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Best mountain bike shoes 2023 | 29 tried and tested flat and clipless MTB shoes

Our top-rated flat and clipless shoes for mountain bikers

Shimano GR7 mountain bike shoes and Madison socks

The best mountain bike shoes will be comfortable and breathable, provide a stable pedalling platform, protect your feet from trail debris and crashes. They’ll be easy to get on and off, dry fast and not weigh too much.

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Struggling to find something that meets all of these needs? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Our in-depth buyer’s guide to the best mountain bike shoes will help you choose the best kicks for you, as well as provide some information on the foundations of a good mountain bike shoe.

You’ll find all the best mountain bike shoes we have reviewed here – whether you ride cross-country, trail, enduro or downhill on flat or clipless pedals, we’ve ridden and rated the best mountain bike shoes on the market.

To make things easier, we’ve split this list into different types of mountain bike shoes:

These categories aren’t fixed, and many of the shoes are compatible across riding disciplines, but it’s a good place to start if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for.

For more cycling gear, check out our roundup of the best Black Friday bike deals for plenty of quality kit at tempting prices.

Best mountain bikes shoes for trail and enduro riding

Trail and enduro shoes tend to have solid, robust designs that can withstand a battering. The soles are stiff, but not so stiff you can’t take part in a bit of hike-a-bike. Many look like flat-sole mountain bike shoes, but others are more similar to typical clipless XC shoes.

All the shoes here take cleats for clipless pedals. Keep scrolling for our selection of the best flat MTB shoes.

Crankbrothers Mallet BOA

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Crankbrothers' new Mallet mountain biking shoes are available in three different closure options
The Mallet shoes are designed to be used for downhill riding and racing.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £180 / AU$330 / €200 as tested
  • Comfortable with plenty of cleat adjustment
  • Boa system costs more than Speedlace version

Designed for enduro and downhill riding, the Crankbrothers Mallet BOA shoes are incredibly comfy well-designed cycling shoes.

They have enough feel and flex from the sole, ensuring you get a good level of feedback, without ever feeling droopy around the pedal. There’s plenty of cleat adjustment and the shoes shed mud easily too.

The shoes close with a Boa dial, which makes for quick opening and closing, but it does make these shoes £30 more expensive than their speed-lace equivalents.

Five Ten Kestrel Boa

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Five Ten Kestrel BOA mountain bike shoes
The Five Ten Kestrel Boa shoes might be pricey, but their fit, comfort and performance more than help to justify the cost.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media
  • £200 / $230 / €230 as tested
  • Super-secure fit
  • Impressive power delivery

The Kestrel Boa is designed for downcountry riding, with the shoes covering cross-country and trail duties thanks to a stiff sole and secure fit.

We found the Kestrel Boas to be less awkward to wear then XC shoes, while maintaining high levels of power transfer through their stiff sole.

The shoes remained comfortable on long rides thanks to their great fit, which resulted in zero pressure points or hotspots.

Although the Kestrel Boas are priced towards the top end, we’d say the features make them worth the money.

Giro Chamber II

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Giro Chamber II
Giro’s Chamber II offers plenty of cleat adjustment.
Immediate Media
  • £130 as tested
  • Plenty of adjustment
  • Good off-bike grip

Giro’s Chamber II shoes are standout performers with loads of cleat adjustment that are easy to clip in and out of the pedals.

A thin sole gives enough feel while remaining efficiently rigid for sprints and climbs.

The shoes’ wide camo-print sole and toe bumper help to protect your feet, and the collar is well padded too.

Leatt 6.0 Clip V22

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Leatt DBX 6.0 Clipless mountain bike shoe
The latest in Leatt’s growing shoe range, the 6.0 features some nifty details.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £130 / €149 as tested
  • Sturdy construction
  • Features an ATOP dial rather than BOA

Leatt’s 6.0 Clip V22 shoes are manufactured using a single woven upper with various abrasion and impact-resistant panels. The brand uses cat’s-tongue material on the inside of the heel to reduce heel lift.

The well-considered fit and breathable upper impressed, as did the ventilated mesh weave. The mesh holds very little water and if they do happen to let a little in, they’ll dry fast. We didn’t find any fault with the ATOP dial, with the clicks defined in feel and noise when tightening.

Shimano ME5

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Shimano ME5 mountain bike shoes
Shimano’s ME5 shoes are aimed at trail and enduro riders, but will work for most types of riding.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media
  • £140 / $160 / €160 as tested
  • Efficient closure
  • Good balance of stiffness and flex

Shimano’s ME5 shoes are aimed at trail and enduro riding, and feature a Boa dial closure that locks the shoes solidly to your feet.

We found the ME5s comfortable out of the box, with the supple upper creating zero pinch points when tightened by the Boa dial.

The soles feature just enough flex so you feel feedback from what’s below you, while being supportive enough to transfer deep efforts into forward momentum. However, the sole does slightly flex around smaller pedals.

The ME5s offer great levels of comfort and performance at a decent price.

Specialized 2FO Roost Clip

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Specialized 2FO Roost Clip clipless mountain bike shoe
Specialized has a shoe for every occasion, and the 2FO Roost Clip is its park-lap, chilled trail-riding pair of kicks.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £110 / $130 / AU$220 / €130 as tested
  • Relaxed fit
  • Excellent pedalling performance

Specialized’s 2FO Roost Clip may have a casual appearance and a relaxed yet comfortable fit, but it is still a top-performing shoe on the trails. They provide less toe protection than some shoes as the upper is quite thin, which contributes to a low weight, but this does make them more comfortable for longer rides.

The laces are secure and the brand’s tried-and-tested Body Geometry insoles deliver ample arch support. The only real negative is the eyelets for the laces aren’t the smoothest running, so getting the shoe on and off is a bit of a hassle.

Endura MT500 Burner Clipless

4.0 out of 5 star rating
endura mt500 burner clipless single
The Endura MT500 Burner Clipless is packed with features.
Tom Marvin / Our Media
  • £129.99 / $159.99 / €159.99
  • Excellent sole
  • Well-designed insole
  • Lets water in

The Endura MT500 Burner is a comfortable and well-fitting shoe for enduro and trail riding.

The insole has a metatarsal button, helps spread your big toe and prevents your foot from scrunching.

The sole of the shoe has an aggressive tread, offering plenty of grip if you have to push your bike up sloppy trails. The cleat is free to move 39mm front to rear – as much as any shoe on the market. You might need a cleat spacer if you don’t want to feel locked in.

The upper is nicely built and ventilated, but it does let water in.

Fox Union BOA

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Fox Union BOA shoes clipless mountain bike shoes
The Union BOA shoes provide good protection and power transfer, for a price.
Steve Behr / Our Media
  • £220 / $250 / €240 / AU$350 as tested
  • Tuneable insole
  • Solid and protective

The Union BOA is the priciest shoe in Fox’s shoe range, but the BOA closure and tunable insole offer an impressive fit.

The sho has a solid feel, which feels like it aids power transfer while offering high levels of protection, especially around the toe box.

Walkability isn’t great, and the shoes aren’t as comfy as others, but the tough build and power transfer make these shoes impressive on the bike.

Northwave Rockit Plus

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Northwave Rockit Plus mountain bike shoes
Northwave’s Rockit Plus shoes offer masses of comfort and some really solid, all-round credentials, meaning they’ll work for just about every type of riding.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media
  • £135 / $165 / €150 / AU$248 as tested
  • Neutral footbed
  • Versatile and comfortable

Northwave’s Rockit Plus shoes are designed with versatility in mind, providing good levels of comfort on the trails and beyond.

The sole is comfortable and adds levels of control thanks to its flexibility, though this does take away from the power transfer when pedalling.

While the upper has no pinch points, the shoe needs to be cinched up tight for a secure feeling.

Shimano AM5 (AM503)

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano AM5 clipless mountain bike shoe
Shimano’s shoes have long been popular and the pocket-friendly AM5 looks to be so as well, with good reason.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £80 / $100 / AU$130 / €100 as tested
  • Considered features for the price
  • Lace closure

The Shimano AM5s impressed with their solid ventilation and ample ankle protection.

The laces come quite far up the foot to help secure your ankle, even if there isn’t any grippy material on the inside to prevent heel lift.

There are perforations in the shoe to assist with ventilation, and although they will let in water, the synthetic material means they dry quickly.

Ride Concepts Transition

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Ride Concepts Transition mountain bike shoes
Designed for all-mountain, aggressive riders, these shoes are expensive, but dig into the detail and you find a broad array of features.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £150 / $160 / AU$271.49 / €189.49 as tested
  • D30 shock-absorbing inserts
  • On the stiffer end of the spectrum

The Transition is a more gravity-focused shoe that utilises DST 8.0 MID GRIP rubber throughout its bulky-looking sole.

The D30 insert is a soft material that hardens on impact that can be found on the lower portion of the shoe.

They’re a bit heavier than some of the competition, and take an age to dry if they get soaked, but the Transitions are a great pick if foot protection and a stiff sole are your top priorities.

Bontrager Rally

4.0 out of 5 star rating
The Rally is built for everything from downhill to day-to-day trail use according to Bontrager, and features a number of details that suit such a broad range of applications.
The Rally is built for everything from downhill to day-to-day trail use according to Bontrager.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £155 / $155 / AU$250 / €170 as tested
  • Incredible comfort
  • Versatile across all mountain genres

The Bontrager Rally is an extremely comfortable shoe with impressive ventilation. The sole is on the more flexible side, which Bontrager has designed as more of a relaxed fit with a roomy toebox, making them ideal for longer days on the trails and to ease walking.

To avoid feeling the cleat when riding, the shoe would be best paired with a pedal with a cage. The Rally features a lace closure with a Velcro strap cinching the shoe at the top.

Ion Rascal Select BOA

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Ion Rascal Select BOA clipless mountain bike shoe
The Rascal Select BOA has been built with descending in mind.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £170 / $199.95 / €200 as tested
  • Designed with descending in mind
  • Well-ventilated despite bulky appearance

The Ion Rascal Select BOA features a more rearward cleat channel due to being a more gravity-orientated shoe. There is impact protection at the heel and they are very easy to put on and take off as the tongue opens wide.

We were unsure of the Boa dial’s placement at the top of the tongue as it focuses tension at the top of the foot rather than throughout.

Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace mountain clipless shoe
Crankbrothers targets users of its Mallet DH pedals with the Mallet Speedlace shoe.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £150 / $169.99 / €169.99 as tested
  • Comfortable for longer rides
  • Well-ventilated

The Velcro strap that secures the lace on a Speedlace system makes it quicker and easier to make smaller adjustments to tension compared to a traditional lace-up closure.

On the trail, we found the Mallet Speedlace to be a comfortable and well-ventilated shoe. The sole is fairly stiff, although there is some give at the toebox area to aid with walking.

They even come with a set of Crankbrothers’ own cleats in the box, but they work well with Shimano’s SPD too.

Best XC mountain bike shoes

Cross-country riders are always looking to save weight and go faster. As a result, cross-country mountain bike shoes tend to look a lot more like road cycling shoes than other mountain bike shred slippers.

Like road shoes, they have stiff soles and lightweight uppers, but they do have deeper lugs and take two-bolt rather than three-bolt cleats.

Shimano XC501

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano XC501 shoe for gravel cycling
The Shimano XC501 is an XC mountain bike shoe, but its heavy performance leanings make it a good match for gravel riding too.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • £140 / $170 as tested
  • Comfy upper and good power transfer
  • Not great for walking

The Shimano XC501 shoes have a glass fibre sole that really shows itself off when you start pushing on the pedals, delivering immediate power transfer.

This does mean that there isn’t a great deal of flex. Paired with the relatively narrow outsole, this means the XC501s aren’t great for walking.

The wrap-around upper helps to create a supremely comfortable and snug fit though.

Sidi MTB Gravel

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Sidi MTB Gravel Shoes
Sidi MTB Gravel Shoe is rugged if a bit heavy.
Our Media
  • £195 / $250 / €189 / AU$280 as tested
  • Comfy yet stiff enough
  • Great stability

Sidi’s MTB Gravel shoes are built on the brands MTB Competition sole and uses a single Tecno-3 dial for closure.

The sole offers excellent stability thanks to Sidi’s heel cup, while providing high levels of power transfer to the pedals.

The only niggle we found was the flat footbed which offers very little arch support.

Sidi Dust MTB

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Sidi Dust MTB shoes on a wooden stump
Sidi’s Dust MTB shoes fit well and remain comfy over long distances.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media
  • £260 / $324.99 / €290 as tested
  • Quick to break in
  • Comfy on long rides

Sidi’s Dust MTB are the brands top-tier nylon soled XC shoes, and feature a Tecno-3 dial for closure and aero texture on the front for claimed watt saving.

The shoes are comfy for long days in the saddle, making them a good fit for gravel riders or marathon racers.

We did find the single Tecno-3 dial to be a drawback, with the single dial taking all the load when tightening the shoe to a comfortable and stable fit making it difficult to get the shoes tight enough.

Specialized Recon 2.0

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Specialized Recon 2.0 mountain bike shoes
The Recon 2.0 shoe from Specialized balances sole stiffness almost perfectly to ensure they feel solid underfoot when winding on the power, but allow you to walk naturally when off the bike.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media
  • £175 / $170 / €170 / AU$250 as tested
  • Plenty of cleat adjustment
  • Stiff and efficient sole

The Recon 2.0 is based on Specialized top-of-the-range cross country shoes and offer good power transfer with enough flex for off the bike walkability.

A small bedding in period is needed, but after a couple of rides the shoes proved comfortable for long days in the saddle.

The sole is stiff enough for cross country racing, while remaining flexible enough to remove chatter through the pedals.

Best MTB flat-pedal shoes

The best mountain bike flat-pedal shoes will stick to your pedals and let you get a foot down when things get wild. Made for going full-gas downhill, these shoes are robust and there are plenty of options, from summer slippers to shoes that will keep your feet dry and toasty in the winter.

Five Ten Freerider Pro

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Five Ten Freerider Pro flat pedal mountain bike shoe
Greater protection and a stiff sole make these a leading pair of enduro or downhill shoes.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • £120 / $150 / €140 as tested
  • Thick upper offering lots of protection
  • Sole offers maximum grip and plenty of damping

Five Ten is the benchmark flat-pedal shoe brand, with the Freerider Pros arguably its leading product. These are a beefed-up versions of the classic Freeriders, with a thicker upper and more protection, they’re still light and comfy enough to pedal in all day and aren’t as tall (or cushioned) as the DH-focused Impact Pros.

The sole strikes the perfect balance of height and stiffness for trail and enduro riding, and gives excellent pedal feedback, but it does take a few rides to bed in and develop enough flexibility to sit well into concave flat pedals.

Five Ten’s legendary S1 Stealth rubber offers maximum grip and superb damping, so the Freerider Pros don’t flinch an inch or bounce about, even over the roughest rock and root sections.

Five Ten Impact Pro

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Five Ten Impact Pro shoes
Five Ten’s Impact Pro shoes are a top choice for those who prefer flat pedals.
Immediate Media
  • £125 / $160 / €150 as tested
  • Grippiest rubber available
  • Lighter than previous models

Five Ten has no rival when it comes to the stickiness of its shoe rubber. The ‘Stealth S1’ sole of the Impact Pro shoes, with its revised pattern, locks the shoes in place on the pedals.

The Impact Pros are just right in their construction; not overly bulky, but still protective with a reinforced toe cap and abrasion-resistant upper.

Ride Concepts Hellion Elite

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Ride Concepts Hellion Elite flat pedal mountain bike shoe
The soles on these shoes rival Five Ten’s for grip.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • £130 / $140 / AU$255 as tested
  • Supportive and with enough flexibility
  • Feet stay glued in place

These shoes fuse a low-profile, lace-up upper with Ride Concepts’ stickiest DST 4.0 sole. With this Max Grip rubber blend, also used on the TNTs, RC has entered an exclusive club – along with Specialized and its 2FOs – whose members can legitimately claim grip levels on a par with market leaders Five Ten.

In fact, the Hellion Elites feel similar on both foot and bike to the Freerider Pros, with a great blend of support and hold in the upper, balanced by just enough midsole flexibility to precisely feel the pedals and the bike, without any digging in or clawing over.

Traction, damping and pedal connection are superb. Your feet stay glued in place regardless of the terrain and weather, with no bouncing or slipping.

Specialized 2FO DH

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Specialized 2FO DH flat pedal mountain bike shoes
A wide outsole gives a huge contact area, helping stability.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • £145 / $170 / AU$250 / €160 as tested
  • Incredibly grippy sole and wide outsole
  • High inside ankle

It’s only taken 20 years, but someone has finally come up with a sole that might just out-grip Five Ten’s S1 Stealth. Specialized’s SlipNot ST compound has so much vice-like traction that you have to unweight your shoe to change foot position.

The DHs bring tons of other new features to the 2FO line, too, such as a faster-drying leather and textile upper, and a sole and footbed with special profiles to increase comfort and pedalling power.

There’s spot-on damping courtesy of the EVA midsole, while the tilted and shaped insole is super-comfy. As the outsole is really wide, the pedal connection area is massive and stable.

Specialized 2FO Roost flat-pedal shoes

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Specialized 2FO Roost flat-pedal mountain bike shoes
The fit, comfort and design make the 2FO Roosts very appealing.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £110 / $120 / AU$220 / €110 as tested
  • Superb traction and very comfortable
  • Suede section can collect mud

The Specialized 2FO Roost flat-pedal shoes use a new sole compound that is super-sticky and on a par with Five Ten’s leading soles.

Inside, there is a Body Geometry footbed that Specialized has spent a lot of time perfecting, and helps the shoes reach their high comfort levels.

The upper isn’t great in bad weather, with a suede toebox that attracts mud, but thankfully the shoes are quick-drying.

Endura MT500 Burner Flat

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Endura MT500 Burner Flat Shoe for mountain biking
The MT500 Burner and Hummvee shoes are Endura’s first footwear.
Alex Evans / Our Media
  • £119.99 / $149.99 / €149.99 as tested
  • Comfortable and secure
  • Impressive grip
  • Tongue area lets water in

The Endura MT500 Burner Flat pedals have a super grippy sole that provides loads of traction, with only the largest bumps causing them to move across the pedal’s surface. The sole is also stiff but doesn’t dumb down feel.

The upper is lightweight, quick-drying, robust and easy to care for thanks to its wipe-clean material. However, the shoes would benefit from a lace cover because they let water in around the tongue.

Ride Concepts TNT

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Ride Concepts TNT flat pedal mountain bike shoes
The TNTs are heavier than some trail shoes, but this added weight translates to added protection.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • £140 / $160 / AU$300 as tested
  • D30 protection
  • Good for use off the bike too

The TNTs are Ride Concepts’ latest DH-specific flat-pedal shoes. Hardening-upon-impact D3O material is used in the insole for cushioning and on the raised inner ankle to protect from crank bashes.

The new DST 4.0 sole has fantastic grip – your feet never flinch, even if covered in slime, and the damping is as good as any of RC’s rivals. The TNTs feel marginally less locked-on than the Hellion Elites, perhaps because these more solid, heavier shoes don’t conform to the pedal platform quite as easily.

The price tag is high and the extra weight is noticeable when pedalling, but considering the extra tech and protection, value is still decent.

Ride Concepts Vice flat-pedal shoes

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Ride Concepts Vice flat-pedal mountain bike shoes
The suede finish looks great but isn’t the most weatherproof.
Andy lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £90 / $100 / AU$205 as tested
  • Decent grip and really comfy
  • Suede finish is hard to keep looking fresh

The Ride Concepts Vice shoes were developed with the brand’s dirt jump and slopestyle riders, giving an idea of what these shoes are intended for.

The shoe has a hexagonal print on the sole that gives more than enough grip. The build quality of the sole is also excellent.

There is D30 material across the heel and toe, a reinforced toe bumper for protection, while metal eyelets and a tongue gusset are nice details.

These shoes might not tick all the boxes for trail or downhill riding, and the suede finish might not be ideal if you ride in the wet or on muddy trails.

Shimano GR5

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano GR5 flat pedal mountain bike shoes
These shoes from Shimano have a skateboarding look to them.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • £80 / $100 / AU$119 as tested
  • Grippy sole that can be used for walking
  • Good breathability

Shimano’s cheapest flat shoes have a skate-style synthetic upper that saves over 100g compared to previous versions, with a reinforced, rubberised bumper to protect your toes.

The sole has a honeycomb pattern in the pedal zone and grippy ridges at each end for hiking. Shimano’s own rubber blend is adequately grippy and is incorporated into a pretty flexible midsole. This means there’s a lot of feedback from the pedals, so you know exactly what’s going on with the bike.

We prefer the grip and feel here to that of the more expensive GR9s (see below). Traction and damping aren’t class-leading but are sufficient even in wet and muddy conditions.

The upper can bunch up when you pull the laces tight, but overall, these are lightweight, well-dialled shoes that breathe well thanks to plenty of air holes, although that makes them less suited to winter riding.

Shimano GR9

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano GR9 shoes
The Shimano GR9 shoes have a Michelin sole.
Immediate Media
  • £120 / $160 as tested
  • Great fit thanks to Speed Lacing system
  • Michelin sole

Shimano’s GR9 shoes are packed full of technical features such as the Speed Lacing system and splash-proof cover.

The Michelin sole is grippy and flexes just enough to provide feedback through the pedals without sacrificing foot support.

They are also reasonably light at 803g for a pair of size EU 43.

Unparallel Dust Up

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Unparallel Dust Up flat pedal mountain bike shoes
The Dust Up is one of Unparallel’s first mountain bike shoes.
Alex Evans / Our Media
  • £125 / $149.95 as tested
  • Wipe clean upper with good breathability
  • Grippy sole

Unparallel’s first foray into mountain bike shoes show great promise, with the Dust Up offering impressive grip thanks to a tacky rubber sole.

We did find the sole to be very stiff, which lead to numbing and reduced traction on gnarly sections of trail.

The shoes are also quite light, with the minimal padding making them breathable and quick to dry out.

Mountain bike shoe buyer’s guide

Scott MTB Comp Mid
The best mountain bike shoes will give you a comfortable and stable connection with your bike.
Russell Burton / Our Media

Mountain bikers have two options when it comes to footwear: clipless shoes or flats.

What shoes you choose is up to you and will depend on your choice of the best mountain bike pedals. Both types have their benefits, but picking the right option is important because different styles work better in different situations.

Which mountain bike shoes are best for you?

Pedaling Innvoations Catalyst One mountain bike flat pedals
Shoes can have a large impact on your connection to your bike, so finding the best ones for your style of riding is key.
Ian Linton / Our Media

There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s well worth considering what type of riding you’ll mostly be doing – XC (cross-country), trails or gravity-orientated riding – because this will influence your decision.

Flat-pedal shoes tend to be orientated towards trail, enduro and downhill riders, where feel and grip on the pedals, as well as protection, are important. Some flat-pedal shoes have soles that are stiffer than others, but none are as stiff as a dedicated cross-country shoe.

Clipless-pedal shoes come in a wider variety of forms, catering to virtually every sort of rider. They range from XC shoes, which are much like road shoes but with a little bit of tread on the soles, all the way to DH shoes that resemble their flat-pedal counterparts, save for cleat mounts.

Unsure of what’s right for you? Read our guide comparing flat vs clipless pedals for more information.


Nimbl Air cycling shoes
Poor-fitting shoes will lead to blisters.
Simon von Bromley / Our Media

No matter what style of shoe you choose, if they don’t fit correctly they’ll be uncomfortable and won’t perform as well as they should.

We recommend you try before you buy because everyone’s feet are different and manufacturers use different lasts to build their shoes.

Ensure there’s enough wiggle room for your toes and a decent hold on your heel for comfort and power transfer.

You should also make sure there are no hot spots or parts that dig in because these will become painful on longer days in the saddle.

Retention system

Fox Union Boa shoe
Boa dials are increasingly popular on high-end shoes.
Steve Behr / Our Media

The retention system is what keeps the shoes on your feet. Laces are the traditional option, but there are alternatives.

Laces give you great control over a shoe’s feel and fit but can’t be adjusted on the fly and can get claggy with mud – unless they’re protected by a lace flap.

Boa systems use a ratchet dial and a wire that’s looped through the shoe’s opening for quick, easy and accurate closure and adjustment. They’re found on pricier shoes and tend to be specced to help save weight.

Velcro straps and ratchet buckles are more common and pretty rugged but weigh a bit more. They tend to come on cheaper and mid-price shoes.


Udog Distanza gravel shoes
XC and trail shoes will feature a stiffer sole for better power transfer, though this theory is disputed.
Warren Rossiter / Our Media

The sole is key in defining how the shoe performs. XC riders will want a stiff sole that transfers every watt of power to the pedals (though how much of a difference a stiff sole makes is debatable). A stiff sole also helps improve comfort when the shoe is perched on a small clipless pedal.

Pricier shoes will benefit from a light and stiff carbon sole, while cheaper ones use plastic, which is heavier and more flexible.

Fox Union Boa shoe sole
Gravity-inspired shoes will have a wider interface with the pedal for a more connected feel.
Steve Behr / Our Media

Trail and enduro riders tend to go one of two ways: either an XC-style shoe with more protection and a more aggressive tread or a gravity-orientated shoe with a more flexible, comfortable sole and a construction that performs better with clipless pedals that have a platform.

Generally speaking, weight and sole stiffness are of no concern to gravity-orientated riders, so they tend to go for shoes that offer plenty of pedal feel and foot protection.

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Tread pattern is also important. Some shoes offer a lightweight minimal tread, which is great for racing but will come up short if you need to run or walk anywhere while out on the trail. Others offer more grip and protection but weigh a little more as a result.