10 Best Climbing Shoes in 2021

Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic on
10 Best Climbing Shoes in 2021

Nowadays, thrill-seeking rock jocks have hundreds of choices when it comes to climbing shoes. While having a lot of options has its pros, this makes the task of picking the RIGHT one a nightmare.

Lucky you, RunRepeat has everything you need - from the list of best climbing shoes to the nitty-gritty climbing shoe basics.

We have reviewed over 100 pairs to seek out the top choices for you. No matter if you are a beginner or a more advanced climber going on some steep terrain, we’ve got a recommendation for you.

How we test and review the best climbing shoes

If you haven’t noticed yet, RunRepeat is an ad-free, pop-up-free site. Unlike others that promote shoes based on what gives them higher commissions, our list consists of top-rated shoes based on reviews from 600+ trusted experts and 3,000+ reliable users who have tested the shoes through the wringer.

As an added bonus, each shoe is given a CoreScore ranging from 0-100. Rather than rating it based on what the brand dictates, the scores reflect the combined opinions of both users and experts.

Best overall

Where do we begin on this one? Make no mistake, we ask this with purely positive intentions. We consider the Scarpa Instinct our overall top pick because it is just THAT excellent!

Its sticking prowess is through the roof. We took on this semi-advanced route indoors, and we were heel- and toe-hooking as if the shoe’s rubber was electromagnetic! Outdoors, same thing—we found ourselves ascending with zero slippage.

When it comes to edging, we were still in awe after climbing in the Instinct VS several times. Even on tiny ripples on rock, the shoe allowed us to ascend like champs. Indoors, micro nubbins were a cinch, too, in this bad boy.

Now get this: The Scarpa Instinct VS is amazingly comfy. Have you ever sent a difficult route before only to find yourself wanting to pluck off your shoe soon after? This isn’t the case with the Instinct VS. After masterfully completing a few semi-advanced boulder problems, we didn’t feel the need to free our feet from the Instinct VS.

The fit is also something to write home about. We didn’t encounter any dead spots anywhere in the Instinct VS. It does allow for some stretching, but this allowance we found to be purely for comfort purposes.

Mark our words—the Scarpa Instinct VS will blow your mind as it did ours. It is not the budget-friendliest climbing shoe out there, but, man oh man, this is the real deal!

See our full review and facts

If you’ve been meaning to take your beginner game to the next level, we can confidently recommend the Katana Lace from La Sportiva.

An Adam-Ondra-tested climbing shoe, the Katana Lace was quite comfortable to climb in. Its lining was plush without giving that velvety feeling, even with sweaty feet! Its full midsole also did its job well with supporting our feet, allowing us to finish our sets minus the tired legs.

It is one versatile beast, too. We used it on multi-size edges, and we had no complaints. On smears, the Katana Lace gave us a big grin on our faces. But perhaps the highlight here is its ability to scale cracks. Its moderate stiffness and sufficient randing allowed us to negotiate less-than-fist-size fissures like kings.

Through hard beatings and multiple indoor and outdoor sends, the Katana Lace is a workhorse. Given our time with it, we only noticed a few dents on its leather upper. We found no life-threatening scratches on its hard-wearing outsole, either.

Now, you might find its closure (lace-up) a bit challenging to put up with at first, but once you get the groove on, you’ll get a glove-like shoe in it.

It could be less expensive, in our books. Nevertheless, the Katana Lace is something that can level up your sending experience if our best of the best (a.k.a. the Scarpa Instinct VS) is not an option.

See our full review and facts

Best for beginners

We all need to start somewhere, right? Whether you wish to begin your climbing adventures indoors or outdoors, we highly recommend you do so in the Mythos.

We found this neutral wonder the perfect entry-level climbing shoe, and a huge part of that is thanks to its wear-all-day comfort. We didn’t feel the need to take it off after every short climb, even outdoors. Your tootsies will feel right at home in its unlined leather upper—that’s for sure!

Its all-around performance is sure to impress you. We link its versatility to its full randing and moderately stiff outsole. While it did us good on edges (the regular-size ones, in particular), the La Sportiva Mythos surprised us more in medium cracks.

Before we forget: The Mythos is also a force of nature in the grip department. We heel-hooked and smeared in it, and all we can say is that not once did we lost purchase.

As for longevity, the La Sportiva Mythos is among the best. While in photos, its flappy leather upper looks flimsy, in reality, it isn’t. Case in point: The shoe came out without major dents on its randing and outsole after our daily boulder grind outdoors!

It is moderately pricey, but everything the Mythos has in store is just irresistibly good, especially for beginners.

See our full review and facts

“Mesmerizingly comfortable!” that’s what we blurted out when we got in the Butora Endeavor for the first time. It was almost like wearing a pair of sneakers, save for the slight inward bend (asymmetry) in its construction.

Edging in the Endeavor was quite convincing. Its forefoot held its own on nubbins, giving us more than enough support to pull off lateral transitions without breaking a sweat.

Speaking of sweat, we did end up soaking our feet in the Endeavor, but not because it was not breathable. Anyway, the highlight here is that we didn’t get stinky feet after one whole day of sending low-level routes in the gym.

Although some folks say that it stretches a little bit with time, we didn’t notice any at all in our pairs. This can be taken as good news because you can get this in the size familiar to you and not be swimming in it after months of use.

Getting in the shoe is also among the Endeavor’s best features. Its split tongue and generous collar opening made gaining access inside the shoe simply astonishing.

And let’s not forget how affordable it is. At just about $100 MSRP, you can begin your initial sends with surefootedness and pampered tootsies all day!

See our full review and facts

Best for trad climbing

What’s the perfect climbing shoe for trad climbing, you ask? We answer resoundingly and without a single doubt—TC Pro!

Co-designed by professional climber Tommy Caldwell, the TC Pro (yes, TC stands for his name!) delights in edges. We mounted on micro edges and pointy nubbins alike, and we tiptoed on all of them like real pros!

The shoe’s skill in dealing with fissures is as spectacular as its prowess in handling edges. Despite its medium stiffness, the shoe got us inside irregular cracks (outdoors) and made us hold our bearings for longer. This is absolutely great when you need more time to place your cams in fissures safely.

Oh, and have we told you how comfy it is yet? Its lined leather upper plus sufficiently rigid sole unit pampered every inch of our feet as we dealt with ledges and smears on the more treacherous parts of the route.

Now, it would be a crime not to talk about the TC Pro’s mid-height collar here. While our ankles felt right at home inside it, its supportiveness was what made us believers. Extra collar support is a rarity in climbing shoes, so if you have wobbly ankles, the TC Pro is a must-have in your trad-specific quiver!

See our full review and facts

The moment we laid our eyes on Evolv’s The General, we thought we would have a hard time in it mobility-wise. Boy, we were wrong! Its high-top construction did add protection during our trad ascents, but not at the expense of freedom of movement!

On smears, The General was stellar. We were able to work our way through steep routes with impressive surface traction. The shoe’s outsole is quite sticky indeed.

What about standing on edges? Evolv’s The General is also outstanding in this regard. We didn’t feel the need to get the job done in haste because we were able to mount on both tiny edges and dimples effortlessly in it.

Now, The General will not be ranked this highly on RunRepeat without it being comfortable. We are happy to report that this Evolv climbing shoe gave us comfort in the entirety of our multi-pitch adventures. We also found ourselves hanging around in them (not removing them) after the fact for a few more hours!

Last but not least, we give props to The General’s patterned toe rand. It gave us not only confidence while toe hooking but also more than enough abrasion protection on extra-rough granite boulders outdoors.

See our full review and facts

Best for steep terrain

After testing 100+ top-quality climbing shoes, the Solution from La Sportiva has got to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) when it comes to steep climbing performance.

On verticals, we found the Solution propelling us ever upwards. Its superiority in edging gave us blind confidence on the tiniest of nubbins, while its smearing prowess translated to remarkable purchase where no sag nor dimple was in sight.

In terms of heel-hooking and toeing, the La Sportiva Solution was a beast. As we zig-zagged our way through this one steep route, we were relying mostly on our heels and toes. The entire experience was a dream in that we gained purchase every single time!

We also want to give props to the Solution’s no-pop-off fit. While slipping into it was mildly tricky, once your tootsies are inside it, your feet will remain in place, even during the most daring of heel-hooks and toe-hooks.

In the area of comfort, we implore you to give it some time. After a few sends in it, the stiffness, while it didn’t really go away, worked for us instead of against us. It also gave us that kind of plushness as if we were one with the shoe after the honeymoon phase.

The Solution is our go-to shoe for anything steep, period!

See our full review and facts

Wanna make verticals and steep routes less intimidating the Scarpa way? Then the Drago is what we recommend.

We’ve gone through hundreds of aggressive climbing shoes, and we find the Drago among the best in the comfort department. Its synthetic upper without a liner worked for us, as is its moderate flexibility. Yes, we didn’t get tired in the Drago after hours of face climbing.

As far as sensitivity was concerned, the Scarpa Drago was fantastic. We could feel the difference in features between footholds, whether around the upper or underfoot, without that intrusive pressure.

At no more than 400 g a pair, the Drago is among the lightest bunch. This virtual weightlessness wowed us as we heel-hooked our way across this advanced route in the gym. It felt like we were wearing nothing!

Another impressive thing about the Scarpa Drago is its Vibram outsole. We were especially floored by how sticky the heel was—it got us side-hooking like goats, making us gain elevation on tricky footholds outdoors.

And before we forget: The Scarpa Drago surprised us during our bouldering project as well. The randing on its upper we found to be engineered at a very advantageous angle for lateral (sideways) smearing.

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

The Scarpa Origin is an absolute steal! When we saw its price tag, which read $95, for the first time, we couldn’t believe our eyes! But past its amazingness price-wise, the Origin has a lot to give.

Mountable features are its forte, if we’re being quite honest. In the gym, medium-size footholds were super-easy to get on. It’s the Origin’s combination of stiffness and responsiveness that made us feel connected and planted on every ledge we could land our feet on. And although it’s not a downturned kick, it provided us more than enough confidence on micro edges.

Part of the Origin’s impressive value is also found in its resplendent supply of comfort. We did several boulder problems, edging and smearing our way to the top, and we encountered no pain or pinching at all.

Glove-like is also a term that we would use to describe the Scarpa Origin. From the get-go, the shoe felt like it was made for our regular-to-moderately-bulky feet. Dead zone and heel lift were also not encountered in our stint with the Origin.

Durability-wise, the Origin rocks, too. A number of sends in, both indoors and outdoors, and it still looks quite new (minus a few smudges and surface-level scrapes).

See our full review and facts

As far as wallet-friendly climbing shoes are concerned, the La Sportiva Tarantulace is simply brilliant. It has that feast-your-eyes price of no more than $90, which made us have a second look when we first laid our eyes on it.

On the wall, it shone the brightest when we tested it on low-level boulder challenges. After several runs, we were convinced that the Tarantulace is an easy pick for beginner climbers.

Now, speaking of comfort, the Tarantulace gave us pampered feet on day one—no hotspots or discomfort due to pinching. Its break-in-free lined leather upper we believe was the star of the show in this area.

We put the La Sportiva Tarantulace through the wringer, as well. We tried smearing, heel-hooking, and edging in it multiple times, and the shoe only sustained minor dents on its heavy-duty randing. We are pretty confident that it will last longer than most because of this.

While it is not as light as La Sportiva’s featherweight bunch, the Tarantulace made us feel like it was. We breezed through our ascents without ever being held back. Whatever La Sportiva did here weight-wise, they have to do it again in future kicks!

It could use a bit more stickiness overall, but given its combination of affordability and beginner-friendliness, the Tarantulace deserves to be that blip on your radar!

See our full review and facts

3 smart tips to find the RIGHT climbing shoe

Ideally, your climbing shoe needs to match the type of rock formation in your next send. There is, however, no one definite rule to tell you which one would suit you best. Thankfully, there are a couple of tips worth keeping in mind to help jumpstart your hunt.

  • Shop for shoes late in the afternoon. Feet tend to swell late in the day.
  • Comfort is not necessarily the king
  • Try the climbing shoe in-store and on the wall

Prioritize performance over comfort

Hiking shoes, runners, and sneakers prioritize comfort over other things. Climbing shoes, on the other hand, are made to perform in the type of route you want to climb. 

If you are a tenderfoot in this sport, you will do well with flat-lasted, straight yet snug-fitting entry-level rock climbing shoes. This will allow you to focus more on learning the basics. Apart from this bit of advice, here are a few more pointers worth keeping in mind:

Forget about your standard street shoe size

The general advice is to start with a shoe that is at least a size smaller than your regular shoe size. 

Note: More often than not, when fitting climbing shoes, you’ll need to try on a range of sizes. Sizing systems also vary for each brand, so expect a size 5 shoe from Black Diamond to fit differently from a size 5 Boreal shoe.

Take your foot shape into account

Some would complain about pain simply because their shoes feel tight in the wrong areas. To avoid this, get to know your feet and make sure to find a shoe that matches its shape.

  • If you have skinny or slender feet or a small heel cup, look for low volume or women’s climbing shoes. Scarpa and La Sportiva are among the brands that offer the best climbing shoes for narrow feet.

When it comes to shape, there are 3 types: Egyptian, Greek, and Roman. Ocun makes it a point to include this helpful fact in their product description. 

Foot shape types.png

Dead space is a no-no

Climbing shoes are supposed to feel tight but NOT painful. This means that the heel, toe area, and forefoot area of your shoe should not have any empty space, nor any hot spots. Toes are also expected to be curled up and close to the shoes’ front edge. 

PRO TIPS:

  • A right-fitting shoe is able to support the toes’ curled up position without pain but expect some discomfort. 
  • Really aggressive shoes can feel painful when worn for walking but the pain goes away once they are used on the rock.

Try the climbing shoe in-store and on the wall

If you are a first-timer who has never tried on a climbing shoe, buying the same model that your friend is wearing isn’t actually a smart choice. What is best for your pal is not necessarily the best climbing shoe for you (unless you two have the same exact foot shape).

As mentioned earlier, climbing shoe designs differ from brand to brand. Each brand also uses different sizing systems, so sizing will vary a lot. Thus, the need to try on the shoe in-store. And while you’re at it, best to try it on the wall. 

This is especially needed if you’re trying on aggressive climbing shoes. This type of shoes may be painful while standing but once you’re on the wall, they are expected to hurt less.

3 types of climbing shoes

For a safe and successful send, it is best to find a rock climbing shoe that suits the difficulty of the crag. Cracks and overhangs would require different types of shoes, that is why it is common for one climber to own 2 or more rock shoes.

When it comes to climbing shoes, we can classify them into 3 types based on the amount of their downturn or how curved they are: Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive

Climbing shoe types.png

NOTE: The ratings are based on how each climbing shoe type performs in general. It does not apply to every model that exists. Rating will vary depending on the shoes’ make and model.

When picking the right type of rock shoe for your next send, it is also important to consider the following:

Midsole flexibility

Regardless of type, a rock shoe's midsole flexibility can range from rigid or stiff to soft. Soft climbing shoes are known for their adaptability but offer minimal support. This makes this your ideal companion for smearing and climbing steep terrains and technical overhangs. Rigid-soled rok shoes, on the one hand, feel supportive but lacks flexibility, making it the go-to shoe for vertical routes and edging. 

Those that lie in the middle of the spectrum are shoes that have a medium-stiff sole. With the right shape, these type of shoes provides reliable performance for both crack and technical climbing thanks to its flexible and supportive sole.

Outsole thickness

The thickness of the sole dictates the shoe’s sensitivity, not to mention its durability. 

Thin-soled shoes, with a thickness of around 3-4mm, are the most sensitive. This feature lets your feet feel every nub or hold on the rock’s surface. Given its construction, expect this to wear out sooner than thick-soled climbing shoes.

On the other hand, rock shoes with a sole that is around 4-5.5mm thick lack sensitivity but are more durable and supportive. Beginners are often recommended to choose this type of shoe since it lasts longer.

Understanding your climbing shoe’s anatomy

As a newbie, thinking about the materials that make the best climbing shoes the best is not really necessary. However, it’s something worth mentioning and worth considering.

Upper material: Leather vs Synthetic vs Hybrid

Upper Material

tick.png cross.png

Leather (Unlined)

leather unlined.png

-naturally breathable

-custom fit overtime

-inhibits the growth of funk-causing microorganisms

-stretches up to a full size overtime

-painful break in period

-loses its original shape

Hybrid/Lined

(leather + synthetic)

hybrid lined.png

-stretch is minimized in high wear areas

-fits comfortably over time as the leather materials mold to the shape of the feet

-ground sensitivity is decreased for shoes with lined toe boxes

Synthetic

synthetic.png

-little to no stretch

-provides out-of-the-box performance

-retains its shape

-less painful break in

-can be vegan-friendly

-tends to stink unless it's antimicrobial

-less breathable if not made of mesh

Closure System: Lace-up vs Slip-on vs Velcro

Closure System

tick.png cross.png

Lace-up

lace-up.png

-versatile

-lets you customize the fit

-best used when climbing cracks

-hard to slip on and take off

-laces wear off over time

Velcro

(hook-and-loop/strap)

velcro.png

-easy to wear and take off

-great for sport climbing and bouldering

-comes undone in cracks and in overhanging routes

-limited ability to dial in the fit

-straps often wear out quicker than laces

Slip-on

(slipper)

slipon.png

-comfortable

-convenient wearing

-excellent choice for cracks and slabs

-tends to stretch over time

-can't be tightened

Note: Some rock shoes use a hybrid closure, which is often a mix of Velcro and slippers. This type is becoming more and more popular since comfort and convenience are achieved while having the ability to tighten the shoes up for a better fit.

Author
Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic

Whether it's a vertical kilometre or an ultra, climbing in the Alps or exploring local mountains, Jovana uses every opportunity to trade walls and concrete for forests and trails. She logs at least 10h/week on trails, with no off-season, and 4x more on research on running and running shoes. With a background in physics and engineering management, she prefers her running spiced with data.