How important are your riding shoes? Are you brand loyal or do you look for specific features? How often do you buy a new pair? How important is cost?
For me, I tend to go through about two pairs of mountain bike shoes a year. On average, I ride 3-5 days a week, and do about 5 races a year. Adding on to that, I find that with every multi-day race I have done, such as Trans Provence, I thoroughly trash at least one pair of shoes to bring my total up to three. I am not brand loyal per se, but I am picky. I have been riding with the Giro Sica VR70 the past couple seasons and I run the Shimano SH-MW7 shoes in the winter months. The most important features I look for in a shoe are: fit, stiffness (yes please), durability (will it last), style (does it look good), and cost.
All six pairs of shoes I tested for this short-term review are clipless - meaning no flats. I know there is a huge need for a comprehensive review of flat MTB specific shoes for women, but that's not my cup of tea: I've been clipped into my bike since I was 15. Take note that these are short-term review's for spring/summer riding conditions, and while I have had most the shoes for 3-6 months, it would take an entire season to see how well they hold up for a true durability test. So... the primary focus of this review is my (humble) opinion of these six riding shoes on fit, feel, and the pros and the cons. Hopefully this review will help direct you to a shoe that might work for your foot and your riding style.
About the tester: Nikki Rohan stands 5’5” and weighs 135 lbs with a 27.5-inch waist, 37-inch hips, 35-inch chest and wears a size small helmet, size large gloves and EU-41 shoes. She typically falls between a size small and medium, US size 6, and US 8.5 shoe. All testing was done on Shimano PD-M9020 (XTR all mountain/trail pedals) with Shimano SPD cleats. Shimano sent her cleats for each shoe for this review, streamlining the testing process quite a bit. Nikki resides in Hood River, OR with her husband, Colin Meagher, her two kids, a dog, and a grumpy cat.
Women's 2FO ClipLite
$90 USD ($180)
Sizes: EU 36 - 44 (tested EU 41)
Colors: Black/Dark Grey (tested), Indigo/White
The Specialized women's 2FO Cliplite shoes are an ultra-light trail riding/enduro racing shoe designed for smooth pedaling, protection and comfort.
I've had a pair of the 2FO Cliplite shoes since this past fall when I reviewed some Specialized winter apparel. I've spent hours upon hours riding in them by choice because I really like them. The shoes feature two Boa S2-Snap dials and one velcro strap making it easy to customize the shoe to my desired fit: consistent and equal pressure over the top of my foot (I hate pressure points and hot spots). The size 41 fit my totally-average-width foot perfectly, with a little room in the toe box to wiggle my toes. It was super easy to mount my Shimano cleats on the bottom and the cleats had ample clearance on the sides and plenty of movement in the bolts to find my desired position. I didn't notice any issues with dirt or grime getting stuck in the cleat pocket, but I do typically switch to winter shoes in the dark months, so no direct experience with snow or goopy mud.
I hiked a significant amount in these shoes and I didn't notice any heel slip, which is key to avoiding blisters on big ass days out in the mountains. The traction on the bottom seemed sufficient for climbing around on rocks and hard surfaces - Specialized's SlipNot rubber sole technology provides confident traction (or as I like to say, reduces undesired rock skating). These shoes are super comfortable, and offer both a stiff sole for pedal power and a nice cushioned midsole that makes it comfortable to wander around town. Thanks to the asymmetric toe box protection, I feel confident I could kick a rock (or crash toe first into a giant boulder) and my big toe would come out unscathed.
They are not the lightest of the review, but when you are talking about 40ish grams per shoe ( a bit less than 2 ounces) it's pretty insignificant unless you're a gram counting weight weenie.
The only slightly annoying thing I noticed on this shoe is that the individual loops on the Boa come off the hook when loosened enough to remove the shoe, which means I have to slip them back on the loop before tightening them back up. Minor annoyance. All in all, this is one of my favorites and a top choice for all-day adventures, enduro racing on technical terrain, or just everyday trail riding. They are light yet durable, stiff but comfortable, offer good traction in dry conditions, are easy to clean off after stomping in mud puddles, and (most importantly!) they look good. At the current sale price of $90, these shoes are a steal.
Sizes: EU 37-47 (tested EU 40)
Colors: Ruby Rad (tested), Black, Blue Nights, Ocean Blue, Nebula Grey
The Ion Rascal is a clipless shoe for "freeride shenanigans." Unlike the other shoes in this review, the Rascal is not a women's specific design, and is not a lightweight enduro machine. That being said, the shoe features a reinforced toe cap (for rock kicking), laser cut ventilation for breathability, a little extra ankle protection, a "SupTraction" sole, and a SerpenTie strap to dial in the fit. The shoe comes in 5 awesome colors and is compatible with all common SPD type pedal systems.
Based on the size chart and knowledge that the shoe was not women's specific, I tested the Rascal in size EU 40.
The fit was surprisingly perfect - I had a little wiggle room in the toe box and despite looking somewhat bulky, the shoe was not overly wide for my feet. The SerpenTie strap system (laces under a single velcro wrap), allowed me to tighten down the shoe for a solid fit. I didn't run into any issues mounting my cleats on these shoes and there was ample room to move them up and down for positioning and I was able to clip in and out without issue. The sole of this shoe uses a technology Ion calls SupTraction Rubber Soul (30% rubber, 55% EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), and 15% PA (phylone)) and off-the-bike traction felt solid and tacky on all the surfaces I tested this shoe on.
When these shoes arrived I wasn't 100% sure I was going to include them in this round of testing as they were a back-up option if another company didn't come through. However, after I opened the box and tried them on, there was no way I was going to pass on the Rascals. They may not fit into the nice tidy box of enduro-specific shoes that I tend to ride in, but they are a stylish and logical riding option for lots of women. The extra ankle protection and bulk is a nice feature, especially if you tend to bump your feet and ankles on rocks or crank arms. I could see these being particularly useful for someone transitioning from flats to clips. There is a period during that transition where those riders clip in and out A LOT, as well as ride on the platform clipped out when they get nervous, so, padding, bulk and a nice flat surface is a good thing during that transition, and these shoes have it.
For me, the Rascals offered a measured stiffness that matched well with my pedal stroke. My feet didn't get sore on long descents and I felt confident hammering through rocky technical terrain. They didn't have the stiffest sole out of all the shoes I tested, but were stiff enough for most the trail riding I do -- I really only run into feet issues when I am out on rides that are longer than 4 hours. To summarize: the Rascals are comfortable (the 2K insoles provide good support and cush), durable, stylish and (the best part) they make me oh-so-slightly taller thanks to an extra thick sole.
Women's X-ALP Elevate
Sizes: EU 36-43 (tested EU 41)
Colors: Cayenne/Port (tested), Black/Black
The Women's X-ALP Elevate is Pearl Izumi's "perfect" all-mountain shoe - from scouting lines, to hike-a-bike adventures in rough terrain, to all day pedal fests. They feature an aggressive, lugged Vibram outsole, a lightweight EVA midsole, a BOA IP1 dial and a 3-layer bonded seamless upper design. The shoe comes in two colors, is compatible with SPD style clips, and has a uniquely rugged non-feminine look.
I tested the X-Alp Elevate in EU 41. The shoe was a good length - I could wiggle my toes and just barely feel the end, and the Boa IP1 dial was really efficient and easy to use. The shoe felt like it had the widest insole of any shoes I tested, and as a result I did notice a little heel slip. It didn't matter how tight I cranked the shoes down, the heel cup was a little big for my foot, which was mostly noticeable when I was pushing my bike uphill. The shoe was stiff enough for all day rides, but thanks to the EVA midsole was also cushy and comfortable.
Out of all the shoes I tested, the lugged Vibram "Megagrip" outsole on this shoe had the best traction.
Dry, or wet, I felt confident scrambling up rocks with my bike in tow thanks to the Vibram lugged rubber sole. I packed these shoes on a trip to Utah and wore them on a couple long, XC style rides in fairly hot temperatures. They breathed well and I didn't notice any hot spots or pressure points.
Time and again Peal Izumi impresses me with their designs and high quality products. This shoe is no exception, and has everything you want in an all-mountain shoe bundled up in a lightweight and competitively priced package.
Sizes: EU 36-44 (tested EU 41)
Colors: Black-Magenta (tested), Gray-Mint
The Shimano ME3 women's mountain bike shoe is a versatile trail shoe designed to perform and function flawlessly on and off the bike. The shoe features Shimano's TORBAL midsole, low-profile reverse buckle and cross straps, a lightweight rubber outsole, glass fiber reinforced midsole, and a women's specific fit. Shimano's TORBAL technology (torsional balance) is designed to improve balance and bike control by letting the heel section of the shoe accommodate some lateral movement (i.e. flex in the back section of the sole).
I tested the ME3 in a size EU 41. Unlike the Shimano winter shoes that I have to size down in, the women's specific size EU 41 fit my US 8.5 foot perfectly. The shoe was wide enough to comfortably fit my foot, but at the same time it was narrow enough that it had that low profile non-bulky feel. The reverse buckle and cross straps were a breath of fresh air from all the different boa systems I had to figure out (take note that they all work differently), and I really liked the fit I could get with the straps: not too loose, not too tight. My only complaint is that the middle strap is a little long and the end of it would hit my bike frame on each pedal stroke. It may have been user error and all I needed to do was push the strap down more tightly on the velcro, but it happened enough times that I just shortened the strap a wee bit - instructions not included.
Despite the pink accents most of my friends agreed that the ME3 is a really good looking shoe. The Michelin branded rubber outsole with its dual-density rubber and strategic lug placement offered good traction on a variety of slick surfaces, but wasn't as comfortable wandering about town in them as I was in some of the the flatter soled shoes in the review. On the bike it's nice and stiff, yet the midsole is quite comfortable, allowing me to hammer on my pedals without foot fatigue. The shoe offered good heel retention when pushing my bike up steep sections of trail and they breathed well enough that my socks remained dry.
For a competitive price, the ME3 is easily one of my top picks for an everyday trail riding shoe. It's durable, comfortable, lightweight, and offered one of the better designs for getting a solid fit. I might not want to kick a rock in these shoes, or bar hop for hours after a ride, but I feel confident they would last through an entire season of riding French switchbacks-of-death (applicants willing to pay me to test that theory can message me directly).
Women's Outcross Plus
Sizes: EU 36-43 (tested EU 40)
Colors: Black (tested)
The Northwave Outcross Plus women's shoe is an everyday trail shoe for the everyday female rider. It has a SLW2 dial to adjust the fit, with 2 asymmetrical straps, a Michelin rubber tread, an "Explorer" sole with calibrated stiffness, and a 3D mesh upper coated with a wear-resistant film. The male version has been reviewed by the "bros" in just about every online mountain publication you can think of, but I figured, why not give it a try? There are only so many words to describe shoes, so no promises that mine are unique.
This was the only women's specific shoe that I had to size down in (Northwave tends to run large; my husband who typically wears a size 44 in most shoes wears a 43 and sometimes a 42.5 in their shoes). I had received a size EU 41 late last fall and they were waaaay too big, so I requested a smaller size for this review. The EU 40 was comfortably snug with enough room to happily move my toes. The SLW2 dial along wit the 2 asymmetrical straps offers a fantastic fit, but note that the retention dial wasn't super intuitive; I had to read the instructions.
The shoe has a nice platform for cleats with plenty of room for fore and aft placement.
I tested the shoe in a mix of conditions and the Michelin tread offered confident traction on rocks and slick dirt. On hot days the upper material was super breathable and I never felt my feet get overly toasty. If you've made it this far into the review, you should note this is the shoe I was wearing when I accidentally crashed/ kicked my foot into a rock. The shoe has what I would call minimal padding in the toe box, and while my big toe didn't fair so well, the shoe didn't show so much as a mark.
The Outcross offers a little more flex in the sole than some of the other brands I tested, but not so much as to detract from performance: I didn't notice any foot fatigue on long test rides and I felt like I had good power on the pedal. And on a plus note, that small amount of extra flex and cushioning in the midsole made for a super comfortable shoe when walking around off the bike. This Italian creation is a solid trail riding option. I would definitely consider sizing down if you run on the larger end of a specific size, but otherwise, this is a great shoe that offers a little extra comfort on top of a super durable design.
Women's Empire VR90
Sizes: 36-43 (tested EU 41)
Colors: Berry/Bright Pink, Black/Marble Galaxy (tested)
The W's Empire VR90 is Giro's lightest and most comfortable performance trail riding shoe. The shoe features an Easton EC90 full carbon outsole with Vibram rubber tread, an Evofiber breathable upper, and a SuperNatural Fit footbed. What does all that mean? Lots of design and technology wrapped up in a lightweight pretty little shoe that makes my foot feel like a bat out of hell.
I tested the Empire lace shoe in a EU 41 which fit my foot perfectly. It's important to note that the Giro website directed me to a size EU 40 as a US 8.5. However, about two years ago, Giro changed their insoles, and I noticed that their shoes got noticeably tighter, so I sized up from a 40.5 to a 41. Now that I have relegated myself to whole sizes for Giro I find the EU 41 is generally is the correct size for me. The shoe has a narrow cut but isn't too narrow... a better term might be sleek. The laces allow for a precise fit which spread pressure evenly over the top of the foot.
I definitely beat the crap out of the Empires. We spent two full days in southern Utah riding and shooting on Gooseberry and Grafton Mesas and the shoes impressed me with their solid grip, good heel retention for hike-a-biking, and comfortable midsole (particularly for repeated short hikes). Due to the stiff sole, I limited my testing to bike riding and trail wandering, and not pub crawling. As you can tell in the photo, the material does scuff up a bit on the rocks and the carbon sole shows a bit of wear, but that is true of just about every shoe I tested, and from a durability standpoint, unless you're frequently kicking rocks, I'm confident these would hold up well to a season or two of typical on-the-bike thrashing.
Bottom line - this is one of Giro's most popular selling shoe for a reason: for a hefty price tag you get one of the lightest, all-mountain shoes on the market, with a super stiff yet comfortable sole, and with laces (that come in many different colors) for a precise fit. And they will make you look oh so pro (if that's your thing). I'm hoarding mine for special occasions.