Climbers rely on a lot of different types of gear to ensure their safety and their comfort while they are climbing. Of all of this gear, climbing shoes are perhaps the most important.
They connect the climber to the rock, provide stability and offer comfort. Choose the wrong type of shoes and your climbing experience could be greatly impacted.
Not all climbing shoes are created for the same purpose. From scaling mountains of flat granite to maneuvering up indoor rock walls at your local gym, there are climbing shoes that are designed to help you successfully accomplish climbing your way up all types of surfaces, and some are better suited for use in certain situations than others.
In an effort to help you find the best rock climbing shoes for your specific needs, we have put together this buyer’s guide. In this guide, we will highlight climbing shoes that are designed to be used n different situations.
We will also review some of the best climbing shoes that are currently available on the market and give a detailed comparison in regard to their price range, their specifications, and the features that they offer.
After reading this buyer’s guide, you should have all of the information that you need to make the most educated decision, allowing you to purchase a pair of climbing shoes that you can be confident will provide you with the comfort, the support, the durability and the reliability that you need.
Types Of Climbing Shoes
When you set out to purchase climbing shoes, your mission is to find the best pair for your specific needs. In order to do that, the first thing you have to do is understand that there are different types of climbing shoes, and each type is designed to serve different purposes.
For example, there are climbing shoes that are designed for the most challenging and advanced climbs, and some that are intended to serve as climbing shoes, yet can be worn for virtually anything (like going out with friends or running errands after you’ve completed a climb.)
There are three types of climbing shoes:
- The neutral climbing shoe
- The moderate climbing shoe
- The aggressive climbing shoe
Below, you will find a detailed look at each of these three types of climbing shoes, including their design, their intended purpose, their advantages and their disadvantages. This information will help you determine which type of climbing shoe will best suit your needs.
The Neutral Climbing Shoe
This type of climbing shoe is designed to offer a relaxed fit. They provide the support and stability that is needed to handle climbing, yet offer comfort that lasts all day. The toe box of the neutral climbing shoe allows your toes to sit flat, which it the main reason why they are so comfortable.
Neutral climbing shoes have insoles that are constructed of various materials, including natural leather, suede and synthetic materials. Various types of rubber are also used for the construction of the outsoles. You will find neutral climbing shoes with lace up closures, hook and loop closures and in a slipper style.
The main advantage of the neutral climbing shoe is that it provides long lasting comfort. These type of shoes tend to have midsoles that are medium or thick, and outsoles that are constructed of thick rubber, which offers great support. The flat profile makes these shoes allows these shoes to slot into cracks with ease.
On the downside, because the soles tend to be thick and stiff, your foot is less sensitive to the surfaces that you will be climbing, which can impact your ability to adjust your technique.
Additionally, because they have a more relaxed design than moderate and aggressive climbing shoes, they are not intended for tackling difficult climbs that consist of deep cracks, crevasses and overhangs.
The neutral climbing shoe is a great choice for those who are just starting climbing, and for experienced climbers who are looking for shoes that will provide long lasting comfort for longer routes with multiple pitches.
Moderate Climbing Shoes
Moderate climbing shoes are a step between neutral and aggressive shoes. Unlike moderate shoes, that have a flat design, the moderate climbing shoe has a slightly downturned shape.
This design makes these shoes suitable for technical climbing, where more challenging landscapes are encountered. They can easily handle crack climbs, slab routes, climbs that have multiple pitches, and sport routes that feature slight overhands.
Like the neutral climbing shoe, the moderate shoe can be constructed of leather, suede or synthetic materials in the insole.
The outsoles are also constructed of various types of rubber, though the rubber tends to be stickier and thinner than what is used on neutral shoes, which provides a better grip and offers increased sensitivity so that you can better adjust your technique to the ground underneath you.
The downturned shape of these shoes provides more power for your feet, as they keep your toes pointed downward. This allows you to push up with greater force on those steeper inclines. It also enables you to slip your toes into deeper cracks and crevasses, and achieve a better placement around outpointing rocks.
On the downside, the moderate climbing shoe is not as comfortable as neutral shoes, so if you are looking for all day comfort, this isn’t a good choice for you. Also, the thinner, stickier rubber on the soles tends to wear out faster than the thicker rubber that is often used on neutral shoes.
The Aggressive Climbing Shoe
The aggressive climbing shoe has the most downturned design of all climbing shoes. This, coupled with the extra heel tension that they provide allows you to put your feet into the most powerful and the strongest position that is needed for tackling the most challenging of climbs.
The majority of aggressive climbing shoes have an asymmetrical shape. This shape curves the shoe toward the big toe, which places more power on the toe allow for more accurate placement on even the smallest holds. They also have a very snug fit, which secures the shoe to the foot and provides increased stability.
The aggressive downturned design and the snug fit are ideal for single pitch sport climbs. They are not intended to be worn for multi pitch routes or for long climbs, as they do not allow the foot to lay flat, which can be uncomfortable in these types of situations.
The insole of the aggressive climbing shoe can be constructed of leather, suede or synthetic materials. The outsole is usually covered in the stickiest of rubber. The soles are also thinner. This provides maximum traction and increased sensitivity so that you can really feel the surface beneath you and adjust your footing, as necessary.
The downturned shape does not smear as well as neutral or moderate climbing shoes, so keep that in mind if you are planning on doing smearing. Also, the thinner soles and super stick rubber tends to wear out very fast.
The Best Climbing Shoes: Considerations To Make
In order to find the best pair of climbing shoes, there are a number of factors that you are going to want to take into consideration. By taking these factors into consideration, you will be able to select the best shoes for your specific needs.
The Type Of Climbing You Plan On Doing
The first thing you should consider when shopping for a pair of climbing shoes is the type of climbing you plan on doing. This will help you narrow down your selection and hone in on shoes that are specifically designed to provide you with the proper support and comfort that you need.
Do you plan on sport climbing on a rock wall at your gym? Will you be bouldering? Are you going to do long the long treks that are involved in Alpine or trad climbing? What type of surfaces will you be scaling? – Cracks, faces, slabs?
Different qualities are required in shoes for different types of climbing. For instance, if you plan on doing crack or trad climbing, several techniques are going to be needed in order to succeed.
For crack climbs, shoes that allow your toes to sit flatter are ideal, as they will allow you to fit your toes into cracks with greater ease. If bouldering is what you have your sights set on, shoes that will allow your feet to stay in a downturned position are the best choice, as they will allow you to scale those steeper slopes with greater ease.
The Material Of The Uppers
When you set out shopping for a pair of climbing shoes, you will discover that the uppers – the portion of the shoe that covers the upper portion of your feet – are constructed of different materials. There are three main types of materials used to construct the uppers of climbing shoes. These include:
- Unlined leather – This is the most breathable material, which means less sweating and less odor. Unlined leather also conforms to the shape of the foot. It also stretches the most, which could be a downside, as they may become lose overtime, which reduces the support.
- Lined leather – Lined leather uppers allows for greater next to skin comfort, which will naturally make the shoes more comfortable. Because they are lined, however, there is less breathability, which could lead to smell shoes. Lined leather stretches less than unlined leather. The shoes will stretch to accommodate your foot, but they won’t stretch too much so that they reduce support
- Synthetic – Uppers that are constructed of synthetic materials are the most durable. This material is also environmentally friendly, which may be something that is important to you. Synthetic is the least breathable of all three fabrics, and over time, they will develop an odor.
Additionally, synthetic fabrics do not stretch, which could be a pro or a con. Because they don’t stretch, you can be sure that they will provide you with a proper fit and the right support, despite how often you use them; however, the lack of stretching also means that the shoes could end up making them uncomfortable.
You are also going to want to take the closures of the climbing shoes into consideration. The closure refers to the device that is used to close the shoes, securing them to your feet. There are three types of closures used on climbing shoes, including:
- Lace-up – The main advantage of a lace-up closure is that they provide the most security. The laces can be tied tightly and knotted several times, which reduces the risk of having them open while you are climbing. Lace-up closures are the preferred choice of Alpine and trad climbers.
- Hook and look – Hook and loop, also known as Velcro (the leading type of hook and loop material) allows you to easily adjust the size of the climbing shoes. These closures also make it very easy to put your climbing shoes on and take them off. One of the biggest cons of a hook and loop closure system is that there is the risk that they could give out, especially when climbing for long periods of time, or when encountering steeper slopes.
- Slipper style – Slipper styles do not have any closure system; rather, they slip right onto the foot. The main advantage of this style of climbing shoes is that they are easy to put on and take off.
For that reason, they are an ideal choice for sport climbing and boulder climbing, because they can easily be taken off between climbs.
However, the lack of closure system with a slipper designed hiking shoe means that you will not be able to adjust the fit of the shoe. Also, there is a greater chance that they will slip off, so they aren’t a wise choice for longer Alpine or trad climbs.
We are the ultimate guide to buying professional climbing footgear! Your climbing shoes can make or break the experience for you.
Climbing shoes come in different types, namely neutral, moderate, and aggressive. Depending on the type of rock climbing you’ll be doing, you need to take a close look at the material, shape, and fit of the footwear. Read our reviews to determine which shoes are the perfect match for your needs!
The Shape Of The Climbing Shoes
The shape of the shoes is also important. Different shapes are better suited for different types of climbing For example, shoes with a flat design are relaxed and comfortable, and they tend to work the best on climbs that aren’t steep.
Shoes with a flat design are extremely versatile, which means you can use them for more than just climbing; you can easily wear them to your favorite spin class or for tackling the elliptical, or even wear them out in public!
Shoes that are slightly downturned are the ideal choice if you plan on climbing vertical faces, as they make edging much easier. This style of climbing shoe can also be used to handle super steep cracks and overhangs.
Lastly, there is the climbing shoe that has an aggressively downturned design. This type of shoe is meant to handle steep climbs and severe overhangs, as they allow you to perform heal and toe hooks with ease.
The soles of all climbing shoes are constructed of a specialized rubber that provides increased friction, allowing you to attain a better grip on the surface you are scaling; however, there are different types of specialized rubber that are used. Vibram rubber, Stealth rubber and Trax rubber are all used for outsoles.
The Fit Of The Climbing Shoes
Without a doubt, the most important factor that you are going to want to take into consideration when choosing your climbing shoes is the fit. Your shoes should fit snuggly, but they shouldn’t be painful.
They should be supportive, yet comfortable. With the right fit, you will have an easier time maneuvering yourself, and you will be able to climb for longer periods of time.
When trying on different climbing shoes, pay attention to the position of your toes. They should touch the front of the shoe, but they shouldn’t curl under or over. They may feel a little tight on the sides, but that is to ensure that they will stay in place; while they may feel tight, they should not feel uncomfortable.
The term ‘last’ refers to the model of the foot that climbing shoes are built on. The last provides the shoes with the height and volume of the instep, as well as the dimensions of the toe and the heel.
There are two types of lasts that are used for climbing shoes:
- Slip: Climbing shoes that are slip lasted usually do not have an insole. The stiffness of the shoe is provided from the midsole, the portion of the shoe that is located right above the outsole. Shoes that are slip lasted are typically are not stiff, and they provide more sensitivity for the foot.
- Board: Shoes that are board lasted are usually stiffer than climbing shoes that are slip lasted. They also tend to be more comfortable than slip lasted shoes; however, for the increased comfort, the trade off is less foot sensitivity.
The shape of the climbing shoe is also determined by the last. These shapes include:
- Straight: Straight lasted shoes, also known as flat lasted, offer the most relaxed fit and provide the greatest comfort. Shoes that have a straight last are best suited for longer climbs, as they provided all day comfort. The majority of climbing shoes that are constructed on a straight last are neutral.
- Asymmetric: An asymmetric design positions the longest point of the shoe over the big toe. This helps to increase the power that of the big toe, as well as the power on the inside edge of the shoe. With an asymmetric lasted shoe, you will have a better contact with the rock, which makes these shoes well suited for more aggressive climbs.
- Downturned: A downturned (also known as a cambered) last bends the shape of the shoe downward so that foot is placed down toward the toes. This type of last is used in both moderate and aggressive climbing shoes.
This design is for toe and heel hooking, which is used for tackling serious overhanging rock. Shoes that have a downturned last tend to be asymmetrically shaped. The shape makes them ideal for handling difficult routes, as it provides exceptional power and enhanced performance.
Downturned last shoes are not intended to be worn for long periods of time, as the shape does not allow your foot to lie flat, which can become uncomfortable.
The outsole is the portion of the climbing shoe that makes contact with the surface. It is always constructed of rubber; however, the type of rubber, including the thickness, the firmness and the stickiness, can vary, and will impact the performance of the shoe.
Typically, the firmer the rubber, the better suited the climbing shoe will be for for edging, as it provides great support for the foot. Stickier rubber offers better grip and allows for heightened sensitivity, which is ideal for smearing. It is important to note that the stickier the rubber is, the less durable it is.
The thickness of the rubber used on the outsole is also important to understand. Thicker soles usually range between 4 and 5.5 mm and provide the support that is needed for edging. Thicker rubber is also more durable, so it will last longer. On the downside, thick rubber reduces the sensitivity of your foot, so you won’t be able to feel the surface beneath as well, which can impact your ability to modify your technique.
Thinner rubber typically ranges from around 3 to 4 mm in thickness. The thinner the rubber, the more sensitive the shoe is, which means that you will be able to better feel the surface beneath you and adjust your technique accordingly. Thin rubber outsoles are ideal for tackling slabs and for smearing.
When it comes to rock climbing, the shoes you choose will make all the difference in the world. They determine the level of comfort, support and stability you will have while you are climbing. Keep all of the information presented in this buyers guide in mind so that you can find the best pair of climbing shoes for your needs.