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 the next step, check out our article on the best overall climbing shoes on the market.
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: A great price for a well-designed and well-built shoe.
What we don't: Moderate downturn means this shoe won’t excel on vertical or overhanging terrain.
Butora entered the climbing shoe world only a few years ago, but the company already is well-known for their innovative designs and premium builds. The Endeavor is Butora’s top entry-level model, and with noticeable attention to detail, a high level of comfort, and a relatively low price tag, it has secured its place as our favorite beginner model. Further, it’s made on a slightly downturned last, meaning the shoe is a bit more performance-oriented than others on the list, which is a good thing if you plan on progressing in your climbing.
If you have a hard time finding shoes that fit, the Endeavor is a versatile option. Both the men’s and women’s versions come in two widths, and the Velcro straps have multiple adjustment points to snug up to a variety of foot sizes with precision, even as the shoe stretches. And the Endeavor is comfortable to boot—the inner layer of the tongue is made of memory foam to take pressure off the straps, while the top layer’s open-cell foam allows breathability. These kicks also sport a 100-percent-organic hemp liner to minimize odor. It seems Butora has thought of just about everything.
See the Men's Butora Endeavor See the Women's Butora Endeavor
A Close Second
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Extremely comfortable and well-thought-out design.
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 like the Drago, doesn’t stop at elite. In an effort to encourage more and more folks to start climbing, Mariacher set out to design the perfect beginner shoe. Enter the Scarpa Origin. Its superior comfort is immediately noticeable, and the padded tongue gives the shoe a pillow-like feel. And while the last is flat, the sole is stiff enough to provide decent support.
The Origin is essentially Scarpa’s answer to the Evolv Defy below, one of the world’s best-selling beginner climbing shoes. But the Origin is better-designed and made with higher-quality materials, all for just $6 more. And based on its comfort and quality build, beginners might be taking the Origin along as they improve. It's great for high-mileage or multi-pitch days (the generous 5-millimeter outsole helps), although not necessarily on highly technical terrain.
See the Men's Scarpa Origin See the Women's Scarpa Origin
Best Beginner Shoe for Outdoor Climbing
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Durable and incredibly well-made.
What we don't: Pricey; not good for steep bouldering or face climbing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the La Sportiva Mythos makes an appearance near the top of this list. Many beginner-oriented climbing shoes are very apparently built with novices in mind, and all too often this means reduced craftsmanship and lower-quality materials to increase the bottom line. The Mythos, however, prioritizes quality. At the time of its release, it was a top shoe for trad climbers, and since then, it has become a dependable shoe for those new to the outdoors.
The Mythos’ success as a beginner shoe stems from its versatility on different kinds of terrain. As a climbing novice, you likely don’t 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 the best way to hedge your bets and be covered in most scenarios. Whereas many beginner shoes are made with the gym in mind, the Mythos is built to withstand the rigors of outdoor climbing: even after shoving it relentlessly into cracks, the stitching stays strong and the leather remains superbly comfortable and durable. And good news for the eco-minded consumer: La Sportiva also makes the Mythos Eco, an alternative constructed with 95-percent-recycled materials.
See the Men's La Sportiva Mythos See the Women's La Sportiva Mythos
Best Beginner Shoe for Gym Climbing
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Washable, breathable, durable, and comfortable: a total gym workhorse.
What we don't: Not a high-performance shoe.
The La Sportiva Oxygym doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a gym climbing shoe—in fact, it’s right in the name. And if there’s one thing we know about synthetic shoes and the climbing gym, it’s that they can get stinky fast. Whereas other shoes might require fancy deodorizing sprays, the Oxygym is 100-percent-washable, so you can throw it in the machine and have a good-as-new shoe once it dries. Tack on the 5-millimeter FriXion RS (read: durable) sole and an extremely roomy build, and the Oxygym is an all-around workhorse for climbers starting out indoors.
Like the Tarantulace below (which shares a similar high-volume build and durable sole), the Oxygym is decidedly not a high-performance shoe. If you think you might catch on quickly and climb the grades (literally), we’d recommend a sleeker shoe with stickier rubber, such as the Endeavor or Origin above. But for climbers in need of a shoe they can put on and keep on throughout a session at the gym, the Oxygym is both comfortable and breathable. At $99, it’s a bit steeper than some other options here, but we think it's worth the investment for those looking for a functional daily driver for the gym.
See the Men's La Sportiva Oxygym See the Women's La Sportiva Oxygym
Best of the Rest
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: A durable, time-tested classic.
What we don’t: Nothing about this shoe really stands out.
Evolv is the embodiment of “slow and steady wins the race:” while they don’t often knock it out of the park, they do quietly and consistently churn out good shoes. If you’re looking for contenders at reasonable prices (compared to top models from La Sportiva, Scarpa, and Five Ten), Evolv’s shoes might be the answer. And the Defy is no exception.
The Defy (and the women’s Elektra) is Evolv’s all-time best-selling shoe, and you certainly won’t be the only climber in the gym sporting it. These kicks are comfortable straight out of the box thanks to their flat profile and no-stretch synthetic upper. But don’t let their lack of aggressive downturn fool you: they are also very soft and highly flexible, excelling even on steep terrain. However, that means the Defy might require a bit more foot strength than stiffer shoes or those with a built-in arch.
See the Men's Evolv Defy See the Women's Evolv Elektra
Ability level: Beginner to advanced
What we like: A comfortable beginner shoe that fares well on technical terrain.
What we don’t: Expensive for a beginner shoe.
For quick learners, good athletes, and those who plan on taking rock climbing seriously, buying an intermediate-level shoe right off the bat isn’t necessarily a bad idea. The Scarpa Vapor V fits the bill: it is highly versatile, excelling both as a beginner shoe and on steeper, more technical terrain.
The Vapor’s stretchy, soft-sueded upper and mesh-gusseted tongue add exceptional comfort, and also make it perfect for wider feet. But don’t be fooled by its cushy feel: the Vapor V is designed as a performance shoe for almost every style of climbing. Usually you want a thicker, flat-lasted shoe to edge and smear well, and a thinner, downturned shoe to climb on overhung 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 they nailed it. But with a hefty price tag and more focus on performance than most beginners need, the Vapor V might be too much shoe for some.
See the Men's Scarpa Vapor V See the Women's Scarpa Vapor V
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Knit upper offers great breathability.
What we don’t: The closure is poorly designed, resulting in pressure points on the top of the foot.
Black Diamond has been a leader and innovator in climbing gear for decades, but more recently made its debut into the world of climbing shoes. The Momentum is a flat, entry-level model similar to the Scarpa Origin and Evolv Defy above, but with a few important differences that make it a laudable choice for the gym. Most notably, the stretchy knit upper breathes well in sweaty indoor environments, and Neo Fuse rubber is a durable choice for high-volume gym climbing. And BD added a vegan Momentum to their lineup, so now there’s something for everyone.
Unfortunately, the design of the Velcro closure on the Momentum is substandard. We dealt with bunched-up fabric and pesky pressure points when we were anything less than meticulous in tightening up the shoe (BD has a lace-up alternative that might be a better option). Further, the flat last may hold you back from progressing like you might in a slightly downturned shoe like the Endeavor. Overall, we expect Black Diamond to be working out some of the kinks in their shoe lineup throughout the next few years, but the Momentum is a solid first iteration of a gym-climbing workhorse... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Black Diamond Momentum See the Women's Black Diamond Momentum
Ability level: Beginner to advanced
What we like: An incredible all-around climbing slipper.
What we don’t: Stretches a lot; some complain of a hot spot in the heel.
And now for something a little different: a slipper. Rather than a more common Velcro or lace closure, slippers use slits of elastic near the ankle to fit snugly against the foot. They are exceptionally comfortable, quick to get on and off, and will progressively conform to your foot to eventually fit like a glove. The Addict is one of our favorite slippers for beginners—it’s a flat-lasted, reasonably priced leather shoe that offers reliable performance for both indoor and outdoor climbing.
No laces or Velcro straps means the Addict fits without impediment into cracks of all sizes, while the flexible sole and leather upper make it a fantastic slab climber, as well. Meanwhile, the shoe firmly distributes all your power over its entire perimeter, promoting stability on edges. While it’s not the best at anything, it’s pretty good at everything. But keep in mind that not everyone is a fan of slippered climbing shoes—they don’t offer as much of a customizable fit as Velcro or lace closures. That said, for unparalleled comfort and convenience, look no further... Read in-depth review
See the Evolv Addict
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
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 outstanding across the board. That said, their beginner trad shoe—the Helix—is a bit more specialized than others on this list, and is truly for climbers with some experience. The good news is that many beginners progress quickly, and if you’re one of them, this shoe is a first-rate choice.
The Helix has been in Scarpa’s lineup for years, and it’s easy to see why. It perfectly blends comfort and performance for moderate-to-long alpine and trad routes (Scarpa even boasts that the Helix is a secret weapon for guides, and we believe them). The comfortable leather upper and padded tongue support all-day use, while the slightly asymmetrical fit and XS Edge rubber ensure you’ll be able to stick the tricky crux of the route. In fact, these shoes could go head-to-head with the Mythos in almost every category—but we do think La Sportiva’s beginner trad shoe offers a more customizable fit for a variety of foot sizes.
See the Men's Scarpa Helix See the Women's Scarpa Helix
Closure: Lace (Velcro: La Sportiva Tarantula)
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Comfort-oriented and durable.
What we don’t: FriXion rubber makes these shoes less grippy than other beginner models.
The Tarantulace is one of La Sportiva’s top shoes for beginners, and built to appeal to the enormous demographic of climbers who prefer comfort over performance (which isn’t just beginners, by the way). The result: a shoe that feels good on your foot, is durable, and doesn’t require a ton of technical savvy. For those who love climbing around 5.9 or V2 or easier, the Tarantulace is an excellent choice, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most affordable climbing shoes on the market at $80.
Build-wise, the Tarantulace is closer to an approach shoe than most others on this list. The 5-millimeter sole is among the thickest on the market, and features La Sportiva’s proprietary FriXion RS rubber, which is built more for durability than grip. Meanwhile, the fit of the shoe is flat, wide, and rounded—resulting in a toe that is much more symmetrical than most climbing shoes (again, more like an approach shoe). 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 up moderate multi-pitch routes or wear for hours in the gym, the Tarantulace is an excellent option. But if you’re looking to push the grade and break into harder climbs, look elsewhere.
See the Men's La Sportiva Tarantulace See the Women's La Sportiva Tarantulace
Ability level: Beginner to advanced
What we like: High-quality construction; good all-rounder.
What we don’t: Jack of all trades, but master of none.
Initially designed as an entry-level sport climbing and bouldering shoe, Scarpa’s Force V quickly was adopted by experienced trad climbers as a comfortable option for long days on the wall (in fact, we wore the shoe on a 3,000-foot 5.11+ climb in the Bugaboos and loved it). A beginner shoe that expert climbers love makes the Force V a great option for talented newcomers or those looking to progress quickly. It edges decently, crack climbs well, smears comfortably, and can be worn all day (even with socks).
Considering the relatively steep price tag, the Force V isn’t our first choice for true beginner climbers—consider it one of the most premium entry-level models on our list. But for those looking for a high-quality shoe to grow into, it certainly warrants a close look. Further, this shoe is a great choice for climbers transitioning from the gym to outside: with a slight downturn and asymmetrical shape, you get comfort without feeling like you’re wearing a basic beginner model (certainly a step up from options like the Tarantulace or Origin).
See the Men's Scarpa Force V See the Women's Scarpa Force V
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: P3 technology will help this shoe keep its downturn.
What we don’t: Dye stains sweaty feet.
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's stiff 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 Evolv Addict. 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
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: The cheapest of the cheap.
What we don’t: The cheapest of the cheap.
Two things stand out about the Drifter: it costs less than any other shoe on this list, and Mad Rock claims it has climbed V15. Only one of those things should have any relevance to you.
The Drifter is an inexpensive and no-nonsense shoe, plain and simple. Ignore the jargon about midsoles, rands, and asymmetry here—if you’re looking for an inexpensive shoe to take out for your first times on the wall, it’s a fine choice. In the end, you’re not going to climb V15 in the Drifter. And if you do decide that climbing is the sport for you, you’ll probably upgrade to a nicer, more performance-oriented shoe. If not, you’re only out $75 instead of the $80+ that all the other shoes on this list go for.
See the Mad Rock Drifter
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Stealth rubber offers the grip of a high-performance shoe.
What we don’t: Expensive for an entry-level model.
Remember the Tarantulace (#10 on the list)? The Rogue is like Five Ten’s version of that: it’s not made for pushing through overhangs, sending projects, or techy footwork. It’s made to introduce beginners to the sport—with enough comfort and durability to help you learn the fundamentals.
There are a few reasons the Rogue didn’t land higher on our list. First, $100 is relatively affordable for a climbing shoe, but the Tarantulace and other competing options are cheaper. Second, although Five Ten made the Rogue for gym climbers transitioning to the outdoors, it just isn’t burly enough for real rock. Last, despite the Stealth C4 rubber, which provides the same amount of stickiness as Five Ten’s most advanced models, it’s not as versatile as an all-rounder like the La Sportiva Mythos. However, if you’re planning to use the Rogue primarily indoors and don’t mind the price tag, feel free to ignore our quibbles.
See the Men's Five Ten Rogue VCS See the Women's Five Ten Rogue VCS
Ability level: Intermediate to expert
What we like: Comfortable and high-performing; extremely versatile.
What we don’t: Expensive, even for an expert-level shoe.
Ah, the Katana Lace—there’s no model that comes closer to a one-shoe quiver for technical face ascents, crack climbing, or multi-pitch routes. This shoe has been with us for years now, from our first 5.11 sport lead, to long alpine rock routes, 5.12 finger cracks, and days and days of guiding in between. Not to mention, the Katana is comfortable—like, wildly comfortable—without sacrificing anything in the way of performance.
On any other list, we’d be crazy to put the Katana so far down. But with a price tag nearing $200, we’d also be crazy to recommend it as a top shoe for beginners. We couldn’t help but include it, though. With a moderate downturn, sticky sole, powerful edge, and comfort that will transition to hard climbing better than any other model, the Katana is one of our favorite shoes ever made. If you’re in it for the long haul, this is a faithful companion to take with you on your climbing journey.
See the La Sportiva Katana Lace
|Butora Endeavor||$100||Leather/synthetic||Velcro||Neo Fuse||Beginner to intermediate|
|Scarpa Origin||$95||Leather||Velcro||Vision||Beginner to intermediate|
|La Sportiva Mythos||$145||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner to intermediate|
|La Sportiva Oxygym||$99||Synthetic||Velcro||FriXion RS||Beginner|
|Evolv Defy||$89||Synthetic||Velcro||Trax SAS||Beginner|
|Scarpa Vapor V||$175||Leather||Velcro||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner to advanced|
|Black Diamond Momentum||$95||Synthetic||Velcro||Neo Fuse||Beginner|
|Evolv Addict||$99||Leather||Elastic||Trax SAS||Beginner to advanced|
|Scarpa Helix||$99||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner to intermediate|
|La Sportiva Tarantulace||$80||Leather||Lace||FriXion RS||Beginner|
|Scarpa Force V||$139||Leather||Velcro||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner to advanced|
|La Sportiva Finale||$109||Leather/synthetic||Lace||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner|
|Mad Rock Drifter||$75||Leather||Velcro||Science Friction||Beginner|
|Five Ten Rogue VCS||$100||Leather||Velcro||Stealth C4||Beginner|
|La Sportiva Katana Lace||$195||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge||Intermediate to expert|
- What to Look for in a Beginner Shoe
- Uppers: Leather vs. Synthetic
- Closures: Lace, Velcro, and Elastic
- Soft vs. Stiff
- Sizing: Comfort vs. Performance
- Men's and Women's Versions
- Indoor vs. Outdoor Climbing
- Why Beginners Should Spend Less
- Transitioning to a More Advanced Shoe
Beginner climbing shoes are easily discernible if you’re staring at a wall of all your options. To start, they’re generally flat, while more advanced shoes have at least some downturn (think a curved banana shape). The toe tends to be almost rounded and only slightly asymmetrical (if at all), compared to the more pointed toe of an aggressive shoe. And finally, beginner shoes tend to be less flashy—they lack many of the bells and whistles found on higher-level models.
That said, a quality starter shoe should come with a few very important features—not all of which are visible upon first glance. First: a low price tag. As a beginner, you can easily spend more than $150 on a pair of climbing shoes, but you certainly don’t need to (see “Why Beginners Should Spend Less” below). Second: a relatively durable sole. Some rubbers are softer (and thus grippier) than others, but beginner shoes are made with harder, stiffer blends to ensure they last while you’re learning how to use your feet on the wall. And the most important feature, by far: comfort. Climbing is a tough sport with a steep learning curve, and it’s a lot harder to stick with it if your feet are screaming every time you put on your shoes. Over time, you will adapt to the pain of tighter shoes, but we recommend starting with a pair that you can wear comfortably all day.
It can be confusing to understand the often-subtle differences between materials in outdoor gear, but in this case, there’s a golden rule: leather stretches; synthetic doesn’t. While there are a couple of exceptions (leather is sometimes lined, which prevents it from stretching quite as much), this rule will hold true for almost all climbing shoes.
For beginners, both leather and synthetic can be good choices, but it’s important to consider the implications. If you choose a leather shoe like the La Sportiva Mythos, 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 a synthetic option like the Evolv Defy, expect the shoe to stay true to size. While this might sound (and feel) like a good thing at first, the initial benefits quickly wear off, while leather conforms to the shape of your foot to eventually provide superior comfort. If we were to make a recommendation, we’d tell you to stick it out and go with leather. It tends to be more durable and comfortable over time, both of which are important considerations for beginners.
There are three main types of closure systems for climbing shoes: lace, Velcro, and elastic (slipper). Since there’s no unanimously superior closure type for beginner shoes, we’ll let you make the final decision. Below, we break down the pros and cons of each. And keep in mind than many of the shoes in this article are available in both lace-up and Velcro versions—if you like the sounds of a shoe but prefer a different closure system, you may be in luck.
Laces are helpful for novice climbers because you can tailor the comfort-to-performance ratio specifically to your level of climbing. In other words, you can adjust the tightness and fit of the shoe around your foot depending on how you want it to perform. At first, you’ll probably find comfort more important, but over time, you’ll likely care more about performance. Laces give you the versatility to tighten or loosen your shoes accordingly. That said, laces can quickly become a pain in the butt if you’re putting on and taking off your shoes repeatedly, as is the norm in the gym or while bouldering. They can also break and be difficult to replace (one of the few problems with the La Sportiva Mythos). We recommend lace-up shoes if you’re primarily crack climbing outside, but for everything else, beginners should stick with Velcro or elastic closures.
Velcro is incredibly practical—it’s always easy on-and-off, which is paramount for gym climbing and bouldering, both outdoors and indoors. The downside? Velcro can be somewhat limiting in how well it fits—you can only tighten or loosen as much as the material allows. It also tends to fail over time, which is a major concern we have with a shoe like the La Sportiva Tarantula. And a quick note for the crack climbers out there: if you plan on spending a lot of time wedging your way up ‘em, Velcro is not an optimal choice, as it can snag, undo mid-route, or cause painful pressure points. However, if you’re primarily bouldering or gym climbing, we absolutely recommend a Velcro shoe.
Shoes with elastic closures—called slippers—may be the most comfortable shoes on the market, especially all-around models like the Evolv Addict. For easy on-and-off, a snug fit, and comfort in cracks, some prefer slippers above all else. However, the problem with elastic is that it can stretch so much over time that you need to get your shoes fairly tight from the onset. This results in a difficult (read: painful) acclimation period, during which other shoes might be more enticing. Not everyone loves slippers, but we think they provide unparalleled benefits for many types of climbers and styles of climbing. No pain, no gain, right?
A simple way to categorize climbing shoes is by the stiffness of the midsole and sole. Climbers who gravitate toward steep boulder problems or gym climbing will likely prefer a soft shoe that allows them to flex their feet 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 it would in a stiffer, more supportive shoe. Those who plan on climbing long routes outside will benefit from the edging, stability, and support of stiffer shoes. 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.
Rubber is one of the most important features of a climbing shoe. The more time you spend climbing, the more you’ll geek out about it: the different styles, thicknesses, and perfect recipe for sending your project. But for now, we’ll keep it simple and talk about two main features: grip and durability.
Your best bet as a beginner is to get the most bang for your buck, and in terms of rubber, this means a fatter sole. Anything 4 millimeters and up is a good start—anything thinner won’t last nearly as long. But not all rubber is created equal—some blends prioritize grip, while others excel at durability. For example, Five Ten’s Stealth C4 and Vibram’s XS Edge are stickier than La Sportiva’s FriXion RS or Mad Rock’s Science Friction 3.0—but not as durable. For true beginners, the benefits of durability will outweigh the minor differences in stickiness. But as you progress, a sole lacking in grip will actually hold you back.
You may have been told by a friend, store clerk, or climbing gym employee that you need to buy shoes so tight they hurt your feet. We’re here to tell you the opposite. Beginner climbers need tight shoes—just like any climber does—but comfortably tight shoes. The initial investment in climbing is so great, and the learning curve so steep, that the last thing you want is to loathe the idea of climbing simply because your feet are in constant pain. Besides, the terrain and holds you’re climbing as a beginner simply don’t warrant a high-performance shoe with an uber-tight fit. It’s great to be able to stand on dime-sized edges, but most beginners aren’t going to be doing that anyway.
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 on the roomy side, it will only force you to improve your footwork. Over time, it’s best practice to get used to overcoming obstacles by working on technique rather than buying different gear. In general, get the same size you would in street shoes, or a half size down. Major exceptions to this rule (like the Butora Endeavor) will typically state them explicitly. And as we mentioned above, leather will stretch more than synthetic, so size your leather shoes down a bit and expect to endure a few mildly uncomfortable break-in sessions.
Without getting too political about gender differences, norms, expectations, roles, etc., let’s make a few sweeping generalizations. To start, males tend to run heavier and have wider feet than females. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but this is what you can expect to see when you compare a men’s climbing shoe with a women’s climbing shoe. Women’s shoes are narrower and softer, and men’s wider and stiffer (to accommodate more weight).
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 vice versa—all the time. If you’re picky about soft versus stiff, just pay close attention as you try shoes on, and try models in men’s and women’s to evaluate the differences in feel. As for sizing, most companies have a conversion chart to show how male and female sizes compare (like La Sportiva’s here, for example).
There are so many differences between indoor and outdoor climbing that you could write a book on them. But in the case of climbing shoes, there's not really a huge distinction. All of the shoes on this list can be worn both indoors and outdoors, although most are more inclined to one or the other. If you’re sticking mostly to the gym, the comfort and price of your shoes matter far more than performance or durability. If you’re spending your days outdoors, we’d definitely recommend going with a more performance-oriented shoe, and one that will resist abrasion on real rock. You might not think twice on a gym 5.7, but be spooked 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.
Further, 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, like the Butora Endeavor or Evolv Defy. Meanwhile, when climbing outdoors as a beginner, you’ll probably find yourself more often on slabs or vertical walls. A pair of good edging and smearing shoes, like the Scarpa Vapor V, would be a better choice there.
While not quite backcountry skiing, rock climbing isn’t the cheapest outdoor sport, either. A harness will run you $50 at minimum, then add in a belay device and locking carabiner for another $30 and a gym membership for up to $100 per month. Factor in $20 for a chalk bag and $5 a month for chalk. Adds up quickly, doesn’t it? If you get into outdoor climbing, you’ll also need a rope, helmet, crash pad, quickdraws, and so on (you should be hearing the sound of a cash register right about now). As a beginner, it’s all new, and it’s all a hefty investment in something you know very little about.
All that said, why break the bank 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, aggressive downturn, powerful slingshot rand, top-notch 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, and you don’t need to. Your only job as a new climber is to enjoy yourself and figure out if you really want to commit to the 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 climbers are sending 5.12s and V6s after just a month of practice. They’re still beginners—just innately talented ones. If you’re one of those people, few of the shoes in this article are right for you, and you should instead consider one of our top rock climbing shoes. That said, we’ve included a couple models on this list—most notably the Scarpa Vapor V and La Sportiva Katana—as options that can transition with you into tougher grades. Generally speaking, they are more expensive, so only start out with these shoes if you’re hell-bent on becoming proficient, learn quickly, or climbed out of your crib before you could walk.
If you’re like the rest of us, you can expect it to take longer to break into harder grades. As you do, you’ll start to feel like your shoes are limiting you. This is when you upgrade. But remember: don’t buy new shoes because you think they will help you progress. Buy new shoes because you have already progressed and your old shoes are holding you back. If you use your shoes as a crutch, you’ll tend to make excuses for what is really a lack of strength and technique. Conversely, if you develop the strength and technique first, and turn to new shoes second, you’ll actually get the boost you’re looking for because you’ll already be adept at doing more advanced moves with less advanced shoes.
Back to Our Top Climbing Shoe Picks Back to Our Climbing Shoe Comparison Table