We've tested the best mountain bike flat shoes for three years, with over 13 models used and abused. This updated review features 10 of today's best, tested side-by-side. In good ol' OutdoorGearLab fashion, we took them out on all types of mountain trails throughout Idaho. We've tested them in all conditions, warm, hot, cool, and cold, while crushing mile after mile on clipless pedals, over flat, steep, and technical terrain. We even wore different shoes on each foot while pedaling for miles, just to compare technical differences. After evaluating each using key metrics, we assigned a score to provide fantastic recommendations after hours of working our quads to the core.
The Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes
Best Overall Mountain Bike Flat Shoes
Five Ten Freerider Contact
Five Ten takes their Mi6 rubber, commonly found on climbing shoes, to create a clipped-in feeling with a flat pedal shoe and pedal combination. Mi6 rubber is Five Ten's softest rubber compound, offering the highest level of stickiness and pedal grip. The Contact is also a bit unique in that designers forego the standard continuous dot tread pattern across the entire sole. Instead, they use a smooth climbing shoe-like patch of rubber at the ball of the foot. Between the soft nature of the rubber and the large contact area, the Contact has tenacious holding power. The upper is a sturdy synthetic mesh material with excellent breathability for long hot rides. The mesh panels are located in less vulnerable zones, and a more robust synthetic leather material for trim is used in the areas that are most likely to take a beating. It appeals to a good portion of the mountain bike community, with its solid performance in every riding style. Cross country, enduro, light downhill, grinder climbs, the puppies do it all.
The only downside, other than the price tag, is that these shoes are less durable than shoes like the Ion Raid Amp II. The rubber wears more quickly than some, but with that being said, one of our testers has been riding almost exclusively in a pair for three years now and they're still riding strong. For an even heartier sole, consider the Freerider Pro. The Pro also has better style around town since it the Contact bears some resemblance to old fashioned orthopedic shoes. Some testers preferred the Freerider Pro, but at the end of the day, the Contact still takes top honors.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Contact
Also an Editor's Choice
ION Raid AMP II
The Ion Raid Amp II was somewhat of a surprise standout in our test this summer. We hesitated to add it in to our lineup in the past based on some complaints about lack of performance with its predecessor. With this latest generation, however, we were impressed with the overall performance of the shoe.
The Raid Amp II has a tenaciously grippy outsole that really holds on to the pins of your pedals yet allows for fine-tuning. That good grip doesn't stop on the bike, the shoe walks and hikes like a regular trail shoe too. We found the Raid Amp II has the most precision fit of all the shoes we've tested along with excellent sensitivity. The construction of the shoe should make for a durable and long-lasting choice for even the most aggressive riders out there. The only real criticisms we could come up with during our testing was in the price and lower breathability than other shoes in our lineup.
Read review: Ion Raid Amp II
Best Bang for the Buck
Ride Concepts Livewire
Ride Concepts makes a strong showing for their first time in our Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoe Review with the Livewire. The Livewire is one of the offerings from their Session Series, Ride Concepts' line of shoes that's intended for everything from sessions in the park to long rides in the backcountry.
The Ride Concepts Livewire checks all the boxes for riders seeking a quality all-mountain shoe. An extra grippy sole on par with our Editor's Choice(s) is the foundation of this shoe and it's paired with an EVA midsole that provides ample stiffness for effective power transfer on those long climbs. With a synthetic upper combined with a mesh toe, the Livewire should meet most any rider's needs no matter where your rides take you. The Livewire sports a welded construction rather than the more typical sewn construction of other shoes which should help with durability. We'd expect a shoe of this caliber to be on the high price of the price spectrum, but the Livewire comes in at a great price, making it a best buy!
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Analysis and Test Results
When you're shopping for your next mountain bike flat shoe, you could easily just go with what's popular or looks good, but better yet you could let someone else try several models out and do the legwork for you! We've put together a list of criteria to help in your decision-making process for that next pair of mountain bike kicks. We've evaluated several shoes for you based on: sole grip, comfort and arch support, rigidity and power transfer, weight, and durability. You'll have to decide which factors are most important to your riding, and keep in mind it may be more than one.
Between the performance and price, the Freerider offers the most value in the pack. It's the least expensive of the higher performance shoes and scores decently. The other value standout is the GR7 that is one of the highest-scoring and is less expensive than most of the field.
Criteria for Evaluation
After riding for several months through a wide range of terrain and weather, we determined the most important metrics to measure the performance of all the shoes and graded them side-by-side. We evaluated for grip, comfort and arch support, rigidity, weight, breathability, and durability.
When comparing mountain bike flat shoes, assuming you get the right fit, grip is the most important metric. Unlike clipless shoes and pedals, there is no hard connection between rider and pedals but and you have to rely on rubber compounds and tread patterns. A good positive grip provides an effortless and fun ride, whereas a less positive grip can make for a frightening and shin-scraping bloody ride that nobody would be envious of. Until recently, the majority of mountain bike shoe soles were made by either Five Ten or Vibram. Now we have even more choices than ever with newer companies offering proprietary rubber blends like Ion's Suptraction Soul FL and Ride Concepts Kinetics DST6.0 High Grip soles. A little competition is sure to drive the technology to higher and higher standards and performance.
An effective mountain bike flat shoe should find the perfect balance between pedal grip and the ability to fine tune foot position as well as releasing from the pedal pins when it's needed most. Shoes like the Five Ten Freerider Contact, Ion Raid Amp II, and Shimano GR7 all seem to have found this sweet spot when it comes to pedal gripping performance. While these all perform similarly on the bike, the Raid Amp II and GR7 have greater traction when you're off the bike. One wild card that came into play during our testing was the issue of moisture. Not all shoes performed the same when the pedals or ground became wet or snowy. Our timing worked out well and we were able to test shoe/pedal grip in conditions that ranged from cooler and wetter spring riding to hot and dry late summer riding. After comparing shoes and conditions, not all models had the same grip on dry and wet days. A finer tread pattern like the Giro Jacket, or the semi-smooth Five Ten Freerider Contact did not perform as well on wet surfaces as the Shimano GR7, Five Ten Freerider Pro or the Ride Concepts Livewire.
Comfort and Arch Support
Comfort is a somewhat subject metric to talk about. There are many variables in comfort, from basic shoe construction how, when, and where the shoe is used. A rider's foot shape and overall volume also come into play. For example, a narrower fitting shoe like the Editor's Choice Ion Raid Amp II might be the most comfortable choice for the majority of riders but would be less comfortable for riders with exceptionally wide feet. We looked at support, padding, cushioning for riding and walking, as well as shoe shape and volume. Less porous and higher density materials in the midsole had a better feel over the long haul. That extra layer of material in the midsole does wonders for providing additional protection between our feet and the abuse that is below, whether it be pedal pressure or rocks and sticks while hiking the bike.
The Freerider Contact is made with a stiffened, compression-molded EVA midsole that provides added stiffness, support and shock absorption, ultimately increasing comfort, especially for longer rides. Shoes like the Five Ten Sleuth, without this added midsole support, performed well for shorter rides, but pedal pressure becomes increasingly noticeable with longer and more technical rides. An exception to that general rule of thumb is the Ion Raid Amp II which uses a softer midsole material that even though soft, was plenty supportive during long rides.
Arch support also becomes a factor when either riding or walking longer distances. The Five Ten Contact and Ion Raid Amp II, as well as the Ride Concepts Livewire, provided more arch support than the skate-style shoes like the Five Ten Sleuth. The Raid Amp II and Ride Concepts Livewire have high quality orthotic style insoles with added arch support that felt great for longer days in the saddle and on the trail. Extra midsole materials tend to make shoes less walk-friendly and less sensitive, so one rider's ideal may not be another's.
For riders with wider or bulkier feet, a higher volume shoe will be more comfortable by allowing the foot to maintain a more natural position. We found that most of our test shoes from Five Ten had a higher volume fit, especially in the forefoot, other than the Sleuth which is relatively narrow. The Ride Concepts Livewire fit was roomy in the toe box. A roomy toe box increases not only comfort but also overall efficiency through a more relaxed and natural foot position as well as more significant pedal contact.
Conversely, a rider with lower-volume feet, which tend to be narrower and thinner overall, may have difficulty in lacing up their shoes tight enough to feel secure. This can also result in an uncomfortable ride with poor circulation to the feet and toes. We found some of our test shoes had a lower-volume fit, like the Ion Raid Amp II, and the Giro Jacket. Even though we grade all of our test shoes as objectively as possible, keep in mind your foot shape and the type of riding you regularly do.
After miles of riding and with all of the factors above in mind, we found the Five Ten Contact and Ion Raid Amp II to be the most comfortable overall. Both shoes provided great out-of-the-box comfort that was maintained even after riding the longest and most technical rides we encountered. The comfort was consistent through all conditions, both on and off the bike, especially with the Raid Amp II. The skate styled models, like the Afton Keegan, Five Ten Sleuth and Giro Jacket, generally felt good right out of the box, but with less support overall. If your typical rides don't take you too far from the road, this won't be a major factor for you and the less substantial shoes may serve you just fine.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
A flat shoe's rigidity is an important part of how well the shoe performs. A shoe that is too stiff has a tendency to bounce off your pedal pins and would be a nightmare to walk in. On the other hand, a shoe that is too soft doesn't provide a solid enough platform to transfer power from you to the cranks and you're likely to feel fatigued more quickly. The happy place in the middle is where shoe manufacturers strive to be when designing flat shoes.
We found that with some of the flats, like the Ion Raid Amp II and Five Ten Freerider Contact, our ride times were similar and sometimes even faster than with clipless shoe and pedal combinations. This seems to be linked to the overall rigidity and power transfer as well as the shoe's grip. Other shoes, like the Five Ten Sleuth and Giro Jacket, slowed our times slightly which seemed to be directly related to less stiffness and overall transfer of power.
As is the case with sole grip, usually more is better, but for the more rigid shoes in our test, pedal and walk sensitivity was sacrificed for shoe stiffness. The added rigidity of the stiffer models, especially the Giro Riddance and the Five Ten Freerider Pro, decreases sensitivity on the pedals and the trail, feeling more like a hiking boot than a riding shoe. For riders who do more hike-a-bike terrain or wear shoes off the bike, this may be a factor.
Virtually every item a rider uses or carries is under scrutiny for weight penalty. This portion of our testing turned out to be less important than we initially thought. We knew all of our test shoes claimed weights were pretty accurate, but we chose to perform our independent weigh-in to relay the best information to you .
We found that from the lightest, the Five Ten Sleuth, to the heaviest, the weight difference was only three ounces for a men's size 9. With such a minor difference, little significance is assigned to this category. However, if you're the gram counting type of rider that insists on having the lightest pair possible, give a good hard look at the Five Ten Freerider Contact.
A mountain bike shoe's breathability becomes more important as the length of ride increases or when the thermometer climbs. For a short ride, particularly in cooler temperatures, breathability becomes relatively unimportant, but as the ride length increases it's more important for your shoe to breathe well. Less breathable uppers like those found on the Giro Riddance kept our feet warmer on cooler days but with this decreased breathability our feet felt the heat on warmer days.
Conversely, the Five Ten Contact and Ride Concepts Livewire performed better in warmer conditions with more open-weave materials in their construction. With those observations in mind, we rode in temperatures varying from 35F to 85F, and overall our feet were relatively comfortable no matter which shoe we picked. Keep in mind that with the use of a warmer wool sock on colder days and a thin cycling sock on warmer days, you can expand the comfort range of your shoes.
As is the case with the other criteria in our test, keep in mind your use and environment. If your rides take you into colder climates, the Ion Raid Amp II in black or the Five Ten Freerider Pro will keep your feet warmer than the more ventilated options. Shoes like the Five Ten Freerider and Freerider Contact may be cooler choices for these locales. For wetter conditions, the Giro Riddance, with its synthetic leather-like upper, will help keep your feet drier.
The world's most high tech, feature-loaded and expensive shoe quickly loses its appeal if it falls apart shortly after purchase, especially if it leaves you stranded on the trail in the middle of nowhere in a storm. Almost of our test shoes feature primarily synthetic materials, with the exception of the suede leather Five Ten Sleuth and the suede trim of the Five Ten Freerider. After using and abusing our test shoes for over two months, we didn't experience any catastrophic failures and most shoes showed only minor wear. The Freerider Contact, initially showed some sole wear in the smooth portion, but has been a regular for one of our testers for the past couple seasons and they're still hanging tough!
For a shoe with similar performance but seemingly greater durability, see the Ion Raid Amp II. For riders seeking the most durable option, a shoe like the Five Ten Freerider Pro or Ride Concepts Livewire should be considered. Their synthetic uppers and beefy sticky dot soles have almost no signs of wear. Each rider should decide how much emphasis they place on durability versus performance versus comfort and make their choice accordingly.
Other than purchasing the right bike with the right tire combination, shoe selection is the most important influencer on ride satisfaction and efficiency. Several factors come into play when making a mountain bike shoe purchase. Keep in mind the riding you intend on doing most often, where you ride and when you ride. Like most of our gear, not all shoes are created equal and one model is unlikely to be the ideal choice in every situation for every rider. Our Mountain Bike Flat Shoe review is intended to help you negotiate through the shoe purchasing process by providing accurate information on the many options available.
— Jason Cronk