We researched over 60 of the best rock climbing shoes of 2019 and carefully selected over two dozen top models for side by side tests. With so many brands and models out there, selecting the right pair for your feet and climbing style can be a daunting task, but with so many manufacturers now making high-quality shoes, chances are that your perfect shoe is out there. We comprehensively tested these shoes from the limestone crags of Wyoming to the soaring granite of Yosemite to evaluate their edging ability and performance on cracks, pockets, and an assortment of other footholds. We also made a point to share them with climbers of a variety of styles and foot types to make confident conclusions about comfort and sensitivity.
The Best Rock Climbing Shoes of 2019
|Price||$195.00 at REI|
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|$170.00 at REI|
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|$174.95 at Backcountry|
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|$209.95 at Backcountry|
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|$114.93 at Amazon|
|Pros||Best edging shoe on the market||Comfortable, sensitive, awesome for crack climbing||Exceptional edging, quick lace closure, comfortable for its sharp downturn, great at toe hooking||Extremely sensitive, comfortable right out of the box, solid edging performance||Extremely sensitive, incredible edging prowess, fits well on narrow feet|
|Cons||Expensive||Leather upper stretches more than other models||Big toe volume, painful in cracks||Really expensive, limited support, low versatility||High volume toe and narrow fit feels painful in cracks|
|Bottom Line||This hod rod of a shoe performs well on every angle of rock, from steep to slabby.||This is a versatile shoe for high end sport and trad climbs at a great price.||An ultra-premium shoe at a reasonable price.||An ultra-premium shoe for ultra-hard climbing||A killer shoe for technical faces where sensitivity and edging ability are key.|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva Genius||La Sportiva Skwama||Evolv Oracle||Scarpa Chimera||Tenaya Tarifa|
|Total Scores (%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva Genius||La Sportiva Skwama||Evolv Oracle||Scarpa Chimera||Tenaya Tarifa|
|Upper||Suede leather / Microfiber||Leather / Microfiber / Rubber toe cap||Synthratek VX synthetic||Microsuede||Microfiber|
|Lining||Unlined||Unlined||None||None||Cotton with TXT treatment|
|Rubber Type||Vibram XS Grip2||Vibram XS Grip2||TRAX SAS||Vibram XS Grip2||Vibram XS Grip|
|Rubber Thickness (millimeters)||3 mm||4 mm||4.2 mm||3.5 mm||3.5 mm|
Best Overall Model
La Sportiva Kataki
Initially, our testers were impressed with these kicks for their crack climbing prowess. Now, after an additional year of testing, the La Sportiva Kataki is our go-to shoe for almost everything. Edging on techy granite? The Katakis deliver with a stiff-yet-sensitive edging platform. Hundreds of feet of glorious thin hands splitter standing between you and the summit? The Katakis' low-profile toe can fit into thin cracks, and the lacing system makes them feel comfortable in hand-sized cracks. We even find ourselves occasionally bouldering in these shoes, even though we sized them for roped climbing. They perform well in all but the steepest of terrain, and the S-heel is supportive and stable for heel hooking.
These shoes are comfy, but not quite "El Cap in day" comfy, so you'll want a more comfortable shoe like the TC Pro or the Butora Altura for mega missions in the mountains. For everything else, the Kataki is ready to crush.
Read review: La Sportiva Kataki
Top Pick For Edging and Sensitivity
La Sportiva Genius
From the folks that first brought you downturned shoes, the La Sportiva Genius is the product of multiple advancements in climbing shoe technology. More than just the evolution of the No Edge concept, the Genius borrows the best features from the La Sportiva arsenal for its design. The result is a shoe that can edge with support and precision while offering incredible sensitivity. The Genius performs well on technical granite with small edges and barely-there nubbins, but it is also downturned for steep climbing. Most shoes designed for steep climbing are soft and sensitive but are too soft for techy on-your-feet style pitches. The Genius excels at both.
Comfort is its weak spot, and while our feet still feel happy after a few pitches at the crag, we wouldn't want to climb long multi-pitches in these shoes. They aren't the best for longhand cracks either due to their aggressive shape. For harder finger crack pitches, they can be a good choice, since the crack will be too small for your feet anyway, and you'll need to use small holds outside of the cracks.
Read review: La Sportiva Genius
Best Bang for the Buck
The Butora Acro is high performing, comfortable shoe at a great price. Our testers loved the out of the box fit of this shoe, many commenting that they felt similar to La Sportiva Solution. Butora's proprietary Neo Fuse rubber sticks to granite slabs and micro features with the best of them, and there is a generous helping of it slathered on the uppers, making toe hooking a breeze.
The only problems our testers found with the Acro is some unwanted extra space in the heel. This shoe also isn't as sensitive as some of the softer shoes out there, but its stiff sole provides a powerful edging platform. In the wide fitting model, our testers could even climb cracks without pain, and we can't say that for many other aggressive shoe out there. All this at a price that still leaves some dough left over to gas up the car for a marathon drive to the Red River Gorge.
Read review: Butora Acro
Best Shoe for Trad and Crack Climbing
La Sportiva TC Pro
America's top trad climber, Tommy Caldwell, helped design these high-top beasts that bear now his initials. But don't attribute the popularity of the TC Pro to Tommy's celebrity, rather these shoes owe their ubiquitous status at American trad meccas to their outstanding ability to slay cracks. And they're particularly good at doing that all day long, for what would otherwise be pitch after painful pitch in an ordinary shoe. To achieve this, they're built on a stiff P3 midsole that provides excellent support for utilizing tiny edges and a sturdy platform for enduring relentless foot jams. These shoes also provide this support without totally compromising their sensitivity.
The TC Pro, however, is a specialized piece of equipment. Although it offers unmatched performance in cracks that are hand-sized and wider, its large toe box is less effective for thinner splitters. The flat sole that keeps your foot in a comfortable relaxed position, also limits the design's usefulness on overhanging terrain. Nevertheless, these drawbacks do little to detract from the TC Pro's overall awesomeness, and it's our top recommendation for long multi-pitch adventures or cruxy crack test pieces.
Read review: La Sportiva TC Pro
Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets
La Sportiva Tarantulace
If you are just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantulalace. Few shoes are cheaper at the same quality and versatility. More advanced shoes put your foot in an aggressive position that can be painful and unnecessary if you're beginning your climbing career. More advanced shoes also cost significantly more. We don't advise spending the extra dough until you've perfected your footwork. While the Tarantulace doesn't have the precise design of the other award winners, it's precise enough to be comfortable and a good tool for improving your technique. Best of all, this shoe climbs well just about everywhere: the gym, cracks, boulders, and multi-pitch routes with an easy lacing system to help you dial in the fit.
Read review: La Sportiva Tarantulace
Top Pick for Narrow Feet
Designed in the limestone mecca of Spain, the Tenaya Tarifa is the master of technical terrain and a perfect balance of sensitivity and edging power. They are substantially narrower than most other models, and while our wider footed testers could appreciate their edging prowess and high-quality construction, wearing them on longer pitches brought on whining and discomfort.
These shoes have a high volume toe that's not great for crack climbing, especially if your foot is wide. Our slender footed testers fought over who got to wear the Tarifas and felt they were the raddest climbing footwear. So, if your feet are more like skis and less like flippers, pick up a pair, tie-in, and send.
Read review: Tenaya Tarifa
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Matt Bento and Jack Cramer are devoted rock climbers who've spent the last decade pursuing the sport through a string of jobs and a habit of continuous travel. In real ways, performing this review is not outside the norm for their lifestyles, with the exception that there are often a few extra pairs of climbing shoes on hand at any given time. Matt has put some of his climbing skills to work for him as a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue. Meanwhile, Jack is a National Outdoor Leadership Alumnus who's established more than a dozen alpine first ascents.
Our testing took place on extended road trips across many of the most iconic and varied climbing destinations of the American west. These shoes saw everything from steep, pocketed limestone near Lander to the smooth granite cracks of Yosemite. Rest assured that we've edged and smeared on rock something like your home crag or next destination. In addition to rock types, we've tested on a variety of foot shapes as well, intentionally selecting testers that represent the broad range of foot shapes and sizes. This is in recognition of the fact that a great shoe for one climber might be unbearable to wear for another, purely based on fit.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
When it comes to rock climbing performance, there's a strong case that the single most important piece of gear goes on our feet. It's hard to place too much emphasis on having the right shoes. Often they are the difference between sending and whipping, and the harder the climbing gets, the narrower those margins become. The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is very often warranted — once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you, it feels very much like the skies open up and you can step off the plateau you've been stranded on. The longer you climb, the more seldom it becomes to have one of these epiphanic moments. Progressing takes a lot of devotion, rigorous training, and time spent on the rock. Doing all that in shoes that make you miserable, or that underperform, will drain your psyche faster than any climbing movie can restore it. The critical task is to find shoes that fit you and match the goals you'll be using them for.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Shoes
Our favorite shoes are the ones that have a balance of strengths. Manufacturers are constantly trying to design a shoe that can do it all because we desperately want to buy one pair that can do it all, but the reality is that all design involves trade-offs, and different types of climbing require different performance characteristics. Over the years some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to 3 pairs. One for pure Indian Creek-style splitters, another for hard sport climbing and bouldering, and a comfy third pair for all-day romps up long multi-pitch climbs. If popularity is any judge it, TC Pros might come the closest the ideal, while others will argue these high volume clunkers are insensitive and a terrible choice for finger cracks. Some climbers will never climb a crack in their lives, wearing the cheapest shoe they can find, spending all their time in the hollers of Kentucky, paddling up steep jug hauls. We're envious of these climbers and their single-minded obsessions, but for the majority of us with diverse palettes, one shoe will never be enough.
Climbing shoes offer a wide range of performance across a broad spectrum of prices. As such, some have earned specific awards, like Editors' Choice or Top Pick for All-Day Comfort. Most of the top-rated models, however, come with top-shelf prices. These prices can be well worth the cost if the shoes are the difference between clipping the chains or taking another whip off your project.
On the other hand, top-shelf prices are probably not worth it for climbers that have yet to experience the joy/anguish of a long-term project. We're talking about beginners or anyone who chooses to take a less obsessive approach to the sport. In the case of beginners, the process of learning precise footwork will quickly wear through the rubber, regardless of the price. We therefore suggest that new climbers select a cheaper model, such as the Best Buy Award-winning Tarantulace or the Evolv Defy.
The ability to make use of tiny edges is paramount in climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can get on your feet, the less you burden your throbbing forearms, and the more likely you are to send. The top edgers are the La Sportiva Genius and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. Both of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity.
The Genius gets your toes even further into the front of the shoe with its "no-edge" technology, holds its shape with a Permanent Power Platform (P3), and remains flexible due to its soft mid-sole. The Scarpa Instinct VS and the Butora Acro are also edging champs, but lack the sensitivity of the top contenders. The Editors' Choice Award-winning La Sportiva Kataki provides the best balance of edging and crack climbing. Keep in mind that the best shoe for you is going to be the one that fits the best and provides the comfort and performance you deem necessary. For many of us, the Kataki delivered just that.
We evaluated each shoe's edging capabilities by climbing vertical routes at Wild Iris where the ability to stand securely on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds as well as how easy it was to feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but were more supportive on longer pitches while our testers unlocked techy edging sequences over 20 minutes or more. Soft shoes without a high tension rand like the Five Ten Moccasyms are the worst edgers unless you size them super tight. The super-sensitive Scarpa Drago are awesome on steep routes, but our testers feel they are way too soft for tiny edges unless you size them down considerably, sacrificing comfort.
The best shoes for crack climbing are wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, combined with a low volume toe so they can fit in cracks from thin hands down to fingers. If the shoe is so tight that it curls your toes, it might not be possible to wiggle it into small cracks. We tested crack climbing performance in Idaho's City of Rocks and Yosemite National Park, where cracks often vary in size throughout the same pitch.
While crack climbing in each shoe, we took note of how much pain and fatigue we felt as we twisted and torqued our feet. Narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V felt the most comfortable. Laces generally feel more comfortable and fare better on long crack climbs. Velcro straps, in contrast, can press uncomfortably in certain areas and the buckles can come undone when moving your feet in or out of a crack.
Some climbers swear by slipper style shoes like the Five Ten Moccasym, sizing them up from their normal sizing so their toes lay flat, creating a narrower profile for cramming into thin cracks. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will likely be climbed in shoes that can squeeze into thinner (sub 0.75") cracks /and/ edge like there's no tomorrow. Hard granite crack climbing often involves difficult boulder cruxes, and the La Sportiva Kataki is perfectly equipped for this kind of test piece. The Kataki is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, and the solid lacing system keeps the shoe in place. The La Sportiva Otaki also does well with this style of climbing, but loses a point because the velcro closure system doesn't feel as comfortable for crack climbing.
The La Sportiva Skwama is also one of our favorite crack climbing shoes based on its perfect shape for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the top of this model also offers a little extra protection for our sore feet, and the single velcro closure remains out of the way while jamming your feet into cracks hand-sized and up. This shoe is ideal for Indian Creek or Zion, where the thin cracks on cutting edge free climbs are often too small to accept higher volume shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pro.
Barbara Zangerl and Jacobo Larcher used the Skwamas to make the 3rd and 4th free ascents of Zodiac on El Cap - a further testament to the versatility of this shoe, which its maker says is designed for "high-end bouldering. The Scarpa Instinct VS is a wide shoe and felt comfortable to our wide-footed lead tester in hand cracks, but the high volume toe didn't fit into smaller cracks. The Butora Acro isn't comfortable enough for all-day jamming at Indian Creek but performed well on single pitch granite cracks, where a low volume toe can fit into small pods and where you still need some edging power to take advantage of micro footholds outside the cracks. The sporty La Sportiva Solutions are a secret weapon for long finger cracks due to their pointy toe and excellent edging performance, and are Alex Honnold's choice for hard desert finger splitters. For offwidths and chimneys, we prefer high-top shoes that provide extra ankle protection, such as the TC Pro or the Butora Altura.
A shoe's performance in pockets is a function of its edging ability, the shape of the toe, and in the case of steep, pocketed terrain, the angle of its downturn. Our testers spent a month in Lander WY, home to Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris, two of the premier pocket crags in the US. Many of the climbs here feature only small pockets for hand and footholds.
The pointy-toed, narrow fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the No-Edged La Sportiva Genius again came up as the top performers in this metric. When wearing the Tarifa, our testers were able to gain a little purchase, even in mono pockets. The ultra-sensitive Genius allowed our testers to feel their way into shallow pockets. The La Sportiva Solutions are also perfectly shaped for pocket pulling shenanigans. On steep pocketed terrain, the downturn of the Evolv Shaman came in handy when pulling into larger pockets to keep our bodies closer to the wall.
The Butora Acro and the Scarpa Instinct come in slightly behind the top performers in this metric. The Acro lost some points because of its blunt toe shape, which doesn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. The Instincts are pointier in the toe than the Acro, but they don't edge on the lips of pockets as well. The La Sportiva Kataki is no slouch when it comes to pockets and the La Sportiva Skwama, performed surprisingly well, despite its softness, because we could wiggle lots of rubber into shallow pockets. The Scarpa Vapor V fared the worst in pockets, due to its thick rubber and round toe shape. More symmetrical shaped, relaxed fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms are not the best choice for steep pocketed climbs.
A sensitive shoe allows you to feel where you stand on a hold or smear, so you can press down and move upwards with more confidence. We tested shoes for sensitivity by lapping nearly featureless slabs in Tuolumne Meadows and scaling the gritty, technical granite in Pine Creek Canyon. The most sensitive shoes tend to be the softest, but the top scorers also have some built-in support. Again, our favorite shoes are the ones that have a balance of strengths.
The Scarpa Drago and Chimera have a rubber sock-like fit, and are slightly more sensitive than the "no-edge" La Sportiva Genius. We could feel every bump and dimple with these supple masterpieces, and on steep terrain, it felt like we could pull ourselves into the wall as if we had sticky rubber monkey hands on our feet. Unfortunately, the Dragos are so soft that they don't perform as well as the La Sportiva Kataki on vertical and low angle cliffs. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, is still one of the most sensitive shoes we tested. The no-edge concept puts less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you, in theory, to feel and stand on smaller edges or ripples. This shoe took some getting used to; initially, our testers missed the crisp edge they've come to depend on in a brand new shoe. After a handful of pitches, however, we got used to our toes being farther forward in the shoe and were able to take advantage of the Genius' unique sensitivity and edging power combination.
The Tenaya Tarifa is also particularly sensitive, with its soft Vibram XS grip rubber and bi-tension rand system, which offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. Our Editors' Choice award-winner, the La Sportiva Kataki, isn't a slouch when it comes to sensitivity either, but less so than the Tarifa or the Genius. The softer La Sportiva Skwama is also a sensitive shoe, but it doesn't edge quite as well as the Genius or the Kataki.
The Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, despite being relatively stiff, and our testers appreciated them on the delicate crystals of the Buttermilks boulders. Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. While the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel small footholds with so much rubber between you and the rock. Both the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V fail to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top performers, but after a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they soften up, and their techy climbing game improves.
The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: the shape of your foot, the size of the shoe, and the shoe's upper material. Generally speaking, the tighter your shoe, the better it will perform. However, tight generally equals painful, so any climber with a less than infinite pain tolerance is forced to balance comfort and performance in their shoe sizing. Fortunately, modern designers have been shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform well and fit properly, minimizing pain.
"Love bumps", "Reverse bi-tension rands", "P3 Platforms", and "S-heels." This may sound like a list of fancy terms invented to sell more shoes, but they actually represent a significant leap forward in climbing shoe design. In the past, the shoes that performed the best were often the ones you could wear the tightest, compromising comfort (and foot health) for edging power. Now, innovative designs from all the major brands can give us performance without pain.
Leather slipper style shoes score great for comfort. The Five Ten Moccasyms feature a flat sole in a model made from stretchable leather with a relaxed fit. Together these features achieve considerable comfort but the design compromises edging performance too much for our testers. The soft Scarpa Dragos are covered in rubber and ready for miles of steep limestone, ensuring that your forearms will succumb to soreness long before your feet.
The Scarpa Vapor V comes in behind some of the top shoes regarding comfort. It has a medium-full fit and only the slightest downturn, keeping the foot in a comfortable, neutral position. It loses a point because the buckles on the velcro closure system hurt some testers' feet in hand cracks. The Butora Acro also has a wide fit. Additionally, the elastic on the upper part of the shoe is looser than that of Instinct or the Skwamas, making it a comfortable option for sport climbers with wide, high volume feet.
Comfort is pretty subjective, and everyone's foot is unique. The Tenaya Tarifa feels like a torture device to our broad footed testers, while it climbs like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. Some of our testers think the La Sportiva Kataki is too loose, even with the laces cinched as tight as they could go, and the Kataki isn't even the widest model in the review. We tested comfort by comparing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we note how the shoe feels after reasonable break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.
Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies automatically downsize from an average street shoe size, so they run very small. Others run true to size, and every climber has to size down, since their comfortable street shoe size would be too big for an effective performance climbing shoe. Some manufacturers seem to vary their sizing from model to model, making buying shoes online pretty maddening. Here is our subjective and hotly debated brand-sizing summary:La Sportiva runs true to size, so you'll want to size down up to 1.5 from your street shoe. Scarpa runs smaller than Sportiva; we found ourselves sizing down just a half size from our street shoes. Tenaya shoes run small and are especially narrow. Start with half a size down from your street shoe. Buturas run small so we recommend buying your street shoe size. If you wear a 10 in your street shoes, you'll want a size 10 in Butoras. Good luck with Evolv's sizing, our lead tester had to go up a whole size just to get his foot into a pair of Evolv Oracles, while the Shamans fit his street shoe size. Five Ten seems to change their sizing a lot, and if you're into the Moccasym, you're likely to size down two whole sizes. For the Aleon, in contrast, try your street shoe size.
The announcement of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: reviews are inherently subjective and rock shoe reviews are no exception. Our assessment of each shoe is largely contingent on the shape of our testers' feet, what type of rock we climbed, and how tight we sized them. Our wide-footed testers had few good things to say about the Tenaya Tarifa, while their narrow footed colleagues had nothing but praise. We have meticulously researched these shoes, however, and talked to many industry professionals that use and sell these shoes regularly. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an expanding market, more are appearing each year. We hope we've been able to assist you in finding the perfect pair.
— Matt Bento and Jack Cramer