Can Trail Running Shoes Be Used For Mountain Biking?

You want to try mountain biking but you don’t want to spend that extra bucks on a new pair of cleats. So you’re wondering if you can use your trail running shoes for mountain biking. 

Trail running shoes can be used for mountain biking if you’re just starting out. It can even become an advantage in situations where you have to push or carry your bike up or down slippery or technical terrain. However, if you’re planning to ride often, having a pair of mountain biking shoes is a good idea. 

Ahead, we will look at the differences between trail shoes and mountain biking shoes so you can see for yourself if you need a mountain biking shoe. Also, we will look at the disadvantages of using trail shoes for biking and the advantages of wearing proper mountain biking shoes.

Mountain Biking Shoes Vs. Trail Shoes: What’s the Difference? 

The difference between mountain biking shoes and trail shoes is the traction to the pedal and the stiffness of the midsole.

Mountain biking shoes come in two forms: clipless (one that uses cleats) and flat shoes. Clipless shoes have cleats recessed into the shoes allowing for easier walking. Some beginners find the idea of your foot getting stuck in the pedal scary. This is why most beginners prefer flat shoes. 

Flat shoes grip into a flat pedal but don’t attach like clipless shoes allowing for an easier dismount. 

Both types of mountain biking shoes generally have stiffer soles allowing for a more efficient energy transfer to the pedal. Unlike toe-clip shoes, mountain biking shoes are easier to walk with making them a desirable option for trails (since you sometimes need to walk on some technical or slippery trails if you’re not an expert). 

One important thing to remember when buying mountain biking shoes is that the shoes have to match your pedal. This means, if you want to get a clipless mountain biking shoe, you also have to invest in an MTB clipless pedal like the Shimano PD-M9120.

On the other hand, trail running shoes are completely different types of shoes. They have huge lugs that provide grip to different types of terrains and a soft midsole to absorb the impact when running. 

Here’s a summary of the differences between trail running and MTB shoes. 

MTB ShoesTrail Shoes
Grip on Pedal Clipless (with cleats) are the most secure but you get the feeling of your foot being stuck on the pedal. It takes time to get used to. 
Flat shoes provide a good grip on flat pedals without being attached to the pedal. It is considered to be a better option for beginners. 
It grips but could slide off easily especially when it’s wet. You also have to watch out for jumps and drops since your foot can bounce off the pedal.
Grip on GroundHave a decent grip but is not suitable for slippery and loose soil. If you’re walking more than you ride, go for trail shoes. Have great ground traction.
MidsoleThe stiff midsole allows for better energy transfer. It allows you to ride uphills or speed up easier.Most trail running shoes have soft cushions underfoot. It’s good for absorbing ground impact for running but bad for energy efficiency when biking. 
OutsoleClipless shoes have a recessed portion underfoot for the cleats. 
Flat shoes stick to flat pedals really well even if it doesn’t attach to the pedal. 
Trail shoes have deep lugs that provide grip to the ground. However, it has less grip on the pedals than flat ones. 
Overall ComfortVery comfortable for riding, however, not comfortable if you have to walk long distances. Very comfortable. 

(Related: Are Running Shoes Good For Hiking?)

Using Trail Shoes For Mountain Biking

If you’re just starting out or you’re not trying to ride fast, using trail shoes for mountain biking is fine. You don’t have to stress yourselves trying to find the perfect pair of biking shoes. You’re more likely to walk on technical terrain anyway which can actually make train running shoes an advantage since it has a better grip to the ground.

I usually use my trail running shoes for mountain biking. Not because I find them better for riding but because the trail that I go to requires me to push or carry my bike on a very steep uphill before I even get a chance to ride my bike on flats and downhills. The extra grip of my trail shoes makes it easier for me to climb on foot.

Also, I don’t need that much pedal grip and energy transfer since I’m not trying to record my time or train for a race, I’m merely mountain biking for leisure and adventure. Plus, I sometimes leave my bike and hike to a nearby waterfall. 

Mountain biking on a nearby trail
This is me wearing my Brooks Cascadia biking on a nearby trail.

This is not to encourage you not to buy mountain biking shoes. If you have extra cash to buy one, I highly encourage you to do so. However, if you’re tight on budget and you just want to know if you HAVE TO get a mountain biking shoe when you’re starting out, the answer is NO. But do note that wearing trail running shoes for mountain hiking has some disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Using Trail Shoes For Mountain Biking:

  • Less grip on the pedal makes it easier for your foot to slide off and cause falling
  • Hitting your shin on the pedal is very common if you’re not wearing the proper shoe
  • The outsoles of your trail shoes can get damaged
  • The soft midsole reduces the amount of energy transferred to the pedal thereby making it harder to speed up or climb uphills

On the other hand, if your sport is mountain biking or you’re riding a considerable amount of time and distance, investing in a good pair of mountain biking shoes is worth it. It will allow you to perform better and ride safer. Let’s look at some advantages of wearing mountain biking shoes for mountain biking. 

Advantages of Mountain Biking Shoes

  • The stiff midsole provides better energy transfer allowing you to ride faster
  • It has a better grip on the pedal which prevents your foot from sliding off
  • The cleats prevent your foot from bouncing on the pedal on drops and jumps since your foot is attached to the pedal
  • It protects your foot from sharp rocks and branches
  • Most of them are water-resistant

These advantages are perfect if you’re cycling for multiple hours and long distances. Not only that it will allow you to perform better and keep you safe, but it will also keep you more comfortable. 

Should I Get Mountain Biking Shoes?

At this point, the only question that remains is if you should get a mountain biking shoe. Your decision lies on a few considerations: How often and long do you bike? Is mountain biking your main sport?, and How good are you are at mountain biking?

If you’re riding your bike three or more times a week for more than 20km each time, then you should consider a pair of biking shoes. You’re already spending a considerable amount of time on your bike. You’re most definitely gonna get the value of your money. 

If you’re riding occasionally and only for short distances, you can hold it off until you’ve fully decided to make mountain biking your sport of choice.

If your sport is mountain biking, getting a good pair of mountain biking shoes will allow you to perform better. There’s no question about the value of proper biking shoes in performance and if you still don’t have one yet, I suggest you get yourself a pair. 

Lastly, how good at you at mountain biking? If you rarely walk on trails and are looking to shorten your time on a particular route, then wearing a proper biking shoe might just be the upgrade you’re looking for. 


There’s a reason that there are specific types of shoes for different types of sport. That is why getting a sport-specific shoe is always the best option. However, for someone who doesn’t want to spend an extra buck for a sport they just want to try, wearing a different type of athletic shoe is fine in the meantime. 

Mountain biking is a great example. Since bike shoes are something you can’t wear casually and you have to match the shoes with the pedals, getting a pair of biking shoes is a huge commitment to biking. Therefore, I recommend that you try the sport first before your buy. 

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Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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