As a beginning climber, the last thing you want to spend your time worrying about is your shoes, or the poor feet that 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, it answers some very important questions that you may be having about climbing shoes. From sizing, materials, price considerations, and transitioning into more advanced models, our buying advice and comparison table covers 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: If you like steep bouldering and sport climbing, it’s not the shoe for you.
Women’s: La Sportiva Mythos
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 that 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 routes, indoor or outdoor climbing. Getting an all-arounder like the Mythos is a great way to hedge your bets and be covered in most scenarios. I’ve worn the Mythos on and off for years and it’s still a favorite for long routes in Yosemite and Indian Creek splitters. I’ve never had the stitching blow out on a pair of Mythos, and the leather is super comfortable and durable.
See the La Sportiva Mythos
Rubber: Butyl Butora F5
What we like: A great price for a well-thought-out and well-built shoe.
What we don't: This model hasn’t been around long enough to be tried, tested, and true.
Women’s: Butora Endeavor
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.
The Velcro straps on the Endeavor are designed to provide a super snug fit, with multiple tightening and attachment points to fit a variety of foot sizes with precision. This also means that as the shoe stretches to form to your foot you can maintain the tight fit. Climbers love the high levels of comfort the Endeavor provides—the inner layer of the tongue is made of memory foam, and the top layer of open-cell foam for breathability. And in the land of indoor climbing, where shoe stink can often plague climbers, these kicks have a 100% organic hemp liner to minimize odor. Keep in mind that the Endeavor is made on a slightly downturned last, meaning that these shoes are a bit more performance-oriented than others on the list.
See the Butora Endeavor
Rubber: Trax (4.2mm)
What we like: An incredible all-around climbing slipper.
What we don’t: It’s cheaper than the Five Ten Moccasym, but the quality is not as time-tested.
What makes the Addict such an excellent beginner shoe is the combination of comfort, price, and precision. Who doesn’t like a pair of slippers? Slippers are an eminently 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 mean the Addict fits without impediment into cracks of all sizes, while the flexibility of the leather upper and the sole makes this a fantastic slab climber as well.
Evolv isn’t the first company to envision a climbing slipper with a snug leather upper and sticky rubber sole. Five Ten did this style first, and did it best for more than 20 years with the Moccasym below. I don’t know why it took so long for other companies to catch on, but Evolv finally has. Their Addict adds a leather pull tab on the front of the shoe instead of the Moccasym’s nylon one, but otherwise, these are almost identical models. The biggest difference is in the price tag: the Addict is almost 20% less than the Moccasym. And in terms of fit, these shoes are a lot tighter than the Moccasym so we recommend going with your normal street shoe size... Read in-depth review
See the Evolv Addict
Rubber: Stealth C4 (2mm)
What we like: Slightly better sensitivity than the Addict, and time-tested quality.
What we don’t: More expensive than the Addict and thinner soled.
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 in the industry. 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 that the Moccasym features a 2mm sole, while the Addict’s sole comes in at 4.2mm. Also, the rubber is a different blend. I personally prefer Five Ten’s C4 to almost any kind of rubber in the world, including Evolv’s Trax. I think it provides the best stick to durability ratio. That said, the difference of 2.2mm is a significant one. It means that although the Moccasym will be more sensitive out of the box, it will also wear out quicker than the Addict. Additionally, it won’t provide a ton of arch support for feet that are new to climbing. As a result, the Moccasym is probably a better choice for outdoor climbing, where better grip and sensitivity can have more significant implications than just whether or not you send your project (i.e. gym climbing). Be sure to go a whole size down from your street shoes as the leather upper stretches quite a bit.
See the Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym
Rubber: Science Friction (3.8mm)
What we like: Comfortable, easy on/off, excellent edging.
What we don’t: Rubber wears out quicker than other models, lower quality craftsmanship.
The Mad Rock Flash 2.0 is an excellent choice to consider when shopping for your first (or second or third) pair of climbing shoes. A bit less expensive than the models above, the Flash is a “budget” shoe, although it is almost a misnomer to call it that. Aside from the price, there is nothing else “budget” about this shoe.
For beginners, you won’t find a more versatile shoe than the Flash. I know we’ve said that about other models, but lets compare the Flash to our top pick, the La Sportiva Mythos. I’d say they score equally on overall performance and comfort. The Mythos has the Flash’s number on quality materials and craftsmanship, while the Flash beats out the Mythos on stickiness of rubber (though less durable) and precise edging. That said, on steep terrain, the Flash outperforms the four shoes above it. The upshot? The Flash is probably a better choice for indoor climbing where even beginners can tackle the steepest of terrain. If you are doing most of your climbing in the gym, put the Flash high on your list.
See the Mad Rock Flash 2.0
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 Scarpa Origin
Closure: Lace (Velcro: La Sportiva Tarantula)
Rubber: FriXion RS (5mm)
What we like: Comfort-oriented, fat rubber sole.
What we don’t: Not a performance shoe.
Women’s: La Sportiva Tarantulace
The Tarantulace is one of La Sportiva’s top shoes for beginning climbers. Sportiva built this shoe 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 Five Ten, or V2). If you know that you won’t be climbing above that point, this model is an excellent choice.
The build of the Tarantulace is closer to an approach shoe than most other models on this list. The 5mm sole is the thickest and features La Sportiva’s proprietary blend of FriXion rubber, which is built for durability. Meanwhile, the fit of the shoe is very moderate, rounded out, 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 up moderate multi-pitches, or wear for hours on end 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 La Sportiva Tarantulace
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.
Women’s: Evolv Elektra
Evolv is a very interesting company: they don’t always hit it out of the park with their shoes, and they haven’t necessarily gotten to the point where they stand up to comparison 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 is Evolv’s all-time best selling shoe, and you certainly won’t be the only climber in the gym wearing a pair. These kicks, with their flat profile, are comfortable straight out of the box. But don’t let their lack of aggressive downturn fool you: they are also very soft and highly flexible, allowing them to climb well on steep terrain. However, because of these traits, the Defy might require a bit more foot strength than stiffer shoes or shoes with an arch built into their design. One well-known fact about the Defys is that they stink, and hold stink like it’s their job. However, for the 2017 model, Evolv designed the shoe with a new anti-microbial mesh material. Noses, rejoice.
See the Evolv Defy
Closure: Lace (Velcro: Scarpa Reflex)
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.
Women’s: Scarpa Helix
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 Scarpa Helix
Rubber: FriXion RS (5mm)
What we like: Some revolutionary concepts and interesting styling.
What we don’t: Needs some refinement.
Women's: La Sportiva Oxygym
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 La Sportiva Oxygym
Closure: Velcro (Lace: Five Ten Rogue)
Rubber: Stealth C4 (2mm)
What we like: Comfort, easy fit.
What we don’t: Price, thin sole.
Women's: Five Ten Rogue VCS
Remember the Tarantulace (#7 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.
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). We also aren’t sure why Five Ten only used a 2-millimeter sole. True, you get more sensitivity on slabs and small footholds, and Five Ten does indeed tout this shoe as one to help beginners focus on developing precise footwork and build foot strength. However, you might be resoling before you know it if you don’t already have that footwork dialed. If you set those small concerns aside, though, the Rogue VS still is a solid option.
See the Five Ten Rogue VCS
Rubber: Science Friction (3.8mm)
What we like: The cheapest of the cheap.
What we don’t: The cheapest of the cheap.
There are two things that ought to 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
Closure: Lace (Velcro also available)
Rubber: Ecotrax XT-5 (4.2mm)
What we like: Combines comfort with great edging power.
What we don’t: This shoe won’t help you push the grade on steeper terrain.
If you’re a natural-born climber from the start, or plan on transitioning to the intermediate grades, the Evolv Bandit could be the shoe for you. These aren’t traditional beginner shoes, but are absolute edging machines that certainly will instill greater amounts of confidence on small edges. We recommend the Bandits with a lace closure system—if you started climbing with a pair of Velcro shoes, these will be an easy transition to the world of snugger fitting lace-ups, as their speed-lacing system is well designed for a tight cinch. Additionally, the Bandits are pretty stretch resistant, but do mold well to feet quite quickly.
However, if you’re trying to push into new grades on super steep boulders outside or in the gym, the Bandit likely isn’t for you. The shoe still maintains a flat last and symmetrical profile, meaning it will never excel on steep, technical ground when heel hooking and toe-ing in are mandatory. If you’re into slab, crack, or vertical face, however, this is a great shoe and can often be found on sale.
See the Evolv Bandit
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.
Women’s: Scarpa Vapor V
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 Scarpa Vapor V
|La Sportiva Mythos||$145||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge (4mm)||Vertical, crack, indoor, outdoor|
|Velcro||Butyl Butora F5||Indoor/outdoor, vertical face, edging, pockets, crack|
|Slab, crack, indoor, outdoor|
|Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym||$125||Leather||Slipper||Stealth C4
|Slab, crack, indoor, outdoor|
|Mad Rock Flash 2.0||$83||Synthetic||Velcro||Science Friction (3.8mm)||Indoor, cracks, vertical face|
|Indoor, moderate outdoor crack and face, multi-pitch|
|La Sportiva Tarantulace||$80||Leather/
|Slab, routes in the 5.5-5.9 range, multi-pitch, gym|
|Vertical face climbing, indoor, outdoor, 5.9-Five Ten|
|Scarpa Helix||$99||Leather||Lace||Vibram XS Edge (3.5mm)||Five Ten-5.11, multi-pitch/alpine, guiding|
|La Sportiva Oxygym||$99||Synthetic||Velcro||FriXion RS
|Gym climbing, sport routes, top ropes|
|Five Ten Rogue VCS||$100||Leather||Velcro||Stealth C4
|Mad Rock Drifter||$72||Leather||Velcro||Science Friction (3.8mm)||Seeing if you actually intend to stick with climbing|
|Evolv Bandit||$120||Synthetic||Lace||Ecotrax XT-5 (4.2mm)||Pushing into more technical terrain, face, slab, crack|
|Scarpa Vapor V||$160||Suede||Velcro||Vibram XS Edge (4mm)||Technical terrain, face, slab, crack, multi-pitch, bouldering|
- 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
- Why Beginners Should Spend Less
- Transitioning to a More Advanced Shoe
After years and years of climbing, I can spot a good beginner’s climbing shoe from across the room. This is because beginner shoes generally are flat, and all other shoes have at least some downturn of the toe (a banana shape). The toe on beginner shoes tends to be only slightly asymmetrical if at all, while more aggressive shoes have a more pointed toe. And finally, beginner shoes tend to be less flashy looking. That said, there’s a lot more to a good beginner shoe than what meets the eye.
A quality beginner shoe should feature a few very important features that are not necessarily visible. For starters, the price tag. As a beginner, you can spend more than $120 on a pair of climbing shoes, we just don’t always think you need to (see Why Beginners Should Spend Less below). Also, you should consider the width of the sole. Try to get at least a 4mm thick sole so your shoes last while you’re learning how to use your feet. More broadly, the most important thing in a pair of beginner shoes is comfort. Climbing is a hard sport, especially right at the start. It’s a lot harder to stick with it if your feet are screaming at you every time you put on your climbing shoes. Over time, your feet will adapt to the pain of tight shoes. But in the beginning, you should get something you can wear comfortably all day long.
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 (the Synflex material used on Mad Rock’s Flash 2.0, for example, is intended to stretch), that 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 might have a somewhat 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 really conforming to the shape of your foot. If we’d have to make a recommendation, we’d go with leather. Most of the shoes on this list are leather, and that is because 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. But 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. So 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. They also can break and be difficult to replace (one of the few problems with the 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.
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 makes 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) can really affect the performance and longevity of a pair of climbing shoes.
For beginners, the best bet is typically to get the most bang for your buck. In terms of rubber, that means getting a fatter sole. Anything 4mm and up is a good place to start, while 2mm (on the Rogue or the Moccasym, for example) won’t last nearly as long. Also, it’s good to note that not all brands of rubber are equally durable. Five Ten’s C4 and La Sportiva’s FriXion RS are both 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 what we are describing is what you can expect to see when you compare a men’s Mythos with a women’s Mythos.
As a novice climber, the most important thing to know (that you may not have known already) is 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. Beginner climbers need tight shoes, just like any climber does. But if you do a quick cost-benefit analysis, it’s way more important to get 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.
And 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 less tight, it will only force you to improve your footwork. Over time, it’s a good precedent to set to overcome obstacles by working on technique, instead of buying different technology. In general, buy the same size you would get in street shoes, or half a size down. Major exceptions to this rule (such as the Moccasym) will typically state them explicitly.
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, the most important thing is to be realistic about is where you’ll spend most of your time climbing. For example, are you buying a gym membership? If so, that’s a large expense. That may mean you have less money to spend on a pair of shoes (so buy a budget option), or it may mean you are completely comfortable spending a lot of money on climbing (so go with the La Sportiva Mythos). For outdoor climbing, we’d definitely recommend going with a more performance-oriented shoe. 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.
It’s also important to remember that you’ll probably encounter much steeper terrain in the gym that is accessible to beginners. So if you’re climbing mostly indoors, you may want a shoe that can heel-hook and toe-in well, such as the Mad Rock Flash 2.0. Meanwhile, 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 better choices there.
This is a really big point to consider, and one we’ve alluded to throughout this article. Every beginning 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 that, 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 second, more performance-oriented shoe. Most beginners should make comfort the first consideration. You can worry about performance down the road.
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, 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, incredible edging precision. If you’re like most beginners, you probably don’t even know what half of those things mean. Your only jobs 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 can always 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, they’re 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. Then, I would recommend, is when you should 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, then when the new shoes come 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 two at the bottom, 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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