It can be hard to narrow down the plethora of options out there to the single best pair of climbing shoes out there. We scoured the internet, researching dozens of pairs, before purchasing the top 12 specifically designed for women. These shoes have been put to the test on a wide range of rock, from sandstone splitters to slick granite boulders in Camp 4 to steep, techy limestone sport climbs. We have toe hooked, knee-bar-ed, back-stepped, and heel-toed across the Western U.S. to assess the performance of each of these models. We have also evaluated their overall comfort, ease-of-use, and break-in period, as well as their sensitivity, fit, and durability. To learn more about our findings, read on!
The 12 Best Climbing Shoes For Women
This fall season, we have added two new pairs of shoes to our fleet. First, we got our hands on the newest edition of the La Sportiva Miura, which have a snazzy new look but perform almost identically to the previous model. We also checked out the new women's specific La Sportiva Skwama, which dazzled us with their overall performance, comfort, and design. Keep reading to learn more about our findings.
Best Overall Women's Climbing Shoes
La Sportiva Kataki - Women's
Before the La Sportiva Kataki came into our lives, it was hard to answer the question: what is your favorite climbing shoe? Mostly because we use different shoes for different purposes, making it nearly impossible to narrow it down to just one shoe. But, with the advent of the Kataki, things have changed. These shoes quickly became our go-to no matter what style climbing we sought out. From techy limestone to steep sandstone bouldering, to delicate edging and smearing on the hold-less granite of Yosemite, the Kataki continually impressed us.
They have an aggressive shape, which is great for sport climbing and bouldering, as well as a stiff sole that helps stand on small smears and edges on vertical or less-than-vertical terrain. The 4mm Vibram XS Grip2 rubber made for some of the stickiest shoes we tested. How could you go wrong?
Read review: La Sportiva Kataki
Best Bang for the Buck
Mad Rock Lotus
The Mad Rock Lotus pleasantly surprised us during testing; in fact, it came out on top as one of the best shoes in the fleet. The Lotus is not the cheapest shoe in this review, but it is the best-performing shoe for the price. For a good introductory shoe, try the Black Diamond Momentum or the La Sportiva Finale.
This contender is an excellent option for those looking to up their game, but aren't ready to throw down on a $200 climbing shoe just yet. It's also a top performer on steep sport climbs, boulder problems, and at the gym. For $119, the Lotus is still an investment, but it is significantly less than many of the shoes in this review received similar scores in our metric ratings.
Read review: Mad Rock Lotus
Top Pick for Steep Climbing and Bouldering
La Sportiva Solution - Women's
The La Sportiva Solution is a high performance, technical shoe designed for technical terrain. Though they are aggressively downturned, the Solutions break in to be very comfortable. The soles are soft and flexible, but they provide stiffness that will keep you on your toes on vertical terrain. The shoes fit to the shape of your foot like a rubber glove and the rubber soles seem to mold to the tiniest contours of the wall.
These slipper-like shoes combine comfort and performance in a way that no other shoe does. We wore these shoes on everything from granite slabs to steep sport climbs to high ball boulder problems. They excelled more in the latter situations, earning them our Top Pick Award for Sport Climbing and Bouldering.
Read review: La Sportiva Solution - Women's
Top Pick for Versatility
La Sportiva Miura - Women's
If you ask around at most climbing areas around the world, chances are you will find many people who swear by the La Sportiva Miura. There are those who swear by the Miura for granite slab and crack climbing, those who will rock these shoes at the steep limestone sport crag, and the technical wizards who love the Miura's ability to stick to small edges.
From beginners to climbers who have been at it for decades, the Miuras seem to always impress. This versatility and long-standing popularity give the Miura our Top Pick Award for Versatility.
Read review: La Sportiva Miura — Women's
Top Pick for Multi-Pitch and Crack Climbing
Five Ten Anasazi LV - Women's
For the desert crack climber or those who prefer long days in the mountains, look no further than the Five Ten Anasazi LV. These shoes have the legendary Five Ten Stealth rubber that will stick to anything. They also have a fairly stiff, yet still flexible sole that will stand up to splitter cracks but will also hold their own on small edges and face holds.
Their overall flat shape makes them comfortable for crack climbing, as does their extra-padded tongue. All-day comfort is critical for a trad-specific shoe, and the Anasazi is perfect for anything from Indian Creek splitters to long, burly routes in Yosemite.
Read review: Five Ten Anasazi LV — Women's
What Makes Climbing Shoes Women's Specific?
First of all, let's discuss what makes a women's shoe a specifically women's shoe. What is the difference between a women's climbing shoe and a men's? What are the advantages of a women'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, just like products with the women's specific label.
The main difference in women's shoes (besides color) is that shoes for females are usually built from a different last than the men's counterpart. It will be similar to the last of the male version, but usually a little narrower, especially in the heel. Other differences can include a higher arch, a thinner and longer toe box, and a lower instep. This can really enhance the fit for many women, particularly those who have very narrow or low volume feet and have a hard time fitting into unisex models.
Analysis and Test Results
Each iteration of our women's climbing shoe review has more and more choices, as the past couple of years have seen a marked increase in the number of women's specific shoes out there. If you have a narrow or low-volume foot, this is great news! There are tons of choices out there from all brands that cater specifically to women. That being said, unisex climbing shoes are designed to be just that — unisex. Do not feel like you are limited solely to women's specific shoes.
There are still gaps in coverage regarding women's specific models, though progress is being made. For this review, we only compared women's specific models, since there are enough options out there to create an extensive, wide-ranging review. These shoes are all designed with a women's foot in mind, making them narrower and lower volume than the corresponding men's models.
We have shoes for different disciplines combined in this one review. Obviously, different shoes excel at different things, and they may not compare well to each other. We have highlighted the differences between models and also highlighted which competitors are most comparable to one another so if you are looking for a specific style, you can find it.
The price of climbing shoes seems to be going up every year. This makes picking out a new pair even more of an overwhelming choice, as we prepare to throw down up to $200 for a new pair of shoes. We want to make sure we are getting the right tool for the job! The most expensive shoes in this review are the newest version of the La Sportiva Solution, ringing in at $180. This shoe is very designed for a particular use and typically is purchased by experienced climbers who want to up their game a bit on steeper, more technical climbing. Our Editors' Choice award winner, the La Sportiva Kataki is $10 less than the Solution and much more versatile.
For more reasonably priced shoes, look toward other brands, like Mad Rock and Butora, who make high-quality shoes at lower prices. We loved the Mad Rock Lotus as a cheaper, but similar in style, counterpart to the Solution. For a beginner shoe, the Black Diamond Momentum costs only $90 and works well as a gym shoe and introductory shoe; this is the least-expensive model we tested. As you can see, the price range is wide in the climbing shoe world, and it takes some time to figure out which model has the features you need with a price tag you can manage. It should also be noted that you can always send your old shoes into a re-sole company to extend the life out of your most favorite pairs. This is always a good thing to remember when the anxiety of spending a lot of money on a new pair kicks in!
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 very small to get the tightest possible fit 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 of time than models with an aggressive downturn. These shoes let your feet sit in their more natural shape. Similarly, the La Sportiva Finale and to some extent, the Black Diamond Momentum, can be worn all day with ease without holding your foot captive in an unnatural position.
Downturned shoes push your toes into the front of the shoe to amplify their power and allow the climber to toe in more aggressively on small holds.
Surprisingly some of the most aggressively downturned shoes we tested, like the La Sportiva Solution - Women's turned out to be also one 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 has bonus comfort features like a padded heel and a padded tongue which tightens the fit for women and makes it very pleasant to wear.
We also noticed that some shoes hug the whole foot, leaving no air pockets or dead space inside. The Evolv Kira left pockets of space below the arch of the foot, and this resulted in a less comfortable fit overall.
Models like the La Sportiva Kataki, Mad Rock Lotus, and La Sportiva Solution both hug the foot entirely with no dead space, and we prefer this close fit.
The reason climbers wear climbing shoes versus sneakers or boots is that it gives your toes the ability to feel the rock and use slight 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 least sensitive pair we tested was the Butora Libra, which were so stiff in the toe box and midsole that we could hardly feel what we were standing on in these shoes. We had a hard time using small features when wearing this contender.
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 slippery granite with ease. We ended up making a 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.
Whereas sensitivity allows you to smear on small holds and toe into little footholds with confidence, edging, as we see it, is the ability to place a toe on a small edge and have it feel like a giant foothold. This requires the shoe to be a bit stiff in the sole, to provide support to your foot as it presses down on a small foothold.
When it comes to edging, the La Sportiva Miura - Women's is top notch. Surprisingly, though, we found the La Sportiva Kataki to be neck in neck with the longstanding technical favorite, the Miura, regarding edging ability. The Kataki, with a stiff midsole, a slight downturn, and a sensitive toe, can stand on anything. The Miura uses a proprietary technology that Sportiva refers to as the "Powerhinge."
This 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. This means you can stand on edges with your full weight, and still feel secure.
The La Sportiva Miura VS, Black Diamond Momentum, and the Scarpa Vapor perform well in this category.
The shoes with the worst edging capability were the Evolv Kira and Five Ten Anasazi LV - Women's, as our feet seemed to always pick off edges when wearing this competitor.
This metric evaluates how well a shoe will perform when jammed into cracks. Sliding your toe 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. What makes a shoe good for cracks is a flatter shape so that it can fit inside the crack, a stiff platform to stand on, and enough rubber along the side of the shoe to find purchase along the edges of the crack. Often you want a shoe for cracks to be decent at edging and smearing as well because you will usually need to do all of these things as well as foot-jam on a single pitch.
The shoes in this test that work the best in cracks are the Five Ten Anasazi LV, the Butora Libra, and the La Sportiva Miura.
Though the Miura has some downturn, there is not enough of a curve to be painful in cracks, and this bit of aggression helps work the toe in on difficult, finger-sized cracks. We found the Anasazi to be the best for long routes because while the flat shape fits into cracks well, they also edge and smear well on all the features in between the crack systems.
With lace-up shoes, it is essential to recognize how much of the lacing system will be worn when climbing in cracks. Shoes like the La Sportiva Miura and the Butora Libra 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 crack climbing, so models like the La Sportiva Solution and Butora Acro are painful when twisted in a crack and best reserved for steep face moves.
This metric is almost the opposite of the crack climbing metric; the shoes that are the worst for cracks are the best for steep pockets, and vice versa.
The pockets category is not only an evaluation of how well a shoe can sink into pockets but also an assessment of how well the shoes perform on steep terrain. A pointed, precise toe will let you step into pockets no matter the degree of steepness. Being able to hook into steep pockets and pull the body close to the wall is a feature common with downturned shoes.
Our favorite for pocket pulling is also our favorite for steep climbing, the La Sportiva Solution. This shoe is designed with Sportiva's P3 Platform, which lets this award winner retain their downturn; it also means it won't flatten out over time, either.
Other downturned shoes such as our Best Buy Award Winner, the Mad Rock Lotus, also do well in this category, but the Solution's shape combined with surprising comfort and sensitivity earns it the top score. Other contenders to earn an 8 include the La Sportiva Kataki and the Scarpa Vapor.
The flatter shoes in this review, such as the La Sportiva Finale, Evolv Kira, and Black Diamond Momentum do not perform as well on pockets as shoes with a downward turn.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is a minor category for climbing shoes, but still a noticeable difference between pairs. Shoes with Velcro straps are the easiest to get on and off, while lace-ups take a little longer to get in and out of. This may not matter to many women because laces do allow for a more customizable level of tightness. For those with oddly proportioned feet, a lace-up like the Scarpa Vapor, La Sportiva Miura, La Sportiva Finale, Butora Libra, or La Sportiva Kataki will let you loosen the fit in key areas and crank them down in others.
One other minor detail is that we noticed (and got reports from many users) 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 to. Leather resists stench more. If you plan to wear your synthetic Evolv shoes on a regular basis, you will need to be dedicated to drying and cleaning them. Otherwise, you will be subjected to the poisonous cloud that wafts out of our well-loved pairs.
After many days of researching, talking about, and testing these climbing shoes, we've granted awards to the shoes that are the best of the best and surpassed our expectations. However, we do have a disclaimer: climbing shoe fit and performance is incredibly subjective. What fits one woman like a glove may cause extreme discomfort to another. We recommend you take our suggestions with a grain of salt and make your own choices for what will fit you and work best for you. Don't be afraid to check out all the unisex models in our Men's Review. There are plenty of worthy shoes that don't come in women's specific versions.
— Jane Jackson