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Best gravel shoes: gravel shoe options for racers or explorers

Best gravel shoes: Shimano
(Image credit: Shimano)

The best gravel shoes have taken a while to catch up with the explosion in the popularity 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 XC of the same brands but there are detailed design, performance and styling differences that are often influenced by pure road shoes.

Our round-up of the best options include comfortable walking adventure shoes with simple triple-strap fastening through to custom moldable carbon fiber monocoque, double dial secured gravel race shoes so read on to find your perfect pair. 

Best gravel shoes

Best gravel shoes: Giro Sector

(Image credit: Giro)

Giro Sector

Tough-yet-comfortable shoe for gravel and XC duties

Price: £199.99 | Weight: 380g (size 44) | Size: 39-50 | Fastening: 2 x Boa L6 dial | Sole: Carbon fiber

Light construction drys quickly
Sole offers a balance between stiff and comfortable
Boa L6 micro-adjust dials
Great fit

Giro’s new Gravel/XC shoe uses the Synchwire upper construction debuted on its Ventana enduro shoe for a seriously tough-yet-comfortable shoe that’s underlined with carbon fiber power delivery.

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. Two of Boa’s latest L6 dual directional, micro-adjust dials control two separate steel wire webs over the lightly padded tongue. That creates a fit that’s both glove-like in conforming comfort and super secure 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. 

The short-fiber carbon-reinforced sole gets an 80nm load rating from Giro for serious propulsion transfer when you’re cranking hard but not so achingly stiff you risk numbness on extended rough trails. 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. If £200 is too much cash the Rincon uses a very similar upper but with a Velcro strap replacing the lower Boa dial and a nylon/glass fiber sole with a 60nm stiffness rating for £139.99. Both shoes are available in a women’s fit too and they’re a good price considering the level of tech in them.

Best gravel shoes: Bont Vaypor G

(Image credit: Bont)

Bont Vaypor G

Super-stiff gravel shoes with at home custom fit comfort

Price: £329.99 | Weight: 330g (size 44) | Size: 36-50 (stock, wide, narrow and custom options) | Fastening: 2 x Boa L6 dial | Sole: Thermoset carbon fiber monocoque

Custom-fit
Super stiff sole
Light 
Expensive
Hard to walk in

Bont Vaypor shoes are unlike any others in design, fit and feel and now they’ve delivered their 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-fibre 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. 

Best gravel shoes: Fizik X5 Terra

(Image credit: Fizik)

Fizik Terra X5 MTB

Great value gravel/MTB shoe that performs beyond its price point

Price: £159.99 | Weight: 298g (size 44) | Size: 36-48 | Fastening: Boa L6 dial and forefoot strap | Sole: Carbon/TPU composite

Thin-yet-stiff sole
Comfortable closure from the Boa L6 B
Narrow fit

Fizik has three dedicated gravel shoes in its footwear range with the Terra X5 delivering the most secure fit and the most color options.

A single micro-adjustable, dual directional Boa L6 B dial tensions a steel-coated nylon lace through ‘Slipstream’ plastic guides for very easy and precise upper/midfoot anchoring. The forefoot fit is then adjusted with a 25mm microfibre Velcro strap. Laser perforated Microtex upper and lightweight, breathable inner mesh provide flexible support and cooling. The tongue is thicker for impact and pressure protection though and both toe and heel get reinforcing wraps. The heel cuff is comfortably padded to complete a very comfortable yet secure fit and there’s even a hang loop for drying or fast pull ons. You can also get a suede effect version for a small extra cost. 

The composite carbon fiber outsole is seriously stiff despite being relatively shallow and the whole shoe is seriously lightweight. The tread is designed to work particularly well for support on smaller pedals and Fizik uses a shaped insole for increased pedaling comfort. There are two toe stud mounts in between the minimalist contrast color tread for fanging up steep slopes. Sole stiffness means they’re pedal not pedestrian-focused performers but that’s where the slightly softer, wrap strap secured Terra Powerstrap X4 comes in.

Best gravel shoes: Sidi Jarin

(Image credit: Sidi)

Sidi Jarin

Mega-stiff shoes for ultimate watt transfer

Price: £360 | Weight: 370g (size 44) | Size: 38-48 | Fastening: Techno 3 ratchet | Sole: Carbon fiber

Perfect sole stiffness
High-quality construction
Replaceable tread
Expensive
Heavy

Italian brand Sidi has been makers of superlative footwear for all two-wheeled sports for decades and the new Jarin gravel /XC shoes go all in for the ultimate performance accolade if you’re pedaling not walking.

That’s because the full carbon, 3D-profiled SRS sole is inflexibly stiff for maximum pedal efficiency and KOM-killing speed. That means minimal 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.

Best gravel shoes: Bontrager GR2

(Image credit: Bontrager)

Bontrager GR2

Casual styling meets impressive on-bike performance

Price: £129.99 | Weight: 370g | Size: 37-48 | Fastening: Laces | Sole: Composite

Excellent walking profile for off-bike exploring
Revised inForm fit improves comfort for wide footed riders
Affordable
Walkability at trade off against outright stiffness

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 explore 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.

Best gravel shoes: Giant Charge Elite XC

(Image credit: Giant)

Giant Charge Elite XC

Stiff gravel/XC shoes by using Giant's ExoBeam sole technology

Price: £194.99 | Weight: 360g | Size: 40-48 | Fastening: Boa dial with forefoot strap | Sole: Carbon/glass fiber composite

Stiff ExoBeam sole
Rugged construction
Micro-adjustable BOA dial
Risk of discomfort from over tightening

We’ve already tested the Line and Transmit trail shoes but the Charge Elite stiffens things up seriously for those hitting the gravel in attack mode.

The big difference is Giant’s unique ExoBeam sole which uses two pronounced stiffening ‘girders’ that wrap around the cleat zone and then extend backwards right to the heel. Add a thermoset carbon/glass fiber composite construction and you’ve got an absolutely rock-solid pedaling platform. The soft compound tread rubber covers the girders as well to offer some grip if you accidentally tread on a slippery root/rock with your instep. The design also allows a bit of twist so they’re not as much of a clumsy clatter fest off the bike as most race shoes. Minimal triangular toe tread gets added grip from plastic toe studs which can be replaced with full-on football studs for cyclo cross use. The slightly more flexible gloss plastic toe also extends up around the upper for serious brick kicking protection. 

The upper is cut snug so size up if you like wearing thick socks or have a broad forefoot. The PU material is also very stiff at first - particularly on the tongue - but bear with it for a few hours and fit will get more friendly. Laser perforations add some ventilation but undermine the water-resistant performance of the fabric.

While the forefoot strap doesn’t offer much actual adjustment the Boa dial is micro-adjustable for really accurate tension. It also tightens an internal ‘Exo Wrap’ strap to anchor the midfoot extra securely but don’t go too mad too soon though as the dial can create a noticeable pressure point if you over-click it. The removable anti-bacterial insole comes with a choice of arch support inserts and the padded SharkSkin heel liner means zero lift when you’re stomping up steep climbs on or off the bike. Our previous Giant test shoes have lasted really well too which helps offset the high price caused by all the unique innovation.

Best gravel shoes: Shimano RX8

(Image credit: Shimano)

Shimano RX8

Borrowing road and MTB tech, the RX8s are a thoroughbred gravel shoe

Price: £219.99 | Weight: 280g | Size: 38-48 | Fastening: BOA dial with forefoot strap | Sole: Carbon fiber

Super lightweight
Very comfortable
Stiff and lively sole feel
Narrow fit
Narrow tread increases the risk of rolled ankles when walking

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 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 but you will be waddling like a penguin if you have to walk. 

The upper is minimalist too, using a single piece microfibre sheet tightened with a single Boa IP1 dial and then a small diagonal toe strap. Accurate shaping means that still cinches everything up very securely to make the most of the sole though.

Fit is on the narrow side so bear that in mind when ordering online and at this price we’d definitely recommend sizing and buying from your local Shimano stockist just to be sure. Minimal protection and race-style does make them very light though and Shimano shoes are always extremely well made and long-lived which makes the high price compared to dual dial shoes more acceptable. They come in either funky silver camo, subtle black camo or very unsubtle Cactus Berry versions.

Best gravel shoes: Specialized Recon 1.0

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Recon 1.0

Affordable gravel shoes that benefit from the simplicity of velcro

Price: £95 | Weight: 345g | Size: 36-49 | Fastening: Triple velcro strap | Sole: Carbon/glass fibre composite

Specialized's proven Body Geometry fit
Lightweight 
Aggressive tread and SlipNot rubber for off bike grip
Velcro unable to offer as accurate and durable fit as Boa/lace systems

Boa dials and plastic ratchets are great for micro-accurate tightening and a high-tech feel on your feet, but some riders just want ultra-reliable simplicity and that’s where Specialized’s Recon 1.0s come in.

It shares the same TPU injected nylon sole as the $160 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 and we don’t know many people who don’t get on really well with Specialized 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 overstressed 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 design makes them lighter than average and keeps costs to $110 but they still come in a huge range of sizes and black, aqua and rocket red colorways. 

Best gravel shoes: Lake MX1

(Image credit: Lake)

Lake MX1

A classically styled shoe that's reliable rather than trendy - an ideal option for gnarly gravel trails where hike-a-bike sessions are inevitable

Price: $99.99 | Weight: 390g | Size: 39-50 | Fastening: Laces | Sole: Nylon

Durable leather uppers
Retro aesthetic
Comfortable to walk in
Flexible sole limits performance

US brand Lake Cycling has always made totally bombproof shoes and generally stick to natural materials rather than synthetic substitutes. The MX1 is a super tough, retro-styled leather all-rounder for backcountry adventure epics, relaxed touring or any other riding where you might want to walk regularly. The nylon midsole certainly isn’t designed for meathead sprinters but it still pedals with purpose and takes the sting out of rougher sections if you’re standing. The aggressive Hypergrip Enduro tread includes mounts for ‘Ice Lock’ lugs. The multi-panel upper is styled on some of Lake’s original shoes from 37 years ago and looks retro classy today. The extra roomy toe box fit means plenty of wiggle room for toes on epic days/weeks/months on the bike and six rows of eyelets mean sturdy, secure and finely adjustable lacing tension, too.   

The Helcor split leather also makes them supremely comfortable and very tough, but it’s likely to soak up more water and take longer to dry than synthetics. The perforations round the front of the shoe mean you’ll need to have exceptional circulation to wear these in winter. It’s also available in a wide fit for the same price or with a full carbon fiber sole for $199.99 (€169.94). 

Best gravel shoes: Northwave Rockstar

(Image credit: Northwave)

Northwave Rockster

A dedicated gravel shoe with the stiffness index to boot

Price: £144.99 | Weight: 335g | Size: 38-48 | Fastening: Laces | Sole: Composite

Reinforced toe and heel protection
Good levels of sole stiffness
May not stay white for very long
Low profile walking tread

Northwave’s first dedicated gravel shoes are as stylish as you’d expect for an Italian brand that’s never shy about looking smart. 

The white microfibre upper has laser-cut three-point perforations for ventilation and stretch. A big black wrap-around TPU toe band and heel reinforcement on the outside edge increase durability if you’re scuffing around or scrambling in rocky terrain. Synthetic leather heel cuff, tongue and lace top detailing increase durability and nail the Ska styling. The laces also lockdown foot stability in a classic, failsafe style although as with all laced shoes adjusting on the fly isn’t an option. 

A Northwave stiffness rating of 10 (its carbon race shoes are a 14) with an enhanced support ‘race’ footbed means the Rockstar is tilted more towards time on the bike than toddling around sightseeing, and the small amount of tread with toe stud mounts point towards its racy side. The heel and toe tread blocks extend upwards to add extra protection though and the tan rubber looks great with skin wall tires.

Best gravel shoes: Rapha Explore

(Image credit: Rapha)

Rapha Explore

Rapha's rugged gravel shoes are designed for gravel and bikepacking adventures

Price: £220 | Weight: 354g (size 44) | Size: 36-47 | Fastening: Laces and forefoot strap | Sole: Carbon fibre

Grippy sole for walking
Lace-up allows adaptable closure over long-distance rides
Tough construction
Uppers can rub and irritate the ankle bone

The Explore is the first in-house-developed Rapha gravel shoe and they’re a solidly stylish option.

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 show is a seamless single-piece perforated faux leather material. There’s a rubber toe bumper and a stiffened toe box for accidental stub protection. 

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 OK for off-bike wandering but still push pedals with purpose. Obviously, styling is a big part of any Rapha purchase justification and the Explores are available in black, white and dark green. 

Best gravel shoes: what to look for?

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.

1. 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 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 Lake here - 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.

2. Upper

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, Giant - are stiff and quite prescriptive, others - Giro, Lake, Bontrager, Rapha - are more supple and soft in feel. 

3. Closure

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 failsafe ‘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.

4. Price

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 aspirational not affordable. However, apart from boutique names like Sidi and Rapha, all the brands here also produce much cheaper and still very useable MTB or touring shoes that will still do a great job of making your gravel biking more comfortable and fun.