickly adjusted on the go, making them a favorable option compared to laces. We especially appreciate when shoes incorporate a Velcro strap at the top to hold the heel down, which helps transfer power to the pedals. One drawback to Velcro straps, however, is that they can sometimes wear out over many seasons of use. And since they’re usually sewn into the shoe, replacing them can be nearly impossible. Nevertheless, over the course of thousands of miles with various shoes, we’ve never encountered any issues.
Arguably the most popular type of closure system, laces are a convenient and easy way to cinch down your mountain bike shoes. They do an excellent job of providing a secure fit and offer almost infinite adjustability for your feet. That said, it’s impossible to adjust tension on the fly, and they can be challenging to retie with frozen fingers. Additionally, if you ride in wet and sloppy conditions, laces tend to hold onto mud and moisture much worse than BOA or quick-lace options. However, laces are typically less expensive to produce, which makes them a great match for budget shoppers. And their durable construction and low rate of failure make them an ideal choice for bikepacking trips, like those found on the Five Ten Trailcross LT.
Quick-Lace (speed lace)
A nice alternative to standard laces, quick-lace systems offer a solid upgrade to the traditional model. As the name suggests, they’re quick and easy to use. TO make adjustments, you simply pull up on the tab, and a cam locks them in place. Quick-laces provide added convenience for users and are easy to “tie” with gloves on. They also have the added benefit of not getting bogged down by water and mud. Some models, such as the Crankbrothers Speed Lace, combine both a quick-lace system with a Velcro strap to provide a customized and very secure fit.
Buckle Ratchet Strap
Similar to hook-and-loop straps, buckle straps are easy to adjust on the fly and offer a secure fit. They consist of an adjustable ratchet buckle and strap with teeth on it, which is made out of plastic. Besides their easy-to-use nature, we like buckle straps for wet weather use, as they don’t get affected by mud and water. One negative side of buckles, however, is that the adjustment of each tooth on the strap is usually quite large, and can sometimes lead to a shoe that feels either too tight or too loose. BOA closure systems, described above, have smaller increments and eliminate this issue.
Clipless vs Flat Pedal Mountain Bike Shoes
As the name suggests, flat pedals (sometimes called platform pedals) have a large flat area for a rider’s feet to rest on. The pedals have small pins for shoes to grip onto and are typically made of a composite plastic material or metal. Flat pedals offer a lot of freedom for foot placement, and adjustments are quick and easy. One of the main advantages of flat pedals–particularly for beginner riders–is the ability to dab your foot on the ground should you lose your balance or need to bail off your bike. That said, plenty of professional riders still use them because it suits their particular riding style. In general, expect to spend anywhere from $40 for basic models (like the Race Face Chester pedal) up to $200 for a top-of-the-line option.
Despite the name, clipless pedals allow a rider to clip their shoes directly into the pedals, which provides a secure connection between the rider and bike. The main advantage of using clipless pedals is their ability to more efficiently transfer power from the rider to the bike than flats, which is why they’re the style of choice among professionals across most mountain biking disciplines. Clipless pedals do a great job of keeping your feet planted during both technical uphill and downhill sections of trail. And while some riders find clipless pedals intimidating to ride in–they’re afraid of not being able to unclip at a moment’s notice–quality models like Shimano’s PD-M8120 XT allow you to adjust how easy it is to get out.
One lesser-known option is the use of magnets to attach the shoe and pedal, striking a middle ground between clipless and flat pedals. This unique design offers a locked-in feel and efficient energy transfer like clipless options, while providing the foot placement freedom similar to flats. The main advantage of these pedals is the assistance they provide in keeping your foot in place on rough trails, without requiring the full commitment of clipping in. However, they do have some downsides. Magnetic mountain bike pedals tend to be heavier, and releasing from the pedal can feel a bit awkward.
Dual Platform / Hybrid Pedals
While not as popular to use on mountain bikes, dual platform pedals like Shimano’s PD-EH500 feature a flat pedal on one side and a clipless on the other. This style is great for recreational riders who use their mountain bikes around the neighborhood one day with tennis shoes, and then want to hit the trails the next day with clipless shoes. It’s not our preferred option in most cases, but it certainly fills a niche and is an excellent alternative for certain riders who find their needs switching between platform and clipless pedals on a daily or weekly basis.
Fit and Sizing
Finding the right fit is critical when choosing mountain bike shoes. To ensure the best performance and highest levels of comfort, measure your foot and then match it to a brand’s size chart. Additionally, consider any specific fit needs you might have to account for, like if you have wide or narrow feet. Keep in mind that different brands and models may have varying sizing standards, so it’s important to reference each brands size chart. In terms of fit, shoes should be snug and free of any pressure points. Additionally, it’s important to try them on with your go-to riding socks. For example, you may want to wear wool socks for winter riding.
Cleat Position and Compatibility
Before being able to use your new clipless shoes, you’ll first need to attach mountain bike cleats to the bottom of the shoes. A good place to start for cleat placement is about 10mm behind the ball of the foot, which offers a nice balance of power transfer and stability. Cross-country riders, or those who prioritize laying down the watts quickly, may consider moving the cleats forward on the bottom of the shoe. However, if you’re a downhill or enduro rider that’s more interested in control on the pedals and descending prowess, plan on scooting the cleat back towards the rear of the cleat channel for added stability.
Besides fore and aft position, it’s worth considering the angle of the cleat as well. Do your toes point in as you walk? Then you should point the tip of the cleat towards your pinky toe. If you’re more duck footed then it’s a good idea to aim your cleats at your big toe. It’s important to note that a small adjustment on your cleats can make a big difference in how they feel on the bike. One final tip, throw a little bit of quality bike grease on the bolt threads before you install them, which will keep them from rusting and seizing to the shoes.
Types of Mountain Bike Shoe Cleats
Clipless mountain bike shoes use different cleat types to connect the shoes to pedals. The most common types include Shimano SPD with two-bolt recessed cleats, Crankbrothers with a two-bolt design that sheds mud well, Look S-Track with a wider contact area for stability, and Time ATAC which are known for easy entry, release, and self-cleaning. It’s important to match the brand of pedals with their respective cleat style. Thankfully, almost all new clipless pedals include the appropriate cleat.
Outsole Grip and Traction
For flat pedal riders, outsole traction can either make or break your experience, as it’s the only thing connecting your feet to the bike. Look for models with low-profile lugs, sticky rubber, and a relatively flat bottom–all these things aid traction on the pedal. Our top-rated flat pedal mountain bike shoe, the Five Ten Freerider Pro, is an excellent example of what a quality flat pedal outsole should be. And for clipless mountain bikers–even though soles don’t make much contact with your pedals–a quality outsole is still important for hike-a-bike sections or log crossings.
Sole Stiffness and Power Transfer
Mountain bike shoes come in a variety of sole stiffnesses, and it’s important to have them match your intended purpose. The rigid carbon fiber soles found on cross-country-oriented models offer the highest level of efficiency and power transfer, making them a great option for racers seeking incremental gains. However, while these models might feel great when sprinting for the finish line, they’re pretty lousy at walking as the soles simply don’t flex. For those of you who aren’t toeing the race line, we recommend something that’s slightly more forgiving off the bike. For example, Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Launch SPD features a ¾-length nylon shank and offers a nice blend of stiffness under the heel and arch with a more flexible area under the toes, making it a great all-arounder.
Toe and Heal Protection
If your rides are exceptionally gnarly in nature–or maybe they’re just super rocky–then a highly padded gravity-oriented mountain bike shoe should be considered. Look for models with extra layers of protection around the toes, heels, and ankles, which help guard against rocks, stumps, and other trail debris. Five Ten’s popular Hellcat Pro model is an excellent example of such a shoe. That said, all this protection does come with a lot of extra weight. At the other end of the spectrum you have cross-country-oriented models like Shimano’s XC7, which feature minimal protection in an effort to keep weight down and are an excellent pairing for less technical riding. In the end, we think a shoe somewhere in the middle of these two–like Shimano’s ME5–offers a nice balance of low weight and foot protection.
Breathability and Ventilation
If hot, mid-summer rides are a common occurrence for you, then we recommend looking for a well-ventilated pair of mountain bike shoes to help keep your feet cool as the mercury climbs. Look for models with perforated uppers and lightweight synthetic materials throughout, like Giro’s Ranger. And should you happen to ride through a mandatory creek crossing, well-ventilated shoes will dry out much quicker.
Weight and Bulkiness
An important consideration no matter the type of gear, weight can have a significant impact on the quality of your mountain bike ride. Going light helps improve efficiency, feels lighter on the foot (duh), and is a great match for all-day rides. That said, you do sacrifice protection and sometimes durability when cutting grams. At the other end of the spectrum, a heavy pair of mountain bike shoes will be bombproof when rocks and stumps come knocking, but there’s nothing worse than feeling like you have a pair of bricks attached to your feet. While we prefer models that hit somewhere in the middle–like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD–it really depends on your specific needs and you should choose accordingly.
Waterproofing and Weather Resistance
Waterproof mountain bike shoes can significantly extend your riding season and are a great match for winter mountain bike rides. When used in conjunction with mountain bike pants, that way water won’t run down your leg and into your shoes, waterproof shoes can keep your feet dry and warm. We recommend looking for models that incorporate a waterproof breathable membrane like GORE-TEX or eVent, along with a neoprene cuff to seal out water. An excellent example of such a shoe is Five Ten’s Trailcross GORE-TEX. For clipless models, it’s critical to ensure that the cleat area is also sealed to prevent water from filling your shoes when stepping in puddles. Having logged hundreds, if not thousands, of wet-weather winter miles, we truly understand the value of waterproof mountain bike shoes.
Mountain Bike Shoe Insulation
Cold feet can be an immediate ride ender, but a pair of insulated mountain bike shoes can keep you on the trail as the mercury plummets. When the temperature hits about 45 degrees Fahrenheit we pull out our trusty pair of Shimano MW7 mountain bike shoes, which are lightly insulated and fleece lined, working well down to about 25 degrees. Below this, looks models that feature even more synthetic insulation and a higher boot cut, like Lake’s MXZ400 model. Expect to pay more for a pair of quality insulated mountain bike shoes, but it’s easily justified if you ride in especially cold weather.
Maintenance and Care
When it comes to maintaining and caring for your mountain bike shoes, there are several things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to properly clean your shoes, which helps extend the life of the materials. Second, store your shoes in a well-ventilated area to prevent mold and nasty smells from taking over. Better yet, buy a quality boot dryer, which is a must-have item for winter riding aficionados. Finally, keep an eye out for signs of excessive of wear and tear, as there’s nothing worse than realizing your sole has delaminated midway through a ride. And when necessary, replacing worn-out parts such as laces, insoles, and other components will help prolong the lifespan of your mountain bike shoes and ensure optimal performance.
Understanding the warranty policies of different mountain bike shoe brands is an important part of the buying process. Each company is a little different, but most include protection against manufacturing defects or premature wear for a set period of time. Generally, lengths vary anywhere from 6 months (Five Ten) to 1 year (Giro, Shimano, Crankbrothers, and others). However, some exceptional brands, like Pearl Izumi, offer a lifetime warranty on their products, which is pretty darn amazing and certainly ups the value. Being aware of the warranty details helps you make an informed decision and ensures your investment is protected.
Popular Mountain Bike Shoe Brands
The world of mountain bike shoes is filled with dozens of companies all vying for market share. Some of the more popular brands, like Shimano, Five Ten, Giro, Sidi, and Pearl Izumi, have gained recognition for their high-quality products and innovative designs over the years. Others, like Five Ten and Ride Concepts are better known for their downhill and enduro focused models (like the venerable Five Ten Freerider Pro flat pedal shoe). Whereas some, like Sidi and Shimano, have traditionally been more focused on cross-country and trail-oriented models. No matter your preference of shoe type and riding style, opting for a popular brand ensures you’re getting a quality product backed by years of experience.
Where to Buy Mountain Bike Shoes
If you can’t find your favorite pair of mountain bike shoes at your local bike shop–which is something we wholeheartedly support–then there are a number of reputable online retailers to choose from. Some of our favorite bike-specific websites include Competitive Cyclist, Jenson USA, and Planet Cyclery. Other popular non-cycling specific options are REI and Backcountry. Additionally, some brands like Five Ten, Specialized, Ride Concepts, and Pearl Izumi operate their own official websites where you can buy direct. Regardless of where you make your purchase, ensure the retailer offers reliable shipping and return options (free returns is even better!), giving you the flexibility to exchange or return items if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
What types of shoes are best for mountain biking?
The best types of shoes for mountain biking are mountain bike specific clipless and flat pedal shoes. Clipless shoes use a cleat system that attaches to the pedal, providing excellent power transfer and control. Whereas flat pedal shoes have a sticky rubber sole for maximum grip and are favored by riders who prefer more freedom and easy foot placement.
Are clip-in shoes good for mountain biking?
Yes, clip-in shoes are highly recommended for mountain biking. They offer several advantages, including efficient power transfer, improved pedaling technique, and enhanced control over rough terrain. The secure connection between the shoe and pedal provides stability, especially during technical climbs and descents.
Do better bike shoes make a difference?
Absolutely! Better-quality mountain bike shoes can make a significant difference in your riding experience. They offer advanced features like superior fit, enhanced durability, improved ventilation, and optimized sole stiffness. These factors contribute to increased comfort, performance, and overall enjoyment on the trails.
Do professional mountain bikers use clipless pedals?
Yes, professional mountain bikers commonly use clipless pedals and shoes. Clipless systems provide several advantages for competitive riding, including enhanced power transfer, efficient pedaling, and a secure connection between the shoe and pedal. The ability to generate more power and maintain control over rough terrain makes clipless pedals a preferred choice for many professional riders.
How much should I spend on mountain bike shoes?
Quality mountain bike shoes can range in price from $85 to over $300 depending on features and brand. Expect to invest more for advanced technologies, materials, and durability. However, there are also affordable options available that provide good performance and value.
What features should I look for in mountain bike shoes?
When choosing mountain bike shoes, consider factors such as closure systems, sole stiffness, outsole traction, and protection levels. These features play a crucial role in enhancing your performance and comfort on the trails.
Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he’s not just an industry expert; he’s an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik’s hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he's not just an industry expert; he's an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik's hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
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