Image from Pixabay
It doesn’t matter if you’ve got everything else intact for climbing. But if you haven’t thrown the best climbing shoes into your backpack, you aren’t done with your preparation.
In addition to slings, ropes, and harnesses, the right footwear has a hand when it comes to optimal performance. Obviously, you need soft shoes to stick into those footholds. You need a flexible platform to propel yourself from boulder to boulder. And you need a stiff sole to go up vertical walls.
Whether you’re a pro or just getting started in the sport, the right footwear is going to enhance your climbing techniques — from jamming to edging and flagging.
In other words, grab the best climbing shoes you can find, and you’re ready to rise up the Cascade Range like a pro. But first things first.
- 1 BEST CLIMBING SHOES: BEFORE PULLING OUT YOUR WALLET
- 2 HOW WE SEPARATED THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
- 3 CATAPULT YOUR CLIMBING A NOTCH HIGHER WITH THESE SHOES
- 4 CLIMB LIKE A PRO
BEST CLIMBING SHOES: BEFORE PULLING OUT YOUR WALLET
Image from Pixabay
Here are a couple of factors you need to pay attention to before grabbing the best climbing shoes for your needs.
While you want tight shoes for an enhanced climbing experience, you don’t want the tightness to compromise performance.
If you’ve got wide feet, for instance, go for wider footwear. And if you’re narrow-footed, narrow shoes should do the trick.
Some of the best climbing shoes on the market run large, too. Others run small. You want to choose wisely, as a result: Go a size or half up for footwear that runs small, and go a size down for shoes that run large.
Needless to say, some folks have feet with different sizes, and we have no problem with that. If you belong here, you can buy a pair of shoes in different sizes (thanks to the Evolv brand): the right foot in one size; the left foot in another.
Please note: Most climbing shoes come in European sizing, so you might want to use a conversion chart for your US sizes.
What’s the degree of curvature in the outsole?
If it’s banana-shaped, it’s an aggressive downturn. This means that your shoes can probably get you perching on cliff edges hassle-free, as is completing pitches on steep rock.
The thing is, aggressive downturns allow for your feet to move in whatever direction you want, while your toes wiggle freely.
Moderate to flat downturns, on the other hand, are a good fit for vertical to near-vertical terrain. That’s because they help rest your feet in their natural position. You can stand on the ball of your foot, too.
Leather or synthetic?
Well, it depends. Leather stretches over time and is more durable. It’s also waterproof, making it handy material for all-weather climbing shoes. Synthetic fabric, on the other hand, hardly stretches, is less durable, and is not resistant to water.
What does that mean?
Grab the leather uppers if you’re looking for comfort, as leather is likely to conform to your foot over time (it stretches, right?). Which also is the reason you want to buy a size down if you want your shoes to serve you for a longer period.
In the same vein, when it comes to synthetic uppers, buying a size up is likely to keep your shoes useful over time. It’s that synthetic material retains its dimensions (it doesn’t stretch).
From laces to Velcro and slipper, the type of closure is going to dictate your climbing type and technique.
Laces are ideal if you’re going to put on your shoes and keep them on, typical of traditional climbers. Also, if you’re looking to lock in a snugger fit, laces are the way to go, especially if you’re wearing wider footwear.
Velcro straps, unlike laces, make for easier put-ons and take-offs. And while they might not be a good fit on steep rock, probably because they compromise effective toeing, they are a winner when you’re always relieving your feet between pitches. That’s common with sport climbing, provided you aren’t going to tackle steeper routes.
Just note that Velcro closures can compromise a tight fit and aren’t as durable.
When it comes to a comfy fit, slipper closures won’t disappoint. And, because they correlate well with soft footwear, it’s something you want to consider when in you’re in the store, looking for the best climbing shoes for your next adventure.
But here comes the bummer: Slippers stretch over time, making your shoes become almost useless. Which probably explains why these closures are waning in popularity.
The good news, though, is that slippers can make a good combo with Velcro. It’s simple: Manufacturers can place a Velcro strap at the ankle of a slipper closure. That provides a more secure and comfortable fit, making for terrific bouldering shoes, as seen with the LA SPORTIVA Skwama.
SHOE TYPE AND CLIMBING TYPE
For trad climbers, you want flat, stiff shoes. Of course, you’re going to have to place removable protection as you go up those slabs, and such shoes shouldn’t disappoint.
Also, because you’re going to be jamming in cracks, you need comfortable shoes for optimum performance. A flat downturn should do the trick, for that matter, unless the terrain is more technical.
Among the features you should be looking in the best climbing shoes include a relaxed fit, sturdy ankle protection, and solid platform.
If the trad route is steep, grab shoes with laces and a moderate-to-aggressive downturn.
Now, let’s jump to sport climbing: If you’re doing vertical terrain, you want a stiff midsole with a moderate downturn for precise edging. You should be fine with laces or Velcro closure, too, as is a tight heel cup.
And for those looking to climb steep and technical rocks, soft shoes with an aggressive downturn could be a good fit. We prefer rubber around the toe area as well.
When it comes
to bouldering, you want to think no further than soft shoes with an aggressive downturn. You need to feel those footholds as you toe your way up. And your toes need to move freely so they can stick to those incuts on overhanging walls.
In other words, ensure you have generous rubber in the toe and heel areas. A round heel cap should come in handy, too, as is a hybrid closure (slipper closure with a Velcro strap).
Note: You don’t want to be going all-in when you’re just getting started bouldering. If you’re taking training classes, for instance, we recommend wearing stiff shoes with a flat downturn. That’s until your feet are strong enough to be housed in a soft, aggressively downturned footwear.
HOW WE SEPARATED THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
No, it wasn’t just a matter of guesswork. We analyzed various factors in our review process.
Firstly, we consulted leading industry sites, including SwitchBackTravel and WalkJogRun. Then we narrowed down to top manufacturers. Different shoe features played a role, too, such as breathability, flexibility, weight, comfort, etc. Last but not least, we took a trip to the big-box sites like Amazon to see what real buyers had to say.
Why did we do that? For you, our esteemed reader. Just so you can make an informed buying decision, considering there are a lot of different brands and models out there, making it difficult to find the best climbing shoes for your style.
CATAPULT YOUR CLIMBING A NOTCH HIGHER WITH THESE SHOES
In no particular order, these are our best climbing shoes that’ll keep you going up.
LA SPORTIVA Skwama Rock Climbing Shoe, Black/Yellow, 38 M EU
- TECHNICAL FOR TOP PERFORMANCE…
- ADVANCED EDGING – Designed to…
- STICKY TOE BOX – The Skwama…
- COMFORTABLE DESIGN – Vibram…
- TIPS FOR BUYING – Rock…
The Skwama are high-performance shoes that are sure to enhance your climbing experience. Toe-hook and heel-hook hustle-free with the aggressive downturn, and enjoy a snug fit with the hybrid closure. The toe area features a generous patch of rubber so your feet can stay in place during the action.
Enjoy the convenience of the Vibram XS-Grip-2 sole, which sticks to the tiniest of edges so you can do what you do best. The upper with suede leather is a plus, especially when it comes to offering a secure fit.
According to users, the Skwama couldn’t be more affordable. It’s also comfortable with its snug fit, which is a bonus for steep climbers. Some buyers, though, probably those who fancy the edging climbing technique, find that the shoes aren’t great for edging.
Currently, Amazon reviewers give the Skwama an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Tenaya Masai Unisex Rock Climbing Shoe, 11.5 Men’s / 12.5…
- ASCENT & PROGRESSION – Founded…
- TENAYA MASAI – The most…
- DIME-EDGING MASTER – The Masai…
- TECHNICAL SPECS – Uppers:…
- TIPS FOR SIZING – Climbing…
The best climbing shoes should be versatile, and Tenaya knows that only too well. Whether you’re looking to do trad or sport climbing (on any terrain), their Masai option should fit the bill.
These are also the go-to shoes for most expert climbers, and for all the right reasons. They boast terrific edging power, fit like a glove, and are crafted under the watch of a legendary shoe designer.
Keep your feet feeling active with the supportive midsole, and enjoy a secure fit with the low-volume heel.
Purchasers like that the lace-up closure and microfiber upper combine to give a tight fit. The Tenaya Masai run narrow, though, and climbers with wide feet have issues putting them on. The best-rated on our list, these shoes currently score 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
La Sportiva Unisex Katana Lace Climbing Shoe, Yellow, 44.5 M…
- UNIVERSAL PERFORMANCE – Ideal…
- ADVANCED EDGING – Vibram XS…
- PRECISION & SENSITIVITY – The…
- QUALITY BUILD – Leather /…
- TIPS FOR BUYING – Reference…
Another one from LA SPORTIVA, the Katana is a versatile option for your climbing needs, just like the Masai.
Whether you’re looking for a reliable grip on small holds or want to give the smearing technique a shot, these shoes are no bummer. Even after years of heavy use, the banana-shaped downturn is sure to stay intact, saving you regular store visits.
Versatility and a tight fit are some of the reasons users could kill to recommend the Katana. The shoes are also a breeze to put on and take off, which is a bonus. Flipping the coin, though, these climbing shoes run small, and you might want to order a size up.
A rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars is currently given on Amazon.
Black Diamond made our list with one of the best climbing shoes for beginner climbers.
With a flat downturn, the Momentum is certain to keep your feet in their natural position during activity. That’s a plus for the newbies. The shoes are also breathable so your feet can stay dry as you’re headed up, and the lace-up closure makes for a snug fit.
According to most buyers, the Momentum tick the comfort box and nearly all of the features that new climbers like. Other buyers are concerned the shoes aren’t high performers. Some more users, probably those with wide feet, find that the Momentum shoes run narrow.
Reviewers on Amazon currently rate these shoes 4.4 out of 5 stars.
With a padded collar and heel, these women’s climbing shoes couldn’t be more relaxed. And the double-stitch construction ensures durability.
Because the Climb X Rave shoes come pre-downsized, though, you want to go a size up (for comfort) if you’re a newbie.
For the experts, check that the toe area allows for your toes to wiggle. It’s just that the Climb X Rave can be pretty tight. Obviously, the tighter the climbing shoes, the better; that shouldn’t compromise comfort and performance, however.
Climbers who’ve used these shoes appreciate their odorless nature, and they’re in love with the upper’s hemp material. Those with a taste for style options, however, are concerned about the shoes’ limited color options.
An average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars is currently given on Amazon.
SCARPA makes some of the best climbing shoes available, and they helped make our list with their Instinct VS.
The shoes boast a hybrid closure (slippers with a single strap), making for a snug fit.
SCARPA also employs a couple of technologies in their shoes: Vibram XS Edge ensures excellent grip, and Vibram XS Grip2 boosts heel-hooking.
Which explains why these shoes don’t disappoint when it comes to ascending overhanging routes or going up the slabs.
Among other things, purchasers are in love with the incorporated Vibram XS technologies, and most of them have a thing for the microsuede upper. Even so, the Instinct VS runs large, and a couple of buyers are concerned about it.
These shoes have a rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Yet another option from LA SPORTIVA, the TarantuLace are shoes that cater to intermediate climbers.
And no, that’s not to say they aren’t comfortable or high performers. With grippy soles, rugged heel rand, and low-asymmetry shape, the TarantuLace couldn’t be more supportive.
And it’s not just for mid-level climbers, but beginners can take advantage of the shoes’ handy features, including the lacing harness. The leather upper and breathable tongue are also a nice touch.
Users speak highly of these shoes: They’re comfy and come in different versions, and they make for a good fit for beginners. There are two sides to every coin, though, and the TarantuLace are no exception. They run small and can be a bit tight.
These shoes boast an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
All-round footwear, the Endeavor are lighter, and they boast an asymmetrical shape. These women’s shoes from Butora also come with a tight fit, and the solid build is a plus.
With these climbing shoes, you’re sure to enjoy custom fitting thanks to the triple-folk webbing system.
According to buyers, the Endeavor gives a snug fit with the two pull tabs at the heel area. Most users also appreciate the organic materials the shoes feature. However, because the footwear runs small, most users have had to go a size or half up.
The Endeavor currently scores 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
While these shoes have been around for years, now they come with improved features, making them some of the best climbing shoes out there.
The heel cup and padded tongue make for a more relaxed and refined construction. And, unlike previously mentioned shoes, the lacing runs further down to the toe area.
That’s not all, but you can enjoy the convenience of the Vibram XS Edge rubber, which couldn’t be grippier. The leather upper is a plus.
While some buyers are concerned the SCARPA Helix run small (and stretch over time), these shoes have won the hearts of many users, probably due to their flat-lasted build and Vibram XS E 4a dge technology. Purchasers are also in love with the to-the-toe lacing feature.
Currently, customers rate the Helix 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
CLIMB LIKE A PRO
There you have it: some of the best climbing shoes that are sure to keep you moving up.
From jamming to edging and smearing, we’ve got all of your climbing techniques covered. Just ensure you’re matching the right shoes to your climbing system. Of course, going up the boulders in flat-downturned shoes might be asking for trouble, and using stiff shoes for edging is probably not going to work for you.
Also, while you want to be grabbing gender-friendly shoes, note that some men’s shoes actually work for some women. And some unisex shoes are well worth the buy. It all depends on your personal preferences. Go for what works for you!
What are some of your best climbing shoes? Let us know in the comments.
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.