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How We Tested Climbing Shoes for Women

By Jane Jackson ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday October 16, 2020

To start this review off, we spent a lot of time researching the top models on the market. We chatted with other women at the crag to find out which shoes they were most excited about and why. Then we went climbing. We've broken our metric comparisons down into five categories and sought out the best style of climbing to test each one. After extensive comparison, we have compiled the information here to let you know which models we think are the best for the discerning female climber.

Topping out in one of our favorite shoes for highballs - the super sticky Kataki.
Topping out in one of our favorite shoes for highballs - the super sticky Kataki.

Comfort


Comfort is both the easiest and most painful, metric to test. We have to break-in each pair of shoes just as you would a new pair at home. We go through the painful experience of squeezing our feet into aggressively downturned shoes and hobbling around the house until they start to feel normal. Some shoes break in easily, while others create hotspots.

The Skwamas  shown above  combine performance and comfort.
The Skwamas, shown above, combine performance and comfort.

Sensitivity


Bouldering, in particular, is a great way to compare each shoes' performance in terms of sensitivity. In this discipline, we were able to test these shoes side by side because frequently, we are trying the same move over and over again. The focus on minutiae in bouldering provides a great opportunity to look critically at each pair of shoes' sensitivity. Small edges and smears become the focal point for the entire boulder problem. A crucial heel hook may work great in one pair of shoes and be impossible in another pair.

Testing out the rubber on the famous Robinson Rubber Tester.
Testing out the rubber on the famous Robinson Rubber Tester.

Edging


To test each shoes' edging prowess, we sought out climbs on vertical terrain with edges for footholds rather than smears or pockets. Granite sport climbs and boulders, as well as the techy limestone faces of Siurana, Spain, were great places to test a shoe's edging capabilities. Stiffer shoes tended to do better on this type of climbing as opposed to soft, downturned slipper-like shoes that excel on overhanging terrain.

The Instincts hold their own on techy granite edges.
The Instincts hold their own on techy granite edges.

Crack Climbing


To test the shoes' performance on cracks, we returned to our roots as trad climbers. Our lead tester spends lots of time in Yosemite Valley, where crack climbing skills are constantly put to the test. We jammed each pair of shoes in finger cracks, hand cracks, and offwidths — and everything in between. This burly style of climbing is also a great way to test shoes' durability and comfort.

Tight-hands jamming in the Up Lace.
Tight-hands jamming in the Up Lace.

Pockets


To test shoes' performance on pockets, we sought out pocketed limestone - especially the endless cliffs of Bighorn Dolomite found in Tensleep, Wyoming. We also climbed in the Verdon Gorge in Southern France, Lander, Wyoming, and Montsant, Spain - all locales known for pocket climbing. Shoes with a narrow toe box and an aggressive, asymmetrical shape can fit in small pockets and allowed us to pull into the wall with our feet. This is crucial when the terrain gets steeper, and the climbing gets harder. After extensive comparison, we have compiled the information here to let you know which models we think are the best for the discerning female climber.

We loved the Futura for the steep  pocketed climbing found in Siurana  Spain.
We loved the Futura for the steep, pocketed climbing found in Siurana, Spain.