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Gear Review: Vans Gravel

When Vans dropped the mens Gravel, a sticky-soled, flat-pedal shoe, on the mtb scene for this season, I hoped—prayed—that it’d be a successful design. The old-school look of the Gravel caters to those of us who dig Vans’ classics—and don’t want to flaunt the more flamboyant mtb shoes out there.

So, after review, did they turn out to be a high-performing piece of gear cloaked in style? I.e. how well did they stack up against the market-leading 5.10s?

Let’s answer the pressing question first…:

The Gravel does provide the same quality of tacky grip that’s offered by 5.10s—but isn’t so sticky that you get caught up trying to wiggle them into place as you’re dropping in, or shooting them off to foot-plant a fast corner. It’s a safe and ideal stickiness. The outsoles are made of TRAX “high-friction” rubber with an integrated WaffleGrip tread pattern, which locks onto to pins.

Comfort-wise, the Gravel is much more akin in fit and feel to a typical skateshoe, though it’s stiffer thanks to its outer protective material. But it’s amazingly lightweight and the midsole is comfy soft—with a supportive arch.

The synthetic material of the uppers is armor against abuse the trail, and your riding style, will throw at your feet. And, it’s water-repellent. The only catch to that, however, is that Gravel is not so breathable. Wearing ordinary socks, I get a little turned off by how warm my feet get. But as a Northwest (i.e. rainforest) rider, I’d rather have warm, dry feet, than soggy ones.

Inside the Gravel’s heel is an “Impactsorb” insert which dampens sudden blows to the heel, making these a good companion for freeriders. Keep in mind, though, that these low-cut designed; there’s no ankle protection. One reason I like my 5.10 Karvers is because they offer such high protection and support, which aides my overall technique on the bike. The Gravel is supportive—just in a more concentrated area.

These shoes obviously have nice street-cred and Vans touts that you can wear them as streetwear after the ride. I’m down with that… until the sun sets. The strip on the side is reflective, which is nice for night riding safety; not so much for savvy nighttime attire.

In sum, the Gravel is a legit mtb shoe. The stickiness stacks up. It wears like a skateshoe. The construction is supportive and protective, and, ultimately, the kicks do what they’re meant to: aid your overall riding. The Gravel is a keen rival to 5.10’s low-cut styles.

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