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To find the best women's mountain bike shoe for you, we researched over 45 options of women's and unisex shoes and purchased the top 12 to test side-by-side. We have noticed more and more models now have specific features for their intended discipline, and during our testing, we took that into consideration. The shoes in our test range from cross-country models to all-mountain and downhill-specific models. Each pair was tested on a variety of trails, where we evaluated their strengths and weaknesses in relation to their intended use. We hope this detailed comparative review helps you find the perfect shoes for your needs and budget.
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.
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.
The Ride Concepts Hellion Clip shines on technical singletrack and especially on technical descents. What really impressed our testers is how supportive and comfortable the shoe is on long rides. In addition, the Hellion Clip has great power transfer and trail absorption is comfortable for hiking, and is reinforced in all the right places providing ample foot protection earning it our top spot for all-mountain riding.
The Hellion Clip Women’s has great lateral stiffness and trail absorption. When powering up technical climbs our feet stayed securely in place and the stiff EVA midsole and PowerDrive nylon shank do not flex underfoot resulting in good power transfer. While descending baby-head strewn trail, we never experienced a loss of stability and the EVA midsole dampened trail vibrations. The synthetic Microfiber uppers are stiff with reinforced zones at the toe and heel and a generously padded tongue and ankle collar provide support and protection. The sole features Ride Concepts Clip Grip rubber and have an extended cleat box with a “runway” that makes clipping in a breeze. The biggest drawback to the Hellion Clip Women’s is its breathability which is a trade-off for its performance in our other metrics.
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.
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 a 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.
Our women's clipless mountain bike shoe review team is led by Tara Reddinger-Adams is the owner of North Star Mountain Bike Guides, coaches 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. 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. She enjoys helping others feel more confident on the bike and improve their skills. 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, desert riding in Arizona, and some late-season Colorado high country riding. Our riding temperatures ranged from 25-degree bluebird days to 95 degrees. We experienced a bit of every type of weather, riding in the snow, rain, and dry, dusty conditions. After each ride, we took copious notes on each shoe's stability, comfort, protection, and walkability.
Wearing different clipless mountain bike shoes on a variety of terrain and in a variety of conditions helps us to provide you with in-depth product testing. From cross-country trails to slow-speed technical trails, and baby head-strewn descents we put a variety of shoes through our test metrics to determine the best women’s and unisex clipless mountain bike shoes available today. 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. With more companies making shoes and shoes becoming more discipline-specific the differences can seem overwhelming. There are now more options available at multiple price points and more options for each riding style. Keep in mind just because a shoe is the most expensive does not mean it's the best choice available. In our testing, we have found lower-priced models that employ trickle-down technologies and perform really well.
Many of the shoes in our testing are made to excel in a specific discipline. For example, the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip excels at trail riding, the Ride Concepts Hellion Clip shines on technical trails, and the Ride Concepts Traverse bests its rivals for downhill and enduro riding.
We 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 Hellion Clip is our recommendation for technical trail riding due to its stout design, trail absorption properties, and stability.
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. 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.
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.
During our testing, we ride in a variety of positions and on a variety of terrain to test the flex, stability, and power transfer of each shoe. How well can we transfer power 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. Can we pull up on the pedals? Can we feel the cleat through the insole? How well does the shoe absorb the trail at high speeds and when landing jumps and drops? These are all questions we take into consideration.
When considering the stability of a shoe 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. When descending technical trails and when cornering, we examined how much lateral support the shoe had. Shoes with soft lateral support allow your foot to move and feel unstable. Some shoes provide excellent lateral stability, while others allow the foot to slide in the shoe, this can be especially pronounced when cornering.
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 the sole is soft it may bend and you may be able to feel the pedal through the footbed. Alternatively, a soft midsole 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.
The Ride Concepts Hellion Clip and Crankbrothers Mallet Boa have the greatest stability on the bike thanks to their stiff soles and lateral stability and score highest in this metric. The Hellion Clip has a Power Drive nylon shank that is supportive and stiff and in combination with the synthetic Microfiber uppers provide excellent lateral stability.
The Specialized 2FO Roost Clip also scores well in this metric and has a Still Lollipop Nylon Composite Plate in the sole that 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 Ride Concepts Traverse features a D30 High Impact Insole, which is much thicker and absorbs all trail chatter and impact before reaching your feet.
A poor-fitting or uncomfortable mountain bike shoe can make your ride miserable (trust us, we’ve been there). Ideally, you should not notice your shoes while riding. Fit is highly personal since our feet come in so many different sizes, shapes, lengths, widths, and volumes. Because of this some manufacturers have away from men's and women's shoes and are making "unisex" shoes. In our 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 short hour-long rides to all-day epics. Shoes that caused pressure points, hot spots, or were generally uncomfortable scored lowest in this metric while those that remained comfortable, even on long rides, scored the highest. 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.
The fit and comfort of the shoes we tested vary greatly as does sizing. We highly recommend reading reviews about a shoe's sizing and referring to sizing charts to help find the best size for your foot. Some companies also provide guidance for those who are between sizes in regards to sizing up or down. In our testing, we had to size up for some models and size down for others.
We have noticed a trend in sizing for a narrower forefoot by some manufacturers, while others list their shoes as a “relaxed fit.” The other factor is to consider the shoe's volume or the amount of space within the shoe. Some shoes in our test have quite a bit of volume while others are very low volume. Most shoes in our testing fall somewhere in the middle in terms of volume and width. In general, those by Ride Concepts have a narrower forefoot than those by Five Ten and Specialized.
Of the twelve pairs of shoes we tested, the Crankbrothers Mallet Boa and the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip are the 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.
In contrast, we found the Five Ten Trailcross Clip-In Women's to be wide at the forefoot and to have a lot of vertical volume that was not taken up by our foot. This cause some lateral movement in the shoe and a less than ideal fit.
Inevitably, there will come a time when you need to hike in your mountain bike shoes, be it a feature you’re not quite ready for, a too steep climb, or deep, unrideable sand. To test each shoe's comfort, traction, and flex for walking we scrambled up rock slabs, hiked through sand, loose slopes, packed dirt, and even a little snow to see how each shoe performed. We critique the flex of each shoe's sole, its comfort while walking, how much dirt the sole trapped, how much dirt and water enter the shoe or how well the shoe repels these things, 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.
Many shoes in our metric perform very well in this metric, thanks to grippy outsoles and good flex in the midfoot. The Ride Concepts Hellion Clip uses Clip Grip rubber in a uniform hexagonal pattern on the sole. This rubber compound is harder than the compounds found on their flat pedal shoes, but still has an exceptional grip for hiking and great flex at the midfoot for a comfortable gait. Crankbrothers uses their Match Compound rubber on the soles of their Mallet Boa Clip shoes with directional lugs for maximum traction off the bike.
Specialized uses SlipNot™ FG rubber on the sole of the Specialized 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 six 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.
One shoe that surprised us was the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit Women's which has a Vibram Ecostep outsole with a pattern similar to a hiking shoe. We wore the X-Alp Summit on our left foot with the Hellion Clip on the right and found the X-Alp Summit slid more on a loose, rocky hike a bike climb than the Hellion Clip which we were able to press more into the ground to increase traction.
Your shoes should provide some level of protection to your feet from trail impacts, rocks, and other forces in event of a crash. We looked at the amount of protection provided by the sole, midsole, footbed, and upper of each shoe for this metric. Some shoes have reinforcement at high impact areas, such as the toe box, while others favor weight over protection. 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 Boa, Ride Concepts Hellion Clip, and Shimano AM7 Women's also scored highly for protection. These shoes each have reinforced areas at the toebox and EVA foam in the midsole and or outsole to help absorb trail impacts. The Shimano AM7 even features a neoprene ankle collar for support and to keep dirt out and the Mallet has a highly padded ankle for protection.
Shoes by Ride Concepts, such as the Hellion Clip have a gusseted tongue and weather-resistant uppers to help keep moisture and dirt out of the shoe and does a great job. We wore the Hellion Clip in moondust conditions and the shoe was covered in grey powder with the consistency of baby powder, yet our socks were amazingly clean.
The Five Ten Trailcross Clip-In has the most breathable uppers of any shoe in our test, but the mesh is thin and offers little protection for your toes.
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 Sidi Trace is the lightest shoe in our test, weighing 335 grams per shoe for an EU 40 woman. Designed as more of a cross-country shoe the Trace uses lighter-weight materials and lacks the reinforced impact zones found in the trail and all-mountain shoes in our test.
Also scoring well in this metric is the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip at 322 grams for a EU39.5. The 2FO Roost Clip is very lightweight for a trail shoe with a full coverage rubber sole. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit also scores high, weighing 337 grams for an EU 40. This shoe is designed for all-day wear and uses EVA foam for impact protection as well as light reinforcement at the toebox.
Many factors influence your decision on what pair of clipless mountain bike shoes to purchase, and we've just tested twelve 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.
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