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Last updated: January 24, 2021
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Whether you are just starting out or you are a very experienced climber, your shoes can be the difference between success and failure. Climbing shoes are designed to keep you safe and can help you climb even better. However, just as with other pieces of climbing gear, there are so many types of shoes on the market; and even more so with shoes as there are different types of climbing surfaces and everyone has different type of feet. Therefore, it can be somewhat difficult finding the right pairs of climbing shoes on the market.
We realize this, and that is why we have reviewed scores of shoes available on the market right now. In this best climbing shoes review, we have provided an in-depth analysis of 15 of the best climbing shoes on the market today. From our testing, and from reviews found online, our top pick is none other than the Black Diamond Men’s Momentum Lace Climbing Shoes. The Momentum is a flat lasted shoe with slight asymmetry in the toe box and a moderately flexible midsole. All of these features lend themselves to comfort and decent performance. Part of the comfort is surely due to the fact that for this shoe BD has custom molded the rubber for each piece, not cut its strips from a large sheet and then glued and ground, the latter process producing more inconsistencies in thickness and weight. Aside from this truly impressive shoe, we have also provided information on 14 other products.
In creating this list, we considered several vital factors. These include gender, type, downturn, upper, midsole, rubber, best uses, and sizes. Along with the in-depth review, this post also provides a comparison table, a buyer’s guide, and an FAQ section. We believe that after reading this post, you will be better equipped in choosing the best climbing shoes.
"The Shaman is best suited to steep, endurance limestone sport routes, toeing in on positive crimps, toe hooking on tufa-like features, and heeling on small edges. The rubber is super sticky and performs well once you get used to it."
If your climbs often involve you having to change movements or have you frequently standing on shallow pockets or micro edges, it’s time for the Tenaya Oasi shoes. Experienced climbers adore these shoes due to the blend of sensitivity and stiffness.."
If your climbs often involve you having to change movements or have you frequently standing on shallow pockets or micro edges, it’s time for the Tenaya Oasi shoes. Experienced climbers adore these shoes due to the blend of sensitivity and stiffness.."
"The Dragon’s down-turned, asymmetric toe-box, is its defining feature. This dramatic downturn and “banana” curve position one’s foot in an optimal power position for toeing in on steep, powerful climbs."
For an intermediate shoe, the Stickit has a good deal of comfort. A single pull hook and loop enclosure tighten the heel and instep with one easy-to-use strap making it super easy to get in and out of.."
"If you are looking for well-priced comfortable all-rounder woman’s shoe, the TarantuLace could be the shoe for you. La Sportiva aim this shoe at beginners and those active on intermediate level routes."
"The La Sportiva TC Pro features phenomenal edging, a flat toe, ankle protection for cracks, decent smearing ability, and an ultra-supportive, semi-stiff sole that will keep your feet feeling strong pitch after pitch."
This shoe comes with lower volume feet that we know necessary for women climbing shoes. The shoe is made with 100% organic hemp fabric to minimize stretch and has a footbed of moisture and wicking split leather. ."
The toe profile of the Acro is narrow enough to wiggle your toes into the same cracks and pods that accept a 0.75 camalot, and the full rubber covered upper helps your rand smear in flares and corners. ."
"The first thing we noticed about the Mad Monkey 2.0 shoes is how easy they are to put on little feet. The large Velcro strap over the top of the foot opens really wide and they are also very adjustable to accommodate growing feet of the kids."
Climbing shoes are a highly specific piece of gear, and each model is made with a certain use in mind. Black Diamond’s Momentum lands on the entry-level end of the spectrum for both indoor and outdoor climbers. It features a flat, flexible last and soft and cushioned upper for all-day comfort and breathability. Black Diamond’s beginner offering is in its element on easy to moderate multi-pitch routes, at the gym, or top roping at the crag. The Momentum is not a high precision, high performance shoe, nor has it ever claimed to be. We do not recommend it for steep terrain of any kind, or repetitive crack climbing.
The Momentum is a flat shoe with slight asymmetry in the toe box and a moderately flexible midsole. All of these features lend themselves more to comfort than performance. In the case of the Momentum, the sole lacks the stiffness needed for performance while edging and slab climbing. In the end, the Momentum is too sensitive for the terrain that a flat shoe might excel on, and not downturned enough to truly maximize the benefits of its sensitivity. The Momentum has 4.3mm of NeoFuse (previously called NeoFriction) rubber on the sole. We’ve found that on the Momentum, this rubber is both remarkably durable and grippy. For an entry-level climbing shoe, rubber of this quality is a huge selling point. The NeoFuse extends about an inch into the toe box on all sides and around most of the heel for added durability, protection, and traction. But the Momentum is decidedly not made for toe- or heel-hooking, lacking the full rubber toe and heel of an aggressive shoe. The BD Momentum was designed with a focus on comfort, and it shows. The flat last allows feet to sit naturally, the flexible midsole offers mobility both on and off the rock, and the soft upper is airy and plush. There is even a microfiber liner at the front of the shoe for comfort where the toes hit the rand. Breathability is a hallmark of the Momentum, and we enjoyed being able to keep them on at the crag without our feet growing sweaty.
We are impressed with the heat injected, NeoFuse outsole. Instead of the common die-cutting construction (think cookie cutter), BD heat injects rubber into a foot-shaped mold, eliminating the need for glue and increasing the durability of the sole. The combination of high-quality rubber and innovative technology promise a long-lasting platform, ideal as an all-day shoe for new climbers with less-than-precise footwork.
What we liked:
The heat-injected NeoFuse is grippy and durable.
The innovative knit upper is breathable, comfortable, and durable too.
Comes in a wide variety of sizes
What could be better:
They are very narrow and will not fit wide-footed climbers.
Combining Italian craftsmanship with an aggressive, downturned shape, the Scarpa Boostic is a solid performance shoe. It feels so comfortable, so good, almost tailored to the shape of the foot. This product comes with a leather upper that hugs the foot naturally. It also offers a fairly aggressive downturn which is great for folks that are used to climbing. For marathons on gentle overhangs, whether on pocketed indoor routes, or steep Red Rock sandstone, the Boostic was an excellent choice. We even found them to be effective on sloppy southern sandstone.
The Boostic is, in some ways, a typical downturned shoe for overhanging climbing. It has twin pull tabs in the back, a blended leather/synthetic upper to provide comfort where you need it, and a lack of stretch where that’s most important. The aggressively asymmetric shape of the toe really lends itself to sticking narrow pockets, and that made these my shoe of choice on a variety of routes in the gym. Another notable design feature is the V-Tension Active Rand system, which Scarpa claims: “amplifies power in the toe, without over compressing the fit”. Where the Boostic excels is in its inclusion of a mesh half sock beneath the velcro straps. The Boostic isn’t the only shoe out there with a half sock, but their design was the best.
Durability is very impressive with this product. It is made with a mix of synthetics and leather. The leather offers protection from water, weather, and other stuff while giving a natural stretch and better break-in to other products. One thing we loved about the leather is that although it stretches, it doesn’t suffer from decreasing structural integrity. Additionally, it features a 3.5mm Vibram outsole, which is a very durable rubber material used in running shoes.
The Shark is an unapologetic specialist’s shoe—soft, grippy, and best for super-steep gym and short, bouldery redpoints. It’s also really affordable. The nearly all-rubber outer means you can glom any part of the shoe onto anything you can hook, scum, or fold it onto—which is a unique design that comes with some drawbacks on comfort and ease of use and might not work for all climbers.
What we have noticed right away was how well the shoes edged for their softness; they aren’t incredibly precise, but they do edge nicely, even on vertical rock if you have strong feet and can take the stress. It all came from the AES midsole, a well-thought-out advent of varying stiffness: softer in the center, where you smear; but stiff around the sides, where you edge. This supported the big-toe power point and pinky toe for outside edging, but without stiffening things up so much it tanked the smearing/grabbing performance. The concave outsole mirrored the midsole’s construction, with high ridges of nicely grippy 3.8mm Science Friction 3.0 rubber-like icing along the edges, and a central concavity/indentation that curls your toes into the toe box.
A big part of grabbing is also sensitivity—being able to “feel” with your big toe where you’ll lock-on, and the Sharks didn’t disappoint. The subtle downturn, concave sole, softness, and slender vertical profile means you can home in and dig hard, especially with gym jugs you can floss your toe behind. The shoes mold so well to your feet, with more of an ergonomic, sock-like than a slipper-like feel, that they’re also tough to get off. With all that black rand rubber, the synthetic SynFlex uppers, and the orange Center Flex last, your foot is pretty well bound up by the material.
These models are new and apart from the old shoes from Shaman. New features include an updated fit at the heel – rubber has been removed from the arch of the shoe, meaning the Shaman 2016 can curve to your foot more easily.
There has been a tweak to the Velcro straps, moving them up slightly from the side of the shoe, giving more room to ‘scum’ the side of the shoe without catching the strap, and there is a new slightly larger toe patch for toe hooking. Overall though, with a very similar ‘love bump’ under the toes and a deep knuckle box, these Shamans are very similar to their old counterparts.
The heel was comfortable and sat snugly on my foot, and didn’t shift at all when heel-hooking. It also didn’t dig into my Achilles. At first, it feels quite low on the Achilles, like it could slip off, and we are sure this adds to the comfort, but when you pull as hard as you can with your heels, you’ll feel no slippage. The tongue is well-padded and very comfortable, and if you have very low volume feet, the padding will fill up a bit of space above the foot nicely, but if you have fat feet, it might be worth a double check.
The triple Velcro strap closure worked very well. The lowest strap was just low enough down the foot to cinch up and remove any bagginess that spools above the tow box area. The weight of the shoes was 560g which is actually a bit heavier than many rival shoes – and this can be felt on the foot. However, for that bit of extra beefiness, you feel like the shoe is built well, and has a good thickness of rubber on – 4.2mm of Trax rubber to be exact, and with a thick sole like that, they do take a bit of getting used to but have been wearing really well.
As the one-stop-shop of rock shoes, the Endeavor is a durable, medium-stiff, and medium-flex, sticky-rubber kick that is at home on vertical, slabby, and even slightly overhanging terrain. With the addition of a few thoughtful features, this shoe rises above the dozen other moderate-performance pairs on shelves now. A welded polyurethane reinforcement in the leather-upper heel gives more stability and security in the back of the shoe without the full rigidity of a one-piece rubber heel cup. A strip of welded polyurethane on the upper runs across the toe for increased durability and structure, preventing the forefoot from stretching out or caving in. The double straps of Velcro are opposed (one latches down on the left, the other on the right), with double and triple attachment points so that when testers pulled one strap, they could feel the shoe tightening down all around their foot. The Endeavor also has a two-face upper, with leather in the back half for breathability and comfort, and synthetic in the front that won’t stretch out or deform.
It offers great performance without downsizing, an aggressive curve, or any pain. The friendly price makes this an excellent option for gym or mileage shoes, and the well-designed details mean way more value for your money. Allowing you to perform like an expert on any type of climb without sacrificing performance, the Butora Endeavor are the best climbing shoes for beginner climbers. Giving you precision and power throughout your climbs, the shoe has a natural fit to it, and the triple fork webbing allows it to fit specifically to your feet. The split leather footbeds also increase performance and comfort. The interior contains organically grown hemp lining which was designed to help control odor and stretch. No matter what your climbing style, this shoe is a great all-around performer.
The Five Ten Team 5.10 is a very aggressive downturned climbing shoe that performs exceptionally well on steep rock. The shape of these shoes is their most defining feature, placing the foot in an ideal position for pulling in on footholds. Additionally, their mid-range stiffness makes them very versatile, capable of both edging and smearing well.
The Team 5.10 is extremely downturned. This feature makes them great for grabbing and pulling in on feet, especially on overhung rock. The shape also really focuses the foot’s pushing power onto one small point at the tip of the big toe. Climbing in these shoes feels about as close to having hands for feet as possible. There is a downside to this extreme shape, and that is that standing on parts of the shoe, other than the focused toe point, can feel a bit awkward. The shape also makes these shoes a poor choice for any terrain that is less than vertical.
The Team 5.10 feature Stealth® HF™ rubber which, much like the shape, is tailored for the primary purpose of pulling in with the feet. The fully rubber topside on the Team 5.10 makes them an excellent toe hooking shoe. The uppers are perfectly sticky and are built with a great balance of stiffness and sensitivity. The climber can feel what they are hooking while still having the necessary padding to use a lot of force. The heels, on the other hand, might be the shoes least selling feature. When heel hooking on smaller features like crystals or little edges, the soft material on the side of the heel doesn’t provide enough stiffness. That said, unless your project has a heel hook crux, you probably won’t notice this deficiency. Overall, the Team 5.10 is an excellent shoe for steep rock. For the purpose of pulling in with one’s feet, they perform exceptionally well. We’d recommend them as a primary shoe for sport climber and boulder who want to climb a variety of steep terrain. We believe them to be one of the best all-around steep rock shoes on the market.
The Tenaya Oasi is a versatile slipper that can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it. The shoe comes with a down-turned and down-cambered design that allows you to get perfect friction between your feet and the rock. The synthetic upper and cotton lining made the shoe wet free.
There are several reasons why we love these shoes. First, the material that the manufacturer used is Microfiber, with a cotton lining, so little stretch or smell should occur; they have a lycra tongue which feels nice and snug when on. The synthetic upper keeps the shoe dry even in the wet environment. Additionally, the outsole of this Tenaya Oasi made with Vibram XS Grip 3.5mm, which is a combo of not too soft and too hard. It is long-lasting and sticky. It is thin enough to feel what you’re doing but with structure thanks to the SRX dynamics.
These shoes come with a unique and precise patented closure system. There are two thin Velcro straps that diagonally fasten across the front of the shoe. The shoe can even be used as slipper where lacing is optional. We love that a 3.5mm rubber sole and five-micro-layer insole conveys every nuance of the rock and allows maximum transmission of power to the footholds.
Lastly, when you try the Oasi you will feel that it is completely different. Despite its curved shape, it is super comfortable, even more than many flat shoes on the market, and this will allow you to climb all day without any pain.
All climbing shoe companies offer at least one shoe that they describe as the perfect tool for top-level sport climbing or bouldering. For Five Ten, the Dragon is the shoe they market as “the ultimate bouldering shoe” and assert that they are the “foot-tool of choice for The World’s Greatest Athletes. ™”
The Dragon’s down-turned, asymmetric toe-box is its defining feature. This dramatic downturn and “banana” curve positions one’s foot in an optimal power position for toeing in on steep, powerful climbs.
Additionally, this shape enables climbers to pull with their toes almost as if they were another set of fingers. This ensures that on steep walls in the 45-degree range, you can keep your hips into the wall and generate power by pushing and pulling with your feet rather than simply pulling on the handholds. The Dragon proved to be the perfect tool for this.
Another of the Dragon’s defining features is the heel. Like the toe-box, the Dragon’s heel is extremely narrow and low profile. Additionally, the heel is completely covered in Stealth HF™ rubber. This amount of rubber combined with the narrow profile creates a heel that performs well on all different types of heel hooks, ranging from straightforward, powerful hooks to more technical hooks that either involves smearing or positioning the heel behind a spike. Essentially, the combination of the narrow heel profile and the amount of rubber make the Dragon a perfect all-around heel-hooking tool.
For a closure system, Five Ten chose to use a full lace-up design which allows you to cinch down the shoe, eliminating all dead space and giving you a tight and secure fit. This is especially helpful on climbs with extremely powerful heel hooks, as the laces completely eliminate the possibility of one’s heel pulling out of the shoe. And whether the footholds are recessed pockets, dime-sized edges, or delicate smears, the Stealth rubber has provided the necessary friction to get the job done.
Kids grow fast, which makes parents leery of dropping cash on shoes that will be outgrown well before they get worn out. The Stickits, a bona fide climbing shoe with sticky rubber, have a nifty heel adjustment that enables parents to dial in fit across two full sizes—just pull the cord and knot the end. For an intermediate shoe, the Stickit has a good deal of comfort. The soft leather upper breathes well, and the synthetic dual overlapping padded tongue wraps the top of the footwell. A single pull hook and loop enclosure tighten the heel and instep with one easy-to-use strap making it super easy to get in and out of.
Weighing only 15.52 ounces, the innovative design offers unmatched edging performance thanks to the No-Edge™ technology. Plus, the P3® technology gives amazing power to the soles. The uppers are made from microfiber / suede leather.
If you are looking for well-priced comfortable all-rounder woman’s shoe, the TarantuLace could be the shoe for you. La Sportiva aims this shoe at beginners and those active on intermediate level routes. This shoe is extremely comfortable right from the start. The TaranuLace is constructed to a more natural foot shape. The sole has a rigid flat profile (i.e. no downturn). This makes the shoe suitable for beginners and trad/multi-pitch climbers as it does not contort the foot. The rigid sole provides plenty of support to the foot over longer climbs. This means that you can wear it without discomfort, and it will reduce the effort needed to stand on small edges.
The Tarantulace features a sole with a low asymmetry. A low asymmetric sole, like that of the TarantuLace, provides a good middle ground between forced foot shape and performance. It has an unlined suede leather upper which can stretch. This means that, over time, the shoe will mould to your foot shape. If you buy the shoe slightly on the tight side, you will find that the shoe will start to stretch up to a half or full size. The TaranuLace comes with a lined mesh tongue which helps manage moisture and is comfortable next to the skin. The shoe comes with La Sportiva’s proprietary FriXion ® RS rubber. There tends to be always a trade-off between durability and performance, and at the lower price point, we shouldn’t expect the high-end rubber that is in the more elite performance shoes. The TarantuLace features a quick pull lacing harness that delivers a snug precise fit. Laces allow those who find it hard to fit climbing shoes to custom fit the shoe better.
What we liked:
Flat profile, rigid sole and low asymmetry make it comfortable
Put simply; the La Sportiva TC Pro is one of the best-performing all-around trad shoes on the market. It has the rare combination of support and comfort for all-day climbing yet is still plenty capable of handling the precise footwork necessary for technical terrain. The shoe excels most on low-angle to vertical faces, edges, and cracks when most of your weight is on your feet the majority of time. However, it’s important to note that the TC Pro is not designed for especially steep climbing, toe and heel hooking, or pockets. In these cases, wearing the stiff and insensitive TC Pro can feel akin to strapping bricks to your feet.
The shoe performed extremely well on the majority of crack jamming, and its stiff design helped to reduce the intense calf burn associated with sustained stemming. It smeared surprisingly well and offered a stable platform on the slabby waves of basalt. On long pitches rife with small edges, the TC Pro’s stiff build staved off foot fatigue, and its mid-ankle height offered full protection from the abrasive rock in wide cracks.
Once broken in, the TC Pro is an exceptionally comfortable shoe that’s clearly built for all-day use. The flat last allows your toes to sit comfortably without having to curl, a lined, breathable upper adds a soft feel, and padding around the toe, ankle, and tongue lends extra protection while jamming in cracks. Further, the stiff build fends off foot fatigue throughout the day.
To women, Butora is a well-known brand that brought Butora Endeavor Women’s Climbing Shoes. This shoe comes with lower volume feet that we know is necessary for women climbing shoes. The shoe is made with 100% organic hemp fabric to minimize stretch.
Organic hemp shoes are amazingly breathable and dry really quickly. In all weather conditions, you can use this shoe quite comfortably. Additionally, the Butora Endeavor is completely lined with 100% organic hemp fabric which minimizes stretch and resists odor development. Another feature we love is the moisture resistant and wicking split leather. This ensures comfort and gives a custom fit to your toes.
The soft midsole ensures stability. This women’s climbing shoes is made with 3D injection-moulded full-lengths variable thickness polyurethane midsole, which provides torsion, rigidity and precision edging.
There is no reason to compromise with comfort; this hiking shoe ensures ultimate comfort to the users. The moisture-wicking split leather is used to provide a comfortable fit.
Butora may not be a household name just yet, but the Acro’s have some interesting features that compete with some of the best aggressive climbing shoes on the market.
These shoes have an asymmetric design with a pointy toe box (helpful for fitting your toes in pockets) which directs weight from the midsole to your big toes. Moreover, in the front of the sole, there is a concave section of rubber that aids in putting force on your toes when weight is placed elsewhere on the shoes. At the top of the toe box, you will find pin points vents in the rubber that make the shoe more breathable while increasing the enclosed toe box to more easily shape to your foot.
The heel of the Acros consists of four major parts: a strip that runs down the back of the heel to the arch of the shoe, a side piece of rubber with small holes punched out, a slim piece of leather and a band that runs diagonally down to your arches. The diagonal band maintains the shape of the heel cup and puts a lot of force on the upper part of your heel when edging. The slim piece of leather and side piece of rubber allow your heel to fill the heel cup securely. The flexibility of this portion and the extreme pressure that is placed on the top part of your heel ensures a climber’s heel does not slip when torqueing it for the more strenuous heel hooks. The bottom portion of the rubber is where the majority of your heel hooks will make contact with the wall; however, the stiffness of the rubber makes the heel subpar when compared to other high-performance shoes.
Butora uses their own rubber named “Neo Fues” which is supposedly “sticky rubber that is best suited for steep sport climbing and bouldering”. Unfortunately, the rubber is a bit disappointing. On the bright side, the stiffness of the rubber maintains the shape of the shoe very well and has made these a workhorse in the gym.
Mad Rock makes some great rock climbing shoes for adults and kids. Their Mad Monkey kid’s climbing shoes are so popular they were updated to add some awesome new features and makes them even better.
The first thing I noticed about the Mad Monkey 2.0 shoes is how easy they are to put on little feet. The large Velcro strap over the top of the foot opens really wide and makes it for little feet easy to slip in. Your kids will have no problem putting these on themselves.
Kids feet come in all shapes, size and are constantly growing! The large Velcro strap over the top of the foot can be adjusted for foot width while the two rear closure straps can be adjusted for foot length. The adjustable Velcro straps on the Mad Monkey 2.0 climbing shoes allow kids to get the perfect fit to scamper up rock walls without worrying about discomfort or losing their shoes.
The Mad Monkey 2.0 climbing shoes are designed to be super soft and supple so that kids are happy wearing them all day long. The tops of the shoes are made out of stretchy Synflex upper and their R2 rand system for ultra-comfort. This means there’s no pinching or scratching around little ankles and no need to “break” them in. When put to the test, the Mad Monkey 2.0 climbing shoes performed excellently. The shoes have a nice edge for catching small ledge and great rubber for smearing and gripping.
For women climbers, specialized woman climbing shoes would be a smart choice. Evolv Elektra is a well-known name which manufacturing women shoes for a long time. In the year 2017, their old classic Evolv Elektra gets a major upgrade. Not only does it have a fresh new look, but features an improved, made more anatomical fit.
The Evolv Elektra is a combination of durable, comfortable and affordable shoes. The variable thickness rand allows the rubber to last longer. One of the great additions of this shoe is Antimicrobial mesh technology to protect from odor, which undoubtedly is a unique feature. So, for the climbers of all ages, this will be a perfect choice. The synthetic upper makes lightweight, soft, and comfortable shoes that fit properly as they do not stretch much over time.
The Evolv Elektra features a Variable Thickness Rand (VTR), which means the rubber is thicker in the places where it wears out quickest, like the toe. This feature prolongs the life of the shoe and reduces toe bulge- means the shape keeps right. The shoe comes with a flat design which allows regular walking alongside climbing. As it has a low asymmetric design, your foot can rest flat without being uncomfortably curled.
What we liked:
Plenty of stretch
Perfect for climbing
What could be better:
Takes time to stretch and feel comfortable
Things to Consider
As there are so many brands of climbing shoes on the market today, we know it can be hard choosing a particular one. To help you, we have provided the in-depth reviews above. We have gone a step further also to give you a buying guide containing the factors and features to consider before buying a climbing shoe.
Features to Consider
When purchasing climbing shoes you should think about different factors in order not to endanger yourself while climbing and not to be disappointed with your own and your shoes performance. Further will describe what is essential and what to look for:
It’s important to consider the type of climbing you’ll be doing as well as the terrain when choosing your shoe, as there are a variety of options for every situation. Let’s see some of the types of climbing shoes available.
For the best sport climbing, your shoes will need to have a stiff midsole, quality edging platform, a tight heel cup, and ideally a lace closure. A stiff shoe with a moderate downturn will make it easier to scale vertical climbs.
For sport climbing on vertical to slightly less-than-vertical terrain, you can get away with a relatively stiff shoe with a moderate downturn. These models absolutely shine on face climbs where precision edging is paramount. They’re characterized by a solid edging platform, tight heel cup with a slingshot-style rand, stiff midsole, and laces or a Velcro closure. For steeper sport climbing (such as that found in Kalymnos, the Red, or even in the gym), we’d look to a more aggressive shoe like those described in the bouldering section below. The La Sportiva Women’s TarantuLace Performance Rock Climbing Shoe is a great example: it’s a soft slipper with Velcro closure, aggressively downturned, and spots a whole lot of rubber on the toe and heel.
Typically, the best performers are flat non-aggressive or all-around shoes. Since you’ll likely be doing a lot of jamming in cracks, the ideal shoe is going to have a relaxed fit, laces, and a stiff midsole while giving you solid ankle protection. It will have little to no toe/heel rubber or downturn. However, if you tend to do more difficult or steep routes, then you might prefer more downturn.
Trad climbing typically takes place on slabby to just-vertical terrain and often involves a great deal of jamming in cracks. For this, flat climbing shoes—also thought of as all-around shoes or non-aggressive shoes—are the top-performing models. These shoes are often more comfortable than their more aggressive counterparts, but comfort need not compromise performance. Certain flat shoes offer the best performance for slabs, techy face climbing, and crack, the La Sportiva TC Pro, for example. Look for very slight or no downturn at all, a stiff midsole, relaxed fit, minimal heel/toe rubber, solid ankle protection, and most often, laces.
These shoes are not designed to be comfortable. Rather, they’re designed to help you climb well on steep terrain and make sure you can stick to tiny in-cuts, heel hook, and toe hook. These shoes will have a hybrid closure, a solid amount of toe rubber, rubber-covered rounded heel cups, and an aggressive downturn. They’ll also have high sensitivity to help with feeling the rocks.
Bouldering shoes—indoor and outdoor—are characterized by an aggressive downturn, a generous patch of toe rubber, floppiness for sensitivity, rounded heel cups covered in rubber, and a hybrid closure (often an elastic slipper with a single Velcro strap). These shoes shine on steep terrain, when toe hooking, heel hooking, and sticking to tiny in-cuts on overhanging walls. They usually are sized snug and probably aren’t comfortable to wear for more than a minute or two.
If you’re a new boulderer—especially indoors—we recommend that you save your money and foot ligaments and start with a stiffer and less aggressive shoe like Black Diamond Momentum, which is our top pick.
This is one of the most important features you’ll have to consider before deciding what the best rock climbing shoes are for you.
Downturn determines the amount of curve in the sole of a shoe and will be categorized as aggressive, moderate, or flat.
Flat shoes are the answer if you’re climbing on terrain that’s vertical or less than vertical. Because of the curve in aggressive shoes, your feet won’t be able to rest in their natural position; however, you will have an advantage when perching or pulling on small edges.
Closures are deal breakers for some, but not for everyone. It’s mainly about what you’re most comfortable with. The three types of closures are Velcro, lace, and slipper, but some of the newer models will combine different closures to help with comfort and security. Here are the different types of closures.
These are super easy to take on and off, as you can see by Evolv Elektra Climbing Shoe, so they’re typically preferred by those who need to get in and out of their shoes often. Sport climbing, bouldering, and indoor climbing are the places you’ll most often see these closures. On the downside, Velcro can fail or come apart while climbing, and it may hinder you during toe hooking.
If you are doing repetitive jamming, be sure to go with a lace closure. These are typically used by climbers who put their shoes on and keep them on for a while. They allow a great fit to your individual foot, and they are also an excellent choice for kids, as you can see by La Sportiva Kids’ Stickit Rock Climbing Shoe.
If you’re all about comfort and convenience, then this is the closure for you, as it is by Mad Rock Shark Climbing Shoe. While these shoes are great in cracks and on friction slabs, they do stretch over time and there’s no way to fix them once that becomes a problem.
Uppers rest on the sides and top of your feet and are made from either leather or a synthetic substitute. Synthetic uppers will maintain their original dimensions even after the shoe is well broken in. Leather uppers will stretch over time, adjust to your feet, and become more comfortable.
Fit and Sizing
There are several different ways a climbing shoe may fit you. When trying on shoes the first question many will ask is how tight should climbing shoes be? The answer is that they should fit pretty snugly, but not be unbearable. More experienced climbers may be willing to be uncomfortable in their shoes if it allows them to perform better when climbing. If you’re new to climbing, then consider checking out some good rock climbing shoes for beginners, because you don’t want the initial discomfort to turn you off to the sport. Also, keep in mind that some shoes will stretch and others won’t.
Soft or Stiff
Stiffness is a big deal but also one that depends on your preference. Typically beginner climbers prefer shoes that are stiffer because they offer better foot support. If you’re someone with stronger feet, then you may want a softer shoe because it’ll be more sensitive and flexible.
You really shouldn’t be too concerned about whether your shoe is classified as men’s or women’s. Some men wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa. Typically men’s shoes are wider, and women’s are narrower, but today many shoes are unisex, for example Tenaya Oasi Unisex Rock Climbing Shoe. So, rather than looking for the best women’s rock climbing shoes, it’s all about figuring out what’s going to work best on your feet regardless of who it is marketed towards.
Indoor or Outdoor
There are countless differences between climbing indoors and outdoors, but in regards to shoes where you climb changes what your priorities ought to be. For indoor climbers new to the sport or training for the outdoors, the focus should be on a cost-effective shoe that’s comfortable. Outdoors is where you need the more pricey, high performance, and durable shoe.
Climbing shoe rubber is an esoteric subject. All rubbers try to find some balance on the sticky-durable continuum. Some go hard to the sticky side, while others gravitate to the more durable side. Either way can make sense depending on your priorities. Just understand that there is a tradeoff: the “grippier” your rubber, the shorter it will last. The longer it lasts, the less sticky it will be.
Many of the best climbing shoes for kids recognize that kids are growing. Hence, they are adjustable and will stretch after some time.
Buying the best climbing shoes is no easy task. However, from the round-up, we can heartily recommend three of the best.
First, our top pick, the Black Diamond Men’s Momentum Lace Climbing Shoes features a flat, flexible last and soft and cushioned upper for all-day comfort and breathability. Black Diamond’s beginner offering is in its element on easy to moderate multi-pitch routes, at the gym, or top roping at the crag. We also recommend our value buy, the Scarpa Boostic Climbing Shoe. The rubber-shrouded toe and heel are excellent on steep rock, and the medium-stiff rand offers more edging power than we’re used to seeing in a climbing shoe.
Lastly, for those on a budget, the Mad Rock Shark Climbing Shoe stands out as an option that’s easy on your wallet without sacrificing a ton in the way of performance. It boasts Mad Rock’s Arch Flex system, a design that is stiff around the sides and soft in the center, allowing for both effective smearing and edging.
We hope this post will help you in selecting the best climbing shoes available.