After meticulous research and testing, we've found the best climbing shoes for women in 2019. Like Cinderella looking for her glass slipper, we have tried on countless pairs of climbing shoes in search of the perfect pair. We spend hours conducting online research before selecting the top picks for hands-on testing. This season, we've compared the top 18 pairs of women's specific climbing shoes on the market right now. From introductory shoes that work great at the gym to highly specialized talons that will help you send your next project, we've tested them all. From boulders to single pitch crack climbs to long days on Yosemite granite, we have put these shoes to the test.
The Best Women's Climbing Shoes of 2019
|Price||$131.25 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Sensitive, great for edging, supportive, comfortable, versatile||Comfortable, high performance, sticky rubber, easy to put on, good in cracks, versatile||Comfortable, extremely sensitive, great for smearing and steep climbing, easy to get on and off||Good for steep climbing, break in well, conforms to foot shape, comfortable, aggressive shape||Great edging shoe, precise, versatile|
|Cons||Expensive||Stretch out quickly, costly, lack support||Expensive, No-Edge technology could be an acquired taste||Expensive, lacks versatility||Specific shape can cause discomfort for some, expensive|
|Bottom Line||The Kataki wins our Editors' Choice Award for their combination of comfort, sensitivity, and edging prowess.||The Skwama are impressive in many realms, combining comfort with a high performance fit.||If you let them, they may revolutionize your footwork; they'll take some getting used to, but are top notch for steep climbing.||The Solution gets our Top Pick for steep climbing and bouldering for their aggressive shape, precision, and comfortable design.||A technical climbing powerhouse, perfect for crimpy limestone lines or long granite free climbs.|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva Kataki - Women's||La Sportiva Skwama - Women's||La Sportiva Futura - Women's||Solution||Miura VS|
|Ease Of Use (5%)|
|Total Scores (%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva Kataki...||La Sportiva Skwama...||La Sportiva Futura...||Solution||Miura VS|
|Weight (Per Pair, size 37)||1.08 lb||1.00 lb||.91 lb||1.06 lb||.94 lb|
|Fit||Asymmetrical||Asymmetrical||High Asymmetry||Asymmetrical||High Asymmetry|
|Upper||Suede leather microfiber||Leather/Microfiber||Leather/ Synthetic||Leather/Lorica||Leather|
|Lining||Pacific||Unlined||Unlined||HF (heel and toe box only)||Dentex|
|Sole Rubber||Vibram XS Grip2||Vibram XS Grip2||Vibram XSGrip2||Vibram XS Grip2||Vibram XSGrip2|
Best Overall Women's Climbing Shoes
La Sportiva Kataki - Women's
Though we have a very hard time settling on just one shoe to name as our go-to favorite, the La Sportiva Kataki is as close as it gets to our idea of a one-shoe quiver. These shoes excel in almost any kind of terrain — from course, slabby high-balls in the Buttermilks to the steep techy edging required in Siurana, Spain. Normally, a shoe that works so well on steep, sporty terrain would not be our top pick for technical granite stemming, but once we got our hands on the Kataki our minds were changed. The Kataki even holds its own on splitter crack — some of our testers even use these kicks for evening laps on Cathedral Peak.
Though the out-perform almost all of the other shoes in this review in the face climbing realm, the Katakis are still a fairly downturned shoe. For an all-day crack shoe, we would probably not reach for the Kataki first, but instead would go for the Unparallel Up Lace or the Five Ten Anasazi LV for the longer trad missions.Read review: La Sportiva Kataki
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
Top Pick for Steep Climbing and Bouldering
La Sportiva Solution - Women's
The La Sportiva Solution is most at home on steep sport climbs and boulders. These shoes have been a longstanding favorite among boulderers, bolt clippers, and gym climbers. During testing, we found them to hold their own on vertical terrain - with just enough stiffness to provide comfort and a precise toe box that makes small holds seem bigger. Once broken in, the Solutions were some of the most comfortable shoes we reviewed. We put these on at the beginning of a long gym session and didn't take them off for hours. They fit our feet like a tight-fitting pair of rubber gloves and climbed with an impressive level of sensitivity.
These slipper-like shoes combine comfort and performance so well that only one other shoe in our test - the La Sportiva Futura - came close. We wore these shoes on everything from granite slabs to steep sport climbs to highball boulder problems. That said, we prefer them on sport climbs and boulder problems.
Read review: La Sportiva Solution - Women's
Top Pick 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
Top Pick for Multi-Pitch and Crack Climbing
Five Ten Anasazi LV - Women's
For the staunch traditionalist, the desert rat, or the ridge rambler, the Five Ten Anaszi LV is the ticket. These shoes are simple - two Velcro straps, a flat shape, and the stickiest rubber soles on the market. The Stealth rubber will stick the nonexistent smears on desert sandstone and the stiff midsole yet flexible toe box will wedge into splitter cracks comfortably all day long.
The flat shape and extra padding in the tongue make the Anasazi a super comfortable crack climbing shoe, but their simple design takes away from their performance on steeper, more technical terrain. Their design makes them excel on all-day climbs, but holds them back in comparison to stiffer, more aggressive models.
Read review: Five Ten Anasazi LV — 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 Rock Climbing Shoes of 2019
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. The newest version of the La Sportiva Solution is a close second. This shoe is designed for a particular use (steep face climbs) and typically is purchased by experienced climbers who want to up their technical climbing game. Conversely, our Editors' Choice award winner, the La Sportiva Kataki is less expensive than the Solution and quite a bit more versatile.
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 cheaper, 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.
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 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 - Women's, 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, but these shoes were challenging to break in; causing pain initially.
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 Kataki, 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.
The most sensitive shoes are the La Sportiva Kataki - Women's, Solution, Miura, and the Five Ten Anasazi LV. We especially appreciated the sensitivity of the Kataki 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. We got in the habit of throwing these in our packs along with the La Sportiva Kataki whenever we went out climbing.
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 - Women's is top-notch. Surprisingly though, the La Sportiva Kataki was neck in neck in the edging department with this longstanding technical favorite. The Kataki, with a stiff midsole, a slight downturn, and a sensitive toe, can seemingly stand on anything. The Miura uses a proprietary technology that Sportiva refers to as the "Powerhinge."
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 VS 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 La Sportiva Miura VS, Unparallel Up Lace, and the Scarpa Vapor perform well in the edging category.
The shoes with the worst 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.
However, the shoes in this review that work the best in cracks are the Five Ten Anasazi LV, the Unparallel Up Lace, and the La Sportiva Miura.
Although the Miura 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. We found the Anasazi to be the best for long routes because while the flat shape fits easily into cracks, they also edge and smear well on all the features peppered in and around the crack systems.
With lace-up shoes, it is essential to recognize how much of the lacing system will wear when climbing cracks. Shoes like the La Sportiva Miura and the Unparallel Up Lace are good crack climbing shoes but are also lace-up, so continuous wear on splitter cracks may wear out the laces. 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. A women's specific version of this shoe is the Five Ten Anasazi LV, which also performs well on continuous cracks.
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 is our favorite shoe for pocket pulling. As you may recall, the Solution was 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 La Sportiva Kataki 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