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Best Climbing Shoes for Men of 2021

Photo: Matt Bento
Monday February 8, 2021
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On the lookout for the best rock climbing shoes that 2021 has to offer? 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 34 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, pocket proficiency, and crack climbing. We've identified the best shoes for a weekend at the boulders, your next transcontinental trad trip, as well as the best shoes for beginners and climbers on a budget.
Related: Best Climbing Shoes for Women

Top 34 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 34
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Awards   Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $159.90 at Backcountry
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$178.95 at Amazon$190.00 at Backcountry
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$179.95 at Backcountry
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$85.00 at REI
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Overall Score
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80
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82
66
Star Rating
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Pros Comfortable, durable, good edging, great ankle protection in wide cracksAwesome at edging, roomy enough for wide feet, decent sensitivityGreat edging, solid crack climbing, good all-around shoeExceptional edging, quick lace closure, comfortable for its sharp downturn, great at toe hookingAffordable, flat midsole is comfortable all day, well-balanced performance across many areas
Cons Long break-in period, can feel insensitive and clunkyExpensive, broad imprecise toe, modestly supportive soleExpensive, limited sport/bouldering useBig toe volume, painful in cracksInsensitive, imprecise fit, ineffective design for steep terrain
Bottom Line Awesome for all-day trad adventuresAn all-around great shoe that's suitable for many types of rockWith this shoe, you can climb pitch after pitch without painReasonable savings for an ultra-premium shoeA great deal for an adequate climbing shoe
Rating Categories Butora Altura Scarpa Instinct Lace La Sportiva TC Pro Evolv Oracle La Sportiva Tarantulace
Edging (20%)
8
8
9
10
6
Cracks (20%)
9
7
9
7
7
Comfort (20%)  
9
9
9
9
9
Pockets (20%)
7
7
6
7
5
Sensitivity (20%)
5
9
7
8
6
Specs Butora Altura Scarpa Instinct Lace La Sportiva TC Pro Evolv Oracle La Sportiva...
Style Lace Lace Lace Lace Lace
Upper German Hydrovelor Split leather Leather Leather Synthratek VX synthetic Leather/Synthetic
Width Options Narrow and Wide Regular Regular Regular Regular
Lining Hemp, mesh, poron foam None Sentex/PU Foam None None
Rubber Type Neo Fuse Vibram XS Edge Vibram XS Edge TRAX SAS FriXion RS
Rubber Thickness (millimeters) 7 mm 3.5 mm 4 mm 4.2 mm 5 mm

Best Overall Model


La Sportiva Katana Lace


La Sportiva Katana Lace
Editors' Choice Award

$195.00
at Backcountry
See It

86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 8
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Pacific
Low volume toe can slot into thin cracks or pockets
Awesome edging power
Lacing system more comfortable in cracks than velcro
Downturn makes them less comfortable for all-day climbs
Bulky imprecise heel

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 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.

Although these shoes are pretty comfy, they're not "El Cap in a day" comfy, so most people will prefer a more comfortable shoe like the TC Pro for mega missions. The Katana is also a narrow shoe, so folks with wider feet should consider similar designs with roomier dimensions. One possibility is the Scarpa Instinct Lace which has a lace closure and a similar downturn and toe shape, but a wider midsole and heel. Although there are arguably better shoes for high-end bouldering, for everything else, the Katana is ready to crush.

Read review: La Sportiva Katana

Best for Edging and Sensitivity


La Sportiva Genius


La Sportiva Genius
Top Pick Award

$194.95
at Amazon
See It

84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 10
  • Cracks - 20% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 20% 10
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Grip2 | Lining: Unlined
Supportive and incredibly sensitive
Offset lacing design for a glove-like fit
Best edging performance of any shoe
Expensive
Adjustment period to the No Edge rubber grind

From the folks that first brought you downturned shoes, the La Sportiva Genius is the culmination 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 in this next-generation design. The result is a shoe that can edge with support and precision while offering incredible sensitivity. The Genius performs well on techy granite 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 taxing lower-angle pitches. The Genius excels at both.

Comfort is a weak spot. Although our feet still felt happy after a few pitches at the crag, we wouldn't want to climb long multi-pitches in these shoes. It can also take time to adjust your footwork to maximize the advantages of the No-Edge technology — "No-Edge" means that the shoes arrive from the factory with rounded edges on the rubber. This design positions your toes closer to the rock for better force application, but it's incompatible with ordinary edging techniques. Instead, it requires a subtle roll of the shoe to set the rounded rubber properly on small rock edges. Some of our testers grew frustrated while trying to perfect this technique, but those that persevered were thoroughly impressed with the performance benefits.

Read review: La Sportiva Genius

Best Shoe for Trad and Crack Climbing


La Sportiva TC Pro


La Sportiva TC Pro
Top Pick Award

$190.00
at Backcountry
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 6
  • Sensitivity - 20% 7
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Sentex/PU Foam
Serious support for all-day comfort
Stiff and supportive
High-top ankle protection
Serious edging power
Expensive
Delicate laces and rand sides
Big toe profile
Achilles pain for some

America's top trad climber, Tommy Caldwell, helped design these high-top beasts 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 excellent support for utilizing tiny edges and a sturdy platform for enduring relentless foot jams. These shoes also supply this support without totally compromising their sensitivity.

Despite their ubiquity, however, 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 their 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 moderate crack cragging.

Read review: La Sportiva TC Pro

Best for Less Than Vertical Terrain


Black Diamond Aspect


Black Diamond Aspect
Top Pick Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Pockets - 20% 6
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8
Rubber Type: NeoFriction Force | Lining: Hemp
Reasonable price
Stiff, flat sole reduces foot fatigue
Low-top upper is gentle on your Achilles
Uncomfortable break-in period
Broad toe is a problem for narrow pockets
Mediocre performance on the steeps

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 Camalots, 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 usual complaints about Achilles pain that often occur as a consequence of the high ankle height of other trad shoes.

What sets the Aspect apart is the price. At full retail, it offers some savings compared to the premium models, and it's also not uncommon to find it on sale. Keep in mind, though, that you might have to accept some drawbacks to receive these savings. Our testers found it was surprisingly uncomfortable during the break-in period. It's also more of a specialty shoe, ideal for long romps on less-than-vertical stone, but poorly suited when things get steep.

Read review: Black Diamond Aspect

Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets


La Sportiva Tarantulace


66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 6
  • Cracks - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 5
  • Sensitivity - 20% 6
Rubber Type: FriXion RS | Lining: Unlined
Super affordable
Flat sole keeps feet in a relaxed position
5 mm of rubber increases durability
Too soft and insensitive for good edging performance
Imprecise fit
Loose in the heel

If you're just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantulalace. Few cheaper shoes provide the same level of quality and versatility. Meanwhile, 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 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

Best Bargain for Moderate Performance


La Sportiva Finale


La Sportiva Finale
Best Buy Award

$109.00
at Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 7
  • Cracks - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Pockets - 20% 6
  • Sensitivity - 20% 7
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Rubber Thickness: 5 mm
Affordable
Thick, durable rubber
Decent edging performance
Comfortable
Outmatched on steep terrain
Imprecise fit
Loose heel cup

Rock climbing shoes are one category of gear where performance closely corresponds to price. Bargain hunters 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. And there's also a whopping 5 millimeters of it to improve durability. We particularly like these shoes for beginners and casual climbers that are 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 acceptable performance at a great price.

Read review: La Sportiva Finale

Best for Wide Feet


Butora Acro


Butora Acro
Top Pick Award

$159.90
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8
Rubber Type: Butora Neo Fuse | Lining: Unlined
Available in two versions: Wide (orange) and narrow (blue)
Great toe hooking prowess thanks to sticky rubber uppers
Nice price
Less sensitive than softer shoes
Some testers believe there is too much room in the heel cup

The Butora Acro is a high performing, comfortable shoe that offers some modest savings compared to the ultra-premium models. Our testers loved the fit out-of-the-box, with 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 to make toe hooking a breeze.

The only problem our testers found with the Acro is a little unwanted 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 that can't be said for many other aggressive shoes out there. And you get all this at a price that still leaves a little dough leftover to gas up the car for a marathon drive to the Red River Gorge.

Read review: Butora Acro

Best for Narrow Feet


Tenaya Tarifa


Tenaya Tarifa

$184.95
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 10
  • Cracks - 20% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 10
  • Sensitivity - 20% 9
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Grip | Lining: Cotton with TXT treatment
Soft and sensitive
Ninja-like edging precision
Fit like a glove on narrow, low volume feet
Speed lacing system for quick on and off
Narrow fit and soft uppers aren't great for crack climbing

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 thought they were the raddest climbing footwear. So, if your feet are shaped 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 they often carry a few extra pairs of rock climbing shoes to the crag. Matt and Jack are both former members of Yosemite Search and Rescue — the best high-angle rescue team on earth. Jack is also a National Outdoor Leadership School 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 climbing destinations of the American West. These shoes saw everything from steep, pocketed limestone near Lander, WY to the smooth granite cracks of Yosemite National Park. Rest assured, we've edged and smeared on rock that's something like your next destination or home crag. In addition to rock types, we tested the shoes on a variety of foot shapes, intentionally selecting testers that represent the broad variety of human foot designs. 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


Start your engines...
Start your engines...
Photo: Matt Bento

When it comes to rock climbing, there's a strong case that the single most important piece of gear goes on our feet. You can't place too much emphasis on getting the right shoes because they're often the difference between sending and whipping. And the harder the climbing gets, the narrower this margin becomes. The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is arguably warranted — once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you, it's like the skies open up, and you can leave the performance plateau you've been stranded on. The longer you climb, the rarer 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 video could restore it.

Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Shoes

The right climbing shoes are critical to fun and success.
The right climbing shoes are critical to fun and success.
Photo: Matt Bento

Our favorite shoes are the ones that have a good balance of strengths. Manufacturers seem to always be trying to design a shoe that can do it all, but the reality is that all design involves tradeoffs, and the different styles 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 splitter cracks, 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, TC Pros might come the closest to an all-around ideal, while others argue these high volume clunkers are insensitive and a terrible choice for anything even slightly overhanging. Some climbers will never climb a crack in their lives, wearing the cheapest shoe they can find, and spending all their time in the hollows of Kentucky paddling up steep jug hauls. We're envious of these climbers and their single-minded obsessions, but for the majority who share diverse palettes, one shoe will never be enough. No matter your goals, we'll try to get you in the right shoes for the task.

Good climbing shoes aren&#039;t cheap.
Good climbing shoes aren't cheap.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Value


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 well worth the cost if the shoes are the difference between whipping again or clipping the chains on your project.


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, Black Diamond Aspect, or Mad Rock Shark 2.0. Another category of climbers who probably shouldn't spend their last cent on climbing shoes is beginners. While learning to climb it's common to display imprecise footwork that is likely to quickly wear through any shoe, regardless of price. We, therefore, suggest that new climbers select cheap models with thicker rubber, such as the La Sportiva Tarantulace or the Evolv Defy. After tearing through a couple pairs of bargain shoes, most climbers will possess the footwork to upgrade to a pricier, better performing model.

The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers...
The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.
Photo: Matt Bento

Edging


The ability to make use of 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, and the more likely you are to send. Some of the top edgers are the La Sportiva Genius, La Sportiva Katana, and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. All of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity.


With its "No-Edge" technology, the Genius positions your toes as close as possible to the rock, while supporting your forefoot with its Permanent Power Platform (P3). The Katana also relies on a P3 platform, but it's shaped with normal edges that are compatible with common footwork techniques. 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 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 Katana delivered just that. However, our wide-footed testers generally opted for the similar, but wider, Scarpa Instinct.

When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust...
When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust your shoes. That's easy to do on marginal edges with the La Sportiva Katana.
Photo: Jack Cramer

We evaluated each shoe's edging capability by climbing vertical routes at Wild Iris 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 were more supportive on longer pitches while our testers unlocked techy edging sequences during 20-minute efforts or more. Soft slippers without a high tension rand like the Five Ten Moccasyms seem to be the worst edgers unless you size them super tight.

Crack Climbing


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 your toes lay flat.


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 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 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.

Our lead tester cranks out one more lap before the storm.
Our lead tester cranks out one more lap before the storm.
Photo: Matt Bento

Despite our desire to find the perfect crack shoe, we have yet to find one model that is 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 (ie. 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 any 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, the wider Scarpa Maestro Eco, or the burlier Butora Altura. 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.

A few of the most popular high-top crack shoes. Clockwise from the...
A few of the most popular high-top crack shoes. Clockwise from the upper right: La Sportiva TC Pro, Five Ten Grandstone, Scarpa Maestro Eco, Butora Altura.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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 slim 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") cracks, but argue 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 small edges or 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. 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.

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 doesn't fit well in 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 Solution can be a secret weapon for long finger cracks due to their pointy toe and excellent edging performance — it's Alex Honnold's choice for desert finger splitters. For demanding offwidths and chimneys, we prefer stiff, high-top shoes that provide extra ankle protection, such as the TC Pro, Scapra Maestro, or Butora Altura.

Pocket pulling at Wild Iris.
Pocket pulling at Wild Iris.
Photo: Matt Bento

Pockets


A shoe's performance for pockets is influenced by the shape of the toe in both the vertical and horizontal direction, the angle of the shoe's downturn, along with other factors like edging performance, sensitivity, and stiffness. Our testers assessed pocket performance during 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 La Sportiva Solution 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 Solution and its cousin, the Solution Comp, feature a distinctly downturned toe that improved traction on steep terrain. Meanwhile, the extended downturn on the forefoot of the Evolv Shaman came in handy for pulling on larger pockets to keep our bodies closer to the wall.

The Butora Acro and the Scarpa Instinct Lace come in slightly behind the top performers in this metric. The Acro lost some points due to its blunt toe shape, which doesn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. The lace-up Instincts are pointier in the toe than the Acro, but they don't edge on the lips of pockets as well. The La Sportiva Katana 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 poorly with pockets, due to its thick rubber and round toe shape. More symmetrically shaped, relaxed fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms were not the best choice for steep pocketed climbs.

A big part of sensitivity is the stiffness of a shoe&#039;s sole. As you...
A big part of sensitivity is the stiffness of a shoe's sole. As you can see here, this stiffness varies wildly between different models.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Sensitivity


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 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, Chimera, and Veloce have a fit like a rubber sock that makes them 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 was easier to pull ourselves into the wall, almost as if we had sticky rubber monkey hands on our feet. Unfortunately, these ultra-soft shoes are so soft that they don't perform as well as on vertical or low-angle cliffs as stiffer shoes, like the La Sportiva Katana. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, is still one of the most sensitive shoes 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 edge they'd come to expect in 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' unique sensitivity and edging power by employing a slight roll of the foot as they placed the shoe onto a hold.

Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with...
Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.
Photo: Matt Bento

The Tenaya Tarifa is also particularly sensitive, with soft Vibram XS Grip rubber and a bi-tension rand system that offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. The La Sportiva Katana isn't a slouch either when it comes to sensitivity, 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 Katana.

The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered...
The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.
Photo: Matt Bento

Despite being relatively stiff, the Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, 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. Although the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel small footholds with 4.2 mm of 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-rated models, but after a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they soften up, and their techy climbing performance improves.

As you consider our shoe sensitivity results, keep in mind that higher sensitivity often comes from thinner rubber. You can wear a whole much faster through the 3mm rubber of the So iLL Main Street than through the 5mm rubber of the La Sportiva Finale. In other words, to enjoy awesome sensitivity you will usually have to sacrifice some durability.

The Evolv Oracle has one of the comfiest heel cups with plenty of...
The Evolv Oracle has one of the comfiest heel cups with plenty of padding for your Calcaneous bone yet soft rubber for sensitivity.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Comfort


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 climbing shoe design.


Comfort is pretty subjective, and everyone's foot is 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 their downturn, or the position of the toe relative to the heel of a shoe. Shoes with flat soles, or zero downturn, are generally more comfortable during a big day than a shoe with a dramatic downturn that forces your foot into a curled position. 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 Moccasyms feature a flat sole in a model made from stretchable leather that can form to you 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 Butora Altura, Black Diamond Aspect, or TC Pro. Any of these shoes will pad your feet for a long multi-pitch romp, but the zero downturn is less suited for overhanging terrain. When it's steeper our testers apprecaite the Scarpa Dragos or Evolv Oracle which are covered in rubber and ready for miles of steep limestone, ensuring that your forearms will succumb to soreness long before your feet.

These shoes are approximately the same length, but the Skwama...
These shoes are approximately the same length, but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.
Photo: Matt Bento

The Scarpa Vapor V comes in behind some of the top shoes when it comes to comfort. It has a medium-full fit and only the slightest downturn, leaving the foot in a comfortable position. It loses a point because the velcro buckles hurt some testers' feet in hand cracks. The Butora Acro also has a wide fit, and the elastic on the upper part of the shoe is looser than the Instinct VS or the Skwamas, making it a comfortable option for sport climbers with wide, high-volume feet.

Sizing

Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies intentionally calibrate a performance climbing fit to correspond with normal street shoe sizes, so they run very small. Others run true to size, and climbers have to select a size or two smaller 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. 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 sizes from your street shoe. Scarpa shoes are sized a little smaller than Sportiva — we found ourselves sizing down just a half size from our street shoes. Tenaya shoes run small and are especially narrow. We suggest starting with half a size down from your street shoe. Buturas run smaller still 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 feet into a pair of Evolv Oracles, while the Shamans fit his street shoe size. Five Ten seems to change their sizing a lot. If you're looking for a pair of Moccasyms, you'll likely want to size down two whole sizes. For the Grandstones, in contrast, try your street shoe size.

Stiff for the long haul, but still plenty sensitive, you can jam out...
Stiff for the long haul, but still plenty sensitive, you can jam out all day in a pair off Katanas if you size them correctly.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Conclusion


The selection of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: product reviews are inherently subjective, and rock climbing shoe reviews are particularly so. 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. However, we meticulously researched these shoes and tried to talk to as many industry professionals as possible to get informed opinions about design and construction. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an ever-expanding market, more are appearing each year. We hope we've helped you find the perfect pair, no matter your climbing goals.

Matt Bento and Jack Cramer