Are you ready to conquer the vertical world? If you're a rock climbing enthusiast looking for the best climbing shoes, look no further! We've done the research and put together a comprehensive comparison table to help you find your perfect pair. But it's not just about finding the right fit – we'll also provide valuable buying advice, discuss different foot shapes, closure systems, and explore the pros and cons of shoes with asymmetrical, stiff, downturned, and flat designs. Get ready to elevate your climbing game with these top contenders: Scarpa Furia S, Scarpa Drago, Scarpa Instinct VS, Scarpa Booster, La Sportiva Solution Comp, Ocun Nitro, Red Chili Voltage 2, Tenaya Mastia, Butora Acro, and Five Ten Hiangle. So, lace up and let's dive into the world of the best climbing shoes!
Climbing Shoe Comparison Table
|Climbing Shoe||Price||Rubber||Profile||Key features|
|La Sportiva Katana Lace||$219||4mm Vibram XS Edge||Slightly downturned with subtle asymmetry||Split sole (women’s only), Narrow toe profile, P3 tension rand|
|La Sportiva Tarantulace||5mm FriXion RS rubber||Flat||Durable materials and comfortable fit|
|Scarpa Mago||$209||3.5mm of Vibram XS Grip 2||Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive||Microfiber lining, fiberglass midsole shank for extra stability|
|La Sportiva TC Pro||$219||4mm Vibram XS Edge||Moderately downturned||Moderately downturned|
|Evolv Defy Velcro||$100||4.2mm Trax||Flat||Soft liner and padded split tongue|
|La Sportiva Solution Comp||$189||3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2||Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive||Narrow redesigned heel, soft and sensitive feel, large rubber toe patch|
|Scarpa Boostic||$210||3.5mm Vibram XS Edge||Downturned and asymmetric||Stiff yet sensitive underfoot feel, durable Alcantara upper|
|Evolv Venga||4.2mm Trax SAS||Flat and slightly asymmetric||Breathable mesh upper, simple velcro closure system|
|Tenaya Indalo||$210||3.5mm Vibram XS Grip||Downturned and asymmetric||Pointy toe, split sole construction|
|Acopa Merlin||$189||Original Acopa RS Rubber||Moderately downturned with a split sole||Cotton liner, stiff midsole, split sole construction|
|5.10 NIAD VCS||$150||3.5mm Stealth C4||Minor downturn with a straight and symmetrical shape||Very sticky rubber, soft microfiber upper|
|Scarpa Vapor Lace||$195||3.5mm Vibram XS Edge||Mildly downturned with a touch of asymmetry||Narrow toebox height, large rubber toe patch for scums, hooks, and jams|
Advice for Buying Rock Climbing Shoes
Different Types of Climbing Shoes: Traditional (Trad), Sport, Bouldering, Gym
There are various styles of climbing shoes, each suited for different types of rock climbing. For optimal performance, it's important to match the right shoe with the specific type of climbing. Sport climbing, bouldering, and trad climbing are all distinct and require different shoe designs. For example, a shoe that is perfect for overhanging boulders would be uncomfortable and less effective for crack climbing. Similarly, a stiff and flat shoe that works well for slab climbing would be bulky and ineffective for steep terrain that requires toe hooking. The rock itself, whether it's granite, sandstone, limestone, or other types, also plays a significant role in determining the appropriate style of shoe. While it's impossible to categorize these shoes perfectly, having a good understanding of the terrain will help in making the right choice.
Testing a range of climbing shoes in Joshua TreeTraditional Climbing (Trad)
Trad climbing typically involves climbing on slabby to slightly vertical terrain and often requires jamming into cracks. For this type of climbing, flat shoes, also known as all-around or non-aggressive shoes, are the best performers. These shoes are often more comfortable than their aggressive counterparts but do not compromise on performance. Some of these flat shoes, like the La Sportiva TC Pro, offer excellent performance for slabs, technical face climbing, and cracks. Characteristics to look for in flat climbing shoes are a minimal or no downturn, a stiff midsole, a relaxed fit, minimal rubber on the heel/toe, solid ankle protection, and usually laces. However, for more technical and steep trad routes, such as finger cracks or edging on granite surfaces, a shoe with a moderate or aggressive downturn would be preferable. Examples of such shoes are the La Sportiva Otaki or Scarpa Boostic, which perform better on vertical faces and thin finger cracks than the bulkier TC Pro.
The La Sportiva Katana (older version pictured) is a great technical trad shoe | Fixed Line MediaSport Climbing
For sport climbing on vertical to slightly less-than-vertical terrain, like at Smith Rock or the New River Gorge, a relatively stiff shoe with a moderate downturn is suitable. These shoes perform exceptionally well for face climbs that require precise edging. They typically have a solid edging platform, a tight heel cup with a slingshot-style rand, a stiff midsole, and either laces or a Velcro closure. Some popular choices for sport climbing are the La Sportiva Miura VS, La Sportiva Testarossa, and Scarpa Instinct VS. However, for steeper sport climbing, such as in Kalymnos, the Red, or even in the gym, a more aggressive shoe, like those described in the bouldering section below, would be recommended. The La Sportiva Skwama is an excellent example of a soft slipper with a Velcro closure and aggressive downturn, designed for steep climbing with ample rubber on the toe and heel.
Sport climbing at Smith Rock State Park in Central OregonBouldering
Bouldering shoes, both indoor and outdoor, are characterized by an aggressive downturn, a generous patch of rubber on the toe, sensitivity for better feel, a rounded heel with rubber coverage, and a hybrid closure, often an elastic slipper with a single Velcro strap. These shoes, such as the Five Ten Hiangle, excel on steep terrain where toe hooking, heel hooking, and sticking to tiny incuts on overhanging walls are necessary. These shoes are typically sized snugly and may not be very comfortable to wear for extended periods.
If you are a new boulderer, especially indoors, it is recommended to start with a stiffer and less aggressive shoe like the Scarpa Vapor V or La Sportiva Tarantulace to save your money and foot ligaments. Once your technique improves and your feet get stronger, you can switch to a softer and more aggressive shoe. However, for difficulty levels up to V2 or even up to V4 in the gym, an entry-level shoe will suffice. For more information on soft versus stiff shoes, see the section below.
Bouldering in the soft and aggressive La Sportiva SkwamaGym Climbing
When starting out in the gym, it is crucial to prioritize comfort in your climbing shoes. If your feet are not happy, your introduction to climbing might not be enjoyable. Opting for an entry-level or used shoe is advisable until you are certain of your commitment to the sport. Models like the Black Diamond Momentum or La Sportiva Tarantulace—with a Velcro closure for convenience—are great choices for gym climbing. For more information on getting started in the gym, refer to our Indoor Climbing 101 article.
However, if you are pushing higher grades indoors, particularly in bouldering, it is recommended to wear an aggressive, bouldering-specific shoe. Look for a soft rubber like Vibram XS Grip 2, an aggressive and slipper-like design, and a flexible rand. These shoes are typically worn tightly. The Five Ten Hiangle and La Sportiva Skwama are excellent options for gym climbing. With the rise in popularity of indoor competitive climbing, climbing shoe companies are now offering even softer versions of their most aggressive shoes, specifically designed for indoor climbing, such as the La Sportiva Solution Comp and Butora Acro Comp. Whether you are new to climbing or pushing double-digit V-grades in the gym, refer to the “Best Uses” column in our comparison table above to determine which shoes are recommended for indoor climbing.
Gym climbing is generally done on vertical or overhanging walls
Downturn: Flat, Moderate, or Aggressive
The term "downturn" refers to the curvature of the sole of a climbing shoe, ranging from flat to banana-shaped (aggressive). The more aggressive the downturn, the more power your toes have for gripping small edges. However, more aggressive downturns can sacrifice comfort and natural foot positioning. In general, aggressive shoes excel on steep rock, while flat shoes perform better on vertical to slightly less-than-vertical terrain. Visualize the banana shape of a shoe like the La Sportiva Solution for toeing in on overhanging holds, and imagine a flat shoe like the La Sportiva Mythos or TC Pro for standing on the ball of your foot on slab surfaces.
Comparison of La Sportiva's moderately downturned Katana and flat TC Pro (older versions pictured)
Soft vs. Stiff
Stiffness is another characteristic that differentiates climbing shoes, but personal preference plays a significant role here. While some boulderers prefer ultra-soft shoes like the Five Ten Hiangle or La Sportiva Skwama, others prefer stiffer models like the Butora Acro or Scarpa Instinct VS. The same goes for trad climbers—the TC Pro is popular, but slippers like the Evolv Rave are also favored. One indisputable fact is that stiff shoes offer more foot support. If you are new to climbing, it is advisable to start with a shoe that is stiff to medium-stiff, allowing your feet to grow stronger. Soft shoes, on the other hand, are more sensitive and flexible, requiring your feet to provide more support.
The soft and flexible La Sportiva Skwama is an example of a soft shoe
In addition to support, stiffness also enhances edging power by providing a solid platform for standing on small edges. Therefore, stiffer shoes are better suited for vertical face and slab climbing. Soft shoes, on the other hand, lack the stability required for precise edging but are excellent for toeing in on steep routes. Soft shoes also allow for better underfoot feel, which many climbers appreciate. Soft shoes are also more comfortable when downsized for a tight and snug fit. Keep in mind that thinner soles result in softer shoes. For instance, the Scarpa Instinct VSR has a 2-millimeter sole, making it much softer than its sibling, the Instinct VS, which has a 3.5mm sole.
Closure: Laces, Velcro, or Slipper
Closure systems are an important consideration when choosing climbing shoes. Each closure type—laces, Velcro, and slipper—has its own advantages and disadvantages for various forms of climbing. Laces are popular among trad climbers because they offer a secure fit and are better suited for crack climbing. Velcro closures, on the other hand, are convenient and easy to put on and take off, making them suitable for gym climbing, bouldering, and sport climbing. However, Velcro closures can interfere with toe hooking and may come undone during repetitive jamming in cracks. Slipper closures provide excellent comfort and convenience, often found in soft shoes ideal for friction slabs and crack climbing. However, slippers tend to stretch over time and cannot be tightened. A popular combination is a slipper with a single Velcro strap near the ankle, providing both comfort and a secure fit with ample toe rubber. Standard slipper designs are becoming less common, with the updated Evolv Rave being the only example on our list. Slipper designs combined with Velcro closures will likely gain popularity.
Upper: Leather vs. Synthetic
The upper part of a climbing shoe rests along the top and sides of the foot. Climbing shoes typically feature a leather or synthetic leather substitute as the upper material. There is no definitive rule on whether leather or synthetic is better, as it often comes down to personal preference. Leather stretches over time, conforming to the shape of your foot, resulting in increased comfort. For example, the La Sportiva Miura VS stretches up to a whole size, while the Scarpa Boostic barely stretches at all. This means that if you want the Miura to have the same functionality as the Boostic after a year, you would need to start with a smaller size. Alternatively, if you want the Boostic to be as comfortable as the Miura after a year, you would need to start with a larger size. Your preference for gradual comfort improvement or retention of original dimensions should guide your shoe choice. Additionally, many modern leather shoes incorporate a synthetic liner in high-stretch areas, offering a balance of both materials.
The Otaki features a combination of leather and synthetic upper materials
Climbing shoe rubber is an intricate subject. Which rubber to choose, such as Vibram XS Edge, XS Grip, Stealth HF, Stealth C4, or proprietary blends like Trax and Science Friction, depends on your priorities. All rubber compounds aim to strike a balance between stickiness and durability. Some rubbers, like Science Friction, prioritize stickiness, while others, like Sportiva's FriXion RS, prioritize durability. Your own preferences will determine which tradeoff you prefer. For example, many male climbers choose the women's version of the La Sportiva Miura VS because it uses a stickier rubber (XS Grip 2) compared to the men's version (XS Edge). It's important to note that stickier rubber tends to wear out faster, while more durable rubber may sacrifice a bit of stickiness.
The men's Miura VS features Vibram XS Edge rubber, prioritizing durability
While we have our preferred rubber brands and models, such as Vibram and Stealth, it is largely a matter of personal preference. The comparison table above gives insight into our favorite rubbers, including Vibram XS Edge, XS Grip, and Five Ten's Stealth C4. Butora's Neo Fuse is also gaining popularity. If the rubber on your shoe wears out, you don't necessarily have to retire the shoe. Resoling services are widely available, with options to change the type of rubber.
Fit and Sizing
Sizing climbing shoes is a highly individualized process that depends on various factors. Some shoes may be too narrow or wide for your feet, and sizing can differ between shoe brands and models. Some shoes stretch a full size, while others don't stretch at all. Some are true to street shoe size (like Black Diamond's lineup), while others may require a size or two down. It is important to do research on the fit of a particular shoe based on other climbers' experiences and always try on the shoe before purchasing. If buying online, you may consider ordering multiple pairs and returning the ones that don't fit. Generally, climbing shoes should feel tighter than street shoes, but not to the point of cutting off circulation. A swimming fit indicates the shoe is too loose, while extreme pain during wear signifies it is too tight. Finding the right balance between comfort and performance is crucial. Additionally, leather shoes tend to stretch, while synthetic shoes do not. Lastly, individuals often have slightly different-sized feet, so it is recommended to try on both shoes before making a purchase. For significantly different foot sizes, Evolv offers the option to buy different sizes for each foot.
Men's and Women's Versions
Most climbing shoes are available in both men's and women's versions. The main differences lie in the fit and rubber used. Men's shoes typically have a higher volume fit, while women's shoes are designed to be slimmer in the toebox and heel to accommodate lower-volume feet. Additionally, men's shoes often feature stiffer (and more durable) rubber like Vibram XS Edge, while women's shoes tend to use softer (and stickier) rubber like Vibram XS Grip 2. Stiffer rubber is excellent for edging and slab climbing, while soft compounds are favored by sport climbers and boulderers for enhanced grip and sensitivity.
There are Different Shapes of Feet
Different climbers have different preferences when it comes to climbing shoes. Some climbers swear by La Sportiva shoes, others prefer Scarpa, and some find Five Ten to be the best option. The shape of your feet will determine which shoe is the most comfortable and suitable for you.
When buying climbing shoes, it's best to try out various brands and sizes. This may mean visiting your local gear store or gym, as they often have a wider range of sizes and selection compared to larger stores like REI. It can be difficult to find shoes in smaller sizes at bigger stores. As you try on different shoes, make sure there is no extra space in the toe box, heel cup, or arch. Keep in mind that climbing shoes tend to stretch out over time, so many climbers opt for a slightly tighter fit initially, knowing that the shoes will stretch and mold to their feet with use.
Closure systems for climbing shoes are divided into three main categories: laces, Velcro, and slippers. The type of closure system you choose can significantly impact the performance of the shoe.
Lace-up shoes are less common now but they have their loyal fans. The advantage of lace-up shoes is that they allow the wearer to customize the fit and flexibility of the shoe. By tightening or loosening the laces in different ways, you can adjust the shoe to suit the type of climb you're doing. This versatility is especially desirable for steep cave problems where heel hooking and toe curling are necessary. However, lace-up shoes may not be as effective for toehooks and can be slightly bulkier and more time-consuming to put on and take off.
Slippers used to be extremely popular, but their popularity has waned in recent decades. However, they are still favored by climbers who appreciate their sensitivity and foot-conforming feel. Slippers are excellent for smearing on gym volumes and toeing hard into pockets or crimps on steep roofs. They may not perform as well on slabbier and vertical terrain, where supported edging is crucial.
Velcro closure systems are the most common among climbing shoes. The number and placement of Velcro straps can vary greatly, offering different levels of support and customization. Multiple Velcro straps allow the wearer to adjust the tightness in specific areas of the shoe. However, Velcro straps can get in the way when toehooking, so slipper-like shoes are often preferred for intense toehooks.
Asymmetrical shoes refer to the shape of the shoe, particularly the toe box. Highly asymmetrical shoes are also typically highly downturned. The purpose of the asymmetry is to keep your toes in a crimp position, which helps with gripping holds on steep routes. The more asymmetrical the shoe, the more it supports toe hooking and gripping small holds on vertical terrain with precision.
Stiffness refers to the feel of the shoe, not its shape. Stiff shoes have rigid midsoles, providing support for the foot and allowing for more efficient standing on smaller holds. They help generate power through the toes and are great for edging. However, stiff shoes may be less effective for grabbing holds with your toes and smearing on features of the hold.
Downturned shoes are designed for overhanging climbs. They have an arched shape, resembling a bird beak, and are often soft for increased sensitivity. Downturned shoes are ideal for steep bouldering or sport routes with an angle over 45 degrees. The downturned shape allows you to grab and pull in with your toes, providing better performance on overhanging terrain. The fit of downturned shoes should be snug, with toes crunched and angled downward for optimal engagement.
Flat shoes have a flatter shape and are designed for slabs and vertical walls. They provide good support and are suitable for standing on small edges. Stiffer flat shoes are better for harder vertical or slab routes, while softer flat shoes are ideal for crack climbing. Flat shoes are popular among beginners and children, as they offer comfort and are less aggressive. They may not be ideal for steep climbs but work well for less steep boulders.
Scarpa Furia S
The Scarpa Furia S is a highly regarded climbing shoe known for its performance. It features a versatile Velcro closure system that allows for a customized fit. The shoe has excellent sensitivity and its toe is great for gripping into small concave holds. However, it may not be the best option for standing on edges 30 feet above your pads, as it is quite soft.
Sizing: The Furia S is accommodating for wide feet. It is recommended to go up one Euro size from your usual Scarpa fit.
Read the full review
The Scarpa Drago is a sleek and high-performing climbing shoe. It combines the best features of Scarpa's climbing shoes, such as the active rand for precision and sensitivity, and the slipper upper and heel cup for a secure fit. The Drago performs well on various terrains and excels in volume and suppleness. It is comfortable and fits like a rubber sock.
Sizing: Also available in a low-volume version for climbers with narrower feet.
Read the full review
Scarpa Instinct VS
The Scarpa Instinct VS is a versatile climbing shoe suitable for all angles. It is praised for its performance and comfort. The shoe features sticky Vibram XS Edge rubber and an elastic sock that locks the foot into place. The Instinct VS is highly regarded for its performance on various types of terrain and its ability to toe in on steep walls.
Sizing: Also available in a women's (lower volume) version.
Read the full review
The Scarpa Booster is a high-performing, comfortable climbing shoe designed for redpointing. It has a new PAF heel that allows for downsizing and maximum precision. The Booster performs well on all angles and has a life of its own when it comes to volume and suppleness. It is a specialized sport, bouldering, and competition shoe that can also be used as an all-arounder.
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The Ocun Nitro is an aggressive climbing shoe with an asymmetrical, single-strap Velcro closure system. It is designed for steep bouldering and gym climbing. The Nitro is soft and sensitive, excelling in toeing in on steep walls, dragoning in (toeing around laterally distant edges), yarding on pockets, and smearing on volumes. However, it may not perform as well on vertical outdoor terrain.
Sizing: The Nitro runs very small. It is recommended to go up at least one Euro size.
Read the full review
Red Chili Voltage 2
The Red Chili Voltage 2 is a high-performing, comfortable climbing shoe. It is known for its excellent heel hooking capabilities. The Voltage 2 has a tapered heel and an anatomical shape that keeps the heel in place. It performs well on edges but falls short on smears and volume climbing.
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The Tenaya Mastia is considered one of Tenaya's best climbing shoes. It offers a perfect combination of softness and support, making it comfortable and high-performing. The shoe has a tight and sensitive heel and is suitable for all terrain. Lighter climbers find it to be high-performing, while heavier climbers may find its edging abilities slightly limited.
Fit: The Mastia is super soft and forgiving, and it is recommended to size down by two or more full sizes off your street shoe size.
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The Butora Acro is a high-performing, aggressive climbing shoe. It offers excellent precision and sensitivity, allowing for precise foot placements and effective toe hooks. The shoe has a highly rubbered top-foot, a sharp downturn, and a baby-soft feel. It performs well on all angles and is surprisingly comfortable to wear.
Sizing: The Acro comes in two fits: a narrow blue model and a wide orange model.
Read the full review
Five Ten Hiangle
The Five Ten Hiangle shoes strike the perfect balance in their construction. They have a downturned shape, providing the necessary curvature for climbing, without being excessively downturned. The shoes also offer a softness that ensures comfort, while still maintaining a good level of stiffness for technical performance. It's no surprise that these shoes are favored by renowned climbers like Janja Garnbret and Giuliano Cameroni, known for their exceptional footwork.
One tester aptly described these shoes as the "Goldilocks of performance shoes," highlighting the ideal combination of comfort and technical capabilities. Another tester praised the single strap design, which sits high above the arch of the foot, effectively securing the shoes in place. The slightly oversized toe box allows the toes to have enough space to curl up comfortably. This feature enables climbers to wear the shoes for extended periods during gym sessions, without needing to remove them frequently.
The Hiangle underwent an upgrade in 2020. It now features siping, or gills, on the scum patch, along with a split-sole design. These enhancements, coupled with the super-sticky Stealth C4 sole, make the new Hiangle more flexible than its predecessor. As a result, climbers can rely on it for effective smearing - offering just the right amount of flexibility.
In terms of fit, it's important to note that while the shoes may stretch slightly over time, they initially run small. One tester even recommended going up in size from their regular street shoe size.
The price of the Five Ten Hiangle is $150.
For a detailed review, please visit: Read the full review
In conclusion, when it comes to choosing the best climbing shoes, there are several factors to consider. The type of closure system, the shape of your foot, and the level of stiffness and downturn in the shoe can all have a big impact on your climbing performance. After thorough research and analysis, the top contenders in the market include the Scarpa Furia S, the La Sportiva Solution Comp, and the Five Ten Hiangle. These shoes offer a combination of comfort, precision, and durability, making them ideal for both beginner and experienced climbers. So, strap on your favorite pair of climbing shoes and get ready to conquer new heights with confidence and style.