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Over the past decade, our team has tested over 45 of the best women's climbing shoes, recently purchasing 20 of today's best models for our latest round of side-by-side testing. We've put in a significant amount of time and effort scanning online retailers and perusing local gear shops in order to bring the best products to you. Hundreds of pitches and boulder problems have been climbed to get the most accurate results. We've climbed cracks, pulled on pockets, fallen off our projects, and tip-toed up delicate slabs all in the name of testing. From circuits in the gym to the sweeping walls of the Verdon Gorge, we have put in the time to help you find the right pair of climbing shoes.
Performs well on slabby, vertical, and overhanging routes
Provides arch support for longer days
REASONS TO AVOID
Narrow toe box might not fit everyone
The La Sportiva Miura VS is a classic shoe that is ubiquitous in 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. With its range of applications, high scores across the board, and loyal following, the Miura VS is an obvious choice for overall favorite.
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 beat some of the top performers on vertical terrain as well. Their three Velcro straps allow for easy adjustments, and they fit a wide range of foot shapes. Size them with a bit of extra room, and they can be great for all-day comfort on hard free routes. Size them tighter, and they're the perfect shoe for your steep sport project. All-around performance is the name of the game here.
The Five Ten Kirigami is seriously one of the most comfortable shoes we've ever worn — and we've worn a LOT of different climbing shoes over the years. On the first day wearing these shoes outdoors, we put them on for a pitch of climbing and then left them on while belaying — something our lead tester would never normally do. The Kirigamis were arguably more comfortable than our approach shoes. Point being, these Velcro slippers are ideal for beginner climbers and those concerned with comfort above all else. They are still well-made and provide a solid foundation for a wide variety of climbing. We felt they were best suited for moderate multi-pitch climbing, especially crack climbs. Comfort and performance in a reasonably priced package — what's not to like?
These shoes performed okay across the board in our metric comparisons. Though not designed for performance rock climbing, we tested them on small edges and smears to see how they worked. In general, the Kirigami did pretty well except for the fact that the soles are very floppy, meaning these shoes completely lack the stiffness of many of our top performers in edging.
The La Sportiva Tarantulace is our top recommendation for new climbers who are ready to commit to buying their own pair of shoes. The Tarantulace is first and foremost comfortable — their soft leather uppers will stretch with wear. The shoes are not aggressively shaped like our value recommendation, so they work great for all-day multi-pitch climbs or long gym sessions. They have a slight downturn which helps them excel as an edging shoe. We found them to work best on vertical terrain with decently sized footholds or for all day wear on easier cracks.
Once the angle gets steeper, or the holds become more like smears, the Tarantulaces start to become a bit more challenging to trust. The rubber compound is not the stickiest we've tested, and the stiffness of the sole makes them a bit hard to smear with, especially on footless granite slabs. This aside, the Tarantulaces are still great shoes for most introductory climbing.
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, making this slick slipper a great choice 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's heel cup is lower profile and more sensitive than 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.
The incredibly comfortable La Sportiva Skwama is one of our favorite shoes and our go-to for most of our projects, from steep, overhanging pocketed lines to technical, crimpy faces. The Skwama is 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. With so much sticky rubber on the toe box, we also found the Skwama to excel on thin cracks and corners. It's an incredibly versatile shoe, and we almost always throw the Skwama in our bag, no matter where we're headed.
The Skwama is a great all-around shoe with few performance weaknesses. However, take note that the material stretches out quickly, which is a bit disappointing for such a pricey shoe. It's better to size down when purchasing these shoes and prepare for a painful break-in process. Still, we love this shoe and are thrilled to have the Skwama accompany us on all our climbing adventures.
Laces and leather uppers could have durability issues
The La Sportiva Katana Lace is one of the best all-around shoes we've ever worn. We've been wearing the men's version for years and were excited to get our hands on the newly released women's specific shoe. The Katana is an all-around workhorse and not only excels on steep rock, but its slight downturn allows it to edge on lower-angle technical terrain. The toe box on the Katanas is noticeably more narrow, allowing it to perform well on thin cracks and corners. These shoes are super easy to adjust — cinch them down when it's time to take the sharp end on the crux pitch or loosen them up while hanging at the belay. A medium-stiff midsole makes the Katana Lace versatile, and once broken in, you can trust these shoes on any type of hold.
Our only real gripe with the Katana Lace is its price tag. These are expensive and it can be hard to wrap one's head around paying so much. Durability can also be an issue with the repeated abuse of crack climbing on the leather uppers and toe box. Regardless, we loved the Katana Lace for crack and multi-pitch climbing on pretty much any style.
Our testers spend more time climbing than they probably ought to. Over the past nine years, we've been putting countless climbing shoes through the wringer to find the best shoes to meet our specific needs. We start out by doing our research to slim down the selection of shoes to just the top contenders. We then purchase each pair and ship them off to our expert testers who painstakingly break each pair in and test them out in various climbing styles. While a jack of all trades may be a master of none, we can at least make well-founded judgments on the performance of each of these shoes in a wide range of climbing styles.
Our climbing shoe testing is divided across six rating metrics:
Comfort (25% of overall score weighting)
Sensitivity (25% weighting)
Edging (15% weighting)
Crack Climbing (15% weighting)
Pockets (15% weighting)
Ease of Use (5% weighting)
Our lead testers are Jane Jackson and Whitney Clark. Jane spends a lot of her time climbing 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. Whitney spends her summers climbing alpine granite throughout the west and winters in the mountains of Patagonia. She travels a good chunk of the year, always climbing along the way. From the sweeping and imposing limestone walls of France's Verdon Gorge to the perfectly parallel cracks found in the desert Southwest closer to home, and finally (and somewhat begrudgingly) to the hallowed boulders of the Buttermilks, our testers have put these shoes through a smattering of different climbing styles.
What Makes a Climbing Shoe 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.
Aside from the superficial (like 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 foot's anatomy 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 with low-volume or very narrow feet.
Analysis and Test Results
Each time we revamp 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 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 were able to exclusively compare women's specific models. Finally, there are 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 highlighted which models are most comparable. 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! Some of the highest-priced shoes in our review are the Scarpa Furia and some of the high-end La Sportiva models. Many of these shoes are designed for a specific use and are typically purchased by experienced climbers who want to up their technical climbing game. The La Sportiva Katana Lace is a bit more versatile and comfortable, but still costs a pretty penny.
For more reasonably priced shoes, look at brands like Butora, Black Diamond, and Mad Rock, who make high-quality products at lower prices. The Five Ten Kirigami impressed us in both comfort and price, with great performance in most of our testing metrics as well. The Black Diamond Momentum is a comparable option, reasonably priced, and would be great first shoe for a beginner climber. We were also impressed by the Butora Gomi, which is a high-performance shoe comparable to the Solution, with a more affordable price tag. La Sportiva also has a few reasonably priced models--most notably the Tarantulace, which earned honors for its exceptional value.
There is a wide price range within the climbing shoe world. It may take some time to figure out which model has the features you need with a price tag you can manage. However, when the toes are wearing thin on your current shoes, buying a new shoe isn't your only option. You can always save some cash by purchasing from a used gear shop or sending your old standbys to a re-sole company to extend their life. These are great options 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 similar to 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 Kirigami and La Sportiva Tarantulace, 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 also found that the Evolv Kira 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 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. Unfortunately, shoes that are both incredibly stiff and downturned, like the Black Diamond Zone, don't cradle the foot at all and can make for a very uncomfortable fit. 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, resulting in a less comfortable fit overall. Surprisingly, the La Sportiva Tarantulace has a fairly flat midsole, yet still seems to hug the sole of the foot comfortably.
The La Sportiva Solution Comp and Scarpa Instinct VS both 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 we can trust our feet as we make delicate moves.
The La Sportiva Miura VS is one of the most sensitive shoes we've reviewed. They're fairly stiff and slightly downturned, but those features didn't detract from their overall sensitivity on all types of terrain. We also appreciated the sensitivity of the Skwama and the Butora Acro, as they gave us the confidence to still trust our feet on the smallest holds out there.
The Black Diamond Zone and Evolv Shakra were some of the least sensitive shoes we tested. The thick rubber on the Zone combined with the stiff, inflexible midsole made it hard to feel any holds beneath our feet. The Shakra did okay in the gym and on less technical climbing but was not the shoe of choice for precision footwork.
Edging and sensitivity are similar but apply to different styles of footholds.
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 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 is also impressive 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 Five Ten Kirigami wasn't quite stiff enough to perform well in this metric. The Black Diamond Momentum also fell short. Both shoes, though very different in shape and style, were too soft in the midsole, making it hard to hold 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. A good crack shoe has a flatter shape that can fit inside a crack without painfully impacting the knuckle of the toes (as opposed to a downturned 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 also be decent at edging and smearing since you will likely need to do all of these things on a traditional climb, even if it's just a single pitch.
Sometimes we opt for the hi-top La Sportiva TC Pros for crack climbing, though this is not a women's specific shoe. The TC Pro 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 wide crack climbing in Yosemite Valley, for example, the TC Pros would be our choice instead of one of the women's specific models found in this review.
That being said, we were psyched to check out the newer La Sportiva Women's Katana Lace and found that this shoe performed better than the TC Pro in thinner and more technical cracks. With a narrow toe box, edging abilities, and relative comfort in cracks, the Katana Lace is our new women's specific go-to for thin and technical 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 lace-up crack climbing shoes.
Shoes with a significant amount of downturn are especially uncomfortable when foot jamming. Models like the La Sportiva Solution and Butora Acro are best reserved for steep face moves. Surprisingly, the La Sportiva Skwama does fairly well in cracks, especially finger and tight-hands cracks, although it is designed as more of a steep, sporty shoe. The soft midsole and rubber-coated toe make them easy to squeeze into thin, techy jams.
The pockets category is an evaluation of how well a given shoe can sink into a rock surface's cavities. 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 hooking 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. The Comp is also the shoe we prefer for steep climbing. This commonality shouldn't be too surprising, considering the similarities in ankle and toe movement across the two techniques. As a bonus, the Comp uses Sportiva's P3 Platform, which helps it retain its downturned toe throughout the life of the shoe.
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 the toe box, depending on how far the laces go down the upper. For those with oddly proportioned feet, a lace-up like the Scarpa Vapor, La Sportiva Miura, or La Sportiva Katana Lace will let you loosen the fit in key areas and cinch them down in others.
A potentially significant detail that we 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 clean and dry them regularly, too.
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 might cause extreme discomfort to another. We recommend taking our suggestions with a grain of salt and make your own choices by trying them on before making a purchase. And lastly, 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.
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