First Impressions: Five Ten Kestrel Shoes

Five Ten‘s sticky-soled shoes are renowned among flat and platform pedal users for their tenacious grip. If you happen to prefer clipless over flats, don’t fret though, because Five Ten offers ten SPD-compatible shoes for both men and women. And in 2016, the company’s top all-mountain shoe–the Kestrel ($180 MSRP)–gets some company in the form of the Kestrel Lace model ($150 MSRP).

As you might expect, the original and new Kestrel Lace models both feature Five Ten’s Stealth® rubber outsoles. While the two shoes’ soles may look similar, the original Kestrel features a dual-compound outsole that utilizes the company’s Stealth® C4 and Mi6 formulas (the Kestral Lace is spec’d with the company’s Stealth C4 rubber outsole). Despite the different compounds, both soles have the same dotty pattern for off-the-bike traction, and stitched toe caps for improved durability.

Beneath the Kestrels’ sticky rubber outsoles you’ll find sturdy, SPD-compatible midsoles. For extra pedaling efficiency, the original Kestrel gets a stiff, carbon-infused shank. To make walking a bit easier, Five Ten chose a nylon shank for the Kestrel Lace (which is approximately 15% less stiff than the original Kestrel). Mounting cleats is easy thanks to the wide, open interface and molded-in guidelines. I didn’t encounter any incompatibilities with Crank Brothers, iSSi, MKS, Speedplay, or Time pedals.

The biggest difference–and most obvious–between the two Kestrels is the shoes’ closure systems. Crank down the ratcheting BOA LP1 dial on the original Kestrel, and your foot is quickly and securely locked down for maximum pedaling efficiency. Some riders place a higher priority on comfort, so Five Ten responded to customers’ requests with the 2016 Kestrel Lace. This new model forgoes the original Kestrel’s BOA closures in favor of traditional laces (and Velcro straps). Despite the different closure systems, the two versions weighed nearly the same (500 grams for the original, 515 grams for the Lace model).

Testing both models in the same size (US men’s 11) revealed some subtle, but important differences in fit. For an all-mountain shoe, the original Kestrel has an extremely slim profile. That’s not to say that the shoe is narrow, but the upper has a no-nonsense, almost road-like feel. By comparison, the new Lace model offers a slightly more relaxed fit that accommodates a wider range of foot types (but the profile isn’t as bulky as Five Ten’s more skate-inspired shoes). If comfort is your prime concern, the 2016 Lace’s padded heel cup and tongue will definitely keep your feet happy.

With its weather-resistant toe box and synthetic, hydrophobic upper, the original Kestrel is a perfect choice for foul weather use. My samples have seen snow, mud, and plenty of wet weather, yet the uppers show virtually no wear or staining. I haven’t been able to test the new Kestrel Lace in temperatures above 70° yet, but I’m hopeful that the perforated toe vamp and mesh tongue will offer improved ventilation (stay tuned for a post-summer update). Unexpected encounters with rocks and roots have proven to be no problem thanks to both models’ stitched soles and sturdy toe caps.

If you’re wondering which version is better, the answer is, it depends. Do you want maximum pedaling efficiency? Then consider the original Kestrel. Tighten the BOA closures and power output is on par with dedicated XC racing shoes. That’s not to say that the 2016 Lace model isn’t a good pedaling shoe, though. I switched back and forth between the two models, and I honestly couldn’t detect any difference in actual stiffness in the shoe/pedal interface. When it comes to creature comforts, though, the new Kestrel Lace model offers a bit more cushioning (especially in the heel and tongue). Appearance-wise, the new Lace model is a bit less conspicuous, making it a better choice for post-ride gatherings.

Disclosure: Five Ten provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.