A bad pair of shoes can give you back aches, pinch your toes, or, in the case of bad rock climbing shoes, they will cause you to fall to your death. Since no one wants to clean that up, we’re here to help you choose the best shoes to help you stay on the cliff and ease your ascent.
Choosing a good shoe for scaling takes a few steps. First, you need to decide where you intend to climb. Are you going to be scaling sheer drops of the rocky mountains or are you going to be exclusively using climbing walls in the gym where there’s a nice juice bar at the summit? Then, you need to choose a fabric. Leather shoes are tougher and won’t stretch as much, but they are often not as comfortable for endurance climbers. Finally, you need to pick a style which works best for the shape of your foot. We’ve tried to parse this information into a useful list, but nothing compares with finding what suits you, personally. Test and re-test and try everything. To help get you started, here’s our 6 best rock climbing shoes.
La Sportiva Solution
What’s to Love: Incredible grip on small footholds.
What’s to Hate: Half-ass heel hooking.
Bolder Boulderer: This isn’t quite so much a shoe for true rock climbing as it is for bouldering fanatics who are trying to find something that can handle the hooking necessary while simultaneously offering plenty of sensitivity for snagging the tiniest nubs. Nearly the entire body of the Solution is coated in Vibram XS-Grip rubber and underneath that is leather and elastic for a fit so tight it will be hard to tell where you end and the shoe begins. The body has a marginal downturn though isn’t bent like a banana. It is held shut with a single velcro strap. They are easy to slip on and off which allows you to switch and swap for different challenges without getting bogged down. Like most bouldering shoes these will wear out far too fast. The front end is aggressive and useful but heel hookers will find little to love on the back end. [Purchase: $103]
Five Ten Team 5.10
What’s to Love: Toe-hooks the smallest niches.
What’s to Hate: Uncomfortable when not climbing.
Indoorable: Unlike many other indoor rock climbing shoes which are basically repurposed outdoor or bouldering shoes, the Team was made with the rigors of gym climbing in mind. It has an HF Stealth sole that comfortably climbs over the front end to grip slick jibs on climbing walls. The deeply angled, down-cambered shape jams your arches to the roof and is easily the best toe-hooking shoe made by man. While on the wall, they cup your feet in all the right places. Standing or walking flat can start to give you cramps in your legs and back so don’t try to strut around too much. [Purchase: $160]
Lowa Red Eagle
What’s to Love: Intense edging ability.
What’s to Hate: Low sensitivity.
Edge-U-Cated: The Red Eagle is a very aggressive downturn shoe that doesn’t seem to have a flat surface on it. It’s all edges and angles. The midsole is moderately stiff to help leverage weight for climbers whether they are edging on the side, or heel-hooking to keep their balance. It seems like you can push off of anywhere since the design is made to employ the whole foot. Good for both indoor and outdoor climbing. If hard-core vertical climbs or looming overhangs are your bag, then the Eagle has landed. On the flip side the stiffened body limits sensitivity. You’ll need to look to know whether or not your standing on a safe protrusion or a crumbling ledge. The upper is microfiber and you can get it in either laces or velcro. [Purchase: $165]
Mad Rock Flash
What’s to Love: Low price.
What’s to Hate: Wears out quickly.
Most for the Money: We would never tell you to save money and buy a shoe that could send you plummeting into the void. The Flash isn’t the cheapest on the market, it’s just the cheapest you should consider. It has a mild toe hook making a good entry-level rock climbing shoe since it isn’t made for aggressive ascents with tiny nubs. The heel hook is impressive for any price range since it uses a style that Mad Rock calls “ribbed for your hooking pleasure” and gives extra grip.
The soles will wear out a little faster than premium grade climbing shoes but by the time their gone, you’ll know whether you’re ready to spend big money for a better pair. Very sticky to begin with which is perfect for the amateur. Works for bouldering, indoor climbing, and training just as well as a sport climb. It’s velcro but those that prefer laces should take a gander at the Mad Rock Phoenix. If you fall in love with the Flash, they have a 2.0 version that is better for experienced climbers. [Purchase: $55]
Five Ten Team VXi
What’s to love: Super sensitive.
What’s to Hate: No support.
Big Softie: Accuse us of Five Ten fan-boydom if you must but if you want a sensitive shoe, try these out. They feel much more like donning slippers than strapping into a shoe that can save your life. They are comfortable but they also give you a feel for every square inch of the rock beneath your feet. The soles are made from a new Stealth MI6 rubber that attaches to water and air polished limestone as easily as granite. They bend and flex with your toes so the smallest nub is all you need to hang on. The trade-off for all this touchy-feelie stuff was the almost complete lack of a frame or stiffened midsole. If you’re used to angled hookers – and who isn’t? – you’ll find these awfully soft and lacking in support. [Purchase: $170]
La Sportiva Miura
What’s to Love: Can climb anything.
What’s to Hate: Too technical for beginners.
Hail to the King: This is not the shoe to start with. It is very technical and from the first moment you put it on, it’s clear. Experienced climbers will find it keeps a high degree of edging power without sacrificing as much sensitivity as more rigid shoes do. These can take whatever you throw at them whether you’re a sport climber, a trad route climber, or a cragger. The Miura takes them all in stride. They’re leather which is great for shorter distances but can wear on you during endurance missions. For times when you plan on making a meal out of a mountain you’ll probably want a TC Pro which is more comfortable and durable. Comes in both velcro and lace options. [Purchase: $159]