Best mountain bike shoes 2021 | 25 tried and tested flat and clipless MTB shoes
When looking for the best mountain bike shoes, there is a plethora of options. To figure out which pair is right for you, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to go with flat-pedal or clipless-pedal shoes.
Our in-depth buyer’s guide will help you choose, as well as provide some information on the foundations of a good mountain bike shoe.
You’ll find all the best mountain bike shoe reviews on this page, and whether you ride cross-country, trail, enduro or downhill on flat or clipless pedals, we’ve ridden and rated the best mountain bike shoes on the market.
To make things easier, we’ve split this list into different types of mountain bike shoes:
These categories aren’t fixed, and many of the shoes are compatible across riding disciplines but it’s a good place to start if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for.
The best mountain bike shoes in 2021, as rated by our expert testers
Best mountain bike shoes for trail and enduro
- Shimano ME7: £179 / $200
- Crankbrothers Mallet BOA: £180 / AU$330 / €200
- Giro Chamber II: £130 / $150
- Scott MTB AR Boa Clip: £160 / $180 / €180
- Bontrager Foray: £120 / $150 / AU$200 / €140
- Scott MTB Elite BOA: £125 / $140 / €140
- Shimano MW7: £190 / $275
- Specialized 2FO Clip 2.0 shoes: £140 / $160 / $220
Best XC mountain bike shoes
- Mavic Crossmax Elite CM: £159
- Fizik Infinito X1: £325 / $400 / €350
- Shimano XC501: £140 / $170
- Specialized S-Works Recon: £340 / $425 / AU$500
Best MTB flat pedal shoes
- Five Ten Freerider Pro: £120 / $150 / €140
- Five Ten Impact Pro: £125 / $160 / €150
- Ride Concepts Hellion Elite: £130 / $140 / AU$255
- Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0: £100
- Specialized Women’s 2FO Flat 1.0: £100
- Specialized 2FO DH: £145 / $170 / AU$250 / €160
- Specialized 2FO Roost: £110 / $120 / AU$220 / €110
- Bontrager Flatline: £120 / $129.99 / AU$229.99
- ION Raid II: £85
- Ride Concepts TNT: £140 / $160 / AU$300
- Ride Concepts Vice: £90 / $100 / AU$205
- Shimano GR5: £80 / $100 / AU$119
- Shimano GR9: £120 / $160
Best mountain bikes shoes for trail and enduro riding
Trail and enduro shoes tend to have solid, robust designs that can withstand a battering. The soles are stiff, but not so stiff you can’t take part in a bit of hike-a-bike. Many look like flat sole mountain shoes but others are more similar to typical clipless XC shoes.
All the shoes here take cleats for clipless pedals. Keep scrolling for our selection of the best flat MTB shoes.
- £179 / $200 as tested
- Impressively versatile
- Protective and resilient
Shimano’s ME7s are some of our favourite trail shoes having scored a full five stars in recent testing.
We found them to provide the perfect foot position for pedalling and descending, and although there’s enough stiffness to make the most of skinny XC pedals, they also flex enough for hike-a-bike escapades.
The outer flap and neoprene ankle gaiter combine to make them and their lace closure resistant to the ingress of mud, grit and stones.
We also found they’ll keep your feet comfortable in all but the coldest of conditions too.
Crankbrothers Mallet BOA shoes
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
- £180 / AU$330 / €200 as tested
- Comfortable with plenty of cleat adjustment
- Boa system costs more than speed lace version
Designed for enduro and downhill riding, the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA shoes are a well-designed set of kicks that feel incredibly comfy.
They have enough feel and flex from the sole, ensuring you get a good level of feedback, without ever feeling droopy around the pedal. There’s plenty of cleat adjustment and the shoes shed mud easily too.
The shoes close with a Boa dial, which makes for quick opening and closing, but it does make these shoes £30 more expensive than their speed lace equivalents.
It might be worth trying the shoes on before you buy, as we found the sizing a little generous in testing.
Giro Chamber II
- £130 as tested
- Plenty of adjustment
- Good off-bike grip
Giro’s Chamber II shoes are standout performers that are easy for clipping in and out of the pedals, and have lots of cleat adjustment.
A thin sole gives enough feel while remaining efficiently rigid for sprints and climbs.
The shoes’ wide camo-print sole and toe bumper help to protect your feet, and the collar is well padded too.
Scott MTB AR Boa Clip
- £160 / $180 / €180 as tested
- Double Boa dial retention
- Tough, weather-resistant
These Scott trail kicks use two Boa dials per shoe, which is a design feature more commonly found on cross-country footwear. This makes them a doddle to cinch down to the perfect fit.
These are a tough, terrain- and weather-resistant option and great to pedal in.
The fit can be a little spacious for some, but is easily dialled in with the Boas. These don’t breathe as well as others though, so those in hotter climates might want to look elsewhere.
Andy McCandlish / Immediate Media
- £120 / $150 / AU$200 / €140 as tested
- Old-school looks
- Secure, comfortable Boa and strap closure
Don’t let the ‘disco slipper’ cross-country look of Bontrager’s Forays fool you – this is a versatile choice that excels at trail riding or for long days out in the hills.
The sole is surprisingly flexible for comfortable walking and there’s plenty of grip even without using the bolt-in studs at the front of the shoe.
The Boa dial and strap combo make for a great fit without hot spots. As it stands these are a hard-wearing, efficient yet comfortable pair of shoes for trail riding.
Scott MTB Elite BOA
Andy McCandlish / Immediate Media
- £125 / $140 / €140 as tested
- Great feel at the pedals
- Quick and accurate BOA dial adjustment
The MTB Elites from Scott excel at trail centre outings thanks to their all-weather exterior, quick-drying padding and convenient BOA dial adjustment.
They’re not the best in very cold or waterlogged conditions and will warrant a waterproof sock for such use.
There’s a really direct feel at the pedals with these thanks to the thin soles, but this does mean they’re not suitable for hike-a-bike style adventuring.
Shimano MW7 shoes
- £190 / $275 as tested
- Warm and waterproof
- Ideal for rough wintry conditions
If you’re looking to get the most from your winter riding then having comfortable feet is a must.
Shimano’s MW7 is a top-tier winter waterproof shoe that will keep you dry for all but the most persistent downpours.
They’re jam-packed full of features including a Gore-Tex insulated comfort liner, Boa lacing system and Michelin-branded dual-density rubber soles.
They’re very comfortable for both riding and pushing your bike in and kept our tester’s toes warm throughout the winter as well as fending off puddle splashes, rain and mud admirably.
Specialized 2FO Clip 2.0 shoes
Andy McCandlish / Immediate Media
- £140 / $160 / $220 as tested
- Great protection
- Lots of cleat adjustability
The 2FO Clips are built for aggressive trail riding but are also popular for enduro and downhill crowds. You get serious padding around the toe box and ankle, and stiff-but-not-too-stiff soles that work well on and off the bike.
We really appreciated the long cleat slots that make for lots of useful adjustability and the fact these shoes dry quickly once wet. The lace closure can prove fiddly, though.
Best XC mountain bike shoes
Cross-country as a discipline is always looking to save weight and go faster. As a result, cross-country mountain bike shoes tend to look a lot more like road cycling shoes than other mountain bike shred slippers.
Like road shoes, they have stiff soles and lightweight uppers, but they do have deeper lugs and take two-bolt rather than three-bolt cleats.
Mavic Crossmax Elite CM
- £159 as tested
- For racing and riding
- Snug, stable fit
Mavic’s Crossmax Elite CMs are well-sealed and keep the weather out, yet they provide ample stiffness and upper security too.
A snug, stable fit with Velcro forefoot straps and Ergo Dial closure help efficiently deliver power through the pedals. The weather-shrugging toe and tongue, and neoprene collar ensure comfort even when the shoes get wet.
The sole is stiff enough for sprinting but not too rigid for longer rides, and a soft-compound tread gives good grip off the bike.
Fizik Infinito X1
- £325 / $400 / €350 as tested
- Compliant carbon sole
- Comfortable XC race shoes
The Infinito X1s come with a hefty price tag, but if you are looking for durable, relatively comfortable cross-country race shoes, they could be for you.
The X1s fit excellently, depending on foot shape – with shoes of this ilk it’s best to check first. Plus a rubber gripper on the inside of the heel cup and the Boa adjusters ensure the feet stay put and don’t slip around.
A unidirectional carbon fibre sole with aggressive lugs for off-bike moments is stiff but not overly so. The X1s are more forgiving than other race shoes on the market.
Shimano XC501 shoe
David Caudery / Immediate Media
- £140 / $170 as tested
- Comfy upper and good power transfer
- Not great for walking
The Shimano XC501 shoes have a glass fibre sole that really shows itself off when you start pushing on the pedals, delivering immediate power transfer.
This does mean that there isn’t a great deal of flex and paired with the relatively narrow outsole, the XC501s aren’t great for walking.
The wrap-around upper helps to create a supremely comfortable and snug fit.
Specialized S-Works Recon shoes
David Caudery/Immediate Media
- £340 / $425 / AU$500 as tested
- Light, stiff
- Very comfortable
Specialized’s S-Works Recon shoes are high-performing cross-country mountain bike shoes that are also suitable for gravel riding and racing.
Twin Boa dials make for perfect retention, with an extra Velcro strap for added security. Specialized Body Geometry insoles add shape to the footbed. The fit is excellent.
Best MTB flat pedal shoes
The best mountain bike flat pedal shoes will stick to your pedals easy and let you get a foot down when things get wild. Made for going full-gas downhill, these shoes are robust and there are plenty of options, from summer slippers to shoes that will keep your feet dry and toasty in the winter.
Five Ten Freerider Pro
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
- £120 / $150 / €140 as tested
- Thick upper offering lots of protection
- Sole offers maximum grip and plenty of damping
Five Ten is the benchmark flat-pedal shoe brand, with the Freerider Pros arguably its leading product. Beefed-up versions of the classic Freeriders, with a thicker upper and more protection, they’re still light and comfy enough to pedal in all day and aren’t as tall (or cushioned) as the DH-focused Impact Pros.
The sole strikes the perfect balance of height and stiffness for trail and enduro riding, and gives excellent pedal feedback, but it does take a few rides to bed in and develop enough flexibility to sit well into concave flat pedals.
Five Ten’s legendary S1 Stealth rubber offers maximum grip and superb damping, so the Freerider Pros don’t flinch an inch or bounce about, even over the roughest rock and root sections.
While the sole does wear out quicker than some competitors, it’s a price worth paying for the best combination here of fit, stability, feel and outright grip. The shoes support the foot perfectly, with a heel cup that really keeps them in place. Five Ten’s new upper dries way faster, too.
Five Ten Impact Pro shoes
- £125 / $160 / €150 as tested
- Grippiest rubber available
- Lighter than previous models
Five Ten has no rival when it comes to the stickiness of its shoe rubber. The “Stealth S1” sole of the Impact Pro shoes, with its revised pattern, locks the shoes in place on the pedals.
The Impact Pros are just right in their construction; not overly bulky, but still protective with a reinforced toe cap and abrasion-resistant upper.
Ride Concepts Hellion Elite
We've thrashed the soles out of these MTB sneaks and here is our pick of the very best mountain bike shoes. Whether you ride flat pedals or clip in.
Here are the results of our testing to find the very best mountain bike shoes in 2021. Mountain bike shoes come in all shapes and sizes and an array of different designs, but can be split into two broad categories; shoes for flat, BMX-style pedals and shoes with cleats for clip-in pedals.
The best mountain bike flat pedal shoes look like trainers/sneakers but have low-profile soles made from sticky rubber. Whereas the best mountain bike clipless pedal shoes are generally stiffer and have recessed bolt holes for attaching pedal cleats.
Best mountain bike shoes – flat
Best mountain bike shoes – clipless
How we tested these shoes
To ensure all things are equal, we coupled our shoes with the two test-winning pedals from the mbr group test in the June issue. We also ran these on the same bike so that we could measure crank and chainstay clearance for each shoe and gauge overall comfort and grip without being distracted by suspension and tyre choice.
With the clip-in shoes, we measured the size of the cleat box and clearance around the cleat and focused on ease of engagement/release. With the flat shoes, the main driver is grip, so we measured the rubber compound on every shoe with a durometer. We also did a simple flex test to check feel, and some off- the-bike hikes to gauge comfort and check for heel lift.
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The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals:
Five Ten Freerider Pro
Five Ten Freerider Pro
Price: £119.95 / $150.00 | Weight: 780g | Sizes: 5 to 13.5
Pro: The grippiest sole available. Shock absorbing mid-sole.
Con: Pretty pricey. Can be too sticky for some riders.
The Freerider Pro has been our test winning flat pedal shoe for the last few years. It is stiffer than its slim profile suggests. To stop it getting bounced off pedals, there’s plenty of flex in the sole and it’s also wider than most. The Stealth rubber is a cut above anything else here and is also slow-rebound, so you just feel more stable on the pedal, even in the wet.
The Freerider Pro isn’t the cheapest shoe, nor the lightest nor the best off the bike, but it has excellent impact absorption and is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of grip. If you ride flats it should be top of your list.
Every year we nearly fall for the hype of a new brand entering the flat pedal shoe market, boasting of unrivalled grip from some exotic rubber blend. Only for it to lose its footing in real world testing compared to the venerable Five Ten Freerider Pro. The bottom line is there’s no better shoe for all round flat pedal riding if you value ultimate grip over fancy marketing.
Much as we hate sounding like a broken record, the Freerider Pro is the best shoe on the market and only the new Specialized 2FO Roost (below) matches it for ride feel and grip.
Read our full test review of the Five Ten Freerider Pro
Ride Concepts Hellion Elite
Ride Concepts Hellion Elite
Price: £129.99 | Weight: 793g | Sizes: 39-45.5
Pro: Finally a sole that rivals Five Ten Freeriders.
Con: No cheaper than a Five Ten.
Previous Ride Concepts shoes have been frustrating. Everything about them has been impressive – apart from the sole. Which, let’s face it, is the be all and end all when it comes to flat pedal shoes. So hip hop hurray for the new Hellion Elite which (finally!) sports a rubber compound on its underside that is actually a genuine rival for the ubiquitous Stealth rubber found on the Five Ten Freerider Pro.
As well as this DST 4.0 Max Grip rubber being soft, the sole on the Hellion Elite has noticeably more give to it compared to the stiff AF regular Hellion. This flex makes it grip the pedal better and doesn’t really seem to have any real impact on pedal power.
As well as more general grip, the Elite version of the Hellion has anti-bacterial lining to help ward off the dreaded ‘cat urine’ aroma that oft arises on riding shoes after a season of proper usage. The heel and toe bumpers do a good job of protecting the overall integrity of the shoe. Our test shoes still look impressively tidy even after months of riding.
It’s no doubt a tad annoying to Ride Concepts that just as they catch up with Five Ten’s Stealth rubber, Five Ten go and come out with their Phantom rubber (featured on Trailcross Five Tens) which takes adhesion and vibration absorption to a another level again. That said, the Hellion Elites are most definitely worth considering over Five Tens – especially if you find the shape of modern Adidas-era Five Tens a bit too narrow fitting.
Read our full test review of the Ride Concepts Hellion Elite
Specialized 2FO Roost
Specialized 2FO Roost
Very close runner-up
Price: £110 / $120.00 | Weight: 828g | Sizes: UK 3.5-14 (EU 36-49)
Pro: Lightweight flat pedal shoe with super sticky rubber and decent shock absorption
Con: If anything they size up small. Durability unproven.
Specialized has persevered with its flat pedal shoe offering, and boy are we glad that it did. The original 2FO shoes were a decent first attempt, with a lightweight structure, excellent comfort and shock absorption as well as some cool features. But the sole never quite boasted the security of a Five Ten when meshed with a flat pedal. And they were no cheaper than their rivals.
Now with this latest Roost version, Specialized has nailed the rubber blend, with a sole that stays fully planted in all-conditions. The new 2FO Roost shoes are also lightweight, competitively priced and more like a regular trainer to walk around in than a Five Ten. The latter is oft underappreciated aspect until you’ve experienced it.
Lots of brands have tried, but until now, none have succeeded in breaking Five Ten’s vice-like grip over flat pedal riders. And for good reason, Five Ten’s Stealth rubber had unmatched grip and control. Specialized has got the rubber to match but it’s also priced to go toe-to-toe with the Freerider Pro.
While some bolder more open-minded riders may switch brands, most will probably stick with what they know (Five Ten) but we definitely think a lot of folk should try Spesh sneaks at some point. They’re becoming the SRAM to Five Ten’s Shimano.
Read our full test review of the Specialized 2FO Roost
Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0
Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0
Arguably better than the more expensive version
Price: £100.00 / $120.00 | Weight: 630g | Sizes: 36-47
Pro: Excellent pedal feel. Ergonomic footbeds included.
Con: Not cheap. Narrow fitting.
You know how Specialized have banged on about their Body Geometry ergonomic science stuff for decades now? Well, it’s with good reason. Pretty much all Specialized apparel is really flipping comfortable to wear for hours on a bike.These shoes are a good example.
The mid-sole and deceptively sophisticated upper materials used on these 2FO Flat 1.0 shoes makes them arguably the most comfy shoes here. And yes, that includes the more expensive 2FO Roost. The Flat 1.0 shoes are airier and flexier. Which, whilst making it necessary to pair up with some warm waterproof socks in winter, does make them feel less clumpy and more huggy to wear.
Super-soft Slip Knot rubber dual-compound sole. It’s also lightweight and more flexible than most, which meant we could really bend our feet over the pedals when climbing or railing hard into a turn. The Air mesh upper adds a degree of comfort most others shoes lack too, and also dries incredibly quickly.
There are a couple of unneccessary but still nice to have touches on these shoes: the elastic lace tidy stops stray laces entering your drivetrain (ouch) and the inner sleeve-like bootie keeps debirs out whilst also having a couple of side tabs to help when hauling the shoes on before a ride.
Rarely does a cheaper sibling out-perform its more expensive big brother in some regards, but that’s the case here – the 2FO Flat 1.0 is a definite step up from the (old non-Roost) 2FO Flat 2.0 and, best of all, you don’t have to pay any extra for the performance gains.
Read our full test review of the Specialized 2FO 1.0
Five Ten TrailCross XT
Five Ten Trailcross XT
Not your typical Five Tens
Price: £130 / $140.00 | Weight: 780g | Sizes: 36-55
Pro: New Phantom rubber takes Five Ten-ness to another lever again.
Con: Arguably too much of compromise with a hiking shoes for some riders.
These are something of a departure for Five Ten. They’re much more of a crossover influenced shoe bearing the aesthetics, materials and features of fell running and mountain hiking footwear.
When you first wear them it is noticeable how much more supple and lighter weight the uppers are compared to the benchmark bike shoe (the Five Ten Freerider Pro). The TrailCross shoes are much more about saving weight for saving energy and also being able to deal with a mountain storm (or stream) dousing without becoming bogged down and never drying out, leading to rider discomfort.
But, with it being Five Ten, the goodness lies in the sole. The TrailCross doesn’t make any concessions to durability over adhesion performance. These are still full-on Stealth rubber dotty soled Five Tens (even with the slight horizontal ribbing on the toe/heel for off-the-bike climbing traction).
Feeling safe and totally connected to the machine equals maximum fun to us, so we can’t help but feel a shoe that prioritises hiking comfort and speed of drying ahead of grip and control misses the mark a little. That said, if you’re looking for a good dual-purpose outdoor shoe, the Five Ten Trailcross could be the perfect choice.
If you absolutely cannot live without the stickiest rubber against your pedals no matter what the route is, you’ll be fine with these Five Ten Trailcross XT shoes.
Read our full test review of the Five Ten Trail Cross XT
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals:
Price: £104 | Weight: 848g | Sizes: 36-48
Pro: Still an excellent trail shoe that continues the AM9 line nicely.
Con: We’re not huge fans of Speed lace system.
Shimano’s methodology for naming their shoes continues and this AM902 is the very latest version of a series of gravity-inspired clip-in shoes bearing the AM9 prefix. Those of you who know your Shimano shoe history will appreciate the constant appearance of asymmetrical ankle (where the bike-side is raised to help protect ankles from crank arm scrapes and knocks) and the iconic lace-covering over-flap.
It’s the latter that is very well prized by a lot of UK riders purely for the fact that is helps keep the shoes from filling with front tyre-flung standing water. That said, riders from sunnier climes will appreciate the lacing security of the over-flap too. Vice versa, UK riders won’t like the appearance of perforations on the toe box, but some international MTBers will be fine with it.
And to be exact, there are no laces under the flap anymore. It’s a string-cinch Speedlace system which looks great in theory but we have our issues with consistency and attendant fiddling. At the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot wrong with traditional laces.
Underneath the shoe, Shimano have done some great work and have really improved the cleat pocket. Not only is it bigger fore-aft – which helps prevent mud build-up blockages – but they’ve also extended the cleat slot so it’s possible to run your cleats much more rearward and mid-foot à la flat pedal vibes. One thing that hasn’t changed is that Shimano shoes are better value than most premium brands.
Read our full test review of the Shimano ME5 SPD
Fizik Gravita Tensor Clip
Fizik Gravita Tensor Clip
Price: £174.99 | Weight: 851g | Sizes: 36-48
Pro: Extremely comfortable shoes that you won’t be in a rush to remove.
Con: Bold styling isn’t everyone’s tastes, expensive.
If you can get past the aesthetics of this particular colourway, the Fizik Gravita Tensor Clip is a super comfortable clipless pedal shoe that sports some great little features. Perhaps the most striking of these little features is the offset lacing bed. This offset system does a couple of tings: it keeps the laces away from your greedy drivetrain, and it prevents the common hotspotting zone bang on top of your foot (especially if you like your shoes tied up really tight).
Fizik also have a different attitude than most when it comes to the built-in ankle protection. There’s not overly chunky or stiff padding, just a subtle bit of Neoprene with some anti-cuff fabric. Think of it as a bit like lightweight pull-on knee sleeves compared to chunky full-on knee pads.
Despite the sole being made from Vibram’s stickiest rubber, it’s still not that sticky. But the relatively shallow cleat box and subtle tread around it do a great job of interacting with the pedal pins on caged clipless pedals. And the shoes didn’t feel sketchy on rocks or roots when hike-a-biking around off the bike. Speaking of which, the front and rear bumpers do a good job of protecting your feet.
Inside the shoe there’s a fancy fabric lining that dries out impressively quickly and the overall roominess of the tox box area is most welcome, something sorely (literally) lacking form most road-inspired clip-in shoes shapes.
Read our full test review of the Fizik Gravita Tensor Clip
Crankbrothers Mallet E BOA
Crankbrothers Mallet E BOA
Best for enduro and gravity riding
Price: £179.99 / $199.00 | Weight: 944g (pair, with cleats) | Sizes: 37-48
Pro: Slipper-like comfort, rock-solid stability and cleats fitted as standard
Con: Not the cheapest option on the market, although Crankbrothers offers less expensive versions without the BOA
Crankbrothers has been top of the charts when it comes to downhill and enduro clip-in pedals for years now, but now it’s got its sights set on the shoe market as well. This new range of clip-in shoes come with a variety of closure systems, with the sleek and rapid BOA sitting at the top of the tree. Superbly comfortable and stable, with plenty of cleat adjustability and a pair pre-installed, these are as good as it gets for DH and enduro riding.
There are other (cheaper) Crankbrothers clipless shoes to go for. The mid-range version has Velcro and laces combo. The entry level shoe just has plain laces. All versions get the seamless, wararound vibe and aesthetic to them. Some will like this look. Others will think it a bit dated or XC gawky. Their loss.
Perhaps the key thing with Crankbrothers clipless shoes is that they offer a choice of cleat box/slots. These E (for enduro) shoes just has tradtional standard cleat slot holes. If you want to run your cleats much (and we mean much!) further towards the middle of your foot, you can get the Race Zone cleat slot option shoe.
Not only that but if you’re a Crankbrothers pedal user (and chances are if you’re contemplating these shoes) then the shoes actually come pre-installed with Crankbrothers pedal cleats.
These Mallet E Boas have some excellent innovative features, but, more importantly, they are comfortable, stable and integrate perfectly with the brand’s class-leading clip-in pedals. Sure, the price tag is steep but try to consider the level of tech involved and the fact you get a pair of £20 cleats thrown in. Or just find them in a sale!
Read our full test review of the Crankbrothers Mallet E BOA
True riding slippers
Price: £139.99 / $149.99 | Weight: 886g | Sizes: 37 to 48
Pro: Shock absorbing qualities. Comfort is on another level.
Con: Needs to be paired with caged clipless pedals. Some cleats need spacers underneath to clear sole.
With its synthetic leather upper, reinforced toe box and the GnarGuard abrasion-resistant coating on the heel and toe cap, the Bontrager Rally is a burly clip-in shoe. It comes with a Velcro strap across the top that holds the laces down and also adds extra tension. The sole features an in-house rubber, which we measured at around 65a – softer than some of the flat pedal shoes. The tackiness really helps stability when using a caged clipless pedal, but it also adds some extra security if you fail to clip in properly and end up just resting your foot on the binding. Off the bike, the grip is pretty good too, especially on wet roots.
The Rally’s shock-absorbing EVA insole isn’t quite as good as the Specialized or Ride Concepts insole, but it does boost comfort when rattling down a rough descent or overshooting a jump and landing flat. The cleat box isn’t as spacious either, so the cleat does clog with mud a little bit and it’s also pretty deep, so you will definitely need to run an extra shim if you decide to use Crankbrothers cleats.
Compared to the Specialized shoes, the heel cup is slightly shallower, but we had no issues with heel lift. However, it was a little tricky to gauge the overall fit, because our sample 42 did come up a tiny bit small. We’d recommend going up a size to create a bit more space in the front of the shoe – especially if you’re going to be using this in the winter with a thicker/waterproof sock. And you’ll probably want to – the Rally is pretty good for cold-weather riding because of that durable upper material.
If you want a solid clip-in shoe for hard riding, this is recommended.
Read our full test review of the Bontrager Rally
Five Ten Hellcat Pro
Five Ten Hellcat Pro
If it’s okay for Greg Minnaar…
Price: £150 | Weight: 853g | Sizes: 38-47
Pro: Still the premium pedaler for racers or any performance-minded rider.
Con: Arguably not worth the extra over the regular Hellcat.
Whilst a lot of Five Ten’s mountain bike offerings have undergone some big changes this season (recycled materials, new rubber, whole new models etc), the Hellcat Pro remains unchanged. Which, to be fair, will be a relief to a lot of enduro and downhill racers who are the main target audience of this shoe. ‘Don’t mess with the formula’ and all that.
So the sole is still made from their firm-ish Marathon rubber which is perfectly appropriate for a clip-in shoes really. It certainly doesn’t impede pedal engagement, which is just as well because the Hellcat Pro’s deep cleat pocket can certainly impede engagement until you slip one or (probably) two shims under the cleat.
Overall though, the shoe is designed around someone who clips-in at the start of an effort and doesn’t clip-out again until the job is done. Which can be racers but can also just be mountain bikers who like to ride everywhere feet-up, clean and efficient. Having said that, the Hellcat Pros are most definitely not road shoes with a chunky sole; there is noticeable and welcome flex at the toe end which makes them much more real-world viable for weekend warriors and cafe stops.
The overall fit is slim and the shoe in general is sleek and noticeably less clumpy than the other shoes here.
Read our full test review of the Five Ten Hellcat Pro
What to look for in the best mountain bike shoes:
There are two types of mountain bike pedal – clip-in and and flat – and to get the maximum performance from either, it’s necessary to use a dedicated shoe. Since both pedal systems are equally popular, this test includes each type. Increasingly we’re seeing a crossover with newly released shoes, as brands design both clip-in and flat versions of the latest models. However, some companies still specialise in one particular type, such as Adidas Five Ten for example. Does that make them better at it? Not necessarily, but judging by past experience, it does seem to be easier to make a decent clip-in shoe than one designed for a flat pedal.
Of course, there is nothing stopping you riding flats in a pair of trainers. However, the shock-absorbing sole will sap energy, the rubber outsole will be too hard and slide on the platform, and the upper will not have enough support. So in our view it’s just as crucial to use a specific mtb flat pedal shoe as it is a clip-in design. With more grip comes more control over the bike, and your feet are less likely to slip off, which is obviously a lot safer.
With clip-in pedals, any SPD-compatible shoe is going to work well because it’s actually the pedal/cleat interface that is responsible for grip and security. That said, a clip-in shoe is under more load when pedaling and during the disengagement phase, and often is supported by a smaller surface area of pedal, so it needs to feature a more stable construction and often a reinforcing strap to reduce flex.
This recess on the bottom of the sole needs to be deep enough that you don’t feel the cleat when you walk, but shallow enough that the cleat engages easily with the mechanism. It’s a fine balance with all the different pedal designs out there, but you can raise and lower the cleat using thin shims (spacers) often provided with the pedals.
Covers and straps
A big strap across the top of the shoe adds stability, but also makes for a more positive release when twisting the shoe free of the binding. Integrated covers limit mud ingress and stop laces catching in the pedal axle.
Inner ankle protection pad
Look for an extended section of upper on the crank side of the shoe. This stops your ankle contacting the crank arm when you’re leaning into a corner, or those times when you have to unclip inwards.
Clip-in shoes are generally stiffer than flat shoes – this is primarily for pedalling efficiency, but having a solid sole also means you won’t feel the cleat when cranking hard.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding the tread pattern on the sole. Some companies use a waffle, others just use chevrons or raised circles. It’s more important to have enough tread, especially at the toe and heel, to create purchase when scrambling up and down steep terrain.
Aka the insole. This should be supportive, stable and breathable. Any extras, like D3O impact zones or Body Geometry fit customisation features, are a bonus.
A thicker layer of anti-scuff rubber reinforcement on the toe and heel adds some long-term durability but also protects your feet against rock strikes and abrasion.
For some reason manufacturers are reluctant to use really tacky rubber on their flat shoes because they cite reduced durability, but with a flat shoe, grip generated by the rubber is everything. If it’s too hard your feet just won’t stay on the pedals, so it’s irrelevant how long the shoe lasts.
Best MTB flat pedal shoes: Grippy footwear for all riding disciplines
Your feet are one of the most important contact points between yourself and your bike, so if you're riding with flat pedals, choosing the best MTB flat pedal shoes can make or break your ride.
In our experience, riding with flat pedals can be a great way to hone the correct technique, boost rider confidence and form a new level of trail feedback communication to the rider, especially when paired with the best MTB flat pedals. Oh, and dropping a foot in your favorite turn is a pretty good feeling too.
We are big fans of riding with flat pedals and know exactly what to look for in a riding shoe to keep your feet glued to the pedals while maximizing feel and comfort on the trail.
In the following guide, we'll run through our pick of the best flat pedal MTB shoes for men, so if you're looking for women's shoes, head to our guide to the best women's mountain bike shoes.
Then at the bottom of this guide, we've also included a detailed guide on exactly what to look out for when choosing the right pair for you.
Best MTB flat pedal shoes
Crankbrothers Stamp Speed Lace
Smart lace system and supportive uppers give a secure fit
Weight: 838g | Sizes: 37-48 | Colors: Green/orange or grey/red | SRP: $149.99 / £114.99 / €149.99
Designed to integrate well with Crankbrothers pedals
Quick, secure lacing system
Very comfortable fit
Not as grippy as the market leaders
Crankbrothers recently released a lineup of shoes, including the Mallet flat pedal shoe that corresponds with the brand's Mallet pedals. The benefit of this shoe is that Crankbrothers intimately knows its pedals, so they designed a shoe that will work flawlessly with them. The shoes are available at three price points, we tested the mid-level Speedlace version with a pull-tab system that quickly tightens the shoe and locks the laces into place. This is then tidied in a mesh pouch in the tongue and finished with a velcro strap to add extra security.
We found the overall fit of the shoe to be excellent, providing a great blend of comfort and support when riding. Ventilation is decent too and well balanced with weather protection so they shouldn't soak through straight away and should dry quickly if they do.
The shoes are designed to work best with Crankbrothers own pedals although they will grip as well on other pedal platforms. Grip levels from the Match Compound MC2 are good but don't quite match the likes of Five Ten. Crankbrothers have provided lugs on the toe and heel to help with off-the-bike traction so you can easily push back up when sessioning a section of trail.
To see how they earned four and a half stars, read our Crankbrothers Stamp Speedlace shoe review.
Great grip and feedback for full-gas flat-pedal riding
Weight: 744g | Sizes: 36-48 | Colors: Black, blue | SRP: $130 / £125 / €130
Thin and flexy for feedback
Bontrager's Flatline shoe uses a super sticky rubber on the sole that's on par with Five Ten's Stealth rubber compound so you won't be lacking any grip. The upper portion of the shoe is weather-resistant, and as a whole, the shoe is flexible enough so that you feel in control without giving up any support.
In addition to great grip, these shoes are durable, comfortable, and reasonable weather-resistant.
Even though previous Bontrager shoes were on the tighter side, the sizing on these runs large, so definitely try a pair on before you buy, and the long laces can get a bit annoying too. However, it's good to know that Bontrager offers a 30-day return guarantee.
For more details on the Bontrager Flatline shoes, read our in-depth review.
Specialized 2FO DH Flat
Well damped yet communicative DH shoe
Weight: 690g | Sizes: 36-49 | Colors: Black | Price: $160 / £145 / €150
SlipNot ST rubber is extremely grippy
Superbly damped sole
Low weight for a DH specific shoe
Limited tightening around the forefoot
The Specialized 2FO DH Flat is the third iteration of Specialized's DH-specific shoe, with the most notable change being the addition of Specialized's SlipNot ST rubber, which is also used across Specialized's other flat pedal shoe offerings.
Visually, the third generation has been toned down, giving it more of a casual aesthetic although the performance is still right up there with the best. The 2FO DH offers loads of protection to the foot and is paired with an Xpeltm hydrophobic mesh construction to help reduce heat build-up and stop them from becoming sponges in wet weather. Drying time is also improved which is usually a huge weak point of overbuilt DH shoes.
The 2FO sports Specialized’s Body Geometry tech for a snug and supportive fit around and under your foot. On the bike, this is genuinely noticeable and high-power stamps on the pedals feel more effective when compared to any other shoe on test. The only negative is that the laces don't extend very far down the foot, which limits tensioning around the front of the foot.
The base of the shoe is taken care of using Specialized’s latest generation, SlipNot ST rubber compound, which gives a really well-damped quality and offers barrel loads of grip in conjunction with the hexagon-shaped tread.
Read more about the Specialized 2FO DH Flat in our recent review.
Specialized Rime Flat
Flat pedal shoes designed to hike as well as bike
Weight: 395g (EU43, actual) | Sizes: 36-49 and half sizes 38.5-46.5 | Colors: Black / White Mountain | SRP: $130 / £145 / €129.90
Tenaciously grippy SlipNot ST rubber sole
Well damped sole
Excellent comfort and flexible lace tension
Confident walking characteristics
Decent protection from the trail
Doesn't get the Xpeltm hydrophobic mesh insole of the 2FO DH
The tongue needs positioning to assure full comfort
Specialized has reworked its range of trail, enduro and downhill mountain bike shoes, tweaking the design, fit and kitting them out with its new SlipNot ST rubber for excellent grip and dampening.
We have ridden a number of Specialized's new clipless and flat pedal shoes, all of which have performed very well. However, the Rime stands out, not just because of their bold looks but the fact they are designed for backcountry trails and big mountain adventures rather than just trail or enduro riding. That means Specialized has had to design the shoe to provide excellent grip and protection on the bike but also off the bike when hiking to the peak and starting point of your backcountry trail.
Grip and vibration dampening are very impressive and although the shoe is designed to walk well, it doesn't suffer from a flexible sole that will cause foot fatigue on long trails. That said, the toe still has enough flexibility when you are striding up the hill which is further improved by chunky horizontal lugs to help you dig in and scramble up loose surfaces. The Rimes are finished with a TPU and Xpeltm hydrophobic mesh construction for tough, breathable and quick-drying uppers and secured with standard laces.
Want to know more? Check out our Specialized Rime Flat shoe review
Five Ten Freerider Pro
Flat pedal shoe kings. Five Ten still rule
Weight: 784g | Sizes: 37-45 | Colors: Black, emerald | SRP: $150 / £120 / €140
Confidence boosting levels of grip in all situations
Fantastic pedal feel and exceptional damping in rough terrain
Continue to improve once bedded in
No neoprene roost/splash cuff on the ankle
The Freerider Pro from Five Ten is the equivalent of your favorite band’s greatest hits album. Five Ten has taken all of its best features and piled them into one shoe. This gives the Freerider Pro the most outright grip, the best damping properties and the best support to pedal feel balance out of any other shoe on test, making it the best flat pedal mountain bike shoe available.
At the heart of the Freerider Pro is Five Ten’s proven S1 rubber sole, using the brand’s signature dot pattern which travels along the entirety of the sole. On the trail, this translates to a maximum hold feel on the pedals resulting in the confidence to constantly attack without the thought of your foot ever bouncing off or losing grip, regardless of the trail. The damping characteristics of the S1 sole mean it does a great job of soaking up the impacts and high-frequency buzz that travels through your feet. Even on long alpine tracks, this offers protection from any foot cramps or discomfort. Compared to the standard Freerider, the Pro version sees the use of a shank in the midsole. This is designed to offer more support for pedaling and greater protection on longer runs without compromising on pedal feel, which it totally nails.
Attached to the sole is a sleek-looking and simple synthetic upper, which is weather-resistant, quick-drying and sees the addition of a hardened toe box that offers protection from flying rock strikes and trailside boulders. With a snug, but not restricting fit, the Freerider Pro shows zero signs of heel lift on or off the bike. The only thing it lacks is an extended gaiter to keep rocks and puddle spray out so expect to tip your shoes out more regularly, but as a plus, you’ll sweat less in summer. It’s also worth mentioning that the upper can take a few rides to bed in and soften up, but after a ton of hammer both in the UK and abroad, they’re still only showing slight signs of wear.
Ride Concept Hellion
Ride Concept offer serious competition to established brands, especially if you swap insoles
Weight: 848g | Size: 39-47 | Colors: Black, charcoal | SRP: $120 / £110 / €140
Performs great in most trail situations
Potentially let down by D30 insole
Fresh to the market, the California-based brand Ride Concepts has launched a series of shoes to cater to the mass mountain bike market. The Hellion model we have here is essentially the all-rounder which is aimed at trail and enduro riders. Boasting a range of quality features, the Hellion has proved to be one of the best options available.
Constructed using a two-piece synthetic upper with an anti-peel coating, it’s designed to take a whole ton of abuse while soaking up minimal water and keeping drying times fast. These shoes were used for a few months while visiting Queenstown, New Zealand where they faced countless bike park laps and a serious amount of trail riding and showed next to no signs of wear, so they're obviously built to last. The high-quality laces used are a nice finishing touch too, and while it’s a small difference, it’s a noticeable one, as they don’t lose tension or become baggy over time.
The Ride Concept flat pedal shoe range features three levels of sole compound, and the Hellion gets the mid-level 6.0 DST rubber. This is stated to be the ‘high grip’ option on Ride Concept’s rubber kinematic scale. It sits in between the clipless exclusive ‘8.0 DST mid grip’ sole and the ‘4.0 DST max grip’ which is stated to be one of the grippiest on the market – something we’re eager to try out. In practice the ‘high grip’ sole lives up to its name, securely holding pedal pins in pretty much every situation, however, the Five Ten Freerider Pro still has the edge in rough, high-frequency impact terrain.
Interestingly, this lack of grip in specific situations isn’t down to the sole itself but the insoles. The Hellions feature sections of D30 impact-absorbing material that’s more commonly used in rider body armor, as it instantly hardens upon any type of impact. While this may be good for protecting your knees in a crash, we can’t help but feel it’s letting the Ride Concept family down on the pedals. Upon impact, it feels like the insole is hardening and changing the way your foot wraps over the pedal. This is more noticeable in high-frequency situations, ultimately causing your feet to shift on the pedal. The effect of the D30 insole was confirmed when swapping for a non D30 variant in the same shoe. It’s worth stressing this is only apparent in certain situations but it is enough to separate the Hellion from the test winner, so real grip fans should consider switching insoles.
Shimano’s flagship flat-pedal gravity shoe is light and offers heaps of pedal feel
Weight: 761g | Sizes: 36-48 | Colors: Black, navy | SRP: $160 / £140 / €165
Low profile sole offers superb pedal feel
Lace flap and retention system are great features
Still not as grippy as the best
Ventilation may be too cool for some weather conditions
The GR9 is Shimano’s new top-of-the-range, gravity-focused, flat-pedal kick, and with the addition of an exclusive sole from Michelin, there’s a big leap forward in pedal traction when compared to older Shimano models.
The first thing you notice when riding the GR9 is how the ultra-thin sole exaggerates that ‘in-the-bike’ feeling when riding down the trail. With the shoe being on the floppy side of the spectrum, it concaves nicely over the pedal too, and together this offers high amounts of tire feel and trail feedback from the pedals. This isn’t all positive though as on longer descents fatigue is more apparent due to the thin sole reducing impact protection and support. Surprisingly, the midsole stiffness felt good when pedaling so even though the soft upper doesn’t offer that ‘locked in’ feeling, there was no point where it felt too floppy under power, something that wasn’t uncommon on the shoe’s previous incarnation. The GR9 is light too, which is noticeable from the first pedal stroke where you’re greeted with a sporty, easy to rotate feeling.
Switching from the older Vibram sole to a totally new design from Michelin means there’s a big increase in pedal grip over the previous Shimano models, but it’s still not as sticky or as well damped as some of the other shoes on test. The latest sole design also features a more aggressive tread pattern on the toe and heel to boost off the bike grip.
The upper retains Shimano’s signature lace cover, which helps keep puddle splashes out as well as protecting the really convenient quick-lace system. This toggle-style design offers good overall tension and makes getting them on and off a cinch compared to traditional laces. Unlike older Shimano shoes which had a tendency to soak up water like a sponge, the GR9 sucks up next to no water when things get soggy, another great improvement for Shimano.
Five Ten Freerider EPS High
A true game changer for flat pedal users in the winter months
Weight: 1109g | Sizes: Unknown | Colors: Unknown | SRP: Unknown
Genuinely game changing in winter
Well thought out features
High top may not be to everyone’s taste (Low top is available)
Sole is a little flexy
Heavy overall weight
For a long time, the best winter MTB boots have only been available for clipless pedal users. This was until Five Ten released a fully winterized version of its ever-famous Freerider flat-pedal shoe. The Freerider EPS sports a ton of cold and wet weather-tackling features which combine to make the EPS a must-have for the colder months.
The winterization is certainly very thorough, with a list of features including a heat-reflective footboard beneath the insole, a fully gusseted tongue, and a stitch-less one-piece front panel. On top of this, the synthetic leather upper is Primaloft insulated for maximum warmth in sub-zero temperatures. The extra height adds warmth as well as splash protection, but there’s a low-top version if you find it restrictive. This package genuinely transforms comfort in the winter months, doing a truly exceptional job of keeping the heat in and the water out. As expected with all the winter modifications, it does make the EPS the heaviest shoe on test, but we’ll happily accept that to have warm feet in the bleak winter.
As it’s a Five Ten, it’s not surprising that a Stealth rubber blend sole takes care of pedal traction. The sole is essentially exactly the same as the standard and trusty Freerider shoe, making for excellent grip and damping qualities. The only thing we would like to see is the addition of the midsole shank that is featured on the Freerider Pro, as the extra support is very welcome on longer downhills and would boost the EPS High to a perfect 5/5 rating. Even without that, the combination of warmth and grip means we can’t recommend this shoe enough for people who continue to battle through the grim season.
Leatt Flat 3.0
Mid-top shoe from Leatt featuring an Aaron Chase signature colorway
Weight : 950g | Sizes: 38-47 | Colors: Green, red, grey, brown | SRP: $120 / £96 / €120
From experienced MTB brand Leatt
Mid-top isn't for everybody
If you're looking for a mid-top shoe, Leatt's Flat 3.0 will do the trick. We know that mid-top or high-top shoes aren't for everybody, but if you are freeriding or downhill riding, the added material will better protect your ankles from pedal strikes or flying trail debris.
Leatt is known for its MTB safety gear, so this shoe is designed with serious gravity riding in mind. The mid-top design not only adds protection but also support when you're flying off jumps and careening down rock gardens. You know these shoes are good since the brown colorway is Aaron Chase's signature shoe.
The shoe features Leatt's RideGrip compound to keep your feet on the pedals, and the upper portion of the shoe features synthetic leather with a synthetic suede toe box, which makes these a great weather-proof shoe choice.
There are multiple color options to choose from, with the Aaron Chase colorway being our favorite for looking classy on and off the bike. Plus since they're brown, they won't appear to be as dirty after you've kicked up a bunch of mid-summer dust.
How to buy the best MTB flat pedal shoes
How should the best MTB flat pedal shoes fit?
As with most things mountain bike-related, fit is very important. For flat-pedal riders, 'feel' is vital and allows you to maximize the advantages of not riding clipped in. If the fit is too tight, it can cause the circulation to your feet to be cut off, which results in numbness leaving you with little idea as to where your feet are positioned on the pedal. On the flip side, if the shoe is too loose-fitting this can make correct foot placement seem impossible, especially on rough terrain. While we have done our best to decipher how each shoe fits, we still recommend physically trying them on, as, at the end of the day, everyone’s feet are different and size/cut differs from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Is MTB shoe weight important?
The lighter the shoes, the less energy it takes to rotate them around with every pedal stroke. While lighter shoes are more efficient, there comes a point where protection, stiffness and support become compromised. The importance of this varies with different styles of riding though. Trail riders who spend a chunk of their time climbing will value a lighter weight shoe over a totally gravity-focused shredder who prioritizes damping and protection.
Laces vs boa
Unlike clipless pedals which commonly use Boa dials and ratchets, every shoe here besides the Shimano GR9 and Crankbrothers Stamp Speedlace uses a traditional lace-up design. While more complex fasteners may seem smart, it’s hard to beat the simplicity, adjustability and reliability of a solid set of laces. Some shoes will use additional velcro straps to add a little extra support and security.
Do flat pedals require special shoes?
Arguably you don't need special shoes to ride flat pedals. That said, investing in the best MTB flat pedal shoes will bring a number of significant performance gains over regular trainers.
For a start, shoes designed for flat pedals will have very soft rubber and a specific tread pattern to maximize grip. The sole will often be a lot stiffer to provide a better pedaling platform, improve stability and reduce foot fatigue.
Most flat-pedal users tend to be more gravity-focused, where speeds are high and impacts are frequent and potentially harsh. Hardened toe boxes and heel cups are essential for protection against rock strikes and trail detritus. The sole also needs to be able to absorb the feedback and hard impacts associated with ripping down the toughest trails.
What is damping?
Damping is essentially a property of a material or moving component that restrains or stops movement in a controlled manner, often measured in curves. For example, most mountain bike suspension forks have damping adjustment; adding more damping, such as rebound damping, slows down the spring oscillation and offers greater control. No rebound damping would mean your fork would behave like a pogo stick, but having rebound damping will change the way the fork reacts. While the soles of flat pedal shoes don’t have adjustable dials, the rubber used needs to be carefully chosen and tuned to soak up heavy impacts and vibrations from the trail. A sole with good damping properties will reduce fatigue on longer rides and translate heavy hits from rough trails into a dull and calm feeling through your feet.
Back to the top.
Jim Bland is a review and buyer's guide writer based in North Yorkshire, England. Jim’s chosen riding genre is hard to pinpoint and regularly varies from e-bike-assisted shuttle runs one day to cutting downcountry laps the next. Always on the hunt for the perfect setup, he can regularly be found hammering out test runs in odd shoes, playing with volume spacers or switching tires in between laps to see what performs best. His ultimate day out includes an alpine loam trail, blazing sunshine, and some fresh kit to test.
Rides: Santa Cruz Tallboy, Specialized Kenevo
A quality mountain bike shoe plays a number of important roles. Its solid platform delivers power to the pedals, strong construction keeps your feet protected, and secure fit increases comfort for long days on the trail. Our top picks for 2021 below fall into three general categories: lightweight cross-country (XC) designs for extended and non-technical rides, trail shoes that can handle moderately rough terrain, and downhill models for the harshest trails and biggest jumps and drops. Another important consideration is your pedal type, and we’ve included our favorite options for those who prefer flats or like to be clipped in (somewhat confusingly referred to as “clipless”). For more background information on mountain bike shoes, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team’s Mountain Bike Shoe Picks
Best Flat Pedal Mountain Bike Shoe
1. Five Ten Freerider ($100)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 11.6 oz.
What we like: Proven design with very sticky rubber.
What we don’t: Not the most durable and less efficient than a clipless shoe.
Combining legendary grip and a comfortable interior, Five Ten’s Freerider is a long-time favorite. The shoe’s main calling card is its sticky Stealth S1 rubber and dotty tread pattern, which provide a reliable and secure connection to your pedals for everything from long uphill grinds to popping off jumps and navigating technical features. In addition, the shoe’s midsole strikes a nice balance of stiffness to avoid hotspots while retaining enough flexibility and traction on rock for the occasional hike-a-bike (the dotty tread doesn’t grip as well in mud, however). Finally, the reinforced toe box and thick upper material offer decent protection and give the shoe its signature look.
Like all platform shoes, one of the downsides of the Five Ten Freerider is that you lose some efficiency and power by not being connected to the pedals. Additionally, the Freerider’s soft rubber has a reputation for breaking down fairly quickly, and high-mileage users will find they need to replace their shoes annually (we consistently need a new pair after about 1,000 trail miles). But the shorter lifespan is a fair tradeoff for the fantastic grip the shoe offers, and there’s simply nothing else on the market that can match the Freerider’s all-around abilities for the price. Of note, Five Ten has released a Primeblue variation for 2021, which utilizes recycled materials in the upper. And for a lighter and more protective variation of the shoe, check out the Freerider Pro below.
See the Men's Five Ten FreeriderSee the Women's Five Ten Freerider
Best Clipless Mountain Bike Shoe
2. Shimano SH-ME5 ($160)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 8.8 oz.
What we like: Great combination of comfort, weight, and performance.
What we don’t: Not as protective as the upgraded ME7 model.
Shimano’s ME5 is a do-everything clipless mountain bike shoe. With a light and breathable construction and rigid platform, it can put the power down on punchy climbs, but it’s also protective, lightly padded, and quite comfortable inside. The fit is easy to adjust with a proven Boa system and a single Velcro closure across the toes (after setting it the first time, you can just leave the toe adjustment alone). And Shimano honed in the design with a recent update that improves the on and off process—the opening used to be on the small side and required some precision to get your foot through—while reducing the price by $10. On our feet, the ME5 has proven to be our favorite one-quiver clipless shoe for anything from rough trail rides in the Pacific Northwest to all-day epics.
We consider the ME5 to be the best all-rounder on the market, but Shimano’s lineup also includes the popular ME7. This shoe has been designed for enduro racing and downhill tracks with its taller neoprene cuff, sticky Michelin rubber (the ME5’s is an in-house design that’s a bit less grippy on rock), and additional lace guard. You pay a small weight penalty of about an ounce per shoe and the taller cuff can take some getting used to (it felt more restrictive on pedal-heavy days), but the ME7 provides a nice boost in protection and all-weather performance. For certain riders, it’ll be worth the extra $40.
See the Shimano SH-ME5
Best Budget Mountain Bike Shoe
3. Giro Berm ($75)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 13.2 oz.
What we like: Fantastic value for a clipless trail shoe.
What we don’t: Noticeable step down in performance compared with pricier options.
It’s hard to find a quality pair of clipless shoes for under $100, but Giro has managed just that with their new Berm. For a very reasonable $75, you get a surprisingly good set-up for everyday trail riding: a sturdy upper material that mixes breathability with protection, an adjustable fit, and a rubber outsole with substantial lugs for added grip in dirt and mud. Plus, the shoe’s wide cleat pocket makes it easier for those still learning the ropes to clip in. It’s certainly not a high-performance design like the Shimano ME5 above, and committed riders should steer clear, but we think the Berm offers a whole lot of bang for your buck.
At less than half the price of the top-rated Shimano or Giro’s own Ventana below, there are inevitably going to be some compromises in the Berm’s design. First up is power: the midsole priorities comfort over stiffness, so its relatively flexible build isn’t very efficient. Second, the dual Velcro closures lack the precision and easy adjustability of a Boa or ratchet-style system. And finally, while the outsole is aggressively shaped, it isn’t going to grip as well on rock or in particularly steep and rough sections of trail. To be fair, these are all expected sacrifices, and we think the Berm is a truly impressive value option for beginners or those that only get out on the occasional trail day.
See the Men's Giro BermSee the Women's Giro Berm
Best Shoe for Downhill and Enduro Riders
4. Giro Chamber II ($150)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 2 lbs. 3.6 oz.
What we like: Clipless compatibility combined with the look and feel of a flat-pedal shoe.
What we don’t: Heavy design.
Many top gravity riders choose Giro’s Chamber, and the latest II is an even more downhill- and enduro-focused race design. The shoe is perhaps most noteworthy for its casual, flat-pedal-shoe look, but don’t be fooled by appearances. With an almost seamless upper, shank that balances rigidity under the middle of the foot with enough flex for comfortable hiking, and adjustable cleat position, this shoe offers the height of performance. The cleat setback of 10 millimeters is especially intriguing—essentially, it’s the positioning of a flat-pedal shoe combined with the power of a clipless connection, resulting in less foot fatigue and better control on technical terrain.
While the Chamber II has dropped some weight from its previous iteration, there’s no denying that this is not a light shoe. Its robust design, which is made to take on miles of gnarly trail abuse, does little to shave weight. Although the Chamber II is known to pedal quite well, it wouldn’t be our first choice for all-day slogs or XC rides. Also, while laces can be great for getting that perfect fit, we prefer Velcro straps and ratchets for their quick micro adjustments and general ease of use. But with impressive durability and protection, and a stiff sole that offers exceptional power transfer, the Chamber II will be well worth its weight for serious riders.
See the Giro Chamber II
Best Shoe for Cross-Country Riding
5. Giro Empire VR90 ($300)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
What we like: Superlight and powerful; looks great.
What we don’t: Pricey and overkill unless you’re a serious XC rider.
Giro’s Empire VR90 shoe is borderline legendary, mixing a clean, road shoe style with comfort and legit trail chops. At $300, you pay a pretty penny, but there’s serious performance built in: a full carbon fiber outsole gives it plenty of stiffness for toeing the race line, the one-piece upper is downright gorgeous and helps keep weight in check, and a Vibram outsole makes it surprisingly capable off the bike. It’s also made to last with premium materials used throughout and enough reinforcements to justify bringing it into moderately technical terrain (although serious trail riders will still want a beefier construction).
One compromise of the Giro’s performance-first layout is its snug fit, which is great for power-hungry riders but will feel restrictive on long, adventure-y days and less serious exploits. And the standard lacing system means you trade the quick adjustability of a Boa dial for better overall customization of the fit. But realistically, the biggest downside of the Giro is its price—if you spring for this shoe, it means you’re likely shaving grams from your rig wherever possible and are hoping to eke out all the watts you’re putting down with each pedal stroke. If you don’t fall under this category of rider, the Empire is likely not the best choice for you.
See the Giro Empire VR90See the Women's Giro Empire VR90
Versatile Design for Hike-a-Bikes and Bikepacking
6. Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit ($150)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
What we like: A solid all-rounder with good off-the-bike comfort.
What we don’t: A little too soft for XC riders.
Another big-time player in the bike shoe market is Colorado-based Pearl Izumi. The company excels in the adventure and bikepacking category, and one of their strongest offerings is the clipless X-Alp Summit. Intended for intermediate riders, trail use, and off-the-bike exploration, it has the right ingredients: a composite shank in the midsole for control, durable upper material, and decent toe protection that wraps partway around the sides of the foot. You also get an aggressive and sticky Vibram outsole—a common choice for trail running and hiking footwear. At $150, the X-Alp Summit is a solid value for a shoe that can handle anything from all-mountain ripping to overnighters with extended hike-a-bikes.
What’s not to like with the mid-range design? Pearl Izumi put a premium on hiking comfort, which translates to less rigidity and outright power when really torquing on the pedals (XC cyclists should steer clear). And riders in flatter regions that don’t see major elevation gains (the Midwest of the United States comes to mind) also won’t be able to tap into the X-Alp’s adventure-ready feature set. But for areas like Pearl Izumi’s home state of Colorado or those that like to hit the backcountry in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a whole lot to like about the X-Alp’s versatile design.
See the Men's Pearl Izumi X-Alp SummitSee the Women's Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit
Best of the Rest
7. Five Ten Freerider Pro ($150)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 7.8 oz.
What we like: Lighter, stiffer, and sleeker-looking than the Freerider above.
What we don’t: Its outsole still wears out as quickly as the $50-cheaper standard model.
As the name indicates, Five Ten’s Freerider Pro is an upgraded variation of the popular Freerider shoe. For another $50, you get a lighter and more water-resistant synthetic upper, stiffer midsole for better shock absorption, and sleeker look that forgoes the standard model’s skate shoe-like styling. In addition, the toe box has been reinforced and includes some foam padding to provide an additional layer of protection from impacts (although we’ve found the standard Freerider’s toe box to be pretty tough). Importantly, you still get Five Ten’s class leading Stealth S1 rubber, which is simply unmatched in terms of grip and reliable hold to your pedals.
Who should opt for the Pro model over the cheaper Freerider? If your local terrain is particularly tough or you get out in wet conditions, the synthetic upper material is a nice upgrade over the heavier and more absorbent leather/mesh combination that comes on the standard model. On the other hand, you’re not getting any noticeable improvement in on- and off-bike traction or fit with the simple lacing systems, and both models will have fairly short lifespans due to the soft rubber compound. In the end, the Pro has its merits for committed cyclists and those that will value the weight savings, but many trail riders will be better off with the standard model.
See the Men's Five Ten Freerider ProSee the Women's Freerider Pro
8. Specialized 2FO DH Clip ($170)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 11.9 oz.
What we like: Powerful, sturdy, and great traction.
What we don’t: We miss the old dual Boa cinch design.
Taking the place of the popular 2FO Cliplite in Specialized’s lineup is the new 2FO DH Clip shoe. Right off the bat, we want to address the “DH” in the name: despite the beefed-up design that’s tough and downhill-ready, we think that’s selling these shoes a bit short. With a composite nylon plate underfoot, a reasonable weight of 1 pound 11.9 ounces, and trimmed-down build that dries fairly quickly, the shoes are plenty capable on mellower terrain and long trail rides. And for the enduro and downhill enthusiasts among us, Specialized has done a great job incorporating extra protection around the toes and heel cap, and the slightly raised padding along the inside of the ankle is another nice touch.
While the 2FO DH is in many ways an upgrade from the outgoing Cliplite (while costing $10 less), we do miss the old model’s dual Boa closures. The laces on the new DH are perfectly fine and can be tucked away under an elastic band to keep them from flopping around, but they can’t match the micro adjustability and all-around convenience of the Boa system. In addition, we found the shoe a little flat and board-like underfoot, which led to some aching arches on pedal-heavy days (we suspect this won’t be an issue for everyone, though). And if you prefer to ride flats, the 2FO DH Flat ($160) is one of only a few models on the market to legitimately give Five Ten a run for its money in pedal grip thanks to its tacky SlipKnot 2.0 rubber... Read in-depth review
See the Specialized 2FO DH Clip
9. Crankbrothers Stamp Boa ($180)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.
What we like: Appealing combination of a Boa closure on a tough flat-pedal shoe.
What we don’t: Brand-new release is unproven.
Crankbrothers is best known for their flat and clipless pedal collections, but they’ve thrown their hat into the shoe world for the 2021 season. The naming scheme is easy to follow if you’re familiar with the brand’s pedal line: the Mallet is a clipless shoe that’s designed to work with the corresponding clipless pedal, and the same goes for the flat-pedal Stamp. Interestingly, they’ve decided to make a range of closure systems, including standard laces, a quick-pull design, and Boa (price increases with each set-up). The top-of-the-line Stamp Boa model jumped out as the most interesting of the bunch, offering a unique combination of a sturdy and semi-stiff enduro-ready flat pedal shoe with the easy and precise fit adjustment of the twist-dial tech.
Pedal grip is a huge consideration for those that ride flats, and Crankbrothers have optimized the outsole to pair with the Stamp pedal (although it will work with others reasonably well too). The sticky rubber is a strong competitor to Five Ten’s class-leading Stealth compound, but more time on the trail is needed to make a final determination there. And that newness in general is what’s keeping the Crankbrothers shoe midpack on our list for now. It’s undeniably an exciting release, and we think it has a lot of appeal for those already riding the brand’s pedals, but it’s still too early for us to give it one of our top spots.
See the Crankbrothers Stamp Boa
10. Shimano SH-GR7 ($140)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 9.8 oz.
What we like: Comfortable with good protection.
What we don’t: Grip falls short of the Five Ten options on this list.
Shimano is a major player in the clipless world—understandably as they make the ubiquitous SPD clipless pedals—but they also have a sneaky-good flat pedal lineup. Their $140 GR7 (GR stands for “gravity”) is a solid offering meant to balance the needs of trail and downhill riders. It features a similar neoprene cuff as the ME7 for keeping out small rocks and dirt, but this mid-range model has standard laces (upgrading to the GR9 gets you single-pull laces and a protective flap). We put the GR7 through a full summer of use and abuse and came away impressed by its comfortable feel and high-quality, long-lasting build.
For the GR7’s all-important tread, Shimano teamed up with car and bike tire manufacturer Michelin. The result is a durable rubber compound with tightly spaced blocks in the middle for grip on the pedals, and wider lugs at the toe and heel for hiking traction. Overall, the Michelin outsole provided a nice combination of grip and longevity, but it couldn’t match Five Ten’s Stealth rubber in terms of pure stickiness. As such, the $40-more-expensive GR7 can’t unseat the Freerider (or $10-pricier Freerider Pro) as our favorite flat-pedal shoe just yet.
See the Men's Shimano SH-GR7See the Women's Shimano SH-GR7W
11. Sidi Dominator 7 SR ($270)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
What we like: Comfortable fit and excellent build quality.
What we don’t: Still not a great walking/hiking shoe.
Sidi is well-known in the biking world for two things: high prices and premium build quality. Their most popular mountain biking model, the Dominator, is case in point. At $270, it’s one of the most expensive options around but delivers on comfort and performance in a serious way. With a stiff outsole, low-volume fit (Sidi also makes the Dominator in a wide “mega” version), and sturdy upper, the shoe nearly puts down XC race levels of power. And its high-end construction and replaceable parts make the Dominator a good long-term investment to boot.
What do you sacrifice with a XC shoe like the Dominator? Despite softening the rubber compound a few years ago, this is not an impressive walking or hiking option. It’s tolerable for cyclocross events where you’re moving for short stretches and the strong power is a worthwhile tradeoff, but those that are off their bike for longer periods may want to choose a more flexible and grippier trail model. It’s also fairly thin underfoot and doesn’t isolate harsh impacts as well as shoes like the ME5, 2FO DH Clip, or Ventana. But the Dominator is an excellent choice for XC riders that spend a lot of time in the saddle.
See the Men's Sidi Dominator 7See the Women's Sidi Dominator 7
12. Ride Concepts Livewire ($100)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 2 lbs. 0 oz.
What we like: Solid alternative to popular models from Five Ten and Shimano.
What we don’t: Heavy for trail riding.
Ride Concepts is a relative newcomer to the mountain bike shoe world, but the company already is making a serious name for themselves. The Livewire is their entry-level trail offering, and we like its tough rubber outsole, modern looks, and approachable $100 MSRP. Further, the shoe includes higher-end touches like a synthetic upper and impact protection at the heel and ball of the foot. Tack on a moderately thick midsole and you have a shoe that crosses over nicely between flowy trail days and bike park laps.
The biggest downside to the Livewire is its weight, which is stretching into the downhill world at about 2 pounds for the pair. It’s still manageable and not overly clunky for pedal-heavy days, but we prefer the lighter and nimbler feel of the Freerider and Freerider Pro above. Further, Ride Concepts’ proprietary rubber outsole comes up short in terms of grip to Five Ten’s Stealth S1 compound (to be fair, so does pretty much every other design on the market). These issues move the Livewire a little down our rankings, but we think Ride Concepts is definitely a brand to have on your radar going forward.
See the Men's Ride Concepts LivewireSee the Women's Ride Concepts Livewire
13. Bontrager Foray ($160)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
What we like: Good all-around performance for various cycling disciplines.
What we don’t: It also doesn't excel in any specific category.
Bontrager has been tweaking its versatile Foray shoe over the past few years, and we like where they’ve landed with this latest model. Intended for riders that like to mix in a range of disciplines, swapping from their trail bike to cyclocross or gravel grinder, the shoe hits a nice balance of comfort and performance. A moderately roomy fit and easy-to-adjust Boa dial make it a suitable choice for flow trails and short laps, but it can still put the power down pretty well with a nylon composite sole (Bontrager gives it a 6 out of 14 rating for stiffness). Traction on dirt is another highlight, and the integrated nylon cleats under the toes do an especially good job gripping on steep slopes.
Despite its well-rounded nature, the Foray unfortunately doesn’t truly stand out in any specific category. It’s a bit heavy and doesn’t launch you forward like a cross-country-oriented or gravel-specific shoe, and its shock absorption and protection fall short for rough trail riding. Further, the traditional outsole shape and tread pattern come up short on rock, where they’re lacking grip and are harder to trust. Within the unofficial “do-everything” category, we think the Shimano ME5 and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit are better options, but the Foray does have the widest fit of the bunch for those that need a little extra wiggle room.
See the Bontrager Foray
14. Five Ten Hellcat Pro ($180)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.
What we like: Burly clipless design.
What we don’t: Overkill and heavy for a lot of riders.
The third Five Ten shoe to make our list, the Hellcat Pro, breaks from the mold with its clipless pedal design. Compared with the Freerider Pro above, the Hellcat puts down the power better with a midsole that’s been stiffened up with a TPU shank. The shoe also has been reinforced for downhill use with heavy armor along the exterior and thick cushioning underfoot to block out harsh impacts. And as we’ve come to expect from Five Ten, the Hellcat has a sticky tread that holds on nicely to the pedals even when not clipped in.
What pushes the Hellcat Pro down our list is that it’s overkill for most riders. Weighing well over 2 pounds, it’s 10 ounces heavier than alternatives like the Specialized 2FO DH Clip above. You do get more foot protection and the shoe performs well in bad weather, but the DH Clip is much easier to pedal and is plenty beefed up for most enduro use (plus, the Hellcat costs $30 more than Giro's similarly tough Chamber II). If you want your feet heavily armored, no matter the cost in pedaling efficiency, the Hellcat Pro is a fine choice. But most riders will be happier with the aforementioned Chamber or DH Clip.
See the Men's Five Ten Hellcat ProSee the Women's Five Ten Hellcat Pro
15. Giro Ventana Shoe ($180)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 13.4 oz.
What we like: Sturdy, powerful, and good looking.
What we don’t: Awkwardly small cleat pocket.
Taking the place of the much-loved Terraduro as Giro’s core trail offering is the Ventana. This design shares the sturdy feel of the discontinued model but has been thoroughly modernized with a sleek and minimalist upper, high-quality Boa closure, and grippier outsole. A unique touch is the placement of the cleat pocket, which is set further inboard than most designs on the market. The goal is to improve stability and control, although that’s been hard to quantify while testing (the good news is it doesn’t negatively impact comfort). Along with its moderately stiff construction that balances walkability with power nicely, the Ventana makes a strong case for riders that rack up serious mileage.
In using the Ventana back-to-back with our top-rated ME5 above, a few things stuck out. Most notably, the Ventana is the stiffer build, which was nice on longer days and for extended climbs. But where the tables turn is in some of the finer details. The cleat pocket of the Ventana has been a source of consistent annoyance: it’s unnecessarily compact and makes clipping in a real pain. In addition, the Giro’s Boa dial has a plastic piece along the bottom for protection, but its placement unfortunately makes it harder to adjust on the trail (cancelling out one of the main benefits of a Boa cinch). In the end, we think plenty of riders will enjoy the Ventana, but it’s a few design tweaks away from being a top pick.
See the Men's Giro VentanaSee the Women's Giro Ventana
16. Giro Jacket II ($90)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 13.2 oz.
What we like: Comfy sub-$100 shoe from a reputable brand.
What we don’t: Its casual nature compromises performance.
Aimed at casual riders, the Giro Jacket II trades outright performance for a comfortable interior and easy walkability. The shoe feels great out of the box with generous padding and a fair amount of flex underfoot. Further, the synthetic upper material sheds light moisture and is sufficiently reinforced to handle rock kicks and the occasional spill. Aggressive downhillers likely will want to step up to Giro’s $120 Riddance, which has an even tougher build and a better outsole (although we were disappointed to find that its pedal grip is only average), but the Jacket is the brand’s cost leader at $90.
The Jacket II undoubtedly is a fine trail shoe, but the problem is that it’s only $10 cheaper than the venerable Five Ten Freerider above. For that small cost savings, you get a noticeable drop in grip and inferior all-around performance from the Vibram rubber. That being said, if you prefer the Jacket’s sleek looks or it fits you better (we found it to be a little narrower than the Freerider), the Giro is a suitable option.
See the Giro Jacket II
17. Specialized S-Works Recon ($425)
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
What we like: Powerful and ultralight.
What we don’t: Lots of compromises for non-racers.
Specialized’s S-Works Recon is designed for cross-country, cyclocross, and gravel racers that want an uncompromisingly powerful and ultralight shoe. At $425, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, but the use of premium materials and construction provide incredible on-bike performance. The fit is very snug to maximize efficiency with a rigid Dyneema mesh upper and dual Boa dials across the top of the foot. Built on Specialized’s stiffest mountain bike sole—stiff enough to make walking somewhat uncomfortable and awkward—power is transferred instantaneously and effortlessly to the pedals. And at 1 pound 3 ounces, the S-Works Recon is the lightest shoe on this list by 3.2 ounces, shedding precious rotational weight to trim every last second off of a timed segment.
If you aren’t a serious rider or dedicated racer, however, you’ll find plenty to complain about. The S-Works Recon essentially is a lightly protected road design, so there is minimal cushioning and reinforcement around the toes and ankle. Further, the snug fit that connects you so well to the pedals compromises long-term comfort and is difficult to wear while walking. Realistically, the S-Works Recon has very limited appeal, but that doesn’t make it any less special. For a slightly detuned alternative that’s a bit softer and heavier but still plenty powerful for race day, check out the Giro Empire VR90 above.
See the Specialized S-Works Recon
18. Northwave Clan ($150)
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 2 lbs. 2 oz.
What we like: Grippy outsole that rivals the popular Five Ten Stealth rubber.
What we don’t: Heavy and likely overkill for most.
Northwave doesn’t have the brand cachet of Giro or Specialized, but the Italian company offers a solid lineup of mountain bike shoes. Released a couple years ago, their Clan flat pedal model is a compelling alternative to both the Five Ten Freerider Pro and Shimano GR7 above. You get an internal shank for increased rigidity and efficient power transfer, reinforcements at the toe and heel for additional protection from rocks and trailside impacts, and a simple lace-up design. And like the Shimano, Northwave employs a comparable—albeit slightly grippier—Michelin outsole. All said, there’s a lot to like about the Clan.
Why isn’t the Northwave ranked higher? Weighing in at 2 pounds 2 ounces, the Clan is on the heavy side for trail riding (the GR7 is 1 lb. 9.8 oz. and the Freerider Pro weighs 1 lb. 7.8 oz). And similar to the Ride Concepts Livewire above, long-term durability is still a question mark when stacked up to proven options like the Five Ten and Shimano (and you're not saving any money either at its $150 MSRP). But with a sticky tread and downhill-ready construction, the Clan is a formidable option.
See the Northwave Clan
Mountain Bike Shoe Comparison Table
|Five Ten Freerider||$100||Trail||Flat||1 lb. 11.6 oz.||Laces|
|Shimano SH-ME5||$160||Trail/XC||Clipless||1 lb. 8.8 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Giro Berm||$75||XC/trail||Clipless||1 lb. 13.2 oz.||Velcro|
|Giro Chamber II||$150||Trail/downhill||Clipless||2 lbs. 3.6 oz.||Laces, Velcro|
|Giro Empire VR90||$300||XC||Clipless||1 lb. 6 oz.||Laces|
|Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit||$150||Trail||Clipless||1 lb. 7 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Five Ten Freerider Pro||$150||Trail/downhill||Flat||1 lb. 7.8 oz.||Laces|
|Specialized 2FO DH Clip||$170||Trail/downhill||Clipless||1 lb. 11.9 oz.||Laces|
|Crankbrothers Stamp Boa||$180||Trail/downhill||Flat||1 lb. 11 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Shimano SH-GR7||$140||Trail/downhill||Flat||1 lb. 9.8 oz.||Laces|
|Sidi Dominator 7 SR||$270||XC||Clipless||1 lb. 9 oz.||Ratchet, Velcro|
|Ride Concepts Livewire||$100||Trail/downhill||Flat||2 lbs. 0 oz.||Laces|
|Bontrager Foray||$160||XC/trail||Clipless||1 lb. 10 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Five Ten Hellcat Pro||$180||Downhill||Clipless||2 lbs. 6 oz.||Laces, Velcro|
|Giro Ventana||$180||Trail/XC||Clipless||1 lb. 13.4 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Giro Jacket II||$90||Trail||Flat||1 lb. 13.2 oz.||Laces|
|Specialized S-Works Recon||$425||XC||Clipless||1 lb. 3 oz.||Boa, Velcro|
|Northwave Clan||$150||Downhill/trail||Flat||2 lbs. 2 oz.||Laces|
Mountain Bike Shoe Buying Advice
Mountain Bike Shoe Categories
Shoes intended for cross-country riding put a high priority on covering ground as easily as possible. These designs often are lightweight, stiff underfoot, and offer a snug fit for maximizing connection to the pedal. Additionally, they almost exclusively are made with a clipless design (which confusingly means you connect or “clip” into the pedal). Compromises include less foot protection than the trail and downhill categories, and the stiff constructions aren’t very comfortable for walking. But for piling on miles as efficiently as possible, a XC shoe is a great choice. Leading models in this category include the Sidi Dominator, Giro Empire VR90, and Specialized’s race-ready S-Works Recon.
For a versatile shoe that’s comfortable on climbs but offers good protection for descents, choose a trail-ready model. Options in this popular category are more flexible and have better traction than a XC build, but still are reasonably stiff for good pedal power. In addition, you get more protection all around the foot compared with a XC shoe, including marginally better shock absorption underfoot. Design-wise, you have your choice between clipless and flat (also known as platform) pedals. Far and away, the most popular flat pedal all-mountain choice is Five Ten’s Freerider line, while top clipless options include the Shimano SH-ME5 and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit.
The final category is the most demanding: downhill. From tackling the Whistler bike park to rocky, rooty, and steep descents, these shoes are burly and well cushioned. You’ll see extra layers of protection around the toebox and collar, thick mid and outsole designs to absorb hard hits, and some even offer an over-the-ankle height for maximum defense. Because of the high degree of difficulty and need to occasionally bail off the bike, this is a category where flat shoes are more common than clipless (Five Ten’s clipless Hellcat Pro and Giro's Chamber II are notable exceptions). The downside is weight—these are the heaviest options on average by a good margin and much less efficient for pedaling.
Pedal Compatibility: Clipless vs. Flat
One of the first steps in narrowing down your mountain bike shoe search is determining pedal compatibility. Starting with clipless designs, these shoes allow you to connect or “clip” directly into the pedal with a metal cleat (sold separately). The big upside of being connected is it’s easier to put the power down and pedal efficiently. This makes clipless a popular choice for longer rides and XC use. It also can be comforting to not have to worry about foot slippage while hitting jumps or riding through semi-technical terrain. That said, it takes some time to get comfortable with being clipped in and build up the muscle memory to kick the heel out to disconnect. And even once it’s second nature, you still won’t be able to get your foot off the pedal as quickly as with a flat pedal option. As such, clipless shoes aren’t as popular among beginner riders—unless they’re coming from a road riding background—and fewer folks use them at the bike park or on very rough downhill trails.
Flat-Bottomed Shoes (“Flats”)
As the name indicates, flat shoes have a smooth bottom and work with standard platform pedals. What makes them popular for anyone from beginners to expert freeriders is that they offer a quick escape if you’re stretching your abilities and need to bail. Plus, the use of very sticky rubber like Five Ten’s Stealth S1 means you don’t give up much in terms of connectedness to the pedals. Even with the best outsoles though, flats aren’t as efficient and don’t put down as much power as a performance clipless design. They’re also less forgiving if you use poor technique—although slipping off and hitting your shins a few times will expedite the learning process. Finally, there are fewer flat pedal options—Five Ten dominates this category—and many of the best flats are missing handy features that you’ll find on most clipless shoes, like a ratchet system to get a snug fit.
The good news with choosing a new pair of shoes is that they’ll most likely work with your existing pedals, as long as you’re not switching between clipless and flats. Clipless pedals come in a range of designs from Shimano’s popular SPD collection to Crankbrothers' minimalist Eggbeaters. But all common mountain bike clipless pedals share a two-bolt cleat design (the cleats are typically included in the pedal purchase), which will work with all of the clipless shoes listed above. Similarly, there are no compatibility concerns with flat pedals and flat-bottomed shoes. Finally, if you’re thinking about swapping between flats and clipless or vice versa, it’s very easy to replace pedals yourself—just make sure to loosen them in the right direction.
Stiffness and Power Transfer
A stiff build underfoot is a defining feature of mountain bike shoes—it’s what allows you to put the power down to the pedals. But the level of stiffness varies quite a bit by model. For example, a dedicated cross-country racing shoe like the Specialized S-Works Recon is incredibly rigid and awkward to walk in, while a budget-friendly trail model like the Giro Jacket II is flexible enough to wear every day. Unfortunately there isn’t an established measurement for comparing stiffness (some brands provide a “stiffness index” to compare their models), but in general, rigidity increases with price and level of seriousness. Racers, particularly those in events that require a decent amount of pedaling, will want the stiffest shoes around. For the rest of us, a well-balanced design like the Shimano SH-ME5 or Five Ten Freerider is a better match.
Taking a closer look at construction, manufacturers incorporate stiffness in a few ways. A standard option for a moderately rigid shoe like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit is to insert a ¾-length shank into the midsole. This provides decent strength for pedaling and makes it more comfortable to stand for extended periods, while retaining enough flexibility to walk around. Race-ready designs incorporate strong materials like carbon fiber into the entire length of the sole. This maximizes stiffness for putting power down but compromises in walkability and comfort. The most flexible designs are the cheapest and rely simply on a thick midsole and rubber outsole for shock absorption and rigidity.
Outsole and Grip
For flat pedal shoes, outsole grip is an extremely important feature—it’s what keeps you connected to the bike while hustling up and down the hill. And for years, Five Ten’s rubber has stood out from the pack. The Stealth S1 compound and dotty pattern on the Freerider line—found on both the standard and Pro models on our list above—is legendary in the mountain biking world. Specialized is one of the few that's made a legitimate competitor with their latest SlipNot compound (found on their 2FO DH Flat). Giro and Shimano incorporate rubber specialists Vibram and Michelin respectively, and their top models offer performance that is good but not great.
Clipless riders don’t need to focus as much on the outsole design as those riding on flats, but it’s still an important consideration. On the bike, a quality outsole increases your connectedness to the pedal, and can be valuable for moments when you’re temporarily unclipped or trying to quickly reconnect while riding. And off the bike, traction can be a major factor. A well-designed clipless outsole maximizes grip with a recessed slot for the cleat, which allows you to walk naturally. Further, a sticky outsole is a big helper for walking on rocks, and decent lugs—not all that dissimilar from a hiking shoe—are important for sloppy trails. How often you’ll be off your bike will dictate how important grip is for you, but we’ve found premium outsole designs to be valuable even on short (but steep) scrambles.
Closure Systems: Laces, Velcro, Ratchet, and Boa
More than just about any other footwear category, mountain bike shoes are made with a wide range of closure types. Our picks above vary from simple lace-up designs like the Giro Jacket to double Boa closures and a Velcro strap on the Specialized S-Works Recon. As with pedal type, most of the decision comes down to personal preference, but laces are mostly commonly associated with flat pedal shoes. Laces are simple to use, but you need to make sure to keep them stowed away so they don’t catch on any moving parts. For quick and easy micro adjustments while wearing gloves, a Boa dial system or ratchet design is a great option. These lightweight systems are common on clipless XC and Enduro models. And finally, Velcro often is used as a secondary closure to compliment a dial and ratchet system. It doesn’t tighten as snugly or precisely, but it’s faster than lacing up and does the trick for those that aren’t serious racers.
A lightweight mountain bike shoe comes with numerous benefits. Cutting away weight reduces the amount of effort required to put the power down, which also helps with fatigue on long rides. That being said, weight doesn’t get nearly as much attention in the mountain biking market as it does in the running or hiking worlds. Part of the reason is that many bikers stick to shorter rides, but the main factor is that most shoes only vary by a few ounces for the pair. Taking a look at the comparison chart above, the average men’s model comes in at approximately 1 pound 11 ounces. Outliers include the crazy-light Specialized S-Works Recon (1 pound 3 ounces), which is streamlined to maximize efficiency for cross-country racing. On the other end of the spectrum is the downhill-oriented Five Ten Hellcat Pro (2 pounds 6 ounces), which adds heft with its heavy cushioning and protection. But the majority of XC, trail, and even many downhill designs are close enough that weight isn’t a top consideration.
Foot and Toe Protection
Mountain biking is a rough sport, and moving quickly over technical trails demands a lot from your footwear. Nearly all shoes include a toe cap to take the sting out of a rock strike, but there are notable differences between shoe categories (XC, trail, and downhill). Cross-country riding prioritizes weight and power transfer over all-out protection, so they’re usually the thinnest along the sides and top of the foot. Trail shoes have more cushioning for taking falls, and downhill/freeride designs are the burliest.
An additional consideration is protection underfoot. Shoes with thin mid and outsoles may not provide enough in the way shock absorption, which can become painful over lengthy sections of rocky and rooty trail. Again, trail and downhill shoes provide the highest levels of comfort in these cases. A design like the Five Ten Hellcat Pro does an impressive job keeping your feet isolated and safe.
Wet Weather Protection
Depending on where you ride, wet and muddy trails can be a fact of life. The good news is that most XC, trail, and downhill shoes do a decent job at resisting moisture with solid synthetic or leather uppers and a DWR coating. The strongest performers, such as the Giro Terraduro Mid and Five Ten Impact High, even have a taller ankle height or extended cuff for extra protection. And shoes that are easy to clean are a nice bonus—look for minimal seams, sleek fabric, and covered laces such as those on Shimano’s SH-ME7.
What about fully waterproof shoes? There are a few options out there, including the Shimano MW701 (not included on our list above). For some, a fully waterproof shoe can be valuable for surviving the winter season, but in most cases, we think it’s overkill. They are heavy, lack the breathability to be practical in anything but truly cold temperatures, and don’t dry out nearly as quickly as non-waterproof options. Plus, they’ll cost you a fair bit more than a standard shoe and you’ll give up a lot in terms of versatility. An alternative is to wear a neoprene cover or bootie overtop of your standard shoes for a boost in warmth and water resistance (but keep in mind, these are vulnerable to tearing when subjected to trail abuse).
If you do a lot of pedaling on your rides or live in a warmer climate, it’s worth getting a shoe that emphasizes breathability. Telltale signs of a good ventilating design are large swaths of mesh or a thin upper material. On the other hand, shoes with a solid upper and thick cushioning—often found in the downhill category—are the most prone to running hot. You do compromise durability and weather resistance with a highly breathable shoe—mesh tears much more easily and doesn’t resist moisture. But a well-thought-out build like the Shimano SH-ME5 balances those conflicting needs. With perforations throughout the upper material, it’s impressively cool in the heat. At the same time, a water-resistant synthetic upper holds up well to abrasions and poor weather.
Mountain bike footwear doesn’t wear down as quickly as running shoes, but they’re still not well known for their long-term durability (especially flat pedal models). It’s not uncommon for riders that get out a lot to go through a pair every season or two. Common wear points are the upper material breaking down or getting holes, or the sole delaminating (older versions of Five Ten’s Freerider and the original Giro Terraduro had issues with the latter). Additional problems include the tread of a super sticky flat pedal shoe compound wearing down from extended hiking. As mentioned above, most manufacturers don’t have sparkling durability records. However, Sidi is one brand that has a solid reputation for building products that last, but they’re also among the most expensive on the market.
Walking and Hiking Comfort
We touched on this in the stiffness and outsole sections above, but walkability is a very important feature for some riders. Ambitious backcountry trips or bikepacking adventures can often involve lengthy climbs, which means you need your bike shoes to play two roles—one as a capable and efficient biker, and the other as a grippy and decently comfortable hiker. The best hiking shoe often is not that great for biking—moderate flexibility is good for walking but bad for power transfer—so we look for hybrid designs that are adept at both. The Five Ten Freerider is a very comfortable shoe off the bike (although its dotty tread doesn’t grip well in mud), and leading clipless designs include Shimano's SH-ME5 and SH-ME7 and Pearl Izumi's X-Alp Summit.
Winter Mountain Bike Shoes
Feet and toes are ruthlessly exposed to the elements while riding and very liable to numb out in the colder months, but this is where a winter-specific shoe can be a big help. Look for shoes with an insulated and waterproof liner to keep your feet dry and warm, a sealed cleat bed to keep water out while splashing through puddles, and a glove-friendly closure system for on-the-fly adjustments. Shimano’s MW701, with a high neoprene cuff and insulated Gore-Tex liner, does a great job of incorporating all these features into a streamlined and relatively lightweight package. While such a shoe is not recommended for year-round use, it can be a solid investment for dedicated cyclists. And take note: if your winter months are especially brutal, it can be a good idea to size up a half to full size to make room for thick socks.
Over-the-Ankle Mountain Bike Shoes
The vast majority of mountain bike shoes come in a low-top style. Sitting under the ankle, they’re usually comfortable, lightweight, and a quality pair becomes nearly invisible while pedaling. But for bad weather conditions or if you prioritize maximum protection, there are a few mid-height designs. Shoes like the Five Ten Impact Mid protect the inside and outside of the ankle from friendly fire from the crank arm or when falling. But there is a reason most XC, trail, and even downhill riders stick to a low-top shoe. The taller build runs warmer in the heat, can feel cumbersome while pedaling, and is quite a bit heavier. Serious riders that get out all year round might want a mid-height shoe in their quiver, but most should stick to the standard low top.
Do I Need Mountain Bike Shoes?
The simple truth is that for casual riding with flat pedals, you don’t necessarily need to purchase biking-specific shoes. Many people start out with a pair of cross trainers, skate shoes, or running footwear, and those will do the trick for a while. But as you progress, the benefits of one of the options above become clear. Mountain bike shoes offer far better power transfer, foot protection (an essential feature in rocky terrain), and—most importantly for flat pedal use—grip. And if you’ll be jumping on a bike with clipless pedals, then you’ll need a compatible shoe right off the bat.
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Mtb shoes flat best
Flat shoes can remove a level of fear for both beginners and experienced riders. New shredders can focus on fundamental technique without having to worry about the motion of clipping in and out of pedals, or slamming to the ground when they can’t free themselves in time. Experienced riders can hone their technique because, knowing they have a faster escape route, they might be more daring on technical terrain than they would if they were attached to the pedals.
Because you are not locked into the pedals (like you are with clipless shoes), the ride feel can be more fluid. The sacrifice: Without the ability to pull up on the pedals, you have to put forth a greater effort on climbs.
These flat shoes have a sticky rubber sole for better grip on the pedals and when walking on slippery and rocky terrain. They have a firm midsole to provide a good pedaling platform and often include some impact-absorbing material in the sole for cushioning hard impacts. They also have some flex for more comfortable walking. Most shoe companies have their own rubber compound and lug pattern. The pattern usually consists of circles or polygons that are designed to work with pedal pins to keep your foot in the correct position. Some soles use the same compound and pattern across the entire sole, while others have a contact pad under the ball of the foot. This area is made of a softer, stickier rubber designed for maximum grip on the pedal, while the toe and heel area use a more durable rubber that can better withstand walking on the trails. A stickier sole means better grip but almost always at the expense of durability.
How We Chose These Shoes
Every flat shoe on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience riding and hike-a-biking in these shoes—and wearing them long after the ride ends—to determine the best options. We evaluated these flat shoes on performance, value, comfort, durability, aesthetics, grippiness, and off-the-bike appeal to come up with these top nine models. The first five on our list are for both men and women.
Five Ten Freerider Pro
Buy Men’sBuy Women’s
Five Ten has become a dominant brand for flat shoes. Its models can be seen at the Enduro World Series, in the bike park, and on your local trails. The Freerider Pro pretty much perfected the category. The sole is stiff enough for riding and has enough flex for walking, plus it sticks to your pedals like glue. The latest version vents well, dries quickly, and has enough protection on the toe and around the heel. They are light and comfortable, and won’t look out of place if you find yourself in an unexpected social situation. They’re also reasonably priced at $150.
Buy Men’sBuy Women’s
The sole uses Vibram’s new Megagrip ISR rubber—claimed to be the company’s stickiest ever. The dotty sole pattern, which appears to be heavily influenced by the Five Ten Freerider Pro, provides additional crannies for pedal pins to grip. Underneath the sole rubber is an EVA-foam midsole said to damp vibrations. The microfiber upper is claimed to be breathable and water resistant, with a material called Rockprint reinforcing some areas for improved durability. Rubberized bits around the toes and heel offer additional protection.
Ride Concepts Livewire
Buy Men’sBuy Women’s
Ride Concepts’s line of mountain bike shoes focuses on the trail/enduro/downhill side of the sport, and the Livewire is the company’s do-it-all flat-pedal option. The sole is made of a rubber blend with a medium-high level of grip. The hexagon pattern across the sole looks similar to the Five Ten dotty grip and is designed to work with your pedal pins to prevent the shoe from slipping out of position. The insole incorporates D30, which is commonly found in knee pads to offer a little protection and cushioning from hard impacts. There’s molded toe and heel protection and an asymmetric cuff to keep your sensitive areas protected. The laces keep the pressure even across your foot as you ride, and there’s a women’s option in different colors.
Buy Men’sBuy Women’s
This flat shoe from Bontrager features a synthetic leather upper and a Vibram rubber sole for ideal connection with your pedals. And for those times when you’re not exactly on your bike, directional treads on the heel and toe area help you keep the rubber side down, whether you’re riding or hike-a-biking.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Flow
Buy Men’sBuy Women’s
The X-Alp Flow uses a contact pad in the middle of the sole that has a different pattern from the toe and heel area. The chevron pattern at the toe and heel is constructed of a more durable rubber that will withstand walking rough trails, while the softer, grippier, siped rubber under the ball of the foot provides optimum grip on your pedal. An EVA midsole works as a shock absorber to protect you from hard impacts. The seamless upper keeps the shoe light and protects from the elements. The look is casual, so you’ll need to bring only one pair of shoes if you plan to spend some time with friends after the ride.
Specialized 2FO 2.0
The 2F0 2.0 uses Specialized’s stickiest rubber to ensure the best possible connection between shoe and pedal. The lug pattern is designed to work with your pedal pins to help keep the shoe in the correct position. The dual-density midsole adapts to the shape of the pedal while also protecting the foot from hard impacts. The upper uses padded sections to protect from trail debris, and the toe box will keep your digits safe from rock strikes. The 2F0 offers a comfortable fit around the ankle and protection from the elements.
The Clan is part of Northwave’s first line of flat-pedal shoes. The rubber used on the sole was developed in collaboration with Michelin and is designed to ensure maximum pedal grip. The midsole is stiff enough to provide good pedaling efficiency as well as shock absorption on rough trails. The breathable upper keeps your feet cool, and the durable, abrasion-resistant material should keep these shoes on the trail for many miles. A padded mesh tongue provides another layer of protection. Non-stretch laces, with an elastic keeper for storing them, means they won’t end up in your drivetrain.
The Keegan is a deceptively technical shoe with plenty of thoughtful features hidden in its laid-back look. The brand developed a proprietary rubber for the sole, which is relatively hard for extra durability, but soft enough to grip your pedals. The mono-directional shank was designed to provide a stiff pedaling platform and easy walkability. There are plenty of vents in the tough upper to keep your feet comfortable, but for those really hot days, an antimicrobial insole helps keep ’em from getting stinky.
DZR Sense Grey
One of the more burly options in DZR’s line, the Sense model has a beefy upper for protection and support, a full shank for pedaling efficiency, and a molded heel cup to keep your foot secure. The soles are designed to maintain traction in wet and dry conditions, and a reflective heel badge will catch drivers’ attention when you venture onto the pavement at dusk.
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