A quality mountain bike shoe plays a number of important roles. Its solid platform delivers power to the pedals, strong construction keeps your feet protected, and secure fit increases comfort for long trail days. Our top picks for 2018 below fall into three general categories: lightweight cross-country (XC) designs for extended and non-technical rides, all-mountain shoes that can handle rough, enduro-style trails, and downhill models for the harshest terrain and biggest jumps and drops. Another important consideration is your pedal type, and we’ve included our favorite options for those that ride on flats or prefer to be clipped in (somewhat confusingly referred to as “clipless”). For more background information on mountain bike shoes, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. 
 

1. Shimano SH-ME7 ($200)

mtn bike shoes (Shimano ME7)Category: All-mountain/XC
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 10.4 oz.
What we like: Impressive performance on and off the bike.
What we don’t: High price and somewhat polarizing looks.

Our top pick, the Shimano SH-ME7, is a do-all clipless mountain bike shoe. In a crowded field of enduro and trail designs, the ME7 stands out with its combination of a rigid construction for instant power, balance of weather protection and ventilation, and secure traction. On our feet, the shoe has excelled at everything from rough trail rides in British Columbia to a 4-day gravel trip circumnavigating Peru’s Mount Huascarán. It’s reasonably light at 1 pound 10.4 ounces but holds its own against heavier options with good shock absorption and stability on long, techy descents. All told, the ME7 is our favorite one-quiver mountain biking shoe design.

Two unique features on Shimano’s ME7 are its tall collar and single-pull lacing system. Starting with the collar, a section of stretchy neoprene extends over the ankle, sealing out dirt and small rocks that can occasionally sneak into low-top shoes. The extra height, along with a solid toe cap and cushioning around the inside of the ankle, gives the ME7 very good protection overall. And Shimano’s single-pull laces found underneath the Velcro-secured nylon flap aren’t common in the biking world, but the proven design is fast, tightens evenly, and is easy to use. At $200, the ME7 is pricey, but its versatile nature earns it our top billing for 2018.
See the Shimano SH-ME7

 

2. Five Ten Freerider ($100)

mtn bike shoes (Five Ten Freerider)Category: All-mountain/downhill
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 11.6 oz.
What we like: Proven design with very sticky rubber.
What we don’t: Not the most durable and less efficient than a clipless shoe.

For rough downhill trails or those that don’t like being clipped in, Five Ten’s Freerider is a long-time favorite. With their legendary sticky Stealth S1 rubber and a clean look, it’s far and away the most popular choice for platform pedal riders. The sole is stiff enough to avoid hotspots while standing, while retaining enough flexibility and traction on rock for the occasional hike-a-bike (the dotty tread doesn’t grip as well in mud, however). The thick upper material offers decent protection if you have to step off quickly in rough terrain and gives the shoe its signature look, but we’ve found the Freerider can run warm on truly hot days. 

What are the downsides of the Five Ten Freerider? Like all platform shoes, the fact that you’re not connected to the pedal means you lose some efficiency and power. Additionally, the mesh sections of the upper material are more vulnerable to tears than we’d prefer for a shoe that’s designed for technical use. Stepping up to the Freeride Pro gets you a tougher construction as well as a stiffer sole, but that will cost an additional $50. As a result, the classic Freerider still is the best all-around option for riding on flats. 
See the Men's Five Ten Freerider  See the Women's Five Ten Freerider

 

3. Giro Privateer R ($150)

mtn bike shoes (Giro Privateer R)Category: XC/all-mountain
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 10.4 oz.
What we like: Light, moderately stiff, and well made.
What we don’t: Less protection for technical trails.

Quality clipless shoes aren’t cheap, but Giro’s Privateer R is one of the best values on the market. The shoe is tuned for long days on singletrack with a moderately stiff construction, breathable but weather resistant upper, and reasonable weight of 1 pound 10.4 ounces. It won’t challenge an ultralight race model like the Shimano S-Works below in weight or power, but it’s plenty capable for the majority of riders. And at $150, the Privateer R undercuts most of its competition by $30 or more.

We think the Privateer is a great match for XC and trail riding but falls a little short for aggressive downhillers. There’s decent protection for the front of the toes, but the sides of the feet aren’t as well cushioned and we’d prefer more shock absorption underfoot. Additionally, the rubber outsole’s traction is good but not great. If you’ll be tackling rocky and root-filled trails or hiking long distances, it might be worth upgrading to the Shimano ME7 above or Giro’s Terraduro below. 
See the Men's Giro Privateer R  See the Women's Giro Manta R

 

4. Specialized 2FO Cliplite ($180)

Specialized 2FO Cliplite mountain bike shoesCategory: All-mountain
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.
What we like: Lightweight and powerful.
What we don’t: Not a great hiking shoe.

Mixing classic skate shoe looks in a thoroughly modern build is the Specialized 2FO Cliplite. The 2FO line includes flat pedal and traditional lace-up versions, but we prefer the top-end performance model. Its wide, recessed two-bolt cleat pocket works seamlessly with clipless pedals, and a composite nylon plate provides enough stiffness for XC rides. Moreover, all-mountain and enduro bikers testing their limits will appreciate the Cliplite’s reinforced toe cap and heel cup. Finally, the dual Boa twist lacing system is one of our favorites for making micro adjustments to optimize fit. 

The 2FO Cliplite’s streamlined design does come with some compromises. To start, the low collar leaves your ankles more vulnerable than the Shimano ME7 above. Further, it’s not the most comfortable shoe to wear off the bike. It’s a little too rigid for hiking, and traction in soft ground falls well short of the ME7 or Giro’s Terraduro below. We’ve also found the Boa closure doesn’t loosen as much as a standard lace-up or Velcro system, so it can take some work to get your foot through the small opening. But if you’re looking for a no-compromise enduro race model, the 2FO Cliplite should be at or near the top of the list.
See the Men's Specialized 2FO Cliplite  See the Women's Specialized 2FO Cliplite

 

5. Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit ($140)

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit mountain bike shoeCategory: All-mountain
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
What we like: A solid all-rounder.
What we don’t: Wide fit and the ratchet system can be finicky.

Another big-time player in the bike shoe market is Colorado-based Pearl Izumi. The company revamped its footwear lineup for 2018, and we especially like the new clipless X-Alp Summit. Intended for intermediate riders and all-mountain use, it has the right ingredients: a composite shank in the midsole for good power transfer, durable upper material, and decent toe protection that wraps partway around the sides of the foot. The shoe also has an aggressive Vibram outsole, which utilizes their tacky Megagrip compound—a common choice for trail running and hiking footwear. At $140, the X-Alp Summit is a solid value for a shoe that can handle anything from all-mountain ripping to long days with extended hike-a-bikes.

What’s not to like with the X-Alp Summit? We found the toe box is on the wide side of the spectrum, which means we had to fully cinch the Velcro straps as well as the buckle/ratchet system. The upside is that the shoe was extremely comfortable even when locked down, but the long excess strap hanging off the side of the shoe can potentially catch on trail debris. Additionally, the ratchet system itself is a little finicky and occasionally required two hands to secure the shoe, but otherwise everything has held up well and operated seamlessly. Considering the price and its well-rounded design, the X-Alp Summit is worth a look for those that like a roomier fit.
See the Men's Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit  See the Women's Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit

 

6. Sidi Dominator 7 ($250)

mtn bike shoes (Sidi Dominator)Category: XC
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
What we like: Comfortable fit and excellent build quality.
What we don’t: Still not a great walking/hiking shoe.

Sidi is well known in the biking world for two things: high prices and premium build quality. Their most popular mountain biking model, the Dominator, is case in point. At $250, it’s more expensive than the options above but delivers on comfort and performance in a serious way. With a stiff outsole, low-volume fit (Sidi also makes the Dominator in a wide “mega” version), and sturdy upper, the shoe nearly puts down XC race levels of power. And its high-end construction and replaceable parts makes the Dominator a good long-term investment to boot.

What do you sacrifice with a XC shoe like the Dominator? Despite softening the rubber compound a few years ago, this is not an impressive walking or hiking option. It’s tolerable for cyclocross events where you’re moving for short stretches and the strong power is a worthwhile tradeoff, but those that are off their bike for longer periods may want to choose a more flexible and grippier all-mountain model. It’s also fairly thin underfoot and doesn’t isolate harsh impacts as well as shoes like the ME7, 2FO Cliplite, or Terraduro. But the Dominator is an excellent choice for XC riders that spend a lot of time in the saddle.
See the Men's Sidi Dominator 7  See the Women's Sidi Dominator 7

 

7. Five Ten Impact High ($160)

mtn bike shoes (Five Ten Impact High)Category: Downhill
Pedal compatibility: Flat 
Weight: 2 lbs. 9.4 oz.
What we like: Extra ankle protection for downhill use.
What we don’t: Not as versatile as the options above.

For the most aggressive trails, pushing your limits in the bike park, or riding in inclement weather, an over-the-ankle shoe makes a lot of sense. They offer much more foot protection than standard low-top models and often are made with solid, water resistant materials. Our top pick in this category is the boot version of the Five Ten Impact. Both the standard shoe and mid-height models are favorites for downhill and freeride use. They’re heavily armored around the toes, sides of the feet, and heel, and have thick mid and outsoles for taking big hits. And they come with Five Ten’s signature Stealth rubber, which we like. 

Logically, the Impact High’s extra ankle protection and burly construction have a negative impact on weight and breathability. At 2 pounds 9.4 ounces, it’s the heaviest shoe on this list by a wide margin, and the tall ankle height isn’t as comfortable while pedaling. In addition, the thick, cushioned leather upper runs pretty hot in the summer months. In the end, most riders won’t choose the Impact High as their daily driver—the low-top Impact is more versatile—but its excellent protection is a great thing to have when you’re going all-out.
See the Men's Five Ten Impact High

 

8. Giro Terraduro ($180)

mtn bike shoes (Giro Terraduro)Category: All-mountain
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 13.6 oz.
What we like: Solid protection, stiff build, and grippy outsole.
What we don’t: A bit heavy and the closure system isn’t as good as the 2FO Cliplite above.

The men’s Giro Terraduro and women’s Terradura represent a step up in performance and price from the Privateer R/Manta R line above. They’ve become a common site at Enduro events thanks to a mix of substantial protection, a strong nylon shank, a snug fit, and some very flashy available colorways (for 2018, these include bright green and blue). It’s worth noting the shoe’s initial launch was marred with outsole delamination issues, but it seems that those have been resolved and we’ve had no durability concerns with our most recent Terraduros over the past year. 

One of the Giro Terraduro’s closest competitors is the identically priced Specialized 2FO Cliplite above. The two are intended for strong riders and rowdy trails but go about their business in different ways. The 2FO is both stiffer and lighter weight, which lends itself to better overall performance. We also prefer its dual Boa dial system over the less precise ratchet/buckle and Velcro combination that you get with the Terraduro. Where the Giro gets the edge is hiking. Its grippy soles dig in better than the low-profile tread on the Specialized, which can be slippery on greasy rocks and roots. All told, the 2FO is the better option for enduro-style riding and racing, but the Terraduro isn’t far behind and is our preferred choice for long, exploratory rides.
See the Men's Giro Terraduro  See the Women's Giro Terradura

 

9. Shimano SH-GR7 ($130)

mtn bike shoes (Shimano GR7)Category: All-mountain/downhill
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 9.8 oz.
What we like: Comfortable with good protection. 
What we don’t: Grip falls short of the Five Ten options on this list.

Shimano is a major player in the clipless world—understandably as they make the ubiquitous SPD clipless pedals—but they also have a sneaky good flat pedal lineup. Their new $130 GR7 (GR stands for “gravity”) is a solid offering meant to balance the needs of trail and downhill riders. It features a similar neoprene cuff as the ME7 above for keeping out small rocks and dirt, but this mid-range model has standard laces (upgrading to the GR9 gets you single-pull laces and a protective flap). 

For the SH-GR7’s all-important tread, Shimano teamed up with car and bike tire manufacturer Michelin. The result is a durable rubber compound with tightly spaced blocks in the middle for grip on the pedals, and wider lugs at the toe and heel for hiking traction. It can’t touch Five Ten in terms of outright stickiness, but if the tread life is significantly better (time will tell there) it may be worth the tradeoff. Until proven otherwise, the GR7 can’t unseat the Freerider just yet. 
See the Men's Shimano SH-GR7  See the Women's Shimano SH-GR7W

 

10. Mavic Crossmax ($100)

mtn bike shoes (Mavic Crossmax)Category: XC
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
What we like: A great price for a clipless XC shoe.
What we don’t: A noticeable step down in performance.

Clipless mountain bike shoes in the $100 price range are hard to come by, but there’s a lot to like about Mavic’s Crossmax. It delivers all the basics you need: its standard 2-bolt design will work smoothly with most MTB pedals, there’s enough mesh in the upper material to keep things comfortable on long summer rides, and the single-pull lacing system is easy to use. The outsole isn’t anything fancy, but the shoe is flexible enough and has enough bite in the treads for walking down a short section of trail.

What are you compromising with the Crossmax’s budget-friendly price? First, the simplistic fit system and relatively limited foot protection make it a better choice for smooth singletrack. It also doesn’t put power down nearly as well as a more expensive option like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit above. But for those who want a simple and affordable clipless option and aren’t out to extract every last watt from each pedal stroke, the Crossmax should do the trick.
See the Men's Mavic Crossmax

 

11. Five Ten Hellcat Pro ($180)

Five Ten Hellcat Pro mountain bike shoesCategory: Downhill
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.
What we like: Burly clipless design. 
What we don’t: Overkill and heavy for a lot of riders.

The third Five Ten shoe to make our list, the Hellcat Pro, breaks from the mold with its clipless pedal design. Compared with the Freerider and Impact above, the Hellcat puts down the power better with a midsole that’s been stiffened up with a TPU shank. The shoe also been reinforced for downhill use with heavy armor along the exterior and thick cushioning underfoot to block out harsh impacts. And as we’ve come to expect from Five Ten, the Hellcat has a sticky tread that holds on nicely to the pedals even when not clipped in.  

What pushes the Hellcat Pro down our list is that it’s overkill for most riders. Weighing well over 2 pounds, it’s more than 11 ounces heavier than the Specialized 2FO Cliplite above. You do get more foot protection and the shoe performs well in bad weather, but the Cliplite is much easier to pedal and is plenty beefed up for most enduro and downhill use. If you want your feet heavily armored, no matter the cost in pedaling efficiency, the Hellcat Pro is a fine choice. But most riders will be happier with one of our picks above.
See the Men's Five Ten Hellcat Pro  See the Women's Five Ten Hellcat Pro

 

12. Specialized S-Works 6 XC ($400)

Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoeCategory: XC
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
What we like: Powerful and ultralight.
What we don’t: Lots of compromises for non-racers.

Specialized’s S-Works 6 XC is designed for cross-country and cyclocross racers that want an uncompromisingly powerful and ultralight shoe. At $400, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, but the high-end materials and construction provide incredible performance. The fit is very snug to maximize efficiency with a rigid upper material and dual Boa dials across the top of the foot. Built on Specialized’s stiffest mountain bike sole—stiff enough to make walking fairly uncomfortable and awkward—power is transferred instantaneously and effortlessly to the pedals. And at 1 pound 3 ounces, the S-Works is the lightest shoe on this list by 5 ounces, shedding precious rotational weight to trim every last second out of a timed segment.

If you aren’t racing in the S-Works 6 XC, however, you’ll find plenty to complain about. The shoe essentially is a lightly protected road design, so there is minimal cushioning and reinforcements around the toes and ankle. Further, the snug fit that connects you so well to the pedals compromises long-term comfort and is difficult to wear while walking. Realistically, the S-Works has very limited appeal, but that doesn’t make it any less special. 
See the Specialized S-Works 6 XC

 

13. Scott MTB Comp Boa ($120)

mtn bike shoes (Scott MTB Comp Boa)Category: XC
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.
What we like: Good price and decently powerful.
What we don’t: Not a standout in terms of comfort.

Similar to their mountain bike lineup, Scott excels in the cross-country category for footwear. One of their most interesting models is the intermediate-friendly MTB Comp Boa. Priced $30 less than the Giro Privateer R above, this shoe comes with an upgraded Boa dial system, moderately stiff composite sole, and rubber tread. And at 1 pound 10.8 ounces, the MTB Comp helps keep your rotational weight in check for long days in the saddle.

For a road rider dabbling in the sport, the MTB Comp offers a familiar feel and decent performance, but there are shortcomings in the design. The synthetic upper material just doesn’t offer the foot-hugging feel that you get with a nicer shoe. Part of the problem is the single boa dial, which doesn’t allow you to customize the fit as nicely as the dual system on the Specialized 2FO Cliplite. The MTB Comp also is fairly soft for a XC-oriented shoe, but it’s still a decent option for the price.
See the Men's Scott MTB Comp Boa  See the Women's Scott MTB Comp Boa

 

14. Giro Jacket II ($90)

mtn bike shoes (Giro Jacket)Category: All-mountain/downhill
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 13.2 oz.
What we like: Comfy sub-$100 shoe from a reputable brand.
What we don’t: Its casual nature compromises performance.

Aimed at casual riders, the new Giro Jacket II trades outright performance for a comfortable interior and easy walkability. The shoe feels great out of the box with generous padding and a fair amount of flex underfoot. Further, the synthetic upper material sheds light moisture and is sufficiently reinforced to handle rock kicks and the occasional spill. Aggressive downhillers likely will want to step up to Giro’s $130 Riddance, which has an even tougher build and a better outsole, but the Jacket is the brand’s cost leader at $90.

The Jacket II undoubtedly is a fine trail shoe, but the problem is that it’s only $10 cheaper than the venerable Five Ten Freerider above. For that small cost savings you get a noticeable drop in grip and inferior all-around performance from the Vibram rubber. If you prefer the Jacket’s sleek looks or it fits you better (we found it to be a little narrower than the Freerider), the Giro is a suitable option. 
See the Giro Jacket II

 

15. Sidi SD15 ($200)

Sidi SD15 mountain bike shoeCategory: XC/all-mountain
Pedal compatibility: Clipless
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
What we like: Typical Sidi quality.
What we don’t: Too flexible to justify the big price tag. 

Sidi shoes are known for strong power transfer, but they’ve gone in a different direction with the new SD15. Instead, this shoe trades a stiff ride for a generous amount of flexibility in the sole and suede-like upper material. The benefit is that unlike the Dominator above that requires some break-in, it feels great right out of the box. And with Sidi’s user-friendly in-house fit system—resembling a Boa dial—the SD15 wraps evenly and comfortably around the foot.  

With meaty treads and a soft construction, the Sidi SD15 is a suitable hiker and delivers the quality we expect from the brand. But at $200, it’s simply too expensive considering the limited performance. There are plenty of shoes costing $50 less that are stiffer and more adept for long trail rides, including the Giro Privateer R above. It’s still wonderfully made and should last a long time, but unlike the Dominator, we don’t think the SD15 is worth the steep cost of entry.
See the Men's Sidi SD15

 

16. Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL ($130)

Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL mountain bike shoeCategory: XC
Pedal compatibility: Flat
Weight: 1 lb. 11.2 oz.
What we like: Excellent hike-ability. 
What we don’t: Hybrid design compromises biking performance.

Adidas still is a small-time player in the MTB world, but their acquisition of Five Ten has given them access to the prized Stealth rubber. Their Terrex Trail Cross SL flat pedal shoe takes full advantage of this with a full Stealth outsole, and adds an aggressive tread design for scrambling and hiking on soft ground. Tack on a very breathable mesh construction and stylish looks that resemble a trail runner, and the Terrex Trail Cross SL is one of the best shoes available for long and difficult hikes. 

Where the Terrex Cross SL falls short is as a dedicated biking design. To start, the tread pattern puts a little too much focus on off-the-bike traction, falling short of the Five Ten Freerider in terms of grip. Further, it’s not as stiff underfoot as the picks above, which hampers power transfer (it should be sufficient for low-key rides, however). With one of the leading mountain bike brands already in-house, it seems the Cross Trail SL would be better served under the Five Ten umbrella. For now, the Trail Cross is a serviceable but not overly impressive option.
See the Men's Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL

 

Mountain Bike Shoe Comparison Table

Shoe Price Category Pedal Weight Closure
Shimano SH-ME7 $200 All-mountain/XC Clipless 1 lb. 10.4 oz. Ratchet, single-pull laces

Five Ten Freerider

$100 All-mountain/downhill Flat 1 lb. 11.6 oz. Laces
Giro Privateer R $150 XC/all-mountain Clipless 1 lb. 10.4 oz. Ratchet, Velcro
Specialized 2FO Cliplite $180 All-mountain Clipless 1 lb. 10.8 oz. Boa, Velcro
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit $140 All-mountain Clipless 1 lb. 14 oz. Ratchet, Velcro
Sidi Dominator 7 $250 XC Clipless 1 lb. 9 oz. Ratchet, Velcro
Five Ten Impact High $160 Downhill Flat 2 lbs. 9.4 oz. Laces
Giro Terraduro $180 All-mountain Clipless 1 lb. 13.6 oz. Ratchet, Velcro
Shimano SH-GR7 $130 All-mountain/downhill Flat 1 lb. 9.8 oz. Laces
Mavic Crossmax $100 XC Clipless 1 lb. 8 oz. Single-pull laces
Five Ten Hellcat Pro  $180 Downhill Clipless 2 lbs. 6 oz. Laces, Velcro
Specialized S-Works 6 XC $400 XC Clipless 1 lb. 3 oz. Boa, Velcro
Scott MTB Comp Boa $120 XC Clipless 1 lb. 10.8 oz. Boa, Velcro
Giro Jacket II $90 All-mountain/downhill Flat 1 lb. 13.2 oz. Laces
Sidi SD15 $200 XC/all-mountain Clipless 1 lb. 12 oz. Boa, Velcro
Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL $130 XC Flat 1 lb. 11.2 oz. Laces

 

Mountain Bike Shoe Buying Advice

Mountain Bike Shoe Categories

Cross-Country (XC) 
Shoes intended for cross-country riding put a high priority on covering ground as easily as possible. These designs often are lightweight, stiff underfoot, and offer a snug fit for maximizing connection to the pedal. Additionally, they almost exclusively are made with a clipless design (which confusingly means you connect or “clip” into the pedal). Compromises include less foot protection than the all-mountain and downhill categories, and the stiff constructions aren’t very comfortable for walking. But for piling on miles as efficiently as possible, a XC shoe is a great choice. Leading models in this category include the Sidi Dominator, Giro Privateer R, and Specialized’s race-ready S-Works 6 XC.

Shimano ME7 (mountain biking)
XC shoes emphasize pedaling efficiency and power

All-Mountain
For a versatile shoe that’s comfortable on climbs but offers good protection for descents, choose an all-mountain or enduro model. Options in this popular category are more flexible and have better traction than a XC build, but still are reasonably stiff for good pedal power. In addition, you get more protection all around the foot compared with a XC shoe, including marginally better shock absorption underfoot. Design-wise, you have your choice between clipless and flat (also known as platform) pedals. Far and away, the most popular flat pedal all-mountain choice is Five Ten’s Freerider line, while top clipless options include the Shimano SH-ME7, Giro Terraduro/Terradura, and Specialized 2FO Cliplite.

Downhill
The final category is the most demanding: downhill. From tackling the Whistler bike park to rocky, rooty, and steep descents, these shoes are burly and well cushioned. You’ll see extra layers of protection around the toebox and collar, thick mid and outsole designs to absorb hard hits, and some even offer an over-the-ankle height for maximum defense. Because of the high degree of difficulty and need to occasionally bail off the bike, this is a category where flat shoes are commonplace rather than clipless (Five Ten’s clipless Hellcat Pro is a notable exception). The downside is weight—these are the heaviest options on average by a good margin and much less efficient for pedaling. Our favorite downhill shoes come from Five Ten—their Impact and Sam Hill lines are built to handle rowdy riding.

Specialized 2FO Cliplite (jump)
Rougher terrain demands a more protective shoe

Pedal Compatibility: Clipless vs. Flat

Clipless Shoes
One of the first steps in narrowing down your mountain bike shoe search is determining pedal compatibility. Starting with clipless designs, these shoes allow you to connect or “clip” directly into the pedal with a metal cleat (sold separately). The big upside of being connected is it’s easier to put the power down and pedal efficiently. This makes clipless a popular choice for longer rides and XC use. It also can be comforting to not have to worry about foot slippage while hitting jumps or riding through semi-technical terrain. That said, it takes some time to get comfortable with being clipped in and build up the muscle memory to kick the heel out to disconnect. And even once it’s second nature, you still won’t be able to get your foot off the pedal as quickly as with a flat pedal option. As such, clipless shoes aren’t as popular among beginner riders—unless they’re coming from a road riding background—and fewer folks use them at the bike park or on very rough downhill trails.

Shimano ME7 (clipped in)
Clipped in with the Shimano SH-ME7

Flat-Bottomed Shoes (“Flats”)
As the name indicates, flat shoes have a smooth bottom and work with standard platform pedals. What makes them popular for anyone from beginners to expert freeriders is that they offer a quick escape if you’re stretching your abilities and need to bail. Plus, the use of very sticky rubber like Five Ten’s Stealth S1 means you don’t give up much in terms of connectedness to the pedals. Even with the best outsoles though, flats aren’t as efficient and don’t put down as much power as a performance clipless design. They’re also less forgiving if you use poor technique—although slipping off and hitting your shins a few times will expedite the learning process. Finally, there are fewer flat pedal options—Five Ten dominates this category—and many of the best flats are missing handy features that you’ll find on most clipless shoes, like a ratchet system to get a snug fit.

Mountain bike shoes (Stealth S1 rubber)
Five Ten's Stealth rubber offers fantastic grip

Pedal Design

The good news with choosing a new pair of shoes is that they’ll most likely work with your existing pedals, as long as you’re not switching between clipless and flats. Clipless pedals come in a range of designs from Shimano’s popular SPD collection to Crankbrother’s minimalist Eggbeaters. But all common mountain bike clipless pedals share a two-bolt cleat design (the cleats are typically included in the pedal purchase), which will work with all of the clipless shoes listed above. Similarly, there are no compatibility concerns with flat pedals and flat-bottomed shoes. Finally, if you’re thinking about swapping between flats and clipless or vice versa, it’s very easy to replace pedals yourself—just make sure to loosen them in the right direction.

Clipless shoe (cleat)
Shimano's 2-bolt SPD cleats and pedals are among the most popular on the market

Stiffness and Power Transfer

A stiff build underfoot is a defining feature of mountain bike shoes—it’s what allows you to put the power down to the pedals. But the level of stiffness varies quite a bit by model. For example, a dedicated cross-country racing shoe like the Specialized S-Works 6 XC is incredibly rigid and awkward to walk in, while a budget-friendly trail model like the Giro Jacket II is flexible enough to wear every day. Unfortunately there isn’t an established measurement for comparing stiffness (some brands provide a “stiffness index” to compare their models), but in general, rigidity increases with price and level of seriousness. Racers, particularly those in events that require a decent amount of pedaling, will want the stiffest shoes around. For the rest of us, a well-balanced design like the Shimano SH-ME7, Five Ten Freerider, and Giro Privateer R is a better match.

Taking a closer look at construction, manufacturers incorporate stiffness in a few ways. A standard option for a moderately rigid shoe like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit is to insert a ¾-length shank into the midsole. This provides decent strength for pedaling and makes it more comfortable to stand for extended periods, while retaining enough flexibility to walk around. Race-ready designs incorporate strong materials like carbon fiber into the entire length of the sole. This maximizes stiffness for putting power down but compromises in walkability and comfort. The most flexible designs are the cheapest and rely simply on a thick midsole and rubber outsole for shock absorption and rigidity. 

Five Ten Freerider (climbing)
Five Ten's Freerider is noticeably less stiff underfoot than a performance clipless shoe

Outsole and Grip

For flat pedal shoes, outsole grip is an extremely important feature—it’s what keeps you connected to the bike while hustling up and down the hill. And for years, Five Ten’s rubber has stood out from the pack. The Stealth S1 compound on the Freerider line is legendary in the mountain biking world, and is known for having decent long-term durability to boot. Five Ten offers a Freerider Contact, which has a smooth patch under the ball of the foot for even better grip, but in our opinion, the marginal improvement isn’t worth the compromise in off-the-bike traction. Giro and Shimano incorporate rubber specialists Vibram and Michelin respectively, and their top models offer performance that is good but not great.

Giro Terraduro (sole)
Giro's Terraduro is a good but not great hiker

Clipless riders don’t need to focus as much on the outsole design as those riding on flats, but it’s still an important consideration. On the bike, a quality outsole increases your connectedness to the pedal, and can be valuable for moments when you’re temporarily unclipped or trying to quickly reconnect while riding. And off the bike, traction can be a major factor. A well-designed clipless outsole maximizes grip with a recessed slot for the cleat, which allows you to walk naturally. Further, a sticky outsole is a big helper for walking on rocks, and decent lugs—not all that dissimilar from a hiking shoe—are important for sloppy trails. How often you’ll be off your bike will dictate how important grip is for you, but we’ve found premium outsole designs to be valuable even on short (but steep) scrambles.
 

Closure Systems: Laces, Velcro, Ratchet, and Boa

More than just about any other footwear category, mountain bike shoes are made with a wide range of closure types. Our picks above vary from simple lace-up designs like the Giro Jacket to double Boa closures and a Velcro strap on the Specialized 2FO Cliplite. As with pedal type, most of the decision comes down to personal preference, but laces are mostly commonly associated with flat pedal shoes. Laces are simple to use, but you need to make sure to keep them stowed away so they don’t catch on any moving parts. For quick and easy micro adjustments while wearing gloves, a Boa dial system or ratchet design is a great option. These lightweight systems are common on clipless XC and Enduro models. And finally, Velcro often is used as a secondary closure to compliment a dial and ratchet system. It doesn’t tighten as snugly or precisely, but it’s faster than lacing up and does the trick for those that aren’t serious racers.

Specialized 2FO Cliplite (boa)
Boa dials make it easy to adjust the fit

Weight

A lightweight mountain bike shoe comes with numerous benefits. Cutting away weight reduces the amount of effort required to put the power down, which also helps with fatigue on long rides. That being said, weight doesn’t get nearly as much attention in the mountain biking market as it does in the running or hiking worlds. Part of the reason is that many bikers stick to shorter rides, but the main factor is that most shoes only vary by a few ounces for the pair. Taking a look at the comparison chart above, the average men’s model comes in at approximately 1 pound 11 ounces. Outliers include the crazy-light Specialized S-Works XC 6 (1 pound 3 ounces), which is streamlined to maximize efficiency for cross-country racing. On the other end of the spectrum is the downhill-oriented Five Ten Impact High (2 pounds 8 ounces), which adds heft with its over-the-ankle style and heavy cushioning and protection. But the majority of XC, all-mountain, and even many downhill designs are close enough that weight isn’t a top consideration.
 

Foot and Toe Protection

Mountain biking is a rough sport, and moving quickly over technical trails demands a lot from your footwear. Nearly all shoes include a toe cap to take the sting out of a rock strike, but there are notable differences between shoe categories (XC, all-mountain, and downhill). Cross-country riding prioritizes weight and power transfer over all-out protection, so they’re usually the thinnest along the sides and top of the foot. All-mountain shoes have more cushioning for taking falls, and downhill/freeride designs are the burliest.

Mountain bike shoes (foot protection)
Quality foot and toe protection is particularly important on technical terrain

An additional consideration is protection underfoot. Shoes with thin mid and outsoles may not provide enough in the way shock absorption, which can become painful over lengthy sections of rocky and rooty trail. Again, all-mountain and downhill shoes provide the highest levels of comfort in these cases. A design like the Five Ten Impact does an impressive job keeping your feet isolated and safe.
 

Wet Weather Protection

Depending on where you ride, wet and muddy trails can be a fact of life. Regions like the Pacific Northwest require a shoe that can put up with sloppy conditions if you’re going to be getting out in the shoulder seasons or winter (and sometimes even in the middle of summer). The good news is that most XC, all-mountain, and downhill shoes do a decent job at resisting moisture with solid synthetic or leather uppers and a DWR coating. The strongest performers have a taller ankle height or extended cuff for extra protection, such as the Giro Terraduro Mid and Five Ten Impact High. It’s also nice to have shoes that are easy to clean and protect your laces like the Velcro flap that comes with Shimano’s SH-ME7.

Giro Terraduro (weather protection)
The Giro Terraduro offers decent all-around weather protection

What about fully waterproof shoes? There are a few options out there, including the Shimano MW5 and Specialized Defroster Trail, but in most cases, we don’t think they’re worth it. To start, waterproof shoes are heavy and too hot to be practical in anything but cold temperatures. Further, if they soaked, they don’t dry out nearly as quickly as a non-waterproof option. But they can be valuable for surviving the winter season. An alternative is to throw on a neoprene cover or bootie over the top of your standard shoes, which give you a boost in warmth and water resistance (but they can tear when subjected to trail abuse). 
 

Breathability

If you do a lot of pedaling on your rides or live in a warmer climate, it’s worth getting a shoe that emphasizes breathability. Telltale signs of a good ventilating design are large swaths of mesh or a thin upper material. On the other hand, shoes with a solid upper and thick cushioning—often found in the downhill category—are the most prone to running hot. You do compromise durability and weather resistance with a highly breathable shoe—mesh tears much more easily and doesn’t resist moisture. But a well-thought-out build like the Shimano SH-ME7 balances those conflicting needs. With mesh above the toes and perforations throughout the upper material, it’s impressively cool in the heat. At the same time, a flap over the laces and a water-resistant synthetic upper holds up well to abrasions, water splashes, and poor weather.

Pearl Izumi (breathability)
Strategically-placed mesh helps keep your feet comfortable in the heat

Durability

Mountain bike footwear doesn’t wear down as quickly as running shoes, but they’re still not well known for their long-term durability. It’s not uncommon for riders that get out a lot to go through a pair every season or two. Common wear points are the upper material breaking down or getting holes, or the sole delaminating (older versions of Five Ten’s Freerider and the original Giro Terraduro had issues with the latter). Additional problems include the tread of a super sticky flat pedal shoe compound wearing down from extended hiking. As mentioned above, most manufacturers don’t have sparkling durability records. However, Sidi is one brand that has a solid reputation for building products that last, but they’re also among the most expensive on the market.
 

Walking and Hiking Comfort 

We touched on this in the stiffness and outsole sections above, but walkability is a very important feature for some riders. Ambitious backcountry trips or bikepacking adventures can often involve lengthy climbs, which means you need your bike shoes to play two roles—one as a capable and efficient biker, and the other as a grippy and decently comfortable hiker. The best hiking shoe often is not that great for biking—moderate flexibility is good for walking but bad for power transfer—so we look for hybrid designs that are adept at both. The Five Ten Freerider is a very comfortable shoe off the bike (although its dotty tread doesn’t grip well in mud), and leading clipless designs include the Shimano SH-ME7 and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit.

Bikepacking (Pearl Izumi X-Alp)
Bikepacking in the Pearl Izumi X-Alp

Over-the-Ankle Mountain Bike Shoes

The vast majority of mountain bike shoes come in a low-top style. Sitting under the ankle, they’re usually comfortable, lightweight, and a quality pair becomes nearly invisible while pedaling. But for bad weather conditions or if you prioritize maximum protection, there are a few mid-height designs. Shoes like the Five Ten Impact High protect the inside and outside of the ankle from friendly fire from the crank arm or when falling. But there is a reason most XC, all-mountain, and even downhill riders stick to a low-top shoe. The taller build runs warmer in the heat, can feel cumbersome while pedaling, and is quite a bit heavier. Serious riders that get out all year round might want a mid-height shoe in their quiver, but most should stick to the standard low top. 
 

Do I Need Mountain Bike Shoes?

The simple truth is that for casual riding with flat pedals, you don’t necessarily need to purchase biking-specific shoes. Many people start out with a pair of cross trainers, skate shoes, or running footwear, and those will do the trick for a while. But as you progress, the benefits of one of the options above become clear. Mountain bike shoes offer far better power transfer, foot protection, and, most importantly for flat peal use, grip. And if you’ll be jumping on a bike with clipless pedals, then you’ll need a compatible shoe right off the bat.
Back to Our Top Mountain Bike Shoe Picks  Back to Our Shoe Comparison Table

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