In a sport where gravity is your foe and friction is your friend, no single piece of gear aids you more than a pair of quality rock climbing shoes. As your feet represent 50 percent of your contact with the cliff or wall and bear the majority of your weight, finding the right pair for your ability level and type of climbing can mean the difference between getting to that next hold and falling off.
However, zeroing in on your perfect pair is no easy task. REI alone sells 69 varieties of climbing shoes. Nuances such as a stiff vs. soft forefoot or downturned vs. flat toes drastically change how climbing shoes perform. Whether you’re a newbie searching for your first pair of shoes or a seasoned sport climber, matching your shoe to the type of climbing you do — indoor or outdoor, steep or slabby — is crucial too. (Check out some quick expert shopping tips here.)
So I’ve tested over 25 pairs of climbing shoes. I’ve scrambled up everything from the limestone cliffs outside Las Vegas to the granite cliffs in Tuolumne to the walls of my local climbing gym in Santa Barbara to find the best 13 shoes in different categories. Here they are.
Best Overall Climbing Shoe
When it comes to toeing down hard on steep terrain, this softer, more sensitive sibling of La Sportiva’s top selling Solution slipper will keep your feet glued to the wall. With an aggressively downturned toe, the Solution Comp ditches the firm heel cup on the original Solution for a softer and more form-fitting one, a welcome change that improves its heel hooking ability. Additional rubber along the top of the toe provides better grip while toe hooking. Despite its competition namesake, these shoes perform extremely well on real rock, too. The only knock is that they could be a bit better at edging.
Best Upgrade Climbing Shoe
An updated version of a Scarpa classic, this moderately stiff and supportive, downturned shoe is designed for technical face climbing, but it holds its own when sensitivity is required (like for steep bouldering). It features a full-length Vibram XS Edge outsole with added arch support for powering down on micro edges. The ceramic microsuede and alcantara upper is soft — it fits like a glove with easy on/off and adjustment via the velcro closure. Note: these pricey shoes are best suited for outdoor climbing.
Best Budget Climbing Shoe
This flat-lasted, rather stiff-toed shoe is a jack-of-all-trades that’s best suited as a one-shoe quiver for a new climber or as a beater, all-day comfortable shoe for a more advanced climber. The unlined leather upper with Synthratek VX overlay gives users a precise and comfortable fit, while 4.2mm of Evolv’s Trax SAS high-friction rubber keeps you glued to the rock or wall. It may be the cheapest shoe on the market, but it sure doesn’t perform like it.
Best for Beginners
Three things make a climbing shoe ideal for beginners: comfort, price and durability. No other shoe on the market checks these three boxes better than the Black Diamond Momentum. Priced reasonably under $100, these neutral, flat-lasted climbing shoes are designed for slabby to just past vertical terrain. Thanks to a breathable-engineered knit upper and micro-fiber toe liner, there’s no need to take these shoes off between climbs because your feet hurt. Two adjustable Velcro straps mean easy on/off while the 4.3mm of proprietary molded rubber outlasts many more expensive competitors.
Best Sport Climbing Performance
Ever since trying my first pair of Testarossas 15 years ago, I’ve been hooked. It’s a pure high-performance shoe with a moderate-to-aggressive downturn. Recently redesigned with a better-fitting, better-performing heel, this classic lace-up edges, heel-hooks and smears like a champ on just about every type of rock. The blended upper that uses natural leather with a non-stretch material called Lorica fits like a glove. However, it’s best to save these for your project attempts; the 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip2 rubber is super sticky, but it tends to wear rather quickly.
Best Bouldering Performance
Bouldering at your limit requires having every little detail dialed in — crimping that tiny crystal, right foot toed down hard on the rail, left foot toe hooking arête and holding body tension while going for the final slopper. No other shoe will give you more confidence in your footwork than this asymmetrical, aggressively downturned bouldering project crusher. The soft Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber sticks to rock like glue and offers up some of the best rock sensitivity. It fits on the narrow side, but the soft upper also has a good amount of give. Whether projecting at your local gym or rehearsing that far-reaching dream problem outside, here's your ticket.
The Zone is by far the best price-to-performance climbing shoe on the market. Designed with a moderately downturned toe, the Zone excels on everything from techy face climbs to hard-pulling steep cave climbs. Black Diamond’s signature knit technology upper prevents uncomfortably sweaty feet, a welcome feature for hot, stuffy gym sessions. Consider sizing up a half to full size from your street shoe, as they do run small. If you have narrow feet, try the LV (low-volume) version. Still on the fence? The thick 4.3mm rubber is the most durable on the market, further cementing the Zone’s status as the best value climbing shoe.
Aside from crack climbing, there’s not a style of bouldering or roped climbing the Iati can’t handle. From standing on edgy knobs to pulling in on massive overhangs, this moderately downturned shoe will have you styling through your hardest climbs with the utmost confidence. On-rock performance aside, the Iati is one of the most comfortable high-performing shoes on the market. Between the microfiber and leather upper with cotton liner and patented Velcro enclosure, it fits like a custom-made shoe, secure with a tailored fit.
For those who would climb barefoot if skin had better traction, this shoe is for you. By far the most sensitive shoe on the market, this soft, sock-like shoe excels in the balanced, parkour style required to maneuver through volumes (climbing holds) while still offering an aggressive downturned toe for pulling in on steep terrain. Best suited for bouldering, the perforated microsuede upper is flexible and soft against the skin. At 5.3 ounces, it’s also the world’s lightest climbing shoe.
Best for Steep Bouldering
Designed by two of the best boulderers in the world, Daniel Woods and Paul Robinson, the Evolv Phantom is about as aggressive as they come. As one of the most downturned climbing shoes on the market, the Phantom is a high-end, ultra-performance shoe that slays steep boulders. An innovative six-point Velcro lacing system allows for a dialed-in fit, while an upper that’s caked in sticky rubber keeps a toe-hook, heel-hook or foot scum stuck to the rock. Out of the box it’s a bit painful to wear. But once they’re broken in, you’ll be crushing your bouldering projects in style.
Best for Face Climbing
This brand-new, flat-lasted, stiff shoe from Five Ten is designed to keep you glued to micro edges on technical face climbing. As a replacement for the classic Five Ten Anasazi line, NIAD stands for Nose In a Day, the notoriously striking feature front and center up El Cap in Yosemite that requires exceptional footwork precision. Offered in a lace-up, Velcro and Moccasym version, the NIAD features a StealthC4 rubber sole is about as grippy as they come, bringing you closer than ever to gecko status. Just be sure to stay on near vertical walls; this shoe does not fare well when toe-in-power is needed as the climbing gets steep.
Best for Big Wall and Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing
It’s no surprise a shoe named after Tommy Caldwell, one of the best big wall climbers in the world, is a top choice for thousands of big wall and multi-pitch trad climbers. What makes the TC Pro so good is that it’s comfortable enough to spend all day in, yet it still carries the technical prowess to navigate with precision up dime-sized holds.
Best for Crack Climbing
Cramming, twisting and wedging your feet up a crack requires a special kind of shoe — one that’s stiff-soled, durable and protective. The Black Diamond Aspect checks all these boxes and then some. At a fraction of the cost of other crack-focused shoes, the BD Aspect’s flat last and stiff profile are ideal for making your way up that dream splitter. High-grade European leather uppers provide all-day comfort while protecting your feet against the rough rock.