How to Choose Mountain Bike Shoes

Mountain bike shoes incorporate technical performance features not found on ordinary shoes and are often overlooked as a necessary piece of mountain biking apparel. This article aims to help you understand the performance features that set mountain bike shoes apart from ordinary tennis shoes or running shoes when mountain biking, how to measure your foot for mountain bike shoes, and some of the top brands that make mountain bike shoes.

Once you have a good idea of what you want, don't forget to check out our vast selection of mountain bike shoes.

In this article, we'll teach you about:

What Makes a Mountain Bike Shoe?

At first, a typical mountain bike shoe doesn't look much different than your average tennis shoe, however, there are subtle differences that play a big part in your comfort on the bike. Mountain bike shoes are designed for use with pedals, often have special features for shock absorption and power transfer and are more protective than a tennis shoe.

Clipless Shoe

  • (A) Durable PU upper sometimes made of canvas. Usually water-resistant. Protective toe box.
  • (B) Insole
  • (C) Nylon shank midsole for optimal stiffness
  • (D) EVA midsole absorbs shock, reduces fatigue
  • (E) Outsole grip provides grip with pedal. Some shoes have aggressive tread on the heel and toe for traction when having to walk the bike
  • (F) Extended cleat adjustment channels provide increased fore and aft adjustability
Flat Pedal Shoe

  • (A) Durable PU upper sometimes made of canvas. Usually water-resistant. Protective toe box.
  • (B) Insole
  • (C) EVA midsole absorbs shock, reduces fatigue
  • (D) Outsole grip provides grip with pedal. Some shoes have aggressive tread on the heel and toe for traction when having to walk the bike

How to Measure Yourself for Mountain Bike Shoes

It's essential to wear mountain bike shoes that fit you correctly. If your MTB shoes are too large, you won't get the control you need for riding technical terrain. If they're too small, your feet will be incredibly uncomfortable, ruining your ride. Here's how to get the correct size mountain bike shoes:

Step 1 - Measure Your Feet

Place a piece of A4 paper with one edge against the wall and stand on it. Make sure your heels are against the wall, and your toes are straight. Mark a line on the paper at the tip of your longest toe. Now you can measure the distance between the line and the edge of the paper your heel was. Take the measurement in centimeters to get the length of your foot.

We recommend adding 5mm to your measurement to account for any movement. But, if you like your shoes to have a tight fit, you can reduce this figure. However, you must remember that your feet expand slightly when you ride. Therefore, adding a few millimeters will give you a little more room.

Step 2 - Measure The Width Of Your Feet

Stand on your piece of paper and mark either side of your feet at their widest parts. Then measure between the two lines to get your foot width.

Many mountain bike shoe brands label their shoes as narrow, medium, and wide. So to work out which fit you need, you must know the width of your feet. But this time, don't add any millimeters to the measurement. The actual width of your feet is critical in getting the correct size.

Step 3 - Check Out Sizing Charts

Most mountain bike shoe brands put sizing charts on their websites. Find a few brands that you like the look of and compare their size charts. You'll be able to see any differences and be able to determine which brand fits your feet best.

You will be able to cross-reference your measurements with the sizing charts.

What Size Mountain Bike Shoes Do I Need?

The mountain bike shoe size you need depends on the size and shape of your feet. You'll only know this for sure if you measure your feet correctly. But you should measure both feet, as not everyone's feet are the same size. If your feet are different sizes, buy your mountain bike shoes in the larger size.

It's worth noting at this point that if you have wide feet, it's important not to buy mountain bike shoes that are too narrow. This is because mountain bike shoes that are too narrow for you will cause you lots of foot pain from pressure points. In addition to this, just like all footwear, sizing and shape vary between brands. So you may find a brand that fits you better than others, even if they have similar sizes.

Best Mountain Bike Shoe Brands

There are many fantastic mountain bike shoe brands that make premium shoes. The two most popular mountain bike shoe brands by far are Five Ten and Ride Concepts, but other brands like Specialized, Endura, and Leatt are also churning out top-quality MTB shoes. Here are some standout mountain bike shoes from all five brands that are worth your attention.

Five Ten Freerider Pro

Five Ten is one of the most well-known brands in mountain biking shoes and for a good reason. The Five Ten Freerider Pro is a low-profile, but feature-loaded shoe that can handle all sorts of riding. The Five Ten Freerider Pro features a protective toe box, a grippy outsole, and EVA midsole, a durable and a water-resistant PU upper. The Freerider Pro is available in flat pedal only configurations, but has a men’s and women’s-specific shoe, a canvas alternative design, a mid-top model, and an environmentally-friendly model called the Primeblue.

Ride Concepts Tallac Shoe

The Ride Concepts Tallac is a rugged, outdoors-inspired trail shoe for riders who go wherever the trail takes them and don’t shy away from a little adventure. This shoe is available in clipless or flat pedal configurations and has a seperate, but equal model called the Flume for women. The rugged outsole of the Tallac features a hexagonal tread pattern on the midfoot for improved pedal grip, while a reverse-hex pattern on the heel and toe maximizes off-bike grip. The 4.0 Max Grip rubber compound provides uncompromising grip on flat pedals, all without sacrificing off-bike capability or durability. The newly designed lightweight and breathable Cordura mesh upper maintains airflow, while heel and toe TPU reinforcement areas easily withstand challenging terrain. An impact-absorbing insole which integrates D30 material in the forefoot and heel helps to reduce fatigue and keep you out on the trails.


Specialized 2FO Cliplite MTB Shoe

The Specialized 2FO Cliplite Shoe builds on the successful 2FO line with a high-performance shoe for the modern rider. The 2FO Cliplite is comfortable, lightweight and low-profile. Featuring a low collar for a casual look without sacrificing performance, and a low-profile toe cap for minimalist protection. The 2FO Cliplite features two new Li2 BOA dials, an evolutionary step forward in BOA design. The Li2 dials are shorter and lighter weight than their predecessors, while maintaining durability and precision. They are also designed to produce less waste during manufacturing, lessening the environmental impact. This shoe has a protective toe cap, an EVA midsole and a grippy tread. The 2FO Cliplite also features an integrated XPel lining for water resistance. Take your shoe game up a notch with the Specialized 2FO Cliplite.

Endura MT500 Burner Shoe

Endura has been making quaility cycling apparel for a while now, but just earlier this year released their first shoe line dedicated to mountain biking. Endura has two different models of shoes, one under their MT500 line dedicated to rough mountain riding that incorporates clipless and flat pedal designs, and a more low-profile, all-rounder, flat pedal shoe under their Hummvee line.

If you have been looking for the do-it-all shoe that combines premium features, a grippy outsole, and all-mountain capability, you have met your match. Endura's MT500 apparel line is their premium mountain series, incorporating quality materials designed for durability and maximum performance on the mountain. The new MT500 Burner Shoes follow suit and are loaded with features that can stand up to whatever the mountain throws at you. This shoe features a midfoot pedal contact area which boasts the StickyFoot™ Grip compound for superior pedal grip. The toe and heel utilize an aggressive tread for hike-a-bike situations and are fitted with the StickyFoot™ Dura compound for a more durable rubber compound in high wear areas. A stiff nylon shank and cleatbox improve power transfer and control and an EVA midsole absorbs shock from impacts. The durable PU upper has perforated panels for breathability and an internal quick dry liner ensures the shoes dry fast. With a lace-up closure and a Velcro® upper strap for a secure adjustment, as well as Endura's unique Sharkskin heel fabric, your feet will feel locked in place during the roughest of riding.


Leatt Clip 5.0 Shoe

Leatt’s 5.0 Clip Shoes are a lightweight, do-it-all shoe, just as well-suited on a trail ride as they are on your local downhill course. With a robust upper material and added PU reinforcements, these shoes can hold up to seasons of abuse from gravity riding. They also feature extended cleat adjustment, allowing for more rearward cleat positioning during technical downhill sessions. The super sticky RideGrip rubber compound is Leatt-proprietary, while the tread’s design features mud-shedding channels and aggressive lugs for confident traction in questionable conditions. A concealed speed lace, combined with the cross-tension strap, ensures the 5.0 Clip shoes stay put during the roughest of riding. Leatt has a whole range of shoes, offering both clipless and flat pedal versions, with the 1.0 being entry-level and the 5.0 being their premium shoe.

Mountain Bike Shoe FAQs

We've already provided you with a lot of information, but you may still have some questions. So here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about mountain bike shoes.

Do I Need Special Shoes for Mountain Biking?

In all honesty, mountain bike shoes are not essential. A decent pair of flat shoes like skate shoes will get you started. However, they won't give you the impact protection, superior grip, and control of a proper pair of mountain bike shoes. So if you want to take your riding to the next level, a pair of mountain bike shoes will help you a lot.

Also, if you like the idea of being clipped to your pedals, you have no choice but to choose a pair of clipless mountain bike shoes.

What Kind of Shoes Should I Mountain Bike In?

Your mountain bike shoes will depend on your preferences and experience. If you feel like you want to be able to put a foot down or jump off the bike in an emergency, a pair of flat mountain bike shoes are best. This is why they're popular with beginners, but experienced mountain bikers often stick to flats because they prefer them.

However, a clipless setup is better if you want to feel secure on your pedals and have better pedal efficiency.

What Should I Look For in Cycling Shoes?

First, you need to decide on going for flats or clipless. Then you need to look at the various features offered by the different brands to see what suits you.

For example, if you're a cross country rider, you may want stiffer soles on clipless mountain bike shoes. This will give you more power transfer, making your pedaling more efficient. 

Alternatively, you may want shoes that work well when off the bike, so you can hike trails or session jumps. In this case, you may want flat pedal shoes with lots of grip on the soles.

Is it OK to Use MTB Shoes on a Road Bike?

Using MTB shoes on a road bike is possible, and you'll realize that they are very comfortable, at least to start off with. However, your pedaling efficiency will be reduced, and you may experience hot spots during longer rides. They are also heavier and warmer, so they may not be the best choice for you if you can help it.

Can You Wear Hiking Boots for Mountain Biking?

You can wear hiking boots for mountain biking, but we don't recommend it. Hiking boots have thicker soles, isolating you from the feedback you typically get through the pedals. This would mean that your riding performance will be negatively affected. Also, the chunkiness of the tread won't work well with the pins on your pedals, causing your feet to slip off.

If you're a beginner and don't have mountain bike shoes yet, it's better to start with some skate shoes or an alternative with flat soles.

Can You Bike in Hiking Shoes?

Hiking shoes are not the best choice for mountain biking. They reduce the feel with the pedals, and your grip is compromised. However, if that's all you have, it's better than nothing; just be careful.

With all this information, you should have a good idea about how to choose mountain bike shoes. Why not browse our full selection of mountain bike shoes to find your perfect pair?

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