When it comes to picking shoes for bikepacking, it can seem like there are hundreds of choices out there. But in reality, it’s much simpler than all the different options make it out to be. Certainly, on my own trips, I’ve used everything from specifically designed clip-in mountain bike shoes to bog-standard trainers and never enjoyed them less the footwear that I chose.
In general, breathable shoes with a hard sole make the best types of shoes for bikepacking. Shoes such as hiking shoes, trainers, or mountain bike shoes work well for bikepacking. If you want a spare pair of shoes for around camp, people tend to use flip-flops for this as they are easily packable and lightweight.
When it comes to picking which footwear to take, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself to work out exactly which shoes are best for you.
What factors impact which type of shoe you should wear when bikepacking?
What type of pedals do you have?
The first, and possibly the most important decision when it comes to choosing which shoe to use for bikepacking is which type of pedals you have on your bike.
Bikes have 3 major types of pedals, clip-in, flats, and toe clips. When it comes to deciding which type of shoe you will be wearing, the main differentiation you need to make is if your bike uses a clipless pedal or either of the other types.
If you have flat pedals or toe clips, then you can use any bog-standard trainer or shoe when pedaling. If on the other hand, you have clipless pedals, then you will need a specific shoe that clips into the specific type of clipless pedal you have.
How much time do you think you’ll spend walking during your trip?
If you’ll be spending your bikepacking trip cycling until late into the night, sleeping and setting off again first thing, then the shoes you choose will be more focused on cycling than walking.
On the other hand, if you can see yourself doing a lot of walking, for example heading into town after a day of cycling, then you will need shoes that are more suited to versatility. In this case, choosing shoes that are suitable for walking on a range of surfaces such as mud, pavement or gravel will be very useful.
If you don’t want to compromise and wear shoes that are suited for both walking and cycling, you can consider taking one pair of cycling shoes as well as a spare pair of shoes to wear around camp.
Do you have plans after cycling?
Some people will be staying in hotels after their day of cycling or will head into town for dinner at a restaurant. In these cases, you need to ensure you have a pair of shoes that are suitable for whatever activity you have planned, not just from a functional point of view but also from an aesthetic one.
In recent years, certain types of cycling shoes have become much better at “fitting in” to a smart casual crowd which makes this a lot easier (provided they aren’t completely covered in mud).
What route will you be bikepacking?
While you might not initially think that the footwear you have will make an impact on your trip, it is a very important factor.
Some sections of your route may require you to push your bike (hike-a-bike). In these very tough inclines or rough bits of terrain having good shoes can make a huge difference.
On this same note, you also want to look at your route and decide if there will be any water crossings you will need to tackle. If this is the case you will want an option that is not only lightweight but will quickly dry out.
Cycling with wet shoes is a recipe for disaster and blisters.
How much carrying capacity do you have?
While this is partially linked to all the points above, working out how much carrying capacity you have is important in deciding if you can bring a spare pair of shoes.
For some trips, you will have to forego a spare pair of shoes for more carrying capacity for essentials such as water or food.
In these cases, taking a more versatile shoe will be very important.
What shoes to take bikepacking?
Personally, I’d rather not carry a spare pair of shoes if I can help it. Although I’m in the lucky position of having changed over to flat/platform pedals on all my bikes.
I’d much rather wear a comfy and versatile pair of trainers or breathable hiking shoes and save the space (and, to a lesser degree, the weight) for other creature comforts or more snacks.
Bikepacking is meant to be a relaxing experience. You are going out there to enjoy the ride and the whole experience. While clipless shoes may be “more efficient” at pedaling, I personally will forego this to wear something that’s a little more comfortable.
One important feature I would suggest you look for in whichever shoe you choose is a stiff/hard sole. Shoes with a soft sole will really impact your pedaling efficiency.
What to look for in bikepacking shoes for clipless pedals?
The most common type of clipless pedal is an SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) pedal. These are designed to work with cleats (shoes) that clip directly into them. When it comes to bikepacking, you will want to look for a pair of mountain bike shoes that work with these clipless pedals.
Mountain bike shoes are a better option than road bike alternatives as they have been designed with some muddy walking in mind. They are grippy enough for hike-a-bike and can help to improve your pedaling efficiency when clipped in.
A couple of examples of mountain bike shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals include the Vivobarefoot Trail FG, the Rumble VR, and the Shimano CT70s.
If you are looking for a more unique choice, some manufacturers even offer sandals with SPD clips!
While they may seem weird at first, many people will pack sandals to use around camp after a day of cycling as they allow you to easily hop off your bike and walk around, keep your feet fresh, and well-aerated after a long day of cycling and can be used at camp.
Which shoes to pack for after you’ve finished cycling?
When you are using clipless pedals for bikepacking, you have two main options. Either use the same pair of shoes for riding and camping or take your usual pair of cycling shoes and take a spare pair of shoes to wear around camp.
There is a range of options for shoes to use around camp, but the main things to look for are being lightweight, easy to pack, and preferably something with a puncture-resistant sole in case you step on anything sharp at camp!
Many bikepackers will take a pair of flip-flops with them when bikepakcing. Flip-flops are waterproof, very easily fit into a bag and let your feet breathe.
If you aren’t a fan of flip-flops there are other options, I’ve seen bikepackers who use sandals, sketchers with memory foam insoles, or even water shoes.
Really, take whichever shoes you have at home that are comfortable and will help your feet to rest. Although some shoes like flip flops or water shoes will be a good choice if you have any water crossing to do on your trip (you can easily change for the crossing and then hang them off your bag to dry) while you keep cycling.
Finally, if you are looking for a pair of water shoes or crocs, check out these on Amazon that I’ve personally liked. These are both great in heavy rain or with large puddles and the crocs can actually make suitable bike shoes in a pinch.
What to look for in bikepacking shoes for toe clips or flat pedals?
When it comes to shoes for flat or platform pedals, there are 2 key areas you need to look at.
Firstly you will want to ensure that they have a stable base. Any shoes that are too soft at the sole will make pedaling harder and more uncomfortable.
On top of a hard sole, you will also want to prioritize comfort. If you are taking shoes for flat pedals or toe clips then you are likely on taking only one pair of shoes. In this case, you will want something that you can easily spend prolonged periods of time wearing, as well as shoes you can comfortably wear around camp.
The shoes below are all examples of shoes that I have worn on my bikepacking trips and found very comfortable.
These are obviously very comfortable as they have been designed for riding on flat bike pedals when mountain biking. Obviously, this is a common choice among bikepackers, as many have a pair of these at home already.
I don’t own a pair myself, but the most commonly suggested pair of mountain bike-specific shoes in those that I spoke to were the Five Ten Freeriders, which can be found here on amazon.
Astroturf soccer (football) boots
While not the first type of shoe you will think of, the majority of my first year of bikepacking was spent wearing football boots. They are designed to be comfortable, breathable, and lightweight.
These are common suggestions from bikepackers. These make a good choice if you plan to go into town or to a hotel after cycling.
Can I bike with hiking shoes? Of course, you can. Make sure to pick a pair of breathable ones, often these are the same ones that aren’t waterproof, but the added bonus of more breathable material is worth it.
As you can see, there are a lot of options to wear when bikepacking. You certainly don’t need to go out and buy a specific pair of shoes if you own flat pedals.
Even if you own a set of clipless pedals on your new bike, I’ve done some trips on these with a normal pair of shoes (having to remember all your gear is tough haha!). It takes a little bit of practice but anything is possible, just don’t let shoes be what holds you back from your first bikepacking trip.