Finding the best mountain bike shoes that suit your riding style is as significant as finding the right bike or best mountain bike 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, they will also make you faster, and more efficient depending on your choice of mtb pedals.
The mountain bike shoe spectrum is split into two distinct types — clipless shoes or flats, some even combine both pedal systems which allow you to switch between the two depending on the type of terrain or event.
While there’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to purchasing a pair of mountain bike shoes, riding style and preference are likely to influence the final decision.
Flat pedal shoes are reserved for trail, enduro and gravity riding and make for easy maneuverability on the bike not to mention superb feedback from the pedals. Clipless shoes, on the other hand, attach the shoe to the pedal by way of a cleat — this system can be used across the mountain bike spectrum. The key factors to consider before buying a pair of mountain bike shoes are listed 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 flat MTB shoes
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 compliments of 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.
If the Specialized 2FO Flat 2.0 shoes were a home run, then the new 2FO Roost kicks are a grand slam. With a new thrid generation SlipNot Super Tacky rubber, the new super-low rebound rubber allows the sole to conform to the shape of pedal pins for an almost clipped in level of grip. Hidden beneath this ultra tacky rubber is a half-length nylon shank that centers around the forefoot.
While there is a bit less ankle protection than the 2FO Flat 2.0, the Roost sees a durable leather and suede upper, cushion EAV foam midsole, and a fit that doesn't leave you walking around like you're wearing flippers off the bike. The interior of the shoes is lined with a hydrophobic coating so they will dry lickety-split to prevent unwanted funk.
Specialized as also give these shoes the Body Geometry treatment, with the sold and footbed ergonomically designed to boost power and efficiency while keeping your joint chains aligned to prevent injury.
Despite the focus on protection and performance, the Body Geometry footbed and secure lace-up retention system add a dollop of comfort.
The Giro Riddance represents one of the company’s most popular flat-pedal trail shoes and comes in a selection of three color options, blue, red and black.
The Vibram Megagrip ISR rubber compound is supportive on the pedal but lacks outright traction, leaving you constantly backing off or adapting your riding so as not to bounce and slip off the pedal. The rubber used on the sole is simply too hard and has pingy rather than damped characteristics.
An EVA vibration-damping footbed ensures high levels of comfort while the uppers are composed of a microfiber material for improved ventilation and moisture resistance. Rubberized toe and heel pads add an extra layer of protection to the package.
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 first foray into the world of flat shoes has culminated in the Flatline and it’s an impressive-looking shoe, to say the least. Featuring a standard lace-up system, the Flatline’s Vibram rubber sole complete with a unique tread pattern that is designed to offer a combination of grip and comfort.
Compared to its flat-shoe rivals it can feel loose initially, particularly around the instep of the foot — but that’s quickly solved by tugging on the laces for a tighter more conforming fit.
The Flatline’s most endearing quality, however, is the minimalist nature of the design and easy-to-clean synthetic leather uppers. They’re available in a choice of red or black.
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 curing around pedals but still flexible to the point that you can walk naturally.
With a simply laced closer, the Livewire shoes have an asymmetrical cuff that prevents you from taking skin off your anklebone, and for and heel caps stave off impacts.
Best clipless MTB shoes
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.
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.
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 has 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 it comes time to hike-a-bike.
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.
The Cambion sits just below the flagship XXX model in Bontrager’s MTB shoe hierarchy, the same shoe upon which it is based. Unlike many shoes on the market, the Cambion is bereft of any sort of ratchet system choosing to employ a Boa dial and Velcro straps instead.
Bontrager has opted for an asymmetrical design routing the BOA cable down the outside of the foot, which combined with the silver cat-tongue thread used inside the heel keeps you planted in the shoes
The upper is made from perforated synthetic leather that stands up to plenty of abuse and breathes well too.
The stiff carbon sole is layered in grippy abrasion-resistant Tachyon tread blocks which not only protect the shoes from getting butchered by rocks, stones and gravel they also provide an excellent walking platform should the need to dismount arise.
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 bold 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. As these updated ME7's were only launched a few months ago, so if you like the look of these shoes, but are also after a deal there is still plenty of stock of the previous model.
Best mountain bike shoes: What you need to know
1. Sole stiffness and durability
Outer soles are 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.
2. 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 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.