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Best Mountain Bike Shoes of 2024: Top Clipless and Flat Shoes for XC, Trail, and Enduro

By Jordan Grimes   /  Last updated - December 29, 2023   /  Best-Of-Reviews, Cycling Shoes, Reviews

mtb shoes for men women kids

Mountain bike shoes (MTB shoes) are designed to improve your performance while riding when used with a clipless pedal or a platform pedal.

The best MTB shoes are durable, breathable, and comfortable while providing support and boosting your efficiency on the bike.

Mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals use a 2-bolt cleat connection to clip into the pedal. These shoes have stiffer soles than regular shoes and help keep your pedal stroke even to maximize the efficiency for long-distance riding and non-technical riding.

The key importance of MTB shoes is they help you ride more efficiently and improve safety, making your rides more productive and enjoyable overall.

MTB shoes for platform pedals are more flexible and have a grippy rubber sole to help increase traction so your feet don’t slip off easily.

In this article, we’ll review some of the best flat and clipless mountain bike shoes on the market and explain what features you should pay attention to when buying!

Best Clipless Mountain Bike Shoes

1. Shimano XC5

Shimano XC5 mtb shoes

MSRP: $175

  • Glass-fiber-reinforced midsoles
  • BOA® L6 dials
  • Ideal for XC racing

The Shimano XC5 clipless mtb shoes offer high-end performance at a reasonable mid-range price. Designed for racing and serious XC riding, they are ultralight, perfectly stiff, and fit like a glove.

Shimano’s BOA L6 dials ensure a perfectly balanced fit, with an added velcro strap to fine-tune the fit. Additionally, the shoe’s upper material is lightweight and comfortable with exceptional breathability.

The inclusion of glass-fiber-reinforced midsoles means these shoes have the best stiffness rating possible while remaining lightweight. Finally, they have threaded inserts at the toes that let you attach traction spikes for improved grips, but you’ll have to buy these separately.

Buy from REI.com

2. Specialized Recon 3.0

Specialized Recon 3.0 Mountain Bike Shoes

MSRP: $230 (Specialized / Jenson USA)

  • Carbon outsole
  • Stiffness index: 10
  • Independent Boa L6-Snap Dial
  • Best for high-performance XC racing

Specialized cycling shoes are consistently some of the best money can buy, and the sleek Recon 3.0 shoes are the company’s flagship premium pair.

Maximize your pedaling efficiency and power with these shoes thanks to the Carbon STRIDE toe-flex sole with a 10 stiffness rating and the lightweight and comfortable fully-welded upper material. The Recon shoes perform best in intense racing such as gravel, cyclocross, and XC competitions.

They use Specialized’s Body Geometry fitting design that optimizes the sole and footbed to provide unbeatable support and stability for long, intense rides. Additionally, the BOA® L6-Snap dials allow easy on-the-fly micro-adjustments when you need to prepare for a sprint.

Buy from JensonUSA.com    Buy from Specialized.com

3. Bontrager Foray Mountain Bike Shoes

bontrager foray

MSRP: $165

  • Closure type: BOA L6 Dial
  • Durable GnarGuard rubberized coating
  • Tachyon rubber outsoles
  • Stiffness index: 6

Bontrager’s Foray Mountain bike shoes are an excellent mid-range pair that delivers a lot of performance for a more affordable price.

These Bontrager cycling shoes have one BOA dial for quick and precise fitting adjustments, and they utilize the company’s inForm Race design which allows for performance with a slightly more roomy fit.

The upper material on the Foray Mountain shoes is durable and breathable. Additionally, the GnarGuard rubber coating also contributes to reducing wear from hard trail rides.

Lastly, these shoes have a nylon composite sole which provides more than enough stiffness for most cycling enthusiasts.

Buy from REI.com

4. Fizi:k X5 Terra MTB Shoes

Fizi:k - X5 Terra Mountain Shoes

black fizi:k spd cycling shoes

MSRP: Check on Amazon

  • Composite carbon sole
  • Dual BOA closure
  • 2-bolt cleat compatibility

The Fizik Terra X5 clipless mountain bike shoes are the company’s top product designed for pro-level race performance and comfort.

The X5 shoes fit perfectly, using a dual BOA dial system for ultra-precise adjustments, and pressure-eliminating materials in the 1.4mm thick upper. Additionally, the Dynamic Arch Support technology offers unrivaled support and stability through the mid-foot.

The material in the upper and insole is breathable and lightweight for optimal ventilation and comfort, and the full carbon sole provides exceptional power transfer and stiffness.

Finally, the shoes have threads on the heel edge for better mud clearance and detachable cyclocross-style rubber studs.

Buy from Amazon

5. Giro Chamber II

Giro Chamber II

MSRP: $150 (evo.com / Jenson USA)

  • Rubber Toe and Heel Reinforcements
  • Laced Closure with Top Power Strap
  • Molded EVA DH Footbed with Arch Support
  • Best for enduro and DH

The Giro Chamber II clipless MTB shoes are designed to withstand the toughest and most gnarly trails you can find, ensuring you are as comfortable as possible along the way.

To do so, these shoes feature rubber toe and heel reinforcements which are also highly breathable. Additionally, the outsole is made in conjunction with shoe brand Vibram for a high-traction, durable rubber combined with an EVA midsole for excellent comfort.

The Chamber II shoes also have a laced closure with a top power strap, so they are very easy to adjust on the fly.

If you want durable MTB shoes for enduro, DH, and rough trail riding, these are the ones.

Buy from JensonUSA.com    Buy from evo.com

6. Five Ten Trailcross

Five Ten Trailcross

MSRP: $165 (REI.com / Jenson USA)

  • 100% rubber sole
  • SPD 2-bolt cleat compatibility
  • Closure Type: Lace
  • Unisex

The Five Ten Trailcross shoes are 100% optimized for performance on rough mountain trails with a grippy rubber outsole for excellent traction on varied surfaces.

These stylish shoes are ideal for adventurous riders who don’t mind a hike-a-bike section to get to the top of a scenic viewpoint. They are more flexible then other models on this list and come with a textile upper that offers excellent comfort and breathability. 

The lace closures are combined with a hook-and-loop top strap for security, so you’ll get the perfect fit every time and there’s no need to worry that the laces are going to get undone. 

All in all, the Five Ten Trailcross are the best mountain bike shoes for you if you want to own just one pair of shoes for mountain biking, commuting, and bikepacking

Buy from REI.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

7. Bontrager Evoke Mountain Bike Shoes

Bontrager Evoke Mountain Bike Shoe

MSRP: $125

  • Tachyon rubber sole
  • Synthetic perforated upper
  • Closure Type: BOA 
  • All-round MTB performance

Bontrager’s Evoke mountain bike shoes are the perfect choice for any entry-level cyclists who want to boost their efficiency on the trail.

These affordable cycling shoes have a helpful rubber sole that provides grip and traction off the bike, paired with a protective rubberized coating to limit damage from trail debris.

These shoes also take advantage of Bontrager’s high-quality inForm Race fitting which is found in pairs twice the price of the Evoke. This balances a spacious fit with a performance focus.

Get Bontrager Evoke if you want do-it-all mountain biking shoes that will last for thousands of miles of trail riding.

Buy from Trekbikes.com

8. Shimano XC1 Women’s MTB Shoes

Shimano XC1 Women's MTB Shoes

MSRP: $100 (REI.com / Jenson USA)

  • Durable rubber outsole
  • Triple Velcro strap closure
  • Breathable synthetic leather upper
  • Best for women trail and XC riders

The Shimano XC1 women’s MTB shoes are an excellent investment for committed cyclists who want to boost their power and performance in style.

This model makes use of some premium technology while being sold at a mid-range price. This includes the lightweight and high-performing rubber outsole for great traction and mud clearance, as well as the precise and easy-to-use Triple Velcro closure system.

Additionally, the Shimano XC1 shoes have a low stack height midsole to boost power transfer by stabilizing the foot and a glass fiber reinforcement to add stiffness.

Finally, these mountain biking shoes weigh just 1 lb. 5.8 oz., which makes them lightweight and perfect for women.

Buy from JensonUSA.com    Buy from REI.com

9. Giro Ventana W Fastlace Women’s Shoes

Giro - Ventana W Fastlace Bike Shoes - Women's

MSRP: $130 (on evo.com)

  • Rubber toe and heel reinforcement
  • Stainless steel hardware
  • High-friction fastlace closure
  • Durable, walkable, and comfortable

The Giro Ventana women’s mountain bike shoes are another great mid-range choice with a focus on durability and functionality.

These Giro bike shoes are tough, comfortable, and versatile, performing best on messy trails with long hike-a-bike sections. To do so they utilize a nylon composite dual-injected rubber outsole, a thermo-bonded upper structure, and reinforced heel and toe protection.

To maximize comfort, Giro included an EVA footbed with medium-level arch support and breathable mesh material which helps control moisture. Additionally, these shoes utilize Fastlace closure combined with a Velcro strap for quick and precise adjustments on the fly.

Get them if you prioritize walkability, comfort, and protection.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from Amazon.com

10. Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit Women’s Mountain Bike Shoes

Pearl iZUMi X-Alp Summit Women's Mountain Bike Shoes

MSRP: $150

  • Outsole: 40% Vibram rubber, 35% EVA, 23% nylon plastic, 2% steel
  • 2-hole cleat design
  • Closure Type: Ratcheting BOA cable lace, strap

The Pearl Izumi X-Alp women’s cycling shoes perform equally well on or off the bike utilizing the Vibram rubber sole design to deliver unbeatable traction and comfort.

With a focus on comfort, the X-Alp Summit shoes boast all-day snugness and walkability. They come with nylon composite soles that balance walkability and stiffness with pedaling efficiency, as well as comfy EVA heel cushioning.

The grippy Vibram ECOSTEP sole helps provide excellent traction on most terrain, while the synthetic leather upper carefully balances breathability and durability.

Finally, these shoes have a reinforced toe box to reduce impact from flying trail debris and impact, so get them if you want to get ultimate protection.

Buy from REI.com

11. Quoc Escape

Quoc Escape

scott cycling shoes for women

MSRP: $200

  • Sole: Nylon composite/TPU tread
  • Closure type: BOA
  • Best for CX and trail riding
  • Weight: 1 lb. 5.9 oz.

Quoc Escape BOA MTB clipless shoes are a great mid-priced shoe with heaps of features that outperform their price tag.

These shoes use an easy-adjust BOA closure system, paired with an anatomically designed strap that aligns with the instep to create a glove-like fit.

Also, they have ergonomic insoles that boost comfort and power transfer and are built with a slightly larger volume for a relaxed fit.

Finally, the outsole is also quite innovative, using TPU tread and deep lugs for high traction in all weather and conditions, along with a high stiffness rating.

Buy from REI

12. Crank Bros Mallet BOA

Crank Bros Mallet BOA clipless mountain bike shoes

MSRP: $200

  • Pre-installed cleat for Crankbrothers pedals
  • Cushioned EVA midsole for shock absorption
  • BOA® Fit System & strap for micro-adjustment
  • Best used for Enduro and DH

Boost your mountain biking performance and protection on enduro and DH rides with the Crank Bros Mallet shoes.

They come with a supportive upper design that provides excellent stability and breathability along with an ergonomic heel cup to reduce slipping and wasted movement.

The insole on these shoes is a supportive EVA anti-stretch material and combines with a stiff outsole for improved power transfer and better all-around performance.

The Crank Bros Mallet come with pre-installed cleats for Crankbrothers pedals, but you can fit any 2-bolt cleats on if you’re using pedals from a different brand.

Buy from JensonUSA.com

Best Flat Mountain Bike Shoes

1. Dakine Drift

Dakine Drift

MSRP: $140

  • DK UltraGrip rubber outsoles
  • Closure type: Lace
  • EVA midsoles with TPU abrasion film

These Dakine cycling shoes are a mid-range pair built for tough trails. The Dakine Drift shoes overdeliver on durability and toughness, featuring various wear-resisting technologies.

Despite the focus on durability, they also provide excellent stability and grip thanks to DK UltraGrip rubber outsoles. In addition to that, the Dakine Drift flat-pedal shoes also come with EVA midsoles for additional comfort and a breathable polyurethane synthetic upper. 

They’re built to withstand hard abuse on rough trail rides and descents, perfect when you want to have maximum control and protection.

Buy from REI.com

2. Specialized 2FO Roost

2FO Roost Flat Mountain Bike Shoes |

sidi mtb shoes

MSRP: $120

  • SlipNot™ ST rubber sole
  • Leather and textile upper
  • Body Geometry sole construction
  • Cushioned EVA foam midsole

The Specialized 2FO Roost flat mountain bike shoes are thoughtfully designed and reasonably priced with a casual design that makes them suitable for chunky trails and pub or cafe stops afterward. 

Notable features include Specialized Body Geometry sole construction and footbeds that help distribute pressure evenly and boost power. They also have a traditional lace-up closure system that’s reliable and won’t come undone during sendy rides. 

Finally, the Specialized 2FO Roost shoes have a SlipNot™ ST rubber sole that grips pedals securely and the leather and textile upper is breathable and comfortable when you have to walk back up to the start of the descent.

Buy from Specialized.com

3. Five Ten Sleuth

Five Ten Sleuth casual mountain biking shoes

MSRP: $90 (evo.com / Jenson USA)

  • Stealth® Marathon rubber outsole
  • Simple lace-up closure
  • EVA midsole provides cushioning
  • Best model for on and off the bike use

The Five Ten Sleuth mountain bike shoes are a sleek and high-performance product with plenty of excellent features considering their affordable price.

The Kestrel Pro shoes come with a Stealth rubber outsole that provides excellent traction on or off-bike and the upper is made from a mix of leather and textile that breaths well and looks great. 

In our opinion, these are the best mountain bike shoes if you want to achieve a casual look and you want to be able to wear them on and off the bike.

The lace-up closure system on the Five Ten Sleuth MTB shoes keeps things simple and adds to the laid-back casual look.

In addition, these shoes have a supportive EVA midsole to make them really comfortable over long distances while walking and riding.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

4. Crank Bros Stamp Lace

Crank Bros Stamp Lace casual flat MTB shoes

MSRP: $130

  • MC2 high-friction outsole compound
  • Cushioned EVA midsole
  • Suitable for downhill, enduro, and trail

The Crank Bros Stamp flat MTB shoes are affordable, comfortable, and durable. They are a great choice for any avid mountain biker who wants excellent grip, protection, and style on and off the bike.

The Stamp shoes were designed with versatility and comfort at the forefront of thought, which is reflected in the materials used. They are equally comfortable on or off the bike, boosting grip and pedaling efficiency with a grippy rubber outsole, breathable upper, and a cushy EVA midsole.

If your primary mountain biking disciplines include DH, enduro, and trail, the Crank Bros Stamp might be the best MTB shoes for you. 

Buy from MikesBikes.com

5. Five Ten Freerider Pro

Five Ten Freerider Pro flat shoes for mountain biking

MSRP: $160

  • Outsole: Stealth S1 rubber
  • Reinforced toe boxes
  • Closure type: Laces
  • Weight: 1 lb 8 oz (pair)

The Five Ten Freerider Pro are one of the most popular mountain bike shoes for a good reason—they are affordable, stylish, and highly functional.

The Stealth S1 rubber outsole offers excellent grip and durability, while the lightweight upper material improves breathability and moisture control while being highly weather-resistant.

Additionally, these shoes have a reinforced toe box and shock-absorbent midsoles that provide enhanced arch support and stability.

They are perfect for any mountain biking discipline, including park, gravity, DH, enduro, and casual trail.

Buy from REI.com

6. Shimano SH-GR903

Shimano SH-GR903

MSRP: $170 (on Jenson USA)

  • Shimano Ultread rubber compound sole
  • Rugged toe cap
  • e-Bike rated
  • Stiffness rating of 3 out of 12

The Shimano SH-GR903 mountain bike shoes utilize Shimano’s proprietary Ultread rubber compound sole that provides excellent traction and is highly durable.

If you’re worried about protection on the trails, these shoes have a rugged toe cap that not only protects the front of the foot from impacts and debris but also improves durability, as this is where most MTB shoes get damaged first. 

This also makes them rated for e-bike use, so if you already have the best electric mountain bike and you want the best shoes that go with it, we recommend this model.

With a stiffness rating of 3 out of 12, they’re pretty compliant, which means they are a great option for riders who want to do equal parts walking and shredding. 

Buy from JensonUSA.com    Buy from Amazon.com

7. Ride Concepts Hellion Elite 

MSRP: $150

  • Rubber outsole
  • Anti-bacterial mesh lining
  • Closure type: Laces

These cycling shoes for flat pedals by Ride Concepts are ultra-lightweight and comfortable over long distances.

The Hellion Elite shoes have a very soft rubber sole with DST 4.0 Max Grip technology for excellent traction on the pedal and the trail no matter the conditions. Additionally, the upper material is weather-resistant and made from breathable microfiber with antibacterial properties to control moisture and boost comfort.

Other notable features of these shoes include a High Impact Zone Insole Technology and an EVA midsole that provides padding and absorbs shocks to keep you feeling fresh for longer, along with an optimized tongue that stops the intake of debris from the trail.

They are an excellent choice for all-around mountain biking, including all-mountain, trail, enduro, and long-distance cycling.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

8. Five Ten Freerider Pro Women’s MTB Shoes

Five Ten Freerider Pro Women's MTB Shoes

MSRP: $160 (evo.com / Jenson USA)

  • Outsole: Stealth S1 Dotty rubber
  • Closure type: Laces
  • Contains recycled materials
  • Weight: 1 lb 11.2 oz (pair)

Five Ten’s Freerider Pro flat pedal Women’s MTB shoes are highly rated for being stylish, rugged, and functional for long days in the mountains.

The uppers on this shoe are made partially from recycled content, helping you reduce your environmental footprint. This material is carefully engineered to be durable and resistant to wear on tough trails.

The Stealth S1 rubber outsoles allow riders to walk and ride safely with plenty of traction on the pedals or the trail. This, paired with molded cup insoles helps to keep your feet secure and avoid friction and discomfort in the shoe.

If you want to upgrade your grip on the trails with a pair of high-quality women’s mountain bike shoes but don’t want to pay through the nose, get the Freerider Pro.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

9. Giro Latch Women’s Shoes

Giro Latch Women's Shoes

MSRP: $150 (evo.com / Jenson USA)

  • Giro’s Tack rubber soles
  • Mute Foam 3D midsole
  • Abrasion-resistant Rockprint heel and toe
  • Best used for Trail, Enduro, and Bike Park

The Giro Latch women’s shoes look casual on the outside but pack several high-grade solutions that make them a serious choice for dedicated mountain bikers. 

First of all, they boast Giro’s Tack rubber soles with a gamma tread pattern specially designed to securely grip the pedal pins and prevent slipping. 

The Giro Latch shoes also come with abrasion-resistant Rockprint heel and toe material that provides additional protection for the foot and increases durability.

Additionally, these shoes deliver a high level of vibration-dampening with a foam 3D midsole, which makes them ideal for heavy-duty applications such as trail, enduro, and bike park.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

10. Shimano GR5 Women’s

Shimano GR5 Women's

MSRP: $110 (REI.com / Jenson USA)

  • Shimano G3 high-grip rubber compound outsoles 
  • Reinforced toes and ankles
  • Weight: 1 lb 11.2 oz (pair)

The Shimano GR5 women’s shoes for mountain biking are lightweight and breathable with plenty of grip and protection.

They have a grippy rubber outsole for increased traction when walking or riding, along with durable upper material with breathable mesh sections for optimal ventilation.

Shimano designed this footwear to be anatomically suited to women’s feet for a more natural and comfortable fitting. Plus, they weigh around 1 lb 11.2 oz for the pair, which makes them reasonably lightweight in this price range. 

You can feel free to use them on rugged terrain as they come with reinforced toes and ankles, so they’ll protect your feet from impact and flying debris. 

Buy from REI.com    Buy from JensonUSA.com

11. ION Scrub AMP


MSRP: $150 (evo.com / Mike’s Bikes)

  • Soul FL Rubber Compound outsole
  • Reinforced toe cap
  • Ankle pad for extra protection
  • Lace-up closure with lace ports

The ION Scrub AMP shoes check all the boxes for serious mountain bikers who value protection, performance, and style equally well. 

When it comes to protection, they have a reinforced toe cap and an ankle pad for extra protection for your foot, so you can feel confident when trying new lines on the trails. 

They also use a grippy rubber compound outsole for excellent traction, and a shock-absorbent and flexible 100% EVA insole to keep feet safe and secure.

We also like that they keep things simple with a lace-up closure and lace ports that let you keep the laces out of the way and prevent them from coming undone. 

On top of that, they are unisex and come in three colors, so anyone can match them to the rest of their kit.

Buy from evo.com    Buy from MikesBikes.com

12. Fox Union Canvas

Fox Union Canvas

MSRP: $120 (JensonUSA.com / Mike’s Bikes)

  • Ultratac™ rubber compound
  • Canvas upper provides a casual look
  • Lace-up closure
  • Suitable for Trail, All-Mountain, and Enduro

The Fox Union Canvas is one of the best-looking pairs of MTB shoes on this list, in our opinion. They’re made with a light and durable canvas that gives them a casual look but doesn’t affect performance. 

They have special rubber soles which are super-sticky for heaps of traction without having to clip in. The insoles are made from EVA foam material that improves vibration dampening and helps you maintain a good pedal stroke.

Additionally, the reinforced molded toe cap offers impact protection and provides durability, which is especially important on an MTB shoe designed for trail, all-mountain, and enduro riding styles.

Buy from JensonUSA.com    Buy from Mike's Bikes

How to Choose the Best Mountain Bike Shoes for You

man riding a mountain bike using flat pedal mtb shoes

MTB shoes come in two broad categories based on the type of pedal used: platform (flat) or clipless (clip-in). Each shoe and pedal combination has advantages and disadvantages, and you should choose based on your preferences, fit, and the riding you do. 

In this guide, we’ll help you decide which setup is best and explore the different shoe designs so you can choose the best mountain bike shoes for your needs.

Clipless vs. Flat Mountain Bike Shoes and Pedals

First and foremost, we will distinguish between the two main types of mountain biking shoes and pedals: clipless (clip-in) and flat.

Flat MTB Shoes and Platform Pedals

flat mountain bike pedals

Most bikes come with basic flat pedals to get you out riding immediately. However, proper mountain bike flat pedals are quite different. They have large platforms to increase contact area and support for the foot and small pins that help you maintain grip.

One of the benefits of choosing flat pedals is you can use your regular shoes; MTB-specific shoes aren’t required. However, there are mountain bike flat shoes, too.

Mountain bike flat pedals and shoes enhance grip and power transfer, offering beginners ease of use and quick dismounts, with shoes featuring stiffer, grippier soles and arch support for improved performance and comfort.

MTB flat shoes look similar to skate shoes. They’re designed to improve grip and pedal feel compared to regular shoes. Compared to regular trainers, they have stiffer and extra-grippy rubber soles that help you transfer more power and ‘stick’ to the pedals. Arch support is another common feature of MTB flat shoes.

Without being clipped in, getting a foot down is easier and quicker, and you can ditch the bike when falling and get on and off the bike more easily. The shoes are also cheaper than clipless shoes, on average. For these reasons, beginners tend to favor flat pedals and shoes. 

MTB Clipless Shoes and Pedals

clipless mountain bike pedals bottom view

Clipless pedals, which (confusingly) require you to clip in, vary a lot in size and weight, but the technique of clipping in and out is the same. Push the ball of the foot onto the pedals to clip in and flick your heel away from your body to disconnect.

Many gravity-style clipless pedals have a large platform surrounding the connecting mechanism. This increases the stability of your foot by providing a larger platform to push off. Others, like the Crankbrothers Eggbeater, use a small connector.

Clipless shoes usually have stiffer soles than flat shoes, increasing power transfer and efficiency, a valuable characteristic for long-distance rides with lots of climbing. It’s still possible to walk comfortably in these shoes (unlike road bike shoes). However, the stiffer the sole, the harder it is to walk.

Clipless vs Flat Pedals: Is a Flat or Clipless Pedal Better for You?

Deciding between clipless vs. flat pedals can be tricky, especially for beginners. Each cycling discipline has ...

Clipless mountain bike shoes have a recessed two-hole receiver on the sole, which allows riders to attach a cleat that connects to the clipless pedal. There are also different MTB cleat designs (the most popular are Shimano SPD shoes and cleats), so matching the cleats and pedals is important if you plan to ride a clipless setup.

There are several benefits to using clipless over flat shoes. Firstly, pedaling efficiency and power transfer are improved, reducing fatigue on longer rides. It’s also easier to manipulate the bike’s position while clipped in, and riders can learn to bunny hop or lift the back end up and over obstacles. Being clipped in also eliminates the chance of your foot slipping and the pedals striking your shins.

Consider Your Mountain Biking Style

mountain biker doing a wheelie in the forest while wearing mountain biking shoes

The mountain biking discipline you practice most will help determine the type of shoes you need. Shoes for gravity-based disciplines (Enduro and Downhill) are generally flatter with slightly more flexible soles and wider bases to enhance grip. The clipless shoes have a similar design, just with a cleat connection.

Efficiency and weight are minor considerations in gravity disciplines, so these shoes are heavier. The best MTB shoes for Enduro or Downhill balance comfort, grip, support, and walkability. Gravity-based clip-in shoes usually work best with clipless pedals with large platforms like Shimano Saint SPD pedals.

The best mountain biking shoes are tailored to your discipline, balancing comfort, grip, and efficiency, whether it’s gravity-based Enduro and Downhill, efficient and lightweight Cross-country, or the versatile Trail and All-mountain.

Cross-country mountain biking shoes are all about efficiency and low weight, so they are almost all clipless and closely resemble road bike clipless shoes, just with a recessed MTB cleat and some grip for walking. These shoes have stiff nylon or carbon fiber soles and lightweight, breathable shells to maximize power transfer and keep weight low.

Trail or all-mountain shoes sit somewhere in between. They balance comfort and performance for riders who like to mix it up. They’re lighter than enduro/DH shoes but more comfortable and flexible than a pure cross-country shoe.

Shoe Construction Explained

The main components of mountain biking shoes are the sole, insole, upper, and closure system. As you’d expect, the price and intended use determine the design, quality of the construction, and number of extra features.

Sole (Outsole) 

outsole of a mountain bike shoe

The material chosen for the sole will determine stiffness and influence the shoe’s weight. Stiffer and lighter materials are used for XC riding to maximize power transfer through the foot; the stiffer the sole, the less power is lost on each pedal stroke. The sole of XC shoes is typically made up of a rigid platform layer with treaded rubber studs at the front, back, and sides, allowing you to walk when you dismount. 

More flexible and heavier materials like rubber are used for gravity disciplines, as pedaling efficiency and weight aren’t important. These shoes prioritize comfort, protection of the foot, and pedal feel. The sole is typically a solid rubber piece with an indented cleat. The tread on the soles of these shoes varies based on how they’re meant to be used; more aggressive tread is needed if you frequently hike your bike.

Upper Materials

The material that forms the upper shell of the shoe varies based on purpose and price. The best MTB shoes for XC riding have lightweight, breathable, and flexible uppers; thick, padded uppers are favored for gravity disciplines, increasing comfort and protection.

Closure Systems

top view of mtb shoes boa closure

There are three common shoe closure methods: standard laces, velcro straps, buckles, and dial closure systems. Some models combine two, such as laces and a dial. Boa dials are the gold standard in lightweight cycling shoes, allowing for fast and accurate adjustment of laces, even while moving. Laces and hook-and-loop straps are less expensive to produce and heavier but adequate for gravity disciplines.

Insole Materials

In cycling, arch support can help improve comfort and efficiency, so many shoe manufacturers use insoles with slightly raised arches (Specialized Body Geometry shoes) or adjustable arch support (Fox Union Boa). The thickness of the insole also changes between shoe styles.

Rigid and thin insoles are used for XC-style shoes, while thicker, flexible ones are used in gravity-based shoes to enhance comfort and pedal feel. You can purchase aftermarket insoles if your shoes don’t have the type you need.

Get the Right Fit

The shape and fit of cycling shoes vary between models and manufacturers, so it is helpful to try on a few. Alternatively, if shopping online, use the brand’s fitting guide to measure your foot and use those measurements to choose the correct size.

Here are a few things you should look out for when trying on a new pair of cycling shoes:

  1. The shoes you choose must be comfortable when you first try them. Stiff soles make the change from the break-in period minimal.
  2. Your heel shouldn’t move up and down when riding.
  3. Your arch should be well supported.
  4. There should be some room to wiggle your toes.

If the shoes you buy don’t fit, they can quickly cause discomfort, numbness, and blisters. You want a shoe that gently hugs your foot when fastened, supports your heel, and provides enough room for your toes to move.

When trying shoes at a store, wear the socks you’ll use for cycling. Pay attention to pressure points, areas that rub, and if your heel lifts when you walk. If you have wider feet, many standard models will feel very tight. Brands like Sidi and Lake offer a range of wide and extra-wide cycling shoes.

Is Walkability Important to You?

mountain biker walking up a hill while wearing mtb shoes

As we’ve seen, the riding discipline determines the design and, thus, how easy it is to walk in the shoe. Downhill and Enduro shoes are usually easier to walk in, with rubber soles resembling regular shoes, only with recessed cleats in the case of clipless models. Clipless XC shoes have much harder soles due to their stiff, performance-focused designs, but are harder to walk in as a result.

If you frequently dismount to carry your bike, you should consider a trail/all-mountain or gravity-style shoe with a flexible rubber sole. These provide traction and make it easier to walk or scramble up steep sections of rock, shale, or dirt with your bike. Cross-country MTB shoes are suitable for walking. However, the rigid soles and minimal surface area limit their practicality on technical terrain.

Protective Features

Foot protection is another important characteristic of mountain biking shoes. Highly protective shoes cushion your feet from harsh vibrations and reduce the impact of debris strikes and impacts while riding or in a crash.

The trade-off with foot protection is weight and bulk. For this reason, XC shoes will have minimal protection because breathability and low weight are prioritized. Nonetheless, these shoes will still have some protection (compared to road bike shoes), usually positioned at sensitive places (toes and heel) on the upper.

In contrast, bike shoes for gravity riding can be heavy, so reinforced material, such as hard toe caps and heel cups, is added to absorb impacts. The upper and insole are also much thicker for added comfort, vibration dampening, and protection.

Differences Between Road Bike and MTB Shoes

Closeup view of black road bike shoes

Road bike shoes are lighter, offer less protection, and are compatible with road pedal cleats.

As mentioned, mountain bike shoes have a recessed, two-hole cleat attachment on the sole, allowing riders to walk off the bike comfortably. In addition, they have flexible soles, which allow more movement of the foot for walking.

Road bike shoes are optimized for efficiency. They’re designed to maximize power transfer by restricting foot movement and shoe flexing. They have extremely stiff soles. This design also helps you maintain a consistent pedal stroke. In addition, the cleat attaches with three screws, and it extrudes from the sole, meaning walking in these shoes is awkward.

Pedal Style Compatibility

shimano crankbrothers time look pedals

Clipless MTB pedals by Shimano, Crankbrothers, Time, and Look

Clipless mountain biking shoes have a two-hole cleat connection. This is compatible with the four main pedal manufacturers we list below. However, you must ensure that your pedals are compatible with the MTB cleats (the metal part that attaches to the shoe). For example, TIME cleats won’t fit Shimano pedals. Thankfully, the pedals are usually sold with matching cleats.

The two-hole attachment on mountain bike shoes accepts cleats from these manufacturers:

  • Shimano (SPD)
  • Crankbrothers
  • TIME
  • Look

What Are SPD Cleats and Pedals?

spd vs spd-sl pedals

SPD pedals are the corresponding pedal that allows you to clip into them using the special cleat on the cycling shoe.

Regular SPD pedals for mountain biking are usually double-sided which makes it very quick and easy to clip in. To release the shoe you have to turn your heel away from the bike.

SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) cleats are a type of clipless 2-bolt cleat developed by Shimano that is used to clip into the clipless pedal.

These were the first off-road cleat and pedal systems, and almost all pedal and MTB shoe manufacturers still use this setup. They work by using a recessed cleat connection in the sole of a MTB shoe.

Price Range

  Entry-level Mid-range Pro-level
Closure type Velcro/Laces Velcro Dial system
Sole material Plastic Composite Carbon
Upper material PU leather/lower-quality nylon Something in the middle Breathable real leather/lightweight synthetic microfibre
Stiffness Soft Mid-stiff Ultra-stiff
Weight 400-500g pair Something in the middle

Mountain bike shoes range from around $50 to $500. However, most pairs fall into the $100 to $200 category.

Entry-level shoes should cost $120 or less. Mid-range roughly cost between $120 and $300, while pro-level models cost $300+. Due to their name value, big-name brands such as Shimano, Specialized, Lake, Fizik, and Pearl iZUMi are typically more expensive than lesser-known brands.

The best mountain bike shoes are the ones that match the type of riding you do, fit well, and are comfortable. Unless you’re competing, there’s no need to buy the lightest, stiffest, or fanciest shoes; most of the performance is gained simply by switching from regular trainers.

About the Author

Jordan Grimes

Jordan Grimes is an avid cyclist who loves to travel and has found his bike to be perfect company on road trips in the USA, through national parks, and in countries such as Canada, Ireland, and Spain.
His passion for travel and work in the tourism and hospitality sector has allowed him to live in incredible places like Ireland, Canada, the USA, and the Cayman Islands. He has since relocated to southern Spain, where he works as a freelance writer, practicing Spanish and cycling in the famous Sierra Nevada mountains. He specializes in writing cycling blog articles, health and performance-related topics, and other informative pieces. You can contact him on Linkedin.

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