Best Mountain Bike Shoes in 2021 – A Buyer’s Guide for Every Type of MTBer

Tips & Reviews

The best mountain bike shoes for you depends largely on the type of rider you are. If you’re hoping to speed through singletrack and maybe do some gravel riding or cyclocross racing, a pair of clipless MTB shoes makes sense. If you’re more interested in all-mountain or gravity disciplines like enduro or downhill, a flat shoe may fit the bill.

Best mountain bike shoe: clipless on left, flat on right

Clipless MTB shoes and pedals—which, yes, you clip into—are on the left; flat MTB pedals and shoes are on the right.

Here, the Bikerumor staff is sharing their favorite picks for any type of mountain biking you may enjoy. These MTB shoes have been tried and tested, typically for years, and have consistently been our favorites.

Want to learn more about picking the right shoe for you? Scroll down to read our MTB shoe buyer’s guide and reviews, as well as Frequently Asked Questions.

In this article:

  • Shimano S-Phyre XC9
  • Giro Women’s Cylinder
  • Shimano SH-ME4 Mountain Bike Shoe
  • Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes
  • Adidas Five Ten Freerider
  • Specialized RIME Flat MTB Shoe
  • CrankBrothers Mallet
  • Specialized 2FO DH
  • Luck Galaxy Custom MTB Shoes
  • Buyer’s Guide
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Note: Weights below listed are for one shoe.

 BEST MTB SHOE OVERALL: Shimano S-Phyre XC9 

Best MTB show-shimano sphyre xc9

© Kurt Barclay

Nearly across the board, Bikerumor staffers turn to the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 for cross-country riding. This clipless MTB shoe is a steady race shoe that is good for both cross-country (XC) and cyclocross (CX) racing, but it’s also comfortable on a long ride. It’s the shoe that editors come back to the most often.

This shoe is more similar to a road shoe than many on this list: It has a narrower profile (and toebox), so riders with wider feet may find the S-Phyre XC9 fits a bit tight. But for most riders, this shoe is as comfortable as it is fast. Two separate Boa closures make it easier to cinch to the right fit and prevent you from being stranded if one of them snaps in a crash.  A carbon sole delivers plenty of stiffness for efficient power transfer, while rubber treads grip the dirt if you’re off your bike and running.

Available in silver, bright blue, and black, this ultra-sleek shoe is shiny, easy to clean, and ready to race.

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Boa
  • Sole: Carbon and rubber
  • Weight: 330 grams (size 42)
  • Sizes: Standard: 36 to 48 with some half sizes available, also available in wide
  • Price: $550

PROS: Ideal for XC and CX racers
CONS: Expensive!

 BEST MTB SHOE FOR WOMEN: Giro Women’s Cylinder 

best mountain bike shoes: giro cylinder

A caveat about women’s MTB shoes: You don’t need to use women’s MTB shoes if you’re a woman. In fact, you may find that unisex options fit better or that you prefer those styles. Typically, women’s cycling shoes run a bit narrower than men’s/unisex options and come in smaller sizes. So if you have a narrow foot or need a small size, you may need women’s MTB shoes.

Our favorite is the Giro Cylinder. The combination of Boa and Velcro for closure means your foot is firmly ensconced in the shoe no matter what happens on the ride. While it has a narrower fit, the upper isn’t unforgiving, making it a comfortable long ride shoe. And it’s racy enough for XC riders looking for performance but has enough give in the sole that it still feels beginner-friendly. In short, it’s a well-balanced shoe. Its pricing falls in the mid-range as well: At $240, you’re getting most of the benefits of a higher-end shoe.

It’s been around for a while, and while a basic black option is available, Giro also releases different colorways depending on what colors are trending. Cyclocrossers can rejoice, too: This shoe accepts screw-in toe spikes for muddy races.

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Boa and Velcro
  • Sole: Nylon and rubber
  • Weight: 320 grams (size 39)
  • Sizes: 36 to 43 in whole sizes
  • Price: $240

PROS: Comfortable while still being race-ready
CONS: Pricey

 BEST MTB SHOE FOR TIGHT BUDGETS: Shimano SH-ME4 Mountain Bike Shoe 

best MTB shoe: shimano me 4

Looking for a simple shoe with much of the tech behind Shimano’s S-Phyre options without the hefty price tag? The Shimano SH-ME4 is a great budget-friendly option. It’s simple, no-nonsense, and high-performing. Whether you’re riding gravel roads, technical singletrack, or just riding into town to run some errands, these shoes are comfortable.

They come in a few colorways (black and red, black and blue, and basic black), but basic black is the best option for shoes in use for years. Like many MTB shoes, the closure is a combination of a Boa dial and Velcro straps to ensure that a crash into an errant rock doesn’t wreck your ride, even if it busts a Boa.

Note that these shoes are available in men’s and women’s options. The women’s option is slightly narrower than the men’s, so women with wider feet may actually find the men’s version more comfortable. This Bikerumor staffer found that to be the case—and they’re still going strong after four years of use, including racing an Ironman triathlon as well as cyclocross in them (seriously).

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Boa and Velcro
  • Sole: Rubber
  • Weight: 396 grams for Men’s 47
  • Sizes: 36 to 52
  • Price: $130

PROS: Great range of sizes, available in unisex and women’s fits, good price
CONS: Not as stiff as higher-end models, heavier than most

MOST DURABLE MOUNTAIN BIKE SHOE: Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes 

bontrager xxx MTB shoes stand the test of time

Looking for a shoe that will last for years and remain one of the most high-end pairs of shoes on the market? Bikerumor likes the Bontrager XXX MTB Shoes for longevity as well as performance. This ultra-stiff shoe is Bontrager’s stiffest option, thanks to a lightweight carbon sole.

The stiff sole provides better power transfer, so you don’t waste watts on any ride. Two Boa closures keep fit perfectly dialed, and external heel cups prevent chafing even when running alongside your bike.

We also like that these shoes have a sleek style that makes them easy to wear on any type of ride. Riders who prefer to use one pedal system across all of their bikes will find these don’t look or feel out of place on a road ride. Available in basic black and sassier options of navy and fuschia or baby blue and white, they’re worth the $400 price tag.

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Boas
  • Sole: Carbon
  • Weight: 300 grams for size 43
  • Sizes: 36-48 with some half sizes
  • Price: $400

PROS: Great for racing, look good on any bike
CONS: Might feel too stiff for non-racers who prioritize comfort

 BEST MTB SHOE FOR FLAT PEDALS: Adidas Five Ten Freerider 

best flat pedal MTB shoes: Five Ten Freerider

It’s pretty much impossible not to mention the Five Ten brand when talking about flat shoes. They’re ubiquitous in the MTB, DH and BMX scene, and Bikerumor staffers love the comfort and stickiness of the Freerider with the grippy Dotty rubber tread.

These are perhaps the most ride-to-the-bar-friendly option in this roundup. Hit the trails, then head into town, and you’ll just look like you’re wearing casual sneakers. But they’re packed with features like a quick-drying upper, as well as a Stealth® S1™ sticky rubber outsole that allows you to stay optimally connected to your pedals despite no clips.

Available in both men’s and women’s sizing, the Freerider has a few color options. Black or “wild teal” for women; and black, gray, and “mesa” (tan) for men. Bonus: Adidas uses some recycled materials to make these shoes.

  • Type: Flat pedal
  • Closure system: Laces
  • Sole: Rubber
  • Weight: 391 grams for Men’s 12 US
  • Sizes: Men’s 6 to 14 US; Women’s 5 to 11 US
  • Price: $100

PROS: Stylish, simple and durable
CONS: None, really

 BEST FLAT PEDAL SHOE FOR SESSIONING: Specialized RIME Flat MTB Shoe 

Best mountain bike shoe for flat pedal sessions: Specialized Rime

Do you find yourself walking a lot of features when you ride? The Specialized RIME Flat MTB Shoe might be for you. Designed with hikers in mind, this flat MTB shoe is a Bikerumor staff favorite for comfort on and off the bike.

Like other flat shoes from Specialized, they use SlipNot™ ST for the rubber sole, and Bikerumor testers consider it the “holy grail” of sticky rubber for keeping your foot in place while pedaling.

We consider them the ultimate “sessioning” shoe, meaning if you’re trying to nail a certain feature and spending as much time hiking your bike up the hill as you are riding down, you’ll love these. Compared to other flat shoes, these are much more flexible in the midsole thanks to an EVA foam insert for comfort and impact absorption, making them easier to walk in.

Read the full review here. 

  • Type: Flat pedal
  • Closure system: Laces
  • Sole: Rubber
  • Weight: 358 grams for size 41
  • Sizes: 36-48 with some half sizes
  • Price: $130

PROS: Comfortable all-day shoe
CONS: Not as stiff as other downhill shoes

 BEST MTB SHOE FOR ENDURO: CrankBrothers Mallet Speed Lace

Best MTB shoe for Enduro: Crank Brothers Mallet

If you’re clipless-curious, but you don’t want to commit fully or switch between riding styles, the CrankBrothers Mallet is a great option. Bikerumor’s editor raved that these shoes are great for enduro riders. They’re ideal for a mountain bike-style bikepacking trip since they are equally adept at clipping into pedals or strolling around town or your campsite.

They look like flat shoes at a glance, but there’s a recessed cleat mounting point hidden in the sole. We like the lace “garage” at the top of the tongue, and the closure that covers where you tie the laces ensures that you’ll never end up with a lace wrapping around your pedal or coming undone.

Ideally, you’d pair the CrankBrothers Mallet Speed Lace with the brand’s Mallet pedals, which offer a wide platform around the Eggbeater clip-in pedal. But they will work with any mountain bike clipless or flat pedal. And because CrankBrothers make them, they come with the brand’s cleats pre-installed for ultimate ease: Unbox and go! But if you do run SPD-style pedals, you can simply swap the cleats out.

  • Type: Clipless / Flat
  • Closure system: Laces and Velcro
  • Sole: Rubber
  • Weight: 415 grams for US Men’s 9
  • Sizes: 5 to 14 US Men’s
  • Price: $170

PROS: All-day comfort, stylish
CONS: Best suited for CrankBrothers pedals

 BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHOE FOR DOWNHILL: Specialized 2FO DH 

specialized 2fo DH review

Planning to ride a lot of downhill? Bikerumor staffers who prefer descending like the Specialized 2FO DH flat shoe. Three-time reigning DH world champion Loic Bruni helped design these shoes, down to the SlipNot™ ST rubber sole. This rubber is so grippy that even when pedaling uphill, you can feel the connection.

Designed for rough terrain, these shoes provide maximum grip as well as protection for your whole foot. An internal shank keeps your foot protected and offers some shock absorption, though the cost is that these shoes are a bit less comfortable for casual walks around the neighborhood post-ride. We also appreciated the heavy-duty bumper over the front, protecting your toes from errant rocks.

Read the full review here.

  • Type: Flat
  • Closure system: Laces
  • Sole: Rubber
  • Weight: 396 grams for size 42
  • Sizes: 36 to 49
  • Price: $160

PROS: Highly protective, grippy rubber sole
CONS: Stiff for a flat shoe

 BEST MTB SHOE FOR XC AND GRAVEL: Lake MX332 

CX MTB or gravel: Lake MX332

The Lake MX332 is a great cross-country shoe, but where it shines is its ability to go from singletrack to gravel roads. If you’re entering the gravel racing or cyclocross scene, a shoe that can handle the rigors of a mountain bike ride but can also be stiff and speedy like a road shoe is critical.

The MX332 is the racier model of more traditional Lake mountain bike shoes, so it’s lower profile with a slimmer fit and lighter weight. The carbon sole with rubber tread provides a stable surface for pedaling but is great for running as well, and there’s space for toe spikes if you’re into muddy rides or races. A temperature-regulating liner makes these leather shoes better than most for both hot and cooler rides.

Lake is well-known as the brand to choose for wide feet, and these shoes are no different: They have a wide size option. However, the regular version of the shoe is cut more narrow to be racer-optimized, so if you’re not a slim-footed person, opt for the wide.

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Boas
  • Sole: Carbon and rubber
  • Weight: 370 grams for size 42
  • Sizes: 39 to 50 with the wide version available
  • Price: $450

PROS: Great for racing gravel or cyclocross, wide sizes available
CONS: Pricey

 BEST HIGH-END MTB SHOE: Luck Galaxy Custom MTB Shoes 

Best mountain bike shoes: high end custom Luck Galaxy

Want to spice up your shoes? Spanish brand Luck has you covered. Try the Luck Galaxy MTB Shoes in one of their eye-popping prints, or upload your own graphics and get a pair of completely custom shoes that will stand out in a crowd. One Bikerumor staffer has been using his Luck Galaxy Custom MTB Shoes for years and appreciates the details, from the custom design to the breathable perforated upper, long-wearing composite sole, and surprisingly durable proprietary dial retention system.

It’s not just that the shoes look great; they’re also a solid all-around trail-riding shoe. They’re speedy for cross-country, gravel, or cyclocross. Carbon and natural tree resin-derived rubber come together to form a stiff sole with a tread that gives you traction on the slipperiest sections of the trail.

And if you have a hard-to-fit foot, Luck doesn’t just do custom prints; they can do made-to-measure shoes as well. And they happily make custom shoes for each foot, so if you have a right foot that’s a bit wider and longer than your left, you’re in luck.

  • Type: Clipless
  • Closure system: Dial retention
  • Sole: Carbon-reinforced composite and rubber
  • Weight: 358 grams for size 45
  • Sizes: 37 to 48
  • Price: $476 with custom design

PROS: Custom design and fit, long-lasting
CONS: Pricey

Buyer’s Guide for Best Mountain Bike Shoes

Decide on how you want to ride. Are you focused on speed? Consider clipless. More comfort-based, or planning on doing bigger obstacles and downhill-styled riding? Flat shoes might suit you better.

Measure your feet carefully. Cycling shoes can be a little tricky since they tend to be stiffer than regular sneakers, which means you’ll have less room for error.

Make sure you try the shoes on with the socks you’ll be riding in. It sounds like a small thing, but sometimes your bike socks differ just enough from your everyday socks that they can change the fit and comfort of a shoe entirely.

Walk and ride to test. Even if you’re looking at clipless shoes and not planning to spend a lot of your time hiking your bike, you likely will walk at some point. So find a shoe that feels relatively comfortable while walking as well as riding.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mountain Bike Shoes

What do I need mountain bike shoes for?
Other than the obvious—namely, mountain biking—MTB shoes have other uses. Clipless MTB shoes are often used for gravel riding and cyclocross racing, and if you use SPD cleats, you can even use your MTB shoes for spin classes.

Some people (including this editor) simply find that MTB shoes are more comfortable and easier to walk in than road shoes and will use MTB shoes rather than road shoes for all kinds of riding.

Flat shoes used with regular pedals can be used as skate shoes or shoes for dirt jumping or BMX riding.

specialized rime flat pedal mountain bike shoe review

Flat shoes make it easy to put a foot down and are ideal for downhill or enduro-style MTB riding.

When would I need flat pedals versus clipless?
If you’re serious about putting in big miles, clipless pedals allow you to be much more efficient with your pedal stroke. Gravel and cyclocross riders will typically use clipless MTB shoes, as will cross-country racers. More casual riders and those in gravity disciplines like downhill may prefer flat shoes.

Do I need bike-specific flat shoes?
When you get started, you may find that regular sneakers work just fine as mountain bike shoes when used with flat pedals. But as you progress, you’ll likely want to swap to bike-specific flat shoes, which have a rubber sole that’s stickier than your average shoe to stay more firmly planted on the pedals. The rubber is also more durable, so the small pins in your pedals that keep your feet in place won’t damage them.

specialized 2fo roost dh slipnot rubber sole 3rd gen rubber

The rubber on an MTB-specific flat shoe is much grippier and sturdier than sneakers.

How should a mountain bike shoe fit?
Think about a running shoe and aim for that kind of feeling: Snug enough that your foot isn’t sliding around at all, but not so tight that your toes are crunched, or you can’t wiggle them slightly. Because mountain biking typically includes spending time off the bike, a shoe that feels comfortable to walk (or run, if you’re racing) in is important.

Do I need carbon soles?
It depends on the type of riding you’re hoping to do, but most recreational mountain bikers won’t need the added stiffness that carbon provides. If you are doing a lot of pedaling, though, that stiffness will help you transfer energy efficiently. Rubber will bend slightly with every pedal stroke, which will take away from the power you can produce.

giro cylinder mtb shoe

Narrow or small feet may be more comfortable in a women’s specific shoe.

Do I need women-specific shoes?
We only included one women’s-specific MTB shoe in this list, but women can easily wear any of the shoes on the list. You may find that you prefer a women-specific shoe if you have narrower feet or higher arches, but no, there isn’t a major difference, and you can certainly stick with unisex or men’s shoes without an issue.

Just be careful with the sizing! European sizes should be consistent between men’s and women’s options, though US sizing will differ. Make sure you can return or exchange shoes before you buy if you’re not sure about sizing.

Why do I use SPDs in spin class if they’re for mountain bikes?
If you’re someone who loves dropping into spin class, opt for SPDs over other styles of pedals and cleats since most spin bikes are equipped with SPDs. Compared to road pedals, SPDs are much easier to clip into. The shoes are also less slippery, so you’ll be less likely to wipe out on the slick gym floors.

Shimano IC2 walkable indoor cycling spinning shoes

Spin shoes are not ideal for MTBers, but you can use an MTB shoe with SPD pedals in spin class. c. Shimano

Can I use spin shoes as MTB shoes?
Try the opposite way—using MTB shoes for spin class. Spin shoes typically will have a smoother, more rigid sole that isn’t designed for the rigors of mountain biking.

Can I use mountain bike shoes as road shoes?
Absolutely. In fact, plenty of road riders have shifted to mountain bike shoes now that gravel riding and adventure riding have risen in popularity. You might lose a bit of efficiency and be a bit less tightly connected to your bike, but if you’re more comfortable in mountain bike shoes or on a tight budget and can only afford to have one style of clipless pedals and shoes, opt for mountain bike shoes.

They’re also easier to wear when running errands, hitting the bar or getting off your bike to walk across a busy road. (This Bikerumor editor wore mountain bike shoes for an Ironman and still finished in the top 10 percent of competitors—it made for happier feet on the run!)

example of mountain bike cleats and tread blocks for clipless mtb pedals

Are you struggling to stay clipped in? You may need new cleats.

When should I replace my MTB cleats?
If you notice your foot wobbling around on the pedal, if you’re constantly coming unclipped from the pedal unintentionally, or it’s become difficult to clip in, it may be time to swap out your cleats.

Why do mountain bike shoes have such weird names?
Many companies opt for a combination of letters and numbers to demarcate between shoe options, which can get annoying when you’re perusing your options. Did you want the M7, or was it the M4? But on the bright side, it’s easy to get the exact shoe you were looking for, rather than one that was sort of similar.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel bike shoes, BOA Li2

Boas are great for adjustability but tricky if they break mid-ride.

What’s the best closure system for mountain bike shoes?
For mountain biking, you’re best served with a closure style that closes in two different ways to give you backup in case something snaps in a crash. That means a Boa closure on top and velcro straps is a safer combination than a Boa alone.

Of course, plain shoelaces are great for flat shoes (and some brands like Giro make lace-up versions of their mountain bike shoes), and while they’re a bit old-school, they do a great job and are easy to adjust depending on your foot width and arch height.

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