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Bikepacking Shoes – What Should I Wear?

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

When you come from a road riding background you get used to a very particular type of shoe and cleat system. Whether it is SPD or SPD-SL you know what it feels like, you know how it works, and you know how awkward it is to walk on any surface!

They are made for a very particular purpose and they are definitely not made for walking around the supermarket trying to buy drinks and snacks whilst also making sure you don’t slip to your death.

You have the very firm plastic / carbon sole with the cleats protruding from the base. Not only do you have to worry about slipping you also have to worry about not looking like you have soiled yourself due to how you’re walking. All this whilst performing a Bambi on ice routine. Not even me in my finest lycra can make this situation look good… and I look good in lycra!

So with all of this considered why did it take me so long to think about what shoes I would need for bikepacking?! Not only that but what about the pedals to accompany the new shoes… More shopping was going to be needed!

So if you’ve got this far and all of these letters mean nothing to you then I’ll quickly explain the difference. The SPD-SL cleats are the bigger (red and grey) triangular looking ones on my road shoes. The SPD cleats are the small silver looking ones on my Giro MTB trainers. Pictures are down below, keep going!

I did consider just using my road shoes and some SPD-SL pedals but the more I thought about it the less sense it made. It might be great for riding but it was definitely going to cause me issues when finding a place to camp. Not being able to walk properly was going to be a bit of a problem should I need to get off the bike and push it through a field or through some woodland.

However, before I go any further I should probably explain what some of these cleats, pedals, and shoes look like.

Let’s start with my road shoes and pedals. I have Fizik Tempo shoes, Look Keo Grip cleats, and some Favero Assioma dual sided power pedals. This is my set up for my beautiful Trek Emonda SLR7. Some of what I’ve written there might mean nothing to you, so I’ve taken some pictures to give you an idea of what all of this looks like.

SPD-SL Cleats

Fizik Tempo Powerstrap Shoes & Look Keo Cleats (SPD-SL)

Favero Assioma Duo Pedals

Favero Assioma Duo Power Pedals

SPD-SL Shoe and cleat

Easy to see how walking is not so easy…

So as you can see – they are made for riding your bike and riding your bike only. Shopping trips, pushing a bike through a field, or running after a bus are not within their remit. So what was I going to do? Internet here I come!

After a bit of searching around I had decided on the shoe I wanted. I went for the Giro Rumble VR MTB Cycling Shoe. Yes, I know – that’s quite a mouthful! This is a trainer like shoe with a removable section on the sole where you can attach SPD cleats. It has laces, which I know might sound obvious, but a lot of cycling shoes these days have the new BOA cable fastening system. I’ve put in a picture below so you can see what it looks like. The reason I decided against this system was that should I break the BOA system I would have no way of fixing it. Laces are much simpler and if worst comes to worst then cable ties to the rescue!

Boa fastening system

The BOA Twist Fastening System

So now I had new shoes I needed cleats. Not my normal SPD-SL cleats just SPD cleats.

I could go into massive detail on the differences, but I’m not going to. In short, in my opinion, the SPD-SL cleats are slightly firmer and lock your foot into the pedal in a stronger way.

Therefore, I don’t need to worry about my foot accidentally slipping out. The SPD cleats are made for quick entry and quick release and are often used by mountain bikers or cross country riders. It took me a while to get used to them as I prefer the locked in feeling of the SPD-SL cleats. However, on rougher terrain it became clear why they were quick release and quick entry! Being locked into a pedal as you’re about to fall over, or losing traction on rough ground, is not a nice feeling. The ability to get your foot free quickly to stop yourself toppling over is highly beneficial.

The pictures below clearly show the differences in shoes and the benefits offered by the Giro shoe.

Giro Rumble MTB Cycling Shoe

The Trainer Look.

Giro Rumble MTB Cycling Shoe

The Small SPD Cleat – Hidden Away!

Giro Rumble MTB Cycling Shoe

Grippy Sole / Normal Walking.

So I was getting there. I had new shoes and new cleats. But there was one thing missing – pedals. I wasn’t going to get far without them. Luckily it didn’t take me long to find just what I was looking for and I ended up purchasing the Shimano PD-EH500 pedals. I’ll put some pictures below and then explain the benefits.

Shimano spd pedals

The Clip-In Side

Shimano spd pedals

The Flat Side

Shimano spd pedals

Grippy Metal Studs!

Shimano spd pedals

SPD Clip-In Side – Easy In & Easy Out.

As you can see, there is a flat side, and an SPD clip-in side. This is the best of both worlds, especially considering the new type of shoe I had purchased. Let’s not forget that when I’m bikepacking the bike weighs considerably more and getting started can be a little bit trickier especially on a rough surface. Having a shoe with a grippy sole and a pedal with a flat side and a clip-in side meant that no matter how hard the start I would always be able to get my foot on the pedal and put down some power.

This pedal has one other little gimmick which is a real bonus. Those little silver circles you can see all around the outside of the flat side are little bits of metal that you screw in. These then protrude from the pedal and provide extra grip when you are using the flat side. It’s just a little touch but it’s surprisingly handy, especially in wet conditions.

So there we have it – my bikepacking shoe set up. The immediate benefit of this type of shoe is the fact you can walk around normally as if you were wearing a pair of trainers. If I need to pop into a shop I don’t have to tiptoe around looking stupid, if I need to get off my bike and push it through a stream I have plenty of grip, and if I want to find an ‘off the beaten path’ camping spot I can push it through the woods to somewhere nice and peaceful.

There are plenty of shoes like this on the market, but again, I can only give you a review of what I have used.

This Giro shoe, over the last few trips, have been exposed to all sorts of weather and all sorts of terrain. When the weather was boiling they have been in the river and when the weather was freezing they have been soaked in rain. They’ve pushed through grassy fields and up gravel, rock strewn, paths. However, they are comfortable, not too heavy, and in my opinion they look pretty good. I believe they come in other colours but knowing the likelihood for them to get dirty I thought it sensible to choose black. A great call if I do say so myself!

Now there is one shoe that I will be taking with me in the future that I have not yet mentioned – the classic flip-flop. As I have learned, it is far too easy to forget that your feet are cooped up in your riding shoes all day for hours at a time. They might get wet, dirty, and if it’s warm there is a good chance they will be sweaty. Being able to take your socks and shoes off once your campsite is set up and allow your feet to breathe in a pair of flip-flops is quite refreshing. Plus you don’t want to get into your sleeping bag with sweaty feet!

north face flip flops

Let your feet breathe…

If you’re a veteran bikepacker you have already thought of all of this and most likely have some lovely shoes that have been on many adventures. However, if you are like me and are new to the bikepacking world your shoe selection is definitely something you should consider carefully. After all, you’re going to be wearing them a lot and they’re going to see a lot of different places. They want to be comfortable and practical all at the same time and if they look good that’s a bonus.

As articles about shoes go I hope this one has been relatively informative and has given you a few ideas about what to plan. Do I love my fancy road shoes? Yes. Do I want to get them covered in mud as I trip and slip my way through a field? No. Practicality over style every day!

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