Do you really need a pair of mountain bike shoes?
You’d never hit the hiking trail or go for a long run without the perfect shoes to protect your feet. But what about when you go mountain biking?
Shoes might not seem so important when you are taking to the great outdoors on two wheels, but having the right shoes can make a big difference.
The right shoes will make it easier to apply the necessary weight to the pedals to get the speed and control that you are looking for on the trail. And you will be grateful for a good set of shoes if you find something wrong with your bike and end up hiking back to where you started,
The right shoes also protect your feet from debris, and, well, add another layer of cool to your overall MTB look (let’s just admit that is important and move on).
Not sure what mountain biking shoes to get? You will find the answers below. We have come up with a list of the six best mountain biking shoes available in 2020 for both men and women. A lot of the options are unisex, but we have also included a few choices just for feminine feet.
Below, you will also find a complete buying guide when it comes to mountain biking shoes, covering everything from clipless to flats, to weight and fit.
6 Best Mountain Biking Shoes for Men and Women
Giro Men’s Rumble Vr MTB Cycling Shoes
If you are looking for a basic, affordable, mountain biking shoe with cleats, but is still comfortable when off bike, these shoes from Giro are a great starter shoe.
They have the required clips, which can be covered with a protective cap, and they are constructed in such a way that they still feel like a good shoe when you are walking around thanks to the moulded EVA footbed.
The upper is made from durable and waterproof leather, with mesh inserts to add some breathability. They have a simple but effective lace-up design, and are available in five attractive colour designs.
- Cap to cover clips
- EVA moulded footbed
- Leather upper
TPBIKE Men’s Mountain Cycling Shoes
If you are looking for an affordable clipless show that still has the features of a top end shoe, you’ll love this option from TPBIKE.
They are made with an ergonomic design that feels comfortable underfoot despite a hard Nylon and TPU sole, and with waterproof durable synthetic leather uppers with breathable mesh panels. The insole is also antibacterial, which will be a relief for many when they take their shoes off after a long cycle.
The shoe is secured with sophisticated rotary buckles and a Velcro slap which will mean that they always feel firm on your feet.
- Nylon and TPU sole
- Rotary buckles
- Mesh paneling
- Protective upper
Five Ten MTB Shoes Freerider
If you prefer the freedom of a flat shoe, and like the style of a skater-boy look, then this funky design from Five Ten will suit you. There are a variety of different colours and styles available, so you will be able to find something that feels uniquely you.
The sole is made from Stealth S1 rubber, which is stiff enough for excellent pressure while standing, but has enough grip and flexibility that you’ll feel comfortable clambering over rocks if you find yourself hiking along the trail.
The upper offers nice thick padding to protect your feet from knocks and scratches, but breathable mesh panelling means that your feet should not overheat. They look big and chunky, but they are actually delightfully light, weighing less than two pounds.
These shoes aren’t as durable as some others, and they won’t feel great in wet conditions, but will still be a favourite for many riders.
- Flat shoes
- Lightweight, less than two pounds
- Stealth S1 rubber sole
- Padded and breathable upper
- Variety of colours and styles
Vaude Unisex Adult MTB Shoes
If you are looking for the best of both worlds when it comes to clippers and flats, check out these unisex shoes from Vaude, available in classic black or Blue Baltic Sea.
The gum rubber role, which is hard enough for strong pedalling but comfortable off bike, has a removeable cleat cover which means that you can convert them to or from a clipless shoe as desired.
This shoe lots of ventilation and quick drying for cycling in hotter conditions, but there is plenty of protection around the toes in the case of accidents and debris.
The company also offers free returns, so you can swap them if you find you haven’t picked the right size.
Vaude Women’s MTB Shoes
If you prefer ladies’ sizes to dealing with a unisex fit, then Vaude also makes a great option for women.
These are a classic clipless shoe available in Phantom Black or Blue Dragonfly, which is a very striking look. But the soles are made from gum rubber, so they feel more comfortable walking around, and you can over the clips to protect them.
The upper is synthetic, which is designed to be both moisture wicking and durable. The shoes feel secure mixing laces and Velcro, which also looks cool.
Giro Chamber Women’s MTB Shoe
These shorts that end just above the knee mix style and comfort and are perfect for taking to the trails in the saddle.
The shorts are made from a breathable and flexible fabric that is 90 percent Nylon and 10 percent elastane. There is plenty of room to move, but they aren’t super baggy. These shorts will stay in place as they have an elastic waistband, internal drawstring closure, and both a button and Velcro fastening for extra security. There are also belt loops if you fancy it.
They have an inner pair of Lycra shorts with inbuilt chamois with gel pad to keep everything comfortable while you are out on the trail. There are five pockets, so you have lots of options for finding a safe place to store your valuables, and there are three colours to choose from, so something for everyone.
- Flat shoe design and style
- Laces and Velcro
- Rubberized toe and heel
Are Mountain Biking Shoes Necessary?
Before diving into the question of what makes a good mountain biking shoe, you may be asking yourself whether they are necessary. The answer is yes, even if you don’t have the kind of pedals on your bike that demand clipless shoes (If you aren’t sure what this is, more below).
Mountain biking is easier with the right shoes. Mountain biking shoes have a hard sole, rather than a cushioned sole, so that more of the force when you are pushing down goes into the pedal, rather than being absorbed by your soft, comfortable soles.
You might only lose 10 percent of your power if you are using a tennis shoe rather than a MTB shoe. But after a full day on a hard trail, that 10 percent matters.
The shoes should also reduce the stress of pedalling on your feet, and protect your feet from debris and other trail damage.
So, yes, we would say that they are worth the investment.
Mountain Bike Shoes Buying Guide
Besides something that looks damn cool and coordinates perfectly with your carefully selected mountain bike shorts and your stylish but effective mountain bike knee pads, these are the main factors to consider when choosing the perfect mountain bike shoes.
Style of Shoes
The first thing to decide when choosing the right pair of mountain bike shoes is whether you need clipless shoes or flats.
Flat shoes are what they sound like, shoes with a flat bottom that are akin to most good athletic shoes. They offer a comfortable sole, with lots of protection both for the bottom and top of your foot, and support for your ankle.
While clipless shoes, confusingly, have a clip on the bottom that locks into the pedals. They offer less protection for the rest of the foot, and have a very hard sole, which is great for pushing against the pedals, but not so comfortable when it comes to walking around in them later.
Which style is right for you depends on personal preference, but also the type of riding that you will be doing. As a general rule, flat shoes are best for downhill and trail riding, while clipless shoes will help you eat up the miles when doing XC.
Mountain bike shoes should have a fairly stiff sole, though clipless shoes will have a much stiffer sole than flat options. This stiffness allows you to exert more power when you are pushing down on the pedals.
For clipless shoes, the best quality soles will be made from something like stiff carbon, while cheaper options will be made from plastic. For flat shoes, the soles will be made from more traditional shoe sole materials, such as rubber.
While you want the sole to be stiff, it generally needs to be thin enough that you can “feel” the pedals through the sole. This gives you more control over the bike.
Grip pattern can also have an influence on this. A minimal grip pattern will give you a more direct feel of the pedal. However, it means that you could run into problems if you need to get off your bike on the trail and run, walk, or hike with your bike in toe. So many downhill riders prefer a more traditional trainer tread.
The fastenings, often called the retention system, is what keeps shoes on your feet. While laces are the most common option, there are so many variations these days it can be hard to keep up.
Laces are a good option because they mean that you can adjust the shoes specifically to your needs. But, laces do tend too get very muddy and difficult to work over time, so it can be a good idea to look out for shoes that also have some kind of flap to protect the laces from dirt and damage.
Velcro straps and ratchet buckles are also increasingly common. They offer a similar level of adjustability, and let’s admit it Velcro has a level of “childhood cool” that can’t be denied.
If you are willing to pay a bit more, you can get yourself a Boa system which uses a ratchet dial and a wire that is looped through the shoe’s opening. You just turn the dial to adjust the shoe to the size that you want.
As you are powering down a trail, it is not uncommon for small rocks and other debris to fly up, and often make you its target. It if hits you on the wrong part of your foot, it can be quite painful. A good pair of mountain bike shoes should offer good protection from this kind of thing.
Clippers tend to offer less protection than flat shoes, so riders that take on really rugged trails often prefer them.
You don’t need steel toe caps, but look out for extra rubber around the toes, good quality uppers, and a bit of soft padding on top of the foot as well.
Even when it isn’t actually raining, trails and be moist and muddy. If this water penetrates your shoes and leaves them soaking wet, uncomfortable doesn’t really cover it.
Look for shoes made from materials that are water-resistant, and will repel liquids rather than let them soak into your socks.
A higher ankle is also a good choice as it won’t let water enter through the top.
You will also be grateful for fabrics that are easy to clean when it comes to sorting out your shoes after an epic day on the trail.
Reading down this list you might think that we are talking about some kind of magical shoes that can do everything. How can shoes be protective, water-resistant, and breathable?
You’re right, those would be miracle shoes, and no doubt very expensive, so you need to decide which of these characteristics are most important to you.
If you like muddy trails, you are going to want that water-resistant option. But if you prefer sunny, arid rides where you notice your feet warming up, breathability might be your priority.
When looking for breathability, choose shoes with mesh portions incorporated into the uppers that allow air to pass through.
While you might not prioritize super lightweight shoes like you do when looking for a pair of runners, lighter weight shoes do mean that you will need just a little bit effort when powering down on the pedals.
There isn’t a huge difference in weights out there, with most shoes coming in at around the two-pound mark. So, if you are looking for something lighter to make longer rides just a little more comfortable, go for something under that.
Regardless of which shoes you choose, you are going to want to make sure that they fit properly. There is nothing worse than being out on the trail with shoes that are squeezing your foot a bit tight, or rubbing uncomfortably because they are too loose, and maybe causing blisters.
The best way to find a pair that fits is to try before you buy, though this can be challenging when buying online.
If you are trying them on, make sure to go later in the day, rather than first thing in the morning, as feet tend to spread a little throughout the day. Also make sure that you bring the socks that you will be wearing with them, as this can make a surprising difference to fit.
Ideally, they should feel form, but not tight, around your heel, and you should have wiggle room around your toes. Walk around in them for a bit, and look out for any spots that dig in, and might become annoying after an extended period.
If you are buying online, check to see whether you will be able to exchange the size before you guy, and don’t remove any tags when trying them on in case you need to exchange them. Also read reviews as many people will comment whether the shoes run small of large in comparison to standard sizing (not that there is any such thing as standard sizing these days).
Do Mountain Bike Shoes Make A Different?
Yes, the harder soles of MTB shoes mean that more of the power you are pushing through your legs go into your pedals, which means easier and more effective riding.
Are Clipless Pedals Dangerous?
There has been some suggestion over the years that clipless pedals and more dangerous than standard pedals, because they hold your hips in a dangerous position if you crash. But most experts will tell you that it is no more dangerous, as long as you know what you are doing. So, if you are switching from flats to clipless pedals, it is worth investing the time to get used to them.
Can You Ride Clipless Pedals With Normal Shoes?
You can use clipless pedals with normal shoes, but they are not very comfortable underfoot, and there is a risk of your feet slipping off, especially in wet conditions.
Best MTB Shoes: The Verdict
The best mountain bike shoes for you need to suit both your personal style and your riding style. If you are a convert to clipless pedals, you’ll need clipless shoes. If you prefer your flats, you’ll want a different option.
Do you like to take on muddy trails, or do you prefer sandy paths in the burning sun? Start with what you need, and then find the perfect shoe.
If you are looking for an all-rounder that can accommodate your clipless pedals but are also comfortable to walk in should the need arise, consider Giro Men’s Rumble Vr MTB Cycling Shoes.
For a classic clipless that is affordable, but feels high-end with all the latest features, check out TPBIKE.
If you want the coolest flats on the trail, then you will love Five Ten MTB Shoes Freerider.
Last update on 2020-10-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API