Reviews You Can Rely On

The 10 Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2022

We tested models from Specialized, Five Ten, Ride Concepts, Shimano, and more to find the best mountain bike shoes
Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2022
We've tested lots of shoes over the past several years.
Credit: Jeremy Benson
Thursday November 10, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

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 burly, 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.

Ride flat pedals? Check out our complete reviews of flat pedal shoes for men. Looking for women's shoes? Our female testers have done in-depth testing and reviews of both women's clipless and flat pedal shoes. If you need new pedals to accompany your new shoes, we've thoroughly tested clipless to help you find the best options for your needs and budget. If you are looking to round out your riding gear to make sure you are prepared for every ride, we compiled our top recommendations for our bike gear review to help you out.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 10, 2022, with the addition of the Shimano ME7 to our selection.

Related: Best Mountain Biking Shoes for Women

Top 18 Product Ratings

Displaying 6 - 10 of 18
 
Awards   Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award  
Price $180 ListCheck Price at Backcountry
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$220 List
$164.99 at REI
$209.95 at Backcountry
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$120.00 at Backcountry
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Overall Score
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Pros Double-Boa closure, sturdy pedaling platformComfortable and secure fit, casual style, great off the bike, robust construction, versatileGood power transfer, relatively lightweight, quick and secure closure system, ankle gasket helps keep debris out, good walkability,Lightweight, comfortable, stiff, great power transfer, vibram soles, customizable insolesVersatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual style
Cons Heavy, super high-volume fit, ventilationaverage power transfer, long fitOnly comes in full EU sizes, potentially polarizing styleNo on-the-fly adjustments, limited foot protection, expensiveSingle boa closure, limited traction in wet conditions
Bottom Line An all-around trail shoe with a great closure system but a subpar fit and high weightA versatile all-mountain shoe that strikes a good balance between walkability, power transfer, comfort, and performanceA thoughtfully designed, versatile, and high-performance trail and all-mountain shoeAn incredible blend of light weight, stiffness, and comfort, making it one of the best cross country shoes we've ever testedThis 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 Scott MTB AR Boa Clip CrankBrothers Malle... Shimano ME7 Giro Empire VR90 Pearl Izumi X-Alp L...
Power Transfer (20%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
10.0
7.0
Comfort (25%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Traction Walkability (25%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Weight (15%)
5.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Durability (15%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Specs Scott MTB AR Boa Clip CrankBrothers Malle... Shimano ME7 Giro Empire VR90 Pearl Izumi X-Alp L...
Closure 2 Boa IP-1 dials Boa dial, plus Velcro strap Speed lacing system with cover and ratchting upper bucckle Laces L6 Boa
Measured Weight (per shoe) 531 grams 454 grams 415 grams 388 grams 436 grams
Size Tested 45 11 44 45 45
Width Options Regular Regular Regular and Wide Regular and High Volume(HV) Regular
Upper Material Synthetic Polyurethane, 3D AirMesh Synthetic Synthetic Leather Microfiber Recycled Cordura fabric
Footbed ErgoLogic Not specified Shimano Pedaling Dynamics insole molded EVA footbed Pearl Izumi Insole
Midsole Nylon/Glass Fiber Composite EVA midsole Carbon Fiber composite "TORBAL" midsole Easton EC90 Carbon Fiber Composite shank
Outsole Sticki Rubber Match MC1 Michelin OCX3 dual-density Vibram Mont Molded Rubber High Traction Lugged Outsole, Mid-Foot Scuff Guard, Accomodates Steel Toe Spikes Vibra, ECOSTEP


Best Overall Trail Riding Shoe


Shimano ME7


87
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction Walkability 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Durability 9.0
Weight (per shoe): 451g (EU size 44) | Closure: Speed laces plus reverse ratchet strap
REASONS TO BUY
Great power transfer
Relatively lightweight
Quick and easy closure system
Great off the bike performance
REASONS TO AVOID
No half sizes
Possibly polarizing looks
Moderately expensive

We tested the Shimano ME7 years ago, and it has been updated a couple of times since then. The primary changes have been aesthetic, and this uniquely styled shoe retains all of the performance characteristics we loved about the original. The carbon composite sole provides excellent power transfer for any situation short of an XC race, and the outsole makes very positive contact with the pedals for added lateral stability. Despite its stiffness, the sole flexes just enough through the toe to allow for great walkability, and the lugged Michelin rubber sole grips effectively and doesn't clog up with mud. The microfiber uppers conform to the feet and feature reinforcement at the toe and heel for protection. Despite looking like they are warm on the feet, they are well-ventilated, and a neoprene ankle gasket helps to keep dirt and rocks out of your shoes. The closure consists of speed laces covered with a velcro flap and a reverse ratchet strap that is not only quick and easy to use but works well to secure your feet in the shoes. They are also relatively lightweight at just 415 grams per shoe in an EU size 44.

While we love the Shimano ME7, we have to admit that the looks may be a little polarizing. The unique styling may not be for everyone. They also only come in full EU sizes, so those between sizes may not be able to get a perfect fit. At their retail price, they are also a bit expensive. Beyond those concerns, we feel this versatile shoe is one of the best on the market.

Read more: Shimano ME7 review

Best Overall Cross Country Shoe


Giro Empire VR90


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 10.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction Walkability 6.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Durability 9.0
Weight (per shoe): 388g (size 45) | Closure: Laces
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Stiff carbon soles
Lugged Vibram rubber outsole
Very comfortable
Customizable insoles
REASONS TO AVOID
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 cross-country 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 capable enough 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 more: Giro Empire VR90 review

Best Bang for Your Buck All-Mountain/Trail Shoe


Specialized 2FO Roost Clip


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 7.0
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Traction Walkability 9.0
  • Weight 10.0
  • Durability 7.0
Weight (per shoe): 375g (size 43.5) | Closure: Laces
REASONS TO BUY
Casual style
Good power transfer
Lightweight
Reasonable price
REASONS TO AVOID
Roomy fit in the forefoot
Not the best lateral stability

The Specialized 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 fairly 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 more: Specialized 2FO Roost Clip review

Best Bang for Your Buck Cross Country Shoe


Scott MTB Team Boa


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 9.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction Walkability 6.0
  • Weight 10.0
  • Durability 7.0
Weight (per shoe): 359g (size 44) | Closure: Boa dial plus Velcro strap
REASONS TO BUY
Good power transfer
Comfortable
Secure closures
Many features
REASONS TO AVOID
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 more: Scott MTB Team Boa review

Best Downhill Shoe


Five Ten Hellcat Pro


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Traction Walkability 8.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Durability 10.0
Weight (per shoe): 452g (size 10.5) | Closure: Laces plus Velcro strap
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent power transfer
Much lighter than previous version
Stealth rubber soles
Good foot protection
Grippy rubber soles
REASONS TO AVOID
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 more: Five Ten Hellcat Pro Pro review

Best on a Tight Budget


Giro Gauge


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 6.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Traction Walkability 10.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Durability 7.0
Weight (per shoe): 452g (size 45) | Closure: Laces
REASONS TO BUY
Super walkable
Athletic styling
Good traction
Very inexpensive
REASONS TO AVOID
Below average sole stiffness
Minimal protection

The uniquely styled Giro 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 more: Giro Gauge review

Best for Foot Protection and Durability


Ride Concepts Tallac Clip


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 8.0
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction Walkability 9.0
  • Weight 5.0
  • Durability 10.0
Weight (per shoe): 539g (size 11) | Closure: Laces and Velcro Strap
REASONS TO BUY
Well-padded
Burly, durable design
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy

The Ride Concepts Tallac Clip was one of our favorite shoes in the test and is nearly the full package for a top-shelf all-mountain model. These shoes offer all-day comfort and solid power transfer for gravity-oriented shoes, but their biggest strength is their durable and protective construction. With a burly rubber outsole, TPU reinforcement at the toe and heel, abrasion-resistant reinforcement around the upper, and D30 insole padding, putting these shoes on feels a little bit like donning a suit of armor. The substantial construction provides confidence in precarious terrain and ensures that your footwear isn't hindering your riding ability. The Ride Concepts Transition provides a similar level of protection with a higher-coverage hightop design, but the Tallac Clip is slightly lighter, more breathable, and better off the bike giving it the edge over its downhill-focused sibling.

If not for their higher weight, these would have been one of the best all around shoes in our test. At 539-grams per shoe for our size-eleven test pair, these weigh around 100 grams more than the average all-mountain shoe in the test. Luckily, weight isn't nearly as important as comfort, power transfer, and durability when it comes to all-mountain shoes, but the added heft did drag this model down our rankings slightly. Regardless, if you're looking for an all-mountain shoe that will keep your feet safe and stand up to seasons of abuse this is a great option.

Read more: Ride Concepts Tallac Clip review

Best for Adventure Riding


Specialized Rime 2.0


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Power Transfer 6.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Traction Walkability 10.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Durability 8.0
Weight (per shoe): 419g (size 44.5) | Closure: Laces and Boa
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Beefy Vibram Sole
Comfortable
Water-repellant
REASONS TO AVOID
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 more: Specialized Rime 2.0 review

Best Overall Flat Pedal Shoe


Five Ten Freerider Pro


Rubber Type: Stealth S1 | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
REASONS TO BUY
Grippy soles
Sturdy construction
Great power transfer
REASONS TO AVOID
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 grippiness 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 more: Five Ten Freerider Pro review

Best Bang for Your Buck Flat Pedal Shoe


Ride Concepts Livewire


Rubber Type: Kinetics DST6.0 High Grip | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
REASONS TO BUY
Good grip
Quality construction
Low price
REASONS TO AVOID
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 more: Ride Concepts Livewire review

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
87
Shimano ME7
shimano me7 mountain bike shoes review
$220
Editors' Choice Award
85
Giro Empire VR90
giro empire vr90 mountain bike shoes review
$300
Editors' Choice Award
84
Ride Concepts Tallac Clip
ride concepts tallac clip mountain bike shoes review
$180
Top Pick Award
82
Five Ten Hellcat Pro
five ten hellcat pro mountain bike shoes review
$180
Top Pick Award
81
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD
pearl izumi x-alp launch spd mountain bike shoes review
$160
81
Specialized Rime 2.0
specialized rime 2.0 mountain bike shoes review
$170
Top Pick Award
81
Scott MTB Team Boa
scott mtb team boa mountain bike shoes review
$170
Best Buy Award
81
CrankBrothers Mallet Boa
crankbrothers mallet boa mountain bike shoes review
$200
80
Specialized 2FO Roost Clip
specialized 2fo roost clip mountain bike shoes review
$130
Best Buy Award
79
Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
five ten kestrel pro boa mountain bike shoes review
$220
79
Specialized Recon 3.0
specialized recon 3.0 mountain bike shoes review
$230
78
Giro Gauge
giro gauge mountain bike shoes review
$90
Best Buy Award
78
Ride Concepts Men's Transition
ride concepts men's transition mountain bike shoes review
$180
77
Giro Chamber II
giro chamber ii mountain bike shoes review
$150
76
Five Ten Trailcross Clip-in
five ten trailcross clip-in mountain bike shoes review
$160
75
Sidi Trace 2
sidi trace 2 mountain bike shoes review
$260
72
Scott MTB AR Boa Clip
scott mtb ar boa clip mountain bike shoes review
$180
70
Fi'zi:k Terra Ergolace X2
fi'zi:k terra ergolace x2 mountain bike shoes review
$140

mountain bike shoes
Credit: Ian Stowe

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 in cycling 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 Logan, Utah and jumping into races when the mood strikes.

Dillon is a 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

Testing the Specialized 2FO Cliplite.
Testing the Specialized 2FO Cliplite.
Weighing in at 425g per shoe in a size 44, the ME7 was competitive...
Weighing in at 425g per shoe in a size 44, the ME7 was competitive with other enduro oriented shoes in our test.
We tested the traction and walkability of each shoe on a range of...
We tested the traction and walkability of each shoe on a range of surfaces.

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.

mountain bike 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.
Credit: Laura Casner

These days, clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes are used in just about every sub-discipline of the sport: gravel, cyclocross, cross country, enduro, trail riding, and downhill. Your preferred riding discipline 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: How to Choose Mountain Bike Shoes for Men

Value


At GearLab, 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, Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, 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 a 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.

mountain bike 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.
Credit: 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 is 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 which 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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 Shimano ME7, Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch, Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa, 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 and relaxed 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 Tallac Clip may be 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 Shimano ME7, 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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 great 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. The Shimano ME7 fits that bill, and it is one of the best-performing shoes off the bike, an impressive feat considering its great power transfer.

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 Ride Concepts Tallac Clip, the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip, and the Crankbrothers Mallet Boa.

Depending on your preferred riding style, you might like a shoe that leans a little bit further towards the walkability side of the spectrum. Two pairs of shoes that offer great walkability and a more casual style with a minor sacrifice in pedaling efficiency are the Five Ten Trailcross Clip-In and the Giro Gauge. Both of these models feel right at home on foot and make good options for people who value off-the-bike time. We wouldn't recommend either of these shoes for racing applications, but they're more than serviceable for trail riding.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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, 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.


A couple of the lightest shoes we tested are the Giro Empire VR90 at 776 grams, and the Specialized 2FO Roost Clip at 750 grams for the pair. The Ride Concepts Transition sits at the other end of the spectrum weighing in at 1,094 grams, almost a pound heavier than the lightest shoes we tested, a trade-off for their enhanced foot protection and durability. The majority of the other shoes in the test fall somewhere in between, with shoes like the Specialized Rime 2.0 and the Shimano ME7 posting very respectable weights given their designs.

mountain bike shoes - it'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.
Credit: 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, 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: 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 and Tallac Clip are burly models with full coverage rubber outsoles and protective uppers. 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.

mountain bike shoes - 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.
Credit: Laura Casner

Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger, Zach Wick


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