Best Mountain Bike Shoes for Off-Road Cycling

Last updated: February 25, 2020
BEST OVERALL
High-Performance, Innovative and Durable
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BEST BUDGET
Lightweight, Flexible and Low-Cost
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BEST FOR WOMEN
Durable, Comfortable and Stylish
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BEST FOR MEN
Grippy, Supportive and Stylish
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BEST SPD
Versatile, Quick-Drying and Low-Cost
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Your guide

When it comes to a tough sport such as mountain biking, your trials and tribulations are far too many. There are uneven surfaces to push through, winding paths to maneuver, steep hills to climb, big jumps to make, technical descents to conquer and what not.

Considering that your likelihood of encountering trail obstacle in some form or the other is almost inevitable, along with a sturdy mountain bike helmet and a good pair of mountain bike gloves, it will be wise of you to invest in a pair of good-quality, well-fitted, grippy shoes that can stand up to the rigors of this challenging sport.

Comfort, fit, traction, safety features, durability, pedal compatibility, closure system, and cost are a few of the aspects to consider when evaluating the best mountain bike shoe that is right for you and your riding style.

5 Best Shoes for Mountain Biking

Veering off the road can sure be exhilarating, but it also implies a lot of work for your feet. After all, your feet will be busy at the pedals while you climb up, swerve or hurtle down. So, it is imperative to make sure that your feet remain cool and comfortable throughout the arduous journey.

Just as the right gear is important to get the most out of any outdoor sport or activity, the right set of bike accessories can help you realize your full technical trail riding potential, and the right pair of cycling shoes can make a world of difference to your off-road riding experience.

Specialized Mtb Shoe

Regardless of whether you are investing in your first pair of mountain bike shoes or looking to replace or upgrade an existing one, choosing the best MTB shoes can be as overwhelming as the activity of selecting the best mountain bike.

That’s because there’s so much to consider when it comes to discerning the best mountain bike shoes. Lightweight or beefy, regular or performance-oriented fit, flat-pedal or clipless-pedal, lace-up, dial or hook-and-loop closure, low-cost, mid-range, or high-end – the list of criteria sure is a lengthy one.

With off-road cycling, comfort or fit alone cannot determine the suitability of a pair as good shoes for mountain biking. Your chosen footwear also has to be grippy so that you get the traction you need to conquer challenging terrain with ease. And it must not lose steam when you need to get off the bike and push your bike over trails where riding is not feasible.

Plus, your kicks should be able to do a sound job of keeping your feet protected in harsh riding and weather conditions such as dirt, wet terrains, and icy trails.

This buying guide features our pick of 5 mountain bike shoes that we consider as reliable choices across the five categories of best overall, best budget, best women’s MTB Shoes, best men’s mountain bike shoes, and best SPD.

1. Best Overall - Shimano SH-ME501

Specifications:

  • Weight: 382gms (Size 42)
  • Pedal Compatibility: Clipless
  • Closure System: A Boa dial and a front strap
  • Upper Material: Synthetic leather

Key Features:

  • Micro-adjustable Boa L6 dial for precise and on-the-fly adjustments
  • Secure holding of the forefoot with front strap-equipped adjustable powerzone wire guide
  • Michelin high-performance, dual-density rubber outsole
  • Torsional midsole “TORBAL” for comfort and fluidity through all ranges of rider motion

Shimano SH-ME501 MTB Shoes Review   

Performance, versatility, durability, features, price, and weight were our key considerations when testing a host of off-road footwear to find the best overall mountain bike shoe.

The premium-looking Shimano SH-ME501 in its upgraded form has ample going for it to outscore many others in the category of “Best Overall MTB Shoes”.

Whether you are looking for cycling shoes equipped with cutting-edge features and modern innovations in the realm of mountain biking or seeking MTB footwear that is versatile enough to fit in within the three riding segments of off-road, cross-country and trail, you can rely on Shimano’s do-it-all ME5 to do the trick.

The upgraded ME5 comes with a stronger, lighter, and more durable synthetic leather upper, and its reinforced armor makes for heightened protection and excellent durability when riding rough enduro-style trails, attacking muddy, sloppy terrain or cruising downhill.

The midsole is glass fiber reinforced nylon, and the insole makes use of single density extra-cushion for superior shock absorption.

The high-performance, proprietary designed Michelin outsole is durable, stable, and slip-resistant, and it combines dual-density rubber with a strategic lug placement pattern for enhanced grip.

Although Shimano mentions the stiffness index of the ME5 as 6, this shoe feels adequately stiff to deliver the desired pedaling efficiency with superior off-the-bike traction.

Coming to the closure system, the use of the Boa L6 dial enables quick and precise micro-adjustment for easy mid-ride adjustability. And an adjustable powerzone wire guide with front strap ensures a secure hold for the forefoot.

Unsurprisingly, the cleat type is SPD, and this cycling shoe is best paired with Shimano PD-M8120 SPD pedals.

What truly impressed us about the ME5 was how the shoe’s functional design is bolstered with a host of advanced technologies to uplift aspects such as balance, bike control, power transfer, comfort, and fluidity.

So, you have torsional midsole “TORBAL” for a natural rider “flow” motion during downhill descents, an expanded cleat-adjustment range for boosted rider confidence, and harder contact block for stability and pedaling efficiency.

Weighing 382gms (Size 42), the all-round Shimano SH-ME501 is lighter than many of the other shoes featured on this list. And while it’s not a budget MTB shoe, it’s still affordable for many with a price tag under $200.

It may be worth noting that this MTB shoe has a relatively voluminous interior. So, it may come across a bit too roomy for riders with narrow or small feet.

Keeping this bit aside, if aggressive trail riding and racing are your kind of biking, we suggest trying out this high-performance, grippy footwear that will see you redefine the possibilities that are commonly expected out of a standard mountain bike shoe.

Pros
  • High-quality, durable build
  • Lightweight but stiff
  • Good shock absorption and off-bike traction
  • Stable and slip-resistant
  • Can be used for off-road, enduro and trail riding
Cons
  • Standard fit foot width may not provide a snug fit to narrow feet

2. Best Budget - Giro Rumble VR

Specifications:

  • Weight: 425gms (Size 42)
  • Pedal Compatibility: Flat and Clipless
  • Closure System: Lace-Up
  • Upper Material: Synthetic fiber and breathable mesh

Key Features:

  • Supple synthetic fiber and breathable mesh upper
  • Vibram Ecostep rubber outsole
  • EVA midsole and die-cut EVA footbed
  • SPD-compatible molded shank with optimized cleat zone

Giro Rumble VR MTB Shoes Machine Review

If you are after the best cheap mountain bike shoes that can provide you with a comfortable fit, reasonable grip, uncompromised flexibility, and good heel hold, all without pinching your pockets, the Giro Rumble VR – our choice for “Best Budget MTB shoes” – could be worthy of your attention.

At a discounted price of $70, the Giro Rumble VR has plenty to offer, and that too without the price tag of a premium pair.

This stylish shoe is more walkable than your usual MTB footwear and, although a cycling shoe at its core, Giro’s versatile offering is grippy and comfortable enough to double as a light hiking shoe. So, it is poised to be your able companion, both on and off the bike.

Feel inspired to hit the trail when you sink your feet into the flexible Rumble VR that boasts a well-vented upper – constructed from supple synthetic fiber and breathable mesh.

An injected load-bearing inner shank aids power transfer while pedaling, and the molded SPD-compatible shank comes with an optimized cleat zone to offer you the stiffness you need for rigorous pedaling.

Rain or no rain and regardless of whether you are on the bike or off it – get the confidence to put on miles on mixed surfaces, thanks to a Vibram-branded high-performance rubber outsole that leverages technologically advanced compounds, such as IdroGrip and Megagrip, to deliver excellent traction for walkability and flat-pedal riding in dry and wet conditions.

The Rumble VR comes equipped with a midsole and footbed made from a lightweight and flexible EVA material – known for its pressure-dispersing and shock-absorbing properties. Besides cushioning your feet and ensuring medium arch support for riding comfort on long journeys, the EVA midsole and the die-cut EVA footbed contribute to smoother, stable rides over rough terrain.

Giro’s stylish-looking shoe is fashioned with a lace closure for a secure fit, and the fit, while precise and supportive, is not overly snug for one’s comfort. The clipless pedal compatibility adds to the Rumble VR’s appeal and takes the usability of this flat pedal shoe up by a notch.

As for downsides, you may find the Rumble VR running small in size, especially if you have wide feet or you are used to the sizing of big-name brands such as Specialized. We suggest evaluating the size well before placing an order as you may need to go up a size or two to get the fit right.

All told, if you are in the market for trendy looking, affordably priced, multipurpose MTB shoes that are suitable for both road adventures and gentler trail riding and are also functional as walking shoes for off-the-bike pursuits, you are more than likely to find your money’s worth in the Giro Rumble VR. A women’s version of this shoe is also available in the Giro Petra VR.

Pros
  • Lightweight and flexible
  • High-quality construction
  • Stylish and comfort-inducing design
  • Supportive fit
  • Grippy outsole
  • Compatible with both flat and clipless pedals
  • More walkable than the average MTB shoe
Cons
  • May require sizing up

3. Best for Women - Giro Empire VR90 W

Specifications:                                 

  • Weight: 305gms (Size 39)
  • Pedal Compatibility: Flat and Clipless
  • Closure System: Lace-Up
  • Upper Material: Evofiber synthetic

Key Features:

  • Premium Evofiber synthetic for construction of the shoe upper
  • One-piece upper design for a comfortable, contoured fit
  • Customizable SuperNatural Fit footbed with adjustable arch support
  • Easton EC90 full carbon fiber outsole and molded Vibram high-traction rubber tread

Giro Empire VR90 W Review

When it comes to the best women’s mountain bike shoes, sure enough, there are unisex models that can cater to adventure-driven female riders looking to shred the trails, hurtle down hills or tear up the countryside.

However, if you are looking for a pair of high-performance off-the-road shoes that can hold up to abuse well and still offer you unrivaled comfort in a women’s specific fit, we recommend the Giro Empire VR90 cycling shoe for a total package when riding on dirt.

This extremely durable shoe is among the lightest options available for use on dirt, which makes it an excellent choice for women bikers enthusiastic about spending long hours in their saddles.

Featuring a one-piece upper design, the sleek and lightweight Empire VR90 is as stylish to look at as it is comfy to wear. Its breathable upper is constructed from a single piece of premium Teijin Evofiber synthetic microfiber.

The one-piece design, combined with lace closure, gives your feet a customizable, second-skin, snug fit, and the fit and support don’t stretch out with wear or weather. The use of an adjustable SuperNatural Fit footbed for the shoe inner further maximizes pedaling efficiency and enables a personalized fit and arch support to help reduce fatigue while pedaling.

The Empire VR90 sports an EC90 full carbon fiber outsole, which has been engineered in collaboration with Easton and after extensive testing using Giro’s advanced modeling and proprietary fixturing.

The result is a lightweight and flexible outsole that provides the right amount of stiffness across the toe, arch, and heel and yet manages to remain shockingly light and also keep the stack height low.

The low stack height helps prevent the loss of power and aids efficient and responsive power transfer by bringing the cleats close to the pedals. There is also a mid-foot scuff guard, and the outsole can accommodate steel toe spikes, which come included with the shoes.

This women’s MTB shoe is grippy, and its molded Vibram rubber tread offers exceptional traction when riding on slippery and muddy trails.

And, despite the carbon sole being uncompromisingly stiff, the sole does not get in the way of a comfortable walk because of the walkability of the Vibram outsole, a certain degree of flex in the toe, and an XT2 anti-microbial fiber top sheet in the insole, which collectively add to the comfort quotient of this shoe.

At $300, Giro’s Empire VR90 is a premium pick and will need you to loosen your purse strings a bit. What you gain in return is a pair of superiorly crafted, highly-rated women’s MTB shoe that scores well on various aspects, including design, style, performance, quality, durability, and comfort.

Pros
  • High-performance yet sleek
  • Lightweight and walkable
  • Unparalleled stiffness
  • Unrivaled comfort
  • Breathable upper
  • Grippy rubber sole
  • Durable shoelaces
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Lace closure makes impromptu adjustments difficult

4. Best for Men - Five Ten Men’s Freerider

Specifications:

  • Weight: 403gms
  • Pedal Compatibility: Flat
  • Closure System: Lace-Up
  • Upper Material: Suede leather and synthetic mesh

Key Features:

  • Upper made of breathable suede leather and synthetic mesh
  • Stealth S1 high-friction rubber outsole with dotted tread
  • One-piece molded cup sole
  • Lace-up vamp

Five Ten Men’s Freerider MTB Shoes Review

A top-quality product need not always be eye-wateringly pricey, and the Five Ten Men’s Freerider MTB Shoe is a strong case in point.

Our best men’s mountain bike shoe is designed to cater to the fashion-forward, adventure-minded male rider who doesn’t wish to forsake style for the sake of top-notch performance on the trail.

Sporting a cool, slick design inspired by the style of BMX shoes and available in a range of attractive colorways, the all-mountain flat pedal Freerider is sure to make heads turn while your feet work to turn the pedals. And its versatility makes it an excellent anywhere, anytime shoe that can make the transition from the rugged outdoors to casual and semi-formal settings with ease.

The quality-made Freerider MTB shoe features an upper made of suede and mesh and is designed for day-long comfort of the wearer. So, no matter how long you push yourself on the trails, your feet remain comfy throughout the journey.

True to Five Ten’s reputation of creating high-friction footwear, the Freerider feels superbly grippy on the flats, what with the shoe’s soles almost gluing themselves to the platform pedals like clips, thanks to a unique shock-absorbing Stealth S1 rubber outsole that features the brand’s classic high-friction dotted tread with proven grip and durability.

Casual climbs, mild jumps, rocky descents, or rooty trail rides – feel confident to push your limits knowing your feet won’t slide or buck off the pedal at an inopportune moment.

The rubber sole is stiff enough to enable comfortable pedaling but not so stiff to make the shoe awkward to walk in. The midsole is supportive, the fit snug but not too tight, and the grip spectacular but not that secure to not allow for quick foot repositioning and release.

Any drawbacks? None that should stop you from taking the plunge, if you are still on the fence that is. Some of the MTB flat shoe reviews suggest that the Freerider shoes may run smaller than indicated. So, it may be worth upsizing when ordering a pair.

Also, the long, fat laces may not be appealing to all, and opting for some lace minders could help keep them out of the way.

All in all, nitpicking aside, if you are looking for a pair of well-constructed, versatile riding-specific shoes that feel as solid on the pedals as clips and yet are not attached to the pedals, Five Ten’s MTB shoes for men are those keepers that fit the bill and don’t break the bank at that.

Pros
  • Quality craftsmanship
  • Superior comfort
  • Unmatched durability
  • Fashion-forward, sleek technical design
  • Grippy outsole
  • Supportive midsole
  • Versatile enough for riding and moderate walking
Cons
  • May require upsizing, especially for wide feet

5. Best SPD - Venzo MTB Shimano

Specifications:

  • Weight: 640gms (Size 44)
  • Pedal Compatibility: Clipless
  • Closure System: Hook and loop straps
  • Upper Material: Mesh and synthetic

Key Features:

  • Breathable, quick-drying mesh and synthetic upper
  • Low-cut construction for a light feel and fit
  • Flexible forefoot, removable sock liner, and a running shoe beveled heel
  • Multi-use dual-platform Wellgo C002B aluminum SPD pedals

Venzo MTB Shimano SPD Shoes Review

When it comes to footwear for mountain biking, clipless or cleat-compatible shoes are the preferred choice for many bikers. These cycling shoes, with recessed bolt holes for attaching pedal cleats, enable a solid connection to the bike, and their advantages include efficient climbing, better control, improved stability, and superior power transfer to the pedals.

The Shimano Pedaling Dynamics or SPD system, with a two-bolt cleat design for MTBs, remains the most popular design in clipless bicycle pedals because of the durability of the pedals and their robust performance on the trails.

If you are looking to test the clipless waters with a pair of good-quality mountain bike shoes that are designed for SPD use, the MTB Shimano SPD Shoes from Venzo can definitely be a good start to your clipless journey.

This shoe is compatible with all Shimano SPD pedal systems, which increases its usability across the full range of Shimano’s clipless pedals. Plus, it is versatile enough to support riding with or without cleats. Its award-winning technology emphasizes performance and gives you an added reason to buy these kicks for putting on miles in the mud or on the trail.

The Venzo MTB shoe features an upper made of mesh and synthetic, and the highly-breathable material keeps your feet cool while you attack technical terrain. The quick-drying upper ensures the adventure does not stop even when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

The styling is also spot on, and this cycling shoe is quite the looker with its chic colorway and eye-catching add-ons such as a Voltron-resembling panther on the heel and three trendy-looking hook and loop closure straps on the upper.

The well-ventilated shoe comes with a stiff sole, and the design features a low-cut construction to give you a light, fast fit and feel when you are shredding dirt in the mountains.

A removable sock liner in the textile lining makes for a snug fit, and the easy-to-install, multi-use pedals are dual-sided and offer you the flexibility to switch between these SPD shoes and your regular footwear for riding with or without cleats.

Do note that the one-sided SPD clipping means you have to ensure the pedal is in the correct orientation before you can clip in. A flexible forefoot and a running shoe beveled heel are other highlights of this cycling shoe.

At $59, the Venzo MTB Shimano SPD shoe is surprisingly affordable, and it’s hard to beat it for the price, more so if you take into account the two Wellgo C002B aluminum pedals and Wellgo 98A cleats that come included in the package.

To sum up, if you keen to get good bang for your buck and also seek quality and performance from your off-road footwear, you may have just landed your dream pair in the Venzo MTB Shimano SPD shoes.

Pros
  • Performance-oriented award-winning technology
  • Suitable for use with all Shimano SPD pedal systems
  • Supports riding with or without clipping in
  • Shipped with two pedals with cleats
  • Backed with a one-year warranty on shoes and pedals
Cons
  • Does not clip on both sides

Mountain Bike Shoes: Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need Mountain Bike Shoes?

Yes, you do need mountain bike shoes to tackle the rough and rocky riding conditions of technical terrain.

As an extreme outdoor activity, off-road cycling involves steep climbs, big jumps, speedy descents, and tricky rides in the dirt and mud. Thus, you need shoes that are durable and weather-proof enough to withstand the challenging riding and weather conditions and that are sufficiently grippy to provide you with the necessary traction on muddy and slippery trails.

What Is the Difference Between Road Shoes and MTB Shoes?

Similar to the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike, the key difference between road shoes and MTB shoes lies in the purpose behind their use. Road shoes are meant for riding on tarmac, which is typically smoother than technical terrain. Hence, the design of these shoes is kept light and sleek, and the sole is made very stiff to promote rider comfort when cycling in the same position for a long duration.

Mountain bike shoes are designed for use in harsh riding conditions. Thus, they are beefier than road shoes, and they tend to have a more rugged but less stiff sole to account for the flexibility needed for a swift repositioning of the feet. The latter is essential when one has to disengage from the bike in a rush or make a quick adjustment to the feet position to overcome trail obstacles.

Can You Walk in MTB Shoes?

Indeed, you can walk in MTB shoes, more so with the use of outsole material such as Vibram to produce shoes that combine walkability with comfort and traction.

Also, because the cleats on mountain bike shoes are typically recessed into the soles, it makes MTB shoes suitable for walking on trails and even for off-the-bike pursuits.

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