From trad climbing to pockets to bouldering, the best climbing shoes just keep getting better. Read on for our 2020 picks.
No other piece of gear can affect rock climbing performance more than shoes. Your feet are two of the four small contact points with the rock, and they dictate a massive portion of the forces applied to upward movement.
But finding the best rock climbing shoes can be difficult. The style of climbing, the type of rock, steepness, ability, and budget are all considerations. We’ve been testing a battery of current rock shoes for more than 2 years, ferreting out the best shoes for both sport and trad climbing.
For fit reference, I wear a size 10 men’s running shoe. I have a classic “duck foot” shape — narrow heel, wide forefoot, but thin and lower volume.
This review is specific to men’s climbing shoes. Find the best climbing shoes for women here.
The Best Climbing Shoes of 2021
Best Overall Sport Climbing Shoe: La Sportiva Solution Comp ($139 on Sale)
If I could only pack one Sport shoe, the Solution Comp would be the choice. This shoe did everything typically encountered on sport routes remarkably well: edging, pocket pulling, smearing, heel hooking, and toe hooking. They were sensitive, powerful, and comfortable enough to wear for a full rope length.
La Sportiva addressed the minor gripes I had with the wildly successful Solution with the Comp. A slimmed-down heel fit me better and provided more sensitivity, lower volume eliminated bagginess, and the extended rubber toe patch aided toe hooking.
The Solution Comp has a softer midsole than the OG version. It broke in quickly and provided a touch more sensitivity, which I welcomed even with the concomitant loss in edging ability. La Sportiva also thinned down the Vibram XS Grip2 outsole from 4 mm to 3.5 mm, further enhancing sensitivity. The Comp maintained the excellent Fast Lacing System.
This shoe was part of an effort to give every advantage to La Sportiva athletes at the 2020 Olympic Games, but I found the shoe better for the outdoors than the gym.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 3.3 oz. per pair (men’s size 9)
Best for: Sport climbing outdoors
Runner-Up Best Sport Shoe: Black Diamond Shadow ($100 on Sale)
Although one of the most established brands in climbing, Black Diamond doesn’t have the history in rock shoes like the other brands in this review. It has only produced shoes since late 2017. And while the brand’s shoes don’t demand as much media attention, the Black Shadow proved to be this editor’s top choice.
The fit was among the best we’ve experienced. The thin microfiber upper, once broken in, followed every contour. And removing the shoes consistently required overcoming a vacuum, producing the suction cup sound at the heel.
When the angles kicked back, on plastic or stone, the Shadows tackled the demands remarkably well. I could toe down on small footholds, stab pockets, claw at depressions, or smear at my local limestone sport crag with confidence. The 4.3mm Fuse molded rubber outsole adhered well on glassy features, and the rubber overlays and the low-profile heel made for sensitive and effective toe and heel hooking.
Coming in at under a pound per pair, the minimal weight of the Shadow conserved energy when the crux moves looked like a kung-fu flick.
But when the angles eased, the soft nature and tight fit of the shoe fell short — the Shadow should be reserved for routes when the draws don’t touch the cliff or the boulder casts a shadow at noon.
For more, check out the full Black Diamond Shadow review.
Verified weight: 15.2 oz. (men’s size 9.5)
Best for: High-angle routes
Best Overall Trad Shoe: La Sportiva TC Pro ($142 on Sale)
No shoe in recent history has received as much widespread attention as the La Sportiva TC Pro. It has made appearances in both “The Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo” movies, on the feet of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, respectively. But more than just a media darling, it’s a reliable and capable performer.
The TC Pro’s home is cracks. During testing, the flat toe and 1.1 mm LaspoFlex midsole eased jamming from any angle while still maintaining adequate sensitivity. And the padded upper cuff kept my bony ankles protected when I got sloppy.
The toebox’s high volume and the soft Sentex liner and AirMesh tongue kept sensitive feet from complaining late into the day. But the generous forefoot profile did hamper accessing thinner cracks.
Although the TC Pro is a trad-specific shoe, it possesses asymmetry and a pointy toe. Both aided stabbing pockets and depressions. The toe, with a Vibram XS Edge rubber outsole, paired with high midsole stiffness, made the TC Pro superb at edging on tiny crystals at my local granite area.
And a few of our trad-centric climbing partners have successfully redpointed slightly overhanging sport routes into the low 12’s in their TC Pros, making it a contender as a single, do-all pair of climbing shoes.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 6.2 oz. per pair (men’s size 9)
Best for: Overall trad climbing
Runner-Up Trad Shoe: Five Ten Grandstone ($180)
This shoe melds sport-oriented downturn and asymmetry with a proven trad shoe design. A supple and comfortable microfiber upper and the most padded ankle in the test treated my sensitive skin well.
The amount of stiffness allowed me to stand on tiny granite crystals. And after break-in, it produced ample sensitivity for smearing on even smaller irregularities.
The pointy toe and rubber patch let me jab smaller fissures and occasionally toe hook with confidence. And the downturn and asymmetry made this sport climber feel more at home when using the feet on faces at angles past vertical.
Five Ten’s cocktail of sport climbing features on a trad shoe fared well at my local (mostly singlepitch) trad climbing crag. The Grandstone aided foot techniques from the sport climbing game, but for all-day missions, the more aggressive shape may not be as comfortable for some.
For more, read our full Five Ten Grandstone review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 3.5 oz. (men’s size 10)
Best for: Overall trad climbing
Best for Sensitivity: SCARPA Furia Air ($199)
SCARPA claims that the Furia Air is the most sophisticated rock shoe ever built, which belies its minimal feeling. This shoe is as close as one can get to climbing with a rubber sock, and nothing else I’ve ever worn is as sensitive.
Eight perforated microfiber panels form the upper, creating an impeccable (and narrow) fit, without gaps or even the slightest wrinkle. A Medial Lateral Tension rand design and aggressive downturn and asymmetry paired with a 1mm Flexan midsole focused power at the big toe without excessive tension at the heel or Achilles.
SCARPA lines the toe with Alcantara, a high-tech synthetic that adapts to the shape of the foot and has a high level of friction against the skin. A minimally structured heel provided sensitivity for hooking but gave little confidence in high-torque situations.
At 11.7 ounces per pair, the Furia Air was the lightest shoe in this review by a large margin. And I could feel the difference when cutting feet.
When sensitivity is king, like on well-trafficked limestone, the SCARPA Furia Air is a focused tool. The Furia Air also makes an excellent high-end gym shoe.
Verified weight: 11.7 oz. per pair (men’s size 9.5)
Best for: Maximium sensitivity, well-trafficked limestone, gym climbing
Best for Edging: Butora Narsha ($134 on Sale)
When powering up razor edges and microcrystals, the Butora Narsha was unbeatable. This edging powerhouse has a stiff, full-length, injection-molded midsole and 3D-molded heel cup that kept the pressure on the slightest protrusions.
And the 4mm Neo Force rubber outsole refused to roll even on warmer days. The Narsha performed exceptionally well on sport routes and boulders approaching 20 degrees overhanging.
The forefoot upper is almost entirely covered by textured rubber, which delivered traction for toe hooks and scums. At the same time, a unique NFS velcro strap allowed dialing in extra tension around the big toe.
And Butora goes the extra mile to ensure a great fit; the brand offers shoes in both wide and narrow fits.
The heel rides higher, which can irritate the Achilles. And the black color combined with the amount of rubber on the top of the shoe left our feet hot on sunny days.
But when you have to squint to see the edges meant to be footholds, the Butora Narsha delivers.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 6.1 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Edging, sport, and bouldering with 20-degree overhangs
Best for Multipitch Sport Routes: Five Ten Quantum VCS ($185)
Five Ten recruited the Huber brothers to help design an all-around performance climbing shoe with all-day comfort, and the result was the Five Ten Quantum and Quantum VCS.
The Quantum VCS presents a great combination of aggressiveness and stiffness. It’s paired with a wide, comfortable last, with the convenience of double Velcro strap closures. All these attributes produce an excellent choice for long, multipitch sport routes.
A thermoplastic midsole stiffener and moderate downturn aided edging on steep routes, and the Stealth C4 rubber outsole resisted deformation and rolling. Sensitivity was adequate for all but the smallest features and improved over time.
The synthetic Clarino upper and cushioned tongue felt posh against ravaged skin, while the wide last and Velcro closures allowed adjustment for swelling feet and a reprieve at each belay.
Five Ten seems to get a fair amount of online bashing regarding durability, but my Quantum VCS has shown only expected wear and tear through regular use for a year.
For more, read our full Quantum VCS review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 3.7 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Multipitch sport routes
Best Outdoor Bouldering Shoe: Evolv Phantom ($185)
One look at the Evolv Phantom reveals it’s a laser-focused weapon aimed at high-end bouldering or sport climbing. The highly aggressive asymmetry and downturn, full-coverage rubber toe cap, and six-point compression closure system (my favorite Velcro closure in this roundup) point for the steeps and a glove-like fit.
When the angle kicked back and the footholds became less friendly, the Phantom delivered. For this type of climbing, the Abridged Variable Thickness midsole, which varies from 1 to 2 mm thick, offered the correct mixture of edging power and sensitivity.
Evolv armed the Phantom with its trademark Variable Thickness Rand, which is thinner in some areas to prevent pressure points and thicker in others to increase longevity.
The 4mm TRAX SAS outsole felt improved compared to earlier versions, particularly on low-texture plastic and limestone. And the upper on the front is completely swathed in thin rubber and made for sensitive and reliable toe hooking.
The narrow heel fit well and has thicker rubber along the center and thinner rubber on the sides. I found the combination provided structure, power, and sensitivity in heel hooking without the bulk that seems to be getting popular.
What made the Phantom more of a bouldering shoe than a sport climbing shoe for me was the fit. It’s a tad more aggressive, narrower, and tighter than shoes like the La Sportiva Solution Comp. This more compressive fit tweaked more power and sensitivity out of my foot at the cost of comfort.
For longer sport pitches, I preferred other shoes. But when the objective amounted to a handful of the hardest moves, the Evolv Phantom was the choice.
Read more in the full Evolv Phantom review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 3.9 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Outdoor bouldering
Best for Steep and Slippery: Five Ten Dragon ($160)
The high degree of downturn and asymmetry point toward the Dragon’s favored terrain: the steeps. It’s the softest shoe in Five Ten’s current lineup. That means these aren’t suitable for edging, but they’re great for high-end and high-angle sport climbing and bouldering. Pulling the hips in with the toes on the smallest of nubbins or depressions was a Dragon forte.
But lots of shoes are aggressive and soft. What made the Dragon excel at clawing up steep and often slippery limestone was Stealth HF rubber, exclusive to Five Ten.
Most of my local cliffs are limestone and well-trafficked, making some of the popular routes as smooth as glass. And Stealth HF rubber had no equal in the battle for adhesion on these nearly texture-free clip-ups.
The microfiber upper has a generous thin rubber cover over the forefoot, which makes for sensitive and effective toe hooking and scumming on steep limestone.
And fear not: These updated Dragons have a vastly improved heel, and the excruciating fit of the Dragons of old is just an unpleasant memory.
Read more in our full Five Ten Dragon review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 0.2 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Steep and slippery sport and bouldering
Best for Pockets: Tenaya Mastia ($142 on Sale)
Tenaya’s most aggressive shoe is a pocket-pulling powerhouse. The high degree of asymmetry, aggressive downturn, and super-pointy toe made for intuitive pocket stabbing. The soft, unlined construction, split sole design, and excellent sensitivity made pulling in on the lips of pockets on steep terrain feel like second nature.
A thermally molded heel cup provided just enough structure for secure heel hooking while remaining thin enough for adequate sensitivity. And a 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip outsole grabbed all but the slipperiest of holds.
Then there’s the fit. The Mastia was one of the most comfortable high-performance sport or bouldering shoes in the roundup. It felt snug and sensitive everywhere — with no overly tight areas or hot spots — right out of the box.
Finally, the low weight of the Mastia was palpable, especially during aggressive bouldering when cutting and re-establishing the feet was the beta.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 1.8 oz. per pair (men’s size 8)
Best for: Pockets, maximum comfort
The Best-Fitting Slipper: Boreal Ninja ($90 on Sale)
Some climbers prefer slip-lasted slippers for bouldering, sport climbing, and especially gym climbing. They’re usually unlined and offer a close fit while delivering sensitivity and an opportunity to strengthen foot muscles.
The Boreal Ninja was the first slip-lasted climbing shoe, and the brand released the modern version in 2019. The Ninja stands as one of the best-fitting climbing shoes tested in the last few years. The unlined microfiber upper always feels snug, connected, and stretched just enough to conform around every protrusion.
The Ninja has more structure than other slippers. The excellent and stable heel cup and half-midsole helped the Ninja heel hook and edge better than most slippers — but at the cost of sensitivity. Finally, Boreal’s Zenith Ultra outsole rubber is much improved over prior Zenith formulations.
The Ninja is the best all-around slipper for the outdoors that I have tested to date. For more, check out the full Boreal Ninja review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 1 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Anyone looking for a slipper fit
Best for Beginners: La Sportiva Tarantulace ($64 on Sale)
These are not top performers in any aspect, but they can do it all adequately. And this is precisely what a beginner needs.
The midsole was stiff enough to edge on features appropriately sized for moderate routes, but not so rigid that they lacked sensitivity. The shoe also stressed foot musculature, which is critical to advance in rock climbing.
The Tarantulace possesses a slight asymmetry and a flat profile, which made it comfortable for long training sessions or days at the cliffs. It was also capable of jamming into cracks when the opportunity arose.
Additionally, the 5mm thickness of FriXion RS rubber extended the life of the shoe, even with footwork typical of a climber still learning proper techniques.
Lastly, they’re a great value.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 4 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Entry-level climbers
Best for Trad Climbing Comfort: SCARPA Maestro Mid Eco ($189)
The supple synthetic leather upper on the Maestro Mid Eco ranked as one of the softest uppers in the entire review. The generous lacing system and higher-volume fit also added to the comfort factor, allowing for precise adjustment and no unwanted constrictions.
The Maestro Mid performed impressively across all trad climbing scenarios. The 1.4mm Tayln midsole offered good edging power and sensitivity at the same time while the level of stiffness felt right on for all-day jamming.
Although the Maestro has an extensive toe profile, the conforming nature of the upper helped coerce them into smaller cracks. But the round shape and flat and straight last made poking them into depressions or pockets at any degree of steepness difficult. This is strictly a trad shoe.
For more, check out our full SCARPA Maestro review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 7.1 oz. per pair (men’s size 10)
Best for: Trad climbing comfort
Best for Gym Bouldering: La Sportiva Theory ($142 on Sale)
If dynamic gym bouldering is your jam, the La Sportiva Theory is your shoe. This specialized weapon was designed with World Cup-style route-setting in mind.
There is noticeable softness and sensitivity. The Vibram XS Grip2 outsole varies from 4 mm thick in the areas commonly used for edging to 1.9 mm for sensitivity and conformity.
On the inside and outside edges of the outsole, the rubber wraps up from the bottom, offering more scumming options and allowing rolling the foot without a break in adhesion.
For dominating artificial terrain, there isn’t a more focused weapon.
Read more in our La Sportiva Theory review.
Verified weight: 1 lb. 2.1 oz. per pair (men’s size 9)
Best for: Gym bouldering
How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes
After a climber has progressed past the beginner stage, there isn’t one best shoe for all types of rock climbing. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a climbing shoe.
The style of climbing is a critical factor. Trad climbing and sport climbing/bouldering are the two main delineators.
And there are specific considerations within those categories. The type of rock, the angle, the grade, and personal preference are some of the aspects worth pondering.
Fit is the most important aspect of rock shoes by far. The width of both the forefoot and rearfoot, the volume, the general shape, and the amount of downturn and asymmetry that is tolerable for high-performance sport climbing and bouldering are all pieces to the puzzle.
You’ll need to balance finding a pair of comfortable shoes with the features needed to climb well.
Rock shoes are an exercise in managing compromise. More sensitivity means less stiffness, which usually means less edging power and support. A lower volume, narrow fit, with more downturn and asymmetry equates to more power at the big toe.
Back in the day, the tighter the fit, the higher performance. It was common in the ’90s for shoes to be two sizes down from street shoe sizing. But not anymore.
As you can see from the shoes in this review, these days the majority of brands will match your street size. But it’s important to note that some brands still adhere to under-sizing. Check the listed sizing in this review as a guide for each model.
Finally, there is the cost factor. Well-built shoes do last longer, and most modern rock shoes are durable.
Improper foot technique, both indoors and out, accelerates wear tremendously, so keep that in mind. It’s OK to spend less early in the learning process and then spend more on high performance shoes as foot technique advances.
Have a favorite pair of climbing shoes we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.