Best Climbing Shoes Review

The Best Climbing Shoes of 2021

Aside from the ice climbers, mountaineers, and Charles Albert, every climber needs a pair of reliable climbing shoes.

As climbing’s popularity boom continues, the demand for high-performance climbing gear is greater than ever before. While a climbing rope and a bouldering crash pad are not required items for brand new climbers, a pair of shoes is essential from the get-go.

Thanks to recent innovations, the climbing shoe market now includes a vast range of brands and models that aim to accommodate various foot shapes and specialized climbing styles. Need a shoe for indoor training sessions? No problem. Looking for a style that will elevate your heel hooking ability? There’s a shoe for that, too.

On this list, we’ve divided our recommendations into many specific categories to help you efficiently identify the best shoes for your climbing needs. We’ve also included a comprehensive buyer’s guide that will help you navigate the complex realm of climbing shoes and hopefully make an informed choice.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Climbing Shoes of 2021

Best All-Around Shoe for Beginners: La Sportiva Zenit — Men’s & Women’s

la sportiva zenit

The Zenit ($125) is one of the newer additions to the La Sportiva climbing shoe lineup. It’s a well-rounded shoe that is a perfect option for newer climbers who are developing techniques and experimenting with different climbing styles.

Instead of aiming to specialize in a single application, the Zenit has been crafted for maximum versatility. Most notably, the Zenit is quite comfortable, which is especially important for the beginner climber who is actively working on the fundamentals of climbing movement and technique.

The Zenit’s innovative knit upper is soft against the skin and breathable. Instead of a tongue, this shoe has a large patch of elastic mesh that makes it easy to get in and out of the shoe and also creates the suction-like feel of a higher-end model.

Though the Zenit’s upper is soft and supple, the sole and midsole feel stiff and supportive underfoot. This stiffness is an asset to the beginner climber learning to trust their feet and stand on small footholds. Under the forefoot, a 4mm-thick sole of Sportiva’s XS grip rubber provides ample friction.

The most aesthetically striking feature of the Zenit is the colored section of rubber that extends from the heel through the arch of the shoe. We don’t know why Sportiva decided to use colored rubber for the heel, though it seems to be a strictly cosmetic design choice. The colored rubber does not seem to affect friction or performance, but the Zenit isn’t a heel hooking specialist anyway.

The Zenit is best for narrower feet. Climbers with a wider forefoot will feel their outer toes squeezed by the Zenit’s streamlined toe box.

Overall, the Zenit is a great addition to Sportiva’s lineup. It’s a beginner shoe with a handful of features that are usually reserved for high-end styles.

Whether indoors or outdoors, on a boulder or a multipitch route, the Zenit will perform consistently well and is the ideal shoe for a new and eager climber. It’s a bit expensive compared to similar options, but it’s built to last and should easily handle multiple resoles.

  • Great for: Beginner and intermediate climbers, gym and outdoor climbing
  • Sizing: Best for narrow feet. Start with street shoe size.

Check Men’s Price at La Sportiva Check Women’s Price at Amazon

Runner-Up Best Beginner Shoe: Evolv Defy Velcro

evolv defy velcro

The Evolv Defy ($89) is one of the bestselling climbing shoes in the world. Thanks to the growth of climbing in recent years, a large portion of active climbers are fairly new to the sport and do most of their climbing indoors. For a reasonable price, the Defy offers all of the essentials that you need and none of the specialty features that you don’t.

The sole of the Defy is neutral and flat, which keeps the foot in a comfortable anatomical position. Additionally, a soft antimicrobial liner and padded split tongue make the shoes plenty comfortable to wear straight through a long gym session.

A thick 4.2mm TRAX rubber outsole will hold up to the demands of long gym sessions. We used the Defy regularly in the gym for several months, and the soles continue to perform well with plenty of rubber left. While learning fundamental techniques, you want a shoe that prioritizes comfort and durability, and the Defy perfectly fits this profile.

Although climbers of all levels enjoy this as a workhorse gym shoe, they’ve been specifically designed for beginner and intermediate climbers. They’re pretty much neutral in every category — not too stiff, not too sensitive, decent for edging, decent for smearing, etc.

The Defy can do it all, but it certainly isn’t a specialist. They’ll do the job when climbing outside, but they’re most at home in the gym. Also, the Defy tends to best fit climbers with lower volume and wider feet. Because they’re leather-free, these shoes are vegan-friendly and will stretch very little.

  • Great for: Beginner and intermediate climbers, gym and outdoor climbing
  • Sizing: Best for slightly wider feet. Start with street shoe size.

Check Price at Backcountry Check Price at Amazon

Best Budget: La Sportiva Tarantulace — Men’s & Women’s

la sportiva tarantulace

The La Sportiva Tarantulace ($85) has been one of the top-selling climbing shoes on the market for many years. Many new climbers are drawn to the Tarantulace as their first climbing shoe purchase and for good reason. They don’t specialize in any particular category or climbing style, but these shoes are reliable, affordable, and comfortable.

During long gym sessions or all-day multipitch routes, the Tarantulace remains comfy and will not bother your feet with cramps or hot spots. These shoes are not aggressive, and their flat last and unlined leather upper keep your feet in a natural and neutral position.

Relative to this high comfort level, the Tarantulace performs quite well across various climbing styles and rock types. These shoes can do everything adequately.

For beginner and intermediate climbers, the Tarantulace is perfect for honing new techniques. When learning the fundamentals of climbing, comfort and durability are the most important qualities of a shoe. And that’s what the Tarantulace is all about.

Thanks to a thick 5mm FriXtion rubber sole, these shoes can last through several years of regular climbing without needing a resole or replacement. For climbers on a budget, the La Sportiva Tarantulace is a well-made and long-lasting option.

  • Great for: Beginner and intermediate climbers, all-day comfort, trad climbing
  • Sizing: Best for slightly narrow feet. Size down slightly from street shoe size.

Check Men’s Price at REI Check Women’s Price at REI

Best for Steep Sport Routes & Bouldering: Scarpa Drago — Men’s & Women’s

scarpa drago

Since its release a few years ago, the Scarpa Drago ($189) has become one of the most popular climbing shoes in its class. Attend any elite climbing competition in 2021, and you’re sure to see multiple athletes wearing Dragos.

There is a current movement in climbing that favors soft and supple shoes over stiff and structural options. The Dragos deserve some credit for starting this trend.

As one of the softest and most pliable climbing shoes ever created, the Drago works best for steep climbing and gymnastic bouldering. More like a rubber sock than a climbing shoe, the Drago lets you feel every crystal and nubbin. For many climbers, sensitivity translates into confidence. If this is the case for you, you’re bound to be happy in the Dragos.

Of course, for all of its socklike sensitivity, the Drago is ultimately a specialty climbing tool. On overhanging rock and volume-heavy indoor bouldering, these shoes conform to the climbing surface and can truly elevate your performance.

However, on long pitches with small footholds and lots of powerful edging, your feet will not be adequately supported in the Dragos. While climbing, feet become tired quickly if they are not supported by the structure of a shoe. Deploy the Dragos on steep boulders — not on long, technical multipitch routes.

With tons of rubber coverage over the toe, the Dragos are fully capable of tricky toe hooks and tenuous bicycles. Like all climbing shoes, the Dragos will work better for some foot shapes than others.

The Dragos fit best on climbers with a low volume heel and a wider-than-average forefoot. Thanks to a micro suede liner, these shoes will stretch a little, so don’t be afraid to size them quite aggressively upon purchase.

  • Great for: Steep boulders and sport routes, indoor climbing competitions
  • Sizing: Best for low-volume feet. Size down one-half or full size from street shoe.

Check Men’s Price at REI Check Women’s Price at REI

Best for Competitions & Gym Climbing: La Sportiva Solution Comp — Men’s & Women’s

La Sportiva Solution Comp

The original version of this shoe, the La Sportiva Solution ($180), is one of the most revolutionary climbing shoes to ever exist. With its egg-shaped heel cup, elastic mesh entry, and split sole, the Solution paved the way for an entire class of high-end sport climbing/bouldering shoes.

In 2019, La Sportiva built upon the success of the Solution with the ultra-modern Solution Comp. Although the Comp is certainly a relative of the original solution and shares some key traits, it forges a unique path.

As the name suggests, the Solution Comp is specifically designed to shine in a competition setting. These days, high-end competition climbing requires a particular combination of precision edging and underfoot sensitivity.

The Solution Comp, with its soft midsole, pointed toebox, and massive patch of toe-scumming rubber, is possibly the most specialized competition shoe available today. It’s no surprise many high-level competitive climbers are regularly spotted wearing them.

The most noticeable difference between the original Solution and the Comp is the redesigned heel. Famously, the OG Solution includes a high-volume, ball-shaped heel cup. Over the years, many climbers complained that the heel created air pockets and negative space, which decreased the effectiveness of heel hooks.

In response, Sportiva built the Comp with a thinner, lower volume heel. Right out of the box, the new heel is form-fitting and performs exceptionally well.

Though these shoes have a penchant for crushing in competitions, they can absolutely be worn outside too. Under the forefoot, a semi-supportive midsole makes it possible to edge decently well. But this support ends at the sole of the shoes, and ultimately they fall on the softer end of the spectrum.

This means the Comps are probably not the best choice for vertical terrain that is technical and footwork-intensive. However, the Comps are hard to beat for steep routes and boulders — especially when powerful toe and heel hooks are involved.

  • Great for: Indoor climbing competitions, steep bouldering
  • Sizing: Great for climbers with a low-volume heel. Size down a half or full size from street shoe.

Check Men’s Price at REI Check Women’s Price at REI

Best for Edging & Small Footholds: Scarpa Boostic

scarpa boostic

The beloved Scarpa Boostic ($199) has been fully redesigned for 2021, and we think it’s better than ever. Designed by climbing shoe mastermind Heinz Mariacher, the new Boostic is one of the most impressive small foothold specialists available today.

In recent years, the climbing shoe market has largely focused on the trend of ultrasoft shoes that maximize sensitivity and minimize structural stiffness. While soft shoes are good for certain kinds of climbing, the designers at Scapa understand support is required when generating power on tiny footholds.

With a stout midsole and lots of underfoot support, the Boostic pushes back against the softness trend and announces itself as a master of edging.

Though the sole and midsole of the Boostic are quite stiff, the upper on the new model is thinner than ever before. Scarpa used a patch of light and abrasion-resistant Alcantara fabric to keep the upper supple and sensitive without sacrificing durability.

A unique closure system utilizes Velcro straps to create tension across the form of the entire shoe. The result is a precise, high-performance fit.

Ultimately, the 2021 Boostic is something of a unicorn in the ever-expanding realm of climbing shoes. Sure, it’s stiff, but it feels far more sensitive and precise compared to most thick-soled edging shoes. The Boostic won’t eliminate your ability to feel the footholds while supporting your foot at the same time. It’s a magical combination.

The Boostic is designed for an aggressive fit. Your toes must be slightly bent to maximize the specialized purpose of these shoes. When fit properly, the Boostic will channel lots of power into the point of your big toe. That said, they are also relatively comfortable right out of the box.

  • Great for: Powerful edging on tiny footholds
  • Sizing: Size down a half size from street shoe

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Best All-Around Trad Shoe: La Sportiva TC Pro

La Sportiva TC ProDuring a recent climbing and gear-testing trip to Yosemite, we noticed a large majority of climbers in the park were wearing TC Pros ($190). Designed by legendary big-wall free climber Tommy Caldwell, these popular shoes were developed specifically to thrive on the glacier-polished granite of Yosemite Valley. The TC Pros possess all of the traits well-rounded trad climbers need, including a supportive midsole and maximum ankle protection.

Because trad climbing encompasses many different wall angles, crack sizes, and rock types, every trad shoe is bound to have its own strengths and weaknesses. However, the TC Pro is simply the best all-around trad climbing shoe on the market. It can edge on tiny holds, smear on slick rock, and footjam with confidence.

Crack climbing can cause some discomfort in the feet, but the TC Pro’s soft Sentex liner and padded upper cuff help keep pain to a minimum. In fist cracks and off widths, the hightop profile protects the ankle bones from bumps and scrapes. In warm conditions, the breathable mesh tongue prevents sweating and overheating.

The TC Pros have a thick forefront profile, which makes it difficult to jam in narrow and offset cracks. For thin crack climbing, check out a shoe with a thinner toe point such as the Acopa Aztec.

Although the TC Pro is a trad-specific shoe, its asymmetrical shape and pointy toe can also handle steep terrain and pockets with relative ease. If you prefer to own just a single pair of climbing shoes to wear on all kinds of routes, the TC Pros make an effective “quiver of one.”

  • Great for: Trad climbing, big wall climbing
  • Sizing: Start with your street shoe size

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best Thin Crack Climbing Shoe: Acopa Aztec

Acopa Aztec

With its thin toebox profile, the Acopa Aztec ($179) is a comfortable, tried-and-true, thin crack climbing workhorse. These shoes were a crowd favorite in the Acopa lineup before the company put a pause on operations over 10 years ago. Now Acopa is back, and the Aztec has been thoroughly redesigned and modernized.

The Aztecs are comfortable straight away, and they continue to break in and stretch during their first few sessions of use. Though these can be sized aggressively, we found having a bit of extra room in the toe can actually be an asset, especially when climbing thin cracks.

Though these shoes work best for crack climbing and vertical to slightly overhanging trad climbing, we found they work quite well for steeper terrain too. Even bouldering felt natural in these, especially on problems that required smearing or stemming.

While climbing thin cracks, we were impressed with how well the toe point of the Aztec pinches down and inserts into narrow fissures. Compared to other popular trad climbing shoes, the Aztec performs exceptionally well on offset cracks, laybacks, and flaring seams.

The Aztec has a nearly flat last with just the slightest downturn, and Acopa’s RS rubber feels especially sticky on these shoes. When jamming in flaring cracks or pinched-off corners, the rubber that lines the outside of the entire shoe adds lots of friction and inspires extra confidence during delicate movements.

Though the classic lace-up tension system works just fine on the Aztec, we’d like to see the laces extend a little farther toward the toe to allow for a more precise fit. Other than that, this is an excellent old-school shoe with modern capabilities — especially when the cracks get thin.

  • Great for: Trad climbing, thin cracks
  • Sizing: Size down a half size from street shoe size

Check Price at Acopa Outdoors

Best All-Day Comfort & Multipitch Climbing Shoe: Acopa Merlin

acopa merlin

Right out of the box, these shoes from Acopa are clearly heavy-duty and robust. Compared to the thin-as-possible bouldering shoes of today, the Merlin ($189) is hefty and stout.

Generally, this shoe has more of an old-school flavor — highly supportive with a thick layer of outsole rubber under the toe. These shoes are the complete opposite of rubber sock shoes like the Scarpa Drago or La Sportiva Solution Comp.

Though we were skeptical at first due to the shoes’ thick and sturdy appearance, their climbing ability left us immediately impressed. We tested these shoes on the coastal sport climbs of Northern California, and they managed to handle tiny water-polished footholds with ease.

Because the Merlins are super-stiff, they are the perfect shoe for technical edging on vertical to semi-steep terrain. Even when applying lots of weight and power to the toe edge of these shoes, the arch of the foot is supported, and the heel hardly sags. The plentiful support also keeps the feet from becoming pumped and tired.

Through the many layers of material that make up the Merlin, it’s difficult to feel the nuance of footholds as you use them. These are not highly sensitive shoes. Though they do have a modern split sole, the foot does not have a whole lot of mobility inside the Merlin.

Still, when small edges called for maximum toe power, the Merlins far exceeded my expectations. While climbing in these, we didn’t mind the lack of sensitivity.

The Merlin is a worthy inclusion in Acopa’s new lineup of top-quality climbing shoes.

  • Great for: Trad climbing, small footholds
  • Sizing: Size down a half size from street shoe

Check Price at Acopa Outdoors

Best for Pockets: Tenaya Mastia

tenaya mastia

The precise and aggressive Tenaya Mastias ($199) are a pocket-pulling powerhouse. With an asymmetrical profile and an exceptionally pointy toe, these shoes allow you to stab your toes into tiny pockets with accuracy and confidence.

We tested the Mastias on the slick pocket-covered sport climbs of American Fork Canyon, Utah. Even in thin one- and two-finger pockets, the sharp toe allowed us to apply maximum power to the toe edges and flow through delicate and powerful sequences.

Inside the Mastias, a mesh inner liner hugs the top of the foot and limits movement within the shoe. A thermal-molded heel cup adds structure for secure and precise heel hooking.

The Mastias are quite pliable, but they aren’t mega soft like the Scarpa Dragos, and they do offer enough support to keep your feet from aching on long, footwork-intensive pitches.

Straight out of the box, the Mastias are quite comfortable. Compared to many other high-performance sport climbing and bouldering shoes, the Mastias require very little break-in time.

These shoes can be worn during long sessions on the Moon Board or at the crag without needing to pull them off and take a break. Though the closure system is decent, it is difficult to customize the fit of various parts of the shoe with only a single strap.

The impressive comfort of the Mastias makes them highly versatile shoes that can thrive just about anywhere. However, if you’re planning a trip to a pocket-heavy climbing area such as Ceuse, Wild Iris, or Smith Rock, the Mastias will be an especially worthy addition to your kit.

  • Great for: Steep sport climbing, bouldering, pockets
  • Sizing: Size down at least one full size from your street shoe

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Best Shoe for Adaptive Climbers With a Prosthetic Foot: Evolv Eldo Z

Evolv Eldo Z

The Evolv Eldo Z ($50) is the world’s first climbing shoe designed for amputees and other climbers with a prosthetic leg. Designed in collaboration with leading adaptive climber Malcom Daly, the Eldo Z is a sticky rubber climbing shoe that can handle technical climbing and small footholds.

To use the Eldo Z, climbers will first need one of Evolv’s custom-made adaptive feet, which are made to attach to the climber’s leg using standard prosthetic components. The Eldo Z fits snugly over the adaptive foot and remains firmly in place while edging, heel hooking, and high-stepping.

The Evolv adaptive foot and Eldo Z are smaller than the average adult foot. Thanks to its compact size and aggressive arch, adaptive climbers are able to apply power through the toe edge and even rock over on to small footholds with confidence.

Additionally, the Eldo Z and adaptive foot are fully symmetrical, so they can be used on either side of the body. Both the foot and the shoe together cost $250, which is certainly the best value option on the market for adaptive climbers.

  • Great for: Adaptive climbers, small footholds
  • Sizing: The Eldo Z fits perfectly onto Evolv’s adaptive climbing foot

Check Price at Evolv

Best Climbing Shoe for Kids: Evolv Venga

evolv venga

The Evolv Venga ($55) offers a comfortable fit and durable construction that holds up well to the demands of a kid climber. A simple closure system uses a single Velcro pull tab to produce a quick and custom fit.

The shoe’s upper is made from breathable mesh, which helps reduce the discomfort and resulting odor that comes from excess sweat.

Many youth climbing shoes lack the features required for high-end performance. Many of the world’s most skillful climbers are younger than 12, and they need good quality shoes just like the rest of us.

The Venga has an asymmetrical shape, which allows the wearer to apply power to their big toe while using small and technical footholds. A tapered toebox is great for stabbing technical pockets with accuracy and precision.

Just because a climber is young or small doesn’t mean they should have to climb in floppy, poorly made shoes. Evolv has outfitted the Venga with the same super-sticky Trax SAS rubber found on many of their high-performance adult models.

Though this shoe does lack toe hooking rubber and an aggressive heel, it strikes an excellent balance between performance, comfort, and durability.

  • Great for: Kids, indoor and outdoor climbing
  • Sizing: Start with street shoe size

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Climbing Shoe

Long gone are the days of toiling up big walls in Yosemite in a pair of stiff-soled mountain boots. In 2021, climbing shoes are sticky, lightweight, and fine-tuned for the job at hand.

It can feel daunting to decide where to begin when sifting through the numerous high-quality options. As a climber, that’s a good problem to have.

Beginner climbers may especially feel overwhelmed while navigating a sea of technical specs and terminology. Experienced climbers may already have an idea of which specific footwear features they are looking for, but it can still be tricky to differentiate between similar options. This buyer’s guide can help any climber make an efficient and informed climbing shoe purchase.

To prepare these recommendations, we’ve been rigorously testing climbing shoes from many different brands, putting each pair to the test and meticulously noting their strengths and weaknesses. Much of the testing took place on the boulders and crags near Salt Lake City, Utah — from the sharp limestone of Saint George to the polished boulders of Little Cottonwood canyon.

We also tested shoes on granite walls at the center of the universe — aka Yosemite Valley. In the gym, we wore shoes on competition-style boulder problems, overhanging training boards, low-angle slabs, and everything in between.

Climbing Disciplines

Though rock climbing is considered a unified sport, it is really a collection of similar, but different, disciplines. Sure, trad climbing and bouldering both involve climbing on rock, but the techniques and gear involved are wildly different. For this reason, most climbing shoes are designed to specialize in a certain kind of climbing and appeal to a certain kind of climber.

If you’re a beginner climber who enjoys bouldering in the gym, you won’t want to choose shoes that are designed for elite trad climbers. Shoes do not make the climber, but it is important to select the correct tool for the job.

Bouldering

Bouldering consists of climbing relatively short routes on small cliffs and freestanding boulders. This discipline is all about difficult climbing in its most distilled form.

Steep overhangs are common in this style, and bouldering shoes are designed with overhanging terrain in mind. Bouldering shoes are characterized by a downturned profile, toe and heel hooking capability, and a soft and sensitive sole.

man bouldering at dusk
Photo credit: REI

Gym

As of 2021, gym climbing is experiencing a major popularity boom. Gym climbing offers a convenient, social, and effective workout, and many gym climbers are perfectly content to climb exclusively indoors. As new gyms continue to pop up across the world, many shoe manufacturers are now offering shoes that are marketed specifically for gym use.

Typically when shoes are marked as gym shoes, they’ll be geared toward beginner climbers who have recently entered the sport. These entry-level shoes, like the La Sportiva Zenit or the Evolv Defy, are made to be comfortable and progression-focused.

Because most new climbers start out in the gym, it makes sense that beginner shoes and gym shoes have become almost synonymous. Beginner-focused, gym-style shoes also work great for learning to climb outside.

However, as climbing prepares for its Olympic debut, today’s market also includes indoor-specific shoes intended for elite-level competition climbers. These styles, like the La Sportiva Solution Comp, have been custom-built for the demands of modern-day indoor climbing competition.

Competitions of today require a unique combination of gymnastic movement and precise footwork. Shoes in this category tend to have thin, soft soles and an aggressive profile.

Multipitch

Multipitch climbing involves long routes and full days spent with climbing shoes on. Comfort is an especially important consideration for multipitch climbing shoes.

Aggressively downturned and ultra-tight climbing shoes tend to be painful over long periods, so these traits are often avoided for multipitch routes. Most climbers prefer comfortable shoes with a flat profile for multipitch climbing.

Trad

Traditional climbing routes usually follow cracks and fissures in the rock. Climbers jam their hands and feet in these cracks while climbing, and trad climbing shoes are designed with this application in mind.

Footjams tend to work best with shoes that have a semi-flat profile and are not aggressively downturned. Jamming with aggressive or severely tight shoes is unpleasant and not especially effective.

On this list, the La Sportiva TC Pro and the Acopa Aztec are excellent trad climbing shoes. For thin cracks, we especially like the Aztec with its low-profile toebox that can squeeze into narrow fissures.

Of course, steep and powerful trad routes exist too, and sometimes aggressive shoes actually are your best bet. As always, picking shoes for the job is not a perfect science. It’s wise to be flexible with your shoe choice. Sometimes trad climbing calls for aggressive shoes, and sometimes bouldering calls for flat and stiff shoes.

Sport

Sport climbing comes in all angles and difficulties. Technically, sport climbing refers to a climbing ethic rather than a specific style. The word “sport” means something slightly different as far as shoes are concerned.

When shoes are marketed for sport climbing, they’re usually soft and aggressive, just like a pair of bouldering shoes. However, many sport climbing routes are not severely overhanging.

On vertical to slightly overhanging terrain, you’ll likely want a relatively stiff shoe with only a slight downturn. There are all kinds of sport routes out there, just know that sport climbing shoes will usually be quite soft and aggressive.

Stiff vs. Soft

Every climbing shoe exists on a spectrum from soft to stiff. A shoe’s stiffness comes from its construction. Thicker material, especially soles and midsoles, result in stiffer shoes. Meanwhile, thinner materials create a softer and generally more sensitive shoe.

The stiff/soft spectrum works just like hiking boots. Stiffer shoes offer more support and help prevent foot fatigue and soreness. Softer shoes are more pliable and sensitive, allowing you to feel the nuanced texture of the rock through the sole.

When the climbing requires you to stand on lots of minuscule footholds in more vertical terrain, stiffer shoes are most effective. For smearing or bouldering on severely overhanging rock, softer shoes are the go-to choice.

On this list, the La Sportiva TC Pro is a great stiffer shoe that can handle tiny footchips and nubbins with ease. The Scarpa Drago is a mega-soft shoe commonly known as a rubber sock. The Drago won’t work very well on technical and vertical terrain, but it’s perfect for steep overhangs or indoor competitions.

man rock climbing
Photo credit: Scarpa

Shoe Profile: Aggressive vs. Flat

Aggressive climbing shoes have a downturned sole that looks and feels similar to a claw. Thanks to this shape, aggressive shoes are great for climbing overhanging rock. Usually, aggressive shoes are also better for toe hooking and heel hooking.

Flat shoes tend to be more comfortable than aggressive shoes, as they keep your foot in a more neutral position. Flat shoes are great for beginners.

When climbers are just starting out, an aggressive profile will probably create more pain and distraction than actual climbing benefit. For this same reason, flat shoes are most climbers’ preferred option for long multipitch routes.

Closure System

Rock climbing shoes typically feature one of three closure-system styles: laces, Velcro, or slipper. Some shoe models, like the Evolv Defy, come in more than one closure style. Though a closure system may seem like a minor detail, it can actually be an important factor to consider when choosing climbing shoes.

Laces

Laces are the classic closure system for just about all kinds of footwear. On climbing shoes, laces require a little extra time compared to Velcro or slippers. That said, laces allow you to thoroughly customize the fit of your climbing shoes.

For example, climbers with a wide toebox can keep the laces in that area slightly looser to accommodate their foot shape. Lace-ups are versatile. They can be kept loose for long multipitch routes or cinched up aggressively for increased precision.

Velcro

Velcro closures are quick and efficient to use. However, it can be difficult to create a precise fit with only a few straps. Also, Velcro straps can sometimes hinder a shoe’s toe hooking ability and can come undone while foot jamming in cracks.

On this list, the Scarpa Boostic employs a unique closure system that integrates the shoe’s straps directly into the structure of the shoe. The result is an impressively customizable fit.

Slipper

A well-fitted pair of climbing slippers can be comfortable, convenient, and excellent for smearing and jamming. However, because slippers rely on elastic fabric to create a precise fit, they tend to stretch out and become less effective over time.

On this list, the Scarpa Drago is essentially a slipper, though it does have a single Velcro strap which helps maintain the shoe’s integrity over time.

Parts of a Climbing Shoe

The primary parts of a climbing shoe are the sole, midsole, closure system, rand, and upper. Each part has a specific role to play in the shoe’s construction, and each can have an effect on overall performance.

Upper

The largest component of a climbing shoe’s construction is called the upper, which covers the top and sides of your foot. Climbing shoe uppers are made of either leather or synthetic material. Neither is strictly better, but they do each have unique strengths and weaknesses.

Leather uppers stretch and conform to the shape of your foot. If you’re interested in a shoe made from leather, you can purchase a slightly smaller size under the assumption it will stretch and expand.

On this list, the Acopa Merlin is built with a robust leather upper. Though the Merlin feels a bit stiff and uncomfortable right out of the box, it will stretch and become well-fitted over time.

Synthetic uppers do not stretch, and they will generally maintain their original shape in the long term. When purchasing synthetic shoes, it’s important to make sure you buy the exact size and fit you want, as it will not change over time.

Another benefit of synthetic uppers is they can be quite thin without sacrificing durability. On this list, the Scarpa Boostic includes a very thin, lightweight upper made from Alcantara fabric. This subtle feature adds sensitivity to the Boostic’s performance without adding weight or decreasing durability.

Climbing Shoe Soles

As a primary point of contact between the climber and the rock, the sole is a crucial part of any climbing shoe.

In 2021, all climbing shoes feature sticky rubber soles. Some shoe manufacturers make various types of rubber for various climbing applications.

For example, some La Sportiva shoes include XS Grip 2 rubber, while others include EX Edge. The softer, rubber-like XS Grip will be ultra-sticky, but it will also wear down quickly. Meanwhile, the slightly harder rubber-like XS Edge is less sticky but a bit more durable.

There is a lot of debate in the climbing shoe world about which shoes have the best rubber. All of the shoes we have included on this list come with quality, highly capable soles.

Fit and Sizing

Properly fitting a pair of climbing shoes is a puzzling task. Every shoe manufacturer seems to fit their shoes according to their own unique system. Often, sizing will even vary from style to style within a single brand’s lineup. Ideally, the best way to choose the right size is to physically try on the shoes.

How tight or loose to wear climbing shoes will depend on your needs as a climber. Generally, climbers like to fit their shoes tightly when trying routes that are challenging for them. A tight fit ensures minimal negative space within the shoe. A tightly fitted shoe will slightly curl the toes, which helps to channel power into the toe edge when standing on small foot holds.

However, the performance benefits of tightly fitted shoes come at the cost of discomfort. Your feet do not want to be held in an unnatural position, and tight shoes will need to be regularly taken off during your session to give your feet a break.

There is nothing wrong with sizing your climbing shoes for comfort. Beginner climbers especially should prioritize comfort over an aggressive fit. For long sessions at the gym or all-day multipitch routes, you don’t want to worry about nagging pain and foot cramps.

Value

All of the climbing shoes on this list are high-quality, though they do range wildly in price. Typically, entry-level climbing shoes lack specialized features and cost quite a bit less than high-performance models.

For beginner-level climbing shoes like the Evolv Defy or La Sportiva Tarantulace, you can expect to pay between $75 and $110. With thicker soles and heavier materials, much of the value of entry-level shoes comes from their long-lasting durability. On this list, the La Sportiva Tarantulace is our pick for the best budget climbing shoe.

High-performance climbing shoes are significantly more expensive than entry-level options. Specialty features like toe hooking rubber, a downturned profile, and added arch support boost a shoe’s performance capabilities.

On this list, shoes like the Acopa Merlin ($190) and the Tenaya Mastia ($200) represent some of the most expensive options on the market.

tenaya mastia closeup
Photo credit: Amazon

Men’s and Women’s Versions

Some climbing shoe styles, like the La Sportiva Tarantulace, come in both a men’s and women’s version. Generally, men’s versions are a bit wider and higher volume than women’s versions. Sometimes, men’s versions also feature harder and stiffer rubber compounds than women’s.

Every climber has a unique foot shape. Many men find that women’s versions of climbing shoes are a better fit, and vice versa.

FAQ

What Are the Best Climbing Shoes?

The best climbing shoes are the ones that best fit your needs as a climber. All of the shoes on this list are great options, and we have included models that are well-suited to various climbing disciplines.

Which Climbing Shoes Should I Get as a Gift for Someone Else?

Unless you are absolutely sure the recipient will fit into a specific style and size of climbing shoes, it’s best to have them try shoes on before purchasing. If you’re looking for climbing shoes for a beginner climber, the Evolv Defy or La Sportiva Zenit are excellent choices.

Are Climbing Shoes Expensive?

Climbing shoes range from around $75 to $200 per pair.

How Long Do Climbing Shoes Last?

Climbing shoes with thicker soles and heavier materials, like the Acopa Merlin, tend to last longer than softer, thinner shoes. That said, a regularly worn pair of climbing shoes will last anywhere between 3 months and 2 years. The sole of a climbing shoe usually wears out first, but soles can be replaced by a qualified resoler for around $60.

Are Climbing Shoes Comfortable?

If fitted appropriately, climbing shoes can be quite comfortable. Every climber has their own unique fit preferences. While a tighter fit tends to offer the highest level of performance for elite climbers, it’s not always necessary to wear tight climbing shoes. For beginner and intermediate climbers, we recommend prioritizing comfort over an aggressive fit.


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Austin Beck-Doss
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Austin Beck-Doss regularly relocates according to whichever climbing area is in season. In addition to covering gear and the outdoor industry for GearJunkie, he enjoys writing about music, culture, and personal observations from time spent in the natural world.