Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Men

We tested models from Specialized, Five Ten, Ride Concepts, Crankbrothers, and more to find the best mountain bike shoes
Photo: Ian Stowe
Friday November 5, 2021
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Looking for the best new mountain bike shoes? We researched over 50 of the best clipless mountain bike shoes available before purchasing our 18 favorite models to test side by side. Our test selection includes options for the full spectrum of riding styles, disciplines, and price points from lightweight and stiff cross country shoes to beefy, protective, downhill models. Our team rigorously examined each model across months of testing and hundreds of miles of riding. We scrutinized every aspect of their comfort, design, and performance, then boiled it all down to five key metrics: comfort, weight, power transfer, walkability, and durability.

Related: Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Women of 2021
Related: Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes for Men

Top 18 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 18
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Awards Top Pick Award Top Pick Award    
Price $112.00 at Backcountry
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Overall Score
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Pros Super protective, comfortable fit, solid foot-pedal connectionStealth rubber soles, excellent power transfer, significantly lighter than previous version, great toe and heel protectionReasonably priced, comfortable, stiff, good foot protectionReasonably priced, stealth rubber soles, good foot protection, stiffVersatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual style
Cons Heavy, not the best hiking tractionNo medial ankle protection, short break-in periodHeavy, wide forefootHeavy, no on the fly adjustments, wide toe box, sizing runs bigSingle boa closure, limited traction in wet conditions
Bottom Line Ample foot protection for burly descents in a durable, comfortable packageAwesome power transfer, foot protection, and off the bike traction with a mid-pack weight that expands this gravity shoe's appeal to trail ridersOn the heavier side but with excellent power transfer and foot protection for enduro and gravity oriented ridersA beefy all-mountain and enduro shoe with good foot protection and grippy Stealth rubber solesThis shoe has the versatility, performance, and style to be a reliable daily driver for any rider, and it won't break the bank
Rating Categories Ride Concepts Men's... Five Ten Hellcat Pro Giro Chamber II Five Ten Kestrel Lace Pearl Izumi X-Alp L...
Power Transfer (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Comfort (25%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
Traction Walkability (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Weight (15%)
4.0
7.0
5.0
6.0
7.0
Durability (15%) Sort Icon
10.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
Specs Ride Concepts Men's... Five Ten Hellcat Pro Giro Chamber II Five Ten Kestrel Lace Pearl Izumi X-Alp L...
Closure Laces and Powerstrap Laces plus wide velcro strap Laces plus power strap Lace and hook and loop strap L6 Boa
Measured Weight (per shoe) 547 grams 452 grams 525 grams 484 grams 436 grams
Size Tested 43.5 10 (44) 44 43 45
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Upper Material Welded Microfiber Upper Synthetic with DWR Water resistant microfiber Polyurethane-coated synthetic Recycled Cordura fabric
Footbed D30 High Impact Insole Five Ten padded foam Molded DH EVA EVA Pearl Izumi Insole
Sole RC Powerdrive Nylon Shank 3/4 length Dual-density TPU shank/Compression-molded EVA Tri-molded SPD compatible shank Nylon Composite shank
Outsole Rubber Kinetics DST 8.0 Mid Grip Rubber Stealth Marathon Vibram megagrip C4 Stealth Vibra, ECOSTEP


Best Overall Aggressive All-Mountain Shoe


Five Ten Hellcat Pro


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 9
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction Walkability 8
  • Weight 7
  • Durability 10
Weight (per shoe): 452g (size 10.5) | Closure: Laces plus Velcro strap
Excellent power transfer
Much lighter than previous version
Stealth rubber soles
Good foot protection
Grippy rubber soles
No medial ankle protection
Moderate weight

The Five Ten Hellcat Pro is a gravity-specific clipless mountain bike shoe designed for downhill and enduro racing. This shoe was recently updated with a significant weight reduction, which has broadened its appeal to a much wider range of riders. They now weigh in at just 452-grams per shoe, over 100-grams lighter than the previous version. While that still isn't super light, it does make them a viable option for aggressive trail and all-mountain riders. They have a stiff 3/4 length TPU shank that provides excellent power transfer, and a cushioned EVA midsole to help absorb impact and vibration. Grippy Stealth rubber covers all of the sole except the cleat box which has a massive range of adjustment to suit a huge range of rider preferences. The toe and heel are heavily reinforced to ward off toe-smashing rocks and protect the feet. Trusty shoelaces and a broad velcro strap do a fine job of securing the foot.

The Hellcat Pro is a burly pair of shoes and they have a bit of a stiff, blocky feel until they break in a little. The stiff soles have some flex through the toe, but they are a little stiffer when walking than some other models we tested. They also offer good protection for the toe and heel, though they don't have much padding or any coverage for the medial ankle like some other gravity shoes. That said, we were really impressed by these shoes and feel they are a great option for aggressive trail, all-mountain, enduro, and downhill riders.

Read review: Five Ten Hellcat Pro Pro

Best Overall XC Style Shoe


Giro Empire VR90


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 10
  • Comfort 9
  • Traction Walkability 6
  • Weight 10
  • Durability 9
Weight (per shoe): 388g (size 45) | Closure: Laces
Lightweight
Stiff carbon soles
Lugged Vibram rubber outsole
Very comfortable
Customizable insoles
Expensive
No on-the-fly adjustments
Minimal foot protection

The Giro Empire VR90 took high honors in our tests and our favorite option for XC riding and racing 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 racecourse. The Easton EC90 carbon sole is uncompromisingly stiff, providing excellent pedaling efficiency and making the most of your effort. We feel these are a very versatile option as well, and they can easily double as a gravel grinding or road riding shoe.

The Empire VR90 didn't take top honors for its traction and walkability, but a very slight amount of flex in the toe coupled with a grippy Vibram rubber outsole proved quite capable off the bike, especially 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 Versatile All-Mountain Shoe


CrankBrothers Mallet Boa


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 7
  • Comfort 9
  • Traction Walkability 9
  • Weight 7
  • Durability 9
Weight (per shoe): 454g (size 45) | Closure: Boa and Velcro Strap
Secure Fit
Comfortable
Walkable Sole
Robust Construction
Average power transfer
Slightly long fit

We understand that most riders aren't looking to fill their closet with the perfect pair of shoes for every riding situation. Many riders—some of our testers included—prefer a single pair of hassle-free shoes that they can throw on for everything from downhill shuttle laps to cross country adventures. Crankbrothers' Mallet Boa is the closest thing we've found in all of our testing to a do-it-all super shoe. These shoes weren't our top performer in any single category, but they performed well across every one of our metrics and in every riding situation we threw them into. The sole is solid and efficient enough for all-day pedaling while the toe and heel flex enough to keep your calves from fatiguing while hiking. A Boa closure and velcro power strap ensure a fast, easy fit that's easily adjustable, and a wide, long cleat box allows easy entry and exit from your pedals and offer plenty of cleat adjustability. The upper is breathable but protective enough to provide peace of mind on rocky, toe-grabbing descents.

We found a lot to love about these shoes. As with any shoe, though, there are some inevitable nits to pick. After having a few different testers try them on we found that the fit is slightly longer than average. It didn't cause us any issues in testing, but the toe box had a little bit of extra wiggle room. Additionally, the sole is sturdy, but not quite as stiff as the snappiest all-mountain shoes available. We felt a little bit of sole flex over the body of our pedals when we really stood up and cranked. Regardless, riders who are looking for a shoe that won't feel out of place anywhere but a high-level cross country race should absolutely take a look at the Mallet Boa.

Read review: Crankbrothers Mallet Boa

Best Bang for Your Buck All-Mountain Trail Shoe


Specialized 2FO Roost Clip


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8
  • Comfort 7
  • Traction Walkability 9
  • Weight 10
  • Durability 8
Weight (per shoe): 375g (size 43.5) | Closure: Laces
Casual style
Good power transfer
Lightweight
Reasonable price
Roomy fit in the forefoot
Not the best lateral stability

The 2FO Roost Clip may be one of the least expensive shoes in our test, but that didn't stop them from becoming a tester favorite. These lace-up shoes have a casual style that doesn't scream "mountain bike shoe", yet we feel they are a great option for trail and all-mountain riders. They look like they should be heavy, but they are actually one of the lightest shoes we tested at just 375-grams per shoe in a size 43.5 EU. They aren't the stiffest shoes in the world, but we never felt that weren't stiff enough for their intended use. With full coverage SlipNot FG rubber soles and a slight amount of flex through the toe and heel, they are easy to walk in with great traction on most surfaces. They're quite comfortable, with Body Geometry footbeds, an Airmesh tongue, cushioned EVA midsole, and a rubber toe bumper for protection. Our test pair has also proven to be quite durable, and they look nearly new despite weeks of heavy use.

Our biggest gripe with the 2FO Roost Clip is with the fit of the forefoot. It's definitely a bit roomy, and we had a difficult time getting a precise fit towards the front of the shoe. Our inability to get a snug fit in the forefoot led to a feeling of slightly reduced lateral stability. We'd recommend these shoes for riders with average to slightly above average width feet. Beyond that, we were impressed with these affordable shoes, and feel they are a great option for most riders.

Read review: Specialized 2FO Roost Clip

Best Bang for Your Buck Cross Country Shoe


Scott MTB Team Boa


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8
  • Comfort 9
  • Traction Walkability 6
  • Weight 10
  • Durability 7
Weight (per shoe): 359g (size 44) | Closure: Boa dial plus Velcro strap
Good power transfer
Comfortable
Secure closures
Many features
Minimal foot protection
Not the most durable

Are you looking for an affordable XC-style mountain bike shoe with comfort, features, and performance that rivals the best in the test? The Scott MTB Team Boa is a great option for the cross-country or light-duty trail rider on a budget. This stiff-soled shoe is one of the lightest we've tested, plus they provide excellent, efficient transfer of power to the pedals. They are also impressively comfortable, with a performance fit, supple synthetic uppers, and a Boa closure that wraps the foot snugly and securely. While they are less expensive, the Scott MTB Team Boa is feature-packed with a thoughtful design in a lower mid-price package.

If you're considering the Scott MTB Team Boa, you should know that it isn't a carbon copy of a high-end XC shoe. Their stiffness isn't entirely on par due to a lack of a carbon shank, although they are pretty close. Due to their stiff soles and lugged tread, they also aren't the best option for those who may encounter frequent hike-a-bikes. They also offer very limited foot protection, so those riding in especially rugged terrain may want to look elsewhere.

Read review: Scott MTB Team Boa

Best on a Tight Budget


Giro Gauge


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 6
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction Walkability 10
  • Weight 7
  • Durability 7
Weight (per shoe): 452g (size 45) | Closure: Laces
Super walkable
Athletic styling
Good traction
Very inexpensive
Below average sole stiffness
Minimal protection

For less than one hundred dollars, Giro's uniquely styled Gauge packs in a ton of value. The sole is one of the most walkable we've ever tried while the injected nylon shank provides enough stiffness for a sturdy pedaling platform and keeps the shoe from folding over the pedal. The outsole has an aggressive lug pattern that hikes well in low-traction situations, and the reinforced running shoe-esque upper breathes well while maintaining decent lateral stability on the bike. Over the course of our testing period, we learned that these shoes excel on casual to moderately technical trail and cross country rides, and in any situation that involves extended time off the bike. Whether you're hanging out at the brewery post-ride or taking a bonus hike to bag a nearby peak, these shoes will keep you comfortable.

Despite how much we loved this shoe in testing, we should be clear that it does not provide the same level of performance as the top shoes in the test. While sturdy, the pedaling platform leaves something to be desired in high-torque, high-power situations. The lace enclosure is simple and easy but doesn't offer the same on-the-fly adjustability as a Boa, ratchet, or velcro strap, and the mesh-heavy upper provides considerably less foot protection than a typical all-mountain shoe despite some reinforcement at the toe and heel. Riders who value comfort, versatility, and savings over peak performance should definitely give this shoe a shot, however.

Read review: Giro Gauge

Best for Foot Protection


Ride Concepts Men's Transition


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8
  • Comfort 9
  • Traction Walkability 8
  • Weight 4
  • Durability 10
Weight (per shoe): 547g (size 43.5) | Closure: Laces and Velcro Strap
Well-padded
Sleek, durable design
Comfortable
Heavy
Walking traction

Sometimes rough terrain or high-consequence trails call for a little bit of extra protection, and the Ride Concepts Transition provides it in spades. Anyone who's ever clipped their toe on a rock or stump knows the importance of well-placed padding in a mountain bike shoe. This beefy, do-it-all gravity shoe has strategically placed D3O padding throughout its body along with rigid toe and heel cups and medial ankle protection to help keep your feet safe in rowdy terrain. The thick welded microfiber upper will stand up to abrasion and should last for at least a couple of seasons of abuse. During testing, we put these shoes through a meat grinder of shuttle laps, trail rides, and rock gardens with more than a few direct impacts, and they came out the other side with just a few small scuffs and scrapes. The outsole features an extra-wide cleat box that allows for fast and easy entry and exit, and the stiff nylon shank provides a solid pedaling platform. The toe box has enough flex to allow for a natural walking gait, and the fit is comfortable on long days in the saddle or hike-heavy jump sessions.

We found the mid grip Rubber Kinetics outsole a little bit slippy when conditions got wet, and we would be remiss if we failed to mention that this is also one of the heaviest shoes we tested. However, they feel reasonably light on your feet, and we think that in aggressive trail riding or gravity-oriented applications, the extra weight is well worth the added protection and durability.

Read review: Ride Concepts Transition

Best for Adventure Riding


Specialized Rime 2.0


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 7
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction Walkability 10
  • Weight 8
  • Durability 8
Weight (per shoe): 419g (size 44.5) | Closure: Laces and Boa
Lightweight
Beefy Vibram Sole
Comfortable
Water-repellant
Less than ideal power transfer
Limited on-the-fly adjustment

If you're the type who regularly likes to venture deep into the backcountry and tackle some rugged alpine terrain, look no further than the Specialized Rime 2.0. Of all the shoes we tested, this model felt most at home on craggy uneven terrain when the inevitable hike-a-bike occurred. The thick, lugged Vibram sole clings to uneven rocks and loose hillsides like it's made of duct tape, and the rockered toe section flexes to make walking comfortable and natural. The XPEL mesh upper repels water in the case of a creek crossing or surprise rainstorm to keep your toes dry and happy, and it provides ample protection from the hazards of riding technical terrain.

Despite its hiking-shoe pedigree, the Rime 2.0 doesn't sacrifice much in the pedaling department. At just 419 grams, they're among the lightest trail/all-mountain shoes out there, so they're far from feeling like bricks on the climbs. At the same time, the nylon sole insert doesn't flex much when you pile on the power, ensuring that you get all the efficiency you need for long days in the saddle. They're certainly not cross-country race shoes, but we were more than happy with the pedaling platform given the off-bike performance. Next time we head out for a long day in rough terrain, we know exactly which shoe we're going to bring.

Read review: Specialized Rime 2.0

Best Flat Pedal Shoe


Five Ten Freerider Pro


Rubber Type: Stealth S1 | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
Grippy soles
Sturdy construction
Great power transfer
Expensive-ish

The Five Ten Freerider Pro impressed our testers across the board and rose to the top of a stacked test field of the best flat pedal shoes on the market. These versatile shoes have a grippy Stealth rubber sole with a full dot tread that has a locked-in and tenacious pedal grip. The soles are stiff enough to provide a solid transfer of power to the pedals, yet flexible enough to allow for easy enough walking and a good pedal feel. The synthetic uppers are durable and robust without feeling bulky, with just enough protection for most styles of riding. The medium-volume fit is comfortable and should work for most riders. The Freerider Pro is a well-rounded performer, that works as well for long trail rides as it does for lapping the bike park or goofing off at the pump track.

While we love the grippy-ness of the Freerider Pro, it may be a bit much for some riders. Subtle foot movements and repositions can be somewhat challenging compared to other shoes. Dirt jumpers and bike park riders may want to look elsewhere. They have adequate foot protection for most styles of riding, but they aren't the most protective shoe. Serious downhillers who spend their time riding lifts and smashing rocks may want to look into burlier options. Beyond that, we think this is an incredible shoe for any type of riding.

Read review: Five Ten Freerider Pro

Best Bang for Your Buck Flat Pedal Shoe


Ride Concepts Livewire


Rubber Type: Kinetics DST6.0 High Grip | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
Good grip
Quality construction
Low price
Less grippy than some
Limited ventilation

Ride Concepts is a newcomer to the mountain bike shoe market, but this up-and-coming 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

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
86
$300
Editors' Choice Award
Lightweight, stiff, and comfortable, this shoe is one of our favorites
84
$180
Top Pick Award
A quality gravity shoe with excellent power transfer, foot protection, and off the bike traction with a mid-pack weight that expands its appeal and versatility
83
$130
Best Buy Award
Lightweight with good power transfer and walkability, these are a reasonably priced trail riding shoe with casual styling
83
$200
Top Pick Award
This shoe strikes a great balance between performance, comfort, and style and is a great option for many types of riding
83
$160
Top Pick Award
A lightweight and sturdy shoe to take on the backcountry
83
$160
Comfortable fit, casual style, and great on-trail performance make this a versatile option for trail riders
81
$225
Riders looking for an efficient XC shoe without sacrificing too much comfort and walkability should check these out
81
$260
This shoe channels your power directly into the pedals, but remains a comfortable off-the-bike shoe
81
$200
Stiff, comfortable, and protective, this shoe is a great choice for the demands of enduro-style riding
80
$160
Top Pick Award
This durably constructed shoe will keep your feet safe and comfortable on the descents
79
$150
Best Buy Award
An XC/trail riding shoe that combines high performance with affordability
79
$150
All mountain and enduro riders will love the power transfer, foot protection, and grippy soles of this shoe
79
$150
A great option for gravity riders with solid power transfer and great foot protection
78
$90
Best Buy Award
These shoes offer a good blend of on and off-the-bike performance for casual trail riding or bikepacking
73
$150
A budget-friendly option best suited to XC and gravel style riding
72
$180
Scott's do-it-all trail shoe has a great double-Boa closure system but an unusually high-volume fit
70
$129
This shoe left us wanting in the power transfer department, but worked well when walking
67
$250
High expectations but underwhelming performance from one of the industry's most popular shoe manufacturers

We&#039;ve tested lots of shoes over the past several years.
We've tested lots of shoes over the past several years.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Why You Should Trust Us


Jeremy Benson, Zach Wick, and Dillon Osleger made up our primary review team for this project. Between the three of them, they have over fifty years of riding experience, and their diverse backgrounds bring a variety of strengths to our review process.

Benson is the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab and has been mountain biking for over 25 years, the last 20 of which have been spent enjoying the trails around his home base of Lake Tahoe, CA. When he isn't busy testing all manner of mountain bike gear for reviews, you can find him on the racecourse racking up impressive results. In addition to his gear review work, Benson is the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, a guidebook published by Mountaineers Books in 2017.

Wick has been riding and racing bikes of all kinds for the past 17 years, and has experience racing at an elite level in virtually every discipline of the sport. He's spent years working in a product development test lab in the mountain bike industry where he's developed a keen sense of what makes good bike gear tick. These days he can be found riding his local trails in Santa Cruz, CA, and jumping into races when the mood strikes.

Dillon is an extremely versatile rider who competes in the Pro class in Enduro, XC, and gravel racing. He recently earned a Master's degree in Earth Science from the University of California Santa Barbara. When Dillon isn't testing gear or training for the next race, he works for a trail stewardship organization in the Santa Barbara, CA area.

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 weeks researching and discussing the newest and best shoes on the market before selecting our test models. From the California foothills to the desert southwest, XC pedal fests to shuttle laps, each model was ridden for hundreds of miles of climbing and descending, and we even did a fair bit of hiking. Each shoe was ridden on its own in addition to numerous back-to-back switch-outs for a head-to-head comparison. When testing concluded, we rated each model's power transfer, comfort, traction and walkability, weight, and durability to provide a concise overall score.

Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Shoes

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Click to enlarge
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Analysis and Test Results


We tested these shoes on a variety of terrain and trail types before evaluating them based on our metrics and providing a score for each. We included shoes that cover the full range of riding disciplines and styles to ensure a well-rounded comparison. In order to get a true idea of the best shoes on the market, we put a large cross-section of XC race shoes up against Enduro/All-mountain and gravity-oriented shoes.

Our testers spend lots of time out in the field while testing...
Our testers spend lots of time out in the field while testing mountain bike shoes.
Photo: Laura Casner

These days, clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes are used in just about every sub-discipline of the sport: gravel grinding, cyclocross, XC racing, enduro racing, trail riding, and downhill. Your preferred type of riding is one of many important factors that go into your mountain bike shoe purchase decision. Still, during testing, we found that the best shoes these days can be incredibly versatile and effectively span multiple disciplines.

Related: Buying Advice for Mountain Bike Shoes

Value


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 and Giro Gauge, scored well across our metrics despite a lower price tag than much of the competition.


Power Transfer


Your shoes comprise a key interface between your legs and your pedals and are one of only three contact points between your body and the bike. This is a critical interaction between rider and machine, and sole stiffness dictates how efficiently shoes transfer your energy and power directly into your drivetrain. A stiff sole and solid shoe-to-pedal interface create a sturdy platform for the rider to translate their leg power directly into forward motion. In contrast, a flimsy sole saps power by flexing and may cause foot fatigue. 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 over flat pedals/shoes.

Our favorite shoes have stiff soles that transfer the majority of...
Our favorite shoes have stiff soles that transfer the majority of your effort straight into your pedals. Whether you're a trail rider or a racer, good power transfer is a plus.
Photo: Laura Casner

Carbon fiber often creates the stiffest and lightest sole platform and is generally found in high-end cross-country race mountain bike shoes. More budget-friendly XC shoes and the vast majority of trail and enduro shoes use nylon plastic composite soles or inserts to provide rigidity. While it's not quite as snappy as carbon, nylon is the next best thing and does the job admirably. Shoes without a solid sole or insert tend to collapse over the pedal under heavy pedaling forces, significantly reducing the amount of power that gets translated into the pedals.


We tested the power transfer of each shoe first by using the simple flex-in-the-hands test and then by feel and observation over hundreds of miles of riding. While they can be subtle, the differences in stiffness are noticeable, especially when switching between shoes frequently in back-to-back testing. Our stiffest shoe was the Giro Empire VR90. The Giro uses an Easton EC90 carbon sole that is impressively stiff and offers excellent power transfer. The Specialized Recon 3.0 is a close second with its stiff-but-walkable carbon STRIDE sole. Sidi is also known for their stiff-soled XC shoes, and the Trace 2 has some of the best power transfer in the test as well.

Your shoes are one of your contact points with the bike. The best...
Your shoes are one of your contact points with the bike. The best shoes are like an extension of your body.
Photo: Laura Casner

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 Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch, Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, Five Ten Hellcat Pro, and the Crankbrothers Mallet 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 while maintaining a semi-normal gait off the bike.

Comfort


When you're spending multiple hours in the saddle or chattering down rough trails, comfort can make or break your day. The more comfortable your shoe is, the more comfortable you are, and the better you can ride. Discomfort can be a huge distraction when a few millimeters one way or the other can mean the difference between nailing your line or ending up in a heap. 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. Not surprisingly, some of the most comfortable shoes in our test are designed for gravity and all-mountain riding with thicker, more protective uppers and cushioning. Shoes like the Five Ten Kestral Pro Boa and the Ride Concepts Transition may be a little heavier than the competition, but they are very comfortable. These beefy shoes also give the rider extra peace of mind when riding technical terrain.

One of our favorite shoes is the Giro Empire VR90. They fit quite tight out of the box and take a few rides to break in, but the synthetic uppers eventually conform to the foot for a supremely comfy fit. The simple, lightweight lace-up design tightens uniformly around the foot and rarely requires adjustment during long rides. Giro also makes them in a regular fit for people with narrower or average width feet as well as a high-volume (HV) fit to accommodate wider feet.

Other highly rated products for comfort include the Crankbrothers Mallet Boa, Specialized Rime 2.0, and the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, all of which feature comfortable insoles, quality closures, and an all-around great fit.

Modern trail riding shoes successfully blend good power transfer and...
Modern trail riding shoes successfully blend good power transfer and off-the-bike traction and walkability.
Photo: Laura Casner

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 models felt more like tap-dancing shoes than something made for rugged terrain, 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 those 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 used to ride past.

Full coverage rubber soles are becoming the norm on modern trail...
Full coverage rubber soles are becoming the norm on modern trail riding shoes, making walking or hiking in them much easier.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

A shoe's outsole material and tread design are the most significant factors in the traction it provides. Some models, such as the Ride Concepts Transition and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch, provide an incredible grip on dry surfaces, but the shallow tread design can be slippery in muddy and 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.

These days 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 Specialized Rime 2.0. Its widely-spaced, prominent rubber lugs and stiff sole that only flexes through the toe blurs the lines between hiking and riding shoes and provides an unprecedented combination of power transfer and traction. Other shoes with great walkability, traction, and power transfer include the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, and the Crankbrothers Mallet Boa.

A couple of our test shoes fall a little bit too far towards the walkability side of the spectrum. The Fi'zi:k Terra Ergolace X2 and Sidi SD15 each offer great grip and a flexible sole for comfortable walking but suffer big time once you get on the pedals. Both of these models tend to fold around the pedal as you input power, sapping your energy and fatiguing your foot. We wouldn't recommend either of these shoes for high-performance applications.

Yup, we weigh the shoes we test. The Giro Chamber II are some of the...
Yup, we weigh the shoes we test. The Giro Chamber II are some of the heaviest.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Weight


Let's face it, all other things being equal, lighter is better when you're on the trail. The less weight we have to haul around on the trail, the faster we can travel and the longer we can ride before fatigue starts to set in. 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. The Ride Concepts Transition sits at the other end of the spectrum weighing in at 1,094-grams or 2 lbs 4 oz, almost a pound heavier than the lightest shoes we tested, a trade-off for their enhanced foot protection and durability. A couple of the other super lightweight shoes we tested are the Giro Empire VR90 at 776-grams or 1 lb 11 oz, and the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip at 750-grams for the pair.

It&#039;s not surprising that the burlier gravity-oriented shoes are...
It's not surprising that the burlier gravity-oriented shoes are among the most durable.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Durability


Mountain bike shoes are an investment, the longer they last, the greater your return is on that investment. The shoes in our test range 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. When we get a new pair of shoes, we hope that they'll last at least a season or two of hard riding before giving up the ghost. 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, and inadvisably pedaling through rock gardens all to see how they stood up to use over time.


The outsole rubber compounds and tread designs used by the different shoe manufacturers all wear differently. As we expected, we found softer rubber compounds to wear more quickly, while the firmer Vibram Megagrip rubber of the Giro Chamber II and the Rubber Kinetics sole of the Ride Concepts Transition each looked barely used even after months of use. Lugged soles, like those found on the Scott MTB Team Boa, may also tend to wear down somewhat quickly if you spend lots of time hiking on rocks. Every model we tested also uses some synthetic 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 their 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 the Giro Empire VR90, trail shoes like the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, and gravity-oriented models like the Five Ten Hellcat Pro. Laces are simple, lightweight, efficient, and easily and inexpensively replaced. The only drawback is the lack of on-the-fly tension adjustment.

Boa dials and velcro straps allow for quick on-trail adjustments...
Boa dials and velcro straps allow for quick on-trail adjustments, but they can be prone to wear and damage.
Photo: Zach Wick

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 side of the shoe. Fortunately, most ratchets and straps are fully replaceable in case of 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 are typically far longer lasting than Velcro. These dial and cable closure systems are often fully replaceable and sometimes covered under warranty.

Sharp rocks are no match for the durable and well made Chamber II.
Sharp rocks are no match for the durable and well made Chamber II.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

It's not surprising that the heavier shoes in our test were also some of the highest-rated shoes for durability. The Ride Concepts Transition is a burly model with a full coverage rubber outsole and a welded microfiber upper. The Giro Chamber II and Five Ten Hellcat Pro also scored highly in this metric due to their similarly hefty construction. We were astonished, however, to find that the ultra-lightweight Giro Empire VR90 was also very durable. It got high marks for its incredibly abrasion-resistant uppers, simple closures, and durable Vibram rubber outsole.

Conclusion


There's a ton to consider when choosing a pair of clipless mountain bike shoes. Depending on your riding style, there are myriad viable options out there. Your choice should depend first and foremost on the type of riding you enjoy—whether it be XC, trail/all-mountain, enduro, or downhill—and everything beyond that should be based on what you value out on the trail. Whether you're looking for protection, speed, comfort, or control, there's something out there for you. We put in the miles to make sure that you're as informed as possible before jumping into a pricey new pair of kicks. Hopefully, our in-depth review helped you parse out the best all-around shoe for you.

Considering dropping in on a new pair of mountain bike shoes? There...
Considering dropping in on a new pair of mountain bike shoes? There are loads of great options on the market to meet the varying needs and budgets of every rider.
Photo: Laura Casner

Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger, Zach Wick

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