Best gravel shoes 2024 – we test 10 top off-road shoe options for racers and explorers

Best gravel shoes grid layout
Best gravel bike shoes image (Image credit: Future)

The best gravel shoes are unsurprisingly, generally based on the best mountain bike shoes, but as the gravel explosion continues there are detailed design, performance, and styling differences appearing that are more influenced by pure road cycling shoes.  

Our test team has put the best gravel shoes through their paces on a range of roads and trails and our round-up includes comfortable adventure shoes with simple lace-ups through to custom moldable carbon-fiber monocoque, double-dial secured gravel race shoes. Our best shoe overall is the Rapha Explore and our top budget choice are the Specialized Recon 1.0.

All the gravel shoes here are designed for use with off-road clipless pedals – which are definitely the pedals we'd advise using on a gravel bike. However, if you're a new rider who really doesn't feel confident clipping in, you could run MTB flat pedals in which case you may want to look at the best MTB flat pedal shoes, but we'd really advise going clipless if you can.

Read on to find your perfect pair, and if you're not sure, check out our buying advice and FAQs on the best gravel shoes at the bottom of this article.

Best gravel shoes

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The quick list

1. Best overall

Rapha Explore shoes in a grassy field

The laces run through loops of the upper for extra slip security and help you really tailor foot fit (Image credit: Dean Hersey)
Our best in test pick for rugged trails and bikepacking adventures

Specifications

Weight: 694g (actual, size 43)
Size: 36-47
Fastening: Laces and forefoot strap
Sole: Carbon fiber

Reasons to buy

+
Superbly grippy durable sole
+
Shortened stiff carbon sole plate for walking
+
Lace-up allows adaptable closure over long-distance rides
+
Tough construction
+
Classic subtle styling

Reasons to avoid

-
Uppers can rub and irritate the ankle bone until broken in
-
Laced fit system might put some people off

The perfect gravel bike shoe might just exist in the Rapha Explore, it tops our best list with a perfect score, and on review, our tester Dean Hersey said, "If you are looking for a premium, tough, grippy-and-durable shoe with classic styling, then you will struggle to beat these from Rapha."

The Rapha Explore was the first in-house-developed Rapha off-road shoe and they’re a solidly stylish option for all types of gravel riding. The only slight negative we found on the Rapha Explore was the out-the-box stiffness of the synthetic leather, which took Dean a few weeks of riding to 'bed in' the shoes, and he said "Your patience while breaking in will be rewarded with a supremely comfortable shoe, and the high-quality materials and construction means that these should go the distance and last many years."

One of the real highlights is the fit and closure on the Explore, Rapha has opted for a laced closure system, similar to the Café du Cycliste Outlands with the added benefit of a padded Velcro strap too. That might not sound like the most technically advanced option, but we found the double-wall lacing system, designed in conjunction with the velcro strap and padded tongue worked extremely well.

Check out our full Rapha Explore gravel shoe review to find out why it's our go-to for gravel riding.

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The lowdown: Rapha Explore
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortSuper comfy once the synthetic leather is broken in ★★★★
GripImpressive levels of grip★★★★★
FasteningLaced and strap fit system works perfectly★★★★
BreathabilityPerforated upper gives plenty venting★★★★★
ValueCostly but well worth the outlay★★★★

2. Best budget

Specialized Recon 1.0 gravel shoe photographed from the front

Some riders just want simplicity and that’s where Specialized’s Recon 1.0s come in (Image credit: Dean Hersey)
The best gravel shoe for simplistic all-round comfort and fit

Specifications

Weight: 658g (actual, size 42)
Size: 36-49
Fastening: Triple velcro strap
Sole: Carbon/glass fiber composite

Reasons to buy

+
Specialized's proven Body Geometry fit
+
Lightweight 
+
Aggressive tread and SlipNot rubber for off-bike grip

Reasons to avoid

-
Velcro unable to offer as accurate and durable fit as Boa/lace systems

Boa dials are great for micro-accurate tightening and a high-tech feel on your feet, but some riders just want simplicity and that’s where the Specialized Recon 1.0 gravel shoe comes into its own.

This tremendous value gravel shoe shares the same TPU-injected nylon sole as the more expensive Boa dial-equipped Recon 3.0 shoe – which is another highly recommended off-road shoe from Specialized. The budget-friendly 1.0 gives decent pedaling stiffness but with enough foot flex for comfortable walking. You also get a super aggressive mountain running shoe style tread in grippy SlipNot rubber so walking is never an issue. 

The multi-piece synthetic leather upper includes a chunky toe box and a reinforced heel wrap for a naturally comfortable cradling fit and the accurate fit means the three Velcro wrap-over straps don’t get over-stressed either and tightening or loosening couldn’t be easier at any time.

The simple Velcro design also makes them lighter than average when compared to other shoes around the same price point.

Have a read of our Specialized Recon 1.0 gravel shoe review to find out more.

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The lowdown: Specialized Recon 1.0
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortMinimal padding isn't the best★★
GripThe Slipnot tread works well★★★
FasteningLow-tech Velcro does the job★★★
BreathabilityWell vented for the price★★★★
ValueHard pushed to find a better value shoe★★★★★

3. Best for comfort

Suplest Mountain Performance shoe pictured from above

Graham Cottingham thought the Suplest Mountain Performance shoe were the comfiest gravel shoes he has ridden (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
Comfortable and extremely well-thought-out gravel shoe

Specifications

Weight: 756g (pair, size 43 without cleats)
Size: 39-47
Fastening: Boa Li2
Sole: SUPtraction rubber

Reasons to buy

+
Secure and comfortable fit
+
Excellent balance between sole stiffness and comfort
+
Long cleat slots give far-back cleat mounting options
+
Easy to walk in

Reasons to avoid

-
Tread is slippy on wet rocks
-
Middling weight for a performance gravel shoe

Suplest may be the best cycling shoe brand that you've never heard of. The Swiss brand is mainly focused on road shoes, but they also have several off-road specific models too from the best flat pedal mountain bike shoes to gravel. 

The Mountain Performance shoe is its gravel shoe offering – featuring a stiff sole and a single Boa closure. The shoes are made from a microfiber outer material and lined with a softer mesh material.  Around the front of the foot, they have a thin layer of carbon on the upper where the Li2 spec Boa is mounted, as well as one of the textile Boa lace guides.

Our tester, Graham Cottingham, found the Suplest Mountain Performance shoe to be probably the most comfortable gravel shoe he had ever ridden, with a very snug and secure fit, without any of the unforgiving tightness that usually comes with performance shoes. Comfort is enhanced with an even pressure across when tightened up. The gentler fit approach means they are a worthy contender for longer-distance gravel racing too.

Read Graham's Suplest Mountain Performance shoe review for a full overview.

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The lowdown: Suplest Mountain Performance
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortSublime levels of comfort★★★★★
GripThings get slightly slippy in the wet★★
FasteningThe Anatomical Wrap delivers a perfect fit★★★★
BreathabilityNot a lot of venting ★★
ValueExpensive and there's a few performance issues★★

4. Best lightweight

Specialized S-Works Recon SPD shoe

Zero stretch material creates a solid base for the two Boa S3-Snap dials to anchor and lock the foot in (Image credit: Paul Brett)
A lightweight shoe with all the best S-Works capabilities

Specifications

Weight: 611g (actual, size 43)
Size: 39-50
Fastening: Boa S3-Snap dial x2
Sole: Carbon

Reasons to buy

+
Seriously light
+
Superb fit for threshold efforts or all-day gravel odysseys
+
The stiff sole delivers power directly to the pedals
+
Precise Boa dial closure

Reasons to avoid

-
Performance comes at a cost
-
No extra arch support options included
-
Tread can wear quickly

Specialized's S-Works Recon is a lightweight shoe ready to tackle any off-road riding from the best cross-country mountain bike racing to multi-day gravel riding adventures. They do carry a premium price tag, but having ridden these shoes for many years myself, the durability and performance make the cost more justifiable, and also made them a close contender for the title of best gravel bike shoe overall – the Specialized Recon shoe is simply superb.

This Specialized S-Works Recon has an ultra-stiff carbon sole. Rated as 13 on Specialized's stiffness scale, it's almost as stiff as the brand's premium road shoe. The stiff sole and close fit means hike-a-bike walking isn't the greatest in comparison to say the Fizik Terra Atlas, but I found they definitely aren't the worst if you need to hoof it up a short section. 

The upper is made from a super light, zero-stretch material which creates a solid base for the two Boa S3-Snap dials to anchor and lock the foot in. Tightening or loosening micro-adjustments allow fine-tuning and the cables can be unhooked so it's easier to get the shoes on or take them off. 

To find out more, read our Specialized S-Works Recon gravel shoe review.

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The lowdown: Specialized S-Works Recon
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortBody Geometry footbed is superbly comfortable★★★★
GripHard to find fault in all conditions★★★★
FasteningVelcro strap and double Boa is superb★★★★
BreathabilityNot the best for keeping feet cool★★★
ValueCostly but well worth it★★★

5. Best all-rounder

Fizik Ferox Carbon shoe

Fizik Ferox Carbon is a great all-round gravel shoe (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
The best gravel shoe for all-round performance

Specifications

Weight: 680g (actual size 43)
Sizes: 36-48
Fastening: Velcro Powerstrap Boa Li2
Sole: Carbon fiber

Reasons to buy

+
Great all-round gravel performance
+
Powerstrap locks the foot in and is easy to adjust
+
Lightweight
+
Eye-catching colorways
+
Easy to put on and take off

Reasons to avoid

-
Velcro isn’t quite as easy to adjust as a Boa on the move
-
Color fades after muddy rides

The Fizik Ferox Carbon gravel shoes are aimed at all-round performance off-road riding – whether it's gravel, XC or cyclocross. Fizik has certainly made a bit of a statement with the Ferox Carbons, the eye-catching aesthetic will certainly make you stand out on the start line of any of the best gravel events.

It doesn't stop at looks though and in his review our resident gravel shoe expert, Graham Cottingham, noted although it's unconventional, the Powerstrap configuration gave superb pedaling performance. What makes Fizik’s Powerstrap fastening unusual is that Fizik has positioned the Velcro strap above the Boa, which Graham found delivered an excellent and secure foot fastening with the Boa backing it up with accurate tightening and loosening.

Contributing to the all-round capabilities is the carbon sole which gives that excellent stiff-pedaling platform but still isn't harsh or fatiguing over longer or rougher rides. The outer sole is noticeably softer than many other gravel shoes and gives them good levels of grip which delivered well while hoofing the bike up a hill.

Read Graham's full review on the Fizik Ferox Carbon shoe for all the details.

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The lowdown: Fizik Ferox Carbon
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortPowerstrap locks the foot in place well★★★★
GripRubberized mid-foot gives loads of grip ★★★★
FasteningBoa and Velcro combo does the job★★★★
BreathabilityPerforations lets air circulate well★★★★
ValuePricey but hold their own against other performance shoes★★★

6. Best for gravel racing

Shimano RX8 gravel shoes

The stiffness of the carbon sole, which comes up the instep for extra rigidity and cradling, is proper pro peloton level (Image credit: Dean Hersey)
The Shimano RX8 is ready for flat-out gravel bike racing

Specifications

Weight: 565g (actual, size 43)
Size: 38-48
Fastening: Boa IP1 dial with forefoot strap
Sole: Carbon fiber

Reasons to buy

+
Stiff and lively sole feel for great power transfer
+
Supportive and secure heel cup
+
RX8 is lightweight and ready for gravel racing

Reasons to avoid

-
Narrow fit
-
The narrow tread increases the risk of rolled ankles when walking
-
Race ready tech comes at a cost

The RX8 gravel shoes from Shimano are lightweight and race-ready and they have more in common with Shimano’s road range. To cement their racing purpose, Shimano recently released an RX8 Unbound Gravel special edition which was a tribute to the 'big boss' of gravel racing – Unbound Gravel.

As you would expect for a race-specific shoe they offer a super stiff carbon sole but also carry a relatively expensive price tag, and you won't be walking around the local coffee stop very well either, so not a wise choice for those keen on some hike-a-bike gravel riding. On test, our reviewer Dean Hersey also noted that "the super narrow fit and tread could increase the risk of a rolled ankle when walking."

However, the Shimano RX8s are a gorgeous looking piece of footwear and come into their own in the correct environment, which is gravel racing, and Dean was full of praise for the excellent fit saying, "When you first slip your feet in and twist the Boa dial you will notice how snug the RX8 and its wrap-around design fit is." and that, "Shimano had aimed to give ultimate comfort for ultra-endurance gravel racing events and the glove-like fit genuinely delivers."

Fit is on the narrow side so bear that in mind if ordering online and, at this price, we’d recommend sizing and buying from your local Shimano stockist just to be sure. 

For more info, check out our full Shimano RX8 gravel shoe review.

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The lowdown: Shimano RX8
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortMade for all day racing and delivers ★★★★
GripThe grip is shallow and narrow so not great in mud★★
FasteningSingle Boa and Velcro delivers the goods★★★★
BreathabilitySynthetic leather and loads of perforations★★★
ValuePerformance racing comes with a hefty cost★★

7. Best laced

Specialized S-Works Recon Lace gravel shoe

Specialized S-Works Recon Lace has classic laced shoe looks (Image credit: Bartek Malysa)
Best laced gravel shoe thats packed with style and performance

Specifications

Weight: 624g (actual, size 43)
Size: 36-49
Fastening: Laced
Sole: Carbon fibre

Reasons to buy

+
Laced fastening gives them a cool gravel bike vibe
+
Dyneema upper material is tough and damage-resistant
+
Lightweight
+
Grippy 'SlipNot' sole
+
Specialized Body Geometry

Reasons to avoid

-
Dyneema needs a bit of breaking in
-
Not particularly waterproof
-
The stiff sole slightly hinders walking performance
-
Laces might not be for everyone

The Specialized S-Works Recon Lace like its Boa fastening sibling featured in this guide as the best lightweight gravel shoe and features a very similar spec and design. I reviewed these recently and found them to be a superbly capable gravel race-ready shoe packed with plenty of features that have made them a go-to gravel shoe.

The upper of the shoe is a one-piece Dyneema material which proved to be extremely durable shrugging off trail debris with ease and has remained damage-free. The Dyneema is also perforated for breathability which works well, but can result in wet feet when things get overall damp. The Recon also has added protection with a rubber toe cap at the front and a hard plastic heel cup at the rear.

The sole has plenty of Specialized 'SlipNot' rubber providing grip for moments when you need to push the bike. The 'SlipNot' material also extends from the rear between the heel and the cleat area giving grip and stability when walking on wet logs or climbing over a fence. I did find the exposed carbon scratched up quite easily, which was slightly annoying considering the cost.

Check out the full review of the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace for all the details.

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The lowdown: Specialized S-Works Recon Lace
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortRobust and very comfortable ★★★★
GripSpecialized 'SlipNot' sole is very sticky★★★★
FasteningThe laced system delivers a refreshing alternative★★★★
BreathabilityGood but perferations let water in★★★
ValuePremium S-Works price★★★★

8. Best for adventure gravel

Fizik Terra Atlas gravel shoe

Fizik Terra Atlas uses a single micro-adjustable, Boa L6 dial tension with the cable crossing through five anchor points down the foot (Image credit: Dean Hersey)
A classy looking off-road shoe with added all-round comfort and affordability

Specifications

Weight: 742g (actual, size 42)
Size: 36-48
Fastening: Boa L6 dial and forefoot strap
Sole: Nylon

Reasons to buy

+
Great looks
+
All-day comfort
+
Versatile performance
+
Well vented

Reasons to avoid

-
No inner sole arch support included
-
No turn to loosen function on closure dial

As soon as Fizik introduced the Terra Atlas to its off-road shoe range, it was one we loved straight away. The Terra Atlas not only looks good but it delivers great all-around features and is aimed at all manner of riding from singletrack to multi-day bikepacking adventures.

On test, we found the nylon sole to be better suited for the longest of days rather than hard-paced gravel racing and while it may not be the stiffest, the trade-off is for forgivingness over those big miles and for hike-a-bike moments. Fizik has reworked the tread pattern too, giving the Terra Atlas larger blockier knobs around the cleat and at the heel.

We have always had good experiences with Fizik's fit, although the fact there's no inner sole arch support included might not suit all riders straight from the box. They certainly come well-priced and our experiences with Fizik's durability have been totally positive.

Read our Fizik Terra Atlas gravel shoe review to find out more about these off-road all-rounders.

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The lowdown: Fizik Terra Atlas
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortDelivers all-day gravel comfort easily★★★★
GripAn excellently grippy compound rubber covers the sole★★★★
FasteningSingle Boa simple but effective★★★
BreathabilityLoads of vent holes enable feet to breathe★★★★
ValueTop marks for value for money★★★★★

9. Best for summer

Quoc Gran Tourer XC right show held up sideways on

Quoc Gran Tourer gravel shoes (Image credit: Amy Perryman)
Flawless performance whilst standing out from the crowd with a bold color scheme

Specifications

Weight: 650g size 40 (with SPDs)
Size: 38-47
Fastening: Quoc Dual-Dial system
Sole: Carbon composite

Reasons to buy

+
Dual-dial adjustment
+
Rubber toe cap
+
Foot molding insoles
+
Spare arch inserts and stud replacements
+
Color/design choice

Reasons to avoid

-
Sizes come up small
-
Dusty Pink design shows dirt easily
-
A significant investment

After four years of alterations and modifications since its first Gran Tourer shoe, the all-new Gran Tourer XC from Quoc was recently launched, and was put to the test by our tester – Amy Perryman, on the Rapha Pennine Rally. Amy gave them a 5-star review saying they "delivered a flawless performance" and "was a perfect durable gravel shoe, superbly capable over multiple days and long distances".

One of the Quoc’s standout features we noted made them so gravel adventure-ready was the Abrasion Resistant Microfiber. This combined with a newly added rubber toe cap makes them ideal for the best gravel bike adventures and gives them plenty of protection over the entire shoe and the rubber cap keeps those annoying toe scuffs at bay too. 

One thing that I questioned was the color of the shoes, with the Dusty Pink color scheme looking as though it wouldn't retain its good looks for long, and looked more suited to summer riding rather than muddy winter slogs. However, Amy reported that due to the Abrasion Resistant Microfiber the shoes are fairly easy to wipe clean. 

For more information, check out our Quoc Gran Tourer gravel shoe review.

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The lowdown: Quoc Gran Tourer XC
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortFlawless levels of comfort ★★★★★
GripChunky rubber gives a ton of grip★★★★
FasteningQuoc Technology dual-dial system isn't perfect★★★
BreathabilityOutstanding at keeping feet cool on big summer rides★★★★★
ValueCost a fair bit but ticks a lot of boxes★★★

10. Best for winter

Fizik Terra Nanuq GTX winter boot side detail

The Fizik Terra Nanuq GTX is a superbly warm and waterproof winter gravel option (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
A great gravel boot for the toughest of winter riding

Specifications

Weight: 1028g pair (size 43 tested)
Size: 36-48
Fastening: Boa
Sole: Vibram

Reasons to buy

+
Very warm inner lining
+
Gore-Tex waterproofing
+
Breathability
+
Great looks
+
Chunky tread offers loads of walking grip

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than other winter options
-
The cuff doesn't always hug the ankle 
-
Expense vs warmth may not be for everyone

On test, Graham Cottingham was full of performance praise for the Fizik Terra Nanuq GTX winter boot, noting that they delivered superb warmth, waterproofing, and excellent breathability and therefore made them one of the best winter boots available.

Fizik released the Terra Nanuq GTX boots late last year, with its design and features aimed to be ready to tackle the worst of conditions, coming with a fully insulated fleece lining backed up with excellent waterproofing from Gore-Tex. They also feature a high ankle cuff, Boa fastening, and a chunky treaded Vibram sole.

Graham put the Terra Nanuq boots to the test in some seriously cold and wet conditions and reported that the Gore-Tex membrane kept his feet dry – even when fully submerged. Breathability was also impressive with little moisture buildup and properly toasty toes.

Winter hike-a-bike conditions can catch out some of the best of shoes, but Graham found the Vibram sole coped well, and was flexible enough to cope with tough walking conditions without losing out on power transfer. The tread offered plenty of grip and he had no problem scaling muddy, snowy, and slick grassy inclines.

For more details, have a read of our Fizik Terra Nanuq GTX review.

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The lowdown: Fizik Terra Nanuq GTX
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortA winter boot with plenty cozy comfort★★★★
GripVibram sole copes well in tough conditions★★★★
FasteningSingle Boa does what it should ★★★★
BreathabilityGore-Tex delvers the goods easily★★★★
ValueCostly but top winter performance always is★★★

11. Best of the rest

Café du Cycliste Outlands gravel shoe

Café du Cycliste Outlands gravel shoe are incredibly stylish (Image credit: Martha Brett)

Café du Cycliste Outlands

A laced gravel shoe thats loaded with Café du Cycliste style

Specifications

Weight: 858g (actual, size 42)
Size: 37-47
Fastening: Laced
Sole: Carbon fibre

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning good looks and style
+
Laced fastening
+
Very grippy SUPtraction sole
+
Carbon sole gives excellent power transfer

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Laces might not be for everyone
-
Will get dirty quickly

French performance-wear brand Café du Cycliste is well known for creating some of the best cycling apparel with an added French twist of style and sophistication. They have taken all its clothing je ne sais quoi and added it to a brand new gravel shoe launched last year, along with an equally appealing road cycling shoe. 

I've been using the Outlands sparingly because the main problem with them is – they look so good, I didn't want to get them covered in Scottish crud. However, on the rides I have had, the Outlands have delivered on all fronts and even eased my apprehension of using a laced shoe, with the stylish lacing system offering almost the same security as a Boa – just without the on-the-fly adjustment.

Elsewhere the good looks are backed up with performance features. Breathability is decent and the SUPtraction sole ticks all the boxes with the custom-designed rubber tread delivering plenty of grip. Power transfer again is top-notch with carbon footbeds giving a rigid feel but with still enough flex to mean they are easy to walk in too.

The full review of the Café du Cycliste Outlands will be coming very soon, so keep an eye open for that, if a laced shoe for the best gravel bike riding is on your radar.

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The lowdown: Café du Cycliste Outlands
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortRobust and very comfortable ★★★★
GripSUPtraction sole is designed for gravel and works★★★★
FasteningThe laced system delivers a refreshing alternative★★★★
BreathabilityFairly minimal so could be better★★★
ValueSuper premium price

Crankbrothers Candy Lace Gravel shoes side on top down view

The Crankbrothers Candy shoe delivers a sweet all round  gravel performance (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
A great all-rounder that offers a well balanced comfortable fit and plenty off-road grip

Specifications

Weight: 920g (actual, size 44)
Size: 37-49
Fastening : Laced
Sole: Match MC1 rubber

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent lace-tuned fit
+
Surefooted sole tread
+
Solid pedaling performance
+
Decent walking comfort

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively heavy

The Crankbrothers Candy Lace received a sweet review from Guy Kesteven and his overwhelming feedback on these shoes was the overall comfort and relaxed fit. Guy also loved the look of the Candy Lace shoes and said, "The Crankbrothers Candy Lace shoes take me right back to when I started riding. They’re up to date in comfort and performance, balanced for fast, all-day off-road riding on the best gravel bikes or XC MTB."

Like myself having recently loved the Specialized S-Works Recon Lace shoe, Guy loved the laced fastening system, and said, "Laces are a great idea in my view too, and the Candy shoes have secure laces that allow a much more accurate tensioning setup than a dial system, although not everyone will agree."

Elsewhere the Match MC1 rubber proved to be more than capable of providing plenty grip in the wettest of conditions and the natural curve of the sole tread and compliance in the shank make them comfy for walking in too. 

The only negative was the weight and the Candy Lace shoes tipped the scales at 920g which made them fairly hefty when compared to the Rapha Explore shoes at 694g and the S-Works Recon at 624g – both laced fastening system shoes.

Check out Guy's full review of the Crankbrothers Candy Lace shoe for all the details.

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The lowdown: Crankbrothers Candy Lace gravel shoes
AttributesNotesRating
ComfortSupreme comfort★★★★
GripThe Match MC1 rubber sole is excellent★★★★
FasteningThe laced system just works ★★★★
BreathabilityVery good plenty perforations but let water in★★★
ValueCompares well to most similar shoes★★★★

Buying tips

Although just about any shoe could be suitable for gravel riding including some of the best mountain bike shoes and even some of the best flat pedal shoes. I've listed a few points that are worth considering when picking your next pair of gravel shoes.

  • 1. Fastening system and fit
  • 2. Ventilation
  • 3. Weight
  • 4. Cost

1. Fastening system and fit

There are a few options to choose from when it comes to the fastening system, and comes down to your own personal preference and the gravel riding you do. Most shoes will have either Boa dials (or a brand's own equivalent), laces, Velcro fastening or a combination of these options.

A Boa dial gives superb on-the-fly adjustment, a tighter feeling fit, and can be more suited to gravel racing. A laced system can be equally suitable for racing, but also offers a more relaxed fit and can be a good bikepacking option, but the system you choose is really down to rider preference.

Fit can also vary from one brand to another, with narrower or wider widths, so again try before you buy.

2. Ventilation

The best gravel bike shoes will be designed to keep your feet cool and sweat free on the biggest days in the saddle. All the shoes featured in the guide feature some sort of perforation system or material that allows them to ventilate your feet.

It's also worth noting that the more the shoes are perforated, the more water they can potentially let in when riding in rain or through puddles.

3. Weight

A nice lightweight shoe is always a good choice and will help reduce fatigue and heat build-up in your feet. However, depending on the specs and the fastening system used the weight from shoe to shoe will vary a fair bit, but unless you're a gram counter then it's not a deal breaker on any of the gravel shoes listed in our guide.

4. Cost

In my opinion, cost is subjective, and it doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive shoe you're buying will be the best for your needs. 

Our advice would be to check out all the features of the shoes you are considering, and how they compare for value. We think the Specialized Recon 1.0  represents tremendous value for the features, and if you're after a pair, then check out the live best deal prices at the bottom of this article.

FAQs

What shoes do you wear with gravel?

Because gravel biking can mean so many different things to different people you can’t assume a ‘gravel shoe’ will be exactly right for your version of the sport. That means you need to judge the various features against your actual needs.

If you're gravel racing you will want to look at a stiff lightweight shoe for ultimate power transfer and performance. A close fit is key in order to hold the foot in place and make the most of the stiff sole. Racey shoes will make sacrifices in walkability and protection. Stiff soles, small tread, and minimal uppers limit the amount of walking you want to be doing.

On the flipside, more adventure-based gravel shoes will feature broader, blockier, and softer treads to improve comfort in walking sections. Some shoes opt for softer soles, as stiff performance isn't as vital over multi-day trips, or a shorter carbon sole to allow the foot to bend more naturally. These adventure-based shoes usually have a more rugged construction and are happy to take on tougher off-road terrain.

One thing all gravel shoes will have in common is a two-bolt cleat mount as this is the standard that all the best gravel bike pedals use. 

Can I wear MTB shoes on gravel bike?

In short, yes. A lot of the best MTB shoes cross over very well into gravel riding and have made it into this guide. That said, some of the more durable or heavy-duty shoes won't be able to compete in breathability or stiffness with dedicated gravel shoes.

Coming from the other side of the spectrum, road shoes are light and stiff however the cleat systems are prone to getting clogged with mud or stones. They are also terrible when walking due to the exposed and delicate road cleats.

How important is the sole?

The sole underlines the performance of every shoe, and the best gravel shoes will always be a compromise between pedaling stiffness and walking flexibility. Some shoes – like the Shimano listed here – just go straight for maximum rigidity for racers who only put their foot down on the start line and then again on the podium. Others – like the Fizik Terra Atlas, Specialized, and Rapha – have more flex and sometimes more sole curve so that getting miles in on foot feels fine. Tread can also vary from minimal, narrow and wobbly to properly aggressive and wide, so make sure you look at the whole package.

Should I choose Boa, lace, or Velcro fastenings?

Boa dials, ratchet straps, laces and Velcro straps all have their advantages and disadvantages.

We've tested a selection of the best gravel shoes that cover all the options, and hopefully help when it comes to selecting your gravel shoes. Our best overall is the Rapha Explore which has more of a traditional laced and Velcro fastening system. The brilliant Specialized S-Works Recon has a Boa fastening but Boa can be a more expensive option.

Why are some shoes so expensive?

Gravel is here to stay but still a fairly new segment and it’s attracting excited new riders who are rushing to buy the best gravel bikes and fancy new kit. Most brands are still introducing bells and whistles models at the top end as their initial option. That means our selections are skewed towards aspiration not affordable. However, our budget selection – the Specialized Recon 1.0 is well worthy of a look as a wallet-friendly shoe.

How we test gravel bike shoes

Our expert reviewers have put these gravel shoes through their paces on a range of trails, roads and everything in-between over many hours of hard riding to test them out for grip, support, fit, and comfort, plus their off-bike suitability. 

Meet the testers

Guy Kesteven
Guy Kesteven

Guy started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about loads of gravel bikes and a ridiculous amount of off-road riding gear. 

Graham Cottingham
Graham Cottingham

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best gravel riding on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in gravel racing and MTB racing.

Paul Brett riding an MTB
Paul Brett

Paul is a huge cycling fan and riding all sorts of bikes, but is now mostly found riding gravel bikes, planning bikepacking trips and dreaming he still can cut it as a cyclocross racer.

Dean Hersey
Dean Hersey

Dean is a freelance cycling journalist fortunate to have the New Forest National Park and the Isle of Purbeck on his doorstep. Riding gravel and MTB bikes has meant Dean has been fortunate to travel the world in search of the best off-road trails.

Amy Perryman
Amy Perryman

Amy competes at a high level in various disciplines including gravel racing, cyclocross, and MTB XC. She races CX for Montezuma's Race Team and throughout the summer gravel for the London-based team TEKKERZ CC.

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm

With contributions from