We love rock climbing shoes, and we bet you do too. The good news for climbers is that there are more styles and quality designs to choose from than ever before. Whether you’re looking for an aggressively downturned shoe for hooking your way up boulder problems, a precise edging model for long limestone sport routes, or a comfortable kick for all-day granite ascents, we’ve got you covered with our top picks of 2021. And if you’re just getting into the sport, check out our list of the best rock climbing shoes for beginners.
Table of Contents
- Our Rock Climbing Shoe Picks
- Rock Climbing Shoe Comparison Table
- Rock Climbing Shoe Buying Advice
Best uses: Sport, bouldering, trad
What we like: The climbing shoe that, quite simply, does it all.
What we don’t: The shape and fit won’t work for everyone.
It’s tough not to be wowed by La Sportiva’s legacy model, the Miura. It really speaks to La Sportiva’s quality craftsmanship that this shoe was at the top of the pack 10 years ago, and still is today. You’ve heard the expression, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” right? Consider the Miura VS the embodiment of that thought. It’s just that good. The Miura edges on a dime, climbs steep terrain as well as vertical, toes in on small pockets as well as any shoe in the business, and heel hooks like a champ. There aren’t many shoes that can boulder V10, climb 5.13 sport, and punch up hard finger cracks, but this is one of them.
The Velcro model of the Miura has become far more ubiquitous than the lace-up in recent years, and for good reason. The VS is a stiffer, more aggressive shoe, and unlike the Lace is constructed with the P3 midsole. Whereas the Miura Lace can become a floppy comfort shoe in no time, the VS will hold its aggressive shape throughout the years. That said, with a leather upper, expect the Miura to stretch a bit over time (if this is a concern, take a look at the partially synthetic Otaki below). Further, many climbers agree that the toe box puts undue pressure on the big toe. But, as the saying goes, if the shoe fits, it doesn’t get much better than the Miura VS... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva Miura VS See the Women's La Sportiva Miura VS
Best uses: Beginner
What we like: Great price for such quality construction and design.
What we don't: Not a high-performance shoe.
Butora might not be a household name like La Sportiva or Scarpa, but the Korean company quickly is gaining traction in the U.S. Before launching Butora in 2014, shoe designer Nam Hee Do had been in the business for over 30 years (most notably, he worked with Chris Sharma to design the Shaman). He came out of the gate swinging with an impressive attention to detail and use of top-notch materials, and their Endeavor quickly became our top pick for a beginner shoe. With its $100 price tag, we recommend it to anyone new to the sport, and even to guides or gym rats looking for a super comfortable all-day shoe.
The flat Endeavor won’t help you push into high-level climbing, but if you want a cozy rig that climbs up to 5.10 or V4, it won’t disappoint. The zig-zagging Velcro straps provide a snug, customized fit, and a unique mix of leather and synthetic in the upper offers comfort and breathability in the areas where you need them most. Further, the inner layer of the tongue is made of memory foam, and the shoe is fully lined with 100-percent-organic hemp to minimize stretch and odor. Plus, both the men's and women's Endeavor come in two versions—wide and tight—so you can tailor your fit. All in all, there’s simply no other entry-level shoe in the game with such thoughtful, quality design. And for a more comprehensive list of recommendations, check out our article on the best climbing shoes for beginners.
See the Men's Butora Endeavor See the Women's Butora Endeavor
Best uses: Bouldering, sport, gym
What we like: A bouldering slipper that provides amazing support.
What we don’t: Some will want a softer shoe.
The Instinct VS is a relatively new shoe from Scarpa that quickly has grown in popularity. It established itself as a versatile choice for sport climbing and bouldering, but it’s also a common pick for indoor and competition climbing (most notably, 11-time American Bouldering Series champion Alex Puccio cites the Instinct VS as her favorite shoe). The rubber-shrouded toe and heel are excellent on steep rock, and the medium-stiff rand offers more edging power than we’re used to seeing in a bouldering shoe.
Made with synthetic microsuede, the Scarpa will stretch less than a leather shoe, but an elastic patch on the top of the foot gives it a close fit. The stiff feel and moderate downturn set it apart from most shoes made for high-performance sport climbing and bouldering, but a thinner 3.5mm sole adds sensitivity and flex (note that the XS Edge rubber on the men’s version is replaced with XS Grip 2 on the women’s model for an even softer, grippier shoe). Scarpa also offers the same design in a softer version with a 2mm sole (the VSR), which is ideal for lighter climbers or those who prefer a more sensitive feel. And the impressive Instinct family is rounded out by a high-performance lace model and a slipper (SR), each of which are quality, standout shoes in their own right... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Scarpa Instinct VS See the Women's Scarpa Instinct VS
Best uses: Trad
What we like: The best crack climbing shoe on the market, hands down.
What we don't: Expensive and very specific.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you know who Tommy Caldwell is. He climbed this little thing called the Dawn Wall in Yosemite a few years ago, which became some of the biggest climbing news ever—and this is the shoe that TC designed for the job. The TC Pro is an absolute climbing machine for vertical to less-than-vertical terrain, and specifically granite. While we often correlate a flat shoe with a beginner shoe, the TC Pro is a notable exception: the stiff make-up and sticky XS Edge rubber make it an ultra-high-performance edger and slabber. And the upper that extends over the ankles is a game-changer for protection—we actually cringe now when faced with climbing a wide crack in any other shoe.
Take note that the TC Pro is far from an all-rounder. It’s overkill for the gym, and on anything steeper than vertical, it might feel like you have bricks on your feet. Even on thin finger cracks, we’d rather be wearing a more precise shoe like the La Sportiva Katana below. As far as fit goes, a number of our slim-footed climbing partners can’t make the TC Pro work (the La Sportiva Miura Lace is a popular trad alternative), but if your foot is normal-to-high volume, the TC Pro should be a comfortable choice once broken in. And good news: sizing up for comfort doesn’t have too big of an impact on performance for moderate grades. For an all-day shoe that you might take to the mountains and wear with a sock, this is great news... Read in-depth review
See the La Sportiva TC Pro
Best uses: Trad, sport
What we like: Extremely versatile and comfortable.
What we don’t: Has a tendency to stretch over time.
The La Sportiva Katana is one of the most popular and versatile outdoor climbing shoes, and we’d be remiss not to include it here. What stands out most about the Katana is its ability to do almost everything well—crack climbing, smearing, technical face, slab climbing, you name it. Simply put, if you’re tackling terrain that’s vertical to less-than-vertical (boulderers, look elsewhere), the Katana is one of the best tools for the job. Size it comfortably for an all-day shoe with much more precision than a model like the TC Pro; worn tightly, its edging prowess is on par with the likes of the Miura VS above.
Our biggest gripe with the Katana is its tendency to stretch—out of the box, the fit is great, but the toe box can become rather unshapely once worn in. Further, we’ve found that the overall build grows floppy and soft over time, which is not ideal for technical edging. The Otaki below (along with the lace-up Kataki, which is discontinued in the U.S. but can still be ordered from European retailers) remedies these issues with a stiffer build and partial synthetic toe box that mitigates stretch—plus it comes in at $10 less. But all things considered, the Katana is still our go-to shoe for technical crack climbing and all-day missions when versatility and comfort are paramount.
See the La Sportiva Katana
Best uses: Bouldering, gym, sport
What we like: Fantastic quality; comes in both narrow and wide sizes.
What we don’t: Unique toe shape might take some getting used to.
An aggressive shoe built for tackling overhung terrain, Butora’s Acro has gained a devoted following amongst boulderers and gym climbers alike. In just a few years on the market, it quickly has proven its performance chops, giving popular classics like the La Sportiva Solution (below) a run for their money. This shoe is an edging machine, with a medium-stiff midsole that offers more power on small footchips than super soft shoes like the Skwama below. But with a generous dose of rubber throughout the upper, it also excels while toe- and heel-hooking through steep boulder problems.
The truth is that we have few gripes with the Acro, although we don’t recommend it for trad climbing or vertical-to-slabby sport climbs. We’ve been especially impressed with Butora’s immaculate build quality: the Neo Fuse rubber is noticeably durable and our pair has held up impressively well to the rigors of gym climbing, with no frayed stitching or delamination to speak of. Finally, climbers in general have been very impressed with the fit: the Acro comes in both narrow and wide options and fits a wide spectrum of foot sizes. And for gym climbers in particular, Butora also offers the Acro Comp, which is a softer variation of the original slipper... Read in-depth review
See the Butora Acro Wide Fit See the Butora Acro Tight Fit
Best uses: Sport, trad
What we like: Downturn plus stiffness allows for great edging on vertical face.
What we don’t: The wide toe box is good for some, but sloppy for others.
The Otaki is a relatively recent innovation from La Sportiva, along with its sister shoe, the lace-up Kataki (which, despite popularity in the U.S., can now only be found through European retailers). Built on the same last as the Skwama below and with the same P3 technology and S-Heel design, you’d think the Otaki was a bouldering shoe. And it can be—but it’s also so much more. We’ve worn this shoe both on vertical sport climbs and hard finger cracks and have been super impressed with its performance in both environments. In short, you get both the edging capabilities of the Miura VS and the crack-climbing versatility of the Katana Lace. That’s one impressive recipe.
The Otaki (and Kataki) is often touted as the successor to the Katana Lace, but a few major features set it apart. For starters, the Otaki is constructed with a synthetic lining around the toe, reducing the pesky stretch that occurs in the toe box of the Katana. Additionally, the Otaki has a more aggressive downturn (PD 75 vs. the Katana’s PD 55 last), a Velcro closure, and S-Heel technology that make it a superb crossover shoe between technical face climbing and steep bouldering. And in terms of fit, the Otaki has received a lot of praise from those with low-volume feet (the heel cup is especially snug), but the wide toe box adds comfort and versatility for a range of foot shapes. In the end, if you’ve struggled to fit into the Miura VS, the Otaki could be a viable solution.
See the Men's La Sportiva Otaki See the Women's La Sportiva Otaki
Best uses: Sport, bouldering
What we like: Incredible fit, precision, and sensitivity for sport climbing.
What we don’t: About as expensive as climbing shoes get and not particularly supportive or durable.
Known for its sleek looks and premium performance, the La Sportiva Testarossa is essentially the Maserati of climbing kicks. Don’t be fooled by the laces: this is a wildly aggressive sport climbing shoe, designed for power and precision on steep terrain. The Testarossa wraps wide and narrow feet alike in a close fit, and its leather and synthetic upper does a great job of molding to your foot without stretching out prematurely. With a supple build and soft Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber that bites into holds, the Testarossa has become our shoe of choice for redpoint burns on everything from vertical faces to overhanging routes.
Aside from the steep price tag, the Testarossa’s sensitivity and grip also come at the cost of support and durability. While we love the connected feel on most terrain, the soft build can cause fatigue quickly on long, vertical pitches. In the end, designs like the Miura VS above or Boostic below are better options if you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet. The Testarossa also uses slightly less rubber than most (3.5mm vs. 4), and the XS Grip 2 will wear down much faster than XS Edge or other stiff compounds. Finally, while the updated Testarossa comes with a new heel cup for better hooking ability, the lace-up closure and minimal rubber at the forefoot mean this isn’t our first choice for particularly steep bouldering. But in the right environments, the Testarossa is one of the best-fitting and most precise shoes that money can buy.
See the La Sportiva Testarossa
Best uses: Bouldering, gym, sport
What we like: Best toe hooker in the business; very comfortable.
What we don’t: Lacks the close fit and comfort of leather.
Similar to the Scarpa Instinct VS above and the La Sportiva Skwama below, you’re likely to see the Five Ten Hiangle on the foot of many a pro boulderer or sport climber. With a huge pad of sticky toe rubber, an aggressive downturned shape with lots of sensitivity, and a Velcro strap to keep the shoe from sliding off on heel hooks, this shoe screams steep climbing. As we mentioned above, Five Ten sizing can be a little strange, but for the right foot, it doesn’t get much better than the Hiangle.
Five Ten recently updated the Hiangle, replacing the leather upper with an unlined synthetic microfiber. This will be good news for some: the previous Hiangle had a tendency to stretch out of shape and become floppy over time, which wasn’t great for high-level climbers. However, for those who like the close fit and comfort of leather, the new synthetic upper is not a positive change (perhaps it’s time to try a partially leather shoe like the Skwama instead). The rest of the updated Hiangle is virtually unchanged, and the soft build means that newer climbers should take care as their feet will have to work harder to support themselves than they do in a stiffer model. Finally, we should mention that since being bought out by Adidas in 2011, Five Ten shoes as a whole have dropped considerably in quality.
See the Men's Five Ten Hiangle See the Women's Five Ten Hiangle
Best uses: Beginner, trad
What we like: Great comfort for beginners and long days on the wall alike.
What we don’t: Not good for pushing into higher grades.
Designed as a premium entry-level shoe that prioritizes both performance and comfort, the Scarpa Force V is one of our favorite options for climbers who don’t subscribe to the mantra “no pain, no gain.” The Force V features plush padding on the tongue and heel, a soft and form-fitting suede upper, roomy toe box, and relaxed last that allows the foot to lie in its natural position. And it’s not just comfortable—the Scarpa can get the job done on the harder grades, as well, and has been adopted by many experienced trad climbers as an all-day option for long climbs (in fact, it was our partner’s shoe of choice for a 3,000-foot 5.11+ climb in the Bugaboos).
The Force V edges decently and climbs cracks well, but expect it to show its true beginner colors on anything steeper than vertical. If comfort isn’t your highest priority, bumping up to Scarpa’s Vapor (similar to the Katana above) will provide a boost in precision for intermediate to advanced climbers. And as far as entry-level models go, the Force V is a bit of an investment: at $139, it’ll run you about $40 more than many beginner shoes (like the Butora Endeavor above). But if foot pain is keeping you from a sport that you might love, this is as good a solution as any. And a final bonus: the Force V is very well-made, and the durable XS Edge rubber should last you long time.
See the Men's Scarpa Force V See the Women's Scarpa Force V
Best uses: Bouldering, sport, gym
What we like: Comfortable for such an aggressive shoe.
What we don’t: Too soft to be a great edger.
One of La Sportiva’s newer innovations, the Skwama is a performance climbing slipper, comparable to the Acro and Hiangle above in terms of its highly aggressive build. However, with a soft midsole and supple Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber—one of the only Sportiva shoes to use this blend on the men’s version—the Skwama is a remarkably soft shoe. The benefits to this design come on steep terrain: it provides incredible sensitivity and precision for heel and toe hooks, and allows you to pull holds toward you with your feet better than most.
The most glaring downside of this soft construction is the lack of support underfoot. This makes the Skwama a poor choice for long days on the rock—even long single pitches at the crag—and does not inspire confidence on vertical edges. Those who are used to a stiffer shoe will find that their feet grow noticeably sore in the Skwama. But for steep sport climbing and bouldering, it’s quickly become a go-to option for many climbers, and notably comes in both men’s and women’s versions. Further, the Skwama is wider than most aggressive shoes, giving it that rare combination of comfort and performance... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva Skwama See the Women's La Sportiva Skwama
Best uses: Trad, gym
What we like: A great all-around slipper that’s particularly good for thin cracks.
What we don’t: Unlined and you can’t customize the fit.
Most modern climbing slippers (like the Skwama and Hiangle above) are designed for bolt-clipping and bouldering on steep terrain: they’re super soft, relatively aggressive, and fit snugly with a Velcro closure near the ankle. But the Evolv Rave goes old-school with a fully slip-on construction, flat last, and all-rounder intentions. These are Steph Davis’ shoe of choice for Indian Creek splitters (they have a very narrow toe box, which great for thin cracks). And at just $115, they’re also a solid option for those just starting out (whether outdoors or indoors). To top it off, the Rave is exceptionally comfortable, quick to get on and off, and will conform to your foot like a glove.
Compared to Five Ten’s popular Moccasym, Evolv’s slipper is stiffer (read: more support for long routes), and the snug heel offers a more secure fit overall. It’s also worth noting that we’ve been rather unimpressed with Five Ten’s build quality of late, while the Rave here is well-constructed and features a leather upper that can withstand a lot of abuse. Not everyone is a fan of slippers—you can’t customize the fit like you can with a Velcro or lace closure. And some climbers (especially those just getting into crack climbing) will appreciate a bit more padding. But for the right user, the Rave is a comfortable, affordable, and versatile choice. And if you like the idea of a slipper but want something more aggressive, it’s worth checking out the Scarpa Instinct SR or La Sportiva Cobra Eco.
See the Evolv Rave
Best uses: Sport, bouldering
What we like: More affordable than the competition and made in the U.S.A.
What we don’t: Difficult to find in stores.
If you haven’t yet heard of Unparallel, here’s an introduction. After Five Ten was bought out by Adidas in 2011, their production moved overseas, leaving their SoCal factories and many former employees idle. Before long, Unparallel was born, taking over Five Ten’s abandoned spaces with a resolve to carry the U.S.-made torch. Now, this grassroots company makes a full line-up of climbing, mountain biking, and commuter shoes, with a focus on high-quality materials and construction.
Unparallel’s Sirius Lace is one of their most popular shoes, rivaling the Testarossa above in terms of precision for vertical and overhanging terrain. The Sirius is a bit stiffer than La Sportiva’s popular lace-up, lending slightly more support and power on technical edges. And for better toe-hooking performance on steep routes and boulders, it also tacks on offset lacing and a rubber patch on the toe. That said, you do sacrifice the Testarossa’s glove-like fit with a synthetic upper, and we’ve found it hard to track down these shoes to try on in person. All in all, Unparallel might not get the same recognition as brands like La Sportiva and Scarpa, but they’re a rising star and it certainly doesn’t hurt that their shoes are priced at $30 to $40 less than the competition.
See the Unparallel Sirius Lace See the Unparallel Sirius Lace LV
Best uses: Sport, bouldering
What we like: Premium craftsmanship.
What we don’t: Expensive and doesn’t toe hook as well as comparable Five Ten and La Sportiva shoes.
The Boostic is one of Scarpa’s premier climbing shoes, built similarly to the Evolv Shaman below but with a more acute edging platform and slightly less aggressive toe. Created by the visionary designer Hans Mariacher, the closure system is superb: complimentary flaps of leather connect by thin mesh and tighten down with two opposing Velcro straps. For being such an aggressive shoe, the Boostic is extremely comfortable and easy to put on.
There are, however, a few problems with this shoe. The Velcro straps are a bit long, and when tightened down all the way, can end up catching on holds and gym carpeting. Scarpa also uses a different kind of rubber on top of the toe, which makes for less secure toe hooking than on similar models like the Hiangle above. The Boostic’s greatest strengths are toeing in on small, positive crimps on dramatic overhangs and sticking small pockets. If you want a shoe for both indoor and outdoor sport climbing, this is a great choice—especially if climbing on limestone or pocketed conglomerate rock. And a final note: a retooled model of the Boostic is set to hit shelves for spring 2021, with updates including a new look, improved fit, and upgraded midsole and heel technology.
See the Scarpa Boostic
Best uses: Beginner, trad
What we like: A time-tested classic made with 95-percent-recycled materials.
What we don’t: At the end of the day, it's not very performance-oriented.
The Mythos is one of the most iconic shoes on the market. And for new climbers venturing outside, this is an incredibly comfortable and durable choice. It has a flat last and leather upper that allow it to be worn all day, and the quality Eco rubber on the sole means you get top-notch performance too. For beginning climbers and intermediates alike, it’s a great choice.
While the Mythos is great for beginner climbers or those looking for all-day comfort, it is not an incredibly versatile shoe. It’s not made for cranking through long overhanging sport climbs, nor for heel- and toe-hooking your way through roofs. Even among the beginner shoes on the market, it isn’t the best option for smearing or edging. Heck, we don’t even recommend the Mythos for gym climbing—it’s overkill and expensive for what you need. But it’s certainly among the most durable and best-fitting of the bunch, making it a nice option for beginning trad climbers. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Mythos Eco is now made using 95-percent-recycled materials from the Sportiva cutting-room floor.
See the Men's La Sportiva Mythos Eco See the Women's La Sportiva Mythos Eco
Best uses: Sport, bouldering, gym
What we like: It’s tough to argue with Chris Sharma.
What we don’t: The “Knuckle Box” and “Love Bump” are features you’ll either love or hate.
Designed in part by Chris Sharma, the Shaman is best suited to the kind of climbing Sharma enjoys most: steep, endurance limestone sport routes. They perform incredibly well on this terrain, dominating small pockets, toeing in on positive crimps, toe hooking on tufa-like features, and heeling on small edges. The Trax rubber is not our favorite, but it is super sticky and performs well once you get used to it. Meanwhile, the synthetic upper maintains a tight fit over time, and the Velcro straps are thin enough to give ample room for toe rubber.
All in all, the Shaman is a really good shoe at a very competitive price. That said, Evolv’s unique “Knuckle Box” and “Love Bump” technologies certainly offer a unique experience. The Knuckle Box creates space on top of the foot, making room for toes to sit comfortably, even when curled. The Love Bump, meanwhile, is a physical bump that sits under the ball of the foot, filling the dead space under the toes and pushing them toward the knuckle box. The intention is to create a comfortable space for a downturned foot, and if the fit is right, it accomplishes this goal. But if the fit is not right, it’s really wrong. We definitely recommend trying on the Shaman before buying or choosing an online retailer with a good return policy... Read in-depth review
See the Evolv Shaman See the Women's Evolv Shakra
Best uses: Trad
What we like: Like the TC Pro, but more durable and streamlined.
What we don’t: It’s still too soon to tell how great this shoe will be.
The Maestro Mid is Scarpa’s answer to La Sportiva’s wildly popular TC Pro: a mid-height, trad climbing shoe that’s been without rival for years. In some ways, Scarpa has made a better shoe and resolved our main gripes with the TC Pro. The upper of the Maestro Mid features continuous leather (unlike the small strips of leather on the TC Pro that often come unhinged), a padded and well-anchored tongue, and a design that covers the laces and keeps them from being chewed up by cracks. Furthermore, it is made in both a men’s and women’s model, which is great news for those with low-volume feet who could not get the TC Pro to fit.
Despite these upsides, the Maestro Mid falls short in a few significant ways. First, it’s a softer shoe than the TC Pro, meaning less stability on edges or support during long days on the rock. And perhaps of even greater concern is the high-volume toe box of the Maestro. If you thought the TC Pro was bulky and wished it would fit into finger cracks better, you ain’t seen nothing yet. These nitpicks aside, the Maestro Mid still is a solid effort by Scarpa and a well-made shoe overall. And within this category, it’s also worth checking out Evolv’s slightly more aggressive The General ($175), which performs well both on edges and in cracks... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Scarpa Maestro Mid See the Women's Scarpa Maestro Mid
Best uses: Sport, bouldering
What we like: A classic shoe for sport climbing and bouldering.
What we don’t: It doesn’t quite measure up in an increasingly competitive field.
The Solution is an excellent shoe, hands down. It’s been the choice of some of the world’s best climbers for years now, performs equally well indoors and outdoors, and dominates steep boulders and sport climbs alike. Like the Butora Acro above, it edges like a dream on tiny foot chips, and you get a hefty dose of rubber for all sorts of performance on overhanging terrain. Climbers long have lauded the Solution’s pointy toe for pocketed limestone in particular, and like most of Sportiva’s downturned kicks, a P3 platform holds the shape of the shoe over time.
With all that praise, what is the Solution so low on our list? In short, the climbing shoe competition has become fierce. Back in 2007 when the Solution was first released, it was a cutting-edge design and offered top performance for hard climbing. Now, aggressive and precision-oriented slippers are a dime a dozen. And while the Solution isn’t exceptionally durable and many find the heel cup to be ill-fitting and clunky, many of the newer models are closer to perfection (for the same price). If you’re a Solution diehard, by all means, stay true to your shoe (or level up to the softer and snugger-fitting Solution Comp). But if you’re on the hunt for your first aggressive slipper for bouldering or sport climbing, we’d encourage you to look higher on the list.
See the Men's La Sportiva Solution See the Women's La Sportiva Solution
Best uses: Beginner
What we like: Checks off a lot of boxes for beginner climbers.
What we don’t: Too narrow for some; not a high-performance shoe.
Black Diamond’s Momentum is purpose-built for new climbers looking for a comfortable shoe that doesn’t break the bank. In fact, at $95, it’s one of just a small number of models available for under $100 (along with the Butora Endeavor above, which squeezes in at $99.90). With the Momentum, you get a unique stretchy knit upper for ventilation and all-day comfort, the choice of lace or Velcro closure (which also comes in a vegan version), and high-quality Neo Fuse rubber underfoot. All in all, it’s a solid choice for beginning climbers or those looking for a gym workhorse. Keep in mind, however, that you get what you pay for here: the poorly designed flaps under the Velcro closure have a tendency to bunch up, the knit upper gives up a lot in the way of durability and fit, and the toe box is prohibitively narrow for many.
If you’re in the market for something more technical, don’t let the Momentum dissuade you from looking at Black Diamond’s more performance-oriented offerings. In particular, their trad-focused Aspect and aggressive Shadow have become fairly popular throughout their short lifespans. Plus, all of Black Diamond’s shoes are constructed with Butora’s Neo Fuse rubber, which is impressively sticky and durable. But brand allegiance can be strong, and we’ve found little reason to switch over from our beloved Italian-made shoes. It also doesn’t help that most of Black Diamond’s lineup is just as pricey as the competition… Read in-depth review
See the Men's Black Diamond Momentum See the Women's Black Diamond Momentum
Best uses: Gym, bouldering, sport
What we like: What a surprise: an affordable aggressive shoe.
What we don’t: Extremely difficult to get on and off.
Mad Rock often gets a bad rap among climbers, but for steep bouldering and sport climbing, the redesigned Shark 2.0 is surprisingly good. In a world where most aggressive climbing shoes run close to $200, the Shark stands out as an option that’s easy on your wallet without sacrificing a ton in the way of performance. It boasts Mad Rock’s Arch Flex system, a design that is stiff around the sides and soft in the center, allowing for both effective smearing and edging. However, your feet better already be pretty strong to survive the lack of arch support. That said, people rave about the snug fit of the Sharks and report that it doesn’t change much throughout use.
As far as the upper of the Shark 2.0 is concerned, it’s composed almost exclusively of 2.2mm R2 rand rubber, resulting in a toe-hooking and scumming machine. The form-fitting heel cup and sticky rubber textured heel cap make for an excellent heel-hooking shoe as well. On the downside, this mostly rubber upper is known to stifle feet. And Mad Rock’s Science Friction rubber never was, and still isn’t, anything to write home about: it’s hard and clunky, and has a slippery feel that does not inspire confidence. But priced at $119—and often found on sale—this is a solid choice for those who want an aggressive shoe for the gym.
See the Mad Rock Shark 2.0
|Climbing Shoe||Price||Downturn||Upper||Rubber||Best Uses|
|La Sportiva Miura VS||$185||Aggressive||Leather||Vibram XS Edge/Grip 2||Sport, bouldering, trad|
|Butora Endeavor||$100||Flat||Leather/synthetic||Neo Fuse||Beginner|
|Scarpa Instinct VS||$189||Moderate||Synthetic||Vibram XS Edge/Grip 2||Bouldering, sport, gym|
|La Sportiva TC Pro||$190||Flat||Leather||Vibram XS Edge||Trad|
|La Sportiva Katana||$195||Moderate||Leather||Vibram XS Edge||Trad, sport|
|Butora Acro||$160||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||Neo Fuse||Bouldering, gym, sport|
|La Sportiva Otaki||$185||Moderate||Leather/synthetic||Vibram XS Edge/Grip 2||Sport, trad|
|La Sportiva Testarossa||$199||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||Vibram XS Grip 2||Sport, bouldering|
|Five Ten Hiangle||$150||Aggressive||Synthetic||Stealth C4||Bouldering, gym, sport|
|Scarpa Force V||$139||Flat||Leather||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner, trad|
|La Sportiva Skwama||$170||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||Vibram XS Grip 2||Bouldering, sport, gym|
|Evolv Rave||$115||Flat||Leather||Trax SAS||Trad, gym|
|Unparallel Sirius Lace||$160||Aggressive||Synthetic||Unparallel RS||Sport, bouldering|
|Scarpa Boostic||$189||Aggressive||Synthetic||Vibram XS Edge||Bouldering, sport|
|La Sportiva Mythos Eco||$145||Flat||Leather||Vibram XS Edge||Beginner, trad|
|Evolv Shaman||$170||Aggressive||Synthetic||Trax SAS||Sport, bouldering, gym|
|Scarpa Maestro Mid||$189||Flat||Leather||Vibram XS Edge||Trad|
|La Sportiva Solution||$180||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||Vibram XS Grip 2||Sport, bouldering|
|BD Momentum||$95||Flat||Synthetic||Neo Fuse||Beginner|
|Mad Rock Shark 2.0||$119||Aggressive||Synthetic||Science Friction 3.0||Gym, bouldering, sport|
- Types of Climbing Shoes: Trad, Sport, Bouldering, Gym
- Downturn: Flat, Moderate, or Aggressive
- Soft vs. Stiff
- Closure: Laces, Velcro, or Slipper
- Upper: Leather vs. Synthetic
- Fit and Sizing
- Men’s and Women’s Versions
- Climbing Shoe Advice for Beginners
There are as many styles of climbing shoes as there are rocks, and for best performance, these two factors should be matched appropriately. Sport climbing, bouldering, trad climbing tend to be as similar as apples, oranges, and bananas—which is to say, rather dissimilar. A shoe designed for overhanging boulders would be painful and less-than-functional in a hand crack. In the same vein, a stiff, flat shoe perfect for slab climbing would be clunky and useless when trying to toe hook on steep terrain. That said, whether you’re on a boulder, placing gear, or clipping bolts, the rock will dictate your style of shoe more than the discipline. Granite climbs differently than sandstone, which climbs differently than limestone, and quartzite, and basalt, and so on and so forth. Obviously, there’s no perfect categorization, and a good understanding of the terrain helps to round out these delineations.
Trad climbing typically takes place on slabby to just-vertical terrain, and often involves a great deal of jamming in cracks. For this, flat climbing shoes—also thought of as all-around shoes or non-aggressive shoes—are the top-performing models. These shoes are often more comfortable than their more aggressive counterparts, but comfort need not compromise performance. Certain flat shoes offer the best performance for slabs, techy face climbing, and cracks (the La Sportiva TC Pro, for example). Look for very slight or no downturn at all, a stiff midsole, relaxed fit, minimal heel/toe rubber, solid ankle protection, and most often, laces. That said, the more technical and steep the trad route (think 5.12 finger cracks or thin 5.11 edging on Index granite), the more you might prefer a shoe with a moderate or aggressive downturn. For vertical faces and thin finger cracks, a model like the La Sportiva Otaki or the Scarpa Boostic will perform far better than the clunky TC Pro.
For sport climbing on vertical to slightly less-than-vertical terrain—imagine Smith Rock or the New River Gorge—you can get away with a relatively stiff shoe with a moderate downturn. These models absolutely shine on face climbs where precision edging is paramount. They’re characterized by a solid edging platform, tight heel cup with a slingshot-style rand, stiff midsole, and laces or a Velcro closure. Our favorites include the La Sportiva Miura VS, La Sportiva Testarossa, and Scarpa Instinct VS. For steeper sport climbing (such as that found in Kalymnos, the Red, or even in the gym), we’d look to a more aggressive shoe like those described in the bouldering section below. The La Sportiva Skwama is a great example: it’s a soft slipper with Velcro closure, aggressively downturned, and sports a whole lot of rubber on the toe and heel.
Bouldering shoes—indoor and outdoor—are characterized by an aggressive downturn, generous patch of toe rubber, floppiness for sensitivity, rounded heel cups covered in rubber, and a hybrid closure (often an elastic slipper with a single Velcro strap). These shoes—the Five Ten Hiangle, for example—shine on steep terrain, when toe hooking, heel hooking, and sticking to tiny incuts on overhanging walls. They usually are sized snug and probably aren’t comfortable to wear for more than a minute or two.
If you’re a new boulderer—especially indoors—we recommend that you save your money and foot ligaments and start with a stiffer and less aggressive shoe like the Scarpa Force V or Butora Endeavor. You can graduate to something softer and more aggressive once your technique improves and your feet get stronger, but for V2 and under (even up to V4 in the gym) an entry-level shoe is more than sufficient (for more on soft vs. stiff shoes, see below).
If you’re just getting started in the gym, the best piece of advice we can offer is to make sure your shoes are comfortable. If your feet aren’t happy, chances are you won’t have an enjoyable introduction to climbing. Our second recommendation is to save your money and opt for an entry-level (or even used) shoe until you’re sure you’re committed to the sport (we have a full list of options in our round-up of the best climbing shoes for beginners). Finally, you’ll probably appreciate a Velcro closure for the gym, where you’ll likely take your shoes off between boulder problems or while belaying. Models like the Black Diamond Momentum and Butora Endeavor above are great places to start. For more tips on getting started in the gym, check out our Indoor Climbing 101 article.
On the other hand, if you're really pushing the grade indoors (particularly on boulders), you’ll want to be wearing an aggressive, bouldering-specific shoe. Look for soft rubber (Vibram XS Grip 2 is one our favorites), an aggressive, slipper-like build, and a flexible rand—and be sure to size your shoe relatively tight. Models like the Five Ten Hiangle and La Sportiva Skwama are great gym options. Further, because of the rise in popularity of indoor comp climbing, climbing shoe companies are now offering even softer versions of their most aggressive shoes—like the La Sportiva Solution Comp and the Butora Acro Comp—designed specifically for indoor climbing. In the end, whether you're new to climbing or projecting double-digit V-grades in the gym, check out the “Best Uses” column of our comparison table above to see which shoes we recommend for indoor climbing.
We have used the term “downturn” many times above—it’s of the most notable features of a climbing shoe. Essentially, downturn defines the amount of curve in the sole of a shoe, from banana shaped (aggressive) to flat. The more aggressive the downturn, the more power your toes have to pull and perch on small edges, but the less your feet are able to rest in their natural position. In general, aggressive shoes perform well on steep rock, and flat shoes shine on vertical to less-than-vertical terrain. Just picture the banana shape of a shoe like the La Sportiva Solution, and envision toeing in on overhanging holds with the power to pull your body towards them. Then tilt the rock back to slab, and you’ll understand that you want a flat shoe (like the La Sportiva Mythos or TC Pro) that allows you to stand on the ball of your foot.
Stiffness is another way that shoes differ from each other, but here it’s tough to make blanket statements. So much of this depends on preference. While many boulderers prefer ultra-soft shoes like the Five Ten Hiangle or the La Sportiva Skwama, others prefer stiffer models like the Butora Acro or Scarpa Instinct VS. Same goes for trad climbers—the TC Pro is wildly popular, but so are slippers like the Five Ten Moccasym. One thing that we can say definitively is that a stiff shoe offers more support for the foot—if you’re just getting into the sport, you’ll definitely want to start with a stiff to medium-stiff shoe until your feet grow stronger. Soft shoes are far more sensitive and flexible, and your feet will have to do much of the work to support themselves.
A stiff shoe will also offer more edging power, as it provides a solid platform for your foot to stand on tiny edges. For this reason, we like a stiffer shoe for vertical face and slab. Soft shoes, on the other hand, do not provide the stability needed for precise edging, but enable you to toe in better on steep routes. Plus, you’ll be able to feel the holds more underfoot, which many climbers like. Soft shoes are also more comfortable to downsize, so you can really hone in a tight, snug fit. Finally, keep in mind that the thinner the sole, the softer the shoe will be. For example, the Scarpa Instinct VSR’s 2-millimeter sole helps to make it a much softer shoe than its sibling, the Instinct VS (with 3.5mm sole).
Closure systems should not be overlooked, and in fact they can be a deciding factor in what shoe is the best match for you. There are not hard-and-fast rules about which is better than the other, and each has their strengths and weaknesses for various forms of climbing. The three main closures are laces, Velcro, and slipper, and more and more we’re seeing Velcro and slippers combined for a best-of-both-worlds closure.
Laces are a favorite of trad climbers who put their shoes on and keep them on. They’re much better suited in cracks than Velcro, which tends to come undone after repetitive jamming. Laces also allow you to dial in an incredibly precise fit. Whether your feet are wide or narrow, you get more versatility with a lace shoe like the La Sportiva Testarossa than any other kind. That said, laces can be a pain if you are putting on and taking off your shoes a lot, and keep in mind that if you often find yourself jamming your feet in cracks, they're likely to wear out over time.
Many climbers prefer Velcro closures because they are easy to put on and take off. They’re great for indoor climbing, bouldering, and sport climbing, when you’re often relieving your feet in between problems or pitches. A Velcro closure, however, can get in the way of toe hooking—for steep bouldering, we’d rather have a large patch of rubber on top of our toe than a bulky strap. Furthermore, Velcro can easily come undone during repetitive jamming in cracks. Velcro shoes can also be somewhat limiting in how well they fit and tend to fail quicker than laces.
Slippers provide one of the most comfortable, convenient types of closure, and they generally correlate with soft shoes that excel on friction slabs and in cracks. But slippers can stretch over time, and when that happens, there's no way to tighten them up. Interestingly, the work-around to this problem has resulted in a popular and aggressive design for steep climbing and bouldering. Modern slippers like the La Sportiva Skwama and Scarpa Instinct VS add a single Velcro strap near the ankle of the slipper, which offers a very comfortable and secure fit and a large space on the toe for a large rubber patch. Standard slippers are a bit of a dying breed (the updated Evolv Rave is the only one on our list), but this combination of slipper and Velcro will only grow in popularity.
The upper is the part of the shoe that rests along the top and sides of your foot. In most climbing shoes, the upper is a leather or synthetic leather substitute, and there’s not really a rubric to determine which is better for you. Some prefer leather, and some synthetic. Both have their pros and cons, and there are multiple representatives of both types on this list. The biggest difference is that leather stretches and synthetic uppers generally don’t, and this has a variety of consequences.
Because leather stretches, it is able to conform to your foot. Over time, it takes on a glove-like shape which results in increased comfort. Comparing the La Sportiva Miura VS to the Scarpa Boostic, for example, the Miura will stretch up to a whole size, while the Scarpa will barely stretch at all. This means one of two things: one, if you want the Miura to have the same functionality as the Boostic a year after the fact, you have to start with a smaller size. Alternatively, if you want the Boostic to be as comfortable as the Miura in a year, you have to start with a bigger size. Whether you prefer your shoe to become more comfortable over time or you want it to retain its original dimensions should play a big role in choosing the shoe you buy. And take note that many modern leather shoes incorporate a synthetic liner in high-stretch areas—we think this is a best-of-both-worlds solution.
Climbing shoe rubber is an esoteric subject. Should you buy Vibram XS Edge or XS Grip? Stealth HF or Stealth C4? What about proprietary blends like Trax and Science Friction? The rubber is what will actually stick to the rock, so this is incredibly important, right? Yes, but maybe not as important as you think. All rubbers try to find some balance on the sticky-durable continuum. Some, like Science Friction, go hard to the sticky side, while others, like Sportiva’s proprietary FriXion RS, gravitate to the more durable side. Either way can make sense depending on your priorities. In fact, we know many a male climber who wears the women’s Miura VS, as it’s made with a stickier rubber (XS Grip 2) than the men’s version (made with XS Edge). Just understand that there is a tradeoff: the grippier your rubber, the shorter it will last. The longer it lasts, the less sticky it will be.
But because you asked (you did, right?), we do have our preferred brands and models of rubber. A quick check of the comparison table above is a dead giveaway: Vibram and Stealth are our clear favorites. We especially like the consistent performance of the XS Edge and XS Grip from Vibram, along with Five Ten’s Stealth C4. Butora’s Neo Fuse is quickly earning our allegiance as well. And, of course, when you bust through the rubber, it doesn’t mean you have to retire your shoe. Resolers aren't difficult to find these days—Rock and Resole in Boulder, CO is one of the most widely known—and most even give you the option to change the kind of rubber that’s on your shoe.
We could give you a bunch of rules about how to size your shoe, but in the end, sizing is so specific, so unique, and so particular to each shoe and each foot. Some shoes will be too wide or too narrow for your feet. Some will stretch a full size, while others won’t at all. Some are sized on track with street shoes (Black Diamond’s lineup, for example), while others will have you dropping down a handful of sizes. As a result, your best bet is to: a) do some research on what other people have to say about the shoe’s fit, and; b) always try the shoe on before buying. If you’re ordering online, you can roll the dice or buy a couple of pairs from a reputable retailer and return one.
That said, a few generalizations apply. First of all, you want your climbing shoes to feel tighter than your street shoes. Second, tighter does not mean cutting off circulation. If you’re swimming in your shoe, it’s probably too loose. But if putting it on takes you a minute of serious tugging only to result in a number 8 on the pain scale, they’re too tight. Be honest with yourself: how tight can you go without letting discomfort get in the way of the joy of climbing? Many people will sacrifice pain for the extra performance it brings to their climbing game, while others think that a tight shoe adds very little performance. It all depends on the terrain, the shoe, and the climber. Third, understand that leather stretches and synthetic fabrics tend not to. Finally, it’s worth noting that most people have one foot that’s slightly bigger than the other, so try on both shoes before you make a purchase. And if your feet are egregiously different sizes, go with Evolv: you can buy the right foot shoe in one size, and the left in another.
Most climbing shoes are available in both men's and women's versions, with the main differences coming in terms of fit and rubber. In general, men’s shoes have a higher volume fit, while women's shoes are slimmer in both the toebox and heel and designed for lower-volume feet. Second, it's common to see stiffer (and more durable) rubber like Vibram XS Edge on men's shoes and softer (and sticker) Vibram XS Grip 2 on women's shoes. As we mentioned above, stiffer rubber is great for edging and slab climbing, while many sport climbers and boulderers prefer softer compounds for better grip and sensitivity.
Climbers can be especially picky about their rubber choices, so it's very common to see men wearing women's shoes, and visa versa. In the end, we like to think of a shoe's two models as being Option A and Option B rather than assigning them genders (Butora offers their shoes in “wide” and “tight” rather than in men's and women's versions). And keep in mind that some “unisex” models (the popular La Sportiva TC Pro or Katana, for example) aren’t made in varying widths. If your foot is wider or narrower than most, it’s likely that these shoes won’t work for you.
Our list features some of the best all-around climbing shoes on the market, and many of the models above are used by professional climbers pushing the limits of the sport. The TC Pro was worn by Tommy Caldwell on his free ascent of the Dawn Wall, Alex Puccio regularly boulders in the Scarpa Instinct VS, and Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb 5.15a while wearing the La Sportiva Solution. But they’re not only for the elite: these shoes are ideal models for anyone pushing their own personal limits (just make sure you get the right style for your preferred discipline).
However, for brand new climbers just starting out, there’s a number of reasons why it’s a good idea to opt for a beginner shoe. For one, you don’t even know if you love climbing, so there’s no use spending $200 on shoes when you can get a pair on sale for $50. Second, it’s likely that you’re not yet sure what style of climbing you’re going to gravitate towards, be it gym climbing, bouldering, trad, or sport. And third, all the high tech and premium materials that go into most of the shoes above will be wasted on poor footwork. In short, most beginner climbers won’t be able to tell the difference between a budget shoe and a high-level model, so it’s your best bet to opt for the cheaper of the two. To help you make your purchase, we’ve compiled a list of the best climbing shoes for beginners here, including some of the best models for those who plan to progress quickly.
Back to Our Top Climbing Shoe Picks Back to Our Climbing Shoe Comparison Table