Home > Footwear

The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Whether you’re cruising singletrack and charging down hills, traversing hundreds of miles, or speeding through race events, here are the best mountain bike shoes for your ride.

a lineup of several pairs of the best mountain bike shoes
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

As a critical connection between you and your bike, finding the best mountain bike shoes is very important. Good shoes provide stability, control, and protection while delivering power into the pedals and hopefully remaining comfortable in the process.

This seemingly simple piece of gear has evolved significantly over the years, and nowadays, there are as many different styles of shoes as there are subgenres of mountain biking. Different styles of riding have different demands with cross-country, trail, enduro, and gravity riders all seeking varying performance characteristics from their footwear.

We gathered a diverse selection of 18 of the best clipless mountain bike shoes on the market to test and compare. Over the course of several months, we took each pair to task on trail rides, shuttle laps, cross-country loops, and even some long gravel grinds while assessing each model on important factors like comfort, power transfer, stability, walkability, and foot protection to find the best shoes for each type of rider.

Below you’ll find our favorite clipless mountain bike shoes for all styles of riding. To see all the models we tested at a glance, check out our comparison chart. If you need help figuring out what mountain bike shoes you need, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on our sister site, BikeRumor.com. It was first published here on GearJunkie on May 23, 2024. Additionally, we added two new models with the top-rated Crankbrothers Mallet Trail Boa and the affordable XC-oriented Crankbrothers Candy Lace.

The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024


Best Overall Mountain Bike Shoes

Crankbrothers Mallet Trail Boa

Specs

  • Weight (pair) 844 g (size 43.5)
  • Closure BOA Li2 dial and upper velcro strap
  • Intended use Trail, enduro
  • Available sizes 5-15 US (half sizes 5.5 – 12.5)
Product Badge The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Perfect level of sole stiffness
  • Grippy soles work well when hiking
  • Ankle gaiter helps keep debris out of shoes
  • They look awesome

Cons

  • Moderately expensive
  • Ripstop upper is harder to keep clean
Best Budget Trail Mountain Bike Shoes

Specialized 2FO Roost Clip

Specs

  • MSRP $130
  • Weight (pair) 750g (43.5)
  • Closure Laces
  • Intended use Trail riding
  • Available sizes 36-49 EU (half sizes 38.5-46.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Lightweight compared to similar shoes
  • Versatile
  • Good power transfer
  • Good walkability

Cons

  • Roomy in the forefoot
  • Difficult to tighten shoe over forefoot
  • Non-reinforced eyelets are susceptible to damage
Best Overall Cross-Country Mountain Bike Shoes

Shimano S-Phyre XC9

Specs

  • Weight (pair) 616g (43.5)
  • Closure Dual BOA dials
  • Intended use XC, gravel, cyclocross
  • Available sizes 38-48 EU, (half sizes: 40.5-46.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Awesome power transfer
  • Super lightweight
  • Well-ventilated
  • Comfortable
  • Comes in a wide version

Cons

  • Limited foot protection
  • Very expensive
  • Relatively narrow fit
  • Limited dampening in sole can cause fatigue over rough terrain
Best Budget Cross Country Mountain Bike Shoes

Crankbrothers Candy Lace Shoes

Specs

  • Weight (pair) 746g (size 43.5)
  • Closure Laces
  • Intended use XC, light trail, gravel
  • Available sizes 5 – 15 US (half sizes 5.5 – 12.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024Screenshot

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Classy looks
  • Goor pedaling efficiency
  • Comfortable
  • Good hiking traction for an XC shoe

Cons

  • Not as stiff as high-end options
  • Limited foot protection
Best on a Tight Budget

Giro Berm

Specs

  • MSRP $80
  • Weight (pair) 910g (44)
  • Closure 2 Velcro straps
  • Intended use General trail riding
  • Available sizes 39-50 EU (whole sizes only)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Very reasonable price
  • Comfortable
  • Relatively casual style
  • Decent power transfer
  • Easy to walk in

Cons

  • Heavier weight
  • Not the best power transfer
  • No half sizes
Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Gravity Riding

Fox Union BOA

Specs

  • MSRP $250
  • Weight (pair) 876g (9.5 US)
  • Closure Dual BOA dials
  • Intended use Gravity, enduro, aggressive trail
  • Available sizes 37-47 (half sizes 41.5-45.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Excellent support and lateral stability
  • Good level of foot protection
  • Reasonable weight for style of shoe
  • Weather resistant uppers
  • Good power transfer
  • Good -ooking

Cons

  • Stiff uppers take a few rides to break in
  • Expensive
  • Stiff sole doesn't flex much when walking
Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Adventure Riding and Bike Packing

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit

Specs

  • MSRP $150
  • Weight (pair) 780g (size 43.5)
  • Closure BOA dial and Velcro strap
  • Intended use Trail riding, adventure riding, bikepacking
  • Available sizes 39-49 EU (whole sizes only)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Good blend of on- and off-bike performance
  • Grippy Vibram soles for hike-a-bikes
  • Stiff enough for most types of non-competitive riding

Cons

  • Only available in full EU sizes
  • Not the stiffest
  • Can feel pedal slightly through sole
Best of the Rest

Crankbrothers Mallet BOA

Specs

  • MSRP $200
  • Weight (pair) 860g (size 43.5)
  • Closure BOA L6 dial and upper Velcro strap
  • Intended use Trail, enduro, gravity
  • Available sizes 5-14 US (half sizes 5.5-12.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Super comfortable
  • Ample foot protection
  • Easy to walk in
  • Good power transfer
  • Comes with Crankbrothers cleats preinstalled
  • Available in Speedlace and Lace versions

Cons

  • Ventilation could be better

Giro Chamber II

Specs

  • MSRP $150
  • Weight (pair) 1,072g (44)
  • Closure Laces and Velcro strap
  • Intended use Gravity, enduro, aggressive trail
  • Available sizes 35-50 EU (whole sizes only)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Comfortable, pillowy feel
  • Ample foot protection
  • Surprisingly good power transfer
  • Less expensive than some similar options

Cons

  • Heavier weight
  • Bulky
  • Only available in full EU sizes
  • Not well-ventilated

Specialized S-Works Recon

Specs

  • MSRP $450
  • Weight (pair) 590g (43.5)
  • Closure Dual BOA dials
  • Intended use XC, gravel
  • Available sizes 36-49 EU (half sizes 38.5-46.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Incredible power transfer
  • Very lightweight
  • Slick looks
  • Tunable pontoon height/pedal interface

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Limited foot protection
  • Not great for walking
  • Lots of exposed carbon on sole
Best Budget Cross Country Mountain Bike Shoes

Scott MTB Team BOA

Specs

  • MSRP $170
  • Weight (pair) 718g (44)
  • Closure BOA dial and Velcro strap
  • Intended use XC, light trail
  • Available sizes 40-48 EU (whole sizes only)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Comfortable fit
  • High end look
  • Solid power transfer

Cons

  • Only comes in full EU sizes
  • Not quite as stiff as high end shoes

Five Ten Hellcat Pro

Specs

  • MSRP $180
  • Weight (pair) 905g (10 US)
  • Closure Laces and Velcro strap
  • Intended use Gravity, enduro, aggressive trail
  • Available sizes 4-15 US (half sizes 4.5-12.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Great power transfer
  • Adequate foot protection
  • Lighter than previous version
  • Reasonable ventilation

Cons

  • Soles don't absorb vibration as well as similar shoes
  • Reports of sole durability issues
  • Stiff sole is a little clunky for walking

Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon

Specs

  • MSRP $300
  • Weight (pair) 662g (43.5)
  • Closure Large Velcro strap and BOA dial
  • Intended use XC, gravel, cyclocross
  • Available sizes 36-48 EU (half sizes 37.5-46.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Stiff; excellent power transfer
  • Less expensive than other high-end XC shoes
  • Rubber sole tread covers most of the carbon midsole
  • Well-ventilated

Cons

  • Still fairly expensive
  • Minimal foot protection
  • Limited padding in heel and on tongue could cause discomfort for those with sensitive feet

Giro Sector

Specs

  • MSRP $240
  • Weight (pair) 708g (43.5)
  • Closure Dual BOA dials
  • Intended use Light trail, XC, gravel
  • Available sizes 39-50 EU (half sizes 42.5-45.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Breathable Synchwire upper
  • Good power transfer
  • Easily adjustable
  • Less expensive than high-end XC shoes

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than more expensive models
  • Not as stiff as top-ranked XC shoes
  • Limited foot protection

Five Ten Kestrel BOA

Specs

  • MSRP $230
  • Weight (pair) 724g (9.5 US)
  • Closure BOA dial and 2 Velcro straps
  • Intended use XC, downcountry, gravel
  • Available sizes 6-14 US (half sizes 6.5-12.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Great power transfer
  • More protective than typical XC shoes
  • Sole lugs provide good walking traction
  • Less expensive than many XC shoes

Cons

  • Higher volume fit in forefoot; may be roomy for narrow feet
  • Slightly heavier than other XC-style shoes

Ride Concepts Hellion Clip

Specs

  • MSRP $150
  • Weight (pair) 960g (size 9.5 US)
  • Closure Laces and Velcro strap
  • Intended use Trail, enduro, gravity
  • Available sizes 7-15 US (half sizes 7.5-12.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Good power transfer
  • Great lateral stability
  • Fair price
  • Good level of damping
  • Ample foot protection

Cons

  • Velcro seems to wear out relatively quickly
  • Ventilation could be better
  • A tad heavy

Fizik Terra Atlas

Specs

  • MSRP $160
  • Weight (pair) 758g (43.5)
  • Closure Single BOA dial
  • Intended use trail riding, gravel
  • Available sizes 36-48 EU (half sizes 37.5-46.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Supple uppers conform nicely to the feet
  • Good off the bike traction
  • Pretty good ventilation

Cons

  • Not the best power transfer
  • Uppers aren't the most supportive

Endura Humvee Clipless

Specs

  • MSRP $130
  • Weight (pair) 942g (9.5 US)
  • Closure Laces, vVlcro strap
  • Intended use Trail, gravity
  • Available sizes 38-47 EU (half sizes 41.5-45.5)
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Protective
  • Casual style
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • Not the best power transfer
  • Cleats stand proud of sole
  • Not well ventilated

Mountain Bike Shoes Comparison Chart

Mountain Bike ShoeMSRPWeight (pair)ClosureIntended Use
Crankbrothers Mallet Trail Boa$220844g (size 43.5)Boa dial and velcro strapTrail, enduro
Specialized 2FO Roost Clip$130750g (size 43.5)LacesTrail
Shimano S-Phyre XC9$430616g (size 43.5)Dual Boa dialsXC, gravel
Crankbrothers Candy Lace$160746g (size 43.5)LacesXC, light trail, gravel
Giro Berm$80910g (size 44)Dual velcro strapsGeneral trail riding
Fox Union Boa$250876g (size 9.5 US)Dual Boa dialsTrail, enduro, gravity
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit$150780g (size 44)Boa dial and velcro strapTrail, adventure, bike packing
Crankbrothers Mallet Boa$200860g (size 9.5 US)Boa dial and velcro strapTrail, enduro, gravity
Giro Chamber II$1501,072g (size 44)Laces and velcro strapTrail, enduro, gravity
Specialized S-Works Recon$450590g (size 43.5)Dual Boa dialsXC, gravel
Scott MTB Team Boa$170718g (size 44)Boa dial and velcro strapXC, light trail, gravel
Five Ten Hellcat Pro$180905g (size 10 US)Laces and velcro strapTrail, enduro, gravity
Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon$300662g (size 43.5)Boa dial and velcro strapXC, gravel
Giro Sector$240708g (size 43.5)Dual Boa dialsXC, light trail, gravel
Five Ten Kestrel Boa$230724g (size 9.5 US)Boa dial and dual velcro strapsXC, down-country, trail
Ride Concepts Hellion Clip$150966g (size 9.5 US)Laces and velcro strapTrail, enduro, gravity
Fizik Terra Atlas$160758g (size 43.5)Boa dialXC, light trail, gravel
Endura Humvee Clipless$130942g (size 9.5 US)Laces and velcro strapTrail, enduro
Review author Jeremy Benson spent countless hours riding many thousands of miles while testing the shoes in this review; (photo/Jeff Schertz)

How We Tested the Best Mountain Bike Shoes

For well over a decade, our Cycling Editors have been reporting on the latest news, technologies, and products across the spectrum of riding disciplines. Writing about bikes isn’t just a job. It’s our passion, and we love trying out new and interesting products of all kinds for reviews or to find the best options to enhance our experience, enjoyment, and performance out on the roads or trails.

Our mountain bike shoe review author, Jeremy Benson, has been professionally testing and reviewing mountain bike gear for the past eight years and has tested over thirty different pairs of clipless mountain bike shoes in that time. Having started mountain biking in the early 1990s, he’s witnessed and experienced the evolution of clipless mountain bike shoes firsthand. From gravel and XC racing, all-day backcountry epics, and shuttle runs on steep skidders, he appreciates all types of riding and understands the needs of different riders and riding styles. His extensive testing experience has also resulted in a keen ability to discern the performance differences in the products he uses. In addition to mountain bike shoes, Jeremy has tested and reviewed the best mountain bike helmets to keep your head safe and the best hitch bike racks for transporting your precious rides.

After researching the best mountain bike shoes available, we rounded up a selection of 18 different models to test and compare side by side. Each pair was thoroughly tested over the course of several months (some models for well over a year) to determine their strengths and weaknesses and how they perform in the real world. Each pair was weighed for consistency and comparison to the manufacturer’s claims, and important performance characteristics like fit, comfort, ventilation, pedaling efficiency, foot protection, and walkability were scrutinized out on the trail.

Different types of mountain bike shoes we tested
The type of shoe that works best for you will depend primarily on the type of riding you do. Fortunately, there are loads of different models to suit varying needs and preferences; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Mountain Bike Shoes

With so many different models to choose from, finding the best pair of mountain bike shoes to meet your needs can be a challenge. We put together this buying advice that goes over the things you need to consider when making your purchase decision. Please note that this review and the information below are specific to clipless mountain bike shoes, which are shoes that accept cleats that clip into the pedals (confusing, we know). This review pertains to unisex and men’s clipless shoes, but we’ve also tested women’s mountain bike shoes too. Flat pedal riders fear not — we have tested the best flat pedals and the best flat pedal shoes if you prefer not to clip in. For the roadies, we have a comprehensive road bike shoe review as well.

Types of Mountain Bike Shoes

Given the various categories that mountain biking is divided into, it comes as little surprise that we have shoes specialized to meet the varying needs of riders and riding styles. In general, mountain biking can be broken into three primary categories: cross-country, trail/all-mountain, and gravity. We explain the primary differences in design and performance between the types of shoes below.

Cross-country mountain bike shoes action shot
Shoes designed for cross-country racing and riding typically have streamlined designs, stiff soles, and light weights intended to enhance efficiency while pedaling. The Specialized S-Works Recon, pictured here, is one of the best on the market; (photo/Heather Benson)

Cross Country Shoes

While it is possible to ride cross-country in just about any mountain bike shoe, cross-country-specific shoes are the preferred tool for the job for several reasons. XC riding is about speed and efficiency, so cross-country shoes are designed with low weight and efficient power transfer as priorities. This is particularly true in XC racing, where high-end shoes can provide marginal gains that can be the difference between a podium or a mid-pack performance. Cross-country shoes typically have stiff soles, sometimes made from carbon fiber or rigid plastic, that provide a direct transfer of power into the pedals with little to no energy wasted through sole flex. They also typically have sleek, low-profile uppers that provide a snug and secure fit. Given the stiffness and support of the soles, this style of shoe works well with small, lightweight pedals that don’t have any platform or cage.

Given the prioritization of weight and sole stiffness in the design of cross-country shoes, they do make some compromises in other areas. They generally provide much less protection for the feet compared to trail or gravity-oriented models. Stiff soles also don’t tend to provide much in the way of vibration dampening, so they can be a little harsher on the feet over rough terrain and long descents. Walking and hiking also tend to be less natural and comfortable, given the stiffness of the soles and the outsole designs. Regardless, if moving fast uphill and across the flats is your goal, cross-country shoes are generally the best bet. Often, this style of shoe also works great for gravel riding and/or on the road bike. Examples of cross-country shoes include the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, the Specialized S-Works Recon, the Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon, and the Giro Sector.

Out for a trail riding testing the best mountain bike shoes
Trail riding shoes typically offer good pedaling efficiency along with features and performance that make them highly versatile and great for long days in the saddle; (photo/Heather Benson)

Trail and All-Mountain Shoes

Shoes designed for trail riding are the happy medium between the stiff, efficiency-oriented cross-country models and the protective gravity-focused options. Trail shoes tend to be highly versatile and span the largest range of riding styles and uses. Most are still reasonably lightweight and provide efficient power transfer, though it is not the singular focus like with cross-country shoes. Trail shoes also typically provide a higher level of foot protection, but not quite as much as downhill shoes. Outsole designs vary, but most now feature grippy rubber soles with flex through the toe to facilitate more natural walking and traction for those inevitable hike-a-bikes.

Shoes like these that can do it all inevitably make some minor compromises. They aren’t quite stiff or light enough to be the best option for cross-country racing. Likewise, they don’t provide the level of foot protection most riders seek for true downhill riding. Still, trail riding shoes like the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip are typically the best option for the vast majority of riders. Other models like the Crankbrothers Mallet Trail Boa and the Ride Concepts Hellion Clip provide enough foot protection for enduro riding and even downhill, yet they are versatile enough to be great trail riding shoes as well.

Enduro Shoes

Enduro-style riding and racing is essentially a gravity-focused discipline, and the preferred shoes for this type of riding are often those designed for gravity riding. Still, with timed downhill stages and untimed uphill transfers, enduro riders do enough pedaling that efficiency is often still a consideration. For this reason, beefier and more protective trail/all-mountain shoes are often a good choice, and the new breed of moderate-weight gravity shoes are typically solid options for this type of riding.

Gravity shoes typically prioritize foot protection and durability, although many new models are less bulky and heavy than they used to be; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Gravity Shoes

Gravity riders who spend their days riding chairlifts or shuttling the uphills to ride rough and steep trails or hit massive jumps typically seek shoes that provide more foot protection and somewhat more forgiving sole designs. Gravity shoes tend to be a bit bulkier, with more cushioning in the uppers and protective zones integrated around the toes, heels, and sometimes the ankles. With less emphasis on efficiency, the soles are generally not as stiff and they usually incorporate some vibration-dampening material like EVA foam into the midsole to absorb some trail feedback and impact. These features typically result in shoes that are a bit heavier, though that is a tradeoff for the protection and comfort they provide.

Of course, gravity shoes can be worn for everyday trail riding, though they may be overkill in many situations. Still, trail riders seeking added foot protection and cushioning often opt for this style of shoe, particularly if their riding leans towards the more aggressive side of the spectrum and they don’t mind a little extra weight in exchange. Many of the latest gravity shoes, like the Fox Union Boa, Crankbrothers Mallet Boa, and Five Ten Hellcat Pro, are lighter and less bulky than older models, expanding their versatility and making them viable options for trail riding as well.

What Type of Riding Do You Do?

The type of riding you do will be the primary factor to consider when choosing the right pair of mountain bike shoes. If the majority of your riding falls into a specific category like cross-country or gravity, shoes designed for that specific purpose will serve you the best. If you’re more of a generalist, then a versatile trail-riding shoe is probably the way to go. If you dabble in multiple disciplines, having multiple different pairs of shoes to match the type of riding you’re doing is not uncommon.

A selection of mountain bike pedals for various disciplines
There are lots of options when it comes to clipless mountain bike pedals. Different styles of pedals work better for different types of riding and styles of shoes; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Pedals

Much like your shoes, clipless pedals come in a variety of styles that may provide distinct performance advantages for certain types of riding. The clip mechanisms themselves vary somewhat between brands, although the general idea is the same. Clipping into your pedals secures the foot to the pedal in the optimal position. The optimal position varies by personal preference, but also by use case. Typically, XC riders have a slightly more forward cleat position to optimize pedaling efficiency, while most gravity riders have a rearward-biased cleat position to enhance stability when descending. Thankfully, most shoes have a relatively wide cleat adjustment range, so most people will be able to position their cleats in their desired location.

Among mountain bike pedals, the Shimano SPD system and cleat are generally the most common. Other brands like Crankbrothers, Time, HT, Hope, etc, use proprietary cleats for their pedals, but they all share the same two-bolt attachment. There are few actual “standards” in the bike industry, but the two-bolt cleat interface for mountain bike shoes is one that is actually a standard. Phew.

Examples of mountain bike pedals for cross-country riding
Cross-country pedals like the Look X-Track Race Carbon, HT M2, and Time ATAC XC 8 (left to right), are smaller and lightweight, and they work best with stiff-soled shoes; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

XC Pedals

Pedals for cross-country riding are designed to be used with stiff-soled cross-country shoes. They typically consist of a spindle and a small pedal body that is essentially just the clip mechanism, often with a small platform to either side for some lateral support. They usually prioritize light weight, and the majority of the support comes from the stiff sole of your shoes. Examples include models like Crankbrothers Eggbeaters, HT M2, Time XC 8, and Shimano XTR PD-M9100.

Examples of mountain bike pedals for trail riding
Trail riding pedals usually have small to mid-sized cages surrounding the clip mechanism like the Crankbrothers Mallet Trail, Shimano XT Trail, HT T2, and Hope Union TC pictured here; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Trail Pedals

Trail pedals typically have a small to mid-size cage that surrounds the clip mechanism. Designs vary, but typically, the cage is intended to provide a little additional support when clipped in or something to stand on if you happen to clip out. The larger pedal body is also helpful for finding and orienting the pedal beneath your foot when clipping in. Some designs feature traction pins that can add grip when used with certain shoes. Examples of trail pedals are the Shimano XT Trail, Crankbrothers Mallet Trail, HT T2, Time Speciale 8, and other similar models.

Examples of mountain bike pedals for gravity riding
Gravity pedals like the Time Speciale 12 and DMR V-Twin pictured above tend to have larger platforms surrounding the clip mechanism for additional support and stability; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Gravity Pedals

Downhill riders typically opt for pedals that have a large platform surrounding the clip mechanism. The larger platform helps provide support for the comparatively softer-soled gravity shoes, both fore and aft and side to side. The added support is critical and provides extra control when piloting your bike through rough terrain at high speeds. These pedals often resemble a flat pedal with a clip mechanism in the center, and they often have traction pins for added grip. Examples of gravity pedals include the Time Speciale 12, Shimano Saint, DMR V-Twin, and Crankbrothers Mallet DH.

Getting the Right Fit

Finding the right type of shoe to suit your needs and riding style is very important, but finding the right fit will enhance your control and ensure your comfort on the bike. Too loose and your feet can move around resulting in a reduction of control, while shoes that are too tight can cause discomfort, hot spots, and even numb feet. Properly fitting shoes should be the appropriate length, width, and volume, with closures that wrap the feet snugly and securely.

Mountain bike shoe sizes
Getting the correct size is super important. As you can see, there is some variance among brands’ sizing, even for shoes that are technically the same size; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Sizing

Getting the right size is the important first step. Like any other type of shoes, mountain bike shoes come in a range of sizes that are typically listed in EU, US, and UK sizes. If you are unsure of your size, you can get your feet measured at most bike shops or you can do it at home (it’s easy to find helpful tips for measuring your feet online). If you have mountain bike shoes that fit well, it’s often as easy as checking the size and ordering the same thing, especially if it is the same brand. This doesn’t always hold true, however, as there is some variance between brands and how their EU and US/UK sizes line up on the size chart. Whenever possible, we recommend trying shoes on before you buy to ensure they fit correctly. When trying shoes on, it’s also important to wear the socks you’ll be riding in, as sock thickness can directly impact how a shoe fits.

Width and Volume

Width and volume are also important considerations that can make or break the fit of a shoe. Most shoes come in a “regular” width that is intended to fit the majority of people whose feet are neither very wide nor very skinny. For this reason, people with average-width feet generally have the easiest time finding shoes that fit them properly in terms of width and volume. In general, cross-country shoes tend to have slightly narrower and lower-volume fits. Thankfully, some brands offer wide or high-volume versions to accommodate those with wider feet. Trail and gravity shoes vary in terms of width, but generally speaking, they typically have a little more room in the forefoot than the snugger-fitting cross-country models. It is also worth noting that most shoes will break in slightly over time as the uppers conform to your feet. Some shoes that feel too tight out of the box may end up being the perfect fit after a few rides.

The adjustable arch support insoles of the Fox Union Boa
Some high-end shoes include insoles with adjustable arch support, including the Fox Union Boa; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Arch Support

People’s arches are not all the same, so arch support may be an important consideration for some people. Typically, people who pedal hard and put in long miles want to ensure their feet and lower legs stay in the optimal alignment for transferring power. Those with high arches also benefit from having an insole that provides adequate support. Some shoes, typically high-end cross-country shoes, come with insoles that have adjustable arch support. The majority of mountain bike shoes, however, tend to come with relatively basic insoles. Those with specific arch support needs and wants can often benefit from the use of aftermarket or custom insoles.

Stiff soles, like the carbon soles with a stiffness rating of 11 on the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, combined with a precise fit, typically result in the highest level of pedaling efficiency; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Pedaling Efficiency

Mountain bike shoes are our connection to the pedals and how our pedaling power gets transferred into forward motion. The stiffness of a shoe’s sole is a major factor that dictates how efficiently your power is transferred, and they vary pretty significantly based on materials used and intended use. Pedaling efficiency is prioritized most by cross-country riders, particularly racers, who aim to maximize their effort, so XC shoes typically have the stiffest soles, often constructed from carbon fiber or rigid plastic. These soles flex very little, if at all, and tend to be a little less forgiving and more difficult to walk in. Price and sole stiffness often go hand in hand, with stiff, race-oriented models often employing carbon fiber in their soles and commanding a lofty price tag. It isn’t just the sole’s stiffness, however, as a precise fit is equally important to keep the foot from moving around to maximize efficiency throughout the whole pedal stroke.

Shoes designed for trail riding typically have a more balanced sole that is stiff enough for efficiency during long days in the saddle but has some forgiveness in the design to enhance rider comfort and walkability. Trail shoes often employ stiffening plates, or shanks, in the soles that often run about 3/4 of the length of the shoe, providing structure from about the ball of the foot back to the heel. This provides support underfoot when descending and pushing on the pedals while leaving the sole under the toes and forefoot somewhat flexible for walking. Gravity-oriented shoes often employ similar designs, although some are intended to have a little more flex and forgiveness. They also typically have additional vibration-dampening materials built into the mid-soles to absorb more trail feedback.

Mountain Bike Shoe closure options
Boa dials, laces, velcro straps, maybe a combination of two. There are many different closure systems and designs among modern mountain bike shoes; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Closures

In addition to getting the right fit, having the shoe be snug and secure around your foot is important for comfort, control, and stability. Shoe manufacturers use a number of different methods for tightening the shoe around your foot, including laces, velcro straps, ratcheting buckles, Boa dials, and sometimes a combination of two closure types. Personal preference often dictates what someone chooses, and some shoes are even offered in multiple closure options. For example, the Crankbrothers Mallet shoes come in Boa, Speed Lace, and Lace versions, with the primary difference being price. It stands to reason that the fancier closure systems tend to add a little to the overall price of a pair of shoes.

Price isn’t the only difference, however, and each closure style has some benefits and drawbacks. Laces are the simplest option, and they are cheap and easy to replace. They pull tension evenly over the top of the foot, but they are slower to put on/take off, and they can’t be adjusted on the fly. Velcro straps are often used on their own or in combination with laces, Boas, or ratchets, either down by the toes or up at the top of the tongue. Velcro is quick and easy to adjust, but it does tend to wear out more quickly than other closures. Boa dials are typically found on more expensive shoes, and they tighten small wires over the top of the foot. Boa dials are lightweight and very easy to adjust, even while riding, but they can be more prone to damage from impact than other styles of closures. Ratchet straps are less common than they used to be, but they are still used on some models of shoes. Ratchet straps use a small plastic ladder strap and a ratcheting buckle to add tension over the foot.

Examples of different outsole designs on mountain bike shoes
The outsole designs of modern mountain bike shoes vary pretty significantly depending on the intended use; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Outsole Design

Outsole designs vary wildly between different models and styles of shoes and play a direct role in how easy it is to walk in some shoes and the traction they provide. Given that we’re discussing shoes designed to clip into your pedals, sole grip isn’t nearly as important as it is for flat pedal shoes, where you rely on the sole for your connection to the pedal pins. That said, those who ride trails that require dismounting for challenging sections or who hike a bike frequently will want to consider that when choosing a pair of mountain bike shoes. Cross-country shoes tend to have stiff carbon or plastic soles, and they typically have some rubber tread lugs added to the toe, heel, and on both sides of the cleat mount area. These tread lugs add some lateral stability on the pedal, grip when walking, and protect the rigid soles slightly from damage. Many cross-country shoes can also have toe spikes added, which is common in cyclocross racing for added grip on muddy courses.

Modern trail and gravity shoes usually have full-coverage soles made from various rubber compounds. These tend to cover the entire sole of the shoe from toe to heel, with only the cleat mount area left exposed. The tread designs vary from brand to brand, but most intend for the sole to provide grip on varying surfaces. The cleat sits in a recess in the sole and good designs allow for the outsole on the sides of the cleats to interface with the pedal body for lateral stability. Some trail riding shoes are designed for adventurous riding that includes pushing your bike up steep slopes, and these often feature lugged tread designs more akin to a hiking shoe’s sole.

Hiking back up to session a small feature in the Shimano ME7
Whether you’re sessioning a feature, hiking to a vista, or the steepness of the trail forces you to dismount your bike, we often end up walking/hiking in our mountain bike shoes. Fortunately, many modern shoes have grippy rubber and tread designs that perform well off the bike; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Walkability

Depending on the type of riding you do, a shoe’s walkability may or may not be a concern. If your rides tend to be on mellower terrain, where you stay on the bike the majority of the time, it likely doesn’t matter much how easy your shoes are to walk in. If you ride more adventurous terrain or like to scramble up to every viewpoint along the ride, then a shoe that performs reasonably well off the bike might be of greater importance. It stands to reason that shoes with more flexible soles and rubber in the outsole design will be easier to walk in and provide more traction on rock and variable surfaces. Most modern trail and gravity shoes work well in this regard, with a select few having particular emphasis on off-the-bike traction in their sole’s design.

Cross-country shoes tend to be the least pleasant to walk in, given their stiff soles that inhibit a natural gait. Most have a slight bit of rocker through the toe, along with raised rubber sole lugs for some grip, but they are not usually the optimal choice for those who dismount their bikes frequently.

Comaprison shot of the Five Ten Kestrel Boa and the Five Ten Hellcat Pro mountain bike shoes
Many mountain bike shoes prioritize foot protection in their designs. The Five Ten Hellcat Pro (right) is a burly downhill shoe with a heavily reinforced toe and heel. The Five-Ten Kestrel Boa (left) is more of a trail/XC hybrid that has more toe protection than a typical cross-country shoe; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Foot Protection

The protection of one’s feet while riding varies in importance between the different riding styles, although nearly all mountain bike shoes provide some level of foot protection in their designs. Even thin, lightweight cross-country shoes have firm heel cups and small bumpers surrounding the front of the toes, but their prioritization of weight savings typically results in shoes that provide little additional foot protection. For this reason, they are best suited to less technical terrain, where the likelihood of rock strikes and other impacts to the feet is generally lower.

Trail shoes typically offer more protection than XC shoes with thicker uppers and strategically placed padding or rigid materials to protect the feet in more varied terrain. They also generally have more cushioning integrated into the midsoles for vibration absorption on rough trails. Gravity shoes like the Giro Chamber II tend to offer the highest levels of foot protection with rigid toe caps, extra cushioning, and sometimes additional materials like D30 patches for added impact protection in key areas. Extra foot protection tends to add weight and gravity shoes are generally heavier and bulkier than other styles of shoes as a result.

The highly breathable Giro Synchwire material
Manufacturers use various methods to make shoes ventilated and breathable, including perforations or mesh panels on the uppers or the super air-permeable Synchwire material used on the Giro Sector; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Breathability

Shoe manufacturers approach breathability and ventilation in various ways, with nearly all mountain bike shoes having some sort of way for air to enter or escape in their designs. How effectively these designs work varies significantly, and how important this is to you depends on several factors, of course, like the climate where you live and ride, what type of riding you do, and how much you sweat. Ventilating features include mesh panels, perforations in the uppers, or uppers constructed from air-permeable materials. Not surprisingly, lightweight XC shoes designed for high-intensity riding typically do well here thanks to thinner uppers and less bulk in their designs. The Giro Sector, for example, is one of the best-ventilated shoes we tested thanks to its airy Synchwire material.

Trail and gravity shoes, generally speaking, tend to be a little warmer on the feet due to the thicker materials and additional cushioning and protection they provide. This tends to be least important for gravity riders where the majority of your time is spent riding downhill instead of pedaling up it. Still, most models attempt to ventilate the feet, though the effectiveness of their designs varies.

Mountain bike shoes take some serious abuse, and none will last forever, but we always hope to get our money’s worth; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Durability

Like anything else in mountain biking, your shoes take a beating, and they wear out over time. People who ride every day or are particularly hard on gear may easily go through a pair of shoes in a season from regular use. Less frequent riders should expect to get several seasons of use from a quality pair of shoes. Of course, there are a number of factors that will play a role in how long your bike shoes last. Terrain, weather, and even your skills make a difference and will dictate the lifespan of your footwear. Awkward dismounts, repeated scrapes against sharp rocks, or constantly being wet can result in damage to your uppers, while excessive walking on sharp rocks may result in the premature breakdown of your soles. Sometimes, manufacturing defects will result in sole delamination or other issues (most brands warranty shoes with defects).

In general, lighter, thinner shoes tend to be the most susceptible to damage and can wear out most easily if not treated with care. Beefier, burlier shoes often have extra materials in high-wear areas to protect from abrasion. Velcro tends to wear out faster than other closure types, and it can’t really be replaced. Laces can tear or break, but they are affordable and easy to replace. Boa dials have a checkered past from a durability standpoint, though they can often be replaced and are sometimes covered by warranty.

Riding in the Crankbrothers Mallet trail Boa mountain bike shoes
For mountain bike footwear, comfort and performance are key. We typically don’t mind spending a bit more for a shoe like the Crankbrothers Mallet Trail Boa to get it; (photo/Jeremy Benson)

Value

The price of mountain bike shoes varies pretty significantly, with the models we tested ranging from $80 up to $450. Typically, the most expensive shoes have the highest performance, although that performance will only really be appreciated by certain riders for very specific reasons. Unless you’re a cross-country racer seeking marginal performance gains from the lightest and stiffest shoes, you don’t need to spend that much. The $150 to $250 price range will be where most people find the best price-to-performance ratio. While not the highest performance, even a shoe like the $80 Giro Berm gets the job done pretty well for less frequent riders or those on a budget. Of course, we haven’t tested every single shoe on the market, and there may be other great value options not listed here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mountain Bike Shoes

Why should I wear mountain bike shoes?

Sure, you can ride a mountain bike in just about any shoes you want, but mountain bike shoes are always our recommendation because they are specifically designed for that purpose. If you mountain bike once or twice a year, it may not be worth it to you to spring for mountain bike specific shoes, but if you ride with any frequency, the performance benefits of shoes made for the purpose should not be overlooked. Whether you’re riding cross country, trail, enduro, or downhill, there are models designed to be optimal for each type of riding. Mountain bike shoes generally have more rigid soles to promote more efficient power transfer when pedaling and prevent foot fatigue when descending. Grippy outsoles provide traction on the pedals and when off the bike walking on varied terrain. Protective features like padding and reinforced areas are integrated into many designs to ward off rock strikes to the toes and heels. And, of course, shoes designed to be used with clipless pedals have a cleat mount area for the cleat that is necessary for clipping into the pedal.

Clipless vs. flat pedals, which is best?

There’s really no right answer to this question as it typically comes down to personal preference and the type of riding you’re doing. Each pedal style has pros and cons. Most riders choose one or the other, while some will switch back and forth to enjoy the benefits of both styles. Clipless pedals provide a mechanical connection to the pedal, keep your feet in the perfect spot, and help to maximize your pedaling effort through the full pedal stroke. For this reason, they are typically preferred by cross-country riders/racers and others who put in big miles and want to be as efficient as possible. The downsides are that they take some getting used to and awkward falls are not uncommon when learning, and you generally have less foot mobility and freedom of movement. Flat pedals and flat pedal shoes offer greater foot mobility with varying support and grip depending on the platform size, pin style/placement, and sole rubber/tread design. Flat pedals can be very grippy and secure, however, they do not provide a mechanical connection to the pedals, which results in a slight decrease in pedaling efficiency. It is also possible to bounce off the pedals in rough terrain or slip a foot off while climbing, which can be potentially very painful if/when the pedal pins make contact with your shins.

Why Are They Called Clipless Pedals If You Clip In?

The term “clipless” is definitely confusing due to the fact that you actually clip in to clipless pedals. The term clipless goes back decades, to a time when most pedals had toe clips, or toe cages, that wrapped up over the toe of your shoes to help prevent your feet from slipping off the front of the pedal. When Shimano developed its original SPD pedal system, it did not have the toe clip, and thus the term clipless was born. These days, clipless pedals are often referred to as clip, clip-in, and SPD, which are less confusing.

Can I use mountain bike shoes for road or gravel riding?

Of course. While we generally recommend road-specific shoes for road cycling, there’s no reason that you can’t use mountain bike shoes for riding on the road or gravel bike. Generally speaking, cross-country style shoes will be the best fit for this as they tend to provide the best pedaling efficiency with stiffer soles and lighter weights. In theory, a shoe like the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 or the Specialized S-Works Recon could have you covered for XC, gravel, and road riding as long as you have the same pedals across all the bikes.

How much should I spend?

This really depends on your budget, but also your needs and wants from your shoes. Prices vary quite significantly between the least and most expensive models we tested, as does performance. If you’re seeking the highest in performance, particularly for cross-country riding and racing, then you’ll need to be willing and able to spend a bit more for high-end shoes to meet your performance expectations. Top-of-the-line cross-country shoes can cost upward of $400, but often brands have several versions that cost less and offer similar features and performance. Shoes for trail and gravity riding tend to be less expensive than their cross-country counterparts, although the high-end models can still cost up to around $250. That said, they have a more approachable price range with models starting around $100-125, and performance differences being less dramatic than their XC counterparts. At the lowest end of the price spectrum, below $100, several brands make entry-level shoes that will serve more casual riders very well. These models can’t compete with more expensive shoes, but they absolutely can get the job done and they will work much better than riding in your old jogging shoes. Trust us.

Related Content

Subscribe Now

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!

Join Our GearJunkie Newsletter

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!