The best gravel shoes have taken a while to catch up with the explosion of off-road drop-bar riding, but now there are great options for whatever you call a gravel ride.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of them are based on the best mountain bike shoes used for racing cross-country, but there are detailed design, performance, and styling differences that are often influenced by pure road shoes.
For information on Bike Perfect's testing procedures and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.
Our round-up of the best gravel shoes includes comfortable walking adventure shoes with simple lace-ups through to custom moldable carbon-fiber monocoque, double dial secured gravel race shoes, so read on to find your perfect pair.
Meet the testers
Dean is a freelance cycling journalist and a self-confessed pedal addict based in Dorset, who's fortunate to have the New Forest National Park and the Isle of Purbeck on his doorstep. Not confined to his local spots, riding bikes has meant Dean has been fortunate to travel the world in search of the best trails.
Hatched in Yorkshire Guy's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then Guy’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear.
Best gravel bike shoes
The Explore is the first in-house-developed Rapha off-road shoe and, while they may be tailored more towards the adventure market, they’re a solidly stylish option for gravel riding as well.
We found the Explore's uppers had a break in period, but once the uppers softened a little they have become our go to whether its general gravel riding to multi-day bikepacking. The laces run through loops of the upper for extra slip security and help you really tailor foot fit. They’re very reliable in all weathers, too, but obviously, the laces make it harder to adjust on the fly than a strap or dial system. The heel cuff gets a soft surround that matches the wraparound forefoot strap but the rest of the shoe is a seamless single-piece perforated faux leather material. There’s a rubber toe bumper and a stiffened toe box for accidental stub protection. We liked how the high heel holds the foot securely, plus Rapha includes three levels of arch support in the box to tailor the fit.
A titanium cleat bolt anchor plate is a neat weight-saving and durability touch but make sure you grease the threads well so they don’t seize. The only visible bit of carbon on the sole is a square of cross weave around the cleat area and some side strakes but otherwise, it’s buried under quite a thick rubber layer. Cuboid tread makes them surefooted for walking sections and it’s speckled with grey and pink flecks for that extra bit of ‘Rapha-ness'. The carbon shank doesn’t go all the way back in the shoe so they’re good for off-bike wandering while still pushing pedals with purpose.
Durability seems to be one point as well. The fact it uses laces means its a simple process if they break and ours still look great having covered a good number of miles.
Check out our full Rapha Explore gravel shoe review to find out why its our go to for gravel rides.
Shimano’s RX8 gravel shoes are super light and race stiff but relatively expensive and not a wise choice for those keen on walking.
While many ‘gravel’ shoes are basically XC MTB race shoes, the RX8 definitely has more in common with Shimano’s road range. That means there's minimal protection beyond a very slim toe bumper and a wrap-around rear tread section. The tread is sparse but effective – particularly in mud – but there are no toe stud mounts. The stiffness of the carbon sole, which comes up the instep for extra rigidity and cradling, is proper pro peloton level. That means you’ll have no issue getting every watt through your pedals and when paired with Shimano XT pedals (or any Shimano SPD pedals for that matter), they create a superbly stable platform to deliver power. You will be waddling like a penguin if you have to walk, while the narrow tread makes them particularly perilous and prone to rolling ankles on foot.
The minimalist upper uses a single-piece microfiber sheet tightened with a single Boa IP1 dial and then a small diagonal toe strap. Although many of the RX8's competitors use a double Boa configuration, the accurate shaping means the RX8 still cinches everything up very securely without any pinching, allowing you to make the most of the sole.
Minimal protection and race style do make them very light though and the RX8's are one of the lightest gravel bike shoes on the market. Shimano shoes are always extremely well made and long-lived too which makes the high price compared to dual dial shoes more acceptable. Fit is on the narrow side so bear that in mind if ordering online and at this price, we’d definitely 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.
Specialized's S-Works Recon is a shoe that can take on any off-road racing, it's designed for cross-country mountain bike racing but easily has the credentials to dominate on gravel too.
This is predominately down to Specialized equipping the S-Works Recon's with an ultra stiff carbon sole. Rated as 13 on Specialized stiffness scale, its almost as stiff as the brands premium road shoe. The sole extends the full length of the shoe and extends up the inside of the arch a little as well, the result is a shoe that drives every watt into the pedals as well as providing a very supportive platform over rough terrain.
Dyneema is used on the upper and the super light, zero stretch material 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 its easier to get the shoes on or take them off. This is particularly handy as the deep plastic molded heel cup really locks your foot into the shoe. Coming from MTB, the Recon's offer a decent amount of toe and heel box protection from wayward rocks when riding.
The stiff sole, deep heel cup and close fit means you won't want to be dong much walking although they definitely aren't the worst if you need to hoof it up a short section. The wide SlipNot tread probably helps, although it has now worn away on our review samples causing the shoes rock on the pedals a little.
We got on very well with Specialized's Body Geometry fit too which uses mounds, camber and contours to dissipate pressure, align joints, and extending comfort on long rides. The thought of using a racing shoe for long rides could be seen as a recipe for discomfort, but we have ridden S-Works Recon's all-day with zero problems.
To find out more, read our Specialized S-Works Recon gravel shoe review.
Giro’s Ranger might be a 'no-frills' shoe, however these budget off-road kicks still uses the Synchwire upper construction that debuted on its Ventana enduro shoe, and has since spread across Giro's shoe range, for a seriously tough-yet-comfortable shoe.
Synchwire is a tough yet very breathable geodesic (tiny triangles) reinforced mesh that’s further toughened with a ‘thermo-bonded exostructure’ (layer of rubbery coating) in key wear and anchor areas. There’s a solid toecap and toe tread extension for kicking about in rocks too. To save cash, the Ranger uses three Velcro straps for a fuss free fit. We were able to easily get them tight enough for a comfortable and super secure fit when you put the power down. It’s definitely a breezy rather than cozy shoe, but it does dry quickly in the wet so works well in changeable if not chilly conditions. If you want to spend the extra cash for a Boa or two then Giro also have the Rincon and Sector, the Sector gets the added bonus of a carbon sole too.
The dual-injected tread is soft enough for good grip on foot and if you need to fang up super steep hills or cyclo-cross carry sections there are two toe-stud mounts. The glass fiber sole is stiff enough for general riding although you will still feel the flex if you get out the saddle.
Read our Giro Ranger gravel shoe review for more information on these Velcro cycling kicks.
Bont Vaypor shoes are unlike any others in design, fit and feel and now they’ve delivered the ultra-stiff, cook for custom fit performance and battery of unique features in a gravel-oriented format.
There’s a lot going on here but the standout feature is the sole, or 'unidirectional carbon monocoque chassis' as Bont prefers to call it. That’s not as pompous as it sounds either as the single-piece carbon base of the shoe wraps right up around the sides of the shoe, reaching higher as it gets to the rear where it’s almost half the height of the heel. That gives the already super-stiff sole extra triangulation and also stops any sideways shift of the foot for a hyper stiff, locked-in pedaling feel like nothing else. They come in wide and narrow fit as well as the stock shape in a very wide range of sizes.
The genius part is that if you don’t get on with the shape of the ‘bathtub' you can heat it up gently in the oven to soften the Epoxy Thermoset resin and then custom mold it around your feet. If that wasn’t enough bespoke support and security the lower Boa dial tensions a separate sub tongue underneath the triangular top wrap ‘tongue’ tensioned by the upper Boa. Both dials are also the IP1 dual-directional version for fine-tuned micro adjust.
Hot weather riders will be pleased to see perforations over the toes, but cool weather sufferers won’t be punished as apart from those holes they’re actually really well sealed. Either way, a faux suede liner with memory foam padding makes life inside the Vaypor Gs surprisingly luxurious for such a powerhouse shoe.
The downside of the utterly rigid build is obvious when you’re trying to walk in what are essentially carbon-fiber clogs. The flat, wide sole has a broad tread stance for stability on uneven surfaces though and the soft compound ‘Grip Plates’ are all replaceable when they start to wear. There are toe stud mounts as well and the rubber wraps up and over the toe and heel to form protective bumpers.
Despite all that, they’re still impressively light leaving only the understandably high price as an obstacle to owning the highest performing gravel shoes available.
Interested in your own custom fitted shoes? Read about the process in out Bont Vapour G gravel shoe review for more info.
Fizik recently introduced the Terra Atlas to its gravel shoe range, targeting all manner of off-road riding whether it includes singletrack or sleeping outside.
The nylon sole is certainly better suited to going long rather than hard and while it may not be the stiffest, the trade of is for forgiveness over long off-road miles and hike-a-bikes. Fizik has reworked the tread pattern too, giving the Terra Atlas larger blockier knobs around the cleat and at the heel. If you are looking for a stiffer sole, Fizik also has the Vento Ferox Carbon which shares the same tread but uses carbon to improve power transfer.
The Terra Atlas use a single micro-adjustable, Boa L6 dial tension with the cable crossing through five anchor points down the foot. We found the flexible polyurethane synthetic leather upper and low cut fit was comfortable straight away, requiring no breaking in period.
We have always had good experiences with Fizik's fit, although the fact no inner sole arch support included might not suit all riders straight from the box. They are certainly well priced though and our experiences with Fizik's durability have been positive. For those looking for a good looking pair of affordable do everything off-road shoes, the Terra Atlas's are a great option.
Read our Fizik Terra Atlas gravel shoe review to find out more about these off-road all-rounders.
Italian brand Sidi has been makers of superlative footwear for all two-wheeled sports for decades, and the Sidi MTB Dragon 5 SRS are a performance Italian off-road race shoe, assuming you’re pedaling not walking.
That’s because the full carbon, SRS Carbon composite is inflexibly stiff to dish out maximum pedal efficiency and KOM-killing speed. That means zero flex when walking, and typically for Sidi, the tread is narrow too so it’s easy to roll sideways if you’re not careful. All the tread segments can be unscrewed and replaced when they get worn though and there are mounts for two-toe studs.
The TechPro ‘eco-friendly leather’ upper is roomier than most shoes with limited perforation so, with a fat sock, these shoes can be comfortably used in cooler climates. Pressure-free and highly tuneable security comes from two Tecno-3 Push dials with pop-up winder tabs. One tightens the upper foot via an adjustable position ‘floating’ pad, while the second sits on a pressure-spreading plinth on the tongue itself, controlling mid and forefoot tightness. This gives the potential for a vice-like hold for sprinting or a more relaxed cruising grip depending on your mood or mission. The handmade construction is also absolutely flawless and legendarily tough with textured, double-layer toe bumpers, reinforced heel cuff and hard plastic heel cup for extra protection. That and the generally sublime feel and the fit is why many riders have been life-long Sidi investors even at its seriously Gucci prices.
Check out our full Sidi MTB Dragon 5 SRS shoe review for a deep dive into all the features.
Bontrager’s GR2 shoe looks casual and it’s certainly comfy whether you’re riding or walking, but it still doesn’t feel out of step with race shoes when you need to inject some pace.
The lace-up, perforated synthetic leather upper with contrast laces in either the black or ‘old gold’ colorways look more civilian rather than freaky cyclist. The sole has a pronounced lift in the toe section so it rolls easily when you’re walking. The nylon composite Bronze Series sole flexes enough for easy strolling or extended push/carry/off-bike exploring use. The broad, soft compound Tachyon tread gives them a surefooted feel and even includes molded toe studs. It gets contrast color flecks in the tread similar to Rapha’s shoe which also shares similar styling but for £90 more.
A stiffness rating of 6 out of 14 made us think it would be a flexy morale killer alongside other racier shoes, but the well-structured upper meant we actually rarely noticed a massive difference even when stomping hard. The lace-up security stays tightly tensioned too, with a little loop to secure the ends away from chainrings. The perforated upper isn’t obviously leaky or hot and Bontrager has revised their inForm Race fit so wider feet won’t feel crushed. Reinforced toe and heel sections are backed up by a thick lower lip protector extension of the sole rubber.
The end result is a pedestrian-looking shoe that manages to be high performance and high comfort at a decent price.
For more details, have a read of our Bontrager GR2 gravel shoes review.
Boa dials and plastic ratchets are great for micro-accurate tightening and a high-tech feel on your feet, but some riders just want simplicity and that’s where Specialized’s Recon 1.0s come in.
It shares the same TPU injected nylon sole as the $170 / £175 Boa dial-equipped Recon 2.0. That gives it decent pedaling stiffness but enough ‘STRIDE’ forefoot flex and a slightly lifted heel 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 footbed gets all the usual Body Geometry orthotic lumps and bumps to massage your feet into what Specialized’s scientists say is the optimum comfort and efficiency position. The Recon 1's fairly wide, roomy and comfortable toe box, deep heel cup and Body Geometry fit worked well for us – but we don’t know many people who don’t get on really well with Specialized's fit.
The multi-piece synthetic leather upper includes a chunky toe rand and a reinforced heel wrap for a naturally comfortable cradling fit and no worries about hike a biking up rocky slopes. 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. There’s even a tall heel pull loop to make heaving them on less hassle when your arms are fried after several days of gravel grinding.
The simple Velcro design makes them lighter than average when compared to other shoes around its $110/£99.99 price point.
Have a read of our Specialized Recon 1.0 gravel shoe review to find out more.
According to Scott these gravel shoes are a ground-up design that blends the best bits from its XC and road shoes, and being the Tuned version means they offer the most performance and are the most expensive option in Scott's range. That said, with a retail of $179.99 / £164.99, they come in considerably cheaper than some of the other premium gravel shoes around.
A quick comparison between the Tuned Gravel and Scott's other shoes and you will quickly see that Scott hasn't just bashed some MTB and road shoes together. The two Boa layout comes from the road allowing zoned adjustment across the foot. Rather than use a MTB tread, it's been shrunk on either side of the cleat hole in depth, but also in width for a sleeker look. The lightweight ‘Sticky Rubber’ compound doesn’t turn into soap at the first sign of dampness either.
Its not just the tread that is low profile, the sole is also super thin which properly floors your foot onto the pedal. It can feel weird at first but being that close definitely pays dividends in terms of control and connection when your carving through loose gravel corners. Add carbon composite reinforcement with a stiffness index of 8 and they’re a very direct feeling shoe with a decent kick. Plus there’s still enough flex not to numb your foot on typically high mileage, high vibration gravel days.
Similar to Shimano's RX8's, by deliberately narrowing the center tread just to hide it can cause an occasional walking wobble but it also means Scott’s new gravel shoes pass scrutiny fine on the road if you want to use SPDs for everything. The sole is a great balance between a very efficient and communicative feel that’s stiff enough to get hard on the gas without ending up with numb feet after a few hours. While they’re certainly snug and minimalist they’re not pinchy or painful in any way and the materials are easy to live with.
For more information on, check out our Scott Gravel Tuned shoe review.
How to choose the best gravel shoes
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. That shouldn't equate to discomfort though, with gravel races often taking place over 200km or more even the raciest gravel shoe should still be comfortable. Where racey shoes will make sacrifices is walkability and protection. Stiff soles, small tread, and minimal uppers really limit the amount of walking you want to be doing.
On the flipside, more adventure based gravel shoes will feature broader, blockier, and softer tread to improve comfort on walking sections. Some shoes opt for softer soles, as stiff performance isn't as vital over multi-day trips, or opt for a shorter carbon sole to allow the foot to bend more naturally. These adventure based shoes usually have a more rugged construction as well 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 which all the best gravel bike pedals use.
Can I wear MTB shoes on gravel bike?
In short, yes. A lot of cross-country 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 Bont, Sidi and 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 Bontrager, 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.
Does the upper material matter?
In terms of the upper and general fit, the good news is that most brands are now a lot more centered in terms of a ‘one shape suits all’ fit. Whereas tests like this always had sections pointing out that Italian shoes were always narrow, Lake and Giro tended to be wider and Shimano was sometimes strangely long, there’s none of that here. A lot of gravel shoes are made with roomier toes for wiggle room on long rides too, which definitely helps. The different materials and designs used to make the uppers will definitely affect how they feel on your foot though. Some – Bont, Sidi, and Specialized – are stiff and quite prescriptive, others – Giro, Bontrager, Rapha – are more supple and soft in feel.
Should I choose Boa's, laces, or velcro?
Dials, ratchet straps, Velcro straps and laces all have their advantages and disadvantages. BOA dials are brilliant for a locked-down performance feel and fine adjustment on the fly. They’re far more durable than you’d expect too. They’re expensive though and can create pressure points if the shoe isn’t padded enough or your foot is just bony in the wrong place. Ratchet straps are a bit cheaper but the adjustment isn’t as fine-tuned. Velcro straps are light, cheap, work really well as long as they’re clean, and can be adjusted on the go. They’re never quite as tight as a dial/ratchet though and they can make shoes look like something your nan would wear for her bunions. After Giro bravely put laces back on the top-end shoe menu, lots of other brands have followed suit (and traditional touring shoe brands who never changed said “told you so”). In terms of weight, fine adjustment and fail safe ‘replace anywhere’ peace of mind they’re awesome and some riders love the more relaxed/classy style they bring. You will have to stop to do them up if they come undone though which isn’t ideal for racing.
Why are some shoes so expensive?
Finally price. As gravel is a fairly new segment and it’s attracting excited new riders who are rushing to buy fancy new kit, most brands are still introducing bells and whistles models at the top end as their initial option. That means our selection is skewed towards aspiration not affordable. However, apart from boutique names like Sidi and Rapha, all the brands here also produce much cheaper and still very usable MTB or touring shoes that will still do a great job of making your gravel biking more comfortable and fun.