Gravel is the fastest growing cycling discipline in the world right now and, as a result, it has ushered in a host of gravel-specific clothing, components and accessories. The best gravel bike shoes are a case in point - they combine the very best attributes from both the road and mountain bike categories. This guide will focus on bringing you the very best options across the burgeoning gravel bike shoe segment as well as answer any questions you have about off-road shoes in general.
Although some of the more race-orientated gravel bike shoes may resemble their road-biased cousins, gravel shoes are intended for off-road escapades and that places a different demand on footwear. While some of the best mountain bike shoes are more than up to the task, shoes designed for road cycling won't make the cut based on their rigid soles and wide cleats which aren't designed for walking or effectively dealing with hike-a-bike off-road portages.
Mountain bike shoes are closely related to the best gravel bike shoes thanks to both disciplines utilising the same clipless pedal interface. This means, that while you can still use a gravel-specific shoe, mountain bike shoes can also be used to great effect - and you may even notice some of the best gravel shoes listed here are actually designed for cross-country mountain biking.
Depending on your interpretation of gravel riding, the best gravel bike shoes strike an essential balance between all-day comfort and protection at the heel and toe from trail obstacles and flying debris. Another key attribute to a shoe suited for gravel biking is a sole that offers good power transfer to allow for pedalling efficiency on these longer rides and yet still gives the shoe enough flex at the toe for comfort while walking (on all terrain) and relaxing around camp.
There are a number of different closures from the robust velcro strap option to the classic styling of laces. At the premium end of the market, you will see the use of wire closure systems like Boa, the benefit of these designs is that they ensure even pressure wrapping around your foot. Some brands offer gravel-specific shoes that use a combination of systems to adjust how much the shoe hugs the contours and shape of your feet. The heel cup combined with the closure system and the design of the upper materials will dramatically affect the fit and comfort of any shoe designed for off-road riding.
It's important to check out all the suggested gravel bike shoes in this guide as they have been extensively put through their paces by our team of expert testers and rated according to their performance and stiffness. If there is a shoe you want to know more about, just hit the link in the lists below to jump straight to that shoe on this page or scroll down to read the guide at the bottom of the page that will answer.
Best gravel bike shoes
The Bont Riot MTB+ is a very stiff, competition-orientated shoe that's light and comes with custom moulding options, although the Boa is a bit basic for the price. They might carry the mountain bike tag, but they're great for gravel riding and the terrain at hand. The stiff platform really suits fast riding, and anyone coming over from road will find the feel comfortingly familiar.
The Giro Ventana Fastlace is a clipless off-road shoe that works excellently whether you're a gravel rider or a light trail smasher. While it makes for a comfortable, cool summer choice that’s easy to get on and off, the tread isn’t grippy enough for the mixed conditions of the equally mixed UK weather – this really is a summer-only gravel bike shoe.
The Specialized Recon 1.0 mountain bike shoe is a versatile and lightweight trail shoe that happily takes on gravel riding, too. Utilising a velcro-only retention system, the Recons are good fitting and provide all-day comfort. If you're looking for an affordable shoe armed with enough credibility to tackle off-road riding than the Specialized Recon 1.0 shoe is definitely worth a look.
Following on from the release of its GRX groupset, Shimano has continued down the gravel route with these new Shimano RX8 SPD shoes. A stiff, lightweight-yet-rugged shoe, it blends a super-stiff sole with the a tread base that will help in situations where riders need to dismount and walk. Despite the hefty price tag, they are perfectly capable on road as they are off-road, and are one of our favourites in the best gravel bike shoe category.
The Scott MTB Comp Boa Reflective shoes are a new version of Scott’s well-priced MTB Comp Boa shoes, helping you be seen in the dark while not looking out of place on daytime rides. Available for both men and women, the shoes are good value and have proved to be a hardy gravel and cross-country shoes. As with a number of the options listed they're able to double up for gravel bike use, the Scott MTB Comp Boa Reflective shoes represent superb value for money.
Quoc’s Gran Tourer is a unique-looking lace-up gravel, touring and adventure shoe. It’s a stylish design, there's a slight pattern to the dark grey upper that contrasts nicely with the traditional rubber-coloured sole and the protective black bumper. While not cheap, they do repay with superb comfort while perfectly up for the task when you need to put down the power and feel the need for speed.
The Specialized S-Works Recon shoes provide stunning performance and first-class fit, which makes them ideally suited to fast-paced and demanding mountain bike, gravel and adventure cyclists. They don’t come cheap, but if you can afford them, they are probably one of the best gravel bike shoes available right now.
Fizik's X5 Terra is a stylish, sleek and comfortable shoe with a sole that is stiff enough for big power efforts yet still comfortable on long rides. They’re slightly narrow, but the upper forms well to the foot and they're pretty durable, too. We suggest trying them on before making the purchase. That said, they're one of our favourite options in the category.
The Giro Empire blueprint has proved successful for the American brand across all cycling disciplines. The shoe borrows all the best bits from the road-specific option - so it's incredibly comfortable and supportive yet stiff enough for efficient pedalling without killing your feet. Factor in the ventilation levels, durable nature and ultra-stylish aesthetics and there's a lot to like here.
The Fizik Infinito X1 shoes are incredibly stiff for maximum power transfer, ideal for gravel racers and pedal thrashers that don't want to give away precious power to a flexy sole, and the highly adjustable Boa dial arrangement and fit provide great comfort. Not so impressive is the high price, but if you can afford them they are a good choice.
The Gaerne Hurricane MTB shoes offer a good fit and are a lightweight pair of kicks, with the looks on point and the balance of comfort and pedalling efficiency needed for gravel riding. They are well made and deliver a decent level of performance presenting a good shoe for reasonable money. While listed as another mountain bike-specific shoe they are equally up for the task when it comes to gravel cycling.
As far as winter-specific gravel bike shoes go, the Bontrager's JFW Winter shoes will protect your feet from cold, grotty weather. They’re very well made, offering a roomy toe box, secure foothold and a sole that is balanced between pedalling stiffness and walkability. We just wish that they were totally waterproof.
The Fizik Artica X5 shoe is a relatively stiff shoe that is built to keep racers and long distance cyclists riding through the winter. It is warm, waterproof and easy to clean off in the aftermath of a muddy gravel ride. This is a great shoe for gravel riders and mountain bikers alike, where the sleek profile suits either genre of riding.
Keeping dry and warm is a challenge during winter but Fizik's Terra Artica X2 shoe does an excellent job of keeping your feet protected, with a toasty warmness that lasts long into the ride. The tread is rugged and easy to walk in with an agreeable level of flex, but these sit at the premium end of the market and they're a serious investment.
How to choose the best gravel bike shoes
Can I wear mountain bike shoes for gravel rides?
The best mountain bike shoes will do the job just fine, especially shoes designed for the riggors of winter conditions. The pedal/cleat compatibility and walking grip are shared across either genre. There is no reason that an XC race mountain bike shoe wouldn't be well suited to gravel racing but not the other way around - especially when talking bona fide gravel bike shoes. Modern XC races may require slightly more protection, and most gravel bike shoes favour ventilation over outright coverage.
What about road shoes for gravel riding?
Road shoes are usually incredibly stiff and lack compliance focussing more on pure pedalling efficiency than all-round useability. The stiffness, lack of tread blocks, sole grip and wide cleats mean that grip is limited and flex non-existent - making it almost impossible to walk properly, especially in an off-road setting. Grit and mud will likely cause some clogging resulting in you struggling to get the cleat to clip in and engage with the pedal. Road shoes usually offer little to no protection or bumpers - so you've been warned.
Is it worth fitting studs for gravel riding?
Studs are commonplace in the steep gradients and muddy racing of gravel's cousin, cyclo-cross. There certainly wouldn't be much call for studs during the peak summer months (even in the UK) but if your rides are away from graded gravel paths and are truly on mixed surfaces during the wetter months, they might be a worthy consideration.
Which retention system is best - Boa, lace or velcro?
Gravel bike shoe retention is a truly personal preference; it isn't a one system fits all. For the more leisurely paced or bikepacking adventurer, the racy aesthetics of a Boa system might be eschewed in favour of laces. Laces are not as easy to adjust on the fly, not t mention coming loose during extending walking. Cost is another major consideration as the Boa systems are normally on the higher-end premium models.
What size shoe is best for gravel riding?
We recommend heading to your local bike shops to try as many shoes on in different sizes at your price point to help make the decision. Just like any other shoe, there can be small differences in both the length and width across brands.
The fit of the best gravel shoes will depend upon the shape and size of your feet. The type and amount of material used in the construction of the upper, combined with the closure system will determine the amount the shoe pulls in and hugs your foot. That said, don't assume that pulling in a closure system really tight will make up for a poorly fitting shoe - this might cause hot spots and blisters, curtailing any plans for a long day out in the grit.
The shoe should hug your foot, not constrict it like a python. You want the heel cup and closure system to hold your foot and it shouldn't slip. You want to be able to walk without your foot pulling out from the shoe.
Some shoes require a break-in period, especially with leather-constructed uppers.
Width is a major consideration as well as the length of the shoe. Some brands offer gravel shoes in half sizes as well as catering for wider footed riders. Also, in some shoes from brands such as Specialized, the inner sole can be adjusted to fine-tune the fit once the width and length have been selected.
Should gravel shoes have stiff soles?
The ability and need to walk or dismount is dependent upon your interpretation of the genre of gravel. It is the combination of the compliance of the sole plate and the construction of the upper that allows the shoe to flex so the toe area can bend enough for you to walk. This will ultimately depend on what gravel riding means to you and your riding location.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, gravel racers demand a different style of shoe from a casual rider who rides mostly on country roads that are blanketed in mud. They might only occasionally take to the dirt or are looking for gravel bike shoes with relaxed styling and generous comfort levels.
In the UK, ‘gravel’ is more likely to mean a mixed surface or all-road ride that incorporates country lanes, graded gravel on forestry fire roads, and bridleways that might be frequently used by mountain bikers and are punctuated by gates, short steep climbs and technical features. A shoe that offers some flex and compliance would allow better toe grip and increased walking comfort.
In countries with vast open expanses such South Africa, Australia and the US, the idea of gravel represents more well-maintained and graded gravel roads stretching for hundreds of miles - so pure pedalling efficiency and a stiffer sole would be more beneficial.
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