Pearl Izumi Barrier MTB
Gore Race Power Thermo
After riding through 38 winters, I have some definite guidelines for shoe covers.
I realize they can’t keep feet dry even if They’re made of completely impermeable material. Water always seeps in the top or under the cleat cutout. But good booties should keep feet warm even when there’s moisture inside. In wintry cold, feet are the
first thing to get frigid for many riders but good shoe covers should keep feet bearable in temps into the 20s (-3C or so).
I road tested the $100 Gore Race Power Thermo and $60 Pearl Izumi Barrier MTB shoe covers for many hours in western Colorado’s winter and in the January rain of Seattle. Temperatures ranged from a low of 18 (-8C) to the
mid 40s (7C).
Snow banks often lined the road and a cold north wind accompanied many rides, making the actual temperature seem even colder. Snowmelt spattered the shoe covers in Colorado; Seattle’s precipitation ranged from mist to downpours.
The Gore booties are made of stout cordura nylon with a quilted liner for additional insulation. They are black with reflective logos on the side and back. A neoprene cuff seals out wind. They look extremely well made and held up impressively throughout
the testing, although for 100 clams they should last through the end of the century.
Nice touch by Gore: microfleece in the V-shape where the ankle flexes above the shoe’s tongue. Excessive tightness or roughness in this area can easily abrade skin, so having soft material here shows a laudable attention to detail.
The Pearl Izumi booties retail for $60 — 40% less than Gore’s version. They’re made of 3-mm neoprene with an equallythin microfleece lining. Also black and with a shiny polyurethane coating and reflective logos, they
look and feel less durable than the Gore covers, despite being marketed for mountain bike shoes. But they stood up to 25 hours of road riding with only minor scuffs.
The Gore booties were easy to put on. They are rear-entry with a Velcro strip running up the entire back. This strip is wide enough to adjust the sizing while still snugging the neoprene cuff tightly enough to keep out most moisture.
The Pearl covers also are rear-entry with hook-and-loop material, but they were a bit harder to get into because of their snugger overall fit.
I tested size XL in the Gores, made for cycling shoe sizes 45-47 (street shoe sizes 11-13). They fit fine over my size 46 Sidi Dragon MTB shoes, even with their lugged outsole. However the fit was fairly tight with my
size 45 Specialized BG MTB shoes because they have a boxier profile. There was plenty of room for size 45 Specialized Body Geometry road shoes.
The Pearls are badly undersized. I used size XXL, designated for size 46.5 and larger mountain bike shoes. They barely fit over my Specialized road shoes. I managed to get them over the Sidi MTB shoes because the material
stretches slightly, but I was afraid they would rip.
The Pearls’ tight fit also compressed my forefoot and cut off circulation, making my feet colder than expected for the conditions. However, this problem has decreased because the booties seem to have loosened with use. Undersizing has
been a recurrent theme with many Pearl Izumi products over the years. Be sure to try on before you buy, and expect to need at least size larger than your usual.
Both brands have a sole hole for cleats, unlike some shoe covers that make you scissor out your own. The cutouts were plenty large enough for Shimano SPD or Look Keo road cleats. Shimano PD7750 cleats were a tight fit through the
Gores but worked fine as long as I aligned them carefully. If I didn’t, the cutout could bind on the pedals. The larger Pearl cut-out worked well with all 3 pedal systems.
The Gore sole is made of heavy, reinforced nylon and didn’t abrade during the usual walking into convenience stores and on gravel by the roadside. I don’t know how the soles will hold up over several winters” use, but they look quite
durable in this highly stressed area. The Pearl sole seems less hefty but showed minimal wear during my use. Of course, They’re designed for mountain bike shoes with the accompanying walking, so you’d expect them to be tough.
Bulk is a drawback to the Gore’s quilted liner and sturdy outer fabric. The booties are relatively sleek on the foot, but if you want to remove them when the temperature rises, they’re a tight fit in a jersey pocket no matter how compactly
you roll them. The Pearls are slightly less bulky.
The Pearls fit the forefoot snugly so material doesn’t brush the crankarm during pedaling. The Gores are a bit looser here but it isn’t a problem, and they’re snugger at the ankle. The Pearl uppers, which
lack the polyurethane coating, developed a wrinkle or bulge — more of an appearance flaw than a functional one, although if your ankle barely clears the crankarm it might rub on the pooched-out material and wear a hole.
Gore’s Gore-Tex material repelled water splashed up from snow melt. I was surprised that these covers didn’t make my feet sweat in warmer temperatures. My experience with “waterproof but breathable” material hasn’t been good. Either the
material breathes well and leaks like a sieve or it’s completely waterproof — and seals in heat and condensation for a sweaty sauna effect. But the Gore booties didn’t cause this problem.
They were less successful in steady rain, letting my shoes and socks become wet in an hour of riding. However, in temperatures in the high 40s (9C) my soaked feet stayed warm. I’m not sure that would have been the case in the mid 30s (2C).
The Pearl booties eventually let in water too, but my feet stayed toasty. I credit the thin neoprene that acted like a wet suit. It looks like the poly coating would stop all water penetration and perhaps it did, but the inside eventually
got wet from seepage at the cuff and cleat cutout. In warm temps they were slightly hotter than the Gore covers but not uncomfortable at 50 degrees (10C).
I carried both pairs of shoe covers on rides and alternated them. I started with one brand on the right foot and the other on the left, then I reversed them. In cold temperatures the Pearls were slightly warmer, and the same was true in rainy conditions.
In addition, they didn’t soak up water like the Gores with their quilted liner.
Which booties would I buy after numerous rides in both brands? My choice is the Pearl Izumi Barrier MTB because they perform better in cold and wet conditions and do it for a reasonable price.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.