Whether you enjoy pulling through complex routes in climbing gyms, projecting on overhanging limestone cliffs, or meandering up moderate multi-pitch routes, the type of climbing shoes you wear determines whether you send a route or fall short. A small, toned physique is great to have and there’s a lot to be said about technique, training, and finger strength but at the end of the day, it’s your footwear that’s going to help you push those grades.
While there are many different types of climbing — such as sport, traditional, and bouldering — there also exist different types of shoes to help you conquer the sport’s varietals. After combing through the sea of available options, here are our picks for the best climbing shoes in every category.
Things to consider
With so many climbing shoes on the market, it’s getting harder to determine which one meets your specific needs. Here are a few things to consider before you start your foray into the land of climbing shoes.
There are three types of climbing shoes on the market — aggressive, moderate, and flat. As a general rule of thumb, the tighter and more downturned your climbing shoes, the better the performance. Flat climbing shoes offer a relaxed fit for all-day comfort, making them ideal for beginning climbers — specifically crack climbers — or those searching for an all-day comfort shoe. They tend to offer more midsole support and have thicker rubber outsoles.
There are three types of climbing shoes you can buy — aggressive, moderate, and flat.
Moderate climbing shoes are designed to be slightly downturned, making them effective for most forms of technical climbing, including slightly overhung routes in addition to slabs and long multi-pitch routes. Moderate shoes boast stickier rubber and thinner soles, so they’re not quite as comfortable as flat shoes but more comfortable than aggressive shoes.
Aggressive shoes are extremely downturned in the toe box and are meant to be worn snug, putting your feet into a powerful climbing position focused over your big toe. This allows for more precise footwork on smaller holds. Aggressive shoes are ideal for overhanging, single-pitch sport climbs, bouldering, and general gym climbing.
Type of closure
Lace-ups are the most adjustable type of closure and allow you to customize the snugness of your shoes. You tighten them at the toe to boost performance on difficult climbs or wear them more loosely for long, multi-pitch routes. The downsides include the added time it takes to get them on and off and their susceptibility to getting torn up on crack climbs.
Velcro shoes are more suitable for bouldering, sport climbing, and gym climbing as they can easily be taken on and off. Especially when wearing high-performance shoes, velcro is preferred so you can quickly switch to your street shoes between climbs.
Slippers — or slip-ons — are the third type of closure offering the greatest sensitivity of all shoe types. They’re typically unlined, attributing to more stretch potential and also very easy to take on and off. Their low profile makes them ideal for use in small cracks.
Shoe upper materials
Shoe uppers are designed with either leather or synthetic materials, with the leather being either lined or unlined. Leather shoes are the easiest to care for, highlighted by their deodorizing capacity. Unlined leather offers the most stretch, so you’ll definitely want to size down if you choose this type. Lined leather minimizes stretch potential to a half size or less, so you’ll be able to better determine fit. Synthetic shoes are the best choice if you want a strict fit that doesn’t change.
The thickness of the outsole directly affects the comfort and performance of the shoe. Thicker outsoles range from about 4 millimeters to 5.5 millimeters and offer excellent edging, as well as durability. The downside is less sensitivity so you won’t be able to “feel” the rock as well. Beginning climbers should opt for a thicker sole for comfort purposes. Thinner soles range between 3 millimeters and 4 millimeters and are ideal for smearing across slabs.
The best climbing shoes — La Sportiva Katana Lace ($185)
La Sportiva has designed an exquisite workhorse with the Katana Lace — suitable for just about any style of climbing. Not only is the shoe designed for all climbing styles, it performs incredibly well for each. The original Katana was already a stunner and now La Sportiva has integrated P3 technology to make for an unstoppable machine. The lace-up style serves for excellent adjustability and the combination leather and Lorica synthetic attributes to a precise fit. A slightly downturned toe and asymmetric last provide high-end performance while remaining comfortable for hours on end.
The P3 midsole and Vibram XS rubber attribute to accurate edging, while the slightly downturned shape is ideal for crack climbing, especially smaller cracks. As if that wasn’t enough, the Katana Lace are also a go-to shoe for pockets on vertical faces. If there’s one shoe that can do-it-all, it’s the La Sportiva Katana Lace, making it our top pick.
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The best high performance climbing shoes — La Sportiva Genius ($195)
If you’re looking for the highest degree of sensitivity and stickiness, La Sportiva’s Genius reigns the shoe world. The shoe’s revolutionary No-Edge technology allows you to edge the smallest of holds by molding your feet around imperfections in the rock, helping it avoid slipping in a manner unseen in other shoes. La Sportiva implements the PD85 last from the legendary Testarossa and incorporates the same functionality and comfort as the Solution. The P3 midsole allows for excellent responsiveness and the 3 millimeter Vibram XS Edge rubber ensures the ultimate stickiness.
The shoe’s lace-up system allows you to adjust to the snugness that suits your needs, whether you’re heading out on a long expedition or for a bouldering session at the crag. Though designed for high-end, steep sport climbing — with its aggressive downturn and asymmetry — this is still an ideal all-around shoe.
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The best technical face climbing shoes — Five Ten Anasazi Lace Pink ($165)
These moderately downturned shoes are technical face climbing machines, designed specifically to give you traction on the tiniest of nubbins. The power is all in the rear as a rounded heel cup pushes your toes downwards, putting them into a strong forward position where you can utilize the 2-millimeter Stealth C4 to its fullest potential. Lace closure allows for as precise adjustability as their performance on the rock. The Anasazi Pinks are the definition of precision, with the asymmetric toe box providing for an edging platform that’s out of this world.
A lined synthetic upper makes sure the shoes remain true to size from their first use to their last. If you want unparalleled confidence on the sheerest of technical rock faces, the Anasazi Pinks are sure to help you send.
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The best climbing shoes for beginners — La Sportiva Tarantula ($90)
For those on a budget — or just testing the climbing waters — the La Sportiva Tarantulas offer superior comfort blended with just enough technical features to get you hooked on the sport. The Velcro straps make it easy to take them on and off, saving time for climbers learning the ropes. Their asymmetrical shape allows for pushing the grades as new climbers develop their skills while remaining comfortable due to their neutral design. Ideal for indoor climbing and days at the crag, the Tarantulas boast 5-millimeter FriXion RS and are constructed of unlined leather.
It’s recommended you size down these shoes one to two sizes smaller than your street shoes to allocate for stretching. For a quality shoe that performs well inside and out, the Tarantula is the best bang you can get for your buck.
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The best climbing shoes for bouldering — Evolv Shaman ($160)
The brainchild of famous sport climber Chris Sharma, the Shamans were made specifically to conquer his ideal type of terrain: Steep, overhanging limestone routes. This design also makes them extremely popular for bouldering, which boasts technical, often overhung climbing in short sequences of moves. Added rubber is ideal for toe hooking and their downturned shape is complimented by a roomy toe box to ensure your big toe stays bent while climbing.The Shamans boast high performance 4.2-millimeter TRAX XT-5 high-friction rubber and three hook-and-loop velcro straps for added adjustability.
While not ideal as an all-day shoe or on long, moderate climbs, these shoes excel at exactly what they were designed for.
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The best multipitch climbing shoes — La Sportiva TC Pros ($185)
Touted as a fan favorite for long traditional climbs, the TC Pros provide precise edging enhanced by P3 technology, unprecedented smearing, and are built for a specific purpose: To dominate granite cracks. Their supportive, stiff soles keep your feet comfortable for foot jams on end and the shoes offer ample ankle protection. In addition to crack climbing, the flat-style toes are great for smearing on slabs. A 4-millimeter Vibram rubber sole ensures stickiness and durability across the harshest surfaces pitch after pitch.
While not ideal for difficult sport climbing or bouldering, the TC Pros keep your feet feeling fresh for an entire day of climbing and serve as excellent performers on cracks or vertical granite faces. Best of all, they’re true to fit and don’t tend to stretch over time.
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