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On the lookout for the best rock climbing shoes available today? Over the last 10 years, our testers squeezed their feet into 60 different models to bring you the most comprehensive climbing shoe review in existence. For our latest update, we compared 28 of the best models, ranging from classic stand-bys to those featuring the latest in climbing shoe technology. We evaluate each shoe based on our metrics of comfort, edging, sensitivity, steep terrain proficiency, and crack climbing. We've identified the best shoes for a weekend at the boulders, your next gym session, or the best shoes for beginners and climbers on a budget.
Editor's Note: We updated this review on November 11, 2022, updating the individual review for the new La Sportiva Katana Lac and refreshing the best-in-class review to reflect comments and additional testing data collected since the last update.
Low volume toe can slot into thin cracks or pockets
Lace-up design is more comfortable in cracks than velcro
REASONS TO AVOID
Downturn makes them less comfortable for all-day climbs
Stiffness sacrifices sensitivity
Despite its considerable price tag, the La Sportiva Katana Lace is an exceedingly popular shoe, and it only took a couple of pitches for our testers to understand why. The Katana supplies astounding edging power and precision in a subtly downturned design that doesn't require you to wholly abandon your comfort. The narrow toe profile solidifies this shoe's credentials for both steep pocket pulling and thin crack climbing. Add to this the stiff-yet-sensitive feel of its Vibram XS Edge sole, and you have a shoe that's perfectly suited for nearly any type of roped climbing. We are also happy to report that we reaffirm this praise for the recently updated version of the Katana Lace.
Although these shoes are pretty comfy, they're not "El Cap in a day" comfy, so most people will prefer a more comfortable shoe with a flatter sole for mega missions. The Katana is also a narrower shoe, so folks with wider feet should consider similar designs with roomier dimensions. One possibility is the Scarpa Instinct Lace which has a similar downturn and toe profile but with a wider midsole and heel. Although there are arguably better shoes for high-end bouldering, for everything else, the Katana is ready to go.
Insensitive and overly soft for good edging performance
Loose in the heel
If you're just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantulace. Few cheaper shoes provide the same level of quality and versatility. At the same time, more advanced shoes usually put your foot in a curled position that can be painful and unnecessary when you're beginning your climbing career. More advanced shoes also cost significantly more. We don't advise spending that extra dough until you've developed some footwork and can avoid wearing through your rubber too rapidly.
Although the Tarantulace doesn't have the impeccable design of the other award winners, it's comfortable and precise enough to serve as a good tool while you're improving your technique. Serious climbers, however, will probably be happier spending more for a higher-performing shoe. Still, for casual climbers or folks just dipping their toes into the sport, the Tarantulace is a solid choice. And it's versatile enough for just about anywhere--from the gym to the crag, or even boulders and multi-pitch routes.
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Rubber Thickness: 5 mm
REASONS TO BUY
Thick, durable rubber
Decent edging performance
REASONS TO AVOID
Outmatched on steep terrain
Loose heel cup
Rock climbing shoes are one category of gear where performance closely corresponds to price. Bargain hunters can rejoice, however, because the La Sportiva Finale is a fortunate exception to this rule. These affordable lace-ups come fitted with the same Vibram XS Edge rubber as the premium, top-rated Katana Lace. There's also a whopping 5 millimeters of that rubber on these shoes to improve durability. La Sportiva recently refitted the Finale with 40% recycled materials so you don't have to feel too bad when you eventually wear through them. We particularly like these shoes for beginners and casual climbers searching for some decent footwear that won't break the bank.
Although we like the performance of the Finale on less-than-vertical cliffs or moderate multi-pitch routes, they disappoint when the angle steepens. The neutral sole is certainly comfortable, but it's ill-suited for pulling your body in on overhanging terrain. At the same time, the thick rubber that enhances durability, unfortunately, reduces sensitivity. We consider these faults relatively minor, and we hope they won't serve as a deal-breaker for any shopper seeking decent performance at a great price.
If you like to feel every bump and divot on the rock, then you'll likely love the Scarpa Drago. These ultra-soft, premium kicks proved to be the most sensitive of any shoe we've tried. The 3.5mm of Vibram XS Grip2 seems hardly noticeable, while the extremely soft midsole allows your foot to bend or flex in any direction to utilize all types of footholds. We also like the extended rand and supple heel cup for improving grip while attempting fancy, arm-saving footwork on overhanging terrain. The unlined, microsuede design should stretch a bit, so size down a little to strike a healthy balance between comfort and performance.
The Drago is a favorite shoe among our wide-footed testers, but some slim-footed climbers complained of a sloppy fit. This was most noticeable during pure edging when the perceived sloppiness caused the shoes to occasionally ooze off micro edges. The Drago is also a poor choice for crack climbing because its exceptional sensitivity will make this already painful type of climbing even more painful. Despite these flaws, we believe this shoe offers more sensitivity than any other. So pick up a pair if you desire the confidence boost from being able to truly feel the rock you're standing on.
When a bouldering or sport climbing project involves tiny rock edges, our testers reach for the La Sportiva Solution Comp. These velcro beasts supplied some of the best edging performance of any shoe in our tests. What's more impressive is that they offered outstanding edging while still providing solid levels of support and sensitivity. Although the original Solution remains a stalwart at countless gyms and crags, we prefer the newer Solution Comp due to its redesigned heel. The pared-down heel cup is now coated in a thinner, more pliable rubber, and this seems to enhance grip and sensitivity while creating few performance drawbacks.
One problem with the Solution Comp is the expensive price tag. This price may not be justifiable to beginners or occasional climbers, but dedicated folks will probably be happy to accept the high cost for the higher performance. Another issue is that the pointy toe on the Solution Comp is not compatible with all feet. If this is a problem for you, we suggest checking out the wider Scarpa Drago which features a broader toe box and excels at the same types of steep climbing. The Solution Comp remains our favorite model for narrow-footed boulderers.
America's top trad climber, Tommy Caldwell, helped design these high-top powerhouses that now bear his initials. But don't attribute the popularity of the TC Pro shoes to Tommy's celebrity; rather, they owe their ubiquitous status at American trad meccas to their outstanding ability to slay cracks. 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 a sturdy platform for enduring relentless foot jams while also offering excellent support for utilizing tiny edges. The updated version of these shoes also addresses several common complaints about the originals, making these already desirable shoes even more appealing.
Despite their ubiquity, the TC Pro really should be viewed as a specialized piece of equipment. Although they offer unmatched performance in cracks that are hand-sized and wider, their large toe box is less effective for thin splitters. The flat sole that keeps your foot in a comfortable, relaxed position also limits the usefulness of these shoes 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 moderate crack cragging.
Black Diamond made a splash with their entry into the climbing shoe scene a few years ago. Since then, their shoes have yet to gain the same level of popularity as their beloved camming devices, but one model that might eventually get there is the Aspect. With a stiff, neutral sole, it supplies a powerful edging platform that feels somewhat similar to our favorite trad shoe, the La Sportiva TC Pro. The Aspect also employs similar laces and a padded leather upper to keep your feet from screaming during sustained crack jamming. And with its low-top design, we were spared the complaints about Achilles pain that we occasionally hear due to the high-top upper of other trad shoes.
What really sets the Aspect apart is the price. At full retail, it offers modest savings compared to the premium models, and it's also sometimes possible to find it on sale. Keep in mind, though, that you might have to accept some drawbacks to receive these savings. Our testers found that it was surprisingly uncomfortable during the break-in period. It's also more of a specialty shoe, ideal for long romps or techy moves on less-than-vertical stone but poorly equipped if things get steep.
Over the last decade, GearLab has tested more than 60 different rock climbing shoes. The testing process began by paring down the vast climbing shoe market to a selection of what we believe are the best based on popularity, customer ratings, and our authors' considerable experience. We then purchased a pair of each model and sent them out for real hands-on testing. Our lead authors, along with an assortment of other testers with different foot types, laced up or velcroed in to these kicks at crags across the American West to evaluate each model on five performance metrics:
Edging (20% of overall score weighting)
Crack Climbing (20% weighting)
Comfort (20% weighting)
Steep Terrain (20% weighting)
Sensitivity (20% weighting)
Authors Jack Cramer and Matt Bento analyzed the data from all this testing and used it to select the award-winning models highlighted above. Both of these guys are veterans of the Yosemite Search and Rescue team and possess more than a decade of experience on the stone. They also share an affection for a wide variety of climbing disciplines, ranging from low-boulders to massive big walls and everything in between. They ensured that each shoe in this review faced the torque of numerous crack jams along with micro edges, smears, and pockets on an array of rock types. In the end, we concluded that no rock climbing shoe can do it all. But hopefully with the aid of our insights, you can find the shoe that's best suited for your goals and preferences.
Analysis and Test Results
When it comes to rock climbing, there's a strong case that the single most important piece of gear goes on your feet. You can't place too much emphasis on getting the right shoes because they're often the difference between sending and falling. And the harder the climbing gets, the narrower this margin becomes. Improving at climbing also takes a lot of training, devotion, and time spent on the rock. Doing all that in shoes that make you miserable or that underperform is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.
Our favorite shoes are the ones that have a good balance of strengths. Manufacturers often seem to be trying to design a shoe that can do it all, but the reality is that all design involves tradeoffs. Different styles of climbing also require different performance characteristics and it's impossible to incorporate all of these characteristics into a single shoe. Over the years, some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to 3 pairs. One for true splitter cracks, another for hard sport climbing and bouldering, and a comfy third pair for all-day romps up long multi-pitch routes. If you're able to focus your energy on only one or two of these disciplines, we're jealous and you may be able to get away with fewer shoes. Other folks may need to expand beyond 3 pairs to enjoy the best performance in specific situations.
Rock climbing shoes offer a wide range of performance across a broad spectrum of prices. We selected several premium models to receive awards for outstanding performance for different applications. Most of these top-rated models, however, come with top-shelf prices. These prices might be worth the cost if your shoes are the difference between whipping on your project again or clipping the chains.
However, if you're not battling through the anguish of a long-term project, a top-shelf price becomes much tougher to justify. For folks like this who happen to take a less obsessive approach to the sport, we recommend selecting mid-level shoes such as the La Sportiva Finale or Black Diamond Aspect. Another category of climber who probably shouldn't spend their last cent on climbing shoes is beginners. When you're learning to climb, it's common to exhibit sloppy footwork that can quickly wear through any shoe, regardless of price. We, therefore, suggest that new climbers select less expensive models with thicker rubber, such as the La Sportiva Tarantulace or the Evolv Defy. After wearing through a couple of pairs of bargain shoes, most climbers will possess better footwork and it will begin to make sense to upgrade to a pricier, better-performing model.
The ability to stand on tiny edges is paramount to climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can support with your feet, the less you will burden your throbbing forearms. Top edgers include the La Sportiva Katana, the La Sportiva Genius, and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. All of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity.
The Katana achieves its excellent edging performance with a classic design. It features a stiff LaspoFlex midsole and a slight downturn from heel to toe that supplies both support and sensitivity when utilizing micro holds. Although the Katana comes new with standard right-angle edges on its rubber, its cousin the La Sportiva Genius incorporates innovative "No-Edge" technology. No-Edge means that these shoes are sold with a rubber edge that's already rounded. This allows your toes to be positioned as close as possible to the rock, and it results in exceptional performance so long as you're willing to modify your technique to account for the unusual design. Finally, the Tarifa achieves its own edging performance by offering a tight fit in combination with excellent sensitivity. This combination gave our testers the confidence to utilize minuscule features. Keep in mind that to get great excellent edging you need a shoe that fits your foot properly. For many of us, the Katana delivered just that. However, our wide-footed testers generally preferred the similar, but wider, Scarpa Instinct.
We evaluated each shoe's edging capability on vertical routes from the New River Gorge to Yosemite Valley, where the ability to stand on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds and how well we could feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but more supportive on longer pitches, while our testers unlocked techy edging sequences during 20+ minute efforts. Soft slippers like the Five Ten Moccasym seem to be the worst edgers because feet are prone to slipping around inside these less secure designs. Some folks skirt this issue by sizing their slippers super tight. For dedicated edging, however, virtually all of our testers would prefer a lace-up or velcro closure.
An ideal shoe for crack climbing would be wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, but low volume in the toe so they could still squeeze in narrower cracks from thin hands down to fingers. Tight or aggressive shoes can cause your toes to curl and make it harder to wiggle them into small cracks. Therefore, the ideal crack shoe would also be sized comfortably with a neutral sole to ensure that your toes lay flat. Fortunately, several shoes meet these basic criteria so the choice becomes finding the model that fits the best and is suited to your climbing goals.
We tested crack climbing performance at several crags including Idaho's City of Rocks, Utah's Indian Creek, and the hallowed walls of Yosemite Valley. In general, narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V helped reduce foot pain from lateral compression. Beyond shoe width, softer shoes usually hurt more than their stiffer counterparts. For example, the La Sportiva TC Pro and the Five Ten Grandstone both have similar high-top designs, but our testers noticed less pain and foot fatigue with the stiffer TC Pro. When it comes to shoe closures, laces generally feel more comfortable and fare better on long crack climbs. Velcro straps, in contrast, can create irritating pressure points in certain areas, and the buckles can come undone when moving your feet in or out of a crack.
Despite our desire to find the perfect crack shoe, we have yet to find one that's ideal for all types of cracks. There is simply too much variation in cracks for one model to hope to excel at all sizes or rock types. For most people climbing moderate cracks (i.e., graded 5.10 and under), we recommend a high-top design. Moderate cracks are generally wide and/or less-than-vertical. For these cracks, high-top shoes will guard your ankles during jams hand-size or wider, while their stiffness and flat soles improve comfort and reduce foot fatigue. Our testers' favorite design in this style is the La Sportiva TC Pro, but there is plenty to like about similar models, such as the softer Five Ten Grandstone or the wider Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco. High-tops shoes, however, can cause Achilles pain for some people. If that's the case, we recommend the Black Diamond Aspect, which is a low-top, trad-oriented design that could also save you some money.
As the grades rise, some climbers swear by low volume, slipper-style shoes like the Five Ten Moccasym, especially for thin cracks. If you size them up from their normal sizing to allow your toes to lay flat, you can create an extremely narrow toe profile that will let you cram extra rubber into the slimmest openings. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will likely be climbed in shoes that can squeeze into thinner (sub-0.75-inch) cracks, but argue over whether slipper designs can supply enough edging performance for all rock types. Difficult granite cracks, for example, often involve bouldery cruxes where shoes also need to be able to utilize micro edges and face holds. The La Sportiva Katana is perfectly equipped for this kind of test piece. The Katana is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, while the lace closure locks your foot in place.
The La Sportiva Skwama is another of our favorite crack climbing shoes because it's shaped perfectly for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the upper also offers a little extra grip and protection for sore feet, and the single velcro closure remains mostly 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.
A shoe's performance on steep terrain is influenced by many factors including the angle of the shoe's downturn, the design of the heel, and the volume of the toe box. Other factors like edging performance, sensitivity, and stiffness also play a role but we have tried to evaluate those criteria under other performance metrics. Our testers assessed the steep terrain metric by evaluating each model's ability to toe and heel hook, utilize small pockets, and more generally how well they allow you to pull your lower body into the wall to take some weight off your pumping arms.
The pointy-toed, narrow-fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the La Sportiva Solution came out as the top performers when small pockets were the primary feature on a steep wall. With these pointy designs, our testers were able to gain noticeable purchase, even in mono pockets. The Solution and its cousin, the Solution Comp, feature a distinctly downturned toe that improves the angle of your toe for pulling your lower body in on steep terrain. Between these two shoes, we prefer the newer Solution Comp because it has a slimmed-down heel cup that greatly improves precision and sensitivity while heel hooking. Meanwhile, the extended downturn on the forefoot of the Evolv Shaman came in handy for pulling our lower bodies in when the wall featured larger holds.
The Scarpa Drago and the Butora Acro come in slightly behind the top performers in this metric. They both lost some points due to their blunter toe designs, which don't fit into small holds as well as the models with narrower toes. We do appreciate, however, the rubber these shoes include across the top of the forefoot for better grip while toe hooking. Their softer soles also make it easier to pull with your feet.
The La Sportiva Katana is no slouch when it comes to modest overhangs. However, it does not incorporate all of the features of a shoe designed solely for this purpose. The La Sportiva Skwama also isn't a steep terrain specialist but we noticed that its softness let us wiggle extra rubber into shallow pockets on overhanging limestone. More symmetrically shaped, relaxed-fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms are not the best choice for steep or pocketed climbs. We likewise advise against budget shoes with nuetral soles for this kind of terrain.
A sensitive shoe allows you to feel the rock while 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 granite of Pine Creek Canyon, CA. The most sensitive shoes tend to be the softest, but a few stiffer shoes also supply excellent sensitivity. Again, our favorite shoes are the ones that have a balance of strengths.
The Scarpa Drago, Chimera, and Veloce almost feel more like rubber socks than climbing shoes. We could feel every bump and dimple with these supple masterpieces, and on steep terrain, it was easier to pull ourselves into the wall because it was easier to flex our feet in any direction to suit the nature of the foothold. Unfortunately, these ultra-soft shoes are so soft that they don't provide as much support on vertical or low-angle cliffs as stiffer shoes. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, is a medium stiffness shoe that's still one of the most sensitive we tested. The no-edge concept leaves less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you, in theory, to feel and stand on smaller edges or ripples. These shoes took some getting used to, though. Initially, our testers missed the crisp, right-angle edges they'd come to expect on a brand-new shoe. After a handful of pitches, however, we got used to our toes being farther forward in the shoe and learned to take advantage of the Genius's unique sensitivity and edging power by employing a slight roll of the foot as they placed the shoe onto a hold.
Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. Although the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's harder to feel small footholds with 4.2 mm of rubber between you and the rock. We also struggled to feel the rock with some of the newer designs from Five Ten. Both the Five Ten Aleon and Five Ten NIAD VCS disappointed our testers with surprisingly poor sensitivity. Other competitors, such as the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V, failed to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top-rated models, but softened up and improved after extended break-in periods.
As you consider our shoe sensitivity results, keep in mind that higher sensitivity is often a consequence of thinner rubber. And you can wear a hole much faster through the 3mm of rubber found on more sensitive shoes than through the 5mm of rubber of the La Sportiva Finale. In other words, to enjoy awesome sensitivity, you usually have to sacrifice some durability.
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 shoes are usually painful, so any climber without an infinite pain tolerance will be forced to balance comfort and performance in their shoe sizing. Fortunately, modern designers have been shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform great while fitting properly. "Love bumps," "reverse bi-tension rands," "P3 Platforms", and "S-heels" may sound like a list of fancy terms invented to sell more shoes, but they actually represent a significant leap forward in balancing act between climbing shoe comfort and performance.
Comfort is pretty subjective, and everybody's feet are unique. The Tenaya Tarifa, for example, feels like a torture device to our broad-footed testers, but it climbs like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. Comfort can be evaluated somewhat objectively, however, by considering a shoe's downturn, or the position of the toe relative to the heel. Shoes with flat soles, or zero downturn, are generally more comfortable during a big day than a shoe with a dramatic downturn that your foot into a curled position with your toes lower than your heels. We also tested comfort by assessing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we noted how the shoe feels after a reasonable break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.
Leather slipper-style shoes score great for comfort. The Five Ten Moccasym features a flat sole in a model made from stretchable leather that can form to your feet. Together these features achieve considerable comfort, but the minimalist design undermines edging performance too much for many of our testers. For a balance of comfort and edging performance, consider other flat-soled shoes like the Black Diamond Aspect or the TC Pro. Either of these shoes offers more padding for your feet on a long multi-pitch romp. When it's steeper, our testers appreciate the innovative design features to enhance comfort on the aggressive downturns of the Scarpa Drago, the Evolv Oracle, and the La Sportiva Solution Comp. All of these shoes are covered in rubber and ready for serious overhangs. Just don't expect them to feel comfortable during sustained all-day efforts or on taxing, less-than-vertical, technical routes.
Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies intentionally calibrate a performance climbing fit to correspond with normal street shoe sizes, so we would say that they run very small. Others run true to size, and climbers have to select a size or two lower than usual since their comfortable street shoe size would be too loose for a performance climbing shoe. Still, other manufacturers seem to vary their sizing from model to model, making buying shoes online a maddening task. If all else fails, order from a retailer with a generous return policy so you can be sure you will get the right fit eventually. Here is our subjective and hotly debated brand-sizing summary:
La Sportiva generally runs true to size, so size down 1.5 to 2 sizes from your ordinary street shoe size.
Scarpa runs somewhat small. Try selecting a half-size smaller than your street shoe.
Evolv runs very small and variable between models. Consider your street shoe size or even larger.
Black Diamond runs somewhat small, so try a half-size smaller than your usual street shoe.
Five Ten variable depending on model. For the Maccasyms you may want to go down 1-2 sizes. For the Grandstones try your street shoe size.
If you're still struggling to choose a size, check out the climbing shoe calculator on Size Squirrel. It allows you to compare the sizing of shoes you already own with models you're looking to buy.
The selection of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: product reviews are inherently subjective, and this is particularly true with rock climbing shoe reviews. 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. The opposite was true for the Scarpa Drago, which our wide-footed testers loved while their slim-footed colleagues lamented. However, we meticulously researched these shoes and tried to talk to as many industry professionals as possible to gather informed opinions about design and construction. We hope we've helped you find the perfect pair of climbing shoes, no matter your climbing goals.
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