Autumn is here and traditionally it’s a time when roadies head off-road for some off-season fun. Riding along trails lined with the red and gold of autumn, breath frosting, it’s a beautiful time of year. It reality it can also be a mud-spattered, soggy nightmare! Axle-deep puddles, fun to ride through, soak your feet and legs in bone chilling water. Those clear, crisp days soon turn into grey, rain-filled ones, so you’ll need to break out your winter wardrobe. Are off-road overshoes an option, or are they not worth the effort?
Overshoes are a part of most road riders winter kit, they keep your feet warm and protect your shoes. If you’re riding off-road though the choice has always been limited as the nature of the shoes makes it difficult to get a good fit. Also, off-road winter riding involves a lot of walking around over less than perfect ground. Then there’s stones and brambles doing their best to rip your overshoe, while mud will try and squeeze its way in.
So what makes a good off-road overshoe?
There’s a number of features I would want beyond keeping your feet warm and dry. First off they have to be robust enough to deal with off-road conditions. This includes things like not ripping when hitting rocks and thorns. Once the outside of the overshoe is ripped it’s pretty much useless, so it has to be tough. This can be achieved by using tougher materials like kevlar or rubber on vulnerable parts like the toe and outside edge.
Next are closures that stay closed when full of mud and don’t come open after walking through sticky mud. Velcro straps across the bottom can suffer badly here. Once the edge of a velcro strap starts to come off, the mud gets into the fuzz and stops it from working. This then lets the strap open a bit more and soon the strap is flapping about and your overshoe is riding up on your foot.
Last are open soles that allow your tread to get some grip, but still keep the water out. That’s quite a tough ask, road shoes can have an almost closed sole, keeping the water out. Off-road overshoes however need to have an open sole to allow you some grip in the mud. This area is also going to be subject to a lot of wear as it gets ground between a hard sole and abrasive terrain.
We take a brief look at some off-road overshoes that try and solve this problem.
GripGrab Off-Road Overshoes
First up we have GripGrab, a Scandinavian brand that has some experience with cold weather. We’ve reviewed their RaceAqua overshoes and have the Explorer Gravel Shoe Covers on review at the moment. GripGrab have approached how to make an off-road overshoe in a couple of ways. The Explorer and RaceThermo go for the zipperless method. You pull them up over your feet before putting your shoes on, then pull them back down to cover the shoe. This solves the problem of zips and velcro jamming with mud.
The Explorer has a semi-open sole, in that the heel and the main tread area around the cleat is open. Meanwhile the middle part has a rubber patch that protects it when you’re balancing, unclipped, on your pedals. The rubber toe protection extends under the foot, so you won’t be able to use any toe-spikes. It does have some ridge lines, but I think that’s more for café stop grip! They come up very high, which is good for keeping water out, especially if coupled with waterproof leggings. You can buy direct from GripGrap for €89.95.
The RaceAqua is a zipped overshoe with an open tread. There’s an elasticated strap across the bottom that is designed to pull the edges in tight against the sole, keeping it in place. The sole is very open, so you can wear it with toe spikes if you need. I would worry that in deep muddy sections that there is a chance for the shoe cover to get pushed out of place. So maybe keep this for cold, dry days, rather than deep mud? You can buy direct from GripGrap for €52.95.
Spatz say the Tufr off-road overshoe is designed to be the “best off-road overshoe on the planet.” No small claim that. It’s another zipperless design, that pulls on over your foot and then is secured underneath with a velcro strap. Spatz are famous for designing practical, tough cycling gear that does the job, often using unusual fabrics and construction methods.
The Tufr is designed specifically for off-road riding, but still keeps Spatz aero silhouette. The neoprene has some serious reinforcing to protect it, the most obvious of which is the toe-box. This serious looking bit of protection, along with the instep, is vulcanised onto the neoprene. This should mean that the toecap is not going to come loose. The instep’s protection is also going to be a massive help when bashing through the brambles. All that vulcanised rubber is going to be great at keeping the water and wind-chill off the front of your feet; could this spell the end of chilly toes?
The rest of the Tufr has all kinds of refinements to make it fit for off-road. These include double silicone aqua-seals around the the bottom to help keep water out and anti-wear kevlar reinforcements. The neoprene around the foot has a “extremely resilient” nylon material over it to protect it from wear. Meanwhile the upper part uses a lycra covered neoprene for “warmth, protection and eliminate cuts and nicks.“
The Tufr sounds like a supreme off-road beast, the only worry I would have is over the velcro fastening across the sole. Otherwise, it seems to have all the bases covered, you can buy the Tufr from the Spatz website for £139.99
The Castelli Unlimited off-road overshoes look just what I expect from Castelli; stylish. The design is very clean and aero in contrast to Spatz’s Tufr. The Unlimited has a long cuff that has a full length zip and an under-sole velcro strap. On the heel there is a long tab to help you pull the overshoes on and off. The upper is made from a stretchy DWR treated material with a fleecy lining; so should keep you warm and dry.
The upper and long zipper are designed to allow the overshoe to stretch over bulky off-road shoes. With deep tread, BOA closures, buckles etc, getting your overshoe over your shoe can be a struggle with off-road shoes. Castellii have looked at this and decided a stretchy material is the way around this issue.
Underneath the Ultimate has “durable panel wraps”, that go all around the bottom part of the overshoe. These are designed to protect the overshoe when walking. Again there is a velcro strap across the bottom to keep the overshoe in place. While most of the tread is free, the front where your toe-spikes would be are covered. The Ultimate is a fine looking overshoe, the question is, is it tough enough to deal with off-road conditions? Castelli also do the all neoprene Diluvio, which is only available in their men’s section. The Unlimited is available to buy from the Castelli website for £75.
Alpkit Epic Overshoes
The Alpkit Epic is a deceptively simple look that hides some good off-road features. The first is that they are made from 4mm neoprene. This gives some excellent protection from the cold and the thicker material should last longer against the outdoors. All the seams are taped to prevent water ingress. Inside they have added kevlar protection around the heel and under foot to protect against wear and tear from your shoes.
The most obvious off-road feature is the rubber toe-box. While the top is smooth and will help keep your toes warm, the underneath is ridged. This is meant to help give you some grip when walking uphill, it’s not as pronounced as the GripGrab or Spatz versions, but serves the same task. Closure is via a rear zip, but apparently this has been designed to be extra durable and easy to operate. The Epic overshoes are available from Aplkit for £49.99
Endura MT500 Overshoe
When it comes to mucky weather certain countries have an advantage, which means Scottish brand Endura has it in spades! Endura’s MT500 range is their flagship Mtb range, designed to keep you riding, no matter the conditions. The MT500 Overshoe is the latest evolution of Endura’s off-road overshoes, that comes after years of riding in Scotland’s ‘testing’ conditions. The MT500 has grown an armoured toe-box with added grip for those hike-a-bike sections; or just getting to the café first!
A reinforced sole that extends up the sides, protects the overshoe from the ground and pedals. Most of the sole is covered, leaving just two holes for your cleats and heel to poke through. This looks like it would do a very good job at keeping your shoes on and the mud out; hope those holes align with the cleats. The Endura MT500 Overshoe is available from their website for £49.99.
BBB UltraWear Zipperless Ext
BBB Cycling are a Dutch company that have been around for 25 years. Founded by two ex-pros who wanted to design practical products that they knew would work. BBB have a range of eight overshoes and while the UltraWear Zipperless EXT overshoes aren’t branded as off-road overshoes, I think they might be up to the job.
They are a zipperless design, so again you put them on first before your shoe. This means no pesky zips or velcro to fail over time at the rear. Underneath there is a velcro strap and it isn’t protected in any way, so this would seem to be a bit of a weak point when it comes to off-road.
The main main body is made from a thick neoprene with a Neoskin top that covers your shin. This has a silicone gripper to help keep it in place and reduce water ingress. The toe and heel have some protection, but it is quite minimal compered to some of the other off-road specific models we’ve looked at. I would see these as another pair suited to those cold, dry days, rather than full-on mud fests.
Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers
Last of all we have the Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers for gravel/mtb shoes. These are quite different from the previous overshoes in that while they offer superb water-proofness, there’s little to keep you warm. While the natural rubber material will block wind and rain, perhaps the cold will pass that barrier? These are another zipperless design with no underfoot straps to fail. Velotoze use rubber’s natural stretch to keep everything in place and watertight. According to Velotoze the bottom has been “specially reinforced to excel in the rugged terrain”.
They reach high up your calf and over your socks, sealing your foot off. The only way I can see water creeping in is down your shin, but the seal looks so good I think that’s unlikely. I would be concerned about taking it through the rough and tumble of a typical British bridleway though. With the amount of brambles, broken branches and flint that abound in them, the chances of ripping them seems high. However I can see them being very useful for light gravel work, where the trails are fairly well managed. They could be just the thing for fast, wet gravel races!
So there you have a by no means exhaustive list of off-road overshoes. Each has their own traits and I think you would need to look at the kind of conditions you are riding in to decide which would be best for you. Are you a day long explorer, a Sunday morning rider, or a race day whippet? Each would need a slightly different overshoe to suit their needs and that’s without looking at price tags! We are currently reviewing GripGrab’s Explorer and will let you know when we finished with them. We’ll also review some of the other brands, to see how they compare.