Especially when you’re getting into a new sport, the amount of specific gear can seem overwhelming. You begin to question what’s really important and if you need it all.
When it comes to mountain biking, one place it’s essential not to skimp is your shoes. While you can get away with using hiking or running shoes at first, you’ll quickly understand the benefits of specific MTB shoes.
Today, we’ll share more about mountain biking shoes, why they matter, what to look for, and a full review of the best clipless mountain bike shoes available.
When it comes to deciding which shoes to wear mountain biking, you have three main options.
The first, as mentioned above, is to wear athletic shoes you already have. These shoes will slide into pedal cages and allow you to get used to being on the bike without worrying about being attached to it.
The second option is to purchase flat bike shoes. Like using shoes you already own, these will slip into your pedals to make it easy to pull your foot out if you were to fall or need to stop completely. Unlike your existing shoes, these are more optimized to keep your feet comfortable and protected while you ride.
The final option is to purchase clipless mountain bike shoes and their corresponding pedals. Despite what the name implies, clipless mountain bike shoes are those used to clip into your bike. Your bike pedals will have a metal cleat that connects directly to your shoes. It’s important to note that clipless mountain bike shoes do require special pedals. However, these can be purchased as part of a set with your shoes, with your bike, or separately.
For most riders, we recommend clipless mountain biking shoes. Keep reading to learn why.
If you plan to remain a casual rider on moderate paths or trails, you’ll probably be fine sticking with cross trainers, running shoes, or skate shoes. However, if your goal is to progress as a mountain biker, you’ll quickly discover you need mountain biking shoes.
Specifically, you’ll realize that you want clipless mountain biking shoes.
First and foremost, clipless mountain bike shoes provide better power transfer. Being firmly attached to the bike pedal means that your muscles are both pushing and pulling through the stroke. This means you can deliver consistent force to power the bike. You’re exerting the effort either way – it makes sense that it’s ideal to use and benefit from all the work. Riding more efficiently is always the goal.
Second, clipless mountain bike shoes provide extra foot protection. The toes are designed to take the impact if you tap rocks or roots with your foot as you go down the trail. You’ve got enough to worry about while you’re riding, banged up and hurting feet shouldn’t be one of them.
Finally, clipless mountain bike shoes make it so that you have one less thing to worry about while you ride. Imagine navigating a technical part of the trail and having your foot fly off the pedal! Being connected to the bike alleviates this potential fear. They keep you connected to the bike so that you have one less thing to worry about as trails require more reading and concentration.
Yes, there’s a learning curve to clipping into your bike pedals. However, you’ll see that it quickly becomes second nature to unclip your shoes from the bike. For those new to riding or riding on extremely rough trails, clipless shoes are not always the best option. However, for the amount of extra power, protection, and peace of mind they provide, most people find learning to use clipless shoes is worth it in the long run.
The best clipless mountain biking shoes will greatly depend on you and your riding style, along with where you ride and the terrain you cover. Downhill riders have different needs than cross-country riders. Competitive racers have different priorities when compared to casual riders.
Mountain biking shoes have different features and the important ones are discussed below. As you go through this list, take note of the features that are appropriate for you. At the end of the day, the best clipless mountain bike shoe is the one that makes you feel safe, powerful, and comfortable.
There’s no denying that mountain biking comes with inherent risks, especially for your feet. You can hit a rock or root, smack against bushes or branches, and catch some gnarly falls. It’s crucial that your feet – and sometimes ankles – don’t take the brunt of it.
All mountain biking shoes of any value have toe caps. These help protect your toes when you stub them on a rock or root. If your shoes do not have this, you might be in for quite a few stings along your rides.
After the toe cap, all consistency in the protective features of shoes disappears.
Cross-country riding most often occurs over longer distances and slightly less extreme terrain. As such, cross-country riders focus more on the ability to create and maintain power than on protecting from falls.
All-mountain, downhill, and freeride shoes are much more burly. They have cushion around the foot and ankles to keep you safe and comfortable during falls. These styles often have more shock absorption in the soles to keep your feet from hurting during rocky, rooty trails.
Mountain bike shoes have almost as many closure options as shoes for daily wear. You’ll find everything from velcro and laces to state-of-the-art dial and ratchet systems. Again, the best closure system will be the one that works best for you.
Lace-up shoes allow you to create a custom, snug fit. They tie like a standard tennis shoe or sneaker. The primary downside to lace up MTB shoes is the potential for laces to get caught in the pedal or bike. If you choose lace-up shoes, be sure to tuck the laces away so that you won’t injure yourself or your bike.
Boa dial and ratchet systems are a closure style that is more minimal and modern than laces. They work by turning dials that control either elastic “laces” or plastic fasteners. These are quick and easy to adjust while you’re on the trail and have your bike gloves on. Plus, they’re extremely aerodynamic and streamlined. Nothing is at risk of getting caught on the trail or your bike.
Velcro closure systems can be used either on their own or as a secondary closer for dial and ratchet systems. You’re most likely to see velcro used alone on more casual mountain biking shoes. These are not quite as snug or precise when closed, but they are faster to put together than laces and less complicated than dial and ratchet setups.
If you are getting out in the backcountry or taking on longer bikepacking trips, you’ll need shoes that do more than work hard on the bike. They’ll also need to be comfortable, capable hiking shoes as well.
Unfortunately, the characteristics you look for in a good mountain bike shoe are almost the opposite of those you desire in a hiking boot.
It’s important to look for hybrid shoes that can provide the best of both worlds. You’ll want a shoe that is flexible enough to walk, but stiff enough to transfer your power into your pedaling. Another consideration is a shoe that is solid enough to protect your feet from sharp rocks while still being light enough to not add too much weight to your overall bike adventure setup.
The stiffness of the mountain bike shoe sole is directly related to the amount of power you can send into the pedals. More stiff shoes provide maximum power while more flexible shoes create less.
More rigid shoes are typically designed for racing and extremely serious riders. They often have carbon fiber soles for maximum power transfer. These shoes are often less comfortable and awkward to walk in. We do not recommend rigid shoe options for beginners.
Casual riders should typically look for a balanced shoe that you can walk in and still ride hard. These shoes have more flexible soles made of rubber. Reinforced midsoles ensure that you can still power through your ride, but also walk comfortably.
In most sports, weight becomes everything, especially in the outdoor recreation world. However, you won’t hear about the weight of bike shoes as often as you might expect. That’s because, in the current market, there isn’t much weight variation without a change in features.
As you’ll see on our favorites list, unless you’re choosing a shoe that is primarily for racing or downhill, there’s not much of a difference. Heavier shoes often add ankle support for extra protection along with comfort on downhill rides or courses with lots of walking. Lighter shoes are less comfortable and can slow you down when hiking with your bike, but are perfect for races.
It probably goes without saying, but different weather conditions will demand different capabilities from your mountain bike shoes. Below you’ll see the most common trail weather conditions and how to be best prepared for them.
Riding in the rain or through puddles happens to even the most fair weather riders. Luckily, most MTB shoes have synthetic or leather uppers and a DWR coating. These resist moisture and keep your socks and feet drier. For most riders, this is sufficient water protections.
There are some great waterproof shoes on the market if you will be riding in extremely wet conditions often. However, waterproof shoes do not breathe as well and are more cumbersome. Plus, they take a long time to dry if they do get wet inside.
For those often riding in the rain or snow, we recommend neoprene covers or booties to add warmth and water resistance. They are often more comfortable and affordable than waterproof shoes while doing the same work. These covers can tear but are worth the risk to keep your feet dry without them overheating.
Mud is a given mountain biking. In fact, we think mountain biking is sometimes more fun as a result of the splatter and splashes through mud puddles. To make mud clean up easier, choose shoes with few seams, smooth fabric, and covered laces.
Few things can turn a fun ride miserable like cold, numb feet and toes. For journeys in cold weather, winter-specific shoes can be extremely beneficial. These are often insulated with waterproof liners and sealed cleat beds to keep water out. Their closure systems are designed to be adjusted with gloves on.
Winter shoes are not for everyone and year-round riding but can keep you out on the trails if you don’t live with perfect weather all the time. If you choose to add some of these to your collection, consider going up a half or full size to make room for warm, thick socks. Then you’re sure to be cozy and happy on the snowy trails.
Everyone’s body is a little bit different. Feet are various widths, legs are different lengths, and muscles are of different sizes, among other – more obvious – characteristics. For those reasons, it makes sense that mountain biking shoe designs are not “one style fits all.”
As you’ll see, most of the shoes on our Top 10 list come in both men’s and women’s design options. They share the key features but often differ slightly in width and weight. Regardless of your gender, if you’re struggling to find the perfect fit, we recommend trying on the other style options to see if it works for you.
The MTB gear world is so full of different options, it often overwhelming. Shoes are no exception to this trend.
Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best clipless mountain bike shoes to help make your decision easier and more informed. Whether you’re just beginning your journey hitting more moderate trails on the weekends or training for an extreme bikepacking race, you’ll find a perfect shoe for you on the list below.
Weight: 1 lb, 11 oz
Designed for: All-mountain and cross-country riding
This is our absolute favorite all-around bike shoe. We’ve tested them all and the ME5 checks every single one of our features boxes. Overall, it is a lightweight, breathable, capable shoe.
It is comfortable and capable both on and off the bike. Its platform is rigid enough to provide impressive shock absorption and stability while maintaining off-bike performance. These shoes are easy to walk in both around parking lots and on steep, muddy sections of trail that require you to hike with your bike.
The only downside to the ME5 is its lack of all-weather features. For riders who will be spending time in extreme weather, we recommend the Shimano ME7 with its taller neoprene cuff to keep water out of your shoes and an additional lace guard to make mud cleanup easier.
Weight: 1 lb, 13 oz
Designed for: All-mountain riding
The Giro Terraduro is the best value clipless bike shoe we’ve seen. It has all of the features most riders are looking for at a low price point. You’ll be confident both on and off the bike with these on your feet.
The Terarduro boasts a strong, nylon shank that transfers your energy and power into the pedal stroke. However, where it shines brightest in comparison to its competition is off the bike. With grippy, Vibram soles, you won’t slip and slide your way through hike-a-bike trail sections. Instead, you’ll find yourself as comfortable walking along the trail as you might be in your designated hiking boots.
The ratchet strap closure system isn’t our favorite, but the low price point and all-around functional comfort make up for it.
Weight: 1 lb, 10.4 oz
Designed for: Cross country and all-mountain riding
If you’re a rider on a budget, the high price tag of clipless MTB shoes can be a challenge. You’re often stuck with shoes that are uncomfortable, heavy, and underperforming. Not anymore! The Privateer R is an affordable shoe that is also well-made. It is not a shoe optimized for racing but can keep up with most MTB riders.
The only time you might find the Privateer R lacking is in its protection of your feet. The toe box is solid and takes impacts well. However, the shock absorption could be better, as could the padding on the sides of your feet.
When walking, the Privateer R is decently comfortable and capable. The rubber traction is excellent for moderate trails. If you’re expecting long hikes or rocky trails, these shoes might not be your ideal choice. That said, for an option that costs at least $30 less than its closest competition, you might find yourself alright with the small comfort sacrifices these clipless shoes require.
Weight: 1 lb 15.8 oz
Designed for: All-mountain riding in winter weather
Though not the most stylish shoe on the market, the MW7 has all of the features you can dream of for cold weather riding. To keep your feet dry and toasty, these boast a Gore-Tex insulating shoe liner and a tall, neoprene cuff to prevent water and snow from sneaking in. Their glove-friendly closure system ensures that you’ll never have to choose between keeping your fingers warm and your shoes comfortable.
On top of all of that, a Michelin outsole keeps you from slipping and sliding on icy, muddy trails. The only change we would make to these winter-ready shoes? We would add even more insulation for cold weather rides. We recommend that you size up on these and add a thick pair of wool socks.
Weight: 1 lb, 10.8 oz
Designed for: All-mountain riding
If you’re on the hunt for a stylish racing shoe, then you may have finally found your perfect shoe. The 2FO is excellent for riders who refuse to compromise looks or function during endurance races.
Both a toe cap and heel cup protect your foot from impacts along the trail. Additionally, a firm, nylon plate in the sole reduces energy loss as you pedal and keeps you strong while you’re moving forward. Their unique Boa lacing system is ideal for quick micro-adjustments as your feet change in size over your ride.
The sleek, race-focused design does require some acceptance of discomfort. For starters, the rigid sole makes hike-a-bikes uncomfortable, and the lack of traction often leads you slipping along the trail. Furthermore, the low collar leaves your ankles open to scrapes and scratches. This is easily eliminated by wearing tall socks, however. Our final complaint is that the closure system doesn’t open up very far, making it a struggle to squeeze your foot into the shoe. Once it’s in, though, it’s smooth sailing and worth it.
Weight: 1 lb, 10 oz
Designed for: Cross-country and all-mountain riding
This all-purpose shoe works hard for the rider who does it all. It can transition from daily work commutes on the bike to weekend rides on the singletrack and even perform for occasional races. If you only want one MTB shoe in your collection, this is a great option.
The Foray is comfortable both on and off the bike. With a rubber sole, you won’t be walking funny in the office or along the trail. However, it is firm enough to provide power for casual riders to have fun and move fast. That said, if your goal is to race competitively, you might want a lighter and more rigid option.
Overall, from the coffee shop to the finish line and over every trail in between these shoes look great and function well.
Weight: 2lbs, 3.6 oz
Designed for: All-mountain and downhill riding
There’s no denying it – these shoes are heavy. Believe it or not, the Chamber II is much lighter than the previous versions of this shoe. Often, we’re all about shaving weight. But in this instance, we think the heft and everything this shoe has going for it is well worth it.
On the surface, the Chamber II doesn’t look like a bike shoe. It has the air of a skate shoe mixed with a casual sneaker. Don’t be misled by its stylishness, though! This almost seamless upper makes it easier to clean off the mud and trail dirt. The Vibram sole leads to comfortable hiking while remaining strong enough to provide the power of a rigid shank.
A key feature of the Chamber II is the set back of the cleat. This positions the clip right at the ball of the foot. The midfoot placement provides more control and less foot fatigue on long rides.
This dense, and heavily featured, shoe is not for every rider. However, if you’re a serious rider who hits trails hard, you’ll find yourself appreciating the power transfer, durability, and protection of the Chamber II.
Weight: 1 lb, 8.2 oz
Designed for: Cross country and all-mountain riding
For our MTB-ers on a budget, this is another reliable option. For a shoe around $100, the ME3 holds its own for casual riding. It maintains many of the features of more expensive models while not breaking the bank.
Most remarkable is the comfort and walkability of the ME3. The sole is actual rubber that bends and grips while you hike or move around the parking lot. Its premium buckling system stays clear of your bike and creates one less situation for you to worry about along your rides.
Its downsides? The biggest downside for us is the lack of power we’re able to generate from the softer sole. Additionally, it doesn’t have the most protection for your toes, ankles, or heels. Plus, as a newer model on the market, we are yet to see if it holds up long term.
For an affordable, all-around shoe that’s comfortable and functional, the ME3 is a decent option.
Weight: 2lbs, 6oz
Designed for: Downhill riding
The Five Ten Hellcat Pro is the perfect shoe – for the right rider. If you’re a downhill rider who cares more about foot protection than anything else, this is the choice for you. The reinforced sole has extra cushioning to protect your feet from the impacts of big jumps and hard landings. Your toes, heels, and ankles are protected with burly design features as well.
The downside to all of these protections is the weight that comes with them. Average riders will not be able to exert the same force with these heavy shoes that they can with lighter options. However, strong, experienced riders will be able to power through the extra challenge and appreciate the comforts and protection it provides.
Other key features of the Hellcat Pro include sticky tread that has become synonymous with a Five Ten shoe, a smooth shoe surface for easy cleaning, and laces that also velcro to ensure it won’t come undone at inopportune moments on your ride. Despite it not being our first recommendation for most riders, we still love the Hellcat Pro for what it is.
Weight: 1 lb, 10.8 oz
Designed for: Cross-country riding
The last shoe to make our top 10 clipless models list is the Scott MTB Comp Boa. We love this shoe for road riders who are beginning to try mountain biking. It fits and rides like a traditional road biking shoe, while still holding up to the rigors of trails.
Specifically, it has a stiff sole and firm upper. Its single dial closure system doesn’t create the same tight fit that the double boa or lace-up designs higher on our list provide. The rubber tread is decent, but the rigidity of the rest of the shoe still makes walking or hiking with your bike uncomfortable. However, if you’re used to road biking shoes, your feet will feel right at home!
The MTB Comp Boa makes up for its lack of comfort and features in the power that it allows you to put down on your pedals. Its lighter weight keeps your legs feeling more fresh by not pulling around an unnecessary load. For long rides, this is key.
For most riders, we would recommend a different first mountain biking shoe. For road cyclists who care more about long term power than comfort, this is a solid choice.
Still have questions that need answers before you make the perfect clipless mountain bike shoe choice for you? Check out our other blog posts or contact us. We’re here to help you become the most prepared, confident rider you can be.