Searching for the best new pair of mountain bike shoes? After researching over 50 of the best clipless models, we bought 17 for testing. Our test selection includes options for the full spectrum of riding styles and disciplines, from lightweight and stiff XC shoes to beefy downhill models, and everything in between. Our team thoroughly tested each model for hundreds of miles of riding on different bikes and pedals, a variety of weather conditions, and rides ranging from XC races to shuttle laps. We scrutinized every aspect of their comfort, design, and performance, to help you find the mountain bike shoes than best suit your needs and budget.Related: The Best Women's Mountain Bike Shoes
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes
Best Overall Mountain Bike Shoe
Giro Empire VR90
The Giro Empire VR90 took top honors in our tests, earning our Editors' Choice award with a combination of outstanding power transfer, incredible comfort, and surprising durability in a lightweight package. The Empire VR90 is one of the most comfortable shoes we've ever tested, with a supple synthetic upper that fits like a glove and customizable insoles for a personalized fit. It was also among the lightest shoes in our test, which truly makes a difference for extended days in the saddle or out on the race course. The Easton EC90 carbon sole is uncompromisingly stiff, providing excellent pedaling efficiency and making the most of your effort.
The Empire VR90 didn't take top honors for its traction and walkability, but a slight amount of flex in the toe coupled with a grippy Vibram rubber outsole proved to be quite capable off the bike, considering this shoe's weight and sole stiffness. The Empire VR90 also surprised us with its impressive durability, showing almost no signs of wear after being smashed with rocks, scraped on stumps, and abused for weeks on end. They are far from inexpensive, but we feel that the Giro Empire VR90 is an incredible shoe that is worthy of your attention.
Read review: Giro Empire VR90
Best Bang for the Buck
Scott MTB Team Boa
Imagine if a brand took the comfort and sleek looks of the Editor's Choice winning Giro Empire VR90, added a few features to make it more modern (boa dial) and rugged (lugged soles), then decided to make it half as expensive. That shoe exists, and it is the Scott MTB Team Boa. If you are in the market for a relatively stiff-soled shoe with enough comfort and protection for all-day backcountry missions but don't want to spend a week's worth of groceries on your shoes, consider our Best Bang for the Buck award winner. From cross country racing to aggressive trail riding, the Scott MTB Team Boa can handle all disciplines of cycling with quality form and function.
If you're considering the Scott MTB Team Boa you should know that it isn't a carbon copy of the Giro Empire. Their stiffness isn't quite on par due to a lack of a carbon shank, and the comfort of a microfiber upper cannot rival that of a proper supple synthetic upper with customizable soles. While they aren't the cheapest shoe in our test, the Scott MTB Team Boa is feature packed with a thoughtful design in a lower mid-price package. While the styling is more reminiscent of a cross country shoe, the MTB Team Boa can handle trail duties across the spectrum making it a great choice for budget conscious riders looking to get the most out of a single shoe.
Read review: Scott MTB Team Boa
Best for Trail Riders
Specialized 2FO Cliplite
The Specialized 2FO Cliplite emerged as our Top Pick for Trail Riders. Several shoes duked it over months of riding, and in the end, the 2FO proved to be the shoe that we liked most for everyday trail riding. The combination of low weight (for an all-mountain shoe), power transfer, comfort, walkability, and durability made it our champion. These shoes excel in all types of riding and have unmatched versatility. They are stiff enough that you don't feel like you're wasting energy and they're light enough for all-day backcountry epics. They're also impressively comfortable and have excellent traction and walkability thanks to some flex through the toe and a full coverage rubber sole.
The 2FO Cliplite isn't as lightweight or stiff as our Editor's Choice award winner, the Giro Empire VR90 and probably won't make the top of the list for XC racers out there. But everyone else should give this shoe a look. Whether you race on the enduro circuit, go for trail rides, long XC rides, bike park laps, shuttle runs, or just like to be comfortable on and off the bike; the Specialized 2FO Cliplite is a worthy option. This shoe is the total package that meets the needs of a broad range of riders.
Read review: Specialized 2FO Cliplite
Best for Enduro Racing
Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
The Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa performed well across the board in all categories, aside from weight, which is not as much of a concern in gravity disciplines. With great style, instant comfort, a stiff shank, and a grippy sole, the Kestrel Pro Boa ticks all of the boxes for features we look for in an enduro race shoe at a relatively reasonable price. The carbon-infused nylon shank was indeed a standout feature of this shoe, providing an incredible response to the pedals when the need to put the power down out of corners came about mid-race. Beyond pedaling performance, this shoe is comfortable out of the box and is a great choice for riders looking for all-day comfort from trail rides to enduro races to the bike park.
Five Ten is known for its gravity focused line of bikes shoes, so it comes as no surprise that the Kestrel Pro Boa wasn't designed with XC or weight in mind. The Kestrel definitely sits in the heavyweight class, which isn't the biggest issue for most enduro or gravity riders but should be noted. Beyond weight, Five Ten incorporated their extremely sticky stealth C4 rubber into the sole of this shoe, which is great for hiking but can get hung up on larger platform clipless pedals, which can be an issue when clipping back in. Overall, this is an incredible option for anyone considering a shoe for enduro or all day backcountry missions where weight isn't an issue, and extra protection is appreciated on and off the bike.
Read review: Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
Best for Clipless Gravity Riders
Giro Chamber II
The Chamber II is the newest version of Giro's popular Chamber gravity oriented clipless mountain biking shoe. Our Top Pick for Clipless Gravity Riders, the Chamber II proved to be comfortable, confidence inspiring, and no slouch when it comes to laying down the power. Giro's Tri-Molded composite shank provides an excellent platform from the cleat area to the heal for stomping on the pedals while climbing or sprinting. This sole design still allows flex through the toe and have a full coverage Vibram Megagrip outsole. As a result, these shoes provide great off-the-bike performance during those inevitable dismounts and hike-a-bikes. The simple lace and velcro strap closure offers a secure and comfortable fit, and the burly design and construction offer some of the best foot protection in our test.
The gravity-focused design of the Chamber II doesn't do it any favors in the weight department, and it tips the scales at 525g per shoe. That said, they are 40g lighter than the Five Ten Hellcat Pro, the other most similar purely gravity focused shoe we tested. Most riders considering these shoes probably aren't all that concerned with their weight, as these shoes are designed for crushing the descents with confidence. Whether you're racing enduro or doing shuttle or lift-served laps and you want to dominate the descents and be comfortable and look good doing it, then we suggest checking out the Giro Chamber II.
Read review: Giro Chamber II
Another Great Value
Giro Privateer R
The Giro Privateer returns once again as a winner of a Best Buy Award for its combination of lightweight, comfort, power transfer, durability, and improved traction and walkability, all at a reasonable price. Recent updates to the Privateer include a reinforced toe for added protection and durability, as well as a new rubber outsole that dramatically improves off the bike traction and walkability. It is an entry-level shoe, but we feel that riders of all abilities, especially those on a budget, would enjoy the fit and performance of the Privateer. The styling and features of the Privateer are geared more towards the XC side of the mountain biking spectrum, but we found it capable and comfortable enough for most types of riding except for taking shuttle or chairlift DH laps.
With a look nearly identical to that of Giro's high-end carbon soled Code shoe, the Privateer uses a nylon sole which isn't carbon stiff, but stiff enough to please most riders. Power transfer isn't as good as our Editor's Choice Award-winning Giro Empire VR90, but is still impressive, especially for less than half the price. We do feel that the Scott MTB Team Boa offers a higher degree of comfort and better power transfer, though the Privateer beats it on price. It isn't the least expensive shoe on the market, but we feel it is a great value considering the performance it offers.
Read review: Giro Privateer R
Best MTB Bike Flat Shoe
Five Ten Freerider Contact
The Freerider Contact has been our Editors' Choice flat shoe for three years straight. It's so sticky you'll almost think you're clipped in. This year, it got it's first real competition from the Shimano GR7, which shared the Editors' Choice award. Both shoes are amazing.The Shimano edged ahead in the scores by offering slightly more comfort, arch support, and breathability. It's also way more durable and costs a little less than the Contact. However, the Contact is still the top choice if sticking to the pedals is your top concern.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Contact
Best Value In a Flat Shoe
Ride Concepts Livewire
Ride Concepts is a newcomer to the mountain bike shoe market, but this Truckee, CA based brand entered the party with a polished and quality line of shoes including the affordable Livewire. Named for the most popular trail at the Northstar-at-Tahoe mountain bike park, the Livewire packs a lot of features and performance for the price. These well-made shoes are lightweight and have a comfortable fit with a quality insole and a shaped tongue. They provide foot protection with a reinforced toe and heel and the soles fall about middle of the pack in terms of stiffness. Ride Concepts has also created a proprietary rubber compound for their full dot soles, and the Kinetics DST 6.0 High Grip rubber provides excellent grip both on and off the pedals.
If you value sole stiffness it should be noted that the Livewire isn't quite as stiff underfoot as some of the competition. Our testers loved the grip of the rubber as well, though people seeking the absolute tackiest soles may want to look into other models. That said, the Livewire is a great new shoe at a reasonable price that truly impressed our testers.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Why You Should Trust Us
Our mountain bike shoe review is authored by Jeremy Benson and
Dillon Osleger. Benson is the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab and has been mountain biking for over 25 years, the last 18 of which have been spent enjoying the trails around his home base of Truckee, CA. When he isn't busy testing all manner of mountain bike gear for reviews, he can be found pounding out the miles while training for endurance gravel and mountain bike races. He considers himself a well-rounded rider and points to multiple podiums in the Expert class of the XC, DH, and All-Mountain divisions at the Downieville Classic mountain bike race as proof. In addition to his gear review work, Benson is the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, a guidebook published by Mountaineers Books in 2017. Dillon is an extremely versatile rider who competes in the Pro class in Enduro, XC, and gravel racing. He recently earned a Masters degree in Earth Science from the University of California Santa Barbara. When Dillon isn't testing gear or training for the next race, he is working as an Environmental Scientist for land trusts and trail organizations in the Tahoe region.
Our team of obsessive riders and self-proclaimed "bike nerds" stay on top of the latest trends and models in mountain bike footwear. We spent days researching the newest and best models on the market before selecting 17 to purchase and test for this review. From the California foothills to the desert southwest, XC pedal fests to shuttle laps, each model was ridden for hundreds of miles of climbing, descending, and even a little walking. Each shoe was ridden on its own in addition to numerous back to back switch-outs for head to head comparison. When testing concluded, we rated each model's power transfer, comfort, traction and walkability, weight, and durability.
Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of thousands of miles of riding, we tested these shoes on a variety of terrain and trail types. We evaluated each model on comfort, weight, power transfer, traction and walkability, and durability. We included shoes that cover the full range of riding disciplines and styles. We put a good cross section of XC race shoes up against Enduro/All mountain and gravity oriented shoes to see what works best and how they compare to each other.
These days, clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes are used in every sub-discipline of the sport: gravel grinding, cyclocross, XC racing, enduro racing, everyday trail riding, and downhill. The type of riding you do is one of many important factors that go into your mountain bike shoe purchase decision.
At OutdoorGearLab, we don't rate the products we test based on their price, but we always appreciate a good value. Like many things, the price of a mountain bike shoe often dictates its overall quality and performance. Yes, some of the highest performing shoes we tested are also the most expensive, but this isn't always the case. Some of the more reasonably priced competitors, like the Scott MTB Team Boa, score well across our metrics despite costing less than the competition.
Your shoes are the only thing between your legs and your pedals and are one of only three places where your body makes contact with your bike. This is a critical interface between rider and machine, and sole stiffness dictates how efficiently shoes transfer your energy and power directly into your drivetrain. A benefit of clipless mountain bike shoes is that they position your feet in the optimal spot during the pedal stroke, which helps increase your pedaling efficiency.
Shoes with stiff soles with little or no flex from the ball of the foot back enhance your pedaling efficiency. The more rigid the sole of your shoe, the less opportunity there is for energy to be lost or wasted due to the flex of the sole under power. Carbon fiber often creates the stiffest and lightest soles and is generally found in high-end cross-country race mountain bike shoes. Soles are also made of various other nylon and plastic composites that provide excellent stiffness and are less expensive to produce.
We tested the power transfer of each shoe using simple flex-in-the-hands testing, and by feel and observation over thousands of miles of riding. While subtle, the differences in stiffness are noticeable, especially when switching between shoes frequently. Our stiffest shoe is the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 followed closely by the Giro Empire VR90. The Giro uses an Easton EC90 carbon sole that is impressively stiff and offers excellent power transfer. Other top-rated products include the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro with a carbon sole, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite with a nylon composite plate. Sidi is also known for their stiff soled XC shoes, and the Cape has some of the best power transfer in the test as well.
These days the lines are being blurred between trail/all-mountain shoes and their XC oriented counterparts. Shoes are being developed that can provide excellent power transfer while still offering some flex through the toe for comfortable off the bike walkability. Shoes like the Shimano ME7 and the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa are good examples of this. They feature a stiff shank from the heel to the ball of the foot and a bit of flex from the ball of the foot forward. Combine that design with a grippy rubber sole, and you can lay down the power on the bike and walk like normal off the bike too.
When it comes to mountain biking shoes, we think comfort is among the most important things. The more comfortable your shoe is, the more comfortable you are, and the better you can ride. Discomfort can be a distraction. When you're riding the only thing you should be focusing on is the trail ahead of you. How do we measure comfort? When a shoe inspires confidence right out of the box and becomes an extension of your body, we think that's usually a good thing. Ideally, the only thing you should notice about your shoes when you're riding is how little you notice them.
To rate comfort, we consider the material of the uppers, types of closures, distribution of tension over the foot, footbeds, ventilation, and protection of the feet. Our highest rated shoe is the Giro Empire VR90. The supple synthetic uppers and simple, lightweight lace-up design tighten uniformly around the foot for a best-in-class glove-like fit. In contrast, the Sidi Cape, which doesn't rate as well, has stiffer synthetic uppers that are closed using a crisscrossing Boa system and a wide ratchet strap. We found it harder to achieve even tension despite the fancy closure system.
Insoles also make a big difference in comfort. The Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro uses a best in class customizable insole to dial in the fit to your preferences, while insoles seem to be an afterthought in other shoes we tested. Other highly rated products for comfort include the Shimano ME7, Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, all of which feature comfortable insoles, quality closures, and an all-around great fit.
Traction and Walkability
For many years, dismounting your bike and walking on rocks or other hard surfaces in clipless mountain bike shoes was a treacherous undertaking. Most shoes felt kind of like tap dancing shoes, and the likelihood of getting injured trying to walk over obstacles was probably higher than if you'd just tried to ride them in the first place.
Over the past several years, mountain bike shoe manufacturers have started making shoes that perform well not only on the bike but also during the inevitable dismounts. This blend of on and off the bike performance is most evident in the new breed of enduro, trail, and all-mountain oriented shoes. Many modern cross-country mountain bike shoes are also improving their outsole designs while still offering unwavering stiffness and pedaling performance.
To test traction and walkability, we hiked our bikes in each pair of shoes on a variety of surfaces, rocks, logs, dirt, and mud to see how well each one performs. This portion of the testing involved gratuitous walkarounds and finally taking the time to walk up to that vista point that we always ride past.
A shoe's outsole material and tread design are the most significant factors in the traction it provides. Some models, such as the Giro Terraduro, provide an incredible grip on dry surfaces, but the tightly spaced sole lugs tend to pack with mud in wet conditions. We've found the ideal shoes to have a semi-aggressive but more open tread design that doesn't hold onto mud or debris that is made from a grippy rubber compound for traction on hard surfaces.
Mountain bike specific shoes are also being designed to offer flex in the toe, from the ball of the foot forward, to enhance walkability without sacrificing underfoot stiffness or power transfer. More often than not, the shoes with the highest scores in our traction and walkability metric are of the trail/enduro variety and weigh slightly more than their XC counterparts. One of our top-rated shoes for traction and walkability is the Shimano ME7. Its widely-spaced, soft rubber lugs and stiff sole that only flexes through the toe provide an exceptional combination of power transfer and traction. Other shoes with impressive grip and power transfer include the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, and the Shimano AM7.
Let's face it, all other things being equal, the lighter something is, the better it is for mountain biking. Our weight while riding is the sum of ourselves, our bike, and other equipment. The less that combined weight is, the faster we can travel, the longer we can ride… you get the idea. That said, we've placed less emphasis on weight than on other criteria such as comfort because the relative differences in weight aren't huge. Factors other than weight are likely to make a bigger difference in your overall satisfaction with a pair of riding shoes, but it is certainly worthy of consideration.
The lightest pair of shoes we tested is the Giro Cylinder at 716 grams or 1 lb and 9 oz for the pair. They are followed very closely by the XC-oriented Shimano S-Phyre XC9, just 2 grams heavier at 718g or 1lb 9oz. The Five Ten HellCat Pro sits at the other end of the spectrum weighing in at 1130 grams or 2 lbs 8 oz, almost a full pound heavier than the lightest shoes we tested, a trade-off for their enhanced foot protection and durability. Another of the super lightweight shoes we tested is the Editors' Choice award-winning Giro Empire VR90 at 776 grams or 1 lb 11 oz. All-mountain shoes like the Specialized 2FO Cliplite and the Shimano ME7 remain respectably lightweight at around 850 grams or 1 lb and 14 oz for the pair.
Mountain bike shoes are an investment, the longer they last, the greater your return is on that investment. All of the shoes in our test ranged widely in price, and when you spend big money on anything, you hope to get at least a couple of seasons of use out of them. There are several aspects to the durability of a given pair of mountain bike shoes, and we considered several factors during the assessment of our test shoes, including quality of craftsmanship, the abrasion resistance of the uppers, placement and wear or damage to the closures and wear of the outsole material.
During testing we went out of our way to put extra abuse on these shoes, scuffing the uppers on rocks, intentionally stumbling around while walking, tightening and loosening the closures more than was necessary, all to see how they stood up to use over time.
The outsole rubber compounds used by the different shoe manufacturers all wear differently. As we expected, we found softer rubber compounds to wear more quickly. For example, the soft and tacky Stealth Rubber of the Five Ten Hellcat Pro shows signs of wear from the pins of pedals, while the harder Vibram Megagrip rubber of the Giro Chamber II looks barely used even after months of use. Every model we tested also uses some synthetic leather-esque material for their uppers. The abrasion and wear resistance of each varies between the different models of shoes, and many have additional abrasion resistant materials strategically placed around the uppers to prevent damage.
A shoe's closure system is also an important consideration in the overall durability. There are many different closure styles on the market designed to provide comfort and retention of the shoes in various ways. Shoelaces are used on many models including our Editors' Choice award-winning Giro Empire VR90 and our Top Pick for Gravity Riders, the Giro Chamber II. Laces are simple, lightweight, efficient, and easily and inexpensively replaced. The only drawback is the lack of on the fly tension adjustment.
Ratcheting straps have been a popular closure system for some time, as they are relatively inexpensive. They work quite well, although they can be prone to damage if positioned vulnerably on the lateral side of the shoe. Fortunately, most ratchets and straps are fully replaceable in case of damage, and shoes like the Shimano ME7 are using innovative reverse low-profile ratchets to reduce the risk of impact and damage. Velcro, or hook and loop, straps are a simple, lightweight and inexpensive system that has been used on mountain bike shoes for years. Unfortunately, Velcro is the retention system that is quickest to break down, though it usually takes a few years. Sometimes a shoe will outlast the Velcro closure.
Dials and cables like Boa or Sidi's Tecno 3 are a more modern style of lightweight closure that pulls tension evenly from both sides and offers quick on-the-fly adjustment. Closures like these can occasionally fail or break from impact, but shoes like the X-Project Pro have done an excellent job of placing the dials in on top of the tongue in a less vulnerable position. These dial and cable closure systems are often fully replaceable and sometimes covered under warranty.
It's not surprising that the heavier shoes in our test were also some of the highest rated shoes for durability. The Five Ten Hellcat Pro is a burly model with a full coverage rubber outsole and thick rubber protection for the abrasion-prone toe area of the uppers. The Giro Chamber II also scored highly in this metric due to its similarly hefty and beefy construction. We were astonished, however, to find that the Giro Empire VR90 was as durable as it was. It got high marks for its incredibly abrasion resistant uppers, simple closures, and durable Vibram rubber outsole.
There's a lot to consider when choosing a pair of clipless mountain bike shoes. The shoes you pick depend on the type of riding you enjoy, whether it be XC, trail/all-mountain, enduro, or downhill, you may benefit from the features offered by different styles of shoes. This review is intended to help you answer any questions you might have and sort through the available options to help make a more informed decision.
— Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger