The Best Women's Mountain Bike Shoes
Best for Trail Riding
Pearl Izumi X-ALP Elevate
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate is as at home on a variety of trails ranging from cross country flow to desert classics and even the mild weather fat bike ride. Its supportive and semi-stiff sole and midsole soaks up all except the rowdiest of trails, making it a great all-round shoe choice, earning it our Editors' Choice for trail riding. For riders looking for a shoe for technical riding, we suggest looking at the Ride Concepts Traverse, whose construction is better suited to handle the rigors of technical trail riding.
Our testers found the X-Alp Elevate's power transfer to be very good, especially in comparison to other shoes we tested of a similar weight, thanks to its nylon and composite shank. A large cleat opening measuring 1 5/16" provided plenty of fore/aft adjustment allowing us to find ideal cleat placement for maximum control and stability over the pedals, allow us to stand up comfortably, while pushing and pulling on the pedals, especially on technical climbs. Other similar shoes such as the Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady and Bontrager Foray only had 1 1/8" and 1 1/16" of adjustment, meaning riders may have to compromise on their ideal cleat placement. Our testers found X-Alp Elevate to the most comfortable shoe we tested aside from the Traverse. It's welded uppers are seamless help to alleviate pressure points and the Boa lacing system allowed us to dial in the fit based on the type of sock we were wearing. The welded uppers also did a great job at keeping our feet dry, even while hiking through wet snow and riding in the rain, something few shoes in our review were able to accomplish. For riders looking for a show that's ready to ride and perform well on most any trail, we recommend the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate.
Read review: Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate
Best for Technical Riding
Ride Concepts Traverse - Women's
Because technical terrain places different demands on a rider's shoe, factors such as impact absorption, support, and protection, become even more important. We found the Ride Concepts Traverse to be the most stable, protective, supportive, and best-performing women's clipless mountain bike shoe on technical terrain earning it our Editors' Choice for Technical 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 provided the most protection out off the shoes we tested, thanks to its asymmetrical design and also earned high marks for their exceptional comfort both 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 asymmetrical medial collar, which provides ankle support and protection. The Traverse provides excellent stiffness, power transfer, and impact absorption, which impressed our testers as we were never able to feel any trail vibrations or impacts in our feet. 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
Best Bang For Your Buck
Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady
The Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady performs and looks like a much more expensive shoe. Featuring a Boa lacing, adjustable footbed, and a nylon and composite outsole, the MTB Elite Boa Lady earns our Best Buy award for its top-notch performance, features, and 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. Elite Boa Lady felt controlled and stiff, allowing us to efficiently transfer power into our pedals. Weighing in at 351 grams for an EU39, the MTB Elite Lady Boa sits in at the middle of the shoes we tested, but offers substantially more forefoot protection than shoes such as the Bontrager Foray and Sidi Trace, a feature we consider to be important when selecting a shoe, especially when they are so similar in weight and design. In addition to additional forefoot protection, the MTB Elite Boa Lady was breathable yet able to repel water, qualities which do not always go hand in hand.
Read review: Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady
Best for Comfort and Hiking
Five Ten Hellcat - Women's
The Five Ten Hellcat earns our Best Bang for the Buck Award for exceptional performance, comfort, and price. The Hellcats are consistently comfortable throughout our product testing, regardless of the weather conditions or trail, impressively our feet did not get hot in 80-degree temps, nor were they cold when the thermometer dipped to 25 degrees. The large cleat opening makes clipping in and out of our pedals easy, and the Stealth C4 rubber sole grips the rock on technical hike-a-bikes, allowing us to focus on things other than our feet, making the Hellcat a great buy. The Hellcats also have excellent shock absorption, as we were able to push, pull, drop, jump, and ride over any terrain without feeling any feedback into our feet.
One thing our testers noticed about the Hellcat's construction, especially in comparison to the Ride Concepts Traverse and the Five Ten Kestrel Lace, that some details were not as well thought out, such as the velcro strap. The velcro strap on the Hellcat is far too long for the area that it covers, leaving it hanging to the side with nothing to grab onto. We did not find this to be the case with other shoes, including the Traverse and Kestrel Lace, whose velcro straps are shorter, alleviating excess material. We were also a bit disappointed at how easily water entered the shoe as we rode through a small puddle, leaving our sock wet. However, Five Ten does offer the Hellcat in another model, the Five Ten Hellcat Pro Women's, which is advertised as being weather resistant. Overall, this shoe provides excellent stability, power transfer, and comfort, especially at its price point.
Read review: Five Ten Hellcat Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our women's clipless mountain bike shoe review team is lead 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 Minnesota and Colorado. She enjoys leading week-long mountain bike trips in iconic destinations, including Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona. 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 process was during the fall and winter, and included mellow cross-country laps to all-day desert adventures, late-season rides in Colorado's high country and even a little winter fat biking in Minnesota. We rode in temps ranging from 25 to 80 degrees, in snow, rain, and dry, dusty conditions, all while testing ten pairs of women's clipless mountain bike shoes for their 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 after work laps, weekend warrior 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-round women's clipless mountain bike shoes out of those we tested. Keep in mind that our ratings are comparative, and even the lower scoring models are decent contenders, worthy of your consideration.
An important factor to consider when purchasing a pair of mountain bike shoes is its cost and performance, which typically go hand in hand. However, just because a shoe is the most expensive does not mean it's the best choice for you and your hard-earned dollar.
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate wins our Editors' Choice for trail riding, and the Ride Concepts Traverse wins Editors' Choice for technical riding. Both shoes perform very well during testing in their respective categories, besting the competition.
Our testers are impressed with the X-Alp Elevate's power transfer, control, and comfort on a variety of trails. Where many other shoes excelled on one of two types of riding, the X-Alp Elevate is a well-rounded shoe making it a solid choice for all but the rowdiest of trails. The Ride Concepts Traverse impresses us with it's protection, absorption properties, stability and overall performance on technical trails, especially loose, rowdy descents.
Both shoes exhibit quality and thoughtful design and construction. The X-Alp Elevate features welded composite uppers and EVA midsoles and EVA foam footbeds to help absorb trail vibrations and impacts. In addition, a Boa lacing system that allows the rider to make micro adjustments to the shoes fit.
The Traverse also features welded uppers and EVA foam footbeds, in addition to a asymmetrical medial collar for ankle protection and elastic lace retainer to prevent your laces from ending up in your chain. Unlike some shoes that begin to fall apart quickly or show signs of wear, both shoes have quality construction.
The Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady takes home the Best Buy award as a solid performing 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.
The Five Ten Hellcat, another Best Buy winner, received high marks in nearly every category. A competitor to the Traverse, the Hellcats not only weigh less, but also cost less than the Traverse and are a solid performing shoe.
Stability and Control
A shoes stability and control is an important factor in determining how well a shoe performs, giving it 20% of the shoes' weight in our metric. To begin, we measure the length of the opening for the cleat and consider how much fore and aft adjustment the shoe allows the rider. We know each rider has individual preferences when it comes to cleat placement, so we look for shoes that offer maximum cleat adjustability. We also take into consideration the space around the cleat and how it affects our ability to clip and unclip from the pedal. Secondly, we looked at the power transfer of the shoe, considering how much we are able to push, pull, and control the pedals. We take into account factors including impact absorption, from both jumps, drops and technical terrain. Lastly, we look at the stability of the shoe, considering factors such as flex, if we could feel the cleat under our foot, and how much the shoe encourages or discourages us from pushing and pulling on the pedals.
Secondly, we look at the power transfer of the shoe, considering how much we are able to push and pull on the pedals to 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, if we can feel the cleat under our foot, power transfer, and control. Being able to stand, push, and pull on the pedals is very important when it comes to controlling your bike. For example, if a shoe's sole is so soft where you can feel the pedal through the footbed, it will 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, Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate and Five Ten Hellcat to offer the greatest amount of stability on the bike thanks to their stiff soles and shock-absorbing EVO foam footbeds, scoring the highest in our metric for stability and control.
The X-Alp Elevate features an EVA foam footbed and EVA midsole, which absorb most trail vibrations and impacts, except for those associated with high speed, rocky descents. 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. Our testers find this combination to work well and never felt any pressure from the trail in their feet.
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. Understanding that fit is highly personal, as everyone has a different sized foot, with many variables for length, width, and volume. With this in mind, 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 different volume. We also take into consideration factors such as pressure points or hot spots. Next, we contemplate if this would be a shoe we would want to wear all day. A sleek race fit 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 proved uncomfortable on shorter 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 rating in our metric.
We found the shoes comfort to be affected by its stability and stiffness on varying types of terrain and on 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 shoe's tested to vary greatly, with shoes made by Giro to be generally narrow and those made by Five Ten to be generally wide. Of the ten pairs of shoes we tested, our Editors' Choice winners, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate and Ride Concepts Traverse are most comfortable. Both shoes are comfortable all day and on a variety of terrain. We find the X-Alp Elevate to breathe substantially better than the Traverse, due to it's lighter weight construction and ventilation. However, that is not to say the Traverse did not breathe well.
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 sheds dirt and debris, and how much traction we have on a variety of trail surfaces. While this may not be part of everyone's riding, our testers consider it to be an important part of determining if it is a good all-round shoe giving it 25% of the weight in this metric.
The Five Ten Hellcat, Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate, Scott MTB Elite Boa Lady and Ride Concepts Traverse all score very highly for their walkability. In part, this is due to the soles being made of very similar rubber compounds. The soles of the Hellcat are made of Five Tens Stealth C4 rubber, which is also used in their rock climbing shoes. Ride Concepts uses their DST 8.0 MID GRIP Rubber on their soles, which is similar to the Stealth C4 Rubber. The X-Alp Elevate features a Vibram rubber sole, a popular material for hiking shoes and the MTB Elite Boa Lady features Scott's Sticki rubber sole, which performs similarly to the Vibram rubber. All of these compounds are designed to provide maximal traction and grip, especially on rocks and roots.
The four top-performing shoes in this category not only performed well while hiking on rocks but also when hiking in wet, muddy or snowy conditions. They all shed mud and other trail debris very well.
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 focused on how much protection each shoe provided the rider. We examined each shoe for reinforced areas in the toe box and ankle with the understanding that our shoes intended use ranged from cross country race to enduro, and that each discipline typically has different needs in terms of impact protection. We also considered how well the shoe keeps dirt and debris out of the shoe and if laces could be tucked out of the way. Lastly, we examined how water resistant the shoe is, did small amounts of moisture seep through or were our feet nice and dry? 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, it's 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 Five Ten Hellcat also scored well for protection due to reinforced uppers and gusseted tongue.
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 for the pair in an 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 highly in this metric was the Shimano ME2, which weighs only 313 grams for an EU40. This shoe offers a simplistic design, with a three velcro strap closure and minimal protection.
Many factors influence your decision on what pair of clipless mountain bike shoes to purchase, and we've just tested ten of the pairs available. We encourage you to read through our reviews and consider the type of riding you'll be doing, your foot shape, and budget when making a decision. Also, don't be afraid to use a shoe outside of it's 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