10 Best Climbing Shoes (Buyer's Guide)

Author: Jovana Subic. Updated: .

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.

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.

Popular climbing shoes aren't the better rated ones

67 70 73 76 79 82 85 88 91 94 97 100
High Popularity Low
10 best shoes
43 most popular shoes

5 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
  • Comfort is not necessarily the king
  • Pick the appropriate shoe type based on your climbing needs
  • Try the climbing shoe in-store and on the wall
  • Understand your shoe’s anatomy

1. Shop for shoes late in the afternoon

Feet tend to swell late in the day. To get the best fit, make sure to try on the shoes in the afternoon.

2. 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.

3. Pick the appropriate shoe type based on your climbing needs

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.

4. 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.

5. Understand your 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

pros.png cons.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

pros.png cons.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 is achieved while having the ability to tighten the shoes up for a better fit.

The best climbing shoes in every category

Which climbing shoes brand has better reviews?

See 3 more

Which brand is cheaper?

Ocun $109
Boreal $130
Evolv $133
So iLL $139
Butora $150
See 3 more

Now, are you ready to buy climbing shoes?

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.

jovana@runrepeat.com