A high-quality shoe is essential for many aspects of mountain biking. Its stable base transmits your energy to the mountain bike pedals, its sturdy construction protects your feet, and its snug fit makes long days on the trail more bearable.
In this guide, you’ll find our best MTB shoes for optimal bike grip. You should also think about whether you want flat pedals or clipped-in (often referred to as “clipless”) pedals, and we’ve listed some of our top choices for all types.
Shimano SH-RP1 (Best for Clipless Pedals)
The RP1 from Shimano is a versatile clipless shoe for mountain bikers. It is protective, softly cushioned, and rather comfortable inside, despite its light and breathable design and somewhat sturdy base, allowing you to put the power down on sharp hills. In addition, the tried and true Boa system and one Velcro strap across the toes provide for a custom fit (after setting it the first time, you can just leave the toe adjustment alone).
The on and off operation has been smoothed out thanks to a recent redesign by Shimano. At first, the entrance was quite narrow, requiring careful maneuvering to insert one’s foot.
The RP1 has been a great pair of shoes for avid mountain bikers who challenge long, arduous rides to muddy trails in the Northwest.
Though the RP1 has our vote as the finest all-around model available, Shimano also offers the widely used ME7. The higher neoprene cuff and extra lace protection contribute to this shoe’s suitability for enduro racing and downhill courses.
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The decent protection and all-weather performance of the ME7 come at the cost of a little more weight (approximately an ounce per shoe) and a little time to get used to. However, the additional $50 will be well worth it for some passengers.
- Great balance between portability, lightness, and performance
- It does not offer the same level of security as the ME7 version that has been improved.
Five Ten Freerider (Best for Flat Pedal)
Freerider from Five Ten are classic, comfortable shoes because it combines the brand’s renowned grip with a plush, roomy cabin. All sorts of riding, from lengthy uphill grinds to popping off jumps and traversing difficult aspects, can be done with confidence thanks to the shoe’s grippy Stealth S1 rubber and dotty tread pattern.
The midsole is rigid enough to prevent hotspots while still being flexible and providing adequate traction on a rock for the odd hike-a-bike (although the dotty tread does not perform as well in mud). At the same time that the thick upper material and reinforced toe box give the shoe its unique look, they protect the foot well.
One disadvantage of the Five Ten Freerider, like with other platform shoes, is that you lose some efficiency and power since your feet are not directly attached to the pedals.
Furthermore, the Freerider’s soft rubber is known to wear out rapidly, and heavy shoe wearers may need to replace their footwear as often as once each year (we consistently need a new pair after about 1,000 trail miles).
However, the shoe’s shorter lifespan is a reasonable trade-off considering its excellent grip, and there is no other shoe on the market that can compete with the Freerider’s versatility for the price. Furthermore, the Freerider Pro is a lighter and safer alternative to the shoe.
- Its tried-and-true layout with super-sticky rubber, reasonable weight
- Worse than a clipless pedal shoe in terms of durability and performance
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Giro Berm (Best Value)
When shopping for clipless shoes, it might be difficult to find a good pair for around $100, but Giro has done it with their Berm model.
You get a strong upper material that blends breathability and protection, an adjustable fit, and a rubber outsole with large lugs for additional traction in dirt and mud, all for a relatively cheap price.
The shoe’s big cleat pocket also makes it simpler for novices to attach their cleats. So while serious cyclists should pass on the Berm in favor of something like the Shimano RP1 up top, we still believe it’s a great value.
There are certain to be a few sacrifices in the design of the Giro Berm, given that it costs less than half as much as the best-in-class Shimano or Giro’s own Ventana:
- The first issue is efficiency; the midsole isn’t particularly powerful since it prioritizes comfort above stiffness.
- Secondly, a Boa or ratchet-type system would be preferable to the twin Velcro closures because of its accuracy and ease of adjustment.
- Finally, despite the aggressive design of the outsole, it will not provide optimal traction on rocks or very rugged stretches of terrain.
Despite these drawbacks, we still believe the Berm is an excellent choice for the money for novices or people who only occasionally get out on the trail.
- A reasonable price for a clipless trail shoe and a robust design
- The performance boost is not enough in comparison to more expensive alternatives.
Giro Chamber II (Best for Downhill Riders)
The newest version of Giro’s Chamber, the Chamber II, is an even more downhill and enduro-focused racing design and is a favorite of many of the world’s best gravity riders. However, despite its seemingly unassuming flat-pedal-shoe aesthetic, this sneaker is anything but ordinary.
Giro Chamber II has minimal seams on top, adjustable cleat location, and shank (which provides necessary strength beneath the center of the foot but also enough flex for comfortable hiking), representing the pinnacle of performance.
Intriguingly, the cleats are placed back 10 millimeters, making them more like those on a flat-pedaled shoe but yet providing the power of a clipless connection, which means less foot fatigue and more control on rough terrain.
Although the Chamber II is lighter than its predecessor, it is still not a featherweight option. Moreover, it is not very lightweight, considering its durable construction, which is meant to withstand the rigors of long distances on rough trails.
The Chamber II has a good reputation for being easy to pedal, but we wouldn’t use it for long, arduous XC or road rides. Additionally, we chose Velcro straps and ratcheted over laces because of the convenience of usage and the speed with which minor changes may be made.
The Chamber II may be heavier than some other options. Still, it is well worth it for serious riders because of its remarkable durability and protection and its hard sole that provides great power transmission.
- You can use it with clipless pedals while still looking and feeling like traditional flat pedal shoes.
- Heavy shoes
Giro Empire VR90 (Best for Cross-Country Riding)
By combining a road shoe aesthetic with genuine trail prowess, Giro’s Empire VR90 shoe is on the cusp of mythical status. A complete carbon fiber outsole provides sufficient stiffness for toeing the racing line. Furthermore, the one-piece upper looks stunning and aids in weight reduction.
The Vibram stiff soles are surprisingly competent off the bike. The whole thing is made of high-quality materials, and there are enough reinforcements to let you ride it on fairly rough terrain without worrying (though serious trail rides will need a stronger build).
The Giro’s tight fit is fantastic for power-hungry riders but uncomfortable on long, adventurous days or less serious excursions due to the focus on performance in the design. While the Boa dial allows for speedy adjustments, the conventional lacing method allows for more precise adjustments and a more personalized fit.
But actually, the main negative of the Giro is its price—if you splurge on this shoe, it implies you’re likely trimming grams off your rig wherever possible and are expecting to squeeze out all the watts you’re putting down with each pedal stroke. So if you don’t fit into this type of rider, the Empire VR90 is likely not the ideal option for you.
- They are the lightest XC shoes we know.
- It’s sleek and strong without being cumbersome, and the design keeps your feet dry.
- Expensive and unnecessary unless you’re a professional XC cyclist.
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Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit (Most Functional – Bike or Hike!)
Pearl Izumi, headquartered in Colorado, is another industry leader in bicycle footwear. The clipless X-Alp Summit is among the company’s best products, which is ideal for adventure riding and bike packing.
There’s a rubber compound in the midsole for control, the upper material is robust, and the toe protection is good and wraps around the sides of the foot, making them ideal for beginner riders, trail riding, and off-the-bike exploring.
In addition, the Vibram outsole is aggressive and sticky, making it a popular option for trail running and hiking shoes. Finally, the X-Alp Summit is a great deal for a shoe that can withstand anything from all-mountain ripping to overnighters with lengthy hike-a-bikes.
There doesn’t seem to be anything to dislike about this moderately priced design. On the contrary, Pearl Izumi prioritized wearer convenience on long treks, which translates to suppler construction and more raw strength while cranking the pedals.
Riders in places with less dramatic elevation changes (say, the Midwest of the United States) won’t be able to take advantage of the X-adventure-ready Alp’s features, either. However, Pearl Izumi is headquartered where many residents like exploring the mountains and have a lot to gain from the X-adaptable Alp’s construction.
- A nice all-arounder with decent off-the-bike comfort
- It’s too squishy for XC riders.
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Final Thoughts: Do I Really Need Mountain Bike Shoes?
Actually, if you’re just going for a recreational ride with flat pedals, special mountain biking shoes aren’t necessary. Instead, many individuals get their feet wet in a pair of cross-country shoes, skate shoes, or running shoes.
You’ll see why mountain bike shoes are better as you go forward. Compared to road cycling shoes, mountain biking shoes are superior in terms of maximum power transfer, foot protection (crucial in technical terrain), and, most importantly, grip while riding on flat pedals.
If you plan on riding a bike equipped with clipless pedals, you’ll need a pair of shoes that are compatible with them straight away.
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