The connection between a climber and the rock face (or indoor holds) depends as much on his/her feet and shoes as it does on hands and grip.
As such, decent rock climbing shoes are critical gear for anyone looking to take on vertical ascents. ‘Sticky’ rubber soles provide much-needed traction that trainers can’t offer.
This allows climbers to stand on barely-perceptible imperfections in otherwise blank rock.
Shoes will be one of the first pieces of climbing gear you purchase and picking the right pair is important.
Even if you’re just starting out, beginner climbing shoes can be helpful for bouldering, making it easier and are not that expensive.
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The type of climbing you do will impact the shoes you need. There are climbing shoes for every niche, from bouldering and traditional rock climbing, to overhangs and cracks, to competitive sport and indoor walls.
Each has slightly different demands, so primary use should be considered before purchasing.
Investing in a good pair will make sure that they (and you) go the distance.
When climbing once or twice a week, shoes should last up to nine months.
At this point the toe box normally has enough wear to need a resole and/or rand work. As your climbing skills and goals evolve, so will your shoe collection. Expert climbers will have multiple pairs of shoes to meet a range of demands.
With so much to consider, buying rock climbing shoes can feel like an intimidating experience, but it shouldn’t be.
Below we’ve assembled our favourite options on the market right now and further below is a detailed buying guide.
Best Overall Shoe
- Closure: Lace-up
- Upper: Suede leather / Microfibre
Arguably the best edging shoe on the market, La Sportiva’s Genius is an innovative and impressive high-performance choice for hard bouldering and sport climbing.
With the capability of grabbing just about any edge or tufa in sight, this shoe adds some serious smart to your efforts.
Balancing ultimate foot support and sensitivity, this is a great option for experienced rock climbers. La Sportiva market the Genius as ‘the tip of a very sharp spear’ and the No Edge concept toe is outstanding.
A rubber overlay on the toe provides additional grip so users experience more efficient foot placements. Constructed from super durable XS Edge rubber, it won’t wear down as fast as cheaper options.
This is furthered by the P3 (Permanent Power Platform) midsole that helps the Genius keep its shape and the power of your foot is amplified.
An off-center lacing system allows rubber to wrap around the toe for additional grip and can be adjusted for a perfect fit. There is also a stretchy, sensitive heel for precision when committing heel-hooking moves.
Though it isn’t the most comfortable to wear, this is to be expected from aggressive climbing shoes and just takes a bit of getting used to.
The main catch is of course the price tag, but for quicker, more stable movement on the rock the Genius can’t be beaten.
Best Bouldering Shoe
- Closure: Laces
- Upper: Microsuede
The Scarpa Instinct Lace is a great all-around shoe that is suited to a range of rock types and climbing situations.
A classic shoe reinvigorated, this model provides performance fit on a curved, asymmetric last, but now with a microsuede synthetic upper and a welded overlay.
The updated model is formulated for improved durability and it is one of the best options on the market for anyone with wide feet.
Scarpa’s Instinct collection are performance-oriented and combine a supportive forefoot and moderate downturn.
A high degree of pre-stored power comes from the Bi-Tension Active Rand, which pulls the sole up and back onto the forefoot giving an extremely precise, low profile fit.
This system actively pulls power from the toes and lessens tension.
A slightly wider toe box stops your toes from being painfully crunched together when worn. Vibram XS Edge rubber tips deliver excellent grip while adding improved firmness for edging on the smallest of features.
The lace-up Instinct’s edging prowess is largely down to its stiff forefoot. Unfortunately this does reduce sensitivity but not horrendously so.
Though not designed specifically for crack climbing, it performs well thanks to the wide midsole and modest downturn. The blunt toe is less ideal for small pockets but stands up on boulders, thin face climbs and even steep overhangs.
The Scarpa Instinct is also available in a velcro fastening model and the Instinct VSR is the same shoe but offers a more sensitive rubber on the bottom for higher friction.
Best Entry-level Shoe
- Closure: Velcro
- Upper: Leather/synthetic
Though Butora is lesser known than its competitors, the Korean company offers some impressive climbing shoes.
The Endeavor is easily one of the best beginner shoes available, with an affordable price tag and surprisingly impressive attention to detail and materials.
Suitable for climbs of up to 5.10 or V4, the asymmetrical design follows the foot’s outline to enhance strength and accuracy and a super sticky, butyl Butora F5 rubber sole provides just enough grip.
Full length polyurethane midsole for torsion rigidity and precision edging, though don’t expect anything like the Genius from La Sportiva.
The inner lining is made from a combination of eco-friendly hemp, synthetic fibre and natural leather, for a mixture of moisture-wicking, breathability (thereby reducing odour) and comfort.
On top of this, the inner layer of the tongue is made of memory foam and zig-zagging Velcro straps provide a snug, customised fit.
Though it isn’t suitable for high-level climbing, this should be a go-to for anyone new to the sport, or indoor climbers looking for a comfortable all-day shoe.
Note that the Endeavor is also available in a wide option so you can tailor your fit.
Best Precision Shoe for Vertical and Overhanging Terrain
- Closure: Velcro
- Upper: Leather /Lorica
La Sportiva’s Solution is purpose-built for challenging, overhanging sport routes and bouldering.
Still going strong over ten years after its first release, the latest model was recently updated with a new look, more durable closure system and additional rubber on the toe box.
Offering an aggressive downturn with asymmetric toe box, this a versatile shoe that is surprisingly comfortable on long pitches.
In terms of sensitivity, the Solution is medium-soft, great for comfort and smearing and provides the best of both worlds.
We liked the amount of stiffness, allowing the shoe to bend and flex at the arch but it will come down to personal preference.
They require very little breaking in but on long or footwork-intensive routes, the softness does tire out the feet quicker. The men’s model has a 1.1-millimetre midsole whereas the women’s is just 0.9 millimetres.
Some men may opt for the women’s Solution for its softer and more sensitive feel. The Solution is a more-than-capable partner for steep climbing, but the tensioned heel cup definitely raises some comfort-related issues.
The downturn and pointed toe offer precision for toeing in on pockets or driving off small edges. This combination works well for climbers that often find themselves taking on overhangs and the low profile build means that they excel in finger cracks and flares.
The Vibram XS Grip 2 is softer and stickier than XS Edge, boosting grip and sensitivity but it is less durable. P3 technology, more rubber on the toe and a burlier Velcro system round out its high-performance repertoire – making it a testament to everything you want out of a powerful aggressive shoe.
Best Shoe for Face Climbing
- Closure: Lace
- Upper: Synthetic
Five Ten is a leader in performance, high-friction footwear and the Anasazi doesn’t disappoint.
These shoes are one of the best all-round options for climbing, whether it is in alpine environments, indoor gyms or cracks, edges and off-widths.
Just tight enough in the toe to maintain precision, but not enough to be uncomfortable, plenty of users find them to be more comfortable than La Sportiva’s TCs, and perform almost as well.
A medium-stiff build combined with high-powered rand and sticky rubber offer confidence when taking on steep ascents.
The Anasazis perform great where footwork is the key to the climb and excel on vertical faces that involve smears and edging where you can’t even crimp.
Versatile enough for plenty of climbing situations, the relatively flat, stiff build and no rubber on the toe box makes it a no-go for overhanging terrain. Equally, the high rand tension means it is uncomfortable on slabs or as an all-day option.
This is one of the most affordable high-performance shoes on our list. The Anasazi collection offers a number of different versions including a Velcro model (VCS) and the Pro – a bouldering-specific version with rubber toe patch.
Lace closure provides a bit more stiffness and adjustability, as well as a more snug fit than velcro. A synthetic Cowdura upper reduces sagging throughout the life of the shoe and an improved heel was recently added in.
When worn in its element on vertical granite, this is a shoe that cannot be beaten.
Best Shoe for Comfort Performance
- Closure: Lace
- Upper: Microfibre
The Tenaya Oasi gained notoriety after being worn by Alex Megos during the world’s hardest/first 5.15a flash (a complex climb on his first try with no falls).
Demonstrating what can be achieved with a combination of strength and footwork, this climb was made possible thanks to the aggressive levels of strength and precision provided by the shoe.
The Oasi’s design and system of construction lets the heel sit lower while climbing and is superbly responsive to every situation.
This increased level of sensitivity relays detailed information back to the user with every step. The midsole is virtually non-existent for maximum sensitivity, though that does mean that the foot is doing most of the work and not the shoe.
A 3.5-millimetre rubber sole and five-micro-layer insole convey every nuance of the rock and allows maximum transmission of power to the footholds. The Vibram XS Grip is sticky, sturdy and entirely reliable.
Tenaya’s patented Draxtor closure system is fast and precise for a snug fit. Once the user has configured the system for the first time, it never needs to be readjusted.
Despite its curved form the Oasi is supremely comfortable – more so than virtually any other rock shoes. For anyone who spends long days climbing, there is finally a shoe that allows for a pain-free experience. The slight stretch makes these shoes perfect for all normal to narrow-footers.
Aggressive and comfortable (a rare combination), these shoes are the perfect addition to your climbing gear.
Best Shoe for Crack Climbing
- Closure: Lace
- Upper: Leather
The TC Pro Climbing Shoe from La Sportiva is a go-to shoe for experienced climbers that want top-tier performance. Don’t just take our word for it either.
Alex Honnold regularly wears the TC Pros, which were originally designed for Tommy Caldwell’s record-breaking ascent of Dawn Wall.
The reason the experts opt for these shoes is that they provide an incredible blend of high-end performance with a design that is suited to long, enduring climbs.
Crafted for impeccable edging and crack climbing on the big walls, decent smearing ability and ankle protection all whilst maintaining comfort, the TC Pros are second to none.
An ultra-supportive, semi-stiff sole keeps your feet feeling strong whilst allowing just enough sensitivity, and the virtually flat toe fits perfectly in to any cracks wider than a hand.
However, it is a specialised shoe and as such it has limitations. It won’t be of any use for those undertaking high-end sport climbing or bouldering. They perform well when edging given their flat design but still fall behind the upper echelon of edging shoes.
For pocketing, the steeper the climb, the worse it performs due to the flat toe which is ineffective on overhangs. Forgoing an aggressive design does make them an option you can spend full days in, rather than just a single pitch.
Overall, there is no doubt that the TC Pro is a top contender for the ultimate, single-quiver shoe title.
Best Shoe for Sport Climbing and sensitivity
- Closure: Lace
- Upper: Microsuede
If you can look beyond the price tag, you’ll be drawn in by the vibrant design of Scarpa’s Chimera.
The fine-tuned Chimera features a handcrafted, rubber-wrapped forefoot, aggressively downturned profile and asymmetrical shape.
For serious sport climbers and boulderers, there’s little on the market that could outdo the outrageous performance of the Chimeras.
By far the best thing about this shoe is the exceptional sensitivity, relaying information back to the wearer of even the subtlest features of a foothold.
The design is aggressively downturned to allow your feet to form an advanced climbing position and a Vibram XS Grip 2 outsole sticks to even the smallest of edges.
A medial toe rubber protects your feet against knocks and scrapes and the integrated heel cup secures the heel to reduce slippage.
The shoe also features TPS (Toe Power Support) technology for better support, improved pulling capabilities and enhanced precision.
When smearing, this TPS system becomes extended so that it does not constrain movement.
The unlined microfibre upper and high-level adjustability mean that they’re comfortable right out of the box, making them a top buy.
What to consider when buying a rock climbing shoe.
Climbing shoes are simultaneously the most perplexing and most basic piece of climbing gear and impact performance and comfort hugely.
There are many things to take into consideration when choosing a pair of climbing shoes.
This needs very little explaining but in a nutshell:
- For gym climbing opt for an all-around show with flat or gently curved to boxes.
- For bouldering seek a tight, aggressive shoe.
- For steep faces you will need a tight, technical shoe.
- For cracks seek a flat-toed and durable shoe.
Shape / Profile
How a climbing shoe functions on rock depends on its shape.
Neutral shoes have an almost flat sole and feel natural – i.e. don’t force your foot into strange positions and you can stand on flat ground in them. Perfect for beginners and easy routes, they are comfortable for long days of wearing.
These shoes are suitable in the gym and outdoors on almost all terrain.
Aggressive shoes are more down-turned and generally asymmetric in shape with high heel tension.
This helps to keep your feet on the wall on steep overhangs but will only be suited to high-performance climbing.
A beak-like toe and hook-like design allows climbers to push and pull on the smallest, steepest footholds and generate more power from the foot by forcing it into an arched position.
Rock climbing shoes should be snug for high performance, but not painfully tight.
The perfect shoe allows your toes to gently curl but avoid dead space between your toes and the end of the shoe as the shoe will not stay rigid when you place your toes on a foothold. Your heel should also have a snug fit.
Climbing shoes are made with uppers of leather, synthetic, or a combination of the two.
The material will impact the softness, stretch and breathability.
Whilst leather breathes far better than synthetic, it does stretch out with time. This boosts its comfort levels but if it stretches too much, the shoe might feel sloppy.
In terms of the outsole, a softer, stickier rubber provides superior grip and sensitivity – suited to slab climbing and bouldering.
However it also wears down faster and the lack of support leads to foot fatigue on long routes. Firm rubber is better for vertical faces with a lot of edging or crack climbing and tends to last longer.
Soles range from near-rigid to totally soft. Stiffer shoes are more supportive, creating less work for your feet but softer soles are far comfier.
Stiff shoes are preferable for traditional climbing or long days on rock thanks to their edging power.
Softer shoes are better for feeling tiny nuances in the rock for a secure hold.
Climbing shoes usually come with either lace-up or Velcro closures and the fastening system you opt for will come down to personal preference.
Velcro straps and slipper styles are easier for entry and exit, making them perfect for the gym or for bouldering, where you may be taking your shoes on and off constantly.
Lace-ups are more time consuming but are far more secure, providing an extra level of confidence on any rock face.
This will be a make-or-break in cracks where the top of the shoe is often jammed against the rock. Individuals with particularly narrow or wide feet may need to choose laces to ensure a wider range of adjustability.
The final option is slip-ons. As the name suggests, they’re easy to just pull on and go and are extremely comfortable but they usually have a less-stiff sole, meaning your feet will work harder.
Climbing Shoes – Amazon BEST Sellers
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Last update on 2020-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API