From big days out in Yosemite to indoor competition bouldering, we’ve identified the best climbing shoes to help you reach your climbing goals.
As the climbing 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 day one.
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 training sessions in the gym? 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 and a comparison chart that will help you navigate the complex realm of climbing shoes and make an informed purchase.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Overall
- Best Budget
- Best for Steep Sport Routes & Bouldering
- Best for Trad Climbing and Big Walls
- Best Beginner Climbing Shoe
- Best for Competition & Gym Climbing
- Best for Edging & Small Footholds
- Best for Kids
- Best of the Rest
The Best Climbing Shoes of 2022
The Katana Laces ($219) have been a tried and true climbing shoe for decades. They excel in so many styles of climbing and types of rock, and we find that we reach for them more than any other shoe in our quiver. La Sportiva recently updated the classic with a men’s and women’s version, giving both options some markedly different qualities. The women’s model features a new design and color scheme, with a sleek white and black look plus a split sole for more precision and flex for lighter climbers.
The Katana has always excelled as one of the best all-around climbing shoes. Its mildly aggressive shape is at home on steep single-pitch routes, smearing on granite slabs and toeing in on small cracks. This shoe performs exceptionally well in addition to being incredibly comfortable.
Sized slightly larger, the Katana is an excellent multipitch shoe that will give you confidence way off the deck. Sized smaller, the Katana supports the foot on even the most diminutive edges.
In short, the updated Katana Lace is our favorite all-around climbing shoe. It performs extremely well on thin cracks and small edges, justifying its high price tag for more experienced climbers who can benefit from its versatile abilities.
We tested the Katana Laces around various areas in California, from the steep granite found in Lee Vining Canyon to the finicky knobs of Tuolumne Meadows, and took them up multipitches outside of Bishop. They performed well on this terrain, and we’re confident they will keep doing so as we transition to climbing pocketed limestone later this season.
For more detail, check out our full review of the Katana Lace.
- Sizing: Best for slightly narrow feet; Most climbers size down one full size from their street shoe
- Rubber: 4mm Vibram XS Edge rubber
- Profile: Slightly downturned with subtle asymmetry
- Key features: Split sole (women’s), Narrow toe profile, P3 tension rand
- Great for thin cracks
- Great lacing system
The La Sportiva Tarantulace ($89) has been one of the top-selling climbing shoes on the market for decades. Many new climbers are drawn to the Tarantulace as their first climbing shoe purchase and for good reason. These shoes don’t specialize in any particular category or climbing style, but they are reliable, affordable, and comfortable.
During long gym sessions or all-day multi-pitch routes, the Tarantulace remains comfy and will rarely 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 durable option.
- Sizing: Best for slightly narrow feet; size down slightly from street shoe size
- Rubber: 5mm FriXion RS rubber
- Profile: Flat
- Key features: Thick rubber sole and customizable fit
- Good value
- Laces allow for a customizable fit
- Not ideal for progressing intermediate or advanced climbers
Best for Steep Sport Routes & Bouldering: Scarpa Mago
Banana-shaped and radically down-cambered, the Mago ($209) is built for a specific usage: grabbing, hooking, scumming, and toeing in on the steeps.
The latest edition of the Mago recently dropped in 2022, and we think it’s a major improvement. Designed by the legendary craftsman Heinz Mariacher, the new Mago is a master of overhanging terrain.
We tested the Mago on the steep granite and sandstone on the Colorado Front Range, and it really showed its chops on the menacing walls of Staunton State Park. The Mago’s radical asymmetry generates tons of power in the big toe, without sacrificing flexibility.
Out of the box, we immediately noticed how comfortable the footbed was for such a high-octane shoe. Even a full size down from our street shoe, the Mago never caused cramps or moments of “get-these-off-right-now” pain. The microfiber interior is surprisingly supple, and the stitching between panels is indecernible.
The Mago’s true domain is steep terrain, but it climbs well enough on technical vertical faces too. A fiberglass shank in the midsole provides a bit of support, but we definitely don’t think of the Mago as an edging shoe.
As for durability, the new Mago holds up way better than its predecessor. Even as the outsole wears, we’re still getting excellent edging and grabbing performance.
Check out our full review of the Mago for more information.
- Sizing: Midwidth toebox and narrow heel, size down one-half or full size from street shoe
- Rubber: 3.5mm of Vibram XS Grip 2
- Profile: Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive
- Key features: Microfiber lining, fiberglass midsole shank for extra stability
- Great for overhanging routes and boulders
- Thrives on heel and toe hooks
- Not ideal for technical edging
Best for Trad Climbing and Big Walls: La Sportiva TC Pro
During a recent climbing and gear-testing trip to Yosemite, we noticed a large majority of climbers in the park were wearing TC Pros ($219). Designed by legendary big-wall free climber Tommy Caldwell, the TC Pros are the best overall climbing shoe on the market.
Because rock climbing encompasses many different wall angles, crack sizes, and rock types, every shoe is bound to have its own strengths and weaknesses. However, the TC Pro performs well across the board. It can edge on tiny holds, smear on slick rock, and footjam with confidence.
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 while foot jamming or smearing. 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 was built for trad climbing on granite, 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.”
In early 2022, La Sportiva released newly redesigned TC Pros. Compared to the original model, the updated version features a more durable rand and a new olive green colorway. In our opinion, the TC Pros are now better than ever.
- Sizing: Start with your street shoe size; the TC Pro can be sized up or down depending on preference and climbing style
- Rubber: 4mm Vibram XS Edge
- Profile: Moderately downturned
- Key features: Durable peel-resistant rand, ankle-high cuff
- Versatile (with a strong preference for granite trad climbing)
- A bit heavy and clunky
Best Beginner Climbing Shoe: Evolv Defy Velcro
The Evolv Defy ($100) 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 beginners need and none of the specialty features that they 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. It’ll do the job when climbing outside, but it’s most at home in the gym. Also, the Defy tends to best fit climbers with lower volume and wider feet. Because it is leather-free, the Defy is vegan-friendly and will stretch very little.
- Sizing: Best for slightly wider feet; start with street shoe size
- Rubber: 4.2mm Trax
- Profile: Flat
- Key features: Soft liner and padded split tongue
- Great value
- Beginner-oriented yet versatile
- Velcro closure lacks precision fit
The original version of this shoe, the La Sportiva Solution ($189), 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 ($199). 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.
- Sizing: Great for climbers with a low-volume heel; size down a half or full size from street shoe
- Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip2
- Profile: Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive
- Key features: Narrow redesigned heel, soft and sensitive feel, large rubber toe patch
- Excellent for indoor climbing and competitions
- Exceptional toe hooking ability
- High-quality materials
- Soft and thin rubber sole wears out fairly quickly
Best for Edging & Small Footholds: Scarpa Boostic
The beloved Scarpa Boostic ($210) was fully redesigned in 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 Scarpa understand that 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.
For more detail, check out our full review of the Scarpa Boostic.
- Sizing: Size down a half size from street shoe
- Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram XS Edge
- Profile: Highly downturned and asymmetric
- Key features: Stiff yet sensitive underfoot feel, durable Alcantara upper
- Unparalleled power on small footholds
- Supportive yet sensitive
- High-quality materials
Best Climbing Shoe for Kids: Evolv Venga
The Evolv Venga ($80) 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.
- Sizing: Start with street shoe size
- Rubber: 4.2mm Trax SAS
- Profile: Flat and asymmetric
- Key features: Available in a wide range of youth sizes
- Good value
- Stable and precise
- Not ideal for heel and toe hooking
Best of the Rest
The precise and aggressive Tenaya Indalo ($210) is 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 Indalo on the pocket-covered sport climbs of Wild Iris, Wyoming. Even in thin one- and two-finger pockets, the sharp toebox shape allowed us to apply maximum power to the big toe and flow through delicate and powerful sequences.
Inside the Indalo, a padded 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 Indalo is quite pliable. It’s not mega soft like the La Sportiva Solution Comp, but it does offer enough support to keep your feet from aching on long, footwork-intensive pitches.
Straight out of the box, the Indalo feels a bit narrow in the toebox. After a few sessions, we found that the Indalo conformed nicely to our foot shape.
Once broken in, 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. The updated closure system makes it easy to fine-tune the fit.
The impressive comfort of the Indalo makes it a 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 Indalo will be an especially worthy addition to your kit.
For more detail, check out our full review of the Tenaya Indalo.
- Sizing: Despite the semi-narrow toebox, this shoe runs large. Size down at least one full size from your street shoe
- Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip
- Profile: Downturned and aggressive
- Key features: Pointy toe, split sole construction
- Ideal for long, complex routes with various styles and hold types — thrives on pockets
- Top-notch heel and toe hooking
- Not ideal for super wide feet
Right out of the box, these shoes from Acopa are clearly heavy-duty and robust. Compared to the soft-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 the La Sportiva Solution Comp.
Though we were skeptical at first due to this shoe’s thick and sturdy appearance, its climbing ability left us immediately impressed. We tested these shoes on the coastal sandstone 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.
- Sizing: Size down a half size from street shoe
- Rubber: Original Acopa RS Rubber
- Profile: Moderately downturned with a split sole
- Key features: Cotton liner, stiff midsole, split sole construction
- Powerful on small edges
- High-quality materials
- Not the most sensitive
- Requires a break-in period to achieve peak performance
In 2021, Five Ten replaced its long-standing Anasazi dynasty with a three-shoe NIAD (Nose in a Day) lineup— the Lace, VCS, and Moccasym. We tested the Five Ten NIAD Lace (1$150) over a month of spring climbing on the pink crystalline granite in Central Texas. Our verdict? It’s a flat-lasted shoe with all-day comfort, excellent edging ability, and the legendary stickiness of Stealth C4 rubber – all for a fair price.
The acronym stands for Nose in a Day, which seemed appropriate for the lace-up version due to its flat profile and immediate all-day fit. (“The Nose” on El Cap is 31 pitches.) The size 10 NIAD Lace (verified 1 pound, 3.4 ounces per pair) had a very snug but pain-free fit on a size 10 “duck foot;” a narrow heel, wide forefoot but thin vertically.
It was instantly comfortable enough to wear for an entire one-hour assault on a slightly overhanging granite boulder. We didn’t experience any cramps or hotspots.
The shoe did break in over a few weeks to become more pliable, but the dimensions of the shoe remained consistent. The partially lined suede microfiber upper and generously padded tongue were pleasant right out of the box.
One glaring shortcoming of the original Anasazi line was the fit of the heel. It was odd, baggy, and nonconforming, and that’s being nice. The new NIAD heel is none of those. The Five Ten NIAD Lace has a nice narrow heel that will create minimal negative space for most climbers.
Other nuanced improvements in fit revealed themselves throughout testing. In a nutshell, Five Ten minimized loose areas compared to the Anasazi line. Noticeable changes included the internal volume around the top of the arch, a common area of bagginess in the old Anasazi.
For more detail, check out our full review of the 5.10 NIAD VCS.
- Sizing: Good for climbers with a narrow heel and wide toebox. We recommend sticking with you street shoe size or sizing up one half size.
- Rubber: 3.5mm Stealth C4
- Profile: Minor downturn with a straight and symmetrical shape
- Key features: Very sticky rubber, Soft microfiber upper
- Good value
- Not very sensitive
- Not ideal for super steep terrain
With its thin profile and large rubber toe patch, the Scarpa Vapor Lace ($195) is a crack climbing workhorse. These shoes are a retooled update on an old Scarpa classic, and they’ve quickly become our go-to for hard trad routes.
The Vapors 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 technical trad climbing, we found they work quite well for steeper terrain too. Even bouldering felt natural in these, especially on problems that required scumming 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 Vapor performs exceptionally well on offset cracks, laybacks, and flaring seams. We recently tried these shoes on a sport climbing project with a flared crux toe jam. The Vapors were the key to the redpoint.
Despite the slight downturn, the Vapor has a natural shape that is comfortable enough to wear all day o a multipitch. When jamming in flaring cracks or pinched-off corners, the generous toe rubber patch adds lots of friction and inspires extra confidence during delicate movements.
Though the classic lace-up tension system works just fine on the Vapor, 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 trad shoe — especially when the cracks get thin.
- Sizing: Go with your street shoe size for optimal fit
- Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram XS Edge
- Profile: Mildly downturned with a touch of asymmetry
- Key features: Narrow toebox height, large rubber toe patch for scums, hooks, and jams
- Narrow toe box height is great for jamming thin cracks
- High-quality materials
- The lacing system ends near the midfoot
Climbing Shoe Comparison Table
|Climbing Shoe||Price||Rubber||Profile||Key features|
|La Sportiva Katana Lace||$219||4mm Vibram XS Edge||Slightly downturned with subtle asymmetry||Split sole (women’s only), Narrow toe profile, P3 tension rand|
|La Sportiva Tarantulace||$89||5mm FriXion RS rubber||Flat||Durable materials and comfortable fit|
|Scarpa Mago||$209||3.5mm of Vibram XS Grip 2||Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive||Microfiber lining, fiberglass midsole shank for extra stability|
|La Sportiva TC Pro||$219||4mm Vibram XS Edge||Moderately downturned||Moderately downturned|
|Evolv Defy Velcro||$100||4.2mm Trax||Flat||Soft liner and padded split tongue|
|La Sportiva Solution Comp||$189||3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2||Asymmetrical, downturned, and aggressive||Narrow redesigned heel, soft and sensitive feel, large rubber toe patch|
|Scarpa Boostic||$210||3.5mm Vibram XS Edge||Downturned and asymmetric||Stiff yet sensitive underfoot feel, durable Alcantara upper|
|Evolv Venga||$80||4.2mm Trax SAS||Flat and slightly asymmetric||Breathable mesh upper, simple velcro closure system|
|Tenaya Indalo||$210||3.5mm Vibram XS Grip||Downturned and asymmetric||Pointy toe, split sole construction|
|Acopa Merlin||$189||Original Acopa RS Rubber||Moderately downturned with a split sole||Cotton liner, stiff midsole, split sole construction|
|5.10 NIAD VCS||$150||3.5mm Stealth C4||Minor downturn with a straight and symmetrical shape||Very sticky rubber, soft microfiber upper|
|Scarpa Vapor Lace||$195||3.5mm Vibram XS Edge||Mildly downturned with a touch of asymmetry||Narrow toebox height, large rubber toe patch for scums, hooks, and jams|
Why You Should Trust Us
To put together this list of the best climbing shoes, the GearJunkie team rigorously tested dozens of models. Our testing involved many months of trial and observation.
While we made sure to test popular models from major brands such as 5.10 and La Sportiva, we also tested shoes from smaller up-and-coming brands. We looked at popular long-standing models and 2022 season newcomers. With every model, we assessed comfort, performance, durability, and overall value.
We tested shoes all over the US and beyond – from the slick limestone of Central Texas to the slabby Granite of Squamish, BC. In the gym, we wore shoes on competition-style boulder problems, overhanging training boards, low-angle slabs, and everything in between.
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 2022, 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.
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 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.
As of 2022, 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 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, 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 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.
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 Scarpa Vapor Lace 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 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 sports 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 La Sportiva Solution Comp is a mega-soft shoe commonly known as a “rubber sock.” The Comp won’t work very well on technical and vertical terrain, but it’s perfect for steep overhangs or indoor competitions.
Shoe Profile: Aggressive vs. Flat
Aggressive climbing shoes have a downturned shape 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 multi-pitch routes.
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 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 multi-pitch routes or cinched up aggressively for increased precision.
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.
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 La Sportiva Solution Comp 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.
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 Rubber
As a primary point of contact between the climber and the rock, the rubber outsole is a crucial part of any climbing shoe.
In 2022, all climbing shoes feature sticky rubber soles. As a general rule, soft and thin rubber outsoles are better for steep routes and bouldering. Soft rubber is sticker, and the thinner the outsole, the easier it is to feel the texture of the footholds underfoot. While soft and thin outsoles can be great, they also tend to wear out quickly. It’s a bummer to pay $200+ for a shoe that runs out of rubber after 4 months – but that’s the price climbers pay for top-notch performance.
On the other end of the spectrum, harder, thicker outsoles are ideal for vertical routes with tiny footholds. On the infamous Dawn Wall on El Capitan, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson utilized La Sportiva TC Pros with firm rubber outsoles to stick to minuscule quartz crystal footholds. Harder rubber compounds also tend to last longer before they require resole or replacement.
Some shoe manufacturers make multiple types of rubber for various climbing applications. For example, some La Sportiva shoes include XS Grip 2 rubber, while others include XS Edge. The softer, rubber-like XS Grip is ultra-sticky and soft, but also wears down quickly. Meanwhile, the slightly harder XS Edge rubber is less sticky but a bit more durable in the long term. Many other shoe brand including Tenaya and Scarpa also use XS Edge and XS Grip rubber.
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 footholds.
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 multi-pitch routes, you don’t want to worry about nagging pain and foot cramps.
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 $120. 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.
Men’s and Women’s Versions
Some climbing shoe styles, like the La Sportiva Tarantulace, come in both men’s and women’s versions. 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.
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 is an excellent choice.
Are Climbing Shoes Expensive?
Climbing shoes range from around $75 to $220 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 between 3 months and 2 years. The rubber outsole of a climbing shoe usually wears out first, but rubber 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 uber-tight climbing shoes. For beginner and intermediate climbers, we recommend prioritizing comfort over an aggressive fit.