The first thing to decide when you're looking for new riding shoes is whether you're riding flat or clip-in pedals. While there’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to picking the best mountain bike shoes, your riding style, personal preference, and even location are likely to influence the final decision.
Flat pedal 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.
Alternatively, clipless shoes physically attach you to the pedals with the aim of improving pedaling efficiency and descending security. Clipless 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.
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 at the bottom of this article.
If your getting a new pair of shoes you might be also looking for a new set of pedals too, if you are it's worth looking at our guides to the best clipless mountain bike pedals or the best MTB flat pedals, depending on your preferred style.
If you think you would prefer flat shoes, check out our guide to the best flat-pedal MTB shoes for a complete list of flat-pedal mountain bike shoes.
Best mountain bike shoes: flats
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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. Find out more about why the Specialized 2FO DH Flat is one of our favorite flat pedal shoes for downhill and enduro riding.(opens in new tab)
Crankbrothers' Stamp Speedlace is a mid-range flat pedal shoe from the manufacturer 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 Speedlace 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 Speedlace was fantastic. They fit well, are comfortable, breathe well, and dry quickly. The feel on the pedals is great and the rubber is sticky enough. Read more of our thoughts about the Crankbrothers Stamp Speedlace flat pedal shoe in our full review.(opens in new tab)
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. The sizing does run large though, so try them on before you buy. We wouldn't be sad if the price went down either. Learn more in our Bontrager Flatline review.(opens in new tab)
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 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.
The 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's 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, 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 does an excellent job of 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 854g (UK9) they're not light though, which means the Tallac's are best reserved for gravity riders who prefer a damped feel and large amounts of protection over high levels of pedal feel.
Best mountain bike shoes: clipless(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
Despite being a new contender in the shoe space, the Crankbrothers Mallet E Speedlace earned 4/5 stars in our 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, this elasticated cuff does mean they run warmer than average though.
A nylon shank inside the midsole means peddling efficiency is better than you might expect too. 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 meshed 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.
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 the 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.
If you're looking for a new pair of clipless shoes for gravity riding, our full review of the Specialized 2FO DH Clipless offers more insights about the shoe.(opens in new tab)
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, the Ventana is roomy and has 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 that prioritizes a more relaxed shoe in most dimensions.
Read more about the Giro Ventana Boa shoe in our full review.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
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 over technical terrain 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-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 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 has its 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.