Nowadays, outdoorsy individuals have more options when it comes to choosing their pair of rock climbing shoes. They are available in different designs, bearing various innovative technologies that aim to boost performance, whether climbing indoors or overcoming tricky crags. There are shoes specifically made to stick well on plastics (commonly used in gyms) while some are specialized to excel in challenging outdoor routes. Thanks to the wide selection of rock climbing shoes, you will surely be able to find one that suits your needs.
Things to know about the best rock climbing shoes
Best climbing shoes - November 2019
There is no similar rock formation, hence the search for a do-it-all climbing shoe (in all disciplines) may still be a long way. However, considering the type of terrain will help you determine which is the best pair for you. This section will discuss some disciplines of climbing and what shoe characteristics you should look for.
Rock shoes for trad climbing
Traditional or trad climbing is a risky endeavor that requires precision for a safer and more successful send. You need shoes that will be able to provide you comfort yet will not sacrifice performance. Most climbers use trad shoes that are symmetrical and have a low-to-moderate downturn. This design allows them to push on edges and cracks without the discomfort of aggressive rock shoes. It is also recommended to get shoes that will give you a more relaxed fit that will allow your toes to move rather than a pair that puts all your power to the toes. Commonly, these are neutral shoes that have a stiff midsole and flat profile that will give you all-day performance and comfort. However, for steeper and more technical terrain, you may be needing a fully-cambered shoe for better footwork.
Climbing shoes for sport routes
Sport climbing is as technical as trad climbing except that it relies on permanent anchors already fixed on the route. Some climbs are short but taxing. Hence, users require a shoe that provides excellent ground sensitivity and performance. Some climbers opt for a not-so-stiff shoe with low-to-moderate downturn as long as they can stick to barely-there nubbins and accomplish tough routes.
Bouldering can be done both indoors and outdoors and have varying difficulty levels. With that said, this activity requires a climbing shoe that can smear, edge, and toe- and heel-hook effectively. Often, bouldering shoes are aggressively downturned (banana-shaped) as this profile gives users claw-like toes allowing them to hook and edge with precision. This design is performance-focused, so it sacrifices comfort. Shoes used for bouldering routes or problems are also incorporated with a generous amount of forefoot rubber for stickiness and enhanced durability. The most common closure system used in this type is Velcro as they are easy to slip on and off.
Some performance-oriented qualities of good rock climbing shoes
Edging is a climbing technique where you use the “edges” of your shoe to gain a foothold. Usually, the inside edge (part beneath the big toe) is used to grip on the smallest bumps on the terrain. The ability of your shoe to edge excellently plays a big role in the success of your send. Some brands formulate their sticky compound while others collaborate with known brands to create an adherent rubber. Rock climbing shoes with a stiff midsole and aggressive rubber offer great edging prowess as they provide a stable and solid platform. This design will allow your foot to grab even on minute edges.
Soft rock climbing shoes provide a high level of sensitivity. They are usually flexible and use less-aggressive rubber to allow your foot to feel every knob underfoot. Wearing a sensitive shoe will also help you smear, thus enabling you to propel yourself upwards confidently.
Toe- and heel-hooking performance
The inside of good rock climbing shoes should provide a snug fit (not tight) at the toe and heel, eliminating any dead spaces. If your toes and heel move around the shoe, it can compromise your performance when climbing and cause blisters from unwanted friction. It will also prevent you from maintaining a secure foothold, especially when you are using your toes or heel to pull yourself upwards. Some advanced climbers, however, prefer a more tight-fitting shoe for better performance.
If you have been checking out rock climbing shoes, you may have noticed that there are low, moderate, and high levels of asymmetry. High-performance rock shoes often have extreme asymmetry (and aggressive downturn) as they allow the climber to concentrate their strength on the toes to secure foothold on little bumps. Some symmetrical rock climbing shoes, however, are designed with a flat profile and is preferable for all-day use.
Type of closure system
In the world of climbing shoes, there are three common closure systems used—lace-up, Velcro, and slip-on (slippers). There are also rock shoes that use a hybrid closure, offering the best of two systems.
Some brands that offer the best men's and women's climbing shoes
If you are on the search for a new pair of rock shoes, it is certain that you have already come across La Sportiva’s No Edge climbing shoes. No Edge is a patented technology that eliminates the “extra” rubber between your toes and the ground, thus providing you with optimal sensitivity through the rounded toe rubber. This move enabled La Sportiva to create climbing shoes that can perform excellently outdoors. No Edge is just one of the many innovations the brand incorporated in their line-up of men’s and women’s rock shoes.
Scarpa is an Italian footwear brand and is one of the leading outdoor gear manufacturers. Their top-shelf offerings have already shown success in the climbing industry, whether it is indoors or outdoors, thanks to their excellent performance. Scarpa has also partnered with renowned athletes in developing their products to ensure that they can address the needs of both beginners and advanced climbers. The mix of technologies and materials used in creating their products scream quality craftsmanship.
Adidas recently acquired Five Ten, and this move helped the American footwear brand (5.10) increase production and reach much more climbing enthusiasts. Five Ten is known for the shoe classics that have been on the market for decades. Their offerings are known for their sticky rubber and unrivaled edging ability. One of the brand’s mantras is to create men’s and women’s rock climbing shoes that offer a balance between performance and comfort.
Evolv rock climbing shoes boast brand-owned technologies that are directed to provide reliable performance whether you are in the gym or out at the crag. Their famous Knuckle Box and Love Bump—to mention a few—render a one-of-a-kind climbing experience. The former permits your big toe to relax while in a curled position, and the latter fills the dead space under the toes. Additionally, when purchasing on the brand’s website, you will be able to order your favorite shoe in split sizes for the best fit.
Factors to consider when looking for rock climbing shoes
In the climbing-shoe world, there is no one definite rule that can tell you which size will suit you best. Sizing rock climbing shoes depends on a lot of factors and may seem like a daunting task, especially if you are a newcomer to the sport. You may notice that some brand websites include advice in sizing. However, it is still best to keep in mind that for you get the optimal fit possible, a visit to a local retailer is necessary. Nevertheless, here are some general tips and considerations that can help jumpstart your climbing shoe hunt.
Experience level. In this outdoor sport, it can be said that the level of shoe discomfort is related to the climber’s expertise. Meaning, the more experienced you are, the more willing you are to sacrifice comfort to get that enhanced performance. As for beginners, it is not recommended to get a pair of pricey rock shoes that are aggressively downturned and tight-fitting. As newcomers level up their climbing game, they can also get a more technical rock shoe.
Type of climbing. Depending on the type of climbing you are venturing into, the fit of your climbing shoes make a difference. If most of the time you are doing steep boulder problems, wearing a more aggressive shoe with the closest fit to your foot will benefit you. For less-vertical and not-so-technical slabs, or if you are a beginner, select a neutral rock climbing shoe that offers the maximum comfort. It will help you focus on the task at hand. And, as you improve your climbing skills, you will have more rock shoe options.
Materials used. When choosing your new pair of rock climbing shoes, you have to consider the types of materials used, especially in the upper. Leather stretches over time and use and usually requires a break-in period before you feel its exact fit. On the other hand, rock shoes with a synthetic upper do not have a give. Furthermore, some offerings that have an upper made of a leather-synthetic hybrid; they have intended stretch areas.
Where to buy the best pair of rock climbing shoes
If you are new to climbing, do not rush yourself into getting your first pair of rock climbing shoes. Take the time to research and try as many shoes as possible. Doing so will help you determine what model fits you.
Visit a local retailer near you
If this is your first time buying a pair of rock climbing shoes, it is best to visit a local retailer before you shell out that cash. Talk to a staff who knows about rock shoes. Ask about different brands. It is important to note that sometimes sizing of climbing shoes vary from model to model, even when they are in the same brand.
Before purchasing on the brand’s website, it is recommended to check their return policy first. In this way, you can take advantage of ordering two or more sizes to check which suits you best. However, you should take note that some brands will not handle all shipping costs of the returned items. Some outdoor brands like Evolv offer split sizes (at an extra cost) while Butora (a Korean rock shoe manufacturer) allows you to order a single shoe.
Once you have decided which brand and model suits you, you can take advantage of discounted prices online. However, do take note of the store's return policy. Some shops allow replacement of purchased goods within one year of purchase.
Frequently asked questions
Should my rock climbing shoes hurt?
Rock climbing shoes are meant to be an extension of your foot that will help you grip and stick to a variety of footholds. While it is true that most rock shoe options are uncomfortable to wear, you should bear in mind that it is still different from having a hurtful fit. You should look for a shoe that offers a snug fit yet will still allow your feet to feel the nubbins and dimples on the rock. If you are wearing uber-tight shoes to the point that you can’t focus climbing, maybe it is time to revisit and determine if you really have the correct sizing.
I am a beginner in climbing. Should I wear aggressive rock climbing shoes?
As a beginner, you should prioritize comfort over performance. It will help you focus on learning the basics of climbing as you do not need to stress yourself over uncomfy footwear. In addition to that, most beginner rock shoes come at an affordable price.
In climbing, shoes with a flat profile offer the highest level of comfort while those with a downturned profile yields enhanced performance. However, other people prefer starting off with high-performance shoes. There is no problem with that as long as they can stand the discomfort of an aggressively downturned rock climbing shoe.
What is the best rock climbing shoe closure system?
The answer to this question lies in your preference. As mentioned, there are mainly three types of closure used in rock climbing shoes—Velcro, slip-on, and lace-up. Velcro yields the most hassle-free fit adjustment, thanks to the hook-and-loop construction. Lace-up is very versatile though, as it allows climbers to fine-tune the fit down to the toes fully. Lastly, slip-on or slippers are usually used for training. Their drawbacks include lack of adjustability, and the elastic fit wanes over time.
My rock climbing shoes stink, especially after use. How do I deal with it?
Climbers often complain about having smelly feet (or rock shoes) after their activity, whether it is indoors or outdoors. The type of material used in your rock climbing shoes also plays a role in odor management. Synthetic materials often facilitate the growth of bacteria, thus leading to the development of odor. However, there are brand manufacturers that incorporate antimicrobial treatments into the upper or the interior of the shoe.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with the smell:
To prevent odor after use, let the shoes dry, especially in between climbs.
Using the straps at the back of the shoe, hang them at home or clip them on your backpack instead of keeping them inside the bag. Fully open the closure system for ventilation.
Wash your rock climbing shoes. Generally, you can handwash the shoe to remove dirt and sweat. Use a soft brush and a mild soap to clean its interior and exterior. There are also machine-washable rock shoes. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Once done washing the shoes, dry them completely by air-drying them or stuffing them with newspapers. Do not expose them to extreme heat as it can damage their integrity and the materials used.
Is it worth it to resole my rock climbing shoes?
Sometimes, you get too attached with your rock climbing shoes that you don’t want to give them up. If that is the case, you find ways to extend the usable life of the shoe by resoling them. Regularly check the condition of the shoe after every use so you would know when to resole them. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of resoling.
No need for a break-in period. Since you only have to replace the sole of your rock climbing shoes, the fit and feel of its upper remain the same. You do not need to go over the softening-up period again, especially if you are wearing highly aggressive shoes.
You save money. The cost of rock climbing shoes varies based on the technologies, materials, brand, and performance level. When you decide to resole your rock climbing shoes, you can save up to $100. Of course, these savings depend on the location of the cobbler, the extent of the shoe damage, and the availability of materials.
Waste reduction. To put it simply, throwing a pair of rock climbing shoes just because a small portion of its rubber is already worn out may not be the most economical decision, especially if the other pair is still in good condition. Resoling your shoe—instead of buying a new one—can have a huge environmental impact.
Too long turn-around time. Usually, resoling rock climbing shoes takes about four weeks and can extend up to eight weeks, depending on the demand. If you do not have that extra time to wait for your rock shoes, maybe resoling them at this time is not a good option for you. This is the reason why some climbers prefer to own at least two pairs of climbing shoes.
Compromised quality. You are lucky if you already know someone you trust when it comes to shoe repairs. To those who will have their shoes resoled for the first time, the risk of having a sloppy cobbler (or resoler) can’t be set aside.
What size of rock climbing shoe should I buy?
Once you have a particular brand or model in mind, check out for reviews online. Visit the manufacturer’s website and look for their size chart and size advice. Some brands specify gettingt a full or a half size down your usual street shoe size. Consider this information when you go to the local retailer to fit them. Additionally, it is best to do your shopping later in the day and be knowledgeable of the store’s return policy.
Are there cheap rock climbing shoes?
Yes, there are cheap rock shoes, especially beginner climbing shoes. Before you purchase your first pair of climbing shoes, it would be a wise decision to scour the internet for a good all-around shoe that does not cost an arm and a leg. These cheap men’s and women’s rock climbing shoes usually cost below $100 and come in a neutral profile suitable for neophytes. On the other hand, intermediate climbers can look out for the best deals available.
What is the best rock climbing shoe for me?
No one can really tell you which brand or model is the best for you. Even if all of your friends wear the same brand, it still might not work for you. Climbing shoes are very specific, and finding one may take a lot of time. Finding the best rock climbing shoe for you depends on your pain tolerance, type of climbing, and desired style.