7 Trail Shoes Tested & Reviewed

by
November 4, 2017

Right, just before we go any further, let’s set one thing straight. From now on, we’re going to be calling any kind of pedal that uses a clip mechanism with bolt-on cleats a ‘clip in pedal’. Likewise, we’ll be referring to accompanying footwear as ‘clip in shoes’. There’s history behind where the term ‘clipless pedals’ came from, but quite frankly, it’s such an outdated, contradictory and confusing term that we’re happy to leave it where it belongs in the past.

Alrighty, got that? Excellent. Now we can get on with things then..

So clip-in shoes and pedals for mountain biking. They’ve been around for a healthy amount of time now. In fact, it was 1990 when Shimano first launched the M737 pedal. Bringing the Shimano Pedalling Dynamics (SPD) system to the mountain bike market, those pedals set off a revolution in the off-road world that would allow riders to clip into their pedals via a metallic cleat bolted onto the underside of the shoe. With a little twist of the shoe however, that cleat would promptly pop out of its binding to release rider from bike. 27 years later, and the fundamental design hasn’t changed. Shimano is still using the same 2-bolt SPD cleat standard as it did back in 1990, which to be honest, is an amazing achievement for the mountain bike industry.

spd clip shoes pedals giro bontrager mavic ion shimano
Which shoes to get? We’ve tested seven pairs of trail-oriented clip-in shoes to give you the lowdown.

The type of bikes and trails we ride has changed just a little bit in that time though. We now have suspension, tyres that don’t feel like cardboard, and head angles slacker than 71°. And so while the clip-in concept remains the same, the hardware and footwear has evolved accordingly. No longer is it necessary to run overly stiff tap-dancing race shoes just because you choose to run clip-in pedals. Now there are chunkier, more comfortable skate-style shoes that have been born on the steepest, gnarliest racecourses in World Cup Downhill racing, while lighter weight trail shoes have spawned beefier versions with added protection and stickier rubber soles to help improve usability off road.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve tested and reviewed a variety of these clip-in trail shoes that offer a little more heft and a little more protection than your average XC race shoe. In the market for some new kicks? Then here’s seven to check out, along with links to read each review in full as you please.

1. Bontrager Rhythm

bontrager rhythm trail spd shoe cleat
The Rhythm is a beefed-up version of Bontrager’s Cambion shoe, with a full rubber outsole and ankle protection.
Bontrager Rhythm Features
  • inForm Pro last delivers an ergonomically optimized, high-performance fit
  • Carbon-reinforced, internal nylon plate with
  • Full Tachyon rubber outsole
  • Boa IP1 dial for precise, two-way adjustment
  • Stiffness index 7 of 14
  • GnarGuard outer protection fights away trail brush and debris
  • Size tested: 45
  • Sizes available: 39 – 48
  • Colours: Orange/Black and Black/Gum
  • Confirmed weight: 508g (single shoe without cleat)
giant trance 1 wil calderdale packhorse rodwell end
The Rhythm’s are a stiff and efficient shoe with excellent stability underfoot.

“The Rhythm is designed for use with clipless pedals, and so it’s built with a carbon-reinforced nylon shank for stiff pedalling performance. There’s a BOA IP1 dial for making quick adjustments while in the saddle, and the upper is reinforced with the sweet-sounding GnarGuard to protect your tootsies when it all goes tits-up…Read the full review here.

2. Giro Chamber

giro chamber spd shoe
Aaron Gwin’s race shoe of choice, the Giro Chambers use a much more casual-style upper with laces and a velcro strap.
Giro Chamber Features
  • Skate Style Upper
  • Lace-up design with Velcro tension strap
  • Internal bootie retention system
  • Dual density Vibram rubber outsole
  • Molded SPD compatible shank
  • Aegis Single Density Footbed
  • Size tested: 44
  • Available sizes: 37 – 48
  • Colours: Blue Jewel/Gum & Black/Gum
  • Confirmed weight: 545g (single shoe without cleat)
giro chamber spd shoes
There’s a nice long cleat channel to help with initial engagement.

The sole is as stiff as you’d expect for a shoe of this type – somewhere between the mozzarella of a pair of old-school Converse and the parmigiano of a set of high-end Sidis. For regular walking, they feel great, with the SPD cleat happily recessed until it’s needed. For scrabbling over rocks and mud, they feel a bit less assured than shoes of chunkier tread. There’s some noticeable heel lift when walking, although the lining is so well padded that I never found this a problem...” Read the full review here.

3. Giro Terraduro Mid

giro terraduro mid spd shoes issue 110
The Mid version of the popular Terraduro uses a scree guard around the ankle.
Giro Terraduro Mid Features
  • High-quality, breathable Evofiber™ microfiber
  • Empire lace system with shroud
  • Rubber toe and heel reinforcement
  • Asymmetric ankle coverage
  • Water sealed cleat opening
  • Updated Vibram ® high-traction lugged outsole
  • Molded EVA footbed with medium arch support
  • Aegis® anti-microbial treatment
  • Size tested: 45
  • Available sizes: 37 – 48
  • Colours: Blue Jewel/Gum & Black/Gum
  • Confirmed weight: 527g (single shoe without cleat)
giro terraduro shoes
Lace-up closure with a storm-flap over the top.

The Mid has a lace cover that keeps the crud out of your laces and much of the water off your feet. There’s another weather-resistant touch in the form of a neoprene scree-guard cuff in addition to a padded inner ankle bone protector. So, in all, a much chunkier looking and feeling shoe to its stablemate…Read the full review here.

4. ION Rascal

ion rascal spd shoes
ION is new to the MTB shoe market, and the Rascal is it’s first clip-in offering.
ION Rascal Features
  • Asymmetric upper with ankle pad protection
  • Lace-up closure with Serpen_Tie Velcro tension strap
  • SupTraction rubber outsole
  • EVA midsole for pedal stability
  • ToeTal Protection with reinforced toe cap
  • 2K dual density insoles
  • Size tested: 44
  • Available sizes: 37 – 47
  • Colours: Black
  • Confirmed weight: 499g (single shoe without cleat)
ion rascal spd shoes
ION collaborated with Suplest to develop the EVA midsole and rubber outsole on the Rascals.

As will be immediately apparent upon first glance, the ION Rascal shoes are no XC race shoe. With their understated style, thick rubber outsoles and reinforced toe boxes, the Rascal SPD shoes are built for the harder side of trail riding. The weight shows it too, with each shoe coming in a hair underneath 500g. However, they’re significantly better at blending in at the cafe or pub during post-ride recovery efforts compared to dainty XC race kicks…Read the full review here.

5. Mavic Deemax Pro

  • Price: £159
  • From: Mavic
mavic deemax spd shoe
Heavy-duty shoes from Mavic that are born for scrambling up steep alpine trails.
Mavic Deemax Pro Features
  • Lace-up closure with additional Velcro strap
  • Asymmetric mid-top upper with ankle protection
  • Reinforced toe and heel caps for protection
  • Energy Grip AM Outsole
  • Index Energy Transfer: 60
  • Open cleat channel fits all standard SPD cleats
  • Contagrip™ rubber compound for walking grip
  • Ortholite cushioned footbeds
  • Size tested: 45 1/3
  • Available sizes: 39 – 49
  • Colours: Black or Yellow/Black
  • Confirmed weight: 553g (single shoe without cleat)
mavic deemax spd shoe wil t-130 rodwell calderdale
With thick padding throughout, the Deemax Pro is a very comfortable shoe for use with clip-in pedals.

Looking to address the different needs of different types of riders, Mavic’s latest mountain bike shoe range splits into three separate categories; XC, Trail and All Mountain. The Deemax shoes slot into the All Mountain category, and feature burly uppers, aggressive rubber outsoles, and a generous mid-top construction that delivers more protection. These aren’t shoes for XC racers and marathon riders – they’re tough SPD boots designed for trail riders, enduro racers and even downhillers...” Read the full review here.

6. Shimano ME7

shimano me7 trail shoes m200 torbal michelin cleat ratchet lace
Shimano’s SPD shoes have evolved over the years, and the ME7 is its latest set of kicks for trail riding.
Shimano ME7 Features
  • Michelin dual-density rubber outsole
  • TORBAL Carbon midsole
  • Longer cleat adjustment range
  • Neoprene ankle scree guard
  • Speed laces
  • Low profile reverse mount buckle
  • Size tested: 45
  • Available sizes: 38 – 48
  • Colours: Black/Blue
  • Confirmed weight: 464g (single shoe without cleat)
shimano me7 trail shoes m200 torbal michelin cleat ratchet lace
The TORBAL midsole delivers excellent power transfer while allowing for just enough give for cutting shapes on the bike.

Once I got the right size, first impressions of the ME7 was that it’s a really, really comfortable shoe. With a thicker footbed and generous padding over the forefoot and around the heel, the ME7 has a cuddly feel not unlike a flat-pedal shoe. The shoes have a mid-top construction, so they come up a little higher over your ankles. A stretchy neoprene scree guard works as an effective extra barrier against debris from making its way inside the shoe, and it also adds to the cuddly feel…Read the full review here.

7. Specialized 2FO Cliplite Lace

specialized 2fo cliplite lace shoes spd
The lightest option in Specialized’s 2FO range, the Cliplite Lace shoe uses a stripped-back design with good ol’ laces.
Specialized 2FO Cliplite Lace Features
  • Landing Strip™ cleat pocket for use with all major MTB pedals
  • Extended length cleat slot (4mm) for rearward cleat set up option
  • Stiff Lollipop™ nylon composite midsole
  • SlipNot™ rubber outsole
  • Cushioned EVA midsole for comfort with molded heel cup for stability
  • Body Geometry sole construction and footbed
  • Standard Fit last for a balance of pedal feel and off-bike comfort
  • Lacelock™ elastic keeps laces out of the chainrings
  • Size tested: 45
  • Available sizes: 39 – 49
  • Colours: Red/Black (tested) and Black/GumBlack/Blue
  • Confirmed weight: 433g (single shoe without cleat)
specialized 2fo shoes
Lightweight and stiff on the bike, comfortable and walkable off it.

The toe box is nice and stiff, and the rubber outsole extends up in front of the big toe to give a little more protection when you accidentally roundhouse-kick a tree or toe-poke a rock. The heel cup is also reassuringly stiff, helping to keep your feet steady inside the shoe even when heaving hard on the pedals. Combined with the ability to reef up on the laces, the curved heel cup means it’s unlikely you’ll experience any unwanted slip…Read the full review here.

Overall

Like helmets and chamois cream, shoes are a tricky thing to test and review, because what may be incredibly comfortable for one rider, may be another rider’s worst enemy. Different widths, volumes and retention systems will alter the fit and feel of each shoe, which means much like a helmet (not so much chamois cream…), you’ll need to try them on before purchasing to ensure you’re getting the right shoe for your tootsies. On the note of fit, you’ll see that I haven’t been testing exactly the same size for each brand and model – even within the Giro range for example, I was a 45 in the Terraduro, and a 44 in the Chamber – go figure.

Other things to factor in are the type of pedals you’re using, and whether the shoe-to-pedal interface can be altered by shimming cleats or using adjustable pins. Not all of these test shoes initially played well with all the pedals I’ve been testing them with, so a bit of tweaking was necessary to get that dialled in.

The shoes that I rate most out of the lot? In terms of comfort and weight, it’s very hard to go past the Shimano ME7 shoe, which is easily the brand’s best trail shoe to date. They’re relatively light, well ventilated, and the storm flap and scree guard work well to keep out debris. On the heavier side of the spectrum, the Mavic Deemax Pro are highly comfortable mid-top trail boots that have super rugged soles and a cosy fit that is well padded, making those the shoes I’d choose for proper alpine riding where added protection is welcome.