As a beginning climber, the last thing you want to spend your time worrying about is your shoes, or the poor feet you’ve crammed into them on somebody’s bad advice. That’s why we’ve taken the time to write this article. Not only does it give beginners a plethora of excellent climbing shoe options, but it answers some very important questions that you may have about climbing shoes. From sizing, materials, price considerations, and transitioning into more advanced models, our buying advice and comparison table cover everything you need to know to get shoes on your feet, and get you on the wall. If you’re ready to take that next step, check out our article on the best overall climbing shoes on the market.
Rubber: Vibram XS Edge (4mm)
What we like: “Does everything, fits everyone.” The Mythos is one of the most versatile shoes out there.
What we don't: Pricey, and if you like steep bouldering and sport climbing, it’s not the shoe for you.
It should come as no surprise that the La Sportiva Mythos makes an appearance at the top of this list. Many beginner-oriented climbing shoes are built with novices conspicuously in mind. All too often this means lesser craftsmanship and lower quality materials in order to lower the bottom line. The Mythos, however, was created years ago with quality as its first priority. At the time of its release it was a top shoe for outdoor trad climbers, and today it remains a top shoe for almost all kinds of climbing (except, perhaps, overhanging boulder problems).
The fat 4mm Vibram XS Edge sole gives you a really solid edging platform and lasts longer than most other models on this list. But what makes the Mythos our top beginner shoe is its versatility on different kinds of terrain. As a climbing novice, you don’t likely know yet whether you prefer cracks or face, boulders or roped climbing, the gym or real rock. Getting an all-rounder like the Mythos is a great way to hedge your bets and be covered in most scenarios. Even after shoving it relentlessly into cracks, the stitching on the Mythos stays strong, and the leather is super comfortable and durable. And you can have quality and be a responsible consumer too—Sportiva is now making the Mythos Eco, a shoe constructed with 95% recycled materials.
See the Men's La Sportiva Mythos See the Women's La Sportiva Mythos
Rubber: Butyl Butora F5
What we like: A great price for a well-designed and well-built shoe.
What we don't: This model hasn’t been around long enough to be tried, tested, and true.
Butora has only been around for a few years, but the designers who started the company are some of the best in the game and determined to make high quality shoes with innovative designs. The Endeavor is one of their intro-level shoes, and with so much attention to detail, great comfort, and a relatively low price, it is one of our favorite models for beginners. Not only that, but the Endeavor is made on a slightly downturned last, meaning that these shoes are a bit more performance-oriented than others on the list.
If you have a hard time finding shoes that fit, the Endeavor is a great option. First, both the men’s and women’s versions come in two widths. Second, the Velcro straps have multiple adjustment points to tighten snug to a variety of foot sizes with precision, even as the shoe stretches. And the Endeavor is comfortable—the inner layer of the tongue is made of memory foam, and the top layer of open-cell foam for breathability. In addition, these kicks have a 100% organic hemp liner to minimize odor. It seems like Butora has thought of just about everything.
See the Men's Butora Endeavor See the Women's Butora Endeavor
Rubber: Trax (4.2mm)
What we like: An incredible all-around climbing slipper.
What we don’t: Stretches a great deal, and some people complain of a hot spot in the heel.
What makes the Addict such an excellent beginner shoe is the combination of comfort, price, and precision. Slippers are an exceptionally comfortable type of shoe, especially ones that eschew the down-turned toe for a flatter midsole, such as the Addict. Over time, the leather upper will conform to your foot and fit like a glove. Meanwhile, the shoe firmly distributes all your power over the entire perimeter of the shoe, making this a great edging model. No laces or Velcro straps means the Addict fits without impediment into cracks of all sizes, while the flexibility of the leather upper and sole makes it a fantastic slab climber as well.
Evolv’s Addict almost is a carbon copy of the Five Ten Moccasym (below). The Addict adds a leather pull tab on the front of the shoe instead of the Moccasym’s nylon one, and is known to be a bit softer. In terms of fit, these shoes are wider than the Moccasym, and thus a bit more comfortable for most (though some testers complain of a hot spot in the heel). But the biggest difference is in the price tag: the Addict is almost 20% less than the Moccasym, the main reason we have it higher on our list... Read in-depth review
See the Evolv Addict
Rubber: Vision (5mm)
What we like: Extremely comfortable and well designed.
What we don’t: Neutral last might hold back more intermediate climbers.
Scarpa’s legendary designer Heinz Mariacher, the brains behind uber high-performing shoes such as the Drago, doesn’t stop at elite. Wanting to encourage more and more folks to start climbing, Mariacher set out to design the perfect beginner shoe. Thus, the Scarpa Origin was born.
Probably the most notable feature of the Origin is how comfortable it is—luxurious, really. The padded tongue makes you feel like you just slipped your foot into a pillow, and while the last is flat, the sole is stiff enough to provide a supportive feel. Judging from its comfort and quality design, beginners might be taking the Origin with them as they improve, using them on high-mileage or multi-pitch days, although not necessarily in highly technical terrain. This shoe is essentially Scarpa’s recent answer to the Evolv Defy below, one of the world’s best selling beginner climbing shoes. But watch out Defy—at the same price point, we’d go so far as to say that the Origin is better designed and made with higher quality materials.
See the Men's Scarpa Origin See the Women's Scarpa Origin
Rubber: Stealth C4 (4.2mm)
What we like: Better rubber than the Addict, and time-tested quality.
What we don’t: More expensive than the Addict.
We mention above that the Evolv Addict ranks ahead of this legendary climbing shoe. Some may consider this a bit of a slap in the face—the Addict is basically a carbon copy of this well-regarded model from Five Ten, one of the leading climbing shoe manufacturers. Of course, comparing the Addict to the Moccasym is like judging apples against, well, apples. So let’s now make the case for the Moccasym.
The most conspicuous difference between the two is the different blend of rubber on the sole. It’s fairly commonly agreed upon in the climbing community that Five Ten’s Stealth C4 is superior to Evolv’s Trax. Of all climbing rubbers, Stealth provides the best stick to durability ratio. However, if you’re just climbing in the gym or top roping outside, this slight difference in rubber is likely not worth the extra $26. And when you buy the Moccasym, get it tight—size down a whole size from your street shoes as the leather upper stretches quite a bit.
See the Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym
Closure: Velcro (Lace also available)
Rubber: Trax (4.2mm)
What we like: A durable, time-tested classic.
What we don’t: Nothing about this shoe really stands out.
Evolv doesn’t always hit it out of the park with their shoes, and they haven’t necessarily arrived at the point where they compare with La Sportiva, Scarpa, or Five Ten. But they do quietly churn out consistently good shoes—maybe not the very top models, but contenders at reasonable prices. The Defy is no exception.
The Defy (and the women’s version called the Elektra) is Evolv’s all-time best selling shoe, and you certainly won’t be the only climber in the gym wearing a pair. With their flat profile, these kicks are comfortable straight out of the box. But don’t let their lack of aggressive downturn fool you: they also are very soft and highly flexible, allowing you to climb well on steep terrain. However, because of these traits, the Defy might require a bit more foot strength than stiffer shoes or those with an arch built into their design. And one well-known fact about previous Defys is that they stink and hold stink like it’s their job. However, for last year Evolv added a new anti-microbial mesh material. Noses, rejoice.
See the Men's Evolv Defy See the Women's Evolv Elektra
Closure: Lace (Velcro also available)
Rubber: Stealth C4 (4mm)
What we like: A comfortable and quality all-day shoe.
What we don’t: Expensive for a beginner.
Soft and flexible entry-level shoes, like the Evolv Defy and Scarpa Origin above, excel at gym climbing and steep outdoor bouldering. On the other end of the spectrum are stiff and supportive shoes like the Five Ten Gambit. The Gambit, designed to be less sensitive, more rugged, and higher performing than Five Ten’s Rogue, excels at all-day comfort on less-than-vertical terrain. If you find yourself climbing moderate multi-pitch routes, the Gambit is worth considering.
The Gambit comes in both lace and Velcro versions, which we like. Similar to the Scarpa Force V, these shoes can be worn both by beginner climbers and those with more experience looking for a comfortable all-day model that does not sacrifice quality or performance. With a Stealth C4 rubber sole and padded tongue, these shoes certainly are some of the best made of the bunch. For $10 cheaper, we like them more than the Force V, but recommend you try them on before buying as Five Ten shoes tend to run narrow.
See the Five Ten Gambit Lace
Rubber: NeoFriction (4.3mm)
What we like: Rumor has it that BD’s NeoFriction rubber is good.
What we don’t: We suspect there will be some kinks to work out of this new shoe.
Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you—it’s a Black Diamond climbing shoe. BD has been a leader in climbing gear and innovation for decades, and last year released their first shoe models. The Momentum is their version of a flat, entry-level shoe similar to the Scarpa Origin or Evolv Defy. We’re placing it lower on the list than these similar shoes for now, but are excited to see how it stacks up after some use and abuse.
Climbers have been raving about the NeoFriction on Black Diamond’s shoes, and we’re curious how this rubber compares in longevity with Stealth and Vibram soles. One particular feature of note is the stretchy knit upper—we expect it to allow for breathability and a secure fit, but repetitive crack climbing will challenge the durability. And as with anything in its early stages, we expect Black Diamond to be working out some of the kinks in their shoe line-up throughout the next few years... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Black Diamond Momentum See the Women's Black Diamond Momentum
Closure: Lace (Velcro: La Sportiva Tarantula)
Rubber: FriXion RS (5mm)
What we like: Comfort-oriented and durable.
What we don’t: Not a performance shoe.
The Tarantulace is one of La Sportiva’s top shoes for beginning climbers. Sportiva built it to appeal to the enormous demographic of climbers who prefer comfort over performance (which is not just beginners, by the way). The result is a shoe that climbs very well, but only up to a point (about 5.10, or V2). If you know that you won’t be climbing above that grade, this model is an excellent choice.
The build of the Tarantulace is closer to an approach shoe than most other shoes on this list. The 5mm sole is among the thickest on the market and features La Sportiva’s proprietary blend of FriXion rubber, which is built for durability. Meanwhile, the fit of the shoe is flat, wide, rounded, and versatile. The toe is much more symmetrical than most climbing shoes (again, more like approach shoes), and the midsole is flat and stiff. As a beginner, it’s really important to be honest with yourself about your abilities and desires as a climber. If you’re looking for a comfortable shoe that you can take you up moderate multi-pitches or wear for hours in the gym, then this is an excellent option. If you’re looking to push your grades and break into harder climbs, look elsewhere.
See the Men's La Sportiva Tarantulace See the Women's La Sportiva Tarantulace
Rubber: Vibram XS Edge (3.5mm)
What we like: Good performance shoe to help push into harder grades.
What we don’t: A bit more specialized than other entry-level shoes.
You can’t argue with Italian craftsmanship, and Scarpa shoes are almost always excellent across the board. That said, their beginner shoe—the Helix—is a bit more specialized than others on this list, and really is for climbers with some experience rather than true beginners. The good news is that a lot of beginners progress quickly. If you are or hope to be one of them, this shoe is an excellent choice.
The Helix has been in Scarpa’s lineup for years, and not by accident. It’s a perfect blend of comfort and performance for long and moderate alpine and trad routes. Scarpa boasts that the Helix is a secret weapon of guides, and we believe them. The comfortable leather upper and padded tongue allow you to wear the shoe all day, while the slightly asymmetrical fit and XS Edge rubber ensure that you’ll be able to stick the tricky crux of the route when you really need performance. If these shoes were a bit less expensive, they’d certainly score higher on our list. But if you can afford the extra dollars and the shoe’s specialized nature is what you need, the Helix is a great bet.
See the Men's Scarpa Helix See the Women's Scarpa Helix
Rubber: Science Friction (3.8mm)
What we like: The cheapest of the cheap.
What we don’t: The cheapest of the cheap.
Two things stand out about the Drifter. First, it costs less than any other shoe on this list. Second, Mad Rock claims it has climbed V15. Only one of those things should have any relevancy to you.
The Drifter is inexpensive and that is all you really need to know. Let’s drop the fancy jargon about midsoles and rands and asymmetry here. If you’re just looking for an inexpensive shoe to take out climbing a few times to see if you like the sport, then look no further. In the end, you’re not going to climb V15 in the Drifter—almost nobody will. If you do decide that climbing is the sport for you, you’ll probably choose to upgrade to a nicer, more performance-minded model. But if you don’t, you’ll only be out $72 instead of the $80+ that all the other shoes on this list go for.
See the Mad Rock Drifter
Rubber: Vibram XS Grip 2 (4mm)
What we like: High quality construction, good all-rounder.
What we don’t: Jack of all trades, but master of none.
Scarpa’s Force V manages to effectively combine mid-level performance and excellent comfort in a shoe as high quality as any on our list. Similar to Five Ten’s Gambit, it’s not Scarpa’s most entry-level shoe, nor is it a highly aggressive model. For those looking to push their multi-pitch game a bit without sacrificing comfort, this is a great choice. In fact, my partner wore the Force Vs on a 3000-foot 5.11+ rock climb in the Bugaboos and loved them. They edge relatively well, crack climb as good as any, smear comfortably, and can be worn all day, with socks. This shoe is certainly a step up from models like the Tarantulace or the Origin.
The reason we have the Force V here is that Scarpa actually designed it to be an entry-level sport climbing and bouldering shoe. However, it is quite simply a primo all-rounder. Stiffer than most bouldering shoes and comfortable enough for crack climbing, the Force V has a slight downturn and asymmetrical shape. If you are an experienced climber accustomed to wearing high performance shoes but need a shoe for all-day moderates, the Scarpa Force Vs will offer comfort without feeling like a dumbed-down beginner model. On the flip side, if you’re a beginner climber and looking for a high-quality shoe that you can grow into, check out the Force V.
See the Men's Scarpa Force V See the Women's Scarpa Force V
Rubber: FriXion RS (5mm)
What we like: Some revolutionary concepts and interesting styling.
What we don’t: Needs some refinement.
The Oxygym has to be the most eye-catching shoe on this list, and not just for the bright colors. La Sportiva really broke the mold with this shoe, and though it has some issues, we believe future editions will find themselves closer and closer to the top of this list.
The Oxygym really redefines our ideas of climbing shoes by creating a shoe made for washing. I don’t just mean it can be washed, because any shoe can. These were designed with washing in mind. The other revolutionary concept is the Velcro “hook and loop” closure system. It’s not just normal Velcro; you can actually move the attachment points where the Velcro straps go through. This means you can tighten to the left and tighten to the right (like a dance). The most conspicuous issue with the new features, however, is that everyone knows Velcro wears down over time, especially when exposed frequently to water. While the Oxygym is meant to be durable, I have my doubts about how well it will hold up over time. Still, this is an interesting shoe to try out and not a bad place to start for beginners.
See the Men's La Sportiva Oxygym See the Women's La Sportiva Oxygym
Rubber: Vibram XS Edge (5mm)
What we like: P3 technology will help this shoe keep its downturn.
What we don’t: Dye stains sweaty feet.
Replacing the discontinued Nago, the Finale is an entry-level climbing shoe with some features that will help you start to get a feel for what a more high-performance shoe might be like. Like La Sportiva’s top models, this shoe sports Vibram XS Edge rubber, a tensioned heel rand, and the company’s proprietary P3 system that holds the downturn of the shoe over time. However, being unlined for out-of-the-box comfort and sporting a durable 5mm sole, it’s not lost on us that this shoe is tailored toward new climbers.
The Finale is stiffer and a bit more downturned than a shoe like the Tarantulace or a slipper like the Five Ten Moccasym. A stiff shoe like this is ideal for all-day comfort on outdoor rock, and will edge better than many other entry-level models. The thick 5mm sole, however, does give it a clunky feel (and a high amount of durability). Made with unlined leather, these shoes are known to stretch a half to a full size, and the dye can wear through and stain sweaty feet. But for Sportiva fans whose abilities have progressed beyond the Tarantulace, the Finale is a worthy option.
See the Men's La Sportiva Finale See the Women's La Sportiva Finale
Closure: Velcro (Lace: Five Ten Rogue)
Rubber: Stealth C4 (4.2mm)
What we like: Comfort, easy fit.
What we don’t: Price, thin sole.
Remember the Tarantulace (#9 on the list)? The Rogue is kind of like Five Ten’s version of that shoe. It’s not made for pushing through overhangs, sending projects, or tiny foot chips and techy footwork. It’s made to help beginners get introduced into the sport. That’s why it’s on this list: the Rogue is comfortable and durable enough to help you learn the fundamentals of climbing. And with Five Ten’s Stealth C4 rubber, it provides the same amount of stickiness as their most advanced models.
There are a few reasons the Rogue isn’t higher on our list. First is the price: $100 still is relatively affordable for a climbing shoe, but the Tarantulace is cheaper (along with many other models). Second, although Five Ten made the Rogue for gym climbers transitioning to the outdoors, it just isn’t as burly as many might need on real rock. Additionally, these shoes will stretch quite a bit, so beware. However, if you set those concerns aside and use the Rogue primarily indoors, it’s a solid match.
See the Men's Five Ten Rogue VCS See the Women's Five Ten Rogue VCS
Rubber: Science Friction 3.0
What we like: Less expensive than its competition by far.
What we don’t: Does not measure up to the quality of other brands.
The Agama is Mad Rock’s answer to the Five Ten Gambit and Scarpa Force V, providing performance and all-day comfort for beginner climbers. Sporting Mad Rock’s EVA heel cup for hooking and a stiffer midsole, this shoe offers more protection, edging power, and support than the more flexible and bare-bones Drifter. The Agama also has a roomy, almost symmetrical toe box, so that no matter how tightly you size the shoe, your forefoot will always have space to spread.
For $83, the Agama is far less expensive than its $120 and $130 competition, but you get what you pay for. Science Friction rubber pales in comparison to Vibram or Stealth, and Mad Rock’s construction just doesn’t keep up with the quality of Five Ten or Scarpa. But if you’re new to climbing, looking for a budget option, and anticipate climbing slabby routes outside more than steep boulder problems in the gym, the Agama is worth considering.
See the Mad Rock Agama
Closure: Velcro (Lace also available)
Rubber: Vibram XS Edge (4mm)
What we like: Great all-rounder, doubles as a comfortable beginner shoe and a technical intermediate shoe.
What we don’t: Definitely expensive for a beginner shoe.
For quick learners, good athletes, and those who plan on taking their rock climbing seriously in the future, buying an intermediate-level shoe right off the bat is a viable option. The Scarpa Vapor V fits the bill: it’s a highly versatile shoe with qualities that will prove extremely beneficial as you begin to spend longer periods on steeper, more technical terrain.
The first thing you might notice about the Vapor is that it is as comfortable as any beginner shoe out there and great for wider feet. Don’t be fooled: the Vapor V is designed as a performance shoe for almost every style of climbing. Usually you want a flatter, thicker lasted shoe to edge and smear well, and a thinner, downturned shoe to climb on steep terrain. Without geeking out too hard on “bi-tension randing,” let’s just say that Scarpa has designed a shoe to do both, and we think it does it all pretty well. Not only that, but the Vapor V climbs cracks with the best of them and is comfortable enough to wear for multiple pitches. We’d be placing this shoe higher up on the list if it weren’t for the price and the fact that it might be more of a high-performance shoe than most beginners need.
See the Men's Scarpa Vapor V See the Women's Scarpa Vapor V
|La Sportiva Mythos||$145||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge (4mm)||Outdoor|
|Butora Endeavor||$98||Leather/synthetic||Velcro||Butyl Butora F5||Outdoor/indoor|
|Evolv Addict||$99||Leather||Slipper||Trax (4.2mm)||Outdoor/indoor|
|Scarpa Origin||$95||Suede||Velcro||Vision (5mm)||Indoor/outdoor|
|Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym||$125||Leather||Slipper||Stealth C4 (2mm)||Outdoor/indoor|
|Evolv Defy||$89||Synthetic||Velcro||Trax (4.2mm)||Indoor|
|Five Ten Gambit Lace||$120||Leather||Lace||Stealth C4 (4mm)||Outdoor|
|Black Diamond Momentum||$90||Synthetic||Velcro||NeoFriction (4.3mm)||Indoor|
|La Sportiva Tarantulace||$80||Leather/synthetic||Lace||FriXion RS (5mm)||Indoor/outdoor|
|Scarpa Helix||$99||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge (3.5mm)||Outdoor|
|Mad Rock Drifter||$72||Leather||Velcro||Science Friction (3.8mm)||Indoor|
|Scarpa Force V||$135||Leather||Velcro||Vibram XS Grip 2 (4mm)||Outdoor|
|La Sportiva Oxygym||$99||Synthetic||Velcro||FriXion RS (5mm)||Indoor|
|La Sportiva Finale||$99||Leather/synthetic||Lace||Vibram XS Edge (5mm)||Outdoor|
|Five Ten Rogue VCS||$100||Leather||Velcro||Stealth C4 (4.2mm)||Indoor|
|Mad Rock Agama||$83||Leather/synthetic||Velcro||Science Friction 3.0||Indoor|
|Scarpa Vapor V||$160||Suede||Velcro||Vibram XS Edge (4mm)||Outdoor|
- What to Look for in a Beginner Shoe
- Leather vs. Synthetic
- Types of Closure
- Types of Rubber
- Male vs. Female Shoes
- Indoor vs. Outdoor Climbing
- Comfort vs. Performance
- Soft vs. Stiff
- Why Beginners Should Spend Less
- Transitioning to a More Advanced Shoe
If you’ve got an eye for it, you can spot a beginner’s shoe from across the room. They generally are flat, while other shoes have at least some downturn of the toe (more of a banana shape). The toe on beginner shoes tends to be only slightly asymmetrical if at all, while it’s more pointed on aggressive shoes. Finally, beginner shoes tend to be less flashy looking. That said, there’s a lot more to a good beginner climbing shoe than meets the eye.
A quality starter shoe should come with a few very important features that are not necessarily visible. To start, the price tag. As a beginner, you can spend more than $120 on a pair of climbing shoes, but you certainly don’t need to (see “Why Beginners Should Spend Less” below). Also, consider the width of the sole. A sole at least 4mm thick is essential so that your shoes last while you’re learning how to use your feet. And by far, the most important feature is comfort. Climbing is a hard sport, especially at the start. It’s a lot harder to stick with it if your feet are screaming every time you put on your climbing shoes. Over time, you will adapt to the pain of tight shoes, but at the start we recommend you get a pair that you can wear comfortably all day.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand differences in materials. Sometimes it’s simple. In this case, there is a golden rule: leather stretches, synthetic materials don’t. While there are a couple of exceptions (leather is lined at times, keeping it from stretching quite so much), this rule will hold true for almost all pairs of climbing shoes.
In the case of beginner climbing shoes, either leather or synthetic can be a good choice, but be aware of what your choice implies. If you get the Five Ten Moccasym, expect it to stretch a whole size over time. That means you’ll have to size it small from the get go and face a potentially painful break-in period. If you go with the La Sportiva Oxygym, expect the shoe to stay true to size. This sounds good, but what you lose in a synthetic shoe is the comfort that comes from leather conforming to the shape of your foot. If we were to make a recommendation, we’d tell you to go with leather. It tends to be more durable and comfortable—both very important considerations for beginners.
There are three main types of closure systems for climbing shoes: lace, Velcro, and slipper (elastic). Take a careful look and you’ll notice that all of these different closures are included in the top three shoes in this article. What this should suggest is that there’s not one type of closure that’s best for beginner shoes. That said, it’s still valuable to understand the pros and cons of each style.
Laces are great for novice climbers because you can really tailor the comfort/performance ratio specifically to where you are in your climbing. At first, you’ll probably find comfort more important. But over time, you’ll likely care more about performance. Laces give you great versatility to tighten or loosen your shoes accordingly. That said, laces can be a pain in the butt if you are putting on and taking off the shoes all the time, as is the case in the gym or the boulder fields. They also can break and be difficult to replace (one of the few problems with the La Sportiva Mythos).
Velcro is nice because it is easy on and off, but can be somewhat limiting in how well it fits. In addition, Velcro has a tendency to fail over time, which is a major concern we have with a shoe like the Oxygym. Additionally, if you plan on spending a lot of time climbing cracks, Velcro is not an optimal choice. However, if you’re primarily bouldering, we certainly recommend a Velcro shoe.
Slippers may be the most comfortable type of shoe to wear, especially a nicely broken in pair of Addicts or Moccasyms. The problem with the two leather slippers we’ve recommended is that they will stretch so much over time that you need to get them fairly tight from the outset. This will result in a difficult (read: painful) acclimation period, during which other shoes might be more enticing.
Remember the Phish song that goes, “The tires are the things on your car that make contact with road”? Ok, maybe not. But the rubber is the thing on the shoes that makes contact with holds. In other words, it’s really important. How grippy and how durable your rubber is (not to mention how much of it there is) has a direct affect on the performance and longevity of a pair of climbing shoes.
For beginners, your best bet typically is to get the most bang for your buck. In terms of rubber, this means getting a fatter sole. Anything 4mm and up is a good place to start—soles thinner than that won’t last nearly as long. Also, it’s good to note that not all brands of rubber are equally durable. Five Ten’s Stealth C4 and La Sportiva’s FriXion RS both are excellent choices for a beginner’s shoe rubber.
Without getting too political about gender differences, norms, expectations, roles, etc., let’s make one broad sweeping generalization: males tend to have wider feet than females. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but this is indeed what you can expect to see when you compare a men’s climbing shoe with a women’s climbing shoe.
As a novice climber, it’s important to know that climbing is a gender-neutral sport and nobody cares what you have on your feet. Men wear women’s shoes, and women wear men’s shoes, all the time. Literally nobody cares. If you have a wide foot, think men’s models. If you have a narrow foot, think women’s. As for sizing, most companies have a conversion chart to show how male and female sizes compare (like La Sportiva’s here, for example).
You may have been told by a friend, a store clerk, or a climbing gym employee that you need to buy shoes so tight they hurt your feet. We’re here to tell you the opposite. Beginning climbers need tight shoes—just like any climber does—but comfortably tight shoes. The initial investment in climbing is so high, and the learning curve is so steep, that the last thing you want is to come to loathe the idea of climbing simply based upon how it makes your feet feel.
There’s another important lesson here. How you use your feet is more important than what you put on them. If your shoes are a little roomier, it will only force you to improve your footwork. Over time, it’s good to set the precedent of overcoming obstacles by working on technique, instead of buying different technology. In general, buy the same size you would get in street shoes, or a half size down. Major exceptions to this rule (such as the Moccasym or the Butora Endeavor) typically will state them explicitly. And as we’ve mentioned above, leather models will stretch more than synthetics, so size your leather shoes down a bit more and expect to have a few mildly uncomfortable break-in sessions.
There are so many differences between indoor and outdoor climbing that you could write a book about the subject. In the case of beginner climbing shoes, it’s important to be realistic about where you’ll spend the majority of your time climbing. If you’re mostly sticking to the gym, the comfort and price of your shoes matter far more than performance or durability. As for outdoor climbing, we’d definitely recommend going with a more performance-oriented shoe, and one that will resist abrasion on real rock. I’ve never thought twice on a gym 5.7, but I’ve definitely been pretty scared on an outdoor route of the same grade. Having a little more confidence in your footwear when there are real consequences (like a ground fall) is worth a lot.
Additionally, as a new climber, you’ll probably encounter much steeper terrain in the gym than outside. Thus, if you’re climbing mostly indoors, you may want a soft shoe that can heel-hook and toe-in well, such as the Butora Endeavor or the Evolv Defy. Meanwhile, when climbing outdoors as a beginner, you’ll probably find yourself more often confined to slabs and vertical walls. So a pair of good edging and smearing shoes, like the Mythos or Addicts, would be a better choice there.
We’ve alluded to the comfort vs. performance debate many times throughout this article. Every climber is different and will have a different tolerance for pain. The thing to understand is that, in general, as comfort goes down, performance goes up.
For beginners, we recommend focusing more on comfort. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that the terrain and holds you are climbing as a beginner simply don’t warrant, or necessitate, a high performance shoe. It’s great to be able to stand on dime-sized edges, but most beginners aren’t going to be doing that anyway. There are exceptions to the rule, and you may be a phenom. But if that’s the case, you’ll likely be so smitten by climbing that you’ll quickly decide to invest in a more performance-oriented shoe. Simply put, most beginners should make comfort the first consideration. You can worry about performance down the road.
A simple way to categorize climbing shoes is in terms of the stiffness of the midsole. Climbers who gravitate toward steep boulder problems or gym climbing likely will want to wear a soft shoe that allows them to flex their feet more around holds. These shoes provide far greater sensitivity between rock and foot, but as a result, your foot will have to work a lot harder than if it were in a stiffer, more supportive shoe. Speaking of stiffer shoes, those who plan on climbing long routes outside will benefit from the edging, stability, and support of these models. In general, unless you’re just bouldering at the gym, we recommend that beginner climbers wear a shoe with a moderately stiff midsole to help support their foot muscles and ligaments as they build strength.
Rock climbing isn’t downhill skiing, but it’s not the cheapest outdoor sport either. A harness will run you minimum $50, belay device and locking carabiner are another $30, and a gym membership can be as much as $80/month. Factor in $20 for a chalk bag and $5 a month for chalk. If you get into outdoor climbing, you’ll need a rope, a helmet, a crash pad, quickdraws (you should be hearing the sound of a cash register right about now). As a beginner, it’s all new, and it’s all an investment in something you haven’t done that much.
So why break the budget on a pair of shoes? More to the point, why spend extra for features you don’t need? You’re a beginner, so don’t worry about a highly asymmetric toe, an aggressive downturn, a powerful sling-shot rand, top heel and toe hooking ability, or incredible edging precision. If you’re like most beginners, you probably don’t even know what half of those things mean. Your only job as a beginning rock climber is to enjoy yourself and figure out if you really want to become committed to this sport. So go ahead, buy cheap. Permission granted. And if you continue to enjoy climbing, you’ll upgrade down the road.
“Beginner” is a pretty broad and relative term. Some people are climbing 5.12 and V6 after just a month of practice. They’re still beginners—just innately talented ones. If you’re one of those people, none of the shoes in this piece are right for you, and you should consider one of our top rock climbing shoes instead.
If you’re like the rest of us, you can expect it to take longer to break into harder grades. As you do so, you’ll start to feel like your shoes are limiting you. This is the point at which you upgrade. There’s a subtle distinction here that is really important to point out: don’t buy new shoes because you think they will help jump your game forward. Buy new shoes because your game has already jumped forward and your old shoes are holding you back. The difference is that if you use your shoes as a crutch, you’ll tend to make excuses for what is really a lack of strength and technique. And vice versa: if you develop the strength and technique first, and turn to new shoes second, you’ll actually get the boost you seek because you’ll already be practiced in doing more advanced moves with less advanced shoes.
We’ve included a few shoes on this list, notably the Vapor, as recommendations for shoes that can transition with you into the tougher grades. Generally speaking, however, they are more expensive, so only start out with these shoes if you’re hell-bent on becoming a proficient rock climber, learn quickly, or climbed out of your crib before you could walk.
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