The Best Women's Climbing Shoes of 2020
Best Overall Women's Climbing Shoes
La Sportiva Miura VS - Women's
The La Sportiva Miura VS has been around for a long time. These shoes are ubiquitous at most climbing areas around the world. Some women climb long backcountry big walls in the Miura VS, while others swear by them for steep sport lines. This range of applications and many of our strong female friends' loyalty to this shoe made us reconsider our Editors' Choice Award Winner this year. The Miura VS is an obvious choice, with high scores across the board. These shoes are some of the most sensitive, edging machines we've tested. Their slight downturn makes them great for steep climbing, but they have a stiff enough midsole to be some of the top performers on vertical terrain as well. With three Velcro straps, they are easy to adjust and fit a wide range of foot shapes. Sized for a bit of extra room, they can be great for all-day comfort on hard free routes. Sized tight, and they are the perfect shoe for your steep sport project. All-around performance is the name of the game with our Editors' Choice Award winner.
Read review: La Sportiva Miura VS — Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Mad Rock Lotus
These strange-looking little Velcro slippers were a pleasant surprise to us during our testing period. Though the Mad Rock Lotus looks aggressive and are hard to get on at first, they broke in to be some of the most comfortable, supple, and sensitive shoes we tested. All of this at a reasonable price (in comparison to their high-performance rivals). These shoes earned our Best Buy Award for delivering high performance on both steep and vertical terrain and even surprised us on slabs. If you are in search of a shoe that caters more toward the beginner climber, check out the Evolv Shakra. The Scarpa Arpia is another option that lands between the Shakra and the Lotus in terms of comfort and downturn.
The Lotus is relatively inexpensive compared to some of its competitors. These shoes are great for folks who want a bit more aggressive shoe but don't want to spend a couple hundred bucks to get 'em. The Lotus does great on steep sport climbs, boulders, and in the gym. It holds its own against the competition in our metric comparisons, and costs significantly less than most aggressive, high-performance shoes.
Read review: Mad Rock Lotus
Best for Steep Climbing and Bouldering
La Sportiva Solution Comp - Women's
Much like their close relative, the Solution, the brand new La Sportiva Solution Comp is most at home on steep sport climbs and boulders. The Solution Comp is a lot like the Solution in terms of design and performance, only better. That's why we've deemed this slick slipper our Top Pick for Sport Climbing and Bouldering. The updated toe box is a bit wider and has more rubber on top for toe hooking and scumming. This design also provides more room for the toes, making the Comp very comfortable. Additionally, the Solution Comp has a newly designed heel cup that is sensitive and low profile — a major update from that of the original Solution. Like a well-fitting glove, the Solution Comp suctions onto your foot to turn it into a high-performance, precise talon — ideal for toeing in on steep terrain. These slipper-like shoes combine comfort and performance so well that only the original Solution and the La Sportiva Futura came close in comparison. We wore these shoes on everything from granite slabs to steep sport climbs to highball boulder problems.
For some, the slipper-like fit and soft midsole may be too much. The shape is an acquired taste and can cause some discomfort at first. These shoes are designed for high-performance rock climbing, and the lack of versatility can be a bit limiting. Keep that in mind when considering the Solution Comp.
Read review: La Sportiva Solution Comp - Women's
Best for Versatility
La Sportiva Skwama - Women's
The La Sportiva Skwama is one of our favorite shoes because it is not only incredibly comfortable but also our go-to for most of our projects - whether a steep, overhanging pocketed line or a technical crimpy face. The Skwamas are confidence-inspiring on the smallest smears and the greasiest limestone footholds. We've climbed in these shoes on technical sandstone boulders in Fontainbleau and on steep tufa lines in Southern France. We also wear the Skwamas bouldering in the Buttermilks and in Yosemite. The shoe we almost always throw in our bag is the Skwama, no matter where we are headed. For these reasons, the Skwama earns our Top Pick for Versatility Award this season.
Read review: La Sportiva Skwama — Women's
Best for Multi-Pitch and Crack Climbing
Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco - Women's
The Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco is one of the softest, most comfortable shoes we've ever worn. The laces make these shoes super easy to adjust — cinch them down when it's time to take the sharp end on the crux pitch or loosen them up to accommodate socks on a crisp alpine start. A medium-stiff midsole makes these shoes versatile — they can hold an edge to cop a stem rest but are soft enough to squish into a .75 crack when necessary. The Maestro can smear up a stout 5.9 slab with ease and can provide ankle protect on a desert offwidth grovel fest.
The only downside to the Maestro is its pricetag. These shoes are expensive, no doubt. For a boot that's bound to get beat up in wide cracks and long days on the wall, it can be hard to wrap one's head around paying so much for a seemingly delicate shoe. We only wore these shoes for a few months, but durability could be an issue if you tend to beat up on your shoes. Regardless, this shortcoming didn't take away from the Maestro's title as our Top Pick for Multi-Pitch and Crack Climbing.
Read review: Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco — Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our testers spend more time climbing than they probably ought to. Our lead tester Jane Jackson spends the spring and fall in Yosemite and the High Sierra. Previously a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue, Jane has done her fair share of big wall climbing in Valley. That said, in recent years, she prefers free climbing, which allows her to put the many aggressive and colorful shoes in this review to the test. This year, a lot of testing was done in Europe: starting with the techy limestone walls of Siurana and moving on to the incredible sandstone boulders found in the forests of Fontainebleau and finally ending up on the steep, imposing walls of Verdon Gorge in southern France. In these storied locales, we painstakingly broke in each shoe here reviewed and tested them out in a variety of climbing styles. While a jack of all trades may be a master of none, we are at least able to make well-rounded judgments on the performance of each of these shoes in a wide range of climbing styles.
What Makes Climbing Shoes Women's Specific?
What is the difference between a woman's climbing shoe and a man's? What are the advantages of a woman's shoe? Are women limited to just the "women's" models? The answer to that question is absolutely not! Women's specific shoes are relatively new to the market, and before that, ladies had to go with men's or unisex models. There are still many shoes in production that only come in a unisex model, and they are fair game, as are the products with the women's specific label.
Related: The Best Climbing Shoes of 2020
Aside from the superficial color schemes, the defining difference between men's and women's shoes is that they are usually constructed around different lasts (the form matching the anatomy of the foot off which a shoe is patterned). The female last will be similar to that of the male version, but usually a little narrower, especially in the heel. Other differences may include a higher arch, a thinner and longer toe box, and a lower instep. These changes in last dimensions can enhance the fit for many women, particularly those who have very narrow or low-volume feet.
Analysis and Test Results
In each iteration of our women's climbing shoe review, we see more choices available; in fact, the past couple of years have been marked by an increase in the number of women's specific shoes produced by manufacturers. If you have a narrow and/ or low-volume foot, this is great news! There are tons of choices out there from all the familiar brands that are catering to women specifically. That being said, unisex climbing shoes are designed to be just that — unisex. So, don't feel like you are limited solely to women's specific shoes.
Despite the regular additions to the women's specific shoe market, there are still gaps in coverage, though progress is being made. However, this review is the first time we able to exclusively compare women's specific models since there are finally enough options available to conduct an extensive, side-by-side analysis.
It should be noted that we have shoes designed for a variety of different climbing disciplines and they've been combined into this one review. This predicament creates problems when trying to perform a comparative analysis. To address this issue, we have highlighted the differences between the various models and also highlighted which models are most comparable, so if you are looking for a specific style, you can quickly narrow your search.
The price of climbing shoes seems to be increasing each year. Preparing to throw down as much as a few Benjamins for a new pair of shoes of which the performance and lasting fit are yet unknown can make the selection process a bit overwhelming. At these prices, we want to make sure that we are getting the right tool for the job! The most expensive shoes in this review are the Scarpa Furia. Both the La Sportiva Solution and the La Sportiva Solution Comp are close behind. These shoes are designed for a particular use (steep face climbs) and are typically purchased by experienced climbers who want to up their technical climbing game. The Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco is a bit more versatile and comfortable, but still costs a pretty penny.
For more reasonably priced shoes, look at brands like Mad Rock and Butora, who make high-quality products at lower prices. We love the Mad Rock Lotus as a less expensive, but similar in style, counterpart to the Solution. For a comfortable, and fairly reasonably priced option, check out the Evolv Shakra as an introductory shoe. We were also impressed by the Butora Gomi, which is a high-performance shoe comparable to the Solution, with a more affordable price tag.
There is a wide price range within the climbing shoe world. So, it may take some time to figure out which model has the features you need with a price tag you can manage. However, buying a new shoe isn't your only option when the toes are wearing thin on your current shoes. You can always send your old standbys to a re-sole company to extend their life and save some cash in the process or purchase from a used gear shop. This option is a good thing to remember when the anxiety of spending a lot of money on a new pair of kicks washes over you!
Evaluating the comfort of a climbing shoe is difficult, and many folks have different ideas of what makes a comfortable shoe. Climbing shoes, in general, are going to be less comfortable than shoes worn around town. Some people size their shoes small to get the tightest fit possible for maximum performance.
Others will want a shoe whose fit feels more that of a street shoe for all-day comfort. We based our evaluation on how closely the shoes hugged our feet, how crammed our toes felt, and on the extra features that make a shoe bearable to wear.
Naturally, all the shoes with a flatter shape, like the Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco and the Five Ten Anasazi LV are more comfortable to wear for extended periods than models with an aggressive downturn. This increased comfort is due to the more natural position in which these shoes hold your feet. The Unparallel Up Lace is also fairly flat and comfortable for all-day outings. We found that the Evolv Shakra, as well, fit comfortably enough to wear them for hours at the gym without taking them off.
Downturned shoes push your toes into the front of the shoe to amplify their power and allow the climber to toe-in on small holds more aggressively.
Surprisingly a few of the most aggressively downturned shoes that we tested, such as the La Sportiva Solution Comp , also turned out to be some of the most comfortable. These shoes don't crush your toes, and they have a sock-like tongue that cradles the foot. Our Best Buy Award Winner, the Mad Rock Lotus, also fit snuggly and comfortably.
The La Sportiva Miura VS has bonus comfort features like a padded heel and a padded tongue that tightens the fit for women and makes it very pleasant to wear. Both the Velcro model and the lace-up model have these features. We found the Velcro model to be much more comfortable overall.
We also noticed that some shoes hug the whole foot, leaving no air pockets or dead space inside. Some shoes with very flat midsoles left pockets of space below the arch of the foot, and this resulted in a less comfortable fit overall.
The La Sportiva Solution Comp, Mad Rock Lotus, and Scarpa Instinct VS all hug the foot entirely with no dead space, and we preferred this close fit. The La Sportiva Skwama also hugs the foot. Its soft sole and sensitivity made it one of our favorites for multi-pitch sport climbing, where both comfort and performance matter.
One of the reasons that climbers fork over one to two hundred of their hard-earned dollars for climbing shoes versus sneakers or boots is that the prior gives a climber's toes the ability to feel the rock and use minuscule features on the wall.
We find that the more sensitive and precise, the better because then we can trust our feet as we make delicate moves.
Our Editors Choice award winner, the La Sportiva Miura VS is one of the most sensitive shoes we've reviewed. This shoe is fairly stiff and a bit downturn, but these features didn't take away from the overall sensitivity of the shoe on all types of terrain. We also appreciated the sensitivity of the Skwama and the Butora Acro, as they gave us the confidence to stand on the smallest holds out there and still trust our feet.
The Evolv Shakra and the Five Ten Anasazi were some of the least sensitive shoes we tested. The Shakra did ok in the gym and on less technical climbing but was not the shoe of choice for precision footwork. The Anasazi felt a bit blunt in the toe box and lacked precision as well.
Another surprise in the sensitivity department was the Mad Rock Lotus, which we had initially written off because of their overall design and their unusually bulky heel. But, after breaking them in a bit, the Lotus quickly became one of our favorite shoes, with the ability to toe into tiny holds and stick to polished granite with ease.
Edging and sensitivity are similar but apply to different styles of footholds.
While sensitivity allows you to smear on and toe into tiny footholds with confidence, edging, as we define it, is the ability to place a toe on a small edge and have it feel like a much larger feature. This aspect of climbing shoe performance requires a bit stiffer sole that is supportive of the whole foot when pressing down on thin edges.
When it comes to edging, the La Sportiva Miura VS is top-notch. Its stiff midsole and slight downturn help toe in on gently overhanging terrain. At the same time, its shape allows for precision edging on vertical terrain and even slabs. These shoes are edging masters.
The "Powerhinge" connects the rubber rand, which wraps around the whole foot, to a hole cut in the sole on the bottom of the shoe. When the toe is weighted on an edge, the weight of the climber stretches forward from the heel towards the front of the shoe. This hole in the sole only allows the shoe to stretch in the back half, leaving the toe where you placed it on the surface of the rock. The result is that you can stand on edges with your full weight, and still feel secure. The La Sportiva Miura (lace-up version) is also impressed as an edging machine. The velcro model is slightly more downturned than its lace-up counterpart, making it great for steep, technical terrain.
Additionally, the Unparallel Up Lace and the Scarpa Vapor V perform well in the edging category.
The shoes with the least edging capability were the Five Ten Anasazi LV - Women's as our feet always wanted to roll off edges when wearing these kicks. The Scarpa Arpia also fell short in this metric because they were so soft in the midsole we had a hard time holding an edge on vertical terrain.
As the name implies, the crack climbing metric evaluates how well a shoe will perform when jammed into cracks. Sliding your foot into a crack and twisting to the side so that you can stand up on it is one of the more unique ways to use your feet while climbing. The features that make for a good crack shoe are a flatter shape that can fit inside a crack without painfully impacting the knuckle of the toes as would be the case in a shoe sporting a turned down toe. Additionally, these shoes have a stiff platform that supports the whole foot, and that prevents lateral taco-ing with enough rubber along the side of the shoe to find purchase on the interior and edges of the crack. Ideally, a crack shoe will be decent at edging and smearing as well, because you will likely need to do all of these things on a traditional climb; even if it's just a single pitch.
Typically, we like to use the La Sportiva TC Pro for crack climbing, though this is not a women's specific shoe. The TC is stiff yet sensitive and can be sized up for a comfortable all-day shoe, or sized tight for more technical climbing. When it comes to long days of crack climbing in Yosemite Valley, for example, we typically go with TC Pros as opposed to one of the women's specific models found in this review.
We were psyched to check out the Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco this season and found that this shoe was as close as we could get to a women's specific version of the TC Pro. With ankle protection, edging abilities, and comfort in cracks, the Maestro was our women's specific go-to for crack climbing.
Although the Miura VS has some downturn in the toe, there is not enough of a curve to be painful when jammed, and this bit of aggression helps work the toe into difficult, finger-sized cracks.
Shoes like the La Sportiva Miura and the Unparallel Up Lace are also good crack climbing shoes that are also lace-up. For super continuous cracks at a place like Indian Creek, Utah, the unisex Five Ten Moccasym reigns king. It is a slipper with very sticky rubber and a flat shape. When sized large, it can be comfortable in cracks of any width, and the lack of laces keeps the shoe from shredding.
Shoes with a significant amount of downturn are especially uncomfortable when foot jamming. So, models like the La Sportiva Solution and Butora Acro are best reserved for steep face moves. Surprisingly, the La Sportiva Skwama does okay in cracks, although it is designed as more of a steep, sporty shoe. The soft midsole and rubber-coated toe make the Skwama a good option for pushing into thin, technical cracks.
The pockets category is an evaluation of how well a given shoe can sink into the cavities of a rock surface. Often a shoe with a pointed toe will excel in this particular medium. Moreover, a shoe with a downturn in the toe will offer the added advantage of being able to hook pockets on steep to overhanging terrain - as opposed to simply pressing down on them - allowing you to pull your hips in close to the wall for efficient body positioning.
Bear in mind that the pockets evaluation is in many ways the polar opposite of the crack climbing assessment. As such, the shoes that perform poorly on crack climbs are often among the higher performers on pocketed terrain and vice versa.
The La Sportiva Solution Comp is our favorite shoe for pocket pulling. As you may recall, the Comp is also the shoe we preferred for steep climbing. This commonality shouldn't be too surprising though considering the similarities in ankle and toe movement across the two techniques. As a bonus, this shoe uses Sportiva's P3 Platform, which helps this Top Pick award winner retain its downturned toe throughout the life of the shoe.
Other downturned shoes such as the Mad Rock Lotus, our Best Buy Award Winner, also do well in this category, but the Solution's shape, combined with surprising comfort and sensitivity, earns it the top score. Other top contenders include the La Sportiva Kataki and the Scarpa Instinct VS.
Not surprisingly, the flatter soled shoes in this review, such as the Unparallel Up Lace do not perform at a high level when toeing into pockets.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is a minor category for climbing shoes, yet our evaluation revealed noticeable differences between test models. Shoes with Velcro straps are the easiest to get on and off, while lace-ups take a little longer. This feature may not matter to many women because laces afford a customizable fit throughout the upper portion and - depending on far the laces go down the upper - the toe box. For those with oddly proportioned feet, a lace-up like the Scarpa Vapor, La Sportiva Miura, or Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco will let you loosen the fit in key areas and cinch them down in others.
A potentially significant detail that we - and those near us - noticed is that Evolv's synthetic shoes eventually began to stink way more than what we'd consider "normal." Climbing shoes never smell particularly sweet, but we had a lot of other shoes to compare them with, and the leather models are slower to develop an off-putting odor. If you plan to wear your synthetic Evolv shoes regularly, you will likely need to regularly clean and dry them.
After many days of research, field tests, and analysis of female-specific climbing shoes we've granted awards to the shoes that are the best in their class and often surpassed our expectations. However, our review comes with an obvious caveat: climbing shoe fit and performance is subjective; what fits one woman like it was custom made may cause extreme discomfort to another. We recommend you take our suggestions with a grain of salt and make your own choices by trying them on before making a purchase. Don't be afraid to check out all the unisex models. There are plenty of worthwhile shoes that don't come in women's specific versions.
— Jane Jackson