Finding the best mountain bike shoes that suit your riding style is as significant as finding the right bike or helmet, yet it’s often ignored in favor of other mountain bike upgrades.
Not only will a good pair of mountain bike shoes offer a better and more personal fit, but they will also make you faster and more efficient when paired with the best mountain bike pedals.
- Best women's mountain bike shoes: our pick of the crop we've tested
- Best mountain bike helmets: the best MTB helmets from XC, trail to enduro
- Best mountain bike goggles: Keep your sight clear and eyes protected
The mountain bike shoe spectrum is split into two distinct types — clipless shoes or flats. While there’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to picking the best mountain bike shoes, riding style and preference are likely to influence the final decision.
Flat pedal shoes are often reserved for trail, enduro and gravity riding and make for easy maneuverability on the bike, not to mention superb feedback from the pedals. Alternatively, clipless shoes mechanically attach the shoe to the pedal by way of a cleat which gives a secure connection for better power and control - this system is used across the mountain bike spectrum. The key factors to consider before buying a pair of mountain bike shoes are listed in the buyer's guide below.
If you're unsure what you're looking for, you can skip to our advice on what to look for when buying your next mountain bike shoes.
Best mountain bike shoes: flats
It’s hard to beat the Five Ten Freerider Pro when it comes to comfort and performance. While it doesn’t possess the thickest of outsoles, it still delivers 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.
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. This shoe fits well and is at home on the DH track or on enduro rides.
Despite the minimalist appearance, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Flow is an excellent shoe for those looking to get into mountain biking for the first time. There’s nothing fancy here, the X-Alps offer an uncomplicated lace-up system wrapped in a casual package.
The dual-compound sole features a combination of what Pearl Izumi calls chevron lugs and strategically placed rubber siping (cut pattern) for optimal flat-pedal grip. And they work really well, supplying generous levels of purchase and maneuverability.
The X-Alps could offer better protection around the ankles and toes but for the price, you can’t be too fussy - this is an entry-level mountain bike shoe that does the business.
Bontrager’s Flatline has been around for a while and is a worthy alternative to the category-dominating FiveTen 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.
The sticky rubber and thin sole make this one of our favorite flat pedal shoes on the market. Sizing does run large though, so try them on before you buy. We wouldn't be sad if the price went down either.
The most important part of any flat pedal shoe is the sole, so being a relative newcomer to the market, Ride Concepts enlisted Rubber Kinetics (the same outfit responsible for the compounds in Goodyear's bike tires) for help.
The rubber used for the Livewire is rated as a 6.0 on RC's grip scale with 12mm hexagonal lugs that hang onto pedal pins. The insoles feature D30, the material often used in knee pads, integrated under the heel and forefoot to take the square edge out of rough landings. When it comes to pedaling, the sole is stiff enough that the shoe isn't curling around pedals but still flexible to the point that you can walk naturally.
With a simply laced closure, the Livewire shoes have an asymmetrical cuff that prevents you from taking skin off your anklebone, and fore and heel caps stave off impacts.
Best mountain bike shoes: clipless
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.
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.
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.
After producing popular pedals and other components for years, Crankbrothers started making mountain bike shoes, with the Mallet E SpeedLace 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.
Specialized overhauled its trail and gravity-based shoes, giving the new range of shoes its newly formulated SlipNot FG rubber to keep contact secure between pedal and shoe including the 2FO DH clipless shoe. Obviously when using a clipless system there is a mechanism that handles that, however in the heat of a downhill race, being able to locate the cleat isn't always simple, so being able to ride as if you are on flat pedals until the trail calms is vital. That said, Specialized has made clipping in as easy as possible by using a channeled 'Landing Zone' to help guide pedal and cleat together.
The sole itself is stiff and well-damped to help stave off foot fatigue and control on long descents. The upper is made from a synthetic leather upper to keep the weather out and there are small perforations to add a little ventilation. Inside the XPEL hydrophobic mesh construction means the 2FO DH Clipless dries quickly considering the upper is reinforced to fend off rocks and debris.
There’s something oddly attractive about a beautifully crafted lace-up shoe and Giro has been at the forefront of this resurgence. Lace-ups are generally pretty light too and lack any fidgety parts such as ratchets that can get damaged in the event of a crash.
Sure, they’re not everybody’s cup of tea but the company’s new Code Techlace shoe might change perceptions. Unlike regular laces that require tight pulling and tying to secure the foot (something that can come loose at some point) the Techlace system allows you to alter the lace tension on the fly via Velcro straps, while a Boa dial ensures a snug and secure fit.
If that’s not enough, the Code comes with Easton EC70 carbon soles finished off with Vibram rubber tread for added protection and grip.
You’d be forgiven for thinking these were road shoes, such is 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.
Like the Bontrager Cambion, 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 SpeedLace 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.
Best mountain bike shoes: What you need to know
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. 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 over technical terrain and increase pedaling efficiency on rough terrain. For cross-country, enduro and downhill racing clipless pedals are almost exclusively used, although very occasionally gravity racers will choose flat pedals if the conditions suit.
Sole stiffness and durability
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-bent 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 flank
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 has its benefits. In some cases, two of these systems can be combined for a more personal and tailored fit.
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.