To find the best women's mountain bike shoe for you, we researched over 40 options of women's and unisex shoes and purchased the top 10 to test side-by-side. We purchased a mix of all-mountain/trail and cross country options and took them on black diamond bombers and long cross-country loops. Along the way, we rotated through the lineup constantly to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses. We even wore a different shoe on each foot to hone in on subtle differences in power transfer and comfort. When we hit hike-a-bike terrain, we took notes on how each pair performed when scrambling up boulders, slogging through mud, or hiking back up to hit that jump one more time. We've analyzed each shoe's strengths and weaknesses to help you find the best shoe for your style of riding and budget.Related: Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women of 2021
Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Women of 2021
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|$134.95 at Backcountry|
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|$112.00 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Comfortable fit, large cleat opening, good power transfer, excellent trail absorption||Super lightweight, exceptionally breathable, stiff, customizable insoles||Comfortable, excellent protection, excellent power transfer, easy to clip in and out of, great for hike-a-bike||Lightweight, good power transfer, easy to walk in||Comfortable, stiff, good power transfer, large cleat opening|
|Cons||Lacks breathability, expensive||Minimal foot protection, narrower fit, too stiff for hike-a-bikes, expensive||Heavy, not waterproof||Not the best lateral stability||Not waterproof, velcro strap too long|
|Bottom Line||This comfortable shoe impressed our testers with its fit, trail absorption, and power transfer and is a great match for short trail rides and all-day epics alike||Stiff powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, Vibram soles, and customizable footbeds make these an excellent XC shoe||A high-performing shoe that offers comfort paired with excellent stability, protection, and walkability||This unassuming shoe combines on and off the bike performance with good power transfer and walking comfort at a relatively reasonable price tag||This shoe offers a shock-absorbing sole and breathable uppers that deliver exceptional comfort, even when on technical hike-a-bike sections|
|Rating Categories||Crankbrothers Malle...||Giro Empire VR90 -...||Ride Concepts Traverse||Specialized 2FO Roo...||Five Ten Hellcat -...|
|Stability And Control (20%)|
|Specs||Crankbrothers Malle...||Giro Empire VR90 -...||Ride Concepts Traverse||Specialized 2FO Roo...||Five Ten Hellcat -...|
|Measured Weight (g)||379g||298g||450g||322g||437g|
|Outsole||Match MC1||Easton EC90 carbon fiber, Vibram rubber outsole||DST 8.0 MID GRIP Rubber||SlipNot FG||Stealth C4 rubber|
|Closure||Boa, Velcro strap||Laces||Laces/Velcro||Laces||Laces/Velcro|
|Upper Material||Synthetic||Premium EvoFiber||Synthetic & D30||synthetic leather||Synthetic weather-resistant micro-perforated, EVA|
|Footbed||not specified||Super Natural Fit Kit||EVA Foam||Body Geometry||EVA Foam|
|Sole||EVA midsole||Easton EC90 Carbon fiber||D30 High Impact Insole||Soft Lollipop Nylon Composite Plate||Three-quarter dual-density TPU shank, EVA midsole|
|Size Tested||US 7||EU 41||EU 39.5 / US 8.5||EU 39.5 / US 8.5||EU 40 2/3 / US 8.5|
Best Overall Mountain Bike Shoe
Crankbrothers Mallet Boa - Unisex
The Crankbrothers Mallet Boa is designed as a downhill and enduro shoe, but our testers found this well-designed, comfortable shoe to also be a great match for trail riding. The large Match Box cleat opening makes finding your preferred cleat location easy, and a ramped outsole makes clipping in and out a breeze even with SPD cleats. This shoe is incredibly comfortable right out of the box. The Boa and velcro closure allows you to dial in the fit to your foot and a mid-volume fit means there is little to no lateral slop, helping aid in big power transfer moves, especially on rocky step-ups.
Overall, our testers really enjoyed the Mallet Boa, especially its fit, but the shoe does have some shortcomings. The shoe lacks breathability, despite having a perforated toe, tongue, and mesh windows at the midfoot, and this is especially noticeable on hot and humid days. Despite this, we can't overlook the shoe's comfort and power transfer which stand out against its competitors in our lineup.
Read review: Crankbrothers Mallet Boa - Unisex
Best Bang for Your Buck Trail Riding Shoe
Specialized 2FO Roost Clip - Unisex
The new Specialized 2FO Roost Clip may look like a casual street shoe, but this lightweight lace-up shoe provides excellent power transfer at a relatively wallet-friendly price. Designed as a versatile mountain bike shoe, the Roost Clip is light enough for cross-country rides yet comfortable enough for all-day trail riding epics, save lift-accessed downhill riding. The SlipNot™ FG sole provides great traction and the right amount of flex on hike-a-bikes. When it comes to pedaling position, over 1 ¼" of fore/aft positioning makes it easy to find your preferred cleat position, and a generously sized cleat opening makes clipping in and out a breeze.
The Roost Clip does have a relaxed fit, which our testers noted affects the shoe's overall power transfer. However, we did not experience any heel lift with the shoe on steep climbs or technical step-ups but did notice some lateral slop in the shoe through the midfoot. Despite our mid-foot movement, the Roost Clip has very good power transfer, especially for a lace-up shoe. Overall, the Roost Clip performs very well and even outperforms more expensive shoes in many of our test metrics. If you're looking for an all-purpose mountain bike shoe, the Roost Clip is a great choice at a fair price.
Read review: Specialized 2FO Roost Clip - Unisex
Best for Enduro and Downhill
Ride Concepts Traverse - Women's
Because technical terrain places different demands on a rider's shoe, factors like impact absorption, support, and protection become even more important. The Ride Concepts Traverse is a very stable, protective, supportive shoe for technical terrain and downhill riding. From technical descents to rocky desert hike-a-bikes and cold weather alpine rides this well-designed shoe handled it all and never left us wanting. Unlike other shoes that left our feet sore after riding technical sections of trail, the Traverse soaked up trail chatter and vibrations, leaving our testers impressed by their stiffness and ability to absorb trail impacts. The Traverse also has the most protection of the shoes we tested, thanks to its asymmetrical medial collar, and also earned high marks for exceptional comfort on and off the bike.
The Traverse is the heaviest shoe we tested, weighing in at 450-grams (women's EU40), 82-grams more than the average weight of all the shoes we tested, due to the additional ankle support and protection it provides. For the rider searching for high-performing, protective, and comfortable shoes that can handle the rigors of rock-strewn technical descents, high-speed landings, and impacts from drops and jumps, the Traverse checks all the boxes.
Read review: Ride Concepts Traverse - Women's
Another Great Value
Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady
The Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady performs and looks like a much more expensive shoe. Featuring a Boa lacing, an adjustable footbed, and a nylon and composite outsole, the MTB Elite Boa Lady has top-notch performance and features at a reasonable price point. During our testing, we found the power transfer of the MTB Elite Boa Lady to be better than many other shoes we tested at and above its price point. The Elite Boa Lady felt controlled and stiff, allowing us to efficiently transfer power into our pedals. Weighing 351-grams for an EU39, the MTB Elite Lady Boa weighs in around the middle of the pack out of the shoes tested here. However, it offers substantially more forefoot protection than similar XC-style models, a feature we consider to be important when selecting a shoe, especially when they are so similar in weight and design.
That said, they don't offer the same level of protection as the beefier trail and gravity shoes we tested. The soles are also not as walk-friendly as models with more flex through the toe and full coverage rubber soles. We feel these are a good option for the rider seeking an XC-style shoe with good power transfer and comfort at a reasonable price.
Read review: Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady
Why You Should Trust Us
Our women's clipless mountain bike shoe review team is led by Tara Reddinger-Adams. Tara is the owner of North Star Mountain Bike Guides, a coach and ambassador for VIDA MTB Series, and a former bike shop employee of 11 years. She's also spent time on the racecourse, racing cross country, downhill, and enduro disciplines. Tara holds a Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Level II Air certification in addition to Bicycle Instructor Program Level II certification and helps people progress their riding skills in Arizona, Minnesota, and Colorado. Needless to say, she spends a lot of time on her bike and understands the importance of wearing a pair of shoes that both perform well and fit well.
Our testing included mellow Midwest cross-country laps, technical desert rides, and some late-season Colorado high country riding. Our riding temperatures ranged from 25 degree bluebird days to 86 degrees with high humidity. We experienced a bit of every type of weather, riding in the snow, rain, and dry, dusty conditions. After each ride, we would take copious notes on each shoe's stability, comfort, protection, and walkability.
Analysis and Test Results
Reading about mountain bike shoes online only provides part of the picture. Wearing shoes day in and day out on weekday rides, weekend excursions, and all-day epics allows us to provide you with in-depth product testing. Here is how we measured each metric to find the best all-around women's clipless mountain bike shoes. Keep in mind that our ratings are comparative, and lower scoring models may be contenders for your consideration.
An important factor to consider when purchasing a pair of mountain bike shoes is cost and performance, which typically go hand in hand. With more companies entering the mountain bike shoe market, options for quality constructed and high-performing shoes are better than ever. Just because a shoe is the most expensive does not mean it's the best choice for you and your hard-earned dollar. There are many lower-priced models available with very good performance and comfort.
The Specialized 2FO Roost Clip excels at trail riding, and the Ride Concepts Traverse shines for downhill and enduro riding and performs very well in their respective categories.
Our testers are impressed with the Roost Clip's lightweight design and excellent power transfer at a relatively wallet-friendly price. The Roost Clip is one of the lightest weight shoes we tested and can comfortably be worn on cross country laps and trail riding alike, but doesn't quite feature enough protection for the rigors of lift-accessed downhill riding. The Ride Concepts Traverse impresses us with its protection, absorption properties, stability, and overall performance on technical trails, especially loose, rowdy descents.
The Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady is also a solid performing and feature-packed shoe at an attainable price point. With features typically found in shoes costing substantially more, such as a Boa lacing system and customizable footbeds, this shoe performs very well on a variety of trails and is comfortable to boot.
Stability and Control
A shoe's stability and control is an important factor in determining how well a shoe performs, and we weighted this metric 20% of each shoe's total score. To begin, we measure the length of the opening for the cleat and consider how much fore/aft adjustment the shoe has for the cleat. Cleat placement is a personal preference, although there are some generalities based on one's preferred riding style. Because of this, we look for shoes that have maximum cleat adjustability.
We consider how much space there is around the cleat once it is installed and how easy it is to clip and unclip from the pedal. Next, we look at the shoe's power transfer, considering how much we can push, pull, and control the pedals. We take into account factors including impact absorption from jumps, drops, and technical terrain. Lastly, we assess the shoe's stability, considering factors such as lateral flex, if the sole and shank are supportive and stuff, and if we can feel the cleat under our foot.
Secondly, we look at the power transfer of the shoe, considering how much we can push and pull and transfer energy from our legs into the pedals and ultimately into the bike's drivetrain. Power transfer becomes very apparent on technical climbs when we are out of the saddle for leverage over the pedals to get up and over rocks and ledges.
Lastly, we look at the stability of the shoe, considering factors such as flex. We take into consideration lateral flex and support if we can feel the cleat through the midsole or footbed, and our overall control over the pedals. Being able to stand, push, and pull on the pedals is very important when it comes to controlling your bike because it allows you to move the bike under you. If a shoe's sole is so soft where you can feel the pedal through the footbed, it may discourage you from pushing into your pedals. Alternatively, a shoe's sole can transfer impacts and other shocks from the trail into your feet, causing pain and discomfort. It was in this metric that differences in a shoe's sole, midsole, and footbed and the ability to absorb the trail become very apparent.
Our testers find the Ride Concepts Traverse, Crankbrothers Mallet Boa, and Specialized 2FO Roost Clip have the greatest stability on the bike thanks to their stiff soles and score highest in this metric.
The Specialized 2FO Roost Clip has a Still Lollipop Nylon Composite Plate in the sole which provides a stiff and efficient pedaling platform. The Stiff Lollipop plate combined with the Body Geometry footbed and SlipNot™ FG sole absorb impacts from moderately rocky trails but begin to send more feedback into the foot on more advanced rocky trails. In contrast, the Traverse features a D30 High Impact Insole, which is much thicker and absorbs all trail chatter and impact before reaching your feet. Five Ten pairs a three-quarter dual-density TPU shank with an EVA midsole on the Hellcat.
If your mountain bike shoes are not comfortable, other factors can become meaningless. Your shoe should fit and feel like an extension of your body, and we recognize that fit is highly personal. Everyone has a different sized foot, with many variables for length, width, and volume. Because of this, some manufacturers are stepping away from men's and women's shoes and making "unisex" shoes. In this latest round of testing, we have included both women's specific and unisex models. For our comfort metric, we considered the shoe's length, width, and volume for our foot and the ability to adjust the shoe's fit for a foot that was wider, narrower, or with a different volume. We also monitor for pressure points or hot spots when wearing the shoe. Next, we contemplate if it's a shoe we would want to wear all day. A sleek race shoe might be uncomfortable after two hours, so we focus on comfort for rides ranging from after-work laps to all-day epics. Shoes that are uncomfortable on short rides made their way to the bottom of the pack, while those that felt great after two hours made it into our second phase of testing on longer and more technical rides. Comfort accounts for 25% of a shoe's total score.
During testing, we discovered that a shoe's comfort was most affected by its stability and stiffness on varying types of terrain and extended rides. Since we consider this to be a greater function of the shoe's overall stability, stiffness, cleat placement, and flex, we discuss comfort in relation to stability and control.
Out testers find the fit and comfort of the shoes we tested to vary greatly. Sizing can vary greatly, as well. We highly recommend reading reviews about a shoe's sizing and referring to sizing charts when you are unable to try on a shoe before purchasing. Depending on the shoe, we had to both size up and size down to get the best fit.
We found shoes made by Giro to be generally narrow and those made by Five Ten to be generally wide. Shoes made by Specialized and Crankbrothers fell in the middle in terms of volume and width.
Of the ten pairs of shoes we tested, the Crankbrothers Mallet Boa and the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip are most comfortable for our feet. Both shoes are what we refer to as mid-volume and are not overly wide in the toebox, and may be a bit too narrow for those with a wide foot. We wore both pairs on long rides and found them to be very comfortable for all-day use.
Being able to hike in your mountain bike shoes is essential not only for steep rocky climbs that are unrideable but also for sessioning features on the trail. We walked up and over rocks, slabs, packed, wet and loose dirt, sand, and sometimes even snow to see how each shoe measures up. We critique the flex of each shoe's sole, its comfort while walking, how much dirt the sole trapped, how easily it shed dirt and debris, and how much traction we had on a variety of trail surfaces. While this may not be part of everyone's riding, we consider it an important part of an all-around shoe giving it 25% of the weight in this metric.
The Five Ten Hellcat, Five Ten Kestrel Lace, Crankbrothers Mallet Boa, Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, and Ride Concepts Traverse all score very highly for their walkability. In part, this is due to the soles being made of similar rubber compounds. The soles of the Hellcat and Kestrel Lace are made of Five Ten's Stealth C4 rubber, which is also used in their rock climbing shoes. Crankbrothers uses their Match Compound rubber on the soles of their shoes and has directional lugs for maximum traction off the bike. Specialized uses SlipNot™ FG rubber on the sole of the Roost Clip that is designed for traction. Lastly, Ride Concepts uses their DST 8.0 MID GRIP Rubber on their soles, which is similar to the Stealth C4 Rubber. All of these compounds are designed to provide maximal traction and grip, especially on rocks and roots.
The five top-performing shoes in this category performed well while hiking on rocks. Most are slippery in wet conditions due to the lack of lugs, but some shed mud better than others.
Inevitably, you will have a rock fly up and hit your foot or you will strike your foot against a rock or other trail object at some time during your riding career. Taking real-life scenarios into consideration, we looked at how much protection each shoe provides. We examined each shoe for reinforced areas, including the toe box, midfoot, ankle, and tongue, and took into consideration each shoe's stated discipline. We also looked at how well the shoe keeps dirt and debris out of the shoe and if laces could be secured to prevent them from ending up in the chain or chainring. We also considered water resistance and if moisture can easily seep into the shoe. For this metric, a shoe receives 15% of its rating.
Our top-scoring shoe for protection is the Ride Concepts Traverse. In addition to D30 reinforced zones and burly toe protection, its asymmetrical medial collar stands out from the rest. The asymmetrical medial collar protects the inside ankle on each foot from your bike's chainstays, crank arms, and random trail debris.
The Crankbrothers Mallet and Shimano AM7 also scored highly for protection. Both have a TPU reinforced toe box, and the AM7 has a neoprene ankle collar for support and to keep dirt out, while the Mallet has a highly padded ankle for protection.
This metric was the easiest to score. We place the shoes on a small scale without cleats and record the weight of each pair in addition to the size of each pair. Weight was given 15% of a shoe's score, as it affects the stability, control, and protection of the shoe.
The Giro Empire VR90 scores highest in our metric for weight, coming in at only 298 grams per shoe for a EU41. This weight was achieved by using an Easton EC90 carbon sole paired with a lightweight PremiumEvo Fiber upper, which wraps the rider's foot like a glove.
Also scoring well in this metric is the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, which is 322 grams for a EU39.5 — very lightweight for a trail shoe with a full coverage rubber sole.
Many factors influence your decision on what pair of clipless mountain bike shoes to purchase, and we've just tested ten of the best pairs available. We encourage you to read through our reviews and consider the type of riding you'll be doing, your foot shape, and your budget when making a decision. Also, don't be afraid to use a shoe outside of its intended category. Cross country shoes can be worn for all-mountain just as all-mountain shoes can be worn for cross country. We hope we've helped you narrow your purchase decision by putting ten of the top-rated shoes to the test.
— Tara Reddinger-Adams
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