The Best Mountain Bike Shoes - Rated & Ranked

With soft uppers  a nice footbed  and good closures  the Privateer R is comfortable out of the box for all day trail rides like this one while testing in North Lake Tahoe  CA.
We researched 50 of the best mountain bike shoes of 2018 and selected 10 models to compare and contrast. Over three months, we put each pair through rigorous side-by-side testing in an effort to find the strengths and weaknesses of each model. Our test selection features of variety of shoes for disciplines ranging from cross country, enduro, and downhill style riding, and at a variety of price points. Cross country races, gravel grinds, short backyard laps, all day suffer-fests and the bike park — we did it all in these shoes and scrutinized every aspect of their design, comfort, and performance along the way. We present our findings here in this comprehensive comparative review so that you can find the pair that's right for your riding preferences and budget.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Jeremy Benson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday
May 11, 2018

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Updated May 2018
This Spring, we made sure our previous test results were still relevant and added another contender into the mix. We emerged with two new award winners, including the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, our Top Pick for XC Racing, and the Shimano ME7, our new Top Pick for Walkability. Our previous award winners remain, with the Giro Empire VR90 as our Editors' Choice award winner, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite as our Top Pick for Enduro Racing. We also add in a few recommendations from our MTB Flats Review.

Best Overall Mountain Bike Shoe


Giro Empire VR90


Editors' Choice Award

$119.99
at Amazon
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Weight (per shoe): 338g (size 43.5) Closure: laces
Lightweight
Stiff carbon soles
Lugged Vibram rubber outsole
Very comfortable
Customizable insoles
Expensive
No on-the-fly adjustments
Minimal foot protection
New to the OutdoorGearLab clipless mountain bike shoe test this year, the Giro Empire VR90 took top honors and earned our Editors' Choice award with a combination of light weight, outstanding power transfer, incredible comfort and surprising durability. The Empire VR90 was the most comfortable shoe we tested, with a supple synthetic upper that fits like a glove and customizable insoles for a personalized fit. It was also the lightest shoe we tested by a fair margin, which truly makes a difference for extended days in the saddle or out on the race course. The shoe's Easton EC90 carbon sole is uncompromisingly stiff providing excellent pedaling efficiency.

The Empire VR90 didn't take top honors for its traction and walkability, but a slight amount of flex in the toe coupled with a grippy Vibram rubber outsole proved to be very capable off the bike considering this shoe's weight and sole stiffness. The Empire VR90 also surprised us with its unmatched durability, showing almost no signs of wear after being smashed with rocks, scraped on stumps, and abused for weeks on end. They are far from inexpensive, but we feel that the Giro Empire VR90 is an incredible shoe that is worthy of your attention.

Read review: Giro Empire VR90

Best MTB Bike Flat Shoe


Five Ten Freerider Contact


Editors' Choice Award

$97.47
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

Rubber Type: Stealth Mi6Sole Pattern: Half Dot
Incredible grip
Lightweight
Questionable durability
Not cheap

The Freerider Contact has won Editors' Choice in our MTB Flat Shoe Review for three years straight. It's so sticky it's almost like being clipped in. This year, it got it's first real competition from the Shimano GR7 which shared the Editors' Choice award. Both shoes are amazing. The Shimano edged ahead in the scores. It offers incredible performance and costs $20 less than the Contact. However, the Contact is still the top choice if sticking to the pedals is your top concern. See our flat pedal shoe for more in-depth analysis.

Read review: Five Ten Freerider Contact

Best Bang for the Buck


Giro Privateer R


Giro Privateer R
Best Buy Award

$112.46
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

Weight (per shoe): 386g (size 43.5) | Closure: Ratcheting Buckle, 2 Velcro Straps
Lightweight
Affordable
Comfortable
Improved grippier rubber outsole
Durable
Minimal foot protection
The sole could be stiffer
The Giro Privateer R returns once again as the winner of the Best Buy award for its combination of lightweight, comfort, good power transfer, durability and improved traction and walkability, all at a reasonable price. Recent updates to the Privateer R include a reinforced toe for protection and durability, as well as a new rubber outsole that dramatically improves the off the bike traction and walkability. It is an entry-level shoe, but we feel that riders of all abilities, especially those on a budget, will enjoy the fit and performance of the Privateer R. The styling and features are geared more towards the XC side of the mountain biking spectrum, but we found it capable and comfortable enough for most types of riding — except for shuttle or chairlift DH laps.

With a look nearly identical to that of Giro's high-end carbon-soled Code shoe, the Privateer R uses a nylon sole which isn't carbon stiff, but stiff enough to please most riders. Power transfer isn't as good as our Editors' Choice award-winning Giro Empire VR90, but is still impressive, especially for half the price. It's also the third lightest weight shoe we tested, lighter than models that cost twice as much. With a retail price of $150, the Privateer R isn't the least expensive shoe on the market, but it is a great value and we challenge you to find a better shoe in this price range.

Read review: Giro Privateer R

Best Value In a Flat Shoe


Five Ten Freerider


Five Ten FreeRider
Best Buy Award

$79.96
at MooseJaw
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Rubber Type: Stealth S1 | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
Excellent breathability
Solid pedal grip
Look great off the bike
Not the most durable
Not the best power transfer

The Five Ten Freerider is one of the least expensive shoes but still performs well. It doesn't offer the power transfer or protection of the Freerider Contact or GR7, but it also costs $20-30 less. If you want a softer and more sensitive shoe, this is it. Because it looks great off the bike, it seamlessly fits into your daily routine. Bike commute to work, take a quick shuttle lap and then go out to dinner, all in the same shoes. It's hard to say the same about many other mountain bike shoes.

Read review: Five Ten Freerider

Top Pick for XC Racing


Shimano S-Phyre XC9


Top Pick Award

$400.00
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

Weight (per shoe): 359g (size 43.5) | Closure: Dual Boa IP1
Lightweight
Stiff carbon soles
Boa closures
Well-ventilated
Expensive
Poor walking performance
Minimal foot protection
After months of testing, the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 has merged as the winner of our Top Pick for XC Racing Award. This is a top-of-the-line cross-country race shoe, with a price to match, which offers an uncompromisingly stiff sole that truly delivers in the power transfer department. They don't skimp on comfort either, with a well ventilated supple one-piece upper, Boa closures, and customizable arch support insoles that provide an outstanding fit and enhance the performance of these carbon-soled rocket ships. These shoes are also impressively lightweight, the second lightest in our test selection, just a touch heavier than our Editors' Choice award winner, the Giro Empire VR90.

Versatility isn't the S-Phyre XC9's strong suit, although these shoes also work great for road and gravel riding, as these shoe's minimal foot protection and poor walking performance aren't well suited to more gravity oriented riding or adventurous cyclists who hike-a-bike regularly. A lugged but minimalist Michelin rubber outsole does enhance the traction of the soles, but the incredibly stiff carbon sole makes walking in them somewhat awkward regardless. That said, these lay down the power, so if you're a competitive rider looking for a well made, comfortable shoe with outstanding power transfer the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 is worth some serious consideration.

Read review:Shimano S-Phyre XC9

Top Pick for Enduro Racers


Specialized 2FO Cliplite


Specialized 2FO Cliplite
Top Pick Award

$180 List
List Price
See It

Weight (per shoe): 426g (size 43.5) | Closure: 2 Boa S2 Snap Dials, 1 Velcro Strap
Relatively light weight
Comfortable
Boa closures
Reasonable price
Versatile
SlipNot rubber could be grippier
Roomy toe box
It was a tight battle for the top step of the podium and our Top Pick for the Enduro Racer. Three shoes duked it over months of riding, and in the end, it was the Specialized 2FO Cliplite that beat out the Giro Terraduro and Shimano ME7 by the slimmest of margins as our award winner. In the end, it was the 2FO Cliplite's combination of low weight (for an enduro shoe), power transfer, comfort, walkability and durability that made it our champion. To pigeonhole this shoe or the other enduro oriented shoes in this test as for enduro racing only would be a mistake; these shoes excel for all types of riding with unmatched versatility.

While not as lightweight or as stiff as our Top Pick for XC Racing award winner, the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, the 2FO Cliplite probably won't make the top of the list for XC racers out there, but everyone else should give this shoe a look. Whether you race on the enduro circuit, go for trail rides, long XC rides, bike park laps, shuttle runs, or just like to be comfortable on and off the bike, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite is a worthy option. With impressive power transfer, excellent foot protection, grippy full coverage rubber soles, competitive lightweight and durability, this shoe is the total package that meets the needs of a broad range of riders.

Read review: Specialized 2FO Cliplite

Top Pick for Walkability


Shimano ME7


Weight (per shoe): 425g (size 44) | Closure: Upper Ratchet Strap, Speed Lace System, Velcro Lace Cover
Grippy rubber soles
Good foot protection
Great power transfer
Comfortable
Potential delamination issue
The Shimano ME7 is an all-mountain/enduro shoe that impressed our testers with its versatility and excellent off the bike traction and walkability. In fact, the ME7 almost took home our Top Pick for the Enduro Racer award, but in the end, it fell just shy of the bar set by the Specialized 2FO Cliplite. That said, the ME7 offers excellent power transfer with a carbon fiber composite midsole, but with a flexible forefoot, in front of the cleat mount area, which allows for easier and comfortable walking. This sole design coupled with a traction heavy Michelin Rubber outsole made this our best performing shoe in the Traction and Walkability rating metric. This shoe also has great foot coverage and protection with a taller ankle cuff and a wrap tongue with a large flap that covers the speed lace system.

The ME7 likely won't be the first choice of the XC race crowd since they lack the stiffness of shoes like the Giro Empire VR90 or the Shimano S-Phyre XC9, but they still offer impressive power transfer. Our testing did reveal a potential durability issue, as one of our testers who is especially hard on gear caused some minor delamination of the sole by the toe on one of the shoes. Otherwise, the ME7 held up well and is ideal for all-mountain and enduro riders who value foot protection and an impressive blend of on and off the bike performance.

Read review: Shimano ME7

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
93
$300
Editors' Choice Award
Lightweight, stiff, and comfortable, the Empire VR90 is the winner of our Editors' Choice award.
87
$400
Top Pick Award
The S-Phyre XC9 is Shimano's top of the line XC race shoe with an impressively stiff sole and surprising comfort.
86
$180
Top Pick Award
The uniquely styled 2FO Cliplite is packed with features and performance, and our Top Pick for Enduro Racers.
83
$200
Top Pick Award
A unique design and a great blend of on and off the bike performance make the ME7 a versatile all mountain shoe.
83
$350
The fully featured and versatile X-Project PRO is Pearl Izumi's top-of-the-line mountain bike shoe.
83
$180
The Terraduro offers the complete package, great fit and pedaling performance, grippy walking traction, and a great price.
79
$150
Best Buy Award
The Privateer R returns as our Best Buy award winner with performance and features at a reasonable price.
78
$180
Gravity is the Hellcat Pro's friend, as this shoe is most at home shutting, riding lifts, or doing laps around the bike park.
73
$300
Great for XC riders, the Cape has the features, performance, and quality we have grown to expect from Sidi.
61
$200
High expectations but underwhelming performance from one of the industry's most popular shoe manufacturers.

Analysis and Test Results


We tested these shoes on thousands of miles of riding over a variety of terrain and trail types. We evaluated each on comfort, weight, power transfer, traction and walkability, and durability. We included shoes that cover the full range of riding disciplines and styles. We put a good cross section of XC race shoes up against Enduro/All mountain and gravity oriented shoes to see what works best and how they compare to each other.
I'm almost ready honey! Just trying to pick out the right shoes for this outfit... The fleet is ready for action during testing in Truckee  CA.
I'm almost ready honey! Just trying to pick out the right shoes for this outfit... The fleet is ready for action during testing in Truckee, CA.

These days, clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes are used in every sub-discipline of the sport: gravel grinding, cyclocross, XC racing, enduro racing, everyday trail riding and downhill. Not sure if clipless is what you want? Check out our Buying Advice article for a more in-depth description of where this name came from and what this means for your shoes.

Clipless mountain bikes provide the rider with proper foot positioning  efficient power transfer  stability and confidence like the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro seen here.
Clipless mountain bikes provide the rider with proper foot positioning, efficient power transfer, stability and confidence like the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro seen here.

Value


See the product names by hovering over the dots below. The Privateer is the least expensive and it performs well. The other standout value is the 2FO which scores third overall and has one of the lowest MSRP's. It might have won a Best Buy had it not won Top Pick. However, the 2FO is much harder to find online at a discount while the other shoes are more widely carried and on sale more often.


Comfort


When it comes to mountain biking shoes, we think comfort is among the most important things. The more comfortable the shoe is, the more comfortable you are, and the better you can ride. Discomfort can be a distraction, and when you're riding the only thing you should be focusing on is the trail ahead of you. How do we measure comfort? If a shoe inspires confidence right out of the box and quickly becomes an extension of your body, that's usually a good thing. Ideally, the only thing you should notice about your shoes when you're riding is how little you notice them.


The comfort ratings come the material of the uppers, closures, distribution of tension over the foot, footbeds, ventilation and protection of the feet. Our highest rated shoe is the Giro Empire VR90. The supple synthetic uppers and simple, lightweight lace-up design tighten uniformly around the foot for a best-in-class glove-like fit. In contrast, the Sidi Cape, which does not rate as high, has stiffer synthetic uppers that are closed using a crisscrossing Boa system and a wide ratchet strap, and we found it harder to achieve even tension. Insoles also make a big difference in comfort. The Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro utilizes a class-leading customizable insole to dial in the fit to meet almost any rider's needs, while insoles seem to be an afterthought in other shoes we tested. Other highly rated products for comfort include the Giro Privateer R, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, which both feature comfortable insoles, quality closures and an all-around great fit.

Weight


Of course weight matters. It may not be the most important thing to all riders out there, but this is mountain biking, and pretty much everything is subject to weight scrutiny. Let's face it, all other things being equal, the lighter something is, the better it is for mountain biking because when we ride, we are moving the weight of ourselves and all of our equipment. The less our combined weight is, the faster we can travel, the longer we can ride…you get the idea. That said, we've placed less emphasis on weight than on other criteria such as comfort, because the relative differences in weight aren't huge, and other factors are likely to make a bigger difference in your overall satisfaction with a pair of riding shoes.


The Empire VR90 was the lightest shoe in our test at only 338g per shoe in a size 43.5
The Empire VR90 was the lightest shoe in our test at only 338g per shoe in a size 43.5


The lightest pair of shoes we tested are the Editors' Choice award-winning Giro Empire VR90 at 676g or 1lb 7.84oz for the pair, followed somewhat closely by our Top Pick for XC Racing Award winner, the Shimano S-Phyre XC9 at 718g or 1lb 9.33oz, and our Best Buy award winner, the Giro Privateer R at 772g, or 1lb 11.23oz. The Five Ten HellCat Pro sits at the other end of the spectrum weighing in at 1130g or 2lb 7.86oz, a full pound heavier than the lightest shoes we tested, a trade-off for their enhanced for protection and durability.

Power Transfer


Your shoes are the only thing between your legs and your pedals and are therefore a critical interface between rider and machine, The stiffness of the soles of your mountain bike shoe dictates how efficiently they transfer your energy and power directly into your drivetrain. One benefit of clipless mountain bike shoes is that your foot is always positioned in the optimal spot during the pedal stroke, increasing your pedaling efficiency. Stiff soles with little to no flex from the ball of the foot back are preferred to enhance your pedaling efficiency even further. The stiffer the sole of your shoe is, the less opportunity there is for energy to be lost or wasted due to the flex of the sole under power. Carbon fiber is typically the sole material of choice to create the stiffest and lightest soles, generally found in high-end cross-country race mountain bike shoes. Soles are also constructed using various other nylon and plastic composites that provide excellent stiffness and are less expensive to produce.


We tested the power transfer of each shoe using simple flex-in-the-hands testing, and over the course of thousands of miles of riding in our test shoes. The differences in stiffness are noticeable, especially when switching between shoes frequently. Our top rated shoe is theShimano S-Phyre XC9 followed closely by the Giro Empire VR90, which uses an Easton EC90 carbon sole that is impressively stiff and offers excellent power transfer. Other top-rated products include the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro with a carbon sole, and the Specialized 2FO Cliplite with a nylon composite plate.

Your mountain bikes shoes are the interface between you and the bike  transmitting your effort into the pedals. Efficient transfer of power is a plus.
Your mountain bikes shoes are the interface between you and the bike, transmitting your effort into the pedals. Efficient transfer of power is a plus.

Traction and Walkability


For some years getting off your bike and walking on rocks in clipless mountain bike shoes was a treacherous undertaking. Most shoes felt a bit like ice skates or tap dancing shoes, and you were probably more likely to injure yourself walking over that obstacle than trying to ride it. Over the past several years, mountain bike shoe manufacturers have started making shoes that perform well not only on the bike but also during the inevitable dismounts and hike-a-bikes that most of us encounter on a regular basis. The new breed of enduro and all-mountain oriented shoes offer an excellent blend of on the bike performance and power transfer while providing enhanced features for off the bike use. Many modern cross-country mountain bike shoes are also improving their outsole designs while still offering unwavering stiffness and pedaling performance.


Testing the traction and walkability involved walking in each pair of shoes on a variety of surfaces, rocks, logs, dirt and mud to see how well each one performs off the bike. This portion of the testing involved gratuitous hike-a-bikes and going up to that vista point that we always ride past.

We didn't have to hike up here  but we did it anyway to test the traction and walkability of the shoes in this test.
We didn't have to hike up here, but we did it anyway to test the traction and walkability of the shoes in this test.

Outsole material and tread design are the most significant factors in the traction that a shoe has to offer. Some models, such as the Giro Terraduro, provide an incredible grip on dry surfaces, but the tightly spaced narrow lugs tend to pack with mud in wet conditions. We've found the ideal shoe to have a semi-aggressive tread design that doesn't hold onto mud or debris made from a grippy rubber compound for traction on hard surfaces. Mountain bike specific shoes are also being designed to offer flex in the toe, from the ball of the foot forward, to enhance walkability without sacrificing underfoot stiffness or power transfer. One of our top-rated shoes for traction and walkability is the Shimano ME7 whose widely spaced soft rubber lugs coupled with a stiff sole that flexes through the toe provides an exceptional combination of power transfer and traction in all situations. Other shoes with impressive grip such as the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro, the Specialized 2FO Cliplite, and the Giro Terraduro are part of the new breed of shoes designed to blend impressive power transfer with off the bike traction and walkability.

Modern designs like the Giro Terraduro have grippy rubber outsoles and flex through the toe for improved traction and walkability.
Modern designs like the Giro Terraduro have grippy rubber outsoles and flex through the toe for improved traction and walkability.

Durability


Mountain bike shoes are an investment, and a longer lasting shoe provides a greater return on that investment. The shoes in our test ranged in price from $150 to $400, and if you're spending that much money you'd hope to get a few seasons of use out of any given pair. There are many aspects to the durability of a given pair of shoes. We considered several factors during the assessment of our test shoes, including abrasion resistance of the uppers, placement and wear or damage to the closures, wear of the outsole material, and quality of craftsmanship. We went out of our way to use and abuse these shoes, scuffing the uppers on rocks, intentionally stumbling around while walking, tightening and loosening the closures more than was necessary, all to see how they stood up to use over time.


The various outsole rubber compounds all wear differently. As we expected, we found softer rubber compounds to wear more quickly. For example, the soft and tacky Stealth Rubber of the Five Ten Hellcat Pro shows signs of wear from the pins of pedals while the harder SlipNot rubber of the Specialized 2FO Cliplite looks nearly brand new even after months of use. All of the shoes we tested use some synthetic leather-esque material for their uppers. The abrasion and wear resistance of each varies between the different models of shoes. Many shoes have additional abrasion resistant materials placed strategically around the uppers to prevent damage.

Some abrasion damage to the uppers of the Privateer R. A little more protection would be nice for the toes and the synthetic material.
Some abrasion damage to the uppers of the Privateer R. A little more protection would be nice for the toes and the synthetic material.

The closures of a shoe may also have an impact on its' durability. Numerous types of closures are used to provide retention in modern mountain bike shoes. Laces are still used on many models including our Editors' Choice award-winning Giro Empire VR90 and the Five Ten Hellcat Pro. Laces are simple, lightweight, efficient and easily and inexpensively replaced; the only drawback is the inability to adjust the tension of your shoes on-the-fly quickly. Ratcheting straps have long been used on mountain bike shoes, and they are relatively inexpensive; they work quite well but are prone to damage if positioned vulnerably on the lateral side of the shoe. Fortunately, most ratchets and straps are fully replaceable in case of damage, and shoes like the Shimano ME7 are using innovative reverse low-profile ratchets to reduce the risk of impact and damage. Velcro straps are a simple, lightweight and inexpensive system that has been used on mountain bike shoes for years. Unfortunately, Velcro is one of the quickest retention systems to break down, although it usually takes a few years, and sometimes your shoes will outlast your Velcro. Dials and cables like Boa or Sidi's Tecno 3 are a more modern style of lightweight closure that pulls tension evenly from both sides and offers rapid on-the-fly adjustment. Closures like these can occasionally fail or break from impact, but shoes like the X-Project Pro have done an excellent job of placing the dials in on top of the tongue in a less vulnerable position.

The strategically positioned Boa dials of the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro make them less prone to damage than other design.
The strategically positioned Boa dials of the Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro make them less prone to damage than other design.

We weren't surprised that our one of our highest rated shoes for durability is the Five Ten Hellcat Pro. This burly model features a full coverage rubber outsole and thick rubber protection for the abrasion-prone toe area of the uppers. We were astonished, however, that the Giro Empire VR90 was as durable as it was. It got high marks for its incredibly abrasion resistant uppers, simple closures and durable Vibram rubber outsole.

Conclusion


There are many things to consider when deciding what mountain bike shoes are right for you. Depending on the riding you enjoy, whether it be cross-country, all-mountain or gravity oriented riding, you will benefit from the features of different shoes. This review is designed to help you answer those questions and sort through the available options to help make a more informed decision. Read through our Buying Advice article for more information on what to consider before making your purchase.

Considering leaping into a new mountain bike shoe purchase? There are plenty of amazing shoes on the market  and we hope our detailed comparative review helps you find the pair thats right for you.
Considering leaping into a new mountain bike shoe purchase? There are plenty of amazing shoes on the market, and we hope our detailed comparative review helps you find the pair thats right for you.
Jeremy Benson

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Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.

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