Footwear can make or break a day of rock climbing. Climbing shoes are the main piece of gear helping your feet stick to the rock, so you’ll want a pair that are comfortable and designed for the type of climbing you’ll be doing.
There are a few things to consider when shopping. First, determine whether you like a loose or tight fit. The best way to know is by trying them on, but keep in mind that sizes vary across brands, especially since many of them follow European sizing. Your street size may not be your climbing shoe size, and manufacturers usually make a note of this to ensure you’re choosing the right fit. If your toes are curled under or bunched up, size up. If there’s dead space in the toe box or heel cup, size down.
A shoe’s profile and outsole material are also important considerations. A flatter sole is going to feel more relaxed and lend itself well to beginners, while a downturned one is better for aggressive climbers and increased precision (a moderate degree of downturn is generally a good compromise between the two). In addition, different models use different types of rubber that interact in distinct ways with the rock. Some rubbers are more sensitive and flexible, while others are more supportive and rigid.
With the explosion of the sport, there’s never been a better selection of climbing shoes. In this guide, we’ve listed our favorites for a range of climbing scenarios. Whether you’re planning a laid-back day at your local crag or tackling something more ambitious, there’s a shoe here that’ll fit your needs.
Best for All-Around Performance: Adidas Five Ten NIAD VCS
This versatile, neutral-last shoe is ideal for the climber who’s redpointing, multi-pitching, or hang-dogging his project—and when climbing gyms open again, these will excel there, too. Designed in collaboration with notable boulderer Fred Nicole, the shoe’s soft microfiber upper conforms to the foot pitch after pitch. It offers a snug fit, and the high-friction Stealth C4 rubber sticks when it needs to. NIAD stands for “Nose in a day” (a reference to the famed Nose route on El Capitan), and it comes in three models: laced, Velcro, and Moccasym.
Best for Go-Getters: Evolv Geshido Velcro
Built for all types of ambitious climbing, the Geshido is a downturned, asymmetrical model that’s precise and powerful. This model is a bit tighter fitting and rigid than others, which helps you drive on even the smallest footholds. Even so, they’re still comfy, and you can wear them for long periods of time without going numb in the toes. The synthetic upper doesn’t stretch over time, so you’re guaranteed a perfect fit for every climb. It’s also available in a lace version for $10 more.
Best for All-Day Comfort: Scarpa Force V
Just because a shoe doesn’t arc like a full rainbow doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. This model closely matches the natural shape of your foot, so there’s less cramping throughout the day, and the pillowy tongue creates a comfortable fit. A rubber tension system supports your feet on everything from generous ledges to tiny, technical features. The Vibram XS Edge rubber provides good traction on all kinds of rock, from limestone to granite.
Best for Wide Feet: Butora Gomi
Sport climbers and boulderers with wide feet need not suffer from pinched toes any longer. The Gomi now comes in a high-volume shoe featuring a suede upper, a downturned profile with a flexible feel, and a single Velcro closure for fast transitions. Wrapped almost entirely in grippy NEO Fuse rubber, this model is especially great for smearing and heel hooking on steep climbs. Heads up: There’s also a narrow, low-volume version that comes in hot pink.
Best for Trad and Big Walls: La Sportiva TC Pro
The TC Pro is several years old, but it still ranks as one of the best shoes for trad and crack climbing. It was developed in collaboration with big-wall icon Tommy Caldwell around the time he was training to climb the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. The tall leather upper protects your ankles when you’re jamming into wide lines, and the low-profile toe wrapped in Vibram XS Edge is excellent for edging when toe chips become few and far between.
Best for the Approach: Black Diamond Mission LT Approach Shoes
When you’re rushing to the crag with a pack full of rope and draws, you want a shoe that’s fast, lightweight, and won’t slip on loose terrain. This approach bootie with a sock-like fit is built with a stiff midsole and a nylon rock plate so you can scramble with added protection. A highly breathable knit upper will keep your feet cool and comfortable, too.
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