Looking for the best pair of rock climbing shoes for your kids? Our climbing gear experts researched over 30 models before purchasing the top 6 to put through our extensive side-by-side testing process. Our test teams are fanatic rock climbing families that climb everywhere from the gym to their backyard crags, to the best cliffs across the country. The kid testers rotated through these shoes on climbing gym walls, multi-pitch trad climbs, and laps on their favorite sport routes. Whether you're looking for a shoe best suited for the gym, something comfortable for outdoor days with mom and dad, something for a first-time climber, or something more aggressive for your young competitor, we've got you covered in this review.
Rubber type: 4.2mm Trax SAS | Lining: AGION® Anti-microbial Mesh
REASONS TO BUY
VTR rand for durability and protection
Heel strap adds growing room
Good edging toe
REASONS TO AVOID
Mesh less durable than the previous version
The Evolv Venga is our choice for the best overall kids climbing shoes. These shoes fit comfortably with a closure system that 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 upper material uses an anti-microbial mesh that helps with ventilation and odor control. The 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 (Variable Thickness Rand) beefs up the durability in the toe zone that so often gets abused by kids with poor footwork.
The 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 or abrasive rock. Evolv also dropped the full VTR3D rand in the current version of this shoe, and the new VTR rand doesn't have quite as much coverage as previous versions, especially around the heel. Overall, this is still our pick for the best all-around climbing shoe for kids.
Butora has built a shoe with the perfect balance of comfort, performance, and price for their all-around kids' shoe, the Brava. It's true, this shoe isn't going to be the right option for serious kid crushers, but for the casual climber or beginner who is 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 fit the bill 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.
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.
We wanted to start with a leg up on finding the best pair of kids' 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 6 from this group. Adam, Brian, and the extended test group then took these shoes on road trips all the way from North Carolina to one of the ideal family climbing zones--Joshua Tree. The shoes are evaluated on a handful of metrics that make or break a kids' 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.
Our testing of kids' climbing shoes is divided across five rating metrics:
Edging (20% of overall score weighting)
Cracks (20% weighting)
Pockets (20% weighting)
Sensitivity (20% weighting)
Comfort (20% weighting)
Who would be the ideal Review Editor for kids' climbing shoes? How about a couple of climbers who, first of all, have kids; second, lead lives focused on family climbing; and third, are certified climbing guides and instructors? One of these people is Adam Paashaus, 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. Adam developed a love for long amounts of time spent in wild places backpacking, ultrarunning, and canyoneering. He's also well-versed when it comes to gear--he even makes some of his own. Our newer review editor and climbing-bum-turned-father is Brian Smith, an internationally certified IFMGA American Mountain Guide . He's been guiding for over 15 years and climbing for over 25 years, sharing his passion for climbing with clients, friends, and family.
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 the 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. The Butora Brava boasts good performance for a great price, but if your kid is more advanced, the more aggressive Evolv Ashima 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. We also tested shoes in the sandstone splitter cracks in Southeast Utah, around Moab and Indian Creek (THE crack climbing mecca), and 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, while others are a bit too soft to excel at crack comfort.
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 Evolv Ashima will tend to withstand more abuse. The La Sportiva Stickit has a rigid sole that's decent for cracks, but its lace closure isn't ideal for crack climbing as it may wear quickly.
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's pointy, lower profile toe box was able to get a decent amount of rubber in pockets for more of an "edging" feel. Its nice downturned platform assists 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.
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.
Shoes with wider toe boxes don't hold the foot as securely as the others and the forefoot tends to slip around, leading to less confidence on technical, balancy moves.
The Evolv Ashima has a 4.2 mm outsole, but it lacks a midsole, which makes it a bit more sensitive. This can be a tradeoff, though. If the Ashima's outsole was much thinner, it would start to suffer in edging and pocket performance, and those are two areas where this shoe excels. The Evolv Venga also had a decent performance in sensitivity.
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. This is especially true of the downturned models like the Evolv Ashima, which keeps the big toe pointed down, giving more control without cramming the toe in an unnatural position.
We recommend a shoe that is comfortable, but we also think it's essential to find the best-shaped shoe that will accomplish the performance desired and size it so the 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 has a wide toe-box but a low volume, keeping it from feeling sloppy on kids' 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 kids' 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.