Hunting for a new pair of riding shoes? We researched over 50 of the best clipless mountain bike shoes available then purchased the cream of the crop to compare and test side by side. Our test selection of 17 shoes includes options for the full spectrum of riding styles and disciplines, from lightweight and stiff XC shoes to beefy, protective, downhill models. Our team rigorously examined each model across months of testing and hundreds of miles of riding. We tried each pair on different bikes and pedals, through a variety of weather conditions, and on terrain ranging from gnarly downhill tracks to flowy singletrack. 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: The Best Women's Mountain Bike Shoes
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes
Best Overall Mountain Bike Shoe
Specialized 2FO Cliplite
The Specialized 2FO Cliplite emerged as our Editor's Choice Award winner. Several shoes duked it over months of riding, and in the end, the 2FO proved to be the shoe that we liked most for everyday trail riding. The combination of low weight (for an all-mountain shoe), power transfer, comfort, walkability, and durability made it our champion. These shoes excel in all types of riding and have unmatched versatility. They are stiff enough that you don't feel like you're wasting energy, and they're light enough for all-day backcountry epics. They're also impressively comfortable and have excellent traction and walkability thanks to some flex through the toe and a full coverage rubber sole.
The 2FO Cliplite isn't as lightweight or stiff as some of the XC shoes we tested and probably won't make the top of the list for the spandex-clad racers out there. But everyone else should give this shoe a look. Whether you race on the enduro circuit, go for trail rides, long XC rides, bike park laps, shuttle runs, or just like to be comfortable on and off the bike, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite is a worthy option. This shoe is the total package that meets the needs of a broad range of riders.
Read review: Specialized 2FO Cliplite
Best Bang for the Buck
Scott MTB Team Boa
Are you looking for an affordable XC-styled mountain bike shoe with comfort, features, and performance that rivals the best in the test. The Scott MTB Team Boa is a relatively stiff-soled shoe with enough comfort and protection for all-day backcountry missions that you won't have to spend a week's worth of groceries to afford. From cross country racing to aggressive trail riding, the Scott MTB Team Boa can handle all disciplines of cycling with quality form and function. 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, and the comfort of a microfiber upper cannot rival that of a proper supple synthetic upper with customizable soles. While the styling is more reminiscent of a cross country shoe, the MTB Team Boa can handle trail duties across the spectrum, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious riders looking to get the most out of a single shoe.
Read review: Scott MTB Team Boa
Best for XC Riding
Giro Empire VR90
The Giro Empire VR90 took high honors in our tests, earning our Top Pick for XC Riding 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 slight amount of flex in the toe coupled with a grippy Vibram rubber outsole proved to be 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 for Enduro Racing
Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
The Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa performed well across the board in all categories, aside from weight, which is not as much of a concern in gravity disciplines. With great style, instant comfort, a stiff shank, and a grippy sole, the Kestrel Pro Boa ticks all of the boxes for features we look for in an enduro shoe at a relatively reasonable price. The carbon-infused nylon shank was indeed a standout feature of this shoe, providing an incredible response to the pedals when the need to put the power down out of corners came about mid-race. Beyond pedaling performance, this shoe is comfortable out of the box and is a great choice for riders looking for all-day comfort from trail rides to enduro races to the bike park.
Five Ten is known for its gravity focused line of bikes shoes, so it comes as no surprise that the Kestrel Pro Boa wasn't designed with XC or weight in mind. The Kestrel sits in the heavyweight class, which isn't the biggest issue for most enduro or gravity riders but should be noted. Beyond weight, Five Ten incorporated their extremely sticky stealth C4 rubber into the sole of this shoe, which is great for hiking but can get hung up on larger platform clipless pedals, which can be an issue when clipping back in. Overall, this is an incredible option for anyone considering a shoe for enduro or all-day backcountry missions where weight isn't an issue, and extra protection is appreciated on and off the bike.
Read review: Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
Best for Clipless Gravity Riders
Ride Concepts Men's Transition
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 to keep your precious feet safe from rock strikes and crash impacts. 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.
Beyond protection, the Transition has plenty to offer. 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 enough for long days in the saddle or lots of hiking. 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 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
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
Another Great Value
The Shimano AM7 is a great entry-level all-mountain or gravity shoe that is offered at a very competitive price. In fact, these are the least expensive shoes in our test selection at retail. They have skate shoe-inspired styling and the comfort to match. Durable synthetic leather uppers conform to the feet while a combination of traditional laces and a velcro strap secure them and lock down your heel. The AM7 is also relatively well ventilated and has a short neoprene cuff above the ankle to help keep rocks and debris out of your shoes. A full-coverage Ultra-Grip sole provides confident footing and traction for off-the-bike endeavors with flex through the toe to facilitate walking.
While there is undoubtedly a lot to like about the AM7, testers found them to be a little lacking in the power transfer department. Rated as a 6 on Shimano's stiffness scale of 1-11, these shoes simply don't stand up to the competition when it comes time to lay down the power. That said, they are likely stiff enough for non-competitive riders or those who prefer a less aggressive sole. They also aren't particularly lightweight, but considering their intended use and the price we feel it is respectable. If you're on a budget and you're looking for a comfortable shoe for all-mountain or gravity riding, check out the Shimano AM7.
Read review: Shimano AM7
Best MTB Bike Flat Shoe
Five Ten Freerider Contact
The Freerider Contact has been our Editors' Choice flat shoe for three years straight. It's so sticky you'll almost think you're clipped in. This super-versatile model offers good power transfer and comfortable that is at home on rides ranging from cross-country to enduro and light-duty downhill shredding. This year, it got it's first real competition from the ION Raid AMP II, which shared the Editors' Choice award. Both shoes are amazing.The ION edged ahead in the scores by offering slightly more comfort, arch support, and durability. It's equally grippy and costs roughly the same as the Contact. However, the Contact is still one of our top choices if sticking to the pedals is your top concern.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Contact
Best Value In a Flat Shoe
Ride Concepts Livewire
Ride Concepts is a newcomer to the mountain bike shoe market, but this Truckee, CA-based brand entered the party with a polished and quality line of shoes including the affordable Livewire. Named for the most popular trail at the Northstar-at-Tahoe mountain bike park, the Livewire packs a lot of features and performance for the price. These well-made shoes are lightweight and have a comfortable fit with a quality insole and a shaped tongue. They provide foot protection with a reinforced toe and heel and the soles fall about middle of the pack in terms of stiffness. Ride Concepts has also created a proprietary rubber compound for their full dot soles, and the Kinetics DST 6.0 High Grip rubber provides excellent grip both on and off the pedals.
If you value sole stiffness it should be noted that the Livewire isn't quite as stiff underfoot as some of the competition. Our testers loved the grip of the rubber as well, though people seeking the absolute tackiest soles may want to look into other models. That said, the Livewire is a great new shoe at a reasonable price that truly impressed our testers.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Why You Should Trust Us
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 18 of which have been spent enjoying the trails around his home base of Truckee, CA. When he isn't busy testing all manner of mountain bike gear for reviews, 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, and 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 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 days researching the newest and best models on the market before selecting our 18 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 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
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of thousands of miles of riding, we tested these shoes on a variety of terrain and trail types. We evaluated them based on our metrics and provided a score for each. We included shoes that cover the full range of riding disciplines and styles to ensure a well-rounded comparison. We put a good cross-section of XC race shoes up against Enduro/All-mountain and gravity oriented shoes to see what works best and how they compare to each other.
These days, clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes are used in every sub-discipline of the sport: gravel grinding, cyclocross, XC racing, enduro racing, everyday trail riding, and downhill. The type of riding you do is one of many important factors that go into your mountain bike shoe purchase decision. Still, during testing, we found that the best shoes these days can be incredibly versatile and effectively span multiple disciplines.
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 Specialized Rime 2.0, scored well across our metrics despite a lower price tag than much of the competition.
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 creates 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 causes 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 flats.
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 testing and then by feel and observation over thousands of miles of riding. While subtle, the differences in stiffness are noticeable, especially when switching between shoes frequently. Our stiffest shoe is the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 followed closely by the Giro Empire VR90. The Giro uses an Easton EC90 carbon sole that is impressively stiff and offers excellent power transfer. 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.
These days the lines are being blurred between trail/all-mountain shoes and their XC-oriented counterparts. Shoes are being developed that can provide excellent power transfer while still offering some flex through the toe for comfortable off the bike walkability. Shoes like the Shimano ME7, Specialized 2FO Cliplite, Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, and the Ride Concepts Transition are good examples of this. They feature a stiff shank from the heel to the ball of the foot and a bit of flex from the ball of the foot forward. Combine that design with a grippy rubber sole, and you can lay down the power on the bike and walk like mostly-normal off the bike too.
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 sure are comfortable. These beefy shoes also give the rider a little extra piece of mind with the foot protection they provide.
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 Shimano ME7, Specialized Rime 2.0, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, all of which feature comfortable insoles, quality closures, and an all-around great fit.
Traction and Walkability
For many years, dismounting your bike and walking on rocks or other hard surfaces in clipless mountain bike shoes was a treacherous undertaking. Most shoes felt kind of like tap dancing shoes, and the likelihood of getting injured trying to walk over obstacles was probably higher than if you'd just tried to ride them in the first place.
Over the past several years, mountain bike shoe manufacturers have started making shoes that perform well not only on the bike but also during the inevitable dismounts. This blend of on and off the bike performance is most evident in the new breed of enduro, trail, and all-mountain oriented shoes. Many modern cross-country mountain bike shoes are also improving their outsole designs while still offering unwavering stiffness and pedaling performance.
To test traction and walkability, we hiked our bikes in each pair of shoes on a variety of surfaces, rocks, logs, dirt, and mud to see how well each one performs. This portion of the testing involved gratuitous walkarounds and finally taking the time to walk up to that vista point that we always used to ride past.
A shoe's outsole material and tread design are the most significant factors in the traction it provides. Some models, such as the Ride Concepts Transition, provide an incredible grip on dry surfaces, but the shallow tread design can be slippery in mud 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.
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 impressive grip and power transfer include the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, and the Shimano ME7.
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 power, and fatiguing your foot. We wouldn't recommend either of these shoes for high-performance applications.
Let's face it, all other things being equal, the lighter something is, the better it is for mountain biking. Our weight while riding is the sum of ourselves, our bike, and other equipment. The less that combined weight is, the faster we can travel, the longer we can ride, and the easier the whole thing will be. That said, we've placed less emphasis on weight than on other criteria such as comfort because the relative differences in weight aren't huge. Factors other than weight are likely to make a bigger difference in your overall satisfaction with a pair of riding shoes, but it is certainly worthy of consideration.
The lightest pair of shoes we tested is the Giro Cylinder at 716 grams or 1 lb and 9 oz for the pair. They are followed very closely by the XC-oriented Shimano S-Phyre XC9, just 2 grams heavier at 718g or 1lb 9oz. The Five Ten HellCat Pro sits at the other end of the spectrum weighing in at 1130 grams or 2 lbs 8 oz, almost a full pound heavier than the lightest shoes we tested, a trade-off for their enhanced foot protection and durability. Another of the super lightweight shoes we tested is the Top Pick award-winning Giro Empire VR90 at 776 grams or 1 lb 11 oz. All-mountain shoes like the Specialized 2FO Cliplite and the Shimano ME7 remain respectably lightweight at around 850 grams or 1 lb and 14 oz for the pair.
Mountain bike shoes are an investment, the longer they last, the greater your return is on that investment. All of the shoes in our test ranged widely in price, and when you spend big money on anything, you hope to get at least a couple of seasons of use out of them. 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 used by the different shoe manufacturers all wear differently. As we expected, we found softer rubber compounds to wear more quickly. For example, the soft and tacky Stealth Rubber of the Five Ten Hellcat Pro shows signs of wear from the pins of pedals, while the harder Vibram Megagrip rubber of the Giro Chamber II and the Rubber Kinetics sole of the Ride Concepts Transition each looked barely used even after months of use. Every model we tested also uses some synthetic leather-esque material for their uppers. The abrasion and wear resistance of each varies between the different models of shoes, and many have additional abrasion-resistant materials strategically placed around the uppers to prevent damage.
A shoe's closure system is also an important consideration in the overall durability. There are many different closure styles on the market designed to provide comfort and retention of the shoes in various ways. Shoelaces are used on many models including our Top Pick award-winning Giro Empire VR90 and gravity-oriented models like the Giro Chamber II. Laces are simple, lightweight, efficient, and easily and inexpensively replaced. The only drawback is the lack of on the fly tension adjustment.
Ratcheting straps have been a popular closure system for some time, as they are relatively inexpensive. They work quite well, although they can be prone to damage if positioned vulnerably on the lateral side of the shoe. Fortunately, most ratchets and straps are fully replaceable in case of damage, and shoes like the Shimano ME7 are using innovative reverse low-profile ratchets to reduce the risk of impact and damage. Velcro, or hook and loop, straps are a simple, lightweight, and inexpensive system that has been used on mountain bike shoes for years. Unfortunately, Velcro is the retention system that is quickest to break down, though it usually takes a few years. Sometimes a shoe will outlast the Velcro closure.
Dials and cables like Boa or Sidi's Tecno 3 are a more modern style of lightweight closure that pulls tension evenly from both sides and offers quick on-the-fly adjustment. Closures like these can occasionally fail or break from impact but are typically far longer lasting than Velcro. These dial and cable closure systems are often fully replaceable and sometimes covered under warranty.
It's not surprising that the heavier shoes in our test were also some of the highest-rated shoes for durability. The Ride Concepts Transition is a burly model with a full coverage rubber outsole and a welded microfiber upper. The Giro Chamber II also scored highly in this metric due to its similarly hefty and beefy construction. We were astonished, however, to find that the Giro Empire VR90 was as durable as it was. It got high marks for its incredibly abrasion resistant uppers, simple closures, and durable Vibram rubber outsole.
There's a ton to consider when choosing a pair of clipless mountain bike shoes, and, 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.
— Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger, Zach Wick