The Best Climbing Shoes We’ve Used
With oodles of options on the market, choosing the absolute best climbing shoes is no easy task. But here at Rock and Ice, we get as many of those shoes into our office as possible, seed them out among our testers, and put them through the wringer. What we end up with is a detailed look at many of the best climbing shoes out there, where we consider performance, comfort, durability, versatility and many other factors.
We don’t claim to have tried ever single climbing shoe out there—inevitably there are some we just don’t have an opportunity to test. That being said, the below is a list of the best climbing shoes that we’ve used.
Since the things you want in a climbing shoe vary by discipline, we’ve broken the list up into the best climbing shoes for bouldering, the best climbing shoes for sport climbing and the best climbing shoes for trad climbing. We also list some of the best climbing shoes for beginners and kids.
First up we go into a few basic criteria to take into consideration as you shop for the right shoe for you. After that, comes the list!
Primary Laws of Shoes
1. Comfort is not king. Fitting your climbing shoes for comfort is like buying a car because you like the driver’s seat. What I’m not saying is that climbing shoes should be uncomfortable, only that buying for comfort first isn’t wise.
A few exceptions exist, however, where comfort should be top priority: for kids, because their feet are still developing and they just need to have fun; for absolute newbies who don’t need the distraction of less-than- comfortable shoes. If either of these situations sounds familiar, get the comfiest pair of kicks imaginable, let ’er rip, and stop reading. For the rest, keep on.
2. Performance mostly matters. The marketing of certain shoes as for “performance” is a lie. Performance is relative. A 5.8 climber needs a shoe that performs for their ability just as a 5.15 crusher does. That is what matters. Performance means you are using a shoe for what it was made for.
3. Have two pairs, at least. I bring three to the crag, or gym, and so does almost everyone who takes climbing seriously. First, ask yourself what type of climbing are you doing? Are you mainly bouldering, leading or toproping? Whichever one will determine your shoe. There’s no such thing as an all-arounder, really. Thinking one shoe can do it all is like trying to shoot your best round of golf with only a five iron.
First, you want a pair to warm up in, and a pair when things get serious. Why? Save the wear and tear on your sending shoe, which can cost upwards of $200, and grind down the rubber on a cheaper pair.
4. Foot shapes are different. I know some climbers whose feet only fit in a La Sportiva shoe. Others only use Scarpa. Try on loads of brands and whatever shoe you end up getting, there should be no extra space in the toe box, heel cup or arch. If there is, keep shopping.
Now to the Shoes
Flat shoes, as in where your feet are absolutely flat and no crunched toes, pretty much like your everyday shoes. The bottom of these shoes looks flat. In general, flat shoes are excellent for slabs and the vertical wall, and kids. Flat shoes can be soft to stiff. Stiff are for harder vertical routes or hard slabs, such as when you need to stand on quarter-inch edges and such. Stiffness helps you stand on smaller holds with more efficiency, putting the burden on your calves. These shoes are not ideal for bouldering or anything steep. Flat shoes tend to be the most comfortable.
Fitting for flat shoes:“Yum, these feel good” to “Ahh, perfect.” Fit these shoes snug, your toes right up to the tips, but not crunched. If it’s a tad tight, ask yourself if you can wear them for 15 minutes. If you can, get them. Snug yields better performance than loose. Bear in mind that rock shoes stretch, usually half a size.
Downturned shoes are designed for steep to overhanging climbing and bouldering. A downturned shoe arcs like a bird beak.
Downturned shoes are usually mid to extremely soft for sensitivity. Unless you predominantly climb on vertical terrain, you want a pair of downturned shoes in your arsenal. There are subcategories:
Mildly downturned: A mid to mildly downturned shoe will get you up techy slabs, can perform on vertical terrain, can still get into pockets, and is great for the lead cave and bouldering.
Extremely downturned: A rule of thumb: the more downturned a shoe, the more it is meant for overhanging climbing, the reason being it lets you grab and pull in with your toes (for a caveat, see “Asymmetrical shoes”). There’s nothing sadder than seeing someone on a steep route with a flat shoe. As Yoda said, No favors do they make for themselves. For steep bouldering or steep sport routes—over 45 degrees—get an extremely downturned shoe.
Fitting for downturned shoes: “Not bad” to “Uuugh” to “Damn, that hurts.” Again, they’ll stretch a bit, about a half size. You only need to wear them for one to five minutes at a time. If you size these shoes too big, it’s like tying up a horse’s leg before the race. Very snug to tight is the rule. During fitting, your toes should be crunched and angled downward—this allows you to pull on steeper terrain, and the asymmetry in these aggressive shoes will allow your big toe to engage.
Rands—The rand is the strip of rubber running around the shoe upper. Most downturned shoes have a tensioned “sling- shot” heel rand that keeps your heel locked in and drives your toes to the end of the shoe. There are other variations of an active rand, such as arch rands. Some flat shoes will have an active heel rand, but the majority are relaxed.
Stiff shoes—as in, the bottom of the shoe feels like a board—refers not to shape but feel. These shoes are for outdoor climbing, trad climbing and slabs or vertical routes with a lot of edges.
A stiff shoe has a rigid midsole, a midbed stiffener that supports your foot (especially when torqued in cracks), so you don’t have to have strong feet to get the best performance out of them. Stiff shoes can be flat or downturned, but usually they are flat’ish.
Fitting for stiff shoes: same as for flat shoes.
Asymmetrical shoes—this refers to the shape of the shoe. Imagine a twisted banana. The more the tip of the shoe bends away from the center line, the more asymmetrical the shoe. Flat shoes are typically more symmetrical, but never perfectly so. Most asymmetrical shoes are downturned. The purpose of the asymmetry is to keep your toes in a crimp position, which helps with digging into holds on steep routes and, with some models, help keep you on small holds on vertical terrain with greater precision, thanks to your big toe doing a lot of the work.
Fitting for asymmetrical shoes: Same as for downturned shoes.
Note: We are constantly testing new shoes, and the shoes we prefer change as new models come out and old ones are discontinued. So this list changes from time to time!
The Best Bouldering Shoes We’ve Used
The Solution is for steep bouldering and power toe moves. The Solution won a Best in Gear (BIG) award from Rock and Ice, which says about all you need to know about this great shoe. The Vibram XO Grip high-friction rubber sole is excellent, sticky and durable. The shoe’s P3 design (Performance Power Platform) retains the downturned shape of the toe, unlike many similar shoes that lose their aggressiveness after months of wear. Read the full review here!
Designed by legendary boulderer Fred Nicole, the Aleon is a machine. The shoe has a robust midsole, precision toe and heel cup, and only gets more comfortable with wear. The Aleon is durable, meant for hard climbing and will perform on any type of rock. Most of the performance shoes in the Five Ten line-up have rounded toes, such as the Dragon VCS, Hiangle, Quantum or Team. But not the Aleon. It has one of the sharpest toes not only for Five Ten—akin to the Verdon—but on the market. That alone distinguishes this shoe and makes it a useful arrow in the quiver. Read the full review here!
Evolv touts the Agro as “the ultimate high end bouldering shoe.” As far as their line-up is concerned, that’s correct, except it’s a high-end all arounder. You’d want it tight for pockets and a normal fit for featured sport routes. The lavish amount of rubber on the top of the shoe ensures you have no excuse for botching the toe-hook beta. Inside, the shoe sports a comfy microfiber. The “lacing” system applies tension to the center of your foot, sucking up any empty volume you might have. Read the full review here!
The Acro, leading the Butora lineup, is an aggressive, downturned performance shoe. These shoes have more rubber than Planned Parenthood but are as supple and sensitive as any. And despite being difficult to get into, the shoe is surprisingly comfortable, even with an air-tight, toe-curling performance fit. Excellent for bouldering and steep sport. Read the full review here!
Similarly, La Sportiva touts the Genius as “the highest performance climbing shoe on the market.” The Genius incorporates the latest of Sportiva’s thinking—No-Edge technology, P3 randing and asymmetrical lacing—into one package. The Genius, unlike your worn shoes, is purpose built for no-edge climbing, performing at its optimal level on day one. The Genius is ideal for steep bouldering and all types of sport climbing with the exception of vertical edge climbing, where a traditional flat-lasted, stiff, edged shoe will ameliorate foot fatigue. Read the full review here!
The Best Sport Climbing Shoes We’ve Used
The Scarpa Drago is the Ferrari LaFerrari of climbing shoes—it’s sleek and sexy, and it radiates performance. The Drago combines Scarpa’s best climbing-shoe features into one. It has the active rand like the Furia for precision and sensitivity, and the slipper upper and heel cup of the Instinct VS for a skintight fit and locked-in. The Drago is a performance model that’s comfortable. It’s super soft, yet can toe on tiny edges as well as, if not better than, stiff edging-specific shoes, due to its midsole. Read the full review here!
Overall, the Tarifa is a wunderwaffe (wonder weapon) for sport climbing. It is comfortable, doesn’t require a break-in phase and excels at precision pasting. The shoe is only mildly cambered. When the foot is pressing on holds, the toes don’t curl in pain; the shoe stretches minimally. The rand doesn’t bulge beyond the sole and the pointy toe, which is key for precision placements. Read the full review here!
The Instinct VS has some great performance features. It is built on an almost identical last to the Boostic and edges really well. A large swath of rubber covers the top of the toes, allowing you to do some teched-out toe hooks a la Dave Graham, and the heel cup has a nice vacuum fit.
Honestly, this shoe could go in any of the categories. Though the Miura VS is most definitely “high performance,” it actually is an all-arounder that has stood the test of time. There’s a reason this shoe is seen on the world’s top climbers, whether on El Cap, Spanish limestone or the Forests of Fontainebleau. It might just be the best climbing shoe ever made. Read the full review here!
Built on the same last as the Boreal Satori, the Ninja shoe is exactly what you want out of a slipper—easy to put on while still snug and soft, with a nice contoured fit. The tongue’s elasticity allows for a quick break-in, and you don’t need to worry about throwing out your back while getting it on for the first few sessions. The shoe edges and smears particularly well. The Ninja retails at $120, which is significantly more affordable than many high-performance shoes on the market these days. Read the full review here!
La Sportiva’s Solution has long been a favorite for hard climbers seeking a pulling and hooking machine for their projects. Climbers working in this wheelhouse, but desiring a bit more versatile shoe, should definitely take note of the Skwama as well. The Skwama, a high-performance slipper hybrid, truly delivers as a sensitive and powerful shoe with a slightly lower price tag and higher comfort factor than many in its class. Read the full review here!
The Best Trad Shoes We’ve Used
All-arounders take note: For trad of any type, this could be the best climbing shoe out there. From vertical sandstone to steep granite to super-steep limestone, the TC Pro can do just about everything. We appreciate the asymmetrical, chiseled toe, which penetrated pockets and seams, yet still allows you to stand easily on measly chips. The double thickness of sole rubber used on the rand is also great for durability if doing a lot of crack climbing. Read the full review here!
The Maestro is a face and crack weapon. It’s stable and supportive on anything tiny you’d like to step on, but isn’t boardy and gives you good tactile feedback—you can sense when your feet are on the holds. The Maestro may have a touch of aggressiveness, yet it remains comfortable enough to wear for hours straight. Rubber coverage is more than adequate, as there’s rubber seemingly everywhere and especially around the toe. The payoff is, of course, in cracks, where you’ll also want the Mid version to protect your ankle bones. Read the full review here!
The General is built on the same last as the Evolv Supra—a classicly, if not overly aggressive, downturned shoe that excels in technical face climbing. The slight camber, combined with a super-stiff sole, works wonders. Aiding edging is the shoe’s slingshot-style heel rand, which wraps all the way around your foot and helps power up your toes. The General edges phenomenally, and the firmness through the sole makes standing on small edges for an entire day a non-issue. Read the full review here!
The Best Beginner Climbing Shoes We’ve Used
The Momentum has enough performance to take you from 5.6 to 5.11 on any type of route, and, for a soft, slipper-like flat last, it edges decently, mainly due to the rather straight profile on the inside of the shoe. We can attest that it is durable and comfortable. The uppers on the Momentum are unique—what BD calls “Engineered Knit Technology”—and you’ll notice the knitted material when your S.O. doesn’t toss the shoes into the garage because they don’t smell like an old diaper. Breathability. Check. Read the full review here!
The Gambit, with its reasonably stiff, non-aggressive, low-tension design, is comfortable on long routes and is a great all-round shoe for beginner to intermediate climbers. Additionally, they are great for crack climbing. Whereas the Anasazi Moccasym was the Five Ten crack-climbing shoe of choice for many, the Gambits have arrived to challenge that. Read the full review here!
The Best Kids Climbing Shoes We’ve Used
“Feal so cumfy and they are my favrot colers.” — Rock and Ice’s 7-year-old gear tester Amelia. Read the full review here!
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