Rock climbing are your feet’s touch points with the rock surface that could make or break your performance. With a myriad of shapes, materials and sizing systems, finding the best rock climbing shoes for the type of climbing you’d be doing could be a daunting experience for the uninitiated.
Generally, there are three aspects to consider when it comes to choosing the right pair of rock climbing shoes: shoe type, fit and features.
Choosing a pair of rock climbing shoes may not be as simple as buying a pair of sneakers where picking the right size will almost always do the job. For rock climbing, your choice of shoes will depend on the type of climbing activity you’ll be engaging in. And there’s a range of neutral, moderate or aggressive shoes types to choose from.
If you’re a rock climbing novice, neutral shoes are more suitable for you. Their medium to stiff mid-soles and thick soles make for great support which the beginner climb may need and appreciate. Their flatter profiles also offer more comfort and make them easier to slot their feet into little cracks.
Neutral rock climbing shoe types are also suitable for experienced climbers looking for all-day comfortable shoes on long climbs.
However, neutral rock climbing shoes may not be as sensitive as advanced shoes due to their thicker soles. They’re also not designed for maneuvering tricky overhangers.
Moderate rock climbing shoes have that distinctive slightly downward-turning shape known as a camber. Their distinctive shapes help you to overcome the challenge of technically-tricky and difficult routes. Their thinner soles allow them be more responsive than neutral soles and have stickier rubber for better grip.
However, moderate rock climbing shoes are designed to be as performance-driven as advanced shoes. Trying to maneuver boulders or challenging overhung climbing routes in them may not be very suitable. Moreover, if you’re an avid rock climber wearing moderate shoes, the thinner soles are likely to wear out faster than thick-soled neutral shoes.
These have more pronounced downward shapes than moderate rock climbing shoes, with curves toward the big toe for accurate and strong placements on small holds. It also offers lots of heel tension to put power into overcoming challenging and overhung routes.
However, aggressive climbing shoes tend to be less comfortable to wear than neutral and moderate shoes. Their unique downturn shape means that your toes are bunched up in front. Moreover, aggressive shoes don’t fit into little cracks as well as neutral or moderate shoes due to their unique shapes. Their thinner soles also mean they need replacement more frequently.
Wearing the right fit will enable you to climb faster, higher and longer. Though a snug fit is generally recommended for rock climbing shoes, don’t go overboard and try to squeeze your feet into sizes that are simply too small. If your feet hurt from wearing unsuitable rock climbing shoes, they affect your performance and are also one of the most painful experiences. However, you can find the right fit with a few easy tips.
Shop for climbing shoes in the afternoon
That’s because most people’s feet will swell a little naturally throughout the day. When you’re trying on your rock climbing shoes, bear in mind that you do not wear socks since the insides of most climbing shoes have been lined for comfort and slippage already.
If you’re buying shoes for your cold-weather climbing expeditions and are going wear socks for more warmth, consider buying shoes which are half a size bigger.
Avoid shoes with space between your toes
Your rock climbing shoes should be a snug fit, meaning that there shouldn’t be space between your toes or inside the shoe. If there’s space inside the rock climbing shoes, your shoes will move around a little and not remain firm when you place your toes on a foothold.
Snug fit doesn’t mean painful feet
When trying on your rock climbing shoes, ensure that your toes are lying flat for a pair of neutral shoes. If you’re shopping for moderate or advanced shoes with curved designs, make sure that your toes are comfortably curved and not tightly squeezed together.
When trying on rock climbing shoes, stand on your toe and check if the back of the shoes are pinching your heels. Heel pinches are no fun in rock climbing. A pair of shoes is probably too small for you if you’ve difficult slipping them on.
Generally, higher performing shoes tend to fit more snugly.
All shoes stretch, and some tend to stretch more than others. Since some rock climbing shoes will stretch after you’ve worn them several times, this is an important aspect to bear in mind when choosing your shoe size.
Generally, leather rock climbing shoes tend to stretch more than those made of synthetic materials – synthetic materials hardly ever stretch. However, leather shoes with lining within tend to stretch minimally. They mold themselves to the shape of your feet after a few wearings instead.
So, how do you get around the stretching issue for your rock climbing shoes? For unlined leather climbing shoes, buy a slightly smaller size. Of course, you can expect them to feel a little tight and uncomfortable in the first few wears. However, this discomfort should reduce as days go by. This means, you’ll be getting the perfect rock climbing shoe fit after a little while with your leather rock climbing shoes shoes.
On the other hand, climbing shoes made of synthetic materials hardly ever stretch at all. So if you’re getting a pair of rock climbing shoes made of synthetic materials, make sure that it truly fits your feet right.
But I shop online, not in the stores
The above shoe shopping tips are useful when you try out your rock climbing shoes in-store. If you want to buy your rock climbing shoes online, going out and trying on various brands and sizes may help you have a better idea of how one brand is different from the other before you make your purchase online.
When you order your climbing shoes online, it may be a good strategy to order more than one size and return those that don’t fit. So look out for online merchants who are kind enough to offer free returns!
* Tip: remember to check out size translations between US, UK and European sizes.
Don’t underestimate seemingly minor features such as lining, shoelaces or velcro straps. They could affect your climbing performance in big ways.
Shoe closure system
There are three common types of tightening and closure systems: laces, straps and slip-on.
This is perhaps one of the most versatile closure systems and generally provides the most personalized fit.
When your feet gets hot or swell, you can easily loosen your shoes’ laces accordingly. However, as the laces make these rock climbing shoes a little slow to put on and remove, most people only use them as all-round or multi-pitch shoes where the shoes are only taken off at the end of the activity.
These are a breeze to put on and remove quickly. Some can almost tighten as well as laces. On occasions such as gym climbing or bouldering, they are fantastic as you can conveniently change your rock climbing shoes into normal day shoes.
Also known as slippers, these shoes don’t have straps or laces. This makes them extremely sensitive to your every move. They’ve a low profile which makes them easier to slip into thin cracks.
Slip-ons also make great training shoes as they don’t come with a stiff sole or midsole. This means your feet are trained to get stronger faster during practice climbs.
Sticky climbing shoes enhances the friction between your shoes and rock surface, making rock climbing easier than when wearing normal athletic shoes. Hence, the soles, heels and rands of climbing shoes are made of sticky rubber. As these parts of the shoes come into contact with rock surfaces the most, stickiness in these places tend to wear off over time.
Generally, the stickier the rubber, the softer and less durable the rock climbing shoes are. Harder rubber, though definitely longer lasting than their softer counterparts, don’t perform as well when their wearers need to plaster their feet on the rock.
Hence, rock climbers use different types of rubber for different climbing purposes. Softer rubber usually yields better performances while bouldering shoes are usually more suitable for every surface except steep edges. Climbers new to the sport are better off practicing in sturdier, more durable rock climbing shoes.
The more choices you have, the more likely you’re to snag the most suitable rock climbing shoes for yourself. To avail you to better choices, we’ve lined up recommendations for some of the most popular rock climbing shoes in the market. Take a look and see if you like any.
More Than $150
Five Ten Men’s Team 5.10 Climbing Shoe
Shipping weight: 1.4 pounds
- An aggressive shoe with down-turned shape
- Upper made of microfiber for comfortable fit and durability
- Ultra-thin Stealth Rubber is spread across the top, increasing flexibility and sensitivity
- Hook-and-loop elastic velcro closure and elasticized entry for convenient putting on and removing
- Great shoe for climbing on steep faces
- With Stealth Rubber covering the entire top of the shoe, this is one of best shoes for toe hooking
- The slits in the rubber offers great flexibility for latching onto rocks while toe hooking
- The extended toe rand also allows for superior grips on toe hooks
- Recommended for competitive climbing, overhangs and indoor/outdoor climbs
- Five Ten Men’s Team 5.10 Climbing Shoe only has a small opening which makes putting on and removing rather difficult
- The single shoe strap doesn’t adjust much, making the overall fit uncomfortably tight
- Five Ten recommends buying sizes that are the same as your street shoes size since their climbing shoes have already been sized to fit. However, some people discover that even if they’ve been broken into a few days prior to climbing, the fit is still tight and uncomfortable.
Evolv Shaman Climbing Shoe
Shipping weight: 1.8 pounds
- Added toe rubber for easier toe hooking
- Front strap for medial toe side scumming
- Enhanced fit for superior performance and sensitivity
- Knuckle box profile and love bump midsole design are created to keep toes comfortably curled and to enhance gripping power on the tip of the big toe when climbing steep terrains
- Evolv Shaman Climbing Shoe offers superior edging on small footholds and made for steep terrains
- Evolv sizes are relatively close to your street shoes sizing, so there’s no need to downsize or upsize when you order them
- Very sticky and perform like a dream on vertical terrains
- Rubber padding on top makes toe hooking effortless and painless
- A very aggressive pair of rock climbing shoes that can be painful to wear after 15 minutes
- Sizing for women’s shoes are not accurate and the real thing feels much smaller
La Sportiva Solution Climbing Shoe
Shipping weight: 1.5 pounds
- Molded 3D heel cup and patented P3® power platform retains a pronounced down-turned shape for optimal performance for the advanced climber
- Vibram® XS Grip sticky rubber for enhanced performance on tricky surfaces and routes
- Lock Harness System® creates a more superior fit for the foot
- Hook-and-loop Fast Lacing System® lets you quickly for a personalized fit
- Sticky rubber sticks to the wall incredibly, making it better for toe hooking, bouldering and sport climbing
- Very snug fit and heavily lined inside for maximum comfort
- 3D molded heel cup is fantastic for heel hooks and keeps the down-turned shape in place permanently
- Not exactly the most comfortable shoes due to its aggressive shape
- La Sportiva Solution Climbing Shoe stretch out quite a bit so it’s important to get the right size
Five Ten Men’s Hiangle Climbing Shoe
Shipping weight: 0.6 pounds
- Comfortable enough for all-day climbing and aggressive enough for overhanging routes
- Leather upper is unlined and will stretch out approximately half-a-size
- Single Velcro closure is fast and convenient to use
- Stealth® C4TM rubber outsole has thicker rubber that has a very stiff aggressive profile for great support
- Offers superior performance both outdoors and indoors
- Stealth® C4TM rubber lets wearers handle barely-there edges with confidence
- A terrific pair of all-round shoes that eases the wearer gently into the aggressive range
- There’s thick rubber on the heels and over the toes which make for great heel hooks and bat hang
- For people used to more relaxed fit or soft sole, the Five Ten Men’s Hiangle Climbing Shoe may be way too tight
- Some people feel that the shoes are not made to fit and are confused over sizing
La Sportiva Miura Lace Climbing Shoe – Men’s
Shipping weight: 1.8 pounds
- The Slighshot Rand is connected to the Powerhinge in the sole for sticking to the tiniest edges
- Internal lining offers a comfortable fit for the aggressive-shaped shoe
- Speed Lacing System lets you tighten conveniently for a personalized fit
- Great for bouldering, overhanging route, indoor climbing and technical face climbing
- Sharp downturned shape is surprisingly comfort, even when breaking the shoes in
- They’ll stretch a bit so bear that in mind when choosing your size
- Only one pull on the Speed Lacing System to get the perfect fit
- People love and trust the La Sportiva Miura Lace Climbing Shoe – Men’s for all-round performance in free climbs, technical face, steep face and heel hooking
- The steep price can be intimating for some people
- The toe box can be a little big, so choose your size carefully
- If the shoes get wet from your sweat, the heels can slip a little. Always dust generously with foot powder
La Sportiva Genius Shoe – Men’s
Shipping weight: 1.8 pounds
- Ultra comfortable with guaranteed snug fit and adaptability for every foot width
- ‘No edge’ technology offers an unsurpassed combination of performance, sensitivity and fantastic adaptation to different types of rock surfaces
- Lacing system offers a precise snug fit every time
- Inner volumes deliver comfort with performance
- LaSpoFlex midsole is combined with P3 Patent System for mega support
- Suitable for all-day wear, rock walls and bouldering
- Though the ‘No edge’ technology takes a little getting used to, La Sportiva Genius Shoe – Men’soffers great sensitivity and enhanced footwork
- The lacing system is really easy to use – just pull the top strings and they’ll tighten all around the foot down to the toes
- The heel is stiff and lacks sensitivity
- The steep price could be prohibitive
La Sportiva TC Pro Shoe
Shipping weight: 1.5 pounds
- Created for powerful technical edging and crack climbing
- Patented P3® System maintains the downward turn of the shoes permanently throughout its life to deliver superior edging power
- The flat fit is great for crack climbing
- The ventilated tongue and lateral rand perforations lets air flow freely to keep feet dry and comfortable
- The XS Edge rubber compound is very resistant to deformation on sharp edges and will not creep when smearing
- A high performance climbing shoe that’s exceptional on cracks, tiny edges and pockets
- La Sportiva TC Pro Shoe may be stiff but it’s very sensitive and can edge precisely
- Very good all-round shoes which still stays comfortable after wearing for long hours
- The tongue can curl at the edges when the shoes are new. Smooth them before lacing up
- The XS Edge rubber is not durable and not as sticky
Less Than $150
Tenaya Masai Climbing Shoe
Shipping weight: 1.4 pounds
- Subtle downturned shape offers toe power for edging with fantastic sensitivity and rock feel
- Midsole offers the perfect combination of stiffness and sensitivity for performance
- Tenaya Masai Climbing Shoe has a snug fit with Microfiber upper and TXT-treated lining
- Lace closure can easily be tightened for the right snugness and fit
- Vibram XS Grip rubber is great for smearing, edging and heel-hooking with absolute confidence
- Subtle down-turned shape is great for smearing on multi-pitched flat slabs, steep climbs and bouldering.
- The toe box and forefoot are quite narrow which allows for good sensitivity and edging.
- Gives its wearers immense confidence even when maneuvering the tiniest edges.
- The heel box can be a little too deep for some people which makes heel hooks slightly uncomfortable.
As you may have already observed from the recommendations, good rock climbing shoes tend to cost a little more generally. So it’s important to know what you’re looking and paying for when choosing the right rock climbing shoes for yourself. Happy climbing!