We've thrashed the soles out of these MTB sneaks and here is our pick of the very best mountain bike shoes. Whether you ride flat pedals or clip in.
Here are the results of our testing to find the very best mountain bike shoes in 2021. Mountain bike shoes come in all shapes and sizes and an array of different designs, but can be split into two broad categories; shoes for flat, BMX-style pedals and shoes with cleats for clip-in pedals. We’ve listed the best options for each style below. So far we haven’t come across a mountain bike shoe costing under £100, whether flat or clip-in, that’s worth spending your money on. We’re still looking, though, and luckily many of the best shoes are discounted online, bringing them under that £100 barrier.
The best mountain bike flat pedal shoes look like trainers/sneakers but have low-profile soles made from sticky rubber. Whereas the best mountain bike clipless pedal shoes are generally stiffer and have recessed bolt holes for attaching pedal cleats.
How we tested these shoes
To ensure all things are equal, we coupled our shoes with the two test-winning pedals from the mbr group test in the June issue. We also ran these on the same bike so that we could measure crank and chainstay clearance for each shoe and gauge overall comfort and grip without being distracted by suspension and tyre choice.
With the clip-in shoes, we measured the size of the cleat box and clearance around the cleat and focused on ease of engagement/release. With the flat shoes, the main driver is grip, so we measured the rubber compound on every shoe with a durometer. We also did a simple flex test to check feel, and some off- the-bike hikes to gauge comfort and check for heel lift.
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The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals:
Benchmark shoe for enduro and trail riding
Weight: 780g | Sizes: 5-13.5 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: The grippiest sole available. Shock absorbing mid-sole. Cons: Pretty pricey. Can be too sticky for some riders.
The Freerider Pro has been our test winning flat pedal shoe for the last few years. It is stiffer than its slim profile suggests. To stop it getting bounced off pedals, there’s plenty of flex in the sole and it’s also wider than most. The Stealth rubber is a cut above anything else here and is also slow-rebound, so you just feel more stable on the pedal, even in the wet.
The Freerider Pro isn’t the cheapest shoe, nor the lightest nor the best off the bike, but it has excellent impact absorption and is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of grip. If you ride flats it should be top of your list.
Every year we nearly fall for the hype of a new brand entering the flat pedal shoe market, boasting of unrivalled grip from some exotic rubber blend. Only for it to lose its footing in real world testing compared to the venerable Five Ten Freerider Pro. The bottom line is there’s no better shoe for all round flat pedal riding if you value ultimate grip over fancy marketing.
Much as we hate sounding like a broken record, the Freerider Pro is the best shoe on the market and only the new Specialized 2FO Roost (below) matches it for ride feel and grip.
Excellent alternative to Five Ten
Weight: 793g | Sizes: 39-45.5 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Finally a sole that rivals Five Ten Freeriders. Cons: No cheaper than a Five Ten.
Previous Ride Concepts shoes have been frustrating. Everything about them has been impressive – apart from the sole. Which, let’s face it, is the be all and end all when it comes to flat pedal shoes. So hip hop hurray for the new Hellion Elite which (finally!) sports a rubber compound on its underside that is actually a genuine rival for the ubiquitous Stealth rubber found on the Five Ten Freerider Pro.
As well as this DST 4.0 Max Grip rubber being soft, the sole on the Hellion Elite has noticeably more give to it compared to the stiff AF regular Hellion. This flex makes it grip the pedal better and doesn’t really seem to have any real impact on pedal power.
As well as more general grip, the Elite version of the Hellion has anti-bacterial lining to help ward off the dreaded ‘cat urine’ aroma that oft arises on riding shoes after a season of proper usage. The heel and toe bumpers do a good job of protecting the overall integrity of the shoe. Our test shoes still look impressively tidy even after months of riding.
It’s no doubt a tad annoying to Ride Concepts that just as they catch up with Five Ten’s Stealth rubber, Five Ten go and come out with their Phantom rubber (featured on Trailcross Five Tens) which takes adhesion and vibration absorption to a another level again. That said, the Hellion Elites are most definitely worth considering over Five Tens – especially if you find the shape of modern Adidas-era Five Tens a bit too narrow fitting.
Very close runner-up
Weight: 828g | Sizes: 36-49 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Lightweight flat pedal shoe with super sticky rubber and decent shock absorption Cons: If anything they size up small. Durability unproven.
Specialized has persevered with its flat pedal shoe offering, and boy are we glad that it did. The original 2FO shoes were a decent first attempt, with a lightweight structure, excellent comfort and shock absorption as well as some cool features. But the sole never quite boasted the security of a Five Ten when meshed with a flat pedal. And they were no cheaper than their rivals.
Now with this latest Roost version, Specialized has nailed the rubber blend, with a sole that stays fully planted in all-conditions. The new 2FO Roost shoes are also lightweight, competitively priced and more like a regular trainer to walk around in than a Five Ten. The latter is oft underappreciated aspect until you’ve experienced it.
Lots of brands have tried, but until now, none have succeeded in breaking Five Ten’s vice-like grip over flat pedal riders. And for good reason, Five Ten’s Stealth rubber had unmatched grip and control. Specialized has got the rubber to match but it’s also priced to go toe-to-toe with the Freerider Pro.
While some bolder more open-minded riders may switch brands, most will probably stick with what they know (Five Ten) but we definitely think a lot of folk should try Spesh sneaks at some point. They’re becoming the SRAM to Five Ten’s Shimano.
Arguably better than the more expensive version
Weight: 630g | Sizes: 36-47 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Excellent pedal feel. Ergonomic footbeds included. Cons: Not cheap. Narrow fitting.
You know how Specialized have banged on about their Body Geometry ergonomic science stuff for decades now? Well, it’s with good reason. Pretty much all Specialized apparel is really flipping comfortable to wear for hours on a bike.These shoes are a good example.
The mid-sole and deceptively sophisticated upper materials used on these 2FO Flat 1.0 shoes makes them arguably the most comfy shoes here. And yes, that includes the more expensive 2FO Roost. The Flat 1.0 shoes are airier and flexier. Which, whilst making it necessary to pair up with some warm waterproof socks in winter, does make them feel less clumpy and more huggy to wear.
Super-soft Slip Knot rubber dual-compound sole. It’s also lightweight and more flexible than most, which meant we could really bend our feet over the pedals when climbing or railing hard into a turn. The Air mesh upper adds a degree of comfort most others shoes lack too, and also dries incredibly quickly.
There are a couple of unneccessary but still nice to have touches on these shoes: the elastic lace tidy stops stray laces entering your drivetrain (ouch) and the inner sleeve-like bootie keeps debirs out whilst also having a couple of side tabs to help when hauling the shoes on before a ride.
Rarely does a cheaper sibling out-perform its more expensive big brother in some regards, but that’s the case here – the 2FO Flat 1.0 is a definite step up from the (old non-Roost) 2FO Flat 2.0 and, best of all, you don’t have to pay any extra for the performance gains.
Not your typical Five Tens
Weight: 780g | Sizes: 36-55 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: New Phantom rubber takes Five Ten-ness to another lever again. Cons: Arguably too much of compromise with a hiking shoes for some riders.
These are something of a departure for Five Ten. They’re much more of a crossover influenced shoe bearing the aesthetics, materials and features of fell running and mountain hiking footwear.
When you first wear them it is noticeable how much more supple and lighter weight the uppers are compared to the benchmark bike shoe (the Five Ten Freerider Pro). The TrailCross shoes are much more about saving weight for saving energy and also being able to deal with a mountain storm (or stream) dousing without becoming bogged down and never drying out, leading to rider discomfort.
But, with it being Five Ten, the goodness lies in the sole. The TrailCross doesn’t make any concessions to durability over adhesion performance. These are still full-on Stealth rubber dotty soled Five Tens (even with the slight horizontal ribbing on the toe/heel for off-the-bike climbing traction).
Feeling safe and totally connected to the machine equals maximum fun to us, so we can’t help but feel a shoe that prioritises hiking comfort and speed of drying ahead of grip and control misses the mark a little. That said, if you’re looking for a good dual-purpose outdoor shoe, the Five Ten Trailcross could be the perfect choice.
If you absolutely cannot live without the stickiest rubber against your pedals no matter what the route is, you’ll be fine with these Five Ten Trailcross XT shoes.
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals:
Weight: 848g | Sizes: 36-48 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Still an excellent trail shoe that continues the AM9 line nicely. Cons: We’re not huge fans of Speed lace system.
Shimano’s methodology for naming their shoes continues and this AM902 is the very latest version of a series of gravity-inspired clip-in shoes bearing the AM9 prefix. Those of you who know your Shimano shoe history will appreciate the constant appearance of asymmetrical ankle (where the bike-side is raised to help protect ankles from crank arm scrapes and knocks) and the iconic lace-covering over-flap.
It’s the latter that is very well prized by a lot of UK riders purely for the fact that is helps keep the shoes from filling with front tyre-flung standing water. That said, riders from sunnier climes will appreciate the lacing security of the over-flap too. Vice versa, UK riders won’t like the appearance of perforations on the toe box, but some international MTBers will be fine with it.
And to be exact, there are no laces under the flap anymore. It’s a string-cinch Speedlace system which looks great in theory but we have our issues with consistency and attendant fiddling. At the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot wrong with traditional laces.
Underneath the shoe, Shimano have done some great work and have really improved the cleat pocket. Not only is it bigger fore-aft – which helps prevent mud build-up blockages – but they’ve also extended the cleat slot so it’s possible to run your cleats much more rearward and mid-foot à la flat pedal vibes. One thing that hasn’t changed is that Shimano shoes are better value than most premium brands.
As expensive as an Italian loafer, but great if you can afford it
Weight: 851g | Sizes: 36-48 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Extremely comfortable shoes that you won’t be in a rush to remove. Cons: Bold styling isn’t everyone’s tastes, expensive.
If you can get past the aesthetics of this particular colourway, the Fizik Gravita Tensor Clip is a super comfortable clipless pedal shoe that sports some great little features. Perhaps the most striking of these little features is the offset lacing bed. This offset system does a couple of tings: it keeps the laces away from your greedy drivetrain, and it prevents the common hotspotting zone bang on top of your foot (especially if you like your shoes tied up really tight).
Fizik also have a different attitude than most when it comes to the built-in ankle protection. There’s not overly chunky or stiff padding, just a subtle bit of Neoprene with some anti-cuff fabric. Think of it as a bit like lightweight pull-on knee sleeves compared to chunky full-on knee pads.
Despite the sole being made from Vibram’s stickiest rubber, it’s still not that sticky. But the relatively shallow cleat box and subtle tread around it do a great job of interacting with the pedal pins on caged clipless pedals. And the shoes didn’t feel sketchy on rocks or roots when hike-a-biking around off the bike. Speaking of which, the front and rear bumpers do a good job of protecting your feet.
Inside the shoe there’s a fancy fabric lining that dries out impressively quickly and the overall roominess of the tox box area is most welcome, something sorely (literally) lacking form most road-inspired clip-in shoes shapes.
Best for enduro and gravity riding
Weight: 944g (pair, with cleats) | Sizes: 37-48 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Slipper-like comfort, rock-solid stability and cleats fitted as standard Cons: Not the cheapest option on the market, although Crankbrothers offers less expensive versions without the BOA
Crankbrothers has been top of the charts when it comes to downhill and enduro clip-in pedals for years now, but now it’s got its sights set on the shoe market as well. This new range of clip-in shoes come with a variety of closure systems, with the sleek and rapid BOA sitting at the top of the tree. Superbly comfortable and stable, with plenty of cleat adjustability and a pair pre-installed, these are as good as it gets for DH and enduro riding.
There are other (cheaper) Crankbrothers clipless shoes to go for. The mid-range version has Velcro and laces combo. The entry level shoe just has plain laces. All versions get the seamless, wararound vibe and aesthetic to them. Some will like this look. Others will think it a bit dated or XC gawky. Their loss.
Perhaps the key thing with Crankbrothers clipless shoes is that they offer a choice of cleat box/slots. These E (for enduro) shoes just has tradtional standard cleat slot holes. If you want to run your cleats much (and we mean much!) further towards the middle of your foot, you can get the Race Zone cleat slot option shoe.
Not only that but if you’re a Crankbrothers pedal user (and chances are if you’re contemplating these shoes) then the shoes actually come pre-installed with Crankbrothers pedal cleats.
These Mallet E Boas have some excellent innovative features, but, more importantly, they are comfortable, stable and integrate perfectly with the brand’s class-leading clip-in pedals. Sure, the price tag is steep but try to consider the level of tech involved and the fact you get a pair of £20 cleats thrown in. Or just find them in a sale!
True riding slippers
Weight: 886g | Sizes: 37-48 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Shock absorbing qualities. Comfort is on another level. Cons: Needs to be paired with caged clipless pedals. Some cleats need spacers underneath to clear sole.
With its synthetic leather upper, reinforced toe box and the GnarGuard abrasion-resistant coating on the heel and toe cap, the Bontrager Rally is a burly clip-in shoe. It comes with a Velcro strap across the top that holds the laces down and also adds extra tension. The sole features an in-house rubber, which we measured at around 65a – softer than some of the flat pedal shoes. The tackiness really helps stability when using a caged clipless pedal, but it also adds some extra security if you fail to clip in properly and end up just resting your foot on the binding. Off the bike, the grip is pretty good too, especially on wet roots.
The Rally’s shock-absorbing EVA insole isn’t quite as good as the Specialized or Ride Concepts insole, but it does boost comfort when rattling down a rough descent or overshooting a jump and landing flat. The cleat box isn’t as spacious either, so the cleat does clog with mud a little bit and it’s also pretty deep, so you will definitely need to run an extra shim if you decide to use Crankbrothers cleats.
Compared to the Specialized shoes, the heel cup is slightly shallower, but we had no issues with heel lift. However, it was a little tricky to gauge the overall fit, because our sample 42 did come up a tiny bit small. We’d recommend going up a size to create a bit more space in the front of the shoe – especially if you’re going to be using this in the winter with a thicker/waterproof sock. And you’ll probably want to – the Rally is pretty good for cold-weather riding because of that durable upper material.
If you want a solid clip-in shoe for hard riding, this is recommended.
If it’s okay for Greg Minnaar…
Weight: 853g | Sizes: 38-47 | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Still the premium pedaler for racers or any performance-minded rider. Cons: Arguably not worth the extra over the regular Hellcat.
Whilst a lot of Five Ten’s mountain bike offerings have undergone some big changes this season (recycled materials, new rubber, whole new models etc), the Hellcat Pro remains unchanged. Which, to be fair, will be a relief to a lot of enduro and downhill racers who are the main target audience of this shoe. ‘Don’t mess with the formula’ and all that.
So the sole is still made from their firm-ish Marathon rubber which is perfectly appropriate for a clip-in shoes really. It certainly doesn’t impede pedal engagement, which is just as well because the Hellcat Pro’s deep cleat pocket can certainly impede engagement until you slip one or (probably) two shims under the cleat.
Overall though, the shoe is designed around someone who clips-in at the start of an effort and doesn’t clip-out again until the job is done. Which can be racers but can also just be mountain bikers who like to ride everywhere feet-up, clean and efficient. Having said that, the Hellcat Pros are most definitely not road shoes with a chunky sole; there is noticeable and welcome flex at the toe end which makes them much more real-world viable for weekend warriors and cafe stops.
The overall fit is slim and the shoe in general is sleek and noticeably less clumpy than the other shoes here.
What to look for in the best mountain bike shoes:
There are two types of mountain bike pedal – clip-in and and flat – and to get the maximum performance from either, it’s necessary to use a dedicated shoe. Since both pedal systems are equally popular, this test includes each type. Increasingly we’re seeing a crossover with newly released shoes, as brands design both clip-in and flat versions of the latest models. However, some companies still specialise in one particular type, such as Adidas Five Ten for example. Does that make them better at it? Not necessarily, but judging by past experience, it does seem to be easier to make a decent clip-in shoe than one designed for a flat pedal.
Of course, there is nothing stopping you riding flats in a pair of trainers. However, the shock-absorbing sole will sap energy, the rubber outsole will be too hard and slide on the platform, and the upper will not have enough support. So in our view it’s just as crucial to use a specific mtb flat pedal shoe as it is a clip-in design. With more grip comes more control over the bike, and your feet are less likely to slip off, which is obviously a lot safer.
With clip-in pedals, any SPD-compatible shoe is going to work well because it’s actually the pedal/cleat interface that is responsible for grip and security. That said, a clip-in shoe is under more load when pedaling and during the disengagement phase, and often is supported by a smaller surface area of pedal, so it needs to feature a more stable construction and often a reinforcing strap to reduce flex.
This recess on the bottom of the sole needs to be deep enough that you don’t feel the cleat when you walk, but shallow enough that the cleat engages easily with the mechanism. It’s a fine balance with all the different pedal designs out there, but you can raise and lower the cleat using thin shims (spacers) often provided with the pedals.
Covers and straps
A big strap across the top of the shoe adds stability, but also makes for a more positive release when twisting the shoe free of the binding. Integrated covers limit mud ingress and stop laces catching in the pedal axle.
Look for an extended section of upper on the crank side of the shoe. This stops your ankle contacting the crank arm when you’re leaning into a corner, or those times when you have to unclip inwards.
Clip-in shoes are generally stiffer than flat shoes – this is primarily for pedalling efficiency, but having a solid sole also means you won’t feel the cleat when cranking hard.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding the tread pattern on the sole. Some companies use a waffle, others just use chevrons or raised circles. It’s more important to have enough tread, especially at the toe and heel, to create purchase when scrambling up and down steep terrain.
Aka the insole. This should be supportive, stable and breathable. Any extras, like D3O impact zones or Body Geometry fit customisation features, are a bonus.
A thicker layer of anti-scuff rubber reinforcement on the toe and heel adds some long-term durability but also protects your feet against rock strikes and abrasion.
For some reason manufacturers are reluctant to use really tacky rubber on their flat shoes because they cite reduced durability, but with a flat shoe, grip generated by the rubber is everything. If it’s too hard your feet just won’t stay on the pedals, so it’s irrelevant how long the shoe lasts.