The first thing to decide when you're looking for the best mountain bike shoes is whether you're going to be riding on flat or clip-in pedals. While there’s no right or wrong decision here, your riding style, personal preference, and even where you're going to be riding are likely to influence your final decision.
The best flat-pedal MTB shoes are often reserved for the gravity or freeride disciplines of mountain biking due to the freedom, trail communication, and confidence they inspire. Flat pedal shoes are also great for beginner riders or those wanting to hone their skills with all the right techniques.
Clipless shoes physically attach you to SPD type pedals, with the aim of improving pedaling efficiency and descending security. Clipless MTB shoes come in all shapes and sizes ranging from carbon-soled XC race snakes right through to skate shoe-inspired downhill racing units. Getting the best one for your riding style and preference is key, though.
Our experts have tested the best mountain bike shoes on all manner of trails and every relevant riding condition to assemble this in-depth buying guide. The Five Ten Freerider Pro is our pick of the flat shoes, with the Specialized S-Works Recon coming up top in the clipless category. It's important to remember, however, that every rider (and foot) is different, so there may be other shoes in our list more suited to you and the way you ride.
Skip to the bottom of this article for plenty of advice on what to look for when buying the best mountain bike shoes. (You may also be in the market for a new set of pedals – if so, check out our guides to the best clipless mountain bike pedals or the best MTB flat pedals.)
The best mountain bike shoes
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Flat MTB shoes
Five Ten Freeriders have been around for many years in one form or another. Along with their chunkier stablemate, the Impact, Freeriders were one of the first models from the climbing shoe specialists to cause a stir among flat pedal mountain bikers.
And we think it's hard to beat the Five Ten Freerider Pro when it comes to comfort and performance. While the shoe doesn’t possess the thickest of outsoles, it still delivers an impressive pedal feel and grip – the latter coming from the dotted Stealth S1 rubber compound.
The thick upper material offers good ventilation and reinforced protection around the toe and heel area and is relatively easy to keep clean. The fit is truly superb with laces the primary means of retention. This particular model makes use of a clever lace keeper that holds everything in place to prevent them from eventually coming undone.
For more on why we think these are the best flat mountain bike shoes you can buy, check out our Five Ten Freerider Pro review.
Specialized's 2FO DH-specific flat pedal shoe uses the brand's SlipNot ST rubber compound, a technology that is now in its third generation. The sole uses a cushioned EVA foam midsole and the toe and heel sections have been designed for compliance. That means that the shoe is stiff for riding performance, but still comfortable for track walks or hiking sections.
While it's easy to overlook, a properly fitting shoe is essential to riding performance and comfort. Specialized uses its Body Geometry system to ensure that the end product suits riders' needs. For this model, Specialized has focused on the Longitudinal Arch, Metatarsal Button, and Varus Wedge for efficiency as well as body alignment.
The 2FO DH is a superbly grippy shoe that won't send your feet flying off the pedals during critical sections of the trail. More impressively, the damping properties mean that you'll stay comfortable even in rough rock gardens. And while we would have liked to see a wider throat to offer a little more adjustability with the laces our reviewer said that, "I never found myself clawing the insole with my toes which is a telltale sign your shoes aren't supporting your foot as they should.”
Find out more about why the Specialized 2FO DH Flat is one of our favorite flat pedal shoes for downhill and enduro riding.
Crankbrothers' Stamp Speed Lace is a mid-range flat pedal shoe from a manufacturer best known for its pedals and components.
The synthetic upper is combined with a reinforced toe box to offer protection from hits and rock strikes. The shoe also has venting on the sides to help with ventilation despite a large and well-padded tongue.
The Speed Lace retention system features laces with a pull tab to quickly secure them. The tab can also be tucked under a strap on the tongue. A Velcro strap is also placed along the top of the shoe to further secure it on riders' feet.
The overall performance of the Stamp Speed Lace was fantastic when we tested them. They fit well, are comfortable, breathe well, and dry quickly. The feel on the pedals is great and – while the Five Ten is still the leader for sole grip – the rubber is sticky enough.
Read more of our thoughts about the Crankbrothers Stamp Speed Lace flat pedal shoe in our full review.
Bontrager’s Flatline has been around for a while and is a worthy alternative to the category-dominating Five Ten Freeriders. The shoe uses Vibram's stickiest rubber compound, MegaGrip, so your feet won't be going anywhere anytime soon. A shallow EVA-backed sole gives just the right amount of flex for a communicative connection to the pedals.
A sticky compound and thin sole mean the Flatline is one of the few shoes able to stick with Five Ten’s legendary Stealth rubber when things get wild. It’s tough, comfortable and reasonably weather-resistant, too.
We've found that the sizing runs large, though, so try them on before you buy if you can – it's worth noting that Bontrager offer an unconditional 30-day return guarantee if you do need to go smaller. Pricing is also a bit on the high side compared to the competition.
Learn more in our full Bontrager Flatline review.
The Ride Concepts Tallac is aimed at riders who want a grippy flat pedal shoe with great damping properties and high levels of protection.
In terms of outright pedal traction, we found the Tallac to be comparable with all the established category leaders. The hexagonal sole lugs and chosen rubber compound lock brilliantly with aggressive pedal pins while remaining just about loose enough to allow for on-the-fly foot position adjustments.
On the trail, we thought the Tallac's stand-out characteristic is the highly damped feel, and over relentless rough chatter they do a superb job of minimizing vibrations and unwanted terrain feedback.
The Tallac's upper uses a breathable and super tough Cordura fabric which is great for shrugging off puddle splashes and rain showers. There are also heavily protected toe and heel box areas to ensure your feet are safe should you strike something trailside.
At 430g per shoe (US 10) they're not light, though, which means the Tallac is best reserved for gravity riders who prefer a damped feel and large amounts of protection over high levels of pedal feedback.
Find out more in our in-depth review of the Ride Concepts Tallac mountain bike shoes.
Clipless MTB shoes
Ideal for gravel grinding, cyclo-cross and cross-country mountain biking, the Specialized S-Works Recon is a state-of-the-art shoe designed to prioritize performance over everything else. As a result, the shoe is as light as you’d expect – 270g to be precise.
Specialized says neither of these attributes has negatively impacted the S-Works Recon’s ergonomics and claims the Body Geometry sole and footbed have been optimized to nullify injury and promote the best possible foot alignment.
Off the bike, the Specialized Recons provide excellent grip and support thanks to rubberized inserts, but the stiff soles become somewhat uncomfortable when the time comes to hike-a-bike.
Learn more about the lightweight Specialized S-Works Recon shoe in the full review. If you're looking for something that's even lighter, Specialized has recently launched the S-Works EXO Evo shoes, which it says is the lightest off-road shoe the company has ever produced.
Five Ten's Trailcross range is designed to go far rather than go fast, and that's definitely the case with this recently added clipless option. On an adventure-orientated shoe, walkability is always going to be an important factor that needs to be balanced with ride performance and power transfer. We found the Trailcross CL sole to be quite flexible which makes them great for walking on uneven terrain, but less impressive when stamping on the pedals.
We felt that the Trailcross CLs have a great fit with the mesh uppers molding comfortably around the foot. This is great for general riding on easier trails but the lightweight uppers make it hard to feel like the shoes are tight enough when the riding gets more technical – though that only becomes noticeable when riding really technical trails.
When riding the clipping-in action is super easy and the Five Ten Marathon rubber hooks up well on pedal pins whenever the terrain becomes a little too engaging to get your foot straight back in. You aren't going to be winning any uphill sprints with the Trailcross CL shoes – though you might if you decide to disembark from the bike and push instead.
Get an in-depth verdict on the shoe in our Five Ten Trailcross CL review.
Giro's Cylinder features mesh panels, sort of like running shoes, so your feet stay cool and ventilated even in super hot conditions. The outsole is made from a nylon and fiber combination, which is similar to this model's predecessor. To wrap things up, a BOA dial and retention system is paired with a lower Velcro strap.
These shoes are a solid option for all-around riding, whether that's XC, light trail riding, gravel, or even cyclocross. Off the bike grip is decent, and there are mounting areas for toe spikes. The result is a good entry-level SPD shoe for those looking to start using clipless shoes.
If you're looking for a new pair of clipless shoes for cross-country style riding, check out more about what we liked about the Giro Cylinder II in our full review.
After producing popular pedals and other components for years, Crankbrothers started making mountain bike shoes, with the Mallet E Speed Lace as one of its debut models serving as a trail/enduro clipless shoe.
The sole is made from an MC1 compound, which is considered mid-friction, so it's not as sticky as shoes from other companies. That's an intentional move to create less drag when clipping in and out of the pedals.
In terms of sole stiffness, we've found that this model sits in the middle between super stiff and flappy. The upper and outer materials feel tough and protective for when the trails get rough.
In terms of performance, the shoe is not too heavy and clipping in and out is a breeze. The design leads to comfort both on the bike and on hike-a-bike sections. The fit is slightly narrow and snug. The included Crankbrothers cleats are good value if you run Crankbrothers pedals, though the shoes are designed to work with SPD too.
Despite being a new contender in the shoe space, the Crankbrothers Mallet E Speed Lace earned 4/5 stars in our review.
The Specialized Recon 3.0s will tick a lot of boxes for many riders who are looking for a comfortable do-everything shoe. They sit just under the race-specific Specialized S-Works Recon (above) in the four-tier Recon range and while they have benefitted the most from the trickle-down in top tech, the Recon 3.0s are much more than a watered-down performance shoe.
On the trail, we found that the Recon 3.0s are packed with features that you don’t see in the S-Works model, making them a much more liveable and versatile riding shoe. Compared to the Recon 1.0 and 2.0 models, meanwhile, the 3.0s benefit from a second BOA and a stiffer sole. And despite not getting the ultra-tough Dyneema uppers of the S-Works shoe, the Recon 3.0’s share a lot in common aesthetically. There are also perforations across the entire shoe to help with airflow and inside you also get Specialized XPEL mesh to help them dry out quicker.
The uppers are more forgiving than on the S-Works, which is a big benefit if you are bikepacking or have slightly wider shaped feet. We still found the fit to be very secure and had no problems with heel lift – it's just that your feet don’t feel quite as locked in. The sole also has an excellent stiffness about it when putting the power down, without feeling too jarring over rough terrain.
Learn more about the Specialized Recon 3.0 clipless MTB shoes in our in-depth review.
The Camber CL's new-age skate shoe inspired aesthetic looks killer, but don't let the causal vibe fool you – this shoe doesn't fall short on performance or tech.
The upper is constructed from an exo-shield which is breathable and highly durable. Internally the Camber CL gets a neoprene-style sock line sewn inside the shoe, which in use prevents any stray loam from entering and causing discomfort. It's worth noting, tough that, this elasticated cuff does mean they run warmer than average.
A nylon shank inside the midsole means peddling efficiency is better than you might expect. Thanks to the STI Evolution foam insole the Camber CLs dampen vibrations well.
A lengthy cleat recess means cleats can be pushed back to best suit gravity styles of riding. We also found the 'Formula G' rubber around the cleat box meshes really with platform-style pedals to further boost traction and support when riding hard.
The Camber CLs are competitive in terms of weight and size, and we love that Etnies plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold.
Find out what happened when we put the Etnies Camber CL MTB shoes through their paces in our full review.
The ideal shoe for trail mountain biking combines the stiffness and efficiency found in cross-country shoes with a more casual style. A wider profile also helps with stability and protection. This is the sweet spot that Giro's Ventana inhabits.
The casual-looking kicks feature a rubber outsole and also have EVA cushioning underfoot, similar to hiking boots. The breathable ripstop fabric called Synchwire protects the outer of the shoe from scuffs and tears while out on the trails.
As for fit, we found the Ventana to be roomy with plenty of space for riders with wider feet. Despite the larger fit, a BOA L6 retention system allows riders to dial in the fit.
We are fans of the comfortable fit as well as the shoes stiffness. No, it's not as stiff as a pure-XC shoe, but it's good enough for everyday trail riding, especially for a rider who prioritizes a more relaxed shoe in most dimensions.
Read more about the Giro Ventana BOA shoe in our full review.
You’d be forgiven for thinking these were road shoes, such as the refinement and sophistication of the Shimano XC7 MTB shoes. Unlike the RC7 road shoe equivalent, the XC7 has a more forgiving carbon middle sole – you know, for when you’re required to dismount and push up a steep, unrideable climb.
They feature a full Michelin rubber outsole for better grip and added comfort – it all looks and feels very premium. Breathability is excellent, as is the retention which comprises two Boa dials for easy, on-the-fly adjustability. The shoes also benefit from a cat-like-tongue fabric on the heel cup to prevent ankle lift.
Scott’s MTB Team Boa represents the middle ground in the company’s cross-country shoe range. Stealth in appearance, it benefits from a BOA retention system which adds to the premium feel. In fact, the performance and comfort are of such an impressive level that these could easily be mistaken for the flagship MTB RC SL model.
A reinforced heel cup supplies a slip-free pedaling action that is backed up by an impressively stiff nylon/fiberglass sole with rubberized tread.
Performance aside, it’s the way these shoes feel that sets them apart. Not only is there a roomy toe box, but the ErgoLogic insole support system also allows you to tailor the footbed by way of swappable segments for an improved fit.
While all XC-style MTB shoes take advantage of a clipless pedal interface, for trail and enduro riding there are still plenty of burlier kicks that have a two-bolt mount.
Shimano's ME7 has treated us well over the years, and the latest iteration adds a bit of ventilation to the otherwise solid trail and enduro platform. Using a Speed Lace closure and a ratchet, the shoes can be cinched down tight, but when you inevitably hit the deck there is no risk of ripping anything off.
The new ME7 sees a carbon midsole for pedaling efficiency without much weight, and the Michelin OCX3 rubber outsole offers purchase while scrambling over wet logs or steep hike-a-bikes.
|Shoe||Weight per shoe||Pedal system||Outsole||Retention||Number of colorways||RRP|
|Five Ten Freerider Pro||345g (size 42.5)||Flat||Stealth S1 rubber||Laces||3||$100 / £90|
|Specialized 2FO DH Flat||436g (size 43)||Flat||SlipNot ST rubber||Laces||2||$145 / £150|
|Crankbrothers Stamp Speed Lace||385g (size 42)||Flat||Rubber||Laces, strap||3||$149.99 / £144.99|
|Bontrager Flatline||Unlisted||Flat||Rubber||Laces||2||$129.99 / £124.99|
|Ride Concepts Tallac||430g (size 41)||Flat||Max Grip||Laces||3||$160 / £159.95|
|Specialized S-Works Recon||270g (size 42.5)||2-bolt||FACT Carbon||Twin BOA dials, Velcro strap||5||$450 / £385|
|Five Ten Trailcross CL||813g (size 43)||2-bolt||Marathon rubber||Laces, Velcro strap||3||$165 / £140|
|Giro Cylinder II||336g (size 43)||2-bolt||Co-molded nylon and rubber lugged outsole||BOA L6 dial, Velcro strap||2 (women), 3 (men)||£129.99|
|Crankbrothers Mallet E Speed Lace||516g (size 45, with cleats)||2-bolt||MC1 compound||Speed Lace/Velcro strap||2||$169.99 / £149.99|
|Specialized Recon 3.0||368g (size 43)||2-bolt||Carbon||Twin BOA dials, Velcro strap||3||$230 / £230|
|Etnies Camber CL||1,034g||2-bolt||Synthetic||Laces and strap||2||$199.99 / £139.99|
|Giro Ventana BOA||434g (size 43)||2-bolt||Giro Sensor rubber outsole||BOA L6, Velcro strap||2||£159.99|
|Shimano XC7 SPD||326g (size 42.5)||2-bolt||Carbon-reinforced nylon, Michelin rubber||Twin BOA dials||2||£179.99|
|Scott MTB Team BOA||385g (size 42.5)||2-bolt||Carbon-reinforced nylon||BOA dial, Velcro strap||3||$149.99 / £149.99|
|Shimano ME7||420g (size 42.5)||2-bolt||Carbon fiber composite||Speed Lace/ratchet||2||£179.99|
What to look for when buying the best mountain bike shoes
Flat or clipless?
The first consideration you must make when choosing the best mountain bike shoe is deciding whether you want to ride flat pedals or clipless ones. Flat pedals allow a rider to take their foot off easily so are preferred by beginner riders and those riding very steep or muddy trails. As clipless pedals hold your foot in place, clipless pedals help the rider stay in control on technical routes and increase pedaling efficiency on rough terrain. For cross-country mountain biking, enduro mountain biking, and downhill mountain biking clipless pedals are almost exclusively used, although very occasionally gravity racers will choose flat pedals if the conditions suit.
How stiff should my shoes be?
The outer sole of a mountain bike shoe will be made from carbon fiber, nylon, or rubber; each of which differs in terms of performance and application. For instance, carbon fiber is a stiff, performance-focussed material that features more on cross-country-style shoes. Nylon isn't as stiff as carbon but is more durable and offers better comfort, while rubber is used exclusively on flat shoes as it provides better grip, feedback, and comfort. Flat pedal shoes will often feature a shank to ensure pedaling efficiency isn't compromised too much.
What's the best retention system?
There are various retention systems that provide a secure and comfortable fit, namely: laces; Velcro; Techlace (lace and Velcro mix); ratchet, and BOA dials, each of which have their benefits. In some cases, two of these systems can be combined for a more personal and tailored fit.
For cross-country focused shoes we like to see a ratchet or BOA-style closure, but for trail and enduro we like the simplicity of traditional laces.
Can I use clipless shoes on flat pedals?
In order for shoes to perform as best as possible they need to be designed with a specific intended use. Some clipless trail and downhill shoes feature a soft rubber for pedal pins to dig into but they aren't going to perform as well on flat pedals as a proper pair of dedicated flat pedal shoes.
How much should the best mountain bike shoes weigh?
Lighter isn’t necessarily better when it comes to mountain bike shoes. You’ll often find the lighter end of the scale geared more towards cross-country riding as this discipline demands maximum power transfer and efficiency but unless you’re Nino Schurter, the performance benefits are not always worth the sacrifice in terms of comfort and price. Try and look for a durable shoe that offers good support and comfort before looking for marginal gains.
How we test
All the shoes tested here have been subjected to as much riding abuse as humanly possible on every manner of trail imaginable. We know that flat MTB shoes need to offer dependable grip while the clipless variety need to have a reliable mechanism, so we ensure to expose them to the filthiest conditions possible to ensure they still perform as designed. We even ride with rival shoes on opposite feet as we discern which one has the edge over the other, so if you bump into us on the trail in odd shoes, now you'll know we haven't lost our marbles (or shoes).
Meet the testers
Guy's been testing and writing about mountain bikes since the early nineties and we're betting that he's tested more MTB shoes than anyone else in the UK and is our resident clipless shoe expert.
Rich has been riding mountain bikes since the early nineties and testing bikes and kit for over a decade. While he does occasionally clip-in, his pedal of choice is definitely of the flat variety and he's tested a vast number of flat MTB shoes over the years.
Jim Bland is a MTB product tester and World Cup Downhill mechanic based in North Yorkshire, England, but working worldwide. Always on the hunt for the perfect setup, Jim will always be found comprehensively testing kit with World Cup racing levels of detail.