Five Ten have long been a dominating force in the gravity market since they first introduced their revolutionary Stealth rubber flat pedal shoes. Other than branching out to clipless in 2010 and expanding into adventure markets, the Adidas-owned brand has stuck firmly to its trail riding lane.
However, Five Ten has decided to branch into a new market, with a clear overlap between the old Krestel and popular Hellcat ranges arose an opportunity to re-purpose the Kestrel Boa for downcountry, XC, and gravel riding.
Can Five Ten take their know-how from producing some of the best mountain bike shoes and apply it to a cross-country/downcountry shoe? We have been riding the Five Ten Kestrel Boa’s to find out.
The sole unit is all new for Five Ten and uses a partially recycled poly sole with a glass fiber reinforcing shank to balance pedal power transfer with reasonably comfortable walking. SPD-style cleat slots aren’t particularly long but they’re biased slightly rearwards for a more centralized foot position. Raised lines molded into the sole are designed to help sync alignment and you also get metal protection plates to sit under the cleat. The threaded cleat plates themselves are loose under the slots too. Feedback from Five Ten is that this comes from their DH/gravity shoes where plate damage is quite common so being able to slide a fresh plate in quickly through the taped L slot in the inside sole stops shoes from becoming unusable if the plate gets damaged.
Unsurprisingly for a brand synonymous with sole traction, they’ve also used a distinctive arrangement of rounded tread studs in a horseshoe pattern at the toe and heel, with flatter blocks alongside the cleat area. These are in a firmer ‘Marathon’ blend of their signature ‘Stealth’ rubber, with that sticky stuff reserved for a small section of the instep.
The upper is also a semi-recycled mix with a thinner mesh fabric over the tops of the toes and flanks. Bow and stern structure is provided by a reinforced toe bumper and a separate heel section that’s picked out in a safety first reflective orange on the more gaudy ‘Impact Orange’ samples I tested. The lower front and back of the shoe also get a sturdier TPU fabric to shrug off scuffs and anchor the two Velcro wrap-over straps and single BOA Li2 dial. That’s the all-singing all-dancing BOA dial that allows micro tightening and release as well as quick release too.
While the replaceability is a useful feature having a completely loose rather than captive cleat plate makes set up awkward at the best of times as you need to hold it in place from inside while bolting up. Even when brand new, the tread alongside the cleat slots is so shallow that Shimano, Crank Brothers, and Hope cleat designs project beyond it if you use the metal protective plate. The slightly deeper Hope cleats still contacted the ground first even without the plate in place and the molded lines make alignment irritatingly prescriptive too. Worse still, one bolt hole on the cleat plate was completely oversized so the bolt pulled straight out while the other was deformed enough to make inserting the bolt awkward.
On the bright side if you’re not clattering around on the cleat on hard ground (which is very slippery and rapidly creates a pressure point) the toe and heel tread are reasonable if not remarkably grippy. The Stealth rubber instep is useful if you accidentally get a wet root or rock under your arch and there’s enough flex in the sole to make walking OK if you sort the cleat issue.
You’ll need to fully open both straps and the BOA to get into the very structured and therefore stiff upper of the shoe, especially as the heel loop is so stiff and close to the shoe it’s essentially unusable.
At this price point, it's unusual to see an XC shoe that still uses so much Velcro. There are plenty of other shoes, such as the Shimano RX8 and Fizik Terra Atlas gravel shoe, that achieve a more refined fit using a single Boa dial and an extended Boa lace pattern. The flexible straps and fine-tuned dial make fit easy though and the well-padded heel hooks in snugly too. That means as soon as you strap up and dial in there’s a real grip on the top side of your foot. I also appreciated the dual direction micro-adjust to reduce bite from the stiff materials if I went too tight to start. Having the Boa right on the side of the shoe makes it very vulnerable to rock knocks that pop it right open, which doesn’t match with the rough and tough ‘downcountry’ targeting. The Boa also loosened a couple of times at max effort too which I've not had with fixed-release L6 designs.
The toe bumper is welcome if you stub a toe and the thin toe and flank fabric keep your porkers cool, or cold and wet if you’re enjoying the UK ‘spring’ as much as I am. If you’re used to a raised orthotic bump underneath your foot though you’ll need to add an aftermarket insert as there’s no internal profiling as standard.
It's worth noting that while I found the volume of my size EU44's to be on the small side for my wider feet, though slender-footed fellow Bike Perfect tech writer Graham (who's also been testing a pair) found quite the opposite. Five Ten offers half sizes on all but the largest sizes, so there is the option to size up and down to find the perfect fit.
The firmly anchored upper means plenty of power transfer into the sole and while it’s definitely softer than a carbon shoe, it doesn’t flop or flex obviously even when cranking out of the saddle. The more forgiving feel is appreciated on longer rides or rockier descents too, although the feel is still direct rather than having buzz and impacts damped with an EVA layer like some competitor's shoes. Speaking of the competition, the Kestrel Boa is a competitive weight to other single-dial, mid-stiffness shoes. That said, with Bontrager’s Evoke at £140, Giro’s Rincon at £160, and Specialized Recon 2 at £175, you’re paying an Adidas tax on the Five Tens unless you really want/need that dual directional BOA.
The Kestrel Pro Clipless Boa's XC make-over is a distinct break from the mold for Five Ten but they haven’t completely shaken their roots when redesigning the Kestral Boa.
With well-balanced sole stiffness, all-weather sole grip, and a firm but easily tuneable grasp on your foot for getting the power down, the Kestrel Boa has a lot of potential for pedal priority riders looking for casual, cross-country rides, dabble in downcountry, and gentle gravel. However, they felt a little lacking purpose and struggled to shine if seeking outstanding performance or specialism in any of those disciplines.
Definite cleat mounting and dial placement issues plus several detail disappointments make it hard to justify the premium price in a segment already well-stocked with excellent options.
Tech specs: Five Ten Kestrel Pro XC Clipless Boa MTB Shoes
- Price: $230 / £200 / €230
- Sizes: 36 - 55 EU (5.5 - 13.5 UK)
- Options: Core Black and Impact Orange (tested)
- Weight: 810g (size 44 EU)