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Best Rock Climbing Shoes for Men of 2018

By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday June 20, 2018
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Long summer days are here, and so are we with an updated review to help you take advantage of every minute of daylight with the perfect pair of climbing shoes. To help you choose between the hundreds of options and find the best models for cracks, boulders, gyms, mountains, and sporty faces, we researched 50 models and chose the best 28 for hands-on testing by a half dozen testers. Then we took to the road, hitting up some of America's top destinations and put these shoes through their paces. We climbed crack laden granite buttresses, pocket riddled Wyoming limestone, the splitter sandstone cracks of Indian Creek, and even hopped across the pond for sweeping Spanish limestone. Whether you're just getting into the sport, or you've been out there quietly crushing for years, we've got something for you.

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Updated June 2018
This summer, we compared shoes in cracks, on tiny edges, featureless slabs, and overhanging pockets. Our testers confirmed their findings with professional guides, other OutdoorGearLab climbers, and experienced outdoor retailers to bring you the latest and greatest. We've included the Scarpa Drago, Scarpa's sensitive (and expensive) steep climbing machines and the high performing yet budget-friendly Evolv X1. Our testers also investigated the updated version of the classic La Sportiva Solution, and we're happy to inform you that aside from some minor update, they feel the same and climb just as well as the original. We've also added in the top five picks for kids: the Evolv Venga snags the Editors' Choice, while the Butora Brava, at $45, takes home at the Best Buy. For kids that are on an advanced level, we recommend the La Sportiva Maverink. Additionally, we've included a price comparison chart in our value section below, in which you'll find each model ranked according to the value they offer, alongside the cost.

Best Overall Climbing Model

La Sportiva Genius

Editors' Choice Award

(16% off)
at Amazon
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Rubber type: Vibram XS Grip2 | Lining: Unlined
Supportive and incredibly sensitive
Offset lacing design for glove-like fit
Best edging performance of any shoe

From the folks that first brought you downturned shoes, the La Sportiva Genius is the product of multiple advancements in climbing shoe technology. More than just the evolution of the No Edge concept, the Genius borrows the best features from the La Sportiva arsenal. For three years running, this shoe has beat out some great models to earn our Editors' Choice award due to a perfect balance of support and sensitivity. The Solution comes close but isn't as sensitive, and the Scarpa Drago just isn't as supportive.

Unfortunately, high performance comes at a high price, and not every dirtbag is ready to shell out $200 for a pair of shoes. If you're looking to send the gnar and save a few bucks, check out the Butora Acro, the Evolv X1, or the La Sportiva Skwama. If price is of no concern, the Genius is ready for a projecting session right out of the box and will stay that way until you finally wear through the toe. Use this model for sport clipping, bouldering, and high-end traditional climbing — it will not disappoint.

Read review: La Sportiva Genius

Best Bang for the Buck

Butora Acro

Best Buy Award

at Backcountry
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Rubber type: Butora F5 | Lining: Unlined
Available in two versions: wide (orange) and narrow (blue)
Great toe hooking prowess thanks to sticky rubber uppers
Less sensitive than softer shoes
Heel cup feels baggy on some feet

The Butora Acro is high performing, comfortable shoe at an exceptional price. Our testers loved the out of the box fit of this shoe, many commenting that they felt similar to La Sportiva Solutions. Butora's proprietary F5 rubber sticky to granite slabs and micro features with the best of them, and there is a generous helping of it slathered on the uppers, making toe hooking a breeze.

The only problems our testers found with the Acro was some unwanted extra space in the heel. This shoe isn't as sensitive as some of the softer shoes out there, but its stiff sole provides a powerful edging platform. In the wide fitting model, our testers could even climb cracks without pain, and we can't say that for every aggressive shoe out there. All this at a price that still leaves some dough left over to gas up the car for a marathon drive to the Red River Gorge.

Read review: Butora Acro

Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets

La Sportiva Tarantula

La Sportiva Tarantula
Best Buy Award

(3% off)
at Amazon
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Rubber type: FriXion RS | Lining: Synthetic (tongue and arch only)
Least expensive shoe in the review
Symmetrical shape and flat last keep feet in a relaxed position
Too soft and insensitive for good edging performance
Not a precise fit

If you are just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantula. Few shoes are cheaper at the same quality and versatility. More advanced shoes put your foot in an aggressive position that can be painful and unnecessary if you're just starting out. Best of all, this shoe climbs well just about everywhere: the gym, cracks and multi-pitch routes for the velcro lets you quickly give your feet a break.

While it doesn't have the precise design of the other award winners, that can be an advantage. Best of all, this shoe climbs well just about everywhere: the gym, cracks and multi-pitch routes, and the velcro lets you quickly give your feet a break as needed.

Read review: La Sportiva Tarantula

Top Pick Award for All Day Comfort

Five Ten Quantum

Top Pick Award

at Backcountry
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Rubber type: Stealth C4 | Lining: Synthetic
Padded upper is ready for long crack routes
Good fit for wide feet
Lacing system ensures a precise fit
Many stiffer models edge better
Synthetic uppers can soak up perspiration and get stinky

The Five Ten Quantum is the most comfortable pair we tested this year. Don't be fooled by the aggressive looking downturn! These shoes are soft enough for smearing, and that downturned toe comes in handy on steep headwalls. The wide fit and padded tongue make climbing long cracks dreamy and drama free, and the lacing system lets you dial in the fit as your feet swell, or the shoes stretch during an all-day mission. The Quantums also have a slightly lower volume toe than the TC Pro, making them a bit higher performing in thin cracks.

While soft for smearing and sensitivity, the Quantum doesn't edge as well as stiffer shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pro or the Scarpa Vapor V. Designed with input from the Huber brothers, the Quantums are an excellent choice for those looking for an all-day shoe that is more sensitive and wider fitting than the popular TC Pro.

Read review: Five Ten Quantum

Top Pick for Narrow Feet

Tenaya Tarifa

Trango Tenaya Tarifa
Top Pick Award

(25% off)
at Backcountry
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Rubber type: Vibram XS Grip | Lining: Cotton with TXT treatment
Soft and sensitive
Ninja-like edging precision
Fits like a glove on narrow, low volume feet
Speed lacing system for quick on and off
Narrow fit and soft uppers aren't great for crack climbing

Designed in the limestone mecca of Spain, the Tenaya Tarifa is the master of technical terrain and a perfect balance of sensitivity and edging power. They are substantially narrower than all the other models, and while our wider footed testers could appreciate their edging prowess and high-quality construction, wearing them on longer pitches brought on whining and discomfort.

These shoes have a high volume toe and are not great for crack climbing, especially if your foot is wide. Our slender footed testers fought over who got to wear the Tarifas ("but I need them! I'm getting close on my project") and felt they were the raddest climbing footwear. So, if your feet are more like skis and less like flippers, pick up a pair, tie-in, and send.

Read review: Tenaya Tarifa

Top Pick Award for Crack Climbing

La Sportiva Kataki

Top Pick Award

(16% off)
at Amazon
See It

Rubber type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Pacific
Toe can slot into thin cracks thanks to low volume toe profile
Narrower, more precise fit than the Katana
Lacing system more comfortable in cracks than velcro options
Good edging power
Not quite as comfy as TC Pros or Five Ten Quantums on a long multi-pitch.

Hold the phone! How did such as aggro looking shoe that was designed to send the steeps earn an award for crack climbing? It's all about the shape of the shoe. Crack climbing shoes need to be wide enough in the midfoot to keep from crushing your feet in hand cracks while being low volume in the toe so you can gain purchase in thin cracks. We get these features with the Five Ten Moccasyms and the Evolv Addicts, but the Katakis crank it up a notch by also being a great edging shoe. Because let's face it, eventual cracks get too thin to stick your feet in, and you need to be able to stand on micro edges like a ninja.

These shoes are designed for performance, not ultimate comfort, so we recommend a more relaxed shoe like the La Sportiva Katana or the Five Ten Quantum for long climbs. If you're looking to take things to the next level on single pitch cracks, the Katakis are for you.

Read review: La Sportiva Kataki

Best Overall Kids Climbing Model

Evolv Venga

Editors' Choice Award

(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Rubber type: Trax XT | Lining: Nylon Mesh
Full rand for durability and protection
Heel strap adds a full-size growing room
High volume toe box performs poorly in pockets and thin cracks

Wowza! We did not see the results of this test leading to the Evolv Venga - Kids being such a heavy hitter! Evolv really put together a great shoe for the everyday kid climber. The VTR3D rand does a fantastic job of adding durability where needed (toes!) and keeps the toes flat making for a shoe that is not only soft and sensitive but also edges well. At first glance, the thin, almost useless looking heel strap seemed like such a poor design, and boy were we wrong. It's the only one that does its job well and still leaves the heel wrapped in a good rubber pocket for heel hooking.

Whether it's their first run up the birthday party wall at the gym or they've been following mom and dad up multi-pitch for years, these shoes should do the trick. When kids need something more technical to send their projects, it's time to reach for the La Sportiva Maverink - Kids.

Read review: Evolv Venga

Best Kids Shoe for Beginners and Tight Budgets

Butora Brava

Best Buy Award

at Backcountry
See It

Rubber type: Neo Friction Fuse | Lining: Unlined
Excellent choice for narrow/low volume feet
Not great on small holds
Thin toe rand, not the most durable

Butora has found the perfect combination of comfort, performance, and price for their all-around kid's shoe, the Brava. It is true, this shoe isn't going to be a Top Pick for those serious kid crushers out there, but for the casual climber or beginner who is out to have fun and be comfortable, this shoe rocks. The soft synthetic upper, with its wide hook and loop enclosure, has an excellent feel and hugs the foot better than the other shoes in our test, keeping the foot nice and secure. The heel strap helps to fine tune the fit even more, and the EVA cushioned mid-sole also helps to keep them comfortable for when they won't take shoes off between climbs.

These shoes are a welcome addition to the budget kids shoe market. For all those parents not looking to shell out big bucks, but still want to support their kids' passions with quality gear, the Butora Brava - Kids is an excellent pick.

Read review: Butora Brava

Top Pick for Advanced Kid Climbers

La Sportiva Maverink

Rubber type: Vibram XS Grip2 | Lining: Unlined
"No-Edge" has excellent sensitivity
Great on edges
P3 rand keeps its downturn shape for climbing the steeps
Supportive heel rides a little high

The La Sportiva Maverink - Kids is a performance-driven slipper made for kids with growing feet. While most adult performance shoes have a dramatic downturn and super tight, constricting toe box, the Maverink purposefully kept things more comfortable to offer kids (and small-footed women) a more healthy option. The P3 platform keeps the down-turn shape but is under less tension than its grown-up counterparts, and the front of the shoes remains mostly flat. No-Edge technology, adds sensitivity and, ironically, edging performance, allowing the toes to get close and feel those tiny holds.

The leather and rubber wrapped heel pocket does an excellent job heel hooking but will take some getting used to for kids new to the concept. Because the P3 rand wraps over the heel pocket in a high place, it can bother the Achilles tendon. Overall this shoe is not only comfortable and forgiving but also a secret weapon of choice for kids looking to send their projects.

Read review: La Sportiva Maverink

Analysis and Test Results

For the kids  we tested a nice variety of shoes  from entry level to advanced.
For the kids, we tested a nice variety of shoes, from entry level to advanced.

With so many brands and models of climbing shoes out there, selecting the right shoes for your feet and preferred climbing style can be a daunting task. On the other hand, with so many manufacturers creating high-quality shoes, the chances are that perfect fit is out there. So fear not, it's an ideal time to be a rock climber! As climbers and guides, the single most crucial thing we wear go on our feet (OK mom, it's the helmet and harness), and it's hard to place too much emphasis on having the right shoes. They're often the difference between sending and whipping, and the harder the climbing gets, the narrower those margins become.

The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is warranted. Once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you, it feels like the skies open up and you can step off the plateau you're stranded on. The longer you climb, the more seldom it is to have one of these epiphanic moments. Progressing takes a lot of devotion, rigorous training, and time spent on the rock; doing all of that in shoes that make you miserable, or that underperform, will drain your psyche faster than any climbing porn can restore it. The critical goal is to find shoes that fit you and to determine what you'll be using them for. Even if you're a veteran climber, read our Buying Advice to help you make the best choice.

Our favorite shoes were the ones that have a balance of strengths. Manufacturers are constantly trying to design a shoe that can do it all because we desperately want to buy one pair that can do it all, one pair that we carry in our packs, one pair that we can resole until they ultimately fall apart, and then buy them all over again. Over the years some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to three pairs. One for pure Indian Creek splitters, one for difficult sport climbing and bouldering, and one for all-day romps up long multi-pitch. Some testers feel the TC Pros are pretty close to the ideal, while others think these high volume clunkers are insensitive and a poor choice for finger cracks (but what about Tommy and the Dawn Wall!). Some climbers will never climb a crack in their lives, wearing the cheapest shoe they can find, spending all their time in the hollers of Kentucky, paddling up steep jug hauls. We're envious of these climbers and their single-minded obsessions, but for the majority of us with a diverse lithic pallet, one pair of shoes is still not enough. Read on, study the charts, and hopefully, you'll have a better idea about which type of shoe is right for your climbing preferences.

Start your engines...
Start your engines...


Climbing shoes offer a wide range of performance alongside a broad spectrum of prices. As such, some have earned specific awards, like Editors' Choice or Top Pick for All Day Comfort. We also take the task of awarding our Best Buy winners seriously. The Butora Brava takes the award for kids, while the Butora Acro and La Sportiva Tarantula win for men. Often, models toward the bottom right represent the highest value for the cost. In this case, since many contenders in our fleet are concentrated toward a higher price point, the models presented in the middle of the chart (closer to the bottom) represent the highest performance for the price. As climbing gains popularity, new shoe models are increasingly higher priced and higher performing. As testers, we're most excited about models that hit the sweet spot of performance and price, like the Acro and the Evolv X1. We feel like its a big win for dirtbags everywhere when a high performing shoe is affordable. Additionally, we mention any experience we've had with resoling shoes we've worn for a long time. While expensive, the La Sportiva TC Pros and La Sportiva Solutions resole well, and a few resolers are even resoling the "no-edge" models.

The X1s are a pretty good value.
The X1s are a pretty good value.


The ability to make use of even the smallest edges are paramount in climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can get on your feet, the less weight burdens your throbbing forearms, and the more likely you are to send. The top edgers are the La Sportiva Genius and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. Both of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity. While wearing these shoes, our testers could balance on small edges and make use of the tiniest ripples, despite the Genius and Tarifa being relatively soft shoes. The Tarifa employs a reverse bi-tension rand design to keep your toes firmly in place at the front edge of the shoe. Shoes like the La Sportiva Kataki and the La Sportiva TC Pro are great edgers, employing the traditional strategy of being stiff at the sacrifice of sensitivity. The La Sportiva Solution tries to balance the deck with a softer midsole, resulting in a sensitive edger that could still leave you with burning calves on long low angle pitches.

The Genius gets your toes even further into the front of the shoe with its "no-edge" technology, holds its shape with a Permanent Power Platform (P3), and remains flexible due to its soft mid-sole. These technologies all come together so that we can get a little closer to having one shoe that can do it all. The Scarpa Instinct VS and the Butora Acro are also edging champs, but lack the sensitivity of the top contenders. The La Sportiva Kataki provides the best balance of edging and crack climbing. Keep in mind that the best shoe for you is going to be the one that fits the best and provides the comfort and performance you deem necessary.

The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.
The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.

We evaluated each shoe's edging capabilities by climbing vertical routes at Wild Iris where the ability to stand securely on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds as well as how hard it was to feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but were more supportive on longer pitches where our testers unlocked techy, difficult edging sequences over periods of 20 minutes or more. The Five Ten Quantum was our favorite shoe for all day climbing on long routes, but it fell short in the edging metric. Compared to stiffer, less sensitive options like the TC Pro it's not as supportive for all-day edging. Soft shoes without a high tension rand like the Five Ten Moccasyms are the worst edgers unless you size them super tight. The super sensitive Scarpa Drago are fantastic on steep routes, but our testers felt they were way too soft for techy edging unless you size them down, sacrificing comfort.

The Katakis felt great in cracks  despite their aggressive downturned appearance.
The Katakis felt great in cracks, despite their aggressive downturned appearance.

Crack Climbing

The best shoes for crack climbing are wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, complete with a low volume toe so that they can fit in cracks from thin hands down to fingers. If the shoe is so tight that your toes become completely curled, they won't be able to wiggle into small cracks. We climbed cracks in Idaho's City of Rocks and in Yosemite National Park, where cracks of many sizes are on the same pitch, and of course, we spend as much time as possible charging splitters of all kinds at Indian Creek.

While crack climbing in each shoe, we took note of how much pain and fatigue we felt as we twisted and torqued our feet. Narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Five Ten Quantum and the Scarpa Vapor V felt the most comfortable. Laces like those on the Quantum felt more comfortable and fared better on long crack climbs. Velcro buckles like those on the Vapor V can press uncomfortably on some feet in cracks, and and the buckles have the potential to become damaged.

Our tester savors another lap in the Katakis.
Our tester savors another lap in the Katakis.

Traditionalists swear by slipper style shoes like the Evolv Addict and the Five Ten Moccasym, sizing them up from their normal sizing so they can cram the toes into thin cracks. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will be climbed in shoes that can fit in thinner (.75-.5) cracks and edge like there's no tomorrow. Difficult granite crack climbing often involves challenging boulder cruxes, and our Top Pick For Crack Climbing, the La Sportiva Kataki, is perfectly equipped for modern crack test pieces. The Kataki is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, and the solid lacing system keeps the shoe in place. When your foot moves around a lot in your shoe while jamming, it can cause blisters on your pinky toes, making crack climbing a torturous endeavor, instead of a blissful adventure. The similar La Sportiva Katana handles cracks with the same ease of the Kataki, but has a slightly wider fit and felt more comfortable on multi-pitch climbs than the Katakis to our testers.

The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.
The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.

The La Sportiva Skwama is also one of our favorite crack climbing shoes based on its perfect shape for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the top of this model also offered a little extra protection for our sore feet, and the single velcro closure remained out of the way while we jammed our feet into cracks hand sized and up. This shoe is ideal for Indian Creek or Zion, where the thin cracks on cutting edge free climbs are often too small to accept shoes like the famous La Sportiva TC Pro.

Barbara Zangerl and Jacobo Larcher used these shoes to make the third and fourth free ascents of the Zodiac on El Cap - a further testament to the versatility of this shoe, which is designed for "high-end bouldering. The Scarpa Instinct VS is a wide shoe and felt comfortable to our wide-footed lead tester in hand cracks, but the high volume toe didn't fit into smaller cracks (think tight hands and down); we found the same results with the Skwama and the Quantum. The Butora Acro isn't comfortable enough for all-day jamming at Indian Creek but performed well on single pitch granite cracks, where a low volume toe can fit into small pods and where you still need some edging power to take advantage of micro footholds outside the cracks. The sporty La Sportiva Solution is a great secret weapon for long finger crack due to their pointy toe and excellent edging performance and are Honnold's choice for hard desert finger splitters.

Pocket pulling at Wild Iris
Pocket pulling at Wild Iris


A shoe's performance in pockets is a function of its edging ability, the shape of the toe, and in the case of steep, pocketed terrain, how downturned the shoe is. Our testers spent a month in Lander WY, home to Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris, one of the pocket climbing meccas in the US. Some of the climbs here feature only small pockets for hand and footholds.

The pointy-toed, narrow fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the No-Edged La Sportiva Genius again came up as the top performers in this metric. When wearing the Tarifa, our testers were able to gain a little purchase, even in mono pockets. The ultra-sensitive Genius allowed our testers to feel their way into shallow pockets. The Evolv X1 and La Sportiva Solutions are also ideally shaped for pocket pulling shenanigans. On steep pocketed terrain, the downturn of the Evolv Shaman came in handy when pulling into larger pockets and keeping our bodies pulled in to the wall.

The Butora Acro and the Scarpa Instinct come in close behind the top performers in this metric. The Acro lost some pocket points because of its blunt toe shape, which didn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. The Instincts are pointier in the toe than the Acro, but they don't edge on the lips of pockets as well. The La Sportiva Kataki is no slouch when it comes to pockets and the La Sportiva Skwama, performed surprisingly well, despite being soft, because we could wiggle lots of rubber into shallow pockets. The Scarpa Vapor V and the Five Ten Quantum fared the worst in pockets, due to their thick rubber and round toe shape. More symmetrical shaped, relaxed fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms are not the best choice for steep pocketed climbs.

Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.
Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.


A sensitive shoe will let you know where you stand on a hold or smear, so you can press down and move upwards with confidence.

We tested shoes for sensitivity by lapping nearly featureless slabs in Tuolumne Meadows and scaling the gritty, technical granite in Pine Creek Canyon. The most sensitive shoes tended to be the softest, but the top scorers also had some built-in support.

Comfy and ready for the steeps  but not the best for edging.
Comfy and ready for the steeps, but not the best for edging.

The Scarpa Drago has a rubber sock-like fit and was slightly more sensitive the "no-edge" La Sportiva Genius. We could feel every bump and dimple with the Dragos, and on steep terrain, we felt like we could pull ourselves into the wall like we had sticky rubber monkey hands on our feet. Unfortunately, the Dragos are so soft that they don't perform as well as our Editors' Choice award winner on vertical and low angle cliffs. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, was one of most sensitive shoe we tested. The no-edge concept puts less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you to feel and stand on small edges and tiny ripples. This shoe took some getting used to; initially, our testers missed the crisp edge they've come to depend on in a brand new shoe. However, after a handful of pitches, we became accustomed to the new position of our toe being in the front of the shoe and were able to take advantage of the Genius' unique sensitivity and edging power combination.

The New version of the La Sportiva Solution climbs just as well as the originals.
The New version of the La Sportiva Solution climbs just as well as the originals.

The Tenaya Tarifa comes in a close third with its soft Vibram XS grip rubber and bi-tension rand system, which offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. The Tarifa is one of the narrowest shoes we tested, its comfortable cloth lining and balance of support and sensitivity make it a worthy contender of the La Sportiva Genius. Our Top Pick for crack climbing, the La Sportiva Kataki is also no slouch when it comes to sensitivity, but less so than the Tarifa or the Genius. The softer La Sportiva Skwama is also a sensitive shoe, but it doesn't edge quite as well as the Genius or the Kataki. Finally, this year's Top Pick for all-day comfort, the Five Ten Quantum, trades in rigid support for soft sensitivity, making it an excellent alternative for those looking for an all-day shoe without the clunky stiffness of the TC Pro.

The Skwamas performed best on granite  where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.
The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.

The Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, despite being relatively stiff, and our testers appreciated them on the delicate crystal holds in the Buttermilks. Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. While the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel secure on small footholds with so much rubber between you and the rock. Both the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V failed to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top performers, but after a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they'll soften up, and their techy climbing game will improve.


Reverse bi-tension rands, "love bumps", P3 Platforms, and S-heels all sound like a list of buzzwords designed to sell shoes, but they represent a significant leap forward in climbing shoe designs. In the past, the shoes that performed the best were often the ones you could wear the tightest, compromising comfort (and foot health) for edging power. Now, innovative designs incorporated into shoes across all the major brands can give us performance without pain.

The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: how you size the shoe, the shape of your foot, and the upper material. Generally speaking, the tighter your shoe, the better it will perform. The contrary is also true: the looser the shoe, the worse it performs. Typically, tight equals painful and loose equals comfortable. Fortunately, modern designers are shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform well with minimal pain.

We could comfortably wear the La Sportiva Genius for a long pitch, and we wouldn't go any smaller since pain is detrimental to performance. The most comfortable shoe in this year's line-up is the is the Five Ten Quantum. While it's not the top performer, it's the shoe our testers could wear the longest without discomfort, making it an excellent choice for all-day adventures. The Quantums feature a soft, padded toe, a roomy, full fit, and a low profile lacing system. The Quantums are comfortable on long crack climbs in Yosemite Valley, and allow for loads of adjustment throughout the day as your feet swell or the shoe starts to stretch. Both the leather slipper style shoes get high scores for comfort. The Evolv Addicts and the Five Ten Moccasyms are made from comfortable leather and have a relaxed fit, plus if you get them a little small, they'll stretch to fit your foot. Unfortunately, this design compromises edging performance too much for our testers. The soft Scarpa Drago is covered in rubber and ready for miles of steep limestone, ensuring that your forearms will succumb to soreness long before your feet.

The Scarpa Vapor V comes in behind the Quantums regarding comfort. It has a medium-full fit and only the slightest downturn, keeping the foot in a comfortable, neutral position. It lost a point because the buckles on the velcro closure system hurt some testers' feet in hand cracks. The Butora Acro also has a full fit but is also available in a wide model. Additionally, the elastic on the upper part of the shoe is looser than that of Instinct or the Skwamas, making it a comfortable option for sport climbers with wide, high volume feet.

These shoes are approximately the same length  but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.
These shoes are approximately the same length, but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.

Comfort is pretty subjective, and everyone's foot is unique. The Tenaya Tarifa felt like a torture device to our broad footed testers, while it climbed like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. Some of our testers thought the La Sportiva Kataki was too wide, even with the laces cinched as tight as they could go, and the Kataki isn't even the widest model in the review. We tested comfort by comparing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we note how the shoe feels after what we think is an appropriate break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.

Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies automatically downsize from an average street shoe size, so they run very small. Others run true to size, and every climber has to downsize since their comfortable street shoe size is too big for an effective performance climbing shoe. Some manufacturers seem to vary their sizing from model to model, making buying shoes online pretty maddening. So here is our (relatively subjective, hotly debated) brand/sizing assessment: La Sportiva runs true to size, you'll want to size down up to 1.5 from your street shoe. Scarpa runs smaller than Sportiva, we found ourselves sizing down just a half size from our street shoes. Tenaya shoes run small and are exceptionally narrow. Start with half a size down from your street shoe. Butoras run small, and recommend buying your street shoe size; we think they come pretty close to nailing it. If you wear a 10 in your street shoes, you'll want a size 10 in Butoras. Good luck with Evolv's sizing, our lead tester had to go up a whole size just to get his foot into a pair of Evolv X1s, while the Shamans fit his street shoe size. Five Ten seems to change their sizing a lot, and if you're into the Moccasym, you're likely to size down two whole sizes.


The announcement of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: reviews are inherently subjective (for example, some people think Vertical Limit is a good movie), and rock shoe reviews are no exception. Our assessment of each shoe is largely contingent on the shape of our testers' feet, what type of rock we climbed, and how tight we sized them. A tester with a wide foot had few good things to say about the narrow Tenaya Tarifa or the low-volume Evolv X1, while narrow footed testers had nothing but praise. However, we have meticulously researched these shoes (primarily by climbing in them often) and talked to many industry professionals that use and sell these shoes routinely. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an expanding market, more are appearing each year.

The Buttermilks require fancy footwork and a shoe with good edging power.
The Buttermilks require fancy footwork and a shoe with good edging power.

Some of us who have stubbornly been climbing in the same shoes for years have changed our minds after working on this review. There old beliefs that shoes have to be painfully tight to perform well proved archaic in the face of new designs. The biggest takeaway? Comfort and performance are not mutually exclusive. Don't limit your climbing experience with foot pain; those days are long gone. It's hard to believe that the La Sportiva Solution with the P3 platform came out over a decade ago and folks are still downsizing flat lasted shoes to get the best edging performance.

Do yourself a favor and try on every model you can get your hands on! With so many options, there's no excuse for hammer toes or black toenails because of improperly fitting shoes. If your shoes fit correctly, your feet will be more comfortable, you'll climb more pitches, and have more fun. It's that simple. We hope we've been able to assist you in finding the perfect pair, but we understand that you may want to know more. Our Buying Advice will provide additional tips, helping you decipher one pair from the next.

Matt Bento