Best gravel bike shoes 2022 - The best options for fast off road riding

The best gravel bike shoes in the form of a black pair of Quoc Gran Tourer gravel bike shoes
(Image credit: Future)

We're living in a gravel specific era, and the range of products available now that are tailored to fast, off-road riding is staggering. While things like the best cargo bib shorts made an obvious splash, for a long time it seemed like the best gravel bike shoes were effectively the same as the best cross-country mountain bike shoes. 

Now though, we've reached a point where gravel bikes themselves are diverging into the best gravel bikes, and the best gravel race bikes, with each requiring different footwear.

You can quite happily use mountain bike shoes on a gravel bike, and they will serve you well for the more general gravel riding for sure, but if you are either undertaking gravel racing or more exploratory riding, you will be better served with gravel shoes. 

For gravel racing, your footwear will be more akin to the best road cycling shoes, except designed for use with SPD-style pedals, rather than SPD-SL (for more info we have an SPD vs SPD-SL explainer). Modifications for walking are minimal, beyond a recessed cleat, and the focus is on power transfer and low weight. 

At the other end of the spectrum for generalist, exploratory gravel riding, or for some ultra-distance races the need for comfort, durability, and the ability to walk for protracted periods is much more important, more so than for MTB shoes. 

Bear these things in mind, and as ever be honest with the sort of riding you intend to do, but if you find yourself getting hung up on the details then we have a handy guide at the bottom of this piece to answer any of the questions you probably have.

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The best gravel bike shoes you can buy today

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Shimano RX8 shoes in silver

The RX8's stiff yet lively sole transfers power well without transmitting every vibration through the foot (Image credit: Josh Ross)
Best gravel bike shoe for weight weenies

Specifications

Sizes: 38-50
Closure: Boa/Velcro
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 565g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Super lightweight
+
Very comfortable
+
Stiff and lively sole feel
+
User-friendly Boa system

Reasons to avoid

-
A narrow tread increases the risk of rolled ankles when walking

Shimano went all-in on gravel around the release of its GRX groupset and now offers a wide range of gravel-specific componentry and apparel, including the RX8 gravel-specific shoe.

The first thing you notice when picking up the RX8s is that they are very light for a gravel shoe. The slim wrap-around tongue and uppers provide a secure fit and the Boa IP1 ratchet is intuitive to use and easy to tighten or loosen while riding. The heel cup is well-moulded to eliminate heel lift and the toe box is reasonably roomy. Shimano fits the RX8s with medium arch supports and includes large inserts in the box. However, when we directly compared them to the Specialized S-Works Recon, on fit, they did not have quite the same premium feel. 

On the bike, the sole (rated 10 out of 11 on Shimano’s stiffness scale) provides an excellent pedalling platform. With a stiff yet lively sole and a tread that pairs well with the Shimano XT pedals, the application of power is stable and efficient. The sole features TPU lugs and an anti-slip pad to aid walking but the narrow tread profile means they do have a tendency to roll ankles on uneven ground.

They aren’t cheap but, considering the quality, the price is very reasonable in comparison to other contenders for the best gravel bike shoes. The RX8s are suited to those looking to gravel as an extension to road riding rather than an exploration into the wilderness. The lightness really makes them akin to road shoes allowing you to dance on the pedals up climbs. When it comes to descending, the stiff yet comfortable sole filters out the worst of the vibrations. Shimano has done an excellent job refining exactly what is needed from a performance gravel shoe.

The upper of a black and grey Giro Sector gravel shoe, showing perforated sections

The L6 dials on the Giro Sector do not micro release like some other Boa designs do (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
The best gravel bike shoe for fast days out

Specifications

Sizes: 39-50
Closure: Double Boa
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 754g (actual, size 44)

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant cradling yet secure fit
+
Double Boa accuracy
+
Grippy sole tread
+
Light

Reasons to avoid

-
Cold in winter
-
Tech = expensive
-
No micro release

Giro uses its breathable triangulated weave Synchwire mesh upper for its gravel-oriented Sector shoe. The Synchwire is overlaid with a web of bonded rubbery ‘Exo Structure’ for additional support. Two rubber-wrapped Boa L6 dials tension stainless steel laces over a lightly padded split tongue. Thick padding secures the heel and the insole has a medium arch support orthotic. The heel top is reflective, too.

The lightweight mesh construction does an impressive job of assuring a comfortable fit and providing a very uniform closure, making it a strong contender among the best gravel bike shoes. The heel is well-shaped to avoid any lift at the back of the foot. Wider- or tall-footed testers found them equally comfortable and they come in a women’s fit as well. The insole orthotic is noticeably supportive without being divisively obvious like some lumpier shoes.

The sole is decently stiff as well, assuring plenty of power transfer should you need to gun it without becoming fatiguing or punishing after many miles of gravel riding. The tread is very familiar to Giro shoe fans and does a decent job of gripping the ground if any portaging is required, although if you are looking for more off-the-bike comfort, the Giro Privateer or Rincon featured below might be worth a look.

Want to find out more? Read our in-depth Giro Sector review.

Specialized S-Works Recon in black, pictured on wooden floor

Two Boa S3-Snap dials and a Velcro strap on the Specialized S-Works Recon allow for a tight race fit (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
Best gravel bike shoe for racing

Specifications

Sizes: 36-49
Closure: Boa
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 611g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Hugely stiff sole transfers every watt
+
Durable Dyneema uppers
+
High-quality aluminium Boa dials
+
Stiff soles can become tiring on long rides

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
No extra arch support options included
-
Uncomfortable off the bike and lack of grip walking

Specialized made the bold proclamation that its S-Works Recon shoes were the “fastest off-road shoes on the market”. Designed as a cross-country race shoe, the Recon's staggeringly stiff sole and light weight means that it is also one of the best all-around gravel shoes available.

The hard-wearing Dyneema uppers are secured over the top of the foot with two premium aluminium Boa S3 Snap dials. The non-stretch uppers and rigid heel cup offer an aggressive fit which is more comfortable in use than it is off the bike. The S3 Snap dials don’t have a pop release – like the IP1 on the Shimano RX8 below, for example – but the cables can be unhooked for fast shoe removal. You need to be careful of tongue placement as it can dig into the front of the ankle but overall it didn’t cause much discomfort.

The sole is the crux of the Recon which boasts the same stiffness as the road equivalent. Power transfer is staggering, driving every bit of power into the cranks. On the flip side they have a very wooden feel and on longer rides can begin to feel a bit fatiguing as every vibration through the crank is transmitted to the foot.  

If you are looking for a shoe that will give a top-level performance, the S-Works Recon is a shoe ready to race on anything no matter if it's a gravel road, cyclo-cross course or cross-country mountain bike trail. The overall quality of the shoe has so far been excellent with only the exposed carbon sole showing any marks from use. The sole will likely divide opinions, for power transfer it is unmatched on the test but the rigidity does nothing to isolate vibrations and for endurance riders, it might be too harsh. 

Find out how they earned their spot in this guide in our Specialized S-Works Recon review.

A pair of purple Bont Vaypor G gravel shoes. One is on its side showing the sole, the other is placed on top showing the upper

The Bont Vaypor G shoes are heat-mouldable to the shape of your foot for supreme comfort (Image credit: Colin Levitch)
Best gravel bike shoe for heat-mouldable comfort

Specifications

Sizes: 36-50
Closure: Boa
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 348.5g per side, size 44.5, wide (actual, without cleats)

Reasons to buy

+
Anatomical-focused design
+
Replaceable lugs
+
Stiffness
+
Heat mouldable

Reasons to avoid

-
Too much lateral stiffness
-
Feel a bit wooden

Aesthetically, Bont's shoes are some of the most polarising in the bike industry and they take a bit of work to achieve foot nirvana. Bont's take on cycling shoes is a bit different to the rest of the industry, using a wide 'bathtub' shape and last, which includes longitudinal arch support and lateral forefoot support, in order to keep all your joints running smoothly.

The trick up the Australian outfit's sleeve is the resin used throughout the shoes that hits its glass transition temp at 70 degrees Celsius or 158 Fahrenheit, meaning you can mould them at home – giving it an advantage over the rest of the best gravel bike shoes on the market. It can take a few tries to get them just right but, when you do, they are some of the most comfortable shoes on the market.

The Vaypor G is built around the chassis of the Vaypor + with the addition of replaceable lugs bolted onto the bottom. They are supremely stiff which is great when you're on the bike, but a little awkward if you have to walk around or scramble up a steep hill. In those circumstances, a shoe such as the Rapha Explore featured later in this guide, might be more appealing. 

Read how these earned a four-star rating in our Bont Vaypor G gravel shoe review.

A white Northwave Rockster gravel shoe with star-shaped perforations

The Northwave Rockster combines classy looks with excellent comfort and a useful power kick (Image credit: Northwave)
The best gravel shoe for standing out

Specifications

Sizes: 39-50
Closure: Lace
Sole: Carbon composite
Weight: 670g (actual, pair of size 44 with cleats)

Reasons to buy

+
Pressure-free comfort
+
Efficient pedalling sole
+
Simple lace-up fit
+
Fast-drying easy clean
+
Good toe grip

Reasons to avoid

-
Can’t adjust on-the-fly
-
Wobbly when walking
-
Expensive for laces

Northwave hasn’t been shy about its styling since it rolled out deliberately mirror-imaged colourways on its 1990s race shoes. The white microfibre upper with grey or orange laces (spare in the box) plus natural gum rubber soles will undoubtedly turn some people off. 

The upper features laser-cut three-point perforations on the flanks that help with foot fitting stretch and ventilation. A dovecote arrangement of tiny triangular holes over the toe box adds cooling over your pinkies without flooding at the first sign of a splash or shower. They clean up and dry quickly if you do drown them, too. Synthetic leather heel cuff, tongue and lace top detailing increase durability, and add grip to the inner heel to stop lift. The cool two-tone styling continues with grey rubber reinforcing on the heel’s outside edge and a full TPU toe lining. The front sole tread also wraps up onto the toe tip to increase durability and grip.

You certainly won’t be at much of a disadvantage when it comes to racing either as the Rockster’s carbon-reinforced sole has a Northwave stiffness rating of 10 (the ranging-topping full carbon race shoes are a 14). That means power delivery feels very solid without risking numbness on long days and the enhanced support ‘race’ footbed also helps on extended rides.

Find out more information in our Northwave Rockster review.

Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 in black on wooden floor

The Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 has velcro straps that are easy to get on and off but difficult to adjust mid-ride (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
Best gravel bike shoe for simplicity

Specifications

Sizes: 36-48
Closure: Velcro
Sole: X4 nylon outsole
Weight: 584g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Quickly put on and taken off
+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Velcro tricky to quickly readjust

The Terra Powerstrap X4 is Fizik’s gravel-specific shoe which the company says has been designed specifically for drop-bar off-road riders.

The X4s are the only shoe on this test that uses a velcro strap as a closure method. Velcro has mostly been relegated to the realm of cheaper cycling shoes but Fizik shows that it’s still a worthy consideration. First off, these shoes are very simple: two thick straps manage closure, spreading forces across the foot and anchoring to the side of the shoe with generous strips of velcro. Without the fittings and attachments of more complicated closures, the X4s are also the second-lightest shoe on the test despite also being one of the cheapest.

There are some drawbacks to velcro. Putting them on and off is a very simple process but fine-tuning is a little more difficult. It’s still faster than laces but can’t match the ease of a Boa system. You will also want to limit the number of readjustments you make mid-ride as the more dirt that gets caught in the velcro the less secure the shoe will be. We didn’t have any problems with the velcro losing its grip but the weather was unusually warm and dry during our testing in Scotland.

Despite being the same RRP as the X5, the X4 model doesn’t get an injected carbon sole and instead has to settle for a nylon construction. Stiffness is not quite to the same level as the X5 but still has enough rigidity to handle some enthusiastic pedalling. The tread itself is a lot smoother than the X5, making it more comfortable to walk on hard surfaces but a bit slippier in muddy conditions.

Overall the X4 is a little under-gunned when faced with the competition of its equally-priced mountain bike equivalent. The X4 feels like it has been beaten at its own game by the stiffer and more comfortable X5. The X4 trump card is its weight, shaving almost 100g off the X5, plus it's sleeker more simplistic look may appeal to those wanting a road and gravel crossover shoe.

For more information, read our Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 review.

A pair of purple Sidi Jarin gravel bike shoes on a stone floor

Sidi's own dial system on the Jarin is not as easy to use as the Boa alternatives on may other shoes (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Sidi Jarin

Best gravel bike shoes for sole stiffness

Specifications

Sizes: 39.5-49
Closure: Tecno 3 dials
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 727g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect sole stiffness
+
Replaceable tread
+
Fantastic colour

Reasons to avoid

-
Fiddly dials
-
Stiff uppers make closure hard to fine-tune
-
Odd fit
-
Vague pedal engagement

Sidi has been making road and mountain bike shoes for a while now but the Jarin is its first gravel-specific offering. Packed with an unusual design and an outrageous iridescent colour scheme, the Sidi Jarin is quite unlike any of the other shoes we have on this test. 

Using Sidi’s own ratchet design, closure on the front of the foot is handled with a central dial while an instep closure system tightens across the top of the shoe. The dials are fiddlier than the Boa dials on the other shoes as they require you to push a button to release a lever. They also cant be backed off, instead using releasing levers that need to be squeezed on the side of the dial. 

I found the fit a bit odd, I have slightly narrow feet and I wasn’t able to cinch the Jarin’s down at the front as much as I would have liked. Saying that they still felt secure on my foot and I didn’t suffer any lift or movement while riding although I did while pushing. The tongue also dug into the front of my ankle, although this is possibly due to tightening the top strap more to compensate for the looser fit at the front. Sidi does advise in the included instruction booklet that the tongue can be cut to create a gentler edge.

Where the Sidis shine is the sole, which is a perfect balance of stiffness and comfort. This perfect blend made it the best performer on this test and, while the Shimano RX8 came very close, the Jarin was just a little better. Unfortunately, it isn’t all positives for the sole: while the lugs are replaceable, they don’t feel particularly sure-footed and combined with the exposed carbon sole means that in situations such as river crossings, if the lug misses there is no additional rubber to stop you slipping. 

I also found clipping in and out of the pedals somewhat vague. I used the same Shimano XT pedals throughout testing and every shoe was fitted with brand-new cleats, yet the Sidis were the only ones to have this issue. The Jarin’s are also not light – weighing in at 727g they are noticeably heavier than many of the other shoes on the test. 

While the sole and outrageous colourway really appeal to me, the complicated Techno System dials and odd fit were detracting. Fit is personal and if you are already a fan of Sidi then these are going to be an excellent choice. If unsure, I would recommend trying before you buy.

An olive green pair of lace-up Giro Privateer cycling shoes

Laces allow you to really fine tune your fit, at the expensive of adjustability on the go (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Giro Privateer

Best gravel bike shoe for style gurus

Specifications

Sizes: 34-50
Closure: Lace
Sole: Nylon
Weight: 726g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to walk in
+
Very comfortable on and off the bike
+
Laces give a great fit

Reasons to avoid

-
Too much flex in the sole

Giro says that the Privateer lace combines the comfort of its Empire shoes with the durability of the Privateer mountain bike shoes.

Giro isn’t wrong, as the Privateers are supremely comfortable. The upper's gentle mould around the foot and the long section of laces means that tightness can be adjusted down the length of the shoe. They are well cut around the ankle and, although the heel cup isn’t as rigid as other shoes, it still does a great job of holding the foot in place. The microfibre upper feels hard-wearing and is reinforced around the toe and heel. Perforations around the sides and tongue help with ventilation but don’t instantly let water in if you splash through a puddle.

The sole is made from nylon but really lacks stiffness: when climbing out the saddle, the cleat plate can be felt under the foot. The upside is that they are very comfortable to walk in and the simple tread combined with toe block sections do a good job when wandering about on a range of surfaces.

If you are a rider who likes to put down large amounts of power, then the Privateers will not be the shoe for you – the Giro Sector in this list offers more in that department. They are superbly comfortable and, while the lack of stiffness in the sole might put some off, the flex only helps improve comfort further. If you are a rider looking for a gravel adventure shoe for using on all-day rides that are focused on a good time, not a fast time then the Privateers are a great option. 

Rapha Explore gravel shoes in black on a wooden floor

The Rapha Explore are stiff where needed but flex at the heel and toes to allow for ease of walking when off the bike (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Rapha Explore

Best gravel bike shoe for hike-a-bike

Specifications

Sizes: 36-47
Closure: Laces
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 694g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Grippy soles for walking
+
Lace-up allows adaptable closure over long-distance rides

Reasons to avoid

-
Uppers can rub and irritate the ankle bone

Rapha’s Explore shoes have been designed specifically for gravel, adventure and ultra-endurance racing – and to accommodate for the fact that all great adventures by bike involve a bit of walking. They have proven their capability on the feet of Lachlan Morton during his staggering ride of the GB Duro in 2019.

The carbon sole provides a stiff platform for pedalling but is only used in the mid-section – so there is some flex around the heel and toes – and sees a distinct advantage when compared to the Specialized S-Works Recon, Shimano RX8 and Sidi Jarin. This is further helped by the rubber coating and huge treaded knobs. The rubber, which can also be found on hiking boots, provides plenty of grip on rocks and dirt.

The uppers use a one-piece microfibre construction that is doubled over to form the lace eyelets. The closure is no more complicated than tying a pair of shoelaces and a piece of elastic keeps the knot loops tidy and away from your drivetrain. Comfort across the foot is good but the outside edge around the ankle did cause painful irritation that lessened over time, so the shoes may need to wear in a bit more.

If you are a rider that likes to go back and beyond, the Rapha Explore with its very grippy sole and the stiff pedalling platform is a great choice and ranks among the best gravel bike shoes available. Laces are easily replaced and offer a much wider scope for adjustment should feet swell or extra socks be worn. Only time will tell whether they break in, but in the time that we have been riding them there does seem to be a gradual improvement.

Giro Rincon gravel show in green on paved surface

A similar visual package to the Privateer, but with Boa closure (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Giro Rincon

Best gravel bike shoe for casual adventures

Specifications

Sizes: 40-48
Closure: BOA L6 dial
Sole: Nylon-composite
Weight: 696g (actual)

Reasons to buy

+
Lovely earthy aesthetic
+
Comfortable to walk in
+
Simple to adjust Boa system

Reasons to avoid

-
Sole isn’t stiff enough for hard riding

The Rincon is the little brother of Giro’s new Sector, sharing the same uppers but foregoing the double boa and carbon sole to produce a more affordable option that still makes it into our best gravel bike shoes round-up.

The Rincon shares the same breathable SynchWire upper as the Sector and Giro’s very premium Imperial road shoes. This one-piece design is thermo-bonded with an exo-structure to create a non-stretch upper that gives the Rincon a very comfortable and breathable fit. The toes and heel are reinforced with rubber to ward off any rogue rocks. The Rincon only gets one Boa L6 dial which gives a 1mm adjustment to the steel lace that crosses down the front through soft lace guides and allows a comfortable-yet-secure fit.

Unfortunately, the Rincon shares the same sole as the Privateer Lace and, if you are a powerful rider looking for a pair of Giros, you will probably be better served by the Sectors as they have a carbon sole.

I was really torn by the Rincon. It is undeniably comfortable, which is mostly due to the SynchWire upper and is superbly good looking but the sole is simply not stiff enough for me. I would find myself reaching for them and then having to reassess based on the ride I was doing. The result is a shoe that is best suited to lighter riders or those who choose a more chilled-out intensity of riding. 

The walkability is about as good as an SPD shoe can get before getting a trainer-style sole, so you won’t feel the need to carefully tiptoe on hike-a-bike sections or when exploring mid-ride.  

Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon Gravel Shoes

A high performance gravel shoe, but also a visual treat (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon

Another beautiful gravel bike shoe

Specifications

Sizes: 26-48
Closure: BOA and Velcro
Sole: Carbon
Weight: 668g

Reasons to buy

+
Quality aesthetics
+
Powerstrap is comfortable and secure

Reasons to avoid

-
Toe-rub protection is lacking
-
Not that well vented

More of an all-around gravel bike shoe than the Terra Powerstrap X4, more attuned to big days out and walking than its more racy cousin, the Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon brings both performance and a very attractive visual package to the segment. 

The sole is carbon, but this isn't an all-out race shoe. It is comfortable, with enough traction to get you out of trouble should you need to walk, and despite looking very pretty it's constructed from durable materials. 

The downside to this durability is the venting is comparatively worse than some more racy options, so perhaps not one for a heatwave. The toe box also didn't enjoy surprise meetings with the front tyre either, but most shoes don't.

To find out more head to our Fizik Vento Ferox Carbon review.

How to choose the best gravel bike shoes for you

Can I wear mountain bike shoes for gravel riding?

Of course, though it's not the optimum nowadays. As we alluded to at the start if you plan on racing, or at least high-tempo riding with minimal time walking then some gravel race shoes will be more attuned to your needs; they will have better power transfer and are lightweight too. Much more like a slightly beefed-up road shoe.

For general gravel use, a gravel shoe will still be a better option. Some will have proper walking treads, to better support you in hike-a-bike endeavours, 

Can I wear road shoes for gravel riding?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no unless you're only going to ride on the road. If you have to get off and walk for any reason you run the risk of ruining the bottom of your road shoes and the non-recessed cleats. 

I decided once it was a good idea to take my road bike gravel riding without swapping the pedals and ended up filling my Look Keo Blade pedals with so much gunk that on clipping back in after a stop I managed to blow the carbon leaf spring clean out of its housing - You have been warned. 

Do I need toe spikes for gravel riding?

Some gravel bike shoes will include sockets in which you can screw a pair of toe spikes (these vary in style, but think football boot studs). 

In general, you're not going to need to use these; they're primarily to aid traction in MTB or Cyclocross races on steep run-ups. If you think you're going to be racing 'cross or MTB on occasion they're useful to have as an option, but not the be-all and end-all. For protracted walking, they'll actually get in the way.

Are laces better than Boa?

On this, it's best to stick to a system you're already familiar with. I prefer to run laces across all disciplines as I have fussy feet with delicate high arches and I can make room where I need it. 

Laces on the whole are lighter, and you can really fine-tune the fit, but you lose the ability to adjust on the fly. This means in racing terms you can't tighten them up for a sprint, or loosen them up near the end of a 24hr epic ride as your feet have swelled up.

Velcro is a third system, but we'd advise avoiding it for truly mucky riding as the hook-and-loop system can more easily degrade in the face of protracted filth exposure.

Should gravel shoes be stiff?

It depends on your goals; for racing the best gravel bike shoes will be nearly as stiff as their road counterparts, save for a bit of extra compliance to help absorb the buzz from riding over bumpy ground. 

For longer rides or just non-competitive endeavours, having a hyper-stiff gravel bike shoe is a recipe for discomfort. As such even some high-end gravel shoes will feature a composite sole rather than a carbon one, so as to allow some more flex. 

This is particularly pertinent if you might end up walking for more than the distance from the bike rack to the café counter to order your gravel-specific avocado toast. Some flex in the sole will allow you to walk in comfort and give you more traction when you do too. 

How should my gravel bike shoes fit?

They should fit much as a pair of road cycling shoes would, especially at the racy end of the spectrum. Snug, but not tight.

If you plan on continuing to use them in the winter then allowing some room for some of the best winter cycling socks is never a bad plan, and given the bumpy nature of the riding a thicker pair of socks can even add a bit more cushioning and comfort in the warmer months too. 

How we test

Lots and lots of testing, in all weather, both riding and on extended sections of hike-a-bike too. we find out if the shoes are stiff enough to race, comfy enough to ride all day, and durable enough to walk up a mountain in if you double puncture and have left all your tools at home.

With enough riding time we can tease out what separates the great from the good in terms of fit, form and function, and this means we can also spot some more bargain offerings that can mix it with the best too.