-Seamless synthetic uppers
-EVA foam heel cushioning
-Men’s sizing only
-Perfect balance between hikeable and rideable
-Dual Boa dials
-Not indestructible, but damn close
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When we were preparing to ride the Colorado Trail, my partner and I did a dry run to test out our setups. We chose the segments between Breckenridge and Leadville, unwittingly setting out on one of the tougher hike-a-bikes on a route known for its tough hike-a-bikes.
Long story short—we learned that pushing a loaded bike uphill for four hours can create some truly stupendous blisters. Like, moleskin’s-not-gonna-save-you, shoes-are-made-of-fire, oh-my-god-it’s-bleeding-through-your socks kind of blisters. Good thing it was a dry run.
It’s not easy to find bike shoes that hike well. After all, bike shoes are made for bike rides, not multi-hour walks. In fact, many people who ride the Colorado Trail (including many of the people we talked to in preparation for our ride) will suggest that you just avoid bike shoes altogether and go with flat pedals and hiking boots.
But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the efficiency of clipless pedals—and I had faith that someone in the bike world had come up with a solution. After completing the CT blister-free, I can say the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate is it.
This is not a new shoe to the market—it’s been around in various forms since 2017, and comes up often in Bikepacking forums. However the 2020 edition has some notable updates, including a lighter, lower-profile outsole, a thinner tongue, and another BOA dial (instead of a Velcro strap over the forefoot), which gives you a snug, comfortable fit right out of the box.
The Vibram outsole has prominent grippy lugs similar to a trail-running shoe—they extend a little beyond your footprint, and give good traction no matter how weird the surface gets. Reinforcements in the toebox help protect your piggies when you’re fumbling through scree in the dark, and the cushy midsole cuts down foot fatigue over long plodding miles. Fun fact: It’s also made of 20 percent renewable algae-based material, called Bloom, rather than the traditional fully-petroleum-based EVA.
Most of the flex comes from the toe area, forward of the cleat mount. While you’re not going to feel like you could go run a marathon, you’ll get just enough mobility to feel natural walking, even on steep slopes. Best of all, they’re quiet—so you can wear them into a grocery store or gas station to resupply without clacking all over the place.
Pedaling, I was surprised by how efficient these shoes felt. They’re no race shoe, but they give you better power transfer than every similar shoe I’ve tested. In my experience, most hikeable bike shoes are biased toward the hike side of things, which means they tend to flex and move a lot when you’re pedaling. The X-alp Elevate rides the hikeable line as close as it can without sacrificing on-bike performance, which meant that I never felt like I was wasting energy pedaling—important when you’re in a five-day calorie deficit.
You may be tempted to go with a GoreTex shoe for a big trip, but while it’s nice for the occasional puddle, it will dry really slowly once it’s saturated. I found that the synthetic uppers on these shoes gave me good breathability and enough protection from the elements, while drying well enough overnight to feel, if not fresh, at least not clammy in the morning. The BOAs may also scare some people—there’s always the chance that you’ll bash one off on a rock—but despite some moderate bashing, mine held up just fine. And unlike most Velcro closures, Boa mechanisms are replaceable. If you’re going deep, you can take a few spares, though they are left- and right-specific.
To get a purpose-built shoe to accomplish a certain goal is one thing, but I’ve kept wearing these long after we made it to Durango. They continue to be my choice for coaching, trail riding, and pretty much everything short of a road ride or QOM hunting—basically any time I know I’ll be on my feet and want to stay comfortable. They’re definitely starting to show the miles, but I haven’t gotten a blister yet.
If you want to know how the trip went, you can read all about it in this story.
You can find the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Elevate here.
Photos: Anthony Smith