What kind of shoes do I need for bike touring?

The shoes you wear while touring on your bicycle will dictate a lot of your tour and will be one of the most basic decisions you will need to make. Do you want dedicated, hard-soled cycling shoes? Or will regular sneakers work for you?

Depending on what kind of tour you are planning, you might find your choice of footwear to be different. If you plan to ditch the bike a lot to go for hikes or sightseeing excursions, you’ll want something that will work for that. If you plan to spend most of your time on the bike, you may decide to go with dedicated cycling shoes. There are pros and cons for all options.

cleat cycling shoes

Hard soled shoes with cleats are great for many cyclists. Your feet are physically attached to the pedal, which makes your pedal stroke more efficient. The hard soles lead to a very effective transfer of energy to the pedals.

Cleats: Many cyclists find they are more comfortable in dedicated, hard-soled cycling shoes. These are designed with rigid soles to transfer energy to the pedals more efficiently and cleats to hold your feet firmly on the pedals. You will be able to pull up as well as push down, using your entire pedal stroke to power your bike.

With stiff-soled cycling shoes, very little energy is lost to the shoe and the pressure you exert will be evenly distributed across your entire foot which is more comfortable in the long run. They also tend to last longer than other shoes in that they are reinforced in all the places they need to for the bike.

All is not roses with these shoes, however. That efficiency and comfort comes at a price. Due to the stiffness of the sole, they are not comfortable to walk in. You’ll find yourself needing to change your shoes when you go to a grocery store or if you have to walk across a bridge. You may find it too difficult to climb up embankments for better photos and will settle for lesser in the photography department.

hybrid bike shoes

Hybrids are great in that they are more flexible, so make walking more comfortable. Your feet are attached to the pedals with cleats.

Hybrid shoes: Mountain biking shoes are one option to stiff-soled cycling shoes that may work for you. They are designed for mountain bikers who need to be able to run and climb, so have a more flexible sole while still being stiff enough to be reasonably efficient. These shoes have recessed cleats so you’ll be able to walk without hobbling.

Mountain bike shoes are great for the bike tourist in that they are reasonably efficient and much more comfortable for walking than stiff-soled cycling shoes. Many tourists find one pair of these is all they need. Because the cleat is recessed, you will be able to walk through grocery stores or go for short hikes no problem. In the campground, you can continue to wear your cycling shoes rather than having to change.

Some people, however, don’t find mountain bike shoes comfortable on long walks, and need to carry other shoes for hiking or long sightseeing trips in cities. If you find yourself walking in mud, the cleats will get clogged up and you’ll need to scrape them clean with a stick.

salomon shoes

Trail runners make a great option for cycling if you don’t want to be attached to the pedals. The best part about using regular shoes is that you don’t have to carry spares.

Regular sneakers: The low tech option for touring is regular ol’ sneaks. Some cyclists find they prefer the simplicity of regular shoes in that they don’t have to bother carrying other shoes at all. Trail running shoes are the best option as they are designed to flex up for walking, but not down over rocks or pedals. Keens and Salomons have been tested extensively and work well as cycling shoes.

One note here: a certain amount of rigidity in the soles is critical. I rode a 600-mile segment of our journey with shoes that were too soft. My feet draped over the pedal, rather than resting on top, and I messed up both my feet pretty badly. Now, over two years later, my left foot is still achy. Don’t make the same mistake – go for good quality trail runners.

If you choose the low tech, regular shoe option, you’ll need to consider how you will keep your feet on your pedals. You may use toe clips, Power Grips, or spiky pedals to prevent your feet from flying off. I recommend trying all three options and see which type of footwear works best for you.

I’ve tried them all and have found I prefer the simplicity of regular sneakers. Others find hard-soled cycling shoes to their liking. There is no right and wrong answer, so find what works for you!


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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2 Responses to What kind of shoes do I need for bike touring?

  1. Dani October 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Thank you so much for this posting! I have been searching the internet for days now trying to find what type of shoes my boyfriend and I can wear on our cycling trip. We only plan to do the one so we didn’t want to invest in clipless but it’s 3600 miles so we don’t want to skimp on shoes either. We have the power grips and, til now, haven’t gotten any clear advice on what kind of shoes to wear with them on a long tour like that. So thanks again!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

      @Dani, I am so glad I could help! Shoes are very, VERY important, but there is so much personal preference involved. Clipless are great, but you do need to carry another pair, and you have to change them all the time. I found that was too much hassle; my husband didn’t.

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