Nearly two years ago, Fully Loaded presented the first extensive testing of the best cycling shoe options for for bikepackers. Many bikepackers seem to prefer a unique suite of characteristics in their clipless-compatible footwear: all-day comfort on the bike, a moderately stiff sole that is still comfortable for some [or perhaps extensive] hiking, a tread that provides good grip and bite when off the bike, adequate ventilation and construction that holds up to the rigors of serious adventure. After testing 15 shoes in 2016 (many of which are still being produced), we now tested eight newer models for this review. Quite a few of these newer models owe their development to the explosion of the enduro scene. Enduro-specific shoes tend to have good tread, a more responsive sole and great durability, making some double as fantastic shoes for big single- and multi-day rides.

Testing of these kicks involved the full range of riding that bikepackers may encounter--long days on gravel roads, rugged mountain trails with more hiking than pedaling, strenuous week-long trips that were particularly hard on the body, heatwaves and rainy spells. This brought out both the highlights and shortcomings of the different shoes. We share our opinions about each model and for what sort of riding experience they are best suited. The characteristics we evaluated are explained below, and a summary chart with all the shoes from both years of testing can be found here (include link to PDF data chart).

Riding Performance and Comfort

The longer your day in the saddle, the more important it is to have a shoe that's comfortable for your foot. For on-the-bike performance, we evaluated the fit of each shoe, its closure system and sole stiffness. More flexible soles are great for hiking, but they're less efficient for pedaling and can cause foot fatigue and bruising. We found that, in general, ratchet buckles, dials and hook-and-loop straps were the most comfortable, efficient and easily-adjustable closure systems.

Hiking Performance and Comfort

The combination of a loaded bike, tired legs and challenging terrain often makes pushing your bike easier than riding, if pedaling is even a possibility. To evaluate the performance of these shoes for hike-a-bike, we did just that. The most comfortable shoes for hiking generally have a rubberized sole with good traction, a somewhat flexible sole in front of where a cleat mounts, a slightly broader footprint for better traction and stability and perhaps extra padding in the footbed. Shoes with an inflexible sole tend to be much less comfortable for hiking, and conversely, shoes with too flexible a sole often are less comfortable for sustained pedaling. Reviewers found that shoes with a sole stiffness of three to four (on our scale of one to five) are a great choice for bikepacking trips with a fair share of hiking, and stiffer shoes are, as expected, best for longer days on gravel roads or pavement.

Durability

The downfall of some hike-a-bike-friendly shoes is that the tread material or construction doesn't hold up to the abuse of actually hiking. Soft lugs can get chewed away and tear off, and multi-layer soles can begin to peel apart. The upper part of the shoe also needs to stand up to the rigors of bikepacking.

Ventilation

No one wants their feet to bake inside a damp shoe on a hot day, right? Counter-intuitively, there seems to be a trend in the world of riding toward less breathable shoes. Mesh panels are being replaced by uppers perforated by just a small number of pinholes. This leads to uncomfortably hot feet during warm-weather riding. Hopefully more shoe designers will recognize this shortfall and return to include more breathable materials in new shoes designs.

Our Top Picks

Our favorite shoes from this test are the Lake MX 168 Enduro, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate and the Northwave Outcross Plus. The latter two are available in both men’s and women’s versions. These three models would join the Northwave Spider 2 from previous testing at the top of the bikepacking-friendly shoe heap.

Lake MX 168 Enduro | $180

The MX 168 features a floating Boa dial (easily replaceable should it fail), two hook-and-loop straps, a very grippy and durable rubber tread and incredibly sturdy construction that both holds up to serious abuse and provides some serious toe protection. This shoe may feel a bit wide for riders with a narrow foot. If wide is your style, an even wider version is available. The wide sole translates to an incredibly stable platform for hiking on loose, rocky trails and making a stylish landing when bailing off the bike in the rough. The wider toe box also minimizes constriction during long days on the bike. But be careful where you leave these shoes overnight--rodents seem to like gnawing on them. Another version of this shoe, simply called the MX 168, minimizes some of the bulk in the uppers and the tread and looks a bit more like a burly cross-country shoe.

Find out more here.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate | $180

The newest member of Pearl's long-standing line of X-Alp adventure-oriented shoes, the Elevate represents a step forward in terms of tread durability on X-Alp models. The Vibram tread offers great traction and stability and held up well, staying entirely adhered to the sole (some older X-Alp models suffered from delamination along the edges). A nylon and carbon composite shank keeps the sole moderately stiff while still flexing in a way to allow for comfortable hiking. After a few months of very heavy use, the tread did show some minor signs of cracking at the front edge of the shank. Testing of these shoes included racing the full 750-mile length of the Arizona Trail, including the 23-mile trek across Grand Canyon with a bike strapped to a backpack. The shoe performed admirably. This shoe is well-suited for any type of bikepacking adventure, although it’s ideal for cooler temperatures due to relatively poor ventilation. They are also on the narrower side (hence the small cuts visible in the photo to relieve some pressure on the pinky toe during the Arizona Trail Race).

Find out more here.

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Northwave Outcross Plus | $160

The Outcross Plus is designed for riders embarking on long rides on very rugged trails. And the shoe fits the bill for just that. The big Michelin rubber lugs on the sole provide both good grip and bite into loose surfaces very effectively. The shoe's flex at the mid-sole makes for comfortable hiking, but beneath the pedal, the shoe feels notably stiffer (but not nearly as stiff as a stiff carbon-soled shoe). The sole also showed few signs of wear after our extensive testing. The uppers are made of a material that resembles a rubberized mesh--it's durable and resistant to abrasion, but it doesn’t breath particularly well and the pinholes may not provide adequate ventilation for riding in hot weather. Overall, this shoe is well suited as for virtually any type of bikepacking adventure.

Find out more here.

Shimano ME3 | $120

For riders looking for an XC-style shoe that fits snugly, hikes moderately well and feels efficient while pedaling, look no further than the ME3 from Shimano. Designed for serious off-road riding, the Torbal sole offers torsional flex at the mid-foot while maneuvering the bike, is quite stiff above the pedal for a nylon-soled shoe, but the sole flexes enough while hiking that the heel cup stays right where it should. The shoe dries very quickly, holds up to abuse moderately well, and sells for the reasonable price of $120.

Find out more here.

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Other Shoes

Five Ten Hellcat | $150

The Hellcat is a relaxed-fit shoe with a moderately stiff sole and a tread made of Five Ten's famous Stealth C4 rubber. The shoe is comfortable for pedaling, it hikes well and offers substantial stability. Interestingly, the sticky rubber provides abundant traction on slickrock but on gravely surfaces, the shallow lugs did not offer much bite. The environment within the shoe also gets uncomfortable in hot weather as ventilation is minimal.

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Mavic XA Pro | $180

This shoe is the lightest of any in this review, and the broad mesh panels make it a very airy shoe. It feels almost like a minimalist running shoe while hiking. While pedaling, flexibility in the sole means pressure from the pedal can be felt. On a larger clipless-pedal platform, that pressure becomes less noticeable. The shoe has the tallest ankle collar of any in the test, so riders with bony ankles may want to consider other options. For anyone looking for a lightweight warm-weather shoe, the XA Pro a great option.

Find out more here.

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Sidi Epic| $120

Sidi's adventure-oriented Epic features the narrow, foot-hugging fit for which the brand is known, tall rubberized lugs, a lace-up design with a simple hook-and-loop closure and quick-drying uppers. The moderately flexible sole feels a bit more comfortable while hiking than riding due to pressure from the pedal. Overall, the shoe's comfort fell short of many of the other models in this test. The absence of any padding in the sole combined with a very thin insole makes for a very firm footbed and seams in the heel cup caused some minor discomfort even after the shoe was well broken in. This shoe is best suited for less-demanding bikepacking endeavors and day rides that include only short sections of hike-a-bike.

Find out more here.

Mavic Deemax Pro | $180

This all-mountain shoe has an aggressive sole, a mesh-covered toe, a well-padded ankle collar and a vibration-absorbent footbed. Although the shoe is incredibly stable both on and off the bike, the footbed had an inwardly-canted feel, increasing the pronation of the rider's ankles. For riders who don't mind this sensation, the Deemax Pro is well-suited for rugged backcountry trips.

Find out more here.

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