There are only two pieces of gear that are used in every single discipline in climbing: climbing shoes, and chalk.
Now, upgrading your chalk makes very little difference. Chalk is chalk.
But climbing shoes? Climbing shoes are the single piece of gear that makes by far the most significant impact on your climbing performance.
Pros would much rather use basic chalk and basic CE-Certified ropes, quickdraws and carabiners than use basic climbing shoes. A pair of climbing shoes that hasn’t been designed with a great amount of thought, prototyping, testing and revisions is one that is going to be an unstable, and even painful platform that’ll mess with your footwork.
What this does is it causes you to slip off from having to overcompensate for the lack of support with your hands: the only remaining stable points of contact with the rock. As climbing hero John “Verm” Sherman – the creator of the V Scale – put it perfectly in his book, Better Bouldering:
The most basic tenet of climbing movement is to let the big muscles of the legs propel the body upward while using the small, weaker arm muscles for balance and positioning… even on the steepest problems you should support as much weight as possible with your legs. Always think feet first.
However, the problem is that climbing shoes, by their very own nature, are extremely difficult to design well. This is also why you’ll often hear the same brands of climbing shoes coming up over and over again. It’s because these reputable designers and manufacturers have perfected their craft over the years, and by doing so, create revolutionary climbing shoes that completely outdo anything an amateur company can put out.
This has been happening consistently since climbing shoes were first developed in the 1950s, and we think they’re starting to reach levels of perfection. The pros do too.
So, we’ve painstakingly researched every single kind of climbing shoe out there that’s worthy of mention. We did it for us, to find out for certain which climbing shoes are the best, and now we’re attempting to make the most comprehensive resource that’s been made to date.
Click to jump straight to each topic.
- The Best Climbing Shoes Reviewed
- Best All-in-One Climbing Shoes
- Best Bouldering Shoes
- Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners
- Best Crack Climbing / Granite / Big Wall Shoes
- Best Slab / Most Comfortable Climbing Shoes
- Best Budget Option
- Best No-Edge Climbing Shoes
- Best Approach Shoes
- The Different Types of Climbing Shoe
- Sizing Guide
The Best Climbing Shoes Reviewed
Best All-in-One Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva Katana Lace
This is La Sportiva’s flagship all-purpose climbing shoe. It seems they absolutely nailed it with the design because it truly can handle any type of climbing.
However, it’s not a “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of deal with the Katana Lace. One thing that it truly excels at is edging.
To put this into perspective, with these shoes, you can place a toe on a hold so small that it’s practically nonexistent… and it’ll stick. This ability alone can massively up your climbing game.
As for the fit: it’s aggressive, but not too aggressive so it’s easily comfortable enough for intermediate climbers. It’s also a lined shoe so it won’t stretch much from its initial size.
However, despite it being so comfortable, it’s not necessarily a pure “comfort shoe.” The slightly downturned toe and medium asymmetrical toebox make it feel more like a high performance edging shoe that’s just “surprisingly comfortable.”
What We Like:
- Top Tier Edging Performance – The Vibram XS Edge rubber this shoe uses is one of the hardest rubbers out there. It’s the most durable type of rubber, and exceptionally resistant to deformation. However, its tradeoff is lowered sensitivity, and while it is sticky, it’s not as sticky as a softer Vibram XS Grip or Stealth rubber sole.
- Comfortable – These are the most comfortable aggressive shoes out there. That puts them well within the realm of intermediate climbers who would love to experience the benefits of aggressive shoes but just can’t handle the pain that comes with them. However, these will still be a little too aggressive for absolute beginners.
- Sheer Versatility – While this shoe is most suited for walls which are vertical with really small footholds, it can easily handle any type of climb. The asymmetrical toe box is low enough for cracks and narrow enough for pockets, and its downturned toe shape is aggressive enough to take on overhangs and bouldering problems.
What We Don’t Like:
- Low Toe Hooking Protection – The rubber over the toes isn’t thick enough to provide decent protection for toe hooking. You can still toe hook with these shoes pretty well but they’re definitely lacking in protection on that part. They do heel hook pretty well, however.
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Best Bouldering Shoes: La Sportiva Solution
The folks over at La Sportiva put performance above all else with this shoe.
The downside to that, of course, is that it’s completely inaccessible to anyone but the most experienced of climbers because of how radically aggressive this shoe is.
However, if you can handle the discomfort of severely downturned shoes, then you’ll get to experience the highest performance bouldering shoe on the market.
They’re meant to fit your feet tightly, but you don’t necessarily have to downsize four whole sizes like Adam Ondra does with his. Definitely downsize them a little more than you usually do with your climbing shoes, because these stretch more than any other shoe La Sportiva has to offer at the very least.
These shoes were were designed to be the “solution for modern bouldering problems.” That’s not our pun. It’s literally why they named it the “solution.”
And it really does live up to the name, which is why it’s the favorite bouldering shoe of Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell and other pros. Adam Ondra even recently said that they’re his favorite overall shoe.
What We Like:
- High Performance on Technical Climbs – The drastically downturned shape and Vibram XS Grip2 rubber are a really powerful combination for sticking to the wall on even the steepest of overhangs.
- 3D Molded Heel Cup – It doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to heel hooks. These heel cups won’t deform under pressure, allowing you to pull off powerful heel hooks, but they still seem to retain your sensitivity because of the softness of the rubber and how closely it hugs your heel.
- Custom Fit Strap – Normally with hook and loop straps you’re trading off the customizable fit of laces for the ease of slipping your shoes on and off between climbs. However, this design they call the “Fas gets around that by basically having laces which are undone by the hook and loop strap rather than being untied. More climbing shoes should have this.
Rubber in All the Right Places – This shoe features a large slab of Vibram XS Grip2 rubber across the toe for toe hooking and jamming. Despite being a softer rubber than the Vibram XS Edge, we found that edging feels great in these, although we expect that flat edge to wear away more quickly over time.
That being said, a worn-down edge made with this sticky rubber would make these shoes have an increased surface area when edging, making them excel at “smedging,” or “smearing an edge.” A worn-in pair of these shoes like these are what La Sportiva have been trying to replicate with the “No-Edge” style of climbing shoes they’ve been developing in recent years. More on that in a section later on.
What We Don’t Like:
Uncomfortable – It goes without saying, that these are essentially the most extremely aggressive, high performance oriented type of climbing shoe design. Comfort is thrown out the window in order to maximize performance at all costs. And you can tell.
However, for what they are, they actually are comfortable. As in, they’re basically as comfortable as this style of shoe will get. That’s why you’ll often hear experienced climbers call them comfortable. They’re comfortable in comparison to others, but obviously not as comfortable as intermediate shoes like the Katana.
- May Not Fit – These shoes have a large heel and large toebox, and you’ll need to make sure you can fill them completely. If you’re narrow heeled, chances are you’re not going to be able to fit these properly no matter how much you downsize, because you’ll just get little air pockets in the heel because of the shape.
Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners: La Sportiva Finale
In a nutshell: these shoes are the beginner version of the Katana. They excel at being an all-rounder, but unlike the Katana, they aren’t suited for really tiny edges.
As a beginner though, that doesn’t matter, because those kind of edges will be way above your grade.
Besides, the best thing about this shoe is that it’s truly comfortable, unlike the vast majority of climbing shoes out there. Sure, you can get comfortable climbing shoes, but not in the way that your street shoes are truly comfortable.
You see, La Sportiva designed this to be their most comfort-oriented shoe model, and the one thing that strikes all new climbers is how darn uncomfortable climbing shoes are.
In any case, while you’re still learning the ropes in climbing and getting by terrible footwork, these shoes will give you a significant boost in performance compared to rentals. These shoes also outperform the Tarantulace, being much better at edging, having much better durability and letting you be able to try out any type of climbing you like.
What We Like:
- Strong Edging Performance for Beginners – This shoe uses the Vibram XS Edge rubber, just like the Katana. While its edging performance isn’t as refined as the Katana’s, it still gives beginners an advantage in being more forgiving with their footwork.
- Very Comfortable – The unlined leather uppers give this shoe a nice soft feel. The profile is not quite neutral, but they don’t appear to give any of the discomfort that even intermediate-level, slightly aggressive shoes have, despite being capable of that level of performance.
- Durable – These shoes are surprisingly durable for a beginner shoe, which matters because poor footwork wears out shoes remarkably quickly. That means beginners need a durable shoe if they’re looking to avoid going through multiple pairs of shoes while they familiarize themselves with climbing.
- Stiffness – A good amount of stiffness helps beginners feel like they have a stable platform to maneuver off. Stiffer shoes better protect the feet too, because they distribute force along the stiffer sole of the shoe more, rather than letting your toes take the brunt of the force before they’re toughened up enough to handle it.
What We Don’t Like:
- Poor at Heel Hooking and Toe Hooking – Though, as beginner shoes this really isn’t an issue.
- Dye Leaching – They’ll dye your feet orange for a couple weeks. After that though, it’ll stop happening. Of course, this doesn’t impact this shoe’s performance at all. It’s just the new dye running a bit before it settles.
Sizing as a Beginner – You can expect them to stretch a full Euro size. Unfortunately, that makes them slightly less ideal for beginners in that it’s harder to get the right size initially when you’re not yet familiar with how to size down your climbing shoes properly.
While sizing down will be especially uncomfortable at first as a beginner, these shoes will stretch to their true size after a few weeks. However, if you don’t downsize in the first place, you’ll end up with a “loose” and “roomy” shoe after you’ve broken them in, which is, quite frankly, a useless shoe.
Best Crack Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva TC Pro
Best Trad Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva TC Pro
Best Shoes for Granite: La Sportiva TC Pro
Best Big Wall Shoes: La Sportiva TC Pro
First of all, it’s called the TC Pro because it was designed in collaboration with Tommy Caldwell when he wanted a shoe that’ll be able to take on the the sharp granite Dawn Wall. This is what he had to say about it:
La Sportiva came to me with the opportunity to help design a shoe for granite. At the time I was in the early stages of working on the Dawn Wall so I had this route specifically in mind during the design process. It helped me analyze very specifically the way a shoe needs to function for big wall free climbing. It had to function at a very high level while still being comfortable. It also had to be robust enough to protect your feet through all the abuse big walls dish out. I never could have imagined it would turn out so well. It was a game changer for me.
So, how does it hold out in practice?
Well, this is the shoe he and Kevin Jorgeson completed the Dawn Wall with.
That’s right. Even though Kevin Jorgeson is a Five Ten athlete, he said that these shoes were critical to him being able to send the Dawn Wall.
Oh, and not to mention, this is also the legendary shoe that Alex Honnold free soloed Freerider route of El Capitan with.
It’s safe to say, the TC Pro the go-to choice for granite. We found that the protection it gives against granite and cracks is quite impressive, and the durability of this shoe under such abuse lends itself well to multi-pitch climbs, making it a reliable companion for big walls.
What We Like:
- Foam Padding – While it’s meant to be strategically placed to provide foot protection while crack climbing, we found it serves the additional purpose of making this shoe very easy to fit. The shoe seems to mold around your foot, expanding to fill any gaps and easing off in places that would otherwise be tight.
Malleolus Cover – The malleolus is the sticky-out bone on your ankle joint. Surprisingly, very few crack climbing shoes cover these, considering how easy it is for you to lose the skin on your ankle when jamming your foot in a crack.
This padded ankle cover can also save you from fracturing your ankle, which would otherwise take very little force in a normal climbing shoe, because they have no cover to disperse and absorb forces applied to your malleolus.
- Durability – This shoe is essentially as durable as it gets. While there are other shoes out there, like others in this post, that can be used for crack climbing or granite, they won’t last nearly as long as these because the leather isn’t thick enough. This shoe also uses the Vibram XS Edge rubber, which is hard, durable, and keeps its shape under force.
- Resoling Potential – Because the leather uppers are built like a tank you can resole these shoes quite easily.
What We Don’t Like:
- The Tongue – It has a tendency to roll inwards, which is not only distracting, but leaves the top of your foot with “a gap in its armor,” you might say. It’s manageable, but it could be better.
- Bulky – This is a byproduct of how much protection it offers. There’s no way around this.
- Rubber Flaking – Because of the stiffness of the rubber, it tends to break away against granite rather than wear down, leaving a little bit of unevenness to the surface over time.
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Best Slab Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva Mythos
Most Comfortable Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva Mythos
The La Sportiva Mythos are prime slab shoes because their flexibility makes them excellent for smearing, and their durable Vibram XS Edge rubber allows them to get away with having a very thin midsole.
That means you’re going to be able to conform your foot to the shape of any undulations in the rock, which is vital for precise friction slab footwork.
They also happen to be the most comfortable climbing shoes we’ve ever tried. They’re extremely beginner friendly for that reason, although they cost more than we’d recommend spending on a beginner shoe, and they’re much better suited to slab climbing than other types of climbing because of their subpar edging performance.
What We Like:
- Durable Rubber – For slab, durable rubber is an absolute must, because of the “cheese grater” effect slab falls have on your shoes. This shoe uses Vibram XS Edge rubber, which is a hard, durable rubber, yet the midsole is thin enough to remain flexible despite that.
- Incredible Smearing Ability – The flexibility of this shoe allows you to get a large surface area against the rock by conforming to the shape of variations in the rock. That means you get surprisingly good grip considering it uses a kind of rubber that’s usually used for edging rather than “sticking” to the rock.
- Unparalleled Comfort – Being widely regarded as the most comfortable climbing shoe in existence, you simply can’t go wrong with this shoe if you’re looking for something that’ll handle long days on the crag. It’s especially good that the best slab shoes are also the most comfortable shoes, because it allows you to make slow, precise movements on slab without losing your focus or rushing because of foot pain.
- The Pointed Toe – Very useful for placing in small pockets. It also seems to increase the surface area of the sole a little, lending itself to extra grip when smearing.
What We Don’t Like:
- Subpar Edging Performance – While the Vibram XS Edge rubber it uses is great for edging, this shoe foregoes an edging-friendly design to maximize smearing ability. If you’re looking for a pair of top-tier slab shoes that have great edging ability, opt for the TC Pro instead. It’s an especially good shoe for edging on the micro crystals of granite slabs.
Best Budget Option: La Sportiva Tarantulace
Cheaper and better than the original Tarantula model, which uses hook and loop straps instead of a lace.
The Taranulace boasts improved durability, comfort, and a better fit.
Since it’s a comfort-oriented shoe, you can get away with the lace-up style because you won’t feel the need to take them off between climbs. The laces enable you to dial down a closer fit than hook and loop closure shoes, and less force is applied to your upper foot area because laces tighten over a much larger area than a couple straps do.
While it is a beginner shoe, it’s best to size down by half a size more, because it does stretch.
What We Like:
- All-Leather Upper – Leather is great because it forms to the shape of your foot over time. That makes it much more ideal upper shoe material for beginners than any kind of synthetic one. The downside to leather is usually the cost, but this shoe is still a fraction of the price of others at its level of performance.
- The Rubber – This shoe uses FriXion RS rubber, which La Sportiva don’t use on any other shoe other than kids’ shoes. It’s not very sticky, but it serves beginners just fine because it’s extra durable. This means you won’t wear through it super quickly because of poor footwork, which is a huge plus when you’re looking to climb on a budget as a beginner.
- Neutral Shape – If you want some climbing shoes that have basically zero aggressiveness, then these check that box. These are even less aggressive than the shoe we featured earlier as the best beginner shoe, making these ideal for people with very sensitive feet.
What We Don’t Like:
- Only Good for Beginners – The performance of this shoe is simply not good enough for intermediate climbers. This kind of shoe is basically only a step or two above climbing in an approach shoe.
- Made in China – This is the only La Sportiva shoe that is made in China instead of Italy. This is likely the main factor in its massively reduced cost over other shoes.
Best No-Edge Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva Genius
While the idea might seem like nonsense, it’s actually pretty genius. Hence the name.
Basically, it comes down to physics: with an edge on your shoe, only a very small amount of rubber is in contact with the surface of the rock. However, with a no-edge shoe, you do something called “smedging” rather than edging. It’s a cross between a smear and an edge, and it dramatically increases the surface area of your shoe that’s gripping the rock.
Naturally that makes these shoes amazing at smearing. You basically smear the hell out of everything. Smearing becomes your go-to move.
La Sportiva got the idea from observing the benefits of already worn-in climbing shoes, and designed No-Edge shoes to emulate the feel of a pair of worn-in shoes when straight out the box.
These shoes don’t really feel like they have to be worn in to get the best performance out of them. The only need for wearing them in is just the usual: stretching them to your foot shape. The rubber itself feels high performance straight out the box.
What We Like:
- Incredible Grip – These shoes are second to none when it comes to grip, because of the No-Edge technology combined with the Vibram XS Grip2 rubber, which is already top-end for grip.
- Sensitivity – These are the most sensitive climbing shoes we’ve tried. The No-Edge style make your tips of your toes get right up to the end of the shoe, rather than leaving the tiniest of gaps that you get with
- Asymmetrical Laces – The way these laces feel when tightened is so much more natural than usual. They take the pressure off the top of your foot, and seem wrap the outside of your foot more snugly than normal, centered laces.
- Breathable Tongue – Good for airflow, and more airflow means cooler, less sweaty feet. That way, you won’t be slipping inside the shoe while climbing. The tongue also feels very secure and comfortable combined with the asymmetrical lacing design.
What We Don’t Like:
- Uncomfortable at First for Wider Feet – The fit seems to be less ideal for wider feet, especially in the toes. However, because of the softness of the shoe they do stretch to form around your foot shape when broken in. It just might be a little more painful experience than usual when coming from something like the Solution.
- Sizing – With these shoes, it’s best to size up by half a size, because the sizing is a bit weird. You might have to return your first pair because of that, but when you do find out what size you need for these shoes in particular, you’re golden.
- Thin Rubber – This is a byproduct of the shoe’s soft rubber and increased focus on sensitivity. However, because of the increased surface area of rubber in contact with the rock, the rubber in these shoes is significantly more durable than its relative thinness would make you think.
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Best Approach Shoes: La Sportiva TX4
The TX4 is La Sportiva’s toughest model of approach shoe. It was tested on the Dolomites of North Eastern Italy by guides and those who work in the mountains.
Its climbing ability is a bit lower than the Five Ten Guide Tennie, but it handles approaches far better and it’s much more durable. In fact, it’s able to handle technical approach routes far better than any other approach shoe.
While the TX3 is lighter, being suited for quick approach routes, and the TX2 is even lighter, being more like a climbing shoe, we found the TX4 to feel like a stronger all-around pick. It’s for those who want a reliable approach shoe that can handle any approach, even on the most extreme of terrain.
After all, isn’t that what approach shoes are for? If the approaches you’ve been making were on super easy, flat terrain, like when walking from your car to the local climbing gym, you’d be using your regular shoes instead.
What We Like:
- STB Control System – Torsional stability is the single most important factor in an approach shoe, and this one really nails it. Because of the rigidity between the upper and lower parts of the shoe, you’re left with an even surface for walking on that won’t buckle or twist your ankles when walking on uneven, rough terrain.
- Wide Outsole – You can really see it on the picture above. This shoe’s sole splays out, which stops you from rolling your ankle when stepping on a rock with half your foot. You simply don’t have to be as careful when walking over rough terrain.
- Durability – These shoes are built like tanks. Even the leather uppers can handle being scraped against sharp granite crystals without damage.
- Vibram Megagrip Rubber – This is some durable and extremely grippy rubber that’s able to keep your grip on wet and slippery or muddy surfaces. It’s a medium firmness rubber that gives more support and longevity than a softer rubber while still retaining much of its ground adaptation ability.
- Wide Toe Box – Your toes won’t get crammed into a small space when walking downhill. That’s something not a lot of approach shoes offer.
What We Don’t Like:
Bulky – The downside of the wide outsole and thick materials used is that these shoes are quite bulky around the sole. That makes them a little less convenient for clipping to your backpack.
However, despite being bulky they’re not too heavy. These shoes weigh 13 oz for a pair, while the Five Ten Guide Tennie weighs 13.2 oz. For comparison, a pair of La Sportiva Katana climbing shoes weigh 8.71 oz, and the Solution weighs 8.89 oz.
The Different Types of Climbing Shoe
There are five main ways to categorize climbing shoes, so what we’ll do is go through the different types of climbing shoe under each of these five categories so that you are aware of all the different types of climbing shoe out there.
Naturally, this will make it so much easier to narrow down which kind of shoe you’re looking for, and we’ll top that off with a comprehensive sizing guide in the section after this.
It’s safe to say, you’ll always be confident in your ability to choose the right climbing shoes for you with this information at hand. You’ll also see why we chose each of the shoes above as the best ones for each purpose.
So, to begin with, the five main distinctions that we’ve made between climbing shoes are aggressiveness, stiffness, specialty, rubber type, upper material, and closure type. We’ll start by looking at aggressiveness, which is the clearest visual distinction between climbing shoes.
In climbing, the most important part of the foot is the big toe.
Aggressiveness in climbing shoes simply refers to how much the shoes emphasize the big toe’s power. Aggressive shoes allow you to squeeze every last bit of power from the inside edge of your big toe… but they do this at the cost of comfort.
You see, the way aggressive shoes achieve this is in two ways:
- A Downward Curved Toebox – This is primarily what climber usually mean when they say “an aggressive shoe.” The more downcurved the shoe, the more aggressive the shoe.
- An Inward Curved Toebox – This is normally referred to as “asymmetry,” and always accompanies aggressiveness. The more the shoe curves inward toward your big toe, the more asymmetric the shoe.
As you might imagine, climbing shoes have varying degrees of aggressiveness. However, it’s not necessarily as simple as calling the levels of aggressiveness as “beginner,” intermediate,” and “advanced.” Each level of aggressiveness has its own purpose, and you’ll see pro climbers switch between shoes of all three levels of aggressiveness to get the highest performance they can for each type climbing that they’re doing.
Let’s examine these three different levels of aggressiveness that are found in climbing shoes. After hearing the purposes, advantages and disadvantages of each type, you’ll have a good idea of which one is the kind you’re looking for.
The most aggressive of climbing shoes are unparalleled in their ability to hook onto climbing holds when you’re climbing overhangs. The downturned profile forces your feet into a claw-like shape, which lets you hook into the holds more easily in order to get as much of a positive edge on the hold as possible.
For that very same reason, they’re also effective at technical routes such as those found in high grade bouldering. That’s why you’ll mostly see pros boulder in aggressive shoes.
The way that aggressive shoes increase your big toe’s power is by supporting it in an already downward position, where your big toe already has the most power. Instead of having to press the shoe down to keep your toe in that position, the shoe pressed your toe down in that position already. Essentially, you’re having the shoe push with your toe, rather than against it.
And then there’s the asymmetry aspect of aggressively shaped climbing shoes. The way the shoe leans in dramatically toward the inside of your big toe emphasizes that inside edge as much as possible, letting you stick the tiniest of edges while having your toe as close to the edge as possible.
Force that is applied closer to the wall when pushing off a tiny foothold allows you to get more of a positive edge on the hold. That is, more of a perpendicular force to the surface, meaning you’ll have significantly less chance of slipping.
However, there’s a couple drawbacks to aggressive shoes. First of all is the obvious: they really hurt. That means you’re going to have to be an experienced climber to be able to put up with them.
Aggressive shoes are usually fit much tighter than moderate or neutral profile shoes because the shape of the shoe doesn’t conform to the shape of your foot. You’d get little air pockets in a pair of aggressive shoes if you didn’t downsize properly, and that would spell disaster for your grip because it causes your foot to slip inside the shoe.
As a general principle, you should never have any dead space in a pair of aggressive climbing shoes. I mean, sure, you’re not meant to have dead space in any pair of climbing shoes, but if you’re an intermediate climber that can’t handle super tight aggressive shoes just yet, then keep in mind that dead space in an aggressive shoe has more of a negative impact than in a moderate or neutral one.
The second drawback of very aggressive shoes is that they’re less ideal than moderately aggressive shoes for vertical climbs, and much less ideal for slab climbing and crack climbing. This is why they’re not necessarily the “highest performance” shoe shape, even though they’re often called that.
Shoes of moderate aggressiveness come in two main varieties. First is as a higher performance shoe style for intermediate climbers after they’ve improved past the point of needing to stick with comfort-oriented neutral shoes. Intermediate shoes are almost always going to have a moderate amount of aggressiveness, allowing them to focus upon greatly improving grip and edging ability, at a slight detriment to comfort.
These shoes are no longer in the realm of “all-day comfort,” with the exception of ones which are comfortable enough to be beginner-friendly such as the La Sportiva Finale, which we featured earlier on as the best climbing shoe for beginners.
However, the jump in performance from neutral to moderate shoes is huge. It makes a far bigger difference than the jump from moderate to aggressive shoes, because that causes the shoes to become more specialized, rather than being a flat-out boost in all-around performance.
The other type of moderately aggressive shoe is the kind that aims for top performance at mostly vertical climbs, which is, quite frankly, going to be the vast majority of the climbing routes you’ll be doing if you’re going top roping, lead climbing or trad climbing. An example of this kind of shoe would be the La Sportiva Katana Lace, which we featured as the best all-in-one climbing shoe in the climbing shoe roundup section earlier on.
Moderate shoes also tend to be the most ideal shape for slab climbing too, because it allow you to get as much of a positive edge as you can on small holds without the curvature of the shoe being too severe to be able to smear effectively.
Like moderate shoes, neutral ones come in two main varieties. The first kind is the beginner shoe. These are designed for all-day comfort, and aren’t meant to be downsized too hard. Quite often they’ll heavy trade off sensitivity for durability, because terrible footwork will quickly burn through the toe cap of a sensitive shoe, and beginners are pretty expected to stomp on holds and scuff their shoes all over the wall.
As a rule of thumb, if you’ve mastered the silent feet principle of footwork (also called quiet feet), then you’re ready to start using less clunky shoes. That is, unless you haven’t yet gotten used to the tight fit of climbing shoes enough to be able to move up from comfort-oriented beginner pair.
In case you haven’t heard of silent feet, it’s simply the principle of always placing your feet gently and precisely while climbing. When footwork is done correctly, you should not be able to hear your foot placements, no matter what kind of climbing shoe you’re using.
Anyway, the other kind of neutral profile shoe is the kind that the pros might use for crack climbing and big wall climbing. The La Sportiva TC Pro is a perfect example of this kind of shoe and we featured it earlier as the best climbing shoe for crack climbing, trad, granite, and big walls. Like durability-focused beginner shoes, this one is low on sensitivity, but unlike beginner shoes, it doesn’t skip out on performance. It was designed specifically for the Dawn Wall, and that design includes its neutral profile.
Despite the usual stigma with neutral profile shoes being put in the category of “low performance shoes,” it makes sense for experienced climbers to choose a low-sensitivity, but extremely comfortable neutral shoe for surviving “painful” crack climbs and sharp granite crystals. The edging performance of the TC Pro doesn’t suffer from the shoe having a neutral profile either, so it does show that when a neutral shoe is done right, it truly can be “high performance” at trad climbing, big wall climbing, and the more specialist types of sport climbing.
You can have either soft shoes or stiff shoes of any level of aggressiveness, because shoe stiffness is entirely separate to aggressiveness.
Boulderers and overhang climbers love soft shoes because of their sensitivity and flexibility. With a softer shoe, you can literally grab a hold rather than just place your weight on it.
Stiffer shoes tend to be precisely the opposite of that. They’re great at edging, and far better for jamming in cracks, but severely lack sensitivity. They also tend to be more painful to wear, which makes them harder to downsize.
Adam Ondra is famous for having utilized both levels of stiffness at the same time to climb Silence, the world’s first grade 9c, in a right Solution, a soft shoe, and left Miura, a stiff shoe. He said this about it in a YouTube video:
The solution works really well for this kind of overhang, but there was this very tricky toe jam where only this shoe [the Miura] actually worked because it’s relatively flat, and at the same time, quite stiff.
Stiffer shoes also tend to be better for beginners, because they’re usually much more durable than softer shoes due to the harder rubber on the sole and midsole.
You would think that softer shoes would be better for beginners, since they’re easier to adapt to the shape of your foot and don’t cause as much pain when doing so. However, beginners absolutely need that extra support that stiffer shoes give in order to climb without destroying their feet. For this very reason, as well as because of their heavy focus on longevity, rental shoes tend to be extremely stiff shoes.
Remember: toe tendons need to be strengthened just like finger tendons do, and that takes time. While climbing in soft shoes is a great way force you to suffer through training your toe tendons, your climbing performance will also suffer compared to what you would be able to achieve in stiffer shoes.
Sounds crazy, we know, but if you’re an intermediate sport climber, for example, who has started climbing regularly and wants to take their performance to the next level, you’ll very likely be better off with the semi-stiff Katana Lace than a soft, aggressive shoe like the Genius.
This is perhaps the most important factor when choosing a climbing shoe.
“Why isn’t this section first, then?” you ask.
Well, that’s because we’re going to be talking about the usual levels of aggressiveness and stiffness you find in the shoes that are designed for each specialty, so it makes sense to have covered that stuff first.
There’s also another aspect to this, in that it would be a bad idea to say, for example, “Hey, I almost exclusively do Bouldering, so I should go for the La Sportiva Solution,” when it turns out that there’s no way you could handle such an aggressive, soft shoe just yet as a beginner.
With climbing shoes, fit is everything. Actual utility comes second.
So, ideally, once you’ve accounted for the level of aggressiveness your feet can handle and the level of shoe softness that is appropriate for your footwork skill, the next step is to narrow down your selection based upon the type of climbing you expect to be doing the most.
However, if you’re willing to just go straight for the most ideal shoe for your favorite type of climbing, then go ahead. You’ll adjust to any type climbing shoe over time if you sized them properly, but don’t worry, we’ll cover that in the sizing guide further on.
Bouldering and Overhangs
For bouldering, you’ll want to choose from the softest, most aggressive shoes out there. That is, unless you’re a beginner, in which case you’re better off with comfortable beginner shoes for now like we described in the previous section, because they’ll do just fine for bouldering.
Shoes that specialize in bouldering capability excel at overhangs and trade off a little of their “hard edging” ability for softer, grippier rubber that sticks to edges instead.
No-Edge Shoes like the Genius take this to the extreme, trading off all edging ability to become great at “smedging” instead, which is “smearing an edge.” These shoes seek to stick to tiny holds rather than stand on them, and they do this through the superior friction generated by their larger surface area in contact with the wall.
However, shoes like that do have a different style of footwork associated with them, because you can’t truly edge in them. If you use your center of gravity properly and keep it as close to the wall as possible, you’ll be able to stand on a tiny hold in shoes that are capable of edging.
No-Edge shoes in that situation would lose out on some of their friction because they’re applying less of a perpendicular force to the positive edge of the hold. They’re more “smearing around it” instead of standing on it.
Vertical climbs are the kind you’re going to be doing the most often if you’re into top roping or lead climbing.
This is especially true for top roping, because top ropes are simply not very good for protecting steep overhangs. It’s either “mostly vertical” climbs or slab, and, let’s face it, slab is pretty niche.
Edging ability is extremely important in vertical climbs, and there’s less of an importance upon aggressiveness. In fact, moderately aggressive and relatively stiff shoes are pretty much ideal for vertical climbs. Adam Ondra uses the Katana Lace for this kind of climbing because it fits both of those criteria and also has top-tier edging ability.
Soft, aggressive shoes can also fare pretty well on vertical climbs, but they’re definitely a step down in performance because of their extreme downcurve becoming a little too much for getting those secure foot placements on the positive edge of holds.
Neutral shoes do pretty well too for vertical climbs that have very little overhand. However, as we said previously, the neutral shape is somewhat lower performance to begin with in comparison to moderately aggressive shoes if you’re an intermediate or advanced climber.
For beginners, this just simply means you’ll be able to do vertical climbs just fine in a pair of neutral or mildly aggressive comfort-oriented shoes, which are pretty much always the design of beginner shoes to begin with.
The ones to go for will be the ones with good edging ability, because not only does that significantly help you improve your climbing performance on vertical climbs, but the harder rubber of edging-focused shoes also will have superior durability compared to the sticker, softer types of rubber out there.
Vertical climbs are pretty much entirely what you’ll be doing as a beginner anyway. Even the beginner bouldering grades are more like the vertical climbs you find on top rope routes. It’s only when you move up the grades to intermediate level and above that bouldering takes on its own characteristics.
For crack climbing, you’ll want a stiff, durable pair of neutral climbing shoes with a shallow toebox.
The reason you want a neutral profile for crack climbing with is that you need a flat toebox to jam into cracks effectively. Moderate shoes aren’t too bad because they’re not too severely downturned, and the toebox itself is often somewhat flat despite being downturned from further back.
The stiffness is essential if you want to minimize toe pain. For any lack of stiffness there is in your shoes, you’ll have to make up for it by wedging your feet into the cracks hard enough. Of course, you can still use softer shoes for crack climbing if you think you can handle it, but they’re very likely to suffer in durability too, so a stiffer pair of shoes is going to be much more cost efficient at the very least.
As for the shallow toebox, that’s so you can squeeze in as much of your toes as possible into the available space when jamming your foot sideways.
Crack climbing shoes with the shallowest toeboxes like the La Sportiva Mythos or Five Ten Moccasyms are the most ideal for cracks that are between finger jamming and hand jamming size. However, the TC Pro is the absolute best pick for hand, fist, and offwidth size cracks, and its protection is far superior to either of those other shoes.
What’s good for cracks is good for trad. That means the TC Pro is still the top pick. Even more so because of its all-day comfort, which allows you to spend a whole day at the crag in them.
For trad climbers, the TC Pro is arguably the universal standard for multi-pitch trad shoes. However, some opt for other shoes such as the Katana Lace or the Pinks (the Five Ten Anasazi Lace) and size them for comfort, rather than downsizing them hard like you would for sport climbing.
Slab is interesting, because you need a comfortable, neutral shoe with a combination of smearing ability and durability. Well, you could technically forego the durability, but do keep in mind the infamous cheese grater effect of slab falls.
That being said, you shouldn’t be necessarily falling much on slab, and you can arrest falls by expanding your surface area as much as possible and positioning your center of gravity close to the rock, essentially “cat sliding” the fall. If you do it right and do it early enough, you’ll barely slide at all.
The La Sportiva Mythos is the top pick for slab because it checks all the boxes – especially smearing. Smearing in those shoes is a dream, and slab is pretty much all smearing.
However, if you love trad and do a bit of slab now and then, you’d be quite surprised at how good the TC Pro is at slab. Smearing in them requires a different kind of technique because they’re so stiff, but once you get the hang of it, it feels pretty naturally. You essentially want to smear with the the toe rather than the than with the whole forefoot as you would with the Mythos.
That way, you overcome the stiffness because they bend more towards the toe, and the extra stiffness even helps a little because it increases pressure against those almost nonexistent holds. This feels quite similar to the “smedging” style of climbing of No-Edge shoes, which makes the TC Pro a great alternative if you like that style of footwork, because those No-Edge shoes are far too aggressive for slab. Not to mention, the TC Pro is the perfect shoe for granite slab, where you’ll want to use its top-tier edging ability to stand on tiny crystals.
However, after all that, it must be said that the TC Pro doesn’t get nearly as much friction as the Mythos when it comes to pure friction slab footwork on almost nonexistent holds, and the Mythos will still smear and smedge granite slabs just fine. Just don’t expect to micro edge with it like you can with the TC Pro.
Comfort-oriented shoes are universally loved by beginners.
They’re almost always neutral, but can have a touch of downturn to them like the Finale, but never enough to become uncomfortably aggressive for a beginner.
Trad climbers and slab climbers also seek comfortable shoes due to the tendency to spend long days on the crag. Crack climbers seek them so that their feet don’t get destroyed.
Really, there’s always the expectation with comfortable climbing shoes that they’ll be lower performance, but for climbing disciplines other than bouldering or sport climbing, comfort genuinely can improve performance.
This is even true for a beginner who wants to primarily sport climb or boulder. Because the footwork isn’t quite there yet, there’s no need to have particularly high performance shoes. They aren’t going to be used at anywhere near their full capability, so their intricate yet uncomfortable design is wasted on a beginner.
Comfortable climbing shoes, for beginners or even intermediate climbers, can significantly improve the “sureness” of their footwork, letting them place their feet thoughtfully and carefully without wincing from pain. You’d be surprised how much of a difference that makes. Just think about the difference between when you wear a new pair of climbing shoes versus a pair that you’ve worn in. It’s like that.
The reason approach shoes exist in the first place is to handle that area between hiking and climbing. Think scrambling, talus, ridges and so on.
And yes, you can’t skip this part by somehow driving right up to the crag and start climbing. And even if you hate the idea this mandatory, exhausting mountaineering, don’t even think about trying to get there on an electric scooter. It’s not gonna work.
Besides, we find approaches pretty fun in themselves, and scrambling is a whole sub-niche of climbing, but doing it in a pair of hiking boots would definitely not be fun. Instead, you’ll want an approach shoe that provides a stable platform when walking over uneven terrain.
The absolute last thing you want is to twist your ankle or slip over in mud on the way to the climb, and with mountainous terrain it’s certainly a possibility.
The ideal approach shoe should have enough torsional rigidity, that is, enough stiffness between the upper and lower parts of the shoe, that you can stand on a small rock with half your foot without the shoe giving away and twisting your ankle. That is the true test of an approach shoe.
On top of that, you’ll want an approach shoe that has decent climbing ability. It’s not necessarily important to have top-tier climbing ability, but at least the ability to edge well is highly valuable.
The La Sportiva TX4 is an absolute tank of an approach shoe and it checks all those criteria better than any other, which is why it was our pick for the best approach shoe in the roundup section above.
One of the best things about super comfortable approach shoes like the TX4 is that you can hike or run in them just as well as you can in dedicated hiking shoes. However, if you want a light approach shoe that has the best climbing ability of all, then the Five Ten Guide Tennie would be the top pick. It trades durability and stability for climbing performance, but boy does it climb well.
The shoe’s rubber is, of course, the one part of the shoe that you’re actually sticking to the rock with. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should go for the stickiest rubber possible, because, counter to what you might expect, stickier rubber isn’t always better.
You see, it tends to be a choice between going with hard, durable rubber that’s great at edging but has sub-optimal grip; or soft, sticky rubber that’s unparalleled in its grip but low in edging ability and durability.
And you’ll see that every reputable climbing rubber manufacturer has these two kinds of rubber as their flagship products. There’s always a choice between their sticky rubber and edging rubber, or their “soft rubber” and “hard rubber,” “grippy rubber” and “durable rubber,” or whatever they call them.
So, what we’ll do is we’ll look at both of these two universal types of climbing rubber and lay out for each of them what kind of situations they’re most ideal for.
Hard, Durable, Edging Rubber
We’ll start with the edging type of rubber because it’s the most common of the two when it comes to beginner and intermediate shoes.
In fact, it’s hard to find a beginner shoe that doesn’t use edging rubber, because otherwise it’d get worn down in no time due to how beginners inevitably scuff their shoes against the wall and stomp on holds until their footwork becomes more precise.
And that’s just the thing. There’s nothing wrong with doing that as a beginner, because they’re just having fun climbing. So, the natural solution is to safeguard beginners’ shoes against that kind of damage by going with a harder, more durable rubber.
However, durability isn’t the main focus of this kind of rubber. It’s just a side effect of its hardness. The true focus of this kind of rubber is its edging ability, because that is by far the most useful way to get performance out of it.
After all, if durability is a concern, going with a rubber thickness of 5mm rather than the industry standard of 4mm would give you 25% more rubber to burn through before you reach the rand.
Shoes like the La Sportiva Katana, which we featured earlier as the best all-in-one climbing shoe, have 4mm of edging rubber, because they’re all about that edging performance, and thicker rubber means reduced sensitivity and precision and therefore lower performance. The durability of this rubber is simply a side effect of its hardness, which is how it achieves its edging prowess.
You see, the way it works is simple. The hardness of edging rubber means it doesn’t deform under pressure. That is to say, when you place your toe on the tiniest of footholds, such as when micro edging on tiny granite crystals, the tip of the shoe’s edge doesn’t bend. You’re literally able to stand on these impossibly tiny footholds simply because the rubber doesn’t roll and cause you to slip off.
Soft, Sticky Rubber
Sticky rubber has the exact opposite of edging rubber. In stead of resisting deformation, it’s designed to deform on purpose, so that it can form itself around tiny divots and bumps in the rock’s surface to create the highest surface area possible in contact with it. The more surface area, the more friction. That is the source of its stickiness.
It does this every single time you place your foot on the rock, and yet, it doesn’t stay deformed when you remove your foot. It bounces back to its original shape with ease.
As you can imagine, the flexible nature of sticky rubber drastically reduces its edging ability. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t stick to edges. It just means that these shoes do it a bit differently, and so, mean you have to climb a little differently. Instead trying to stand on edges, you have to dig into them a little, using the softness of the rubber to cling to the wall.
No-Edge shoes take this to the extreme, foregoing an edge entirely so that they can play to the strengths of sticky rubber as much as possible. The irony is, that these No-Edge shoes are fantastic at this “smearing” style of edging, often called “smedging.”
In a nutshell: upper material choice determines how much the climbing shoe will stretch over time. That means you’re going to have to choose your sizing to account for the expected stretch, so, naturally, we’ll be talking much more about this in the sizing guide further on.
However, for now, we’ll take a look at the qualities of each kind of upper, because there’s more to it than just sizing differences.
Unlined Leather – Expect this one to stretch by about a full US size. The initial downsizing required to make these shoes fit make them quite hard for beginners to deal with, which is why you won’t see unlined leather beginner shoes that often.
However, when they do stretch, they stretch to the shape of your foot, which is actually incredible for getting that custom fit down.
Finally, unlined leather is the best at dissipating odors because it’s a natural material with great breathability. However, they’re a little less comfortable in terms of skin-on-shoe contact compared to lined shoes.
Lined Leather – Leather uppers with a synthetic lining limit their stretching to about half a US size, which is one EU size (because EU sizes are half sizes). This means less pain in the beginning when breaking them in. Great for beginners.
The downsize, of course, is increased odor and decreased foot shape adaptation. They’re less abrasive against your skin than unlined leather too.
Fully Synthetic – These shoes don’t really stretch. They do soften, though, so don’t worry if they’re still a little uncomfortable when you first get them, like with any other kind of climbing shoe. Just make sure you’re happy with the size from day one, because it isn’t going to change over time.
As you might have expected, synthetic shoes can develop an abominable amount of bad odor because of their near-zero breathability. That also means sweat gets trapped in, meaning blisters. That’s why shoes like the La Sportiva Genius with perforated holes for breathability are a welcome “breath of fresh air,” you might say.
Finally, we’ve come to the last distinction between climbing shoes. The closure system the shoe uses won’t necessarily make a direct impact to performance, but it does make a difference to your climbing experience.
Lace – For getting the absolute closest custom fit, laces are your go-to closure system. They tighten over a much larger area of the shoe than hook and loop straps do, and they can even out some of the individualities in your foot shape to ease off on painful areas. Toes too tight? loosen the laces a little at that part. You get the idea.
The downside to laces is that they take by far the time to put on and take off out of any closure system, so if you’re downsizing hard and need to keep taking your shoes off between climbs, you might be drawn to a pair with a more convenient closure system.
Hook and Loop Strap – These don’t allow any kind of custom fit other than just general “tightness.” With multiple straps, you can slightly adjust the fit, but it’s nothing compared to laces.
With a hook and loop strap, the tightness in the shoe isn’t distributed across nearly as much of the upper. It’s centered on the straps themselves, which means there’s more pressure on those points of your foot in particular. However, taking off these shoes and putting them back on is an absolute piece of cake compared to tying laces.
Lastly, the hook and loop strap is likely to become an issue when crack climbing, where the strap could be pulled undone while foot jamming.
La Sportiva’s Fast Lacing System – This basically gives you all of the benefits of laces but with the speed of hook and loop closure straps. They’re essentially a laced shoe that are fastened and tightened by a strap. There’s no downside to them at all, other than the difficulty of repair if the laces break.
Just take a look at the Futura on the right, which is a No-Edge version of the Solution. You can see how the laces tighten across a large area of the shoe, distributing force evenly and allowing you to dial down a custom fit, all while retaining the ability to take them on and off in an instant. We wish more climbing shoes had this closure system, but it’s patented.
Slip On – Often called “slippers,” these shoes are often used by speed climbers who want fast, imprecise footwork. They’re also used by many slab climbers who want all day comfort, like in the case of the Five Ten Moccasym, however the lace-up version, often called the “Pinks,” are arguably better. Slip on shoes have no custom tightness ability at all, you see.
However, they do slip on an off quickly, and they do technically tighten and loosen themselves on the fly due to the elastic. You might even prefer that. If you size them right, they’ll be super comfortable; size them wrong, and they’ll either always be loose or always too tight.
Getting the sizing right is simply like the idea of crossing at a ford rather than wading through a river – you avoid all that difficulty in getting to your goal, just by making the right decision.
But here’s the problem: it ‘aint so simple, because sizing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of picking climbing shoes.
You’ve no doubt heard about passionate climbers who cram their feet into the smallest shoes possible to get every last ounce of performance out of them.
However, what you might not have heard is that a well-fitting comfortable shoe will be a much better choice than an ill-fitting, overtight shoe. The reason why impossibly tiny shoes work for pros like Adam Ondra, who downsize four whole sizes, is that that kind of crazy downsizing is a good fit for them.
They’re so used to tight climbing shoes that the discomfort doesn’t bother them. However, if you’re a newbie that’s just starting out or if you’re an intermediate climber who hasn’t got feet made of iron, you’re far better off choosing a size that’s snug, but easily comfortable enough to wear for your regular climbing sessions. A size that you can’t quite decide if it’s comfortable or uncomfortable, because it teeters on that balance between them, but is still wearable for a good several hours at the crag.
So, how do you get a size that hits that elusive sweet spot?
Well, it’s not quite the kind of guesswork that most climbers accept it to be. There’s a method to it which, granted, won’t get the perfect size every time, but it’ll get you pretty darn close to it almost every single time.
And once you hear what this rule of thumb is, it’ll make sense why this is the best guideline for basing your sizing off.
Of course, if you’re interested in downsizing your shoes a couple sizes to get extra performance at the cost of foot pain, then you’ll be able to do so after having found your base size this way. Downsizing is always done in addition to finding your proper size.
Basic Sizing Guidelines
The method is simple.
The ideal basic climbing shoe size should be where your toes are gently resting against the end of the shoe without being curled up. That’s the sweet spot.
So, all you have to do is take your US street shoe size, and then minus half a size from that, and then factor in the stretch. Climbing shoes already run a little small, so although it might take you a full size down in street shoes to get your toes to touch the end, it’ll likely be only half a size down in climbing shoes to get there.
To factor in stretch, you simply need to find out whether the shoe upper is unlined leather, lined leather, or synthetic, and then do this:
- Unlined Leather – Subtract a full US size (two Euro sizes).
- Lined Leather – Subtract half a US size (one Euro size).
- Fully Synthetic Upper – These don’t stretch, so there’s no need to downsize further.
Naturally, this means your shoes will seem too tight out of the box if you’re getting ones with leather uppers, but sure enough over the next few weeks they’ll stretch by the amount you compensated for, finally arriving at that ideal, snug size just as they stop stretching.
Male vs. Female Shoes
Funnily enough, there’s nothing wrong with choosing “male” shoes as a female or “female” shoes as a male. It’s all about foot volume.
The “male” and “female” thing is just a convention. The only difference between the two is foot volume, so you should just either kind based upon which kind fits your feet the best.
Here’s the difference:
- Higher volume climbing shoes “for men” – For wide feet, with high arches, high insteps and bunions.
- Lower volume climbing shoes “for women” – For narrow feet, with low arches, low insteps, and no bunions.
And if the shoe doesn’t have a female version, it simply means it’s unisex, even if it says “for men.” Shoe gender is only a designation that distinguishes between two different versions of foot volume level for the same shoe.
It’s a common thing to guys with low foot volume to wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa, so don’t worry, nobody’s going to judge you for it.
However, you must remember that climbing shoe gender isn’t an absolute indicator of foot volume. It’s only relative. Here’s what climbing shoe gender really means:
- For men – “this is the higher volume version.”
- For women – “this is the lower volume version.”
That absolutely means you can still get low volume men’s shoes and high volume women’s shoes. Within each gender of climbing shoe there’s a wide range of differences in terms of how much volume or what kind of foot shape they’re designed for. The only way to know this is to look at the product description or, in the case of La Sportiva, you can check the official comparison chart.
However, it’s not particularly important to get your foot volume absolutely perfect. Experienced climbers use shoes of all foot volumes. It’s simply just another consideration that’ll help you choose a more comfortable shoe.