The Best Rock Climbing Shoes for Kids of 2020
Best Overall Kids Climbing Model
The Venga went through a complete redesign and is back with a whole new set of strengths and weaknesses. A new closure system now utilizes a single pull Velcro tab that tensions everything up, including the heel strap. Any excess strap can also be pulled out at the heel through double d-rings. The old synthetic suede uppers are a thing of the past and now they use an anti-microbial mesh upper that both keeps the feet cool and odor-free. The new asymmetric shape has a more tapered toe-box, allowing for more precise footwork and better edging and pocket climbing ability. The TRAX SAS rubber has good friction and the VTR rand beefs up the durability in the toe zone that so often gets abused by kids with poor footwork.
The new Mesh uppers are great at keeping the feet cool and dry, but the durability is definitely called into question, especially for outdoor climbers who frequent areas with sharp cracks or abrasive rock. Evolv also dropped the full VTR3D rand, and the new VTR rand doesn't have quite as much coverage as before, especially around the heel. While the shoe still comes out on top, we feel the overall quality was better on the previous version of the shoes, while the performance stays roughly the same.
Read review: Evolv Venga
Best for Steep Terrain
Designed with help from Ashima Shiraishi, one of the top young women climbers, the Evolv Ashima is a downturned lace-up that can crush steep routes. The semi-symmetric profile has given great performance while at the same time, keeping the foot in a healthier, more natural position than many other aggressive shoes. The Arch Wing midsole has great performance on any angle terrain, and the VTR (Variable Thickness Rand) provides great coverage for protection and durability, especially in high impact areas. We love that it has 4.2mm of Trax SAS rubber for longer life but still maintains great sensitivity for feeling their way up technical routes. The rubber has excellent friction but is also durable and holds up well to extensive edging, which it does with style due to the chiseled downturned toe box!
These shoes are great for most climbing types, especially the most technical in nature, but the lace-up uppers take some time to take off and put on, which could encourage kids to leave them on for long periods of time. The price is also higher than many other kids climbing shoes, but being that this shoe is designed for the hard climbing youth, when compared to aggressive adult shoes, the price is actually pretty good.
Read review: Evolv Ashima
Best Kids Shoe for Beginners on Tight Budgets
Butora has built a shoe with the perfect balance of comfort, performance, and price for their all-around kid's shoe, the Brava. It's true, this shoe isn't going to be a Top Pick for serious kid crushers, but for the casual climber or beginner who are out to enjoy themselves, this shoe rocks. The soft synthetic suede upper, with its wide hook and loop opening, 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 further, and the cushioned mid-sole helps to keep kids comfortable for when they refuse to take their shoes off between burns.
While these shoes may rock for beginners and casual climbers, the kids who start out-climbing mom and dad may start wishing they had more precision in the toes for more technical or steeper routes and boulders. Due to the soft midsole and upturned toes, kids will have a harder time standing on small holds than with a few of the other award winners in our test.
Read review: Butora Brava
Best for Advanced Kid Climbers
La Sportiva Maverink
The La Sportiva Maverink is a performance-driven slipper made for kids with growing feet. While most adult performance shoes have a dramatic downturn and a 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 shoe 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
Best for Young Beginners
La Sportiva Gripit
The La Sportiva Gripit is an innovative shoe made in Italy that is specifically designed for comfort and foot health. While most kids shoes have a somewhat constricting foot box, the Gripit has a super-wide rounded last that allows the foot to spread out. The No-Edge technology and a thin Frixion RS outsole puts the toes right up against the end of the shoe for incredible sensitivity, and the soft synthetic upper with an easy to use hook and loop strap make getting in and out simple for kids.The Gripit doesn't make the best shoe for hard terrain. The soft and wide design might be nice for comfort, but once you stick that foot into a crack,
or a small edge, comfort goes out the window. There just isn't enough protection, support or friction to do so very easily.
Read review: La Sportiva Gripit
Why You Should Trust Us
Who would be the ideal Review Editor for kid's climbing shoes? How about somebody who, first of all, has kids; second, leads a life focused on family climbing; and third, is a teacher of climbing by training. This person is Adam Paashaus, the author of this review, and certified AMGA SPI instructor. Adam does all these things, climbing with his wife and seven and nine-year-old girls at destinations around the country, full-time, out of their converted house-bus, Skoolie. Prior to this arrangement, Adam developed a love for long amounts of time spent in wild places that dates back to the nineties, and took up activities like backpacking, ultrarunning, and canyoneering in the process. He's also worked in the outdoor industry for some time and in several capacities, so he's well-versed when it comes to gear--he even makes some of his own.
We wanted to start with a leg up on finding the best pair of kid's shoes, so we put considerable energy into the initial phase of deciding which ones to buy and test. The initial selection up for consideration included over 40 models. Through whatever research we were able to do, we selected the most promising 9 from this group. Adam and the extended test group then took these shoes on an extended road trip that began in North Carolina and wound up in what seemed to be the ideal family climbing zone--Joshua Tree. The shoes are evaluated on a handful of metrics that make or break a kid's climbing shoe. These include comfort and durability, but also ones like edging performance and sensitivity, as performance is important for kids as well as adults. We are confident you will find this review to be a useful resource while outfitting your little ones for the crag or gym.
Analysis and Test Results
There has never been a better time to get kids out climbing. Just think, what if Adam Ondra never fell in love with climbing because he hated the way the shoes felt or performed? Today manufacturers offer a vast range of options in climbing footwear for kids, and we highlight the differences so you can spend less time researching and more time getting out there. We break down how each shoe performed on granite slab, quartzite edges, sandstone, basalt cracks, and limestone pockets as well as how they feel on long days, both up on the wall as well as down in the dirt at the base of the crag.
Kid climbers tend to be even more varied in their skill levels and preferences than ever before. There are all types nowadays; some kids may never step a climbing shoe outside the gym, while others follow mom and dad around multi-pitch wilderness climbing destinations on any given weekend. Some kids will be crack climbing prodigies while others can crank V8 at world-class boulder fields.
There is a wide range of pricing for modern climbing shoes for kids. We get into the weeds with these shoes to detail the price versus performance. It may surprise you to find out that new climbing shoes we tested range in price; but don't fear, we break down the value of each to make sure you can find a shoe that is right for your kid crusher. We awarded the Butora Brava the Best Buy Award for having good performance for a great price, but if your kid is more advanced, the more aggressive Evolv Ashima or the La Sportiva Maverink may hold more value for your child.
Edging is when you use, you guessed it, the edge of your climbing shoe to step onto a small lip of rock. Edges are the most common type of foothold.
Both the hardest boulderers and the most dedicated crack climbers will need a shoe that can edge well. A shoe that edges well will be paramount to helping reduce the amount of arm fatigue. If you can easily stand on small edges, you can then relax your arms and focus on the next move. Some shoes we tested are exceptional edging shoes, while others aren't. A shoe that edges well will normally be relatively stiff to help give support to the foot. Some great edging shoes use the ironically named No-Edge technology, where the rounded tip of the shoe lacks a proper edge, allowing the toes to get up close and personal with the minuscule holds for the most sensitivity on the small edges. While the Butora Brava is a good value for the price, it does not edge very well. The platform lacks the stiffness needed to be able to comfortably stand on the smaller edges, requiring the climber to maintain more tension to keep from slipping off.
More and more kids are venturing outdoors to climb. If they climb outside long enough, they will eventually encounter cracks.
We found ourselves climbing cracks on Joshua Tree, North Carolina and Oklahoma granite, as well as cracks in the basalt of southern Utah, and sandstone near Flagstaff at the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook. We focused on how well the shoes performed in the cracks as well as how well the shoes protected our feet. With such a wide variety of kids shoes available, some crushed in the cracks and did a good job of keeping their feet comfortable, such as the Evolv Ashima and the La Sportiva Maverink, while others are so soft, trying to climb cracks in them ends up being super painful, such as the La Sportiva Gripit.
The upper construction also plays a role in how well a shoe will hold up to repeated use in cracks. The breathable knit of the Evolv Venga is great for breathability but can start to wear out with repeated use in cracks. The leather uppers combined with a more traditional lace of the La Sportiva Ashima will tend to withstand more abuse. The lace on the La Sportiva Gripit showed wear after the first climb, and since the Stickit has the same lace closure, it isn't ideal for a lot of crack climbing for that same reason, though performs better overall, due to it having a more rigid sole and better rand.
A shoe that performs well in pockets will be a good edging shoe that has a tapered toe to get more rubber in the pockets. When the routes get steep, the shoes should also be downturned. We tested the shoes in the vertical basalt pockets in southern Utah as well as the limestone sport crags in the Utah Hills outside of Mesquite, NV.
The Evolv Ashima barely edged out the La Sportiva Maverink for our top spot though it was close. The "No-Edged" Maverink had more sensitivity, allowing for better feel in tiny pockets. But the Ashima, with its pointy, lower profile toe box was able to get a little more rubber in for more of an "edging" feel. Both shoes have a nice downturned platform to assist with using the pockets to pull into the rock.
For the more slabby to dead vertical pocketed routes, the Evolv Venga performed really well thanks to its pointy toe and sensitive edging platform.
The La Sportiva Gripit scored very poorly in pockets due to the super soft platform but more notably, the extremely wide rounded toe box. Our lead tester found herself trying to smear the outside of the pockets, mostly to no avail.
A shoe that offers good sensitivity is one that has a thin or soft outsole allowing the climber to feel the rock beneath their feet. This will help them to find the "sweet spot" of the holds more easily and have more confidence in their purchase on the rock.
Generally, the climbs that will benefit from a more sensitive shoe will be a technical face climb or a slab with smaller footholds.
We tested the shoes for sensitivity on the blank granite slabs in North Carolina as well as gritty sandstone slopers and textured limestone faces in southern Utah.
The most sensitive shoe tested is the new La Sportiva Gripit, with its thin Frixion Rs outsole. However, since the wide toe box doesn't hold the foot as securely as the others, the forefoot tends to slip around, and our testers had less confidence on the more technical, balancy moves.
The La Sportiva Maverink scores well in the sensitivity department due to its No-Edge technology, used when a more aggressive shoe is warranted. The No-Edge toe puts less rubber between their toes and the rock so they can really feel the rock they are trying to step up on. However, if they are new to this style of sole, it will take some getting used to.
Shoe comfort depends on a few things such as materials used, how small they are sized, and the shape or geometry. For kids, comfort should be of utmost importance. If a climber crams his feet in tight shoes for too long, he/she can develop painful foot issues like bunions. That's why it's so important to find the right pair and size them appropriately. While it is true, the tighter the shoes are, the better they will perform, it is important for kids to resist that urge and to instead find a shoe that fits their foot shape better. You may even want to size them slightly big for growing room (socks can help). Regardless of how comfortable they are, we recommend taking them off between climbs.
Given the right sized shoe, and the right shape, they should perform well even if they aren't super tight, especially the downturned models like the Evolv Ashima and the La Sportiva Maverink because they keep the big toe pointed down giving more control without cramming the toe in an unnatural position.
The La Sportiva Gripit is the most comfortable shoe we tested by a long shot, but the performance on technical terrain is severely lacking. So while we recommend a shoe that is comfortable, we also think it's essential to find the best-shaped shoe that will accomplish the performance desired and size it so their toes lay flat but reach the end of the shoe. As the kids grow and the shoes get tighter, it becomes that much more crucial to take them off when not climbing.
The Black Diamond Momentum is another shoe that has a wide toe-box but has a low volume, keeping it from feeling sloppy on kid's feet. The Butora Brava, while too tight for those with wide feet, felt super comfy for those with narrow feet with its super-soft synthetic uppers. The Evolv Venga had a nice balance with a roomy toe box but good performance.
With such a variety now in the kid's shoe market, chances are good that the perfect shoe for your kid crusher is out there. We recommend doing your homework, and we believe that this review will help simplify your shopping experience. A good performing and excellent fitting pair of shoes will take the attention away from foot discomfort and put the focus on progressing through the grades and having fun.
— Adam Paashaus