What is the biggest hurdle when it comes to rock climbing?
Of course, the obvious answer is the giant, imposing boulder or the steep cliffs staring you down. But take a few steps back, and you'll realize that the biggest challenge is actually finding the most supportive, stabilizing, and flexible sneakers to hook you in place.
The thing is, rock climbing is all about that perfect foot placement. The tiniest blunder can completely throw you off — quite literally!
But your technique and prowess can only be as good as the shoes that you choose to wear.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most comfortable and high-performance rock climbing shoes to keep you sure-footed against all odds.
Rock Climbing Shoes Buying Guide
Rock climbing is a meticulous sport that requires equally meticulous footwear. Different types of climbers prioritize certain features over others based on their form and techniques. Hence, you should know how different types of rock climbing shoes can affect your performance.
There are three general categories of rock climbing shoes:
- Neutral— these shoes have a relatively flat profile compared to moderate and aggressive rock climbing shoes.
- Moderate— these shoes have a slight curve at the toe box.
- Aggressive— these shoes have a downturned shape bending asymmetrically towards the big toe.
Neutral shoes are great for beginners who are just getting the feel of rock climbing. These breathable shoes are relatively flat and offer a relaxed fit for all-day comfort.
However, professional climbers also often favor neutral shoes; since the shoes are flat, they are ideal for slotting into cracks.
Moderate shoes have a noticeable camber profile, i.e., they are slightly downturned around the toe area. The camber of the shoe allows for more technical climbing. Additionally, moderate shoes are grip-oriented owing to their sticky outsole and thin midsole.
Aggressive rock climbing shoes are ideal for single-pitch and overhanging climbing. In addition, the downturned shape of the shoes gives you more leverage in your toes.
However, aggressive rock shoes are the least comfortable of the three options since they have a non-anatomical shape, a thin midsole, and a stickier rubber outsole.
Of course, you can always use regular sneakers for training sessions. Running shoes like Loom Sneakers gives you the perfect combination of comfort and performance for rock climbing.
The type of shoe closure that you choose has little to do with performance and more with comfort and practicality.
When it comes to rock climbing shoes, you have the choice between three types of closures:
- Traditional lace closures
- Velcro strap closures
- Slip-on without mechanical closures
If you have unusually wide feet or high arches, lace closures can help customize your fit. Similarly, you can even loosen up the shoes to allow your feet to breathe during belays without having to take off your shoes altogether. Moreover, lace closures make for overall more secure yet breathable shoes.
But if you’re after convenience, then strap closures are the way to go. With strap closures, you can easily slip in and out of your shoes. This on/off convenience comes in handy in bouldering and gym climbing, but not so much during multi-pitch or overhang climbs.
Beginners can easily get by on slip-on rock climbing shoes. Unfortunately, these shoes don’t have any mechanical closures, so they’re not as secure as their counterparts. However, the upside to this is that slip-on shoes have a low profile and will allow you to be swifter on your feet.
When it comes to rock climbing, there truly isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of shoe. By and large, the “perfect” rock climbing shoe will be the one that hugs your feet perfectly without restricting your movement.
Things like shoe type, closure system, material, and flexibility constitute the overall fit of the shoe. A general rule of thumb is that the tighter the shoe, the more high-performance it is.
However, different people have vastly different and unique foot shapes. Hence, what might be a perfect shoe for someone else could be a terrible choice for you.
Still, there are general shoe fitting rules that will make your shoe hunt a whole lot easier:
- Always try on the shoes in person. Moreover, try on the shoes during day time.
- Judge the fit of the shoe only after you lace or strap up the shoes.
- The toe box should be wide enough so that your toes aren’t bunched up against each other.
- At the same time, there shouldn’t be any space between your toes and the inside of the toe box. Otherwise, you can’t have precise foot placement against the footholds.
Top 5 Flexible Sneakers For Rock Climbing
While rock climbing shoes come down to a matter of your personal preference and foot shape, it’s hard to go wrong with the following choices.
Evolv Defy — Best Indoor Climbing Shoe
- Neutral Profile
- Opposing closure straps
- Vegan-friendly materials
- Full-length midsole and outsole
Indoor rock climbing is relatively more forgiving than outdoor climbing. However, it still comes with a set of its own challenges, all of which you can overcome with the Evolv Defy climbing shoes.
Unsurprisingly, the shoes feature a neutral profile. But don’t let the heavy profile unnerve you. It is solely thanks to this hefty profile that the shoes are noticeably more comfortable and supportive for your feet.
The main source of this superior support stems from the full-length midsole cushioning and outsole traction.
Moreover, the shoes have an anatomical design, which speaks volumes for their overall comfort. Plus, this easy-fitting design makes it one of the most breathable shoes for rock climbing.
Additionally, Evolv’s proprietary Variable Thickness Rand system strategically places rand rubber to reduce the stress around your feet’ pressure points and hot spots.
La Sportiva Miura VS—Best Outdoor Climbing Shoe
- Aggressive profile
- Suede leather upper
- LaSpoFlex interior
- Vibram XS Edge 4mm outsole
The mere sight of the legendary La Sportiva Miura inspires fervor. The traditional Miura model offers a classic lace closure that has served climbers for over a decade. However, La Sportiva recently came out with a Velcro Strap alternative of the beloved Miura shoes.
The Miura VS boasts all the sought-after features of a well-constructed aggressive shoe. With their proprietary LaSpoFlex midsole and a suede upper, the Muira shoes will give even the best flexible sneakers a run for their money.
Moreover, the Vibram XS outsole will keep you well-grounded, even when you’re dangling off the edge of a boulder.
That being said, the aggressive profile of the Miura isn’t well-suited for everyone's foot shape. Moreover, the extremely snug fit means that the Miura isn’t the most breathable rock climbing shoe.
Tenaya Masai—Best Neutral Shoe
- Neutral Profile
- Lace-up Closure
- Synthetic Microfiber Upper
Beginners and professionals alike sing praises of the Tenaya Masai climbing shoes for their superior support. Featuring a neutral profile, the Masai climbing shoes make technical maneuvers around small edges seem like a walk in the park.
While the shoes have a neutral profile, their asymmetric design mimics the precision and power of their aggressive counterparts. Hence, the Tenaya Masai climbing shoes are ideal for almost all kinds of climbing excursions.
However, keep in mind that the Masai climbing shoes aren’t the most flexible sneakers— as is true for all neutral climbing shoes. However, the comfortable microfiber upper and the TXT-treated cotton interior more than makes up for the tight fit and minimum stretch.
Scarpa Instinct VS — Best Moderate Shoe
- Moderate profile
- Bi-Tension Rubber Wrap System
- Rubber Toe Cap
- Two kinds of Vibram outsoles
Combining flexibility and torsional rigidity, the Scarpa Instinct VS is truly a paradoxical phenomenon. But that doesn’t stop Instinct VS from being one of the best moderate rock climbing shoes in the market.
With their Bi-Tension rubber wrap system, the Instinct VS maximizes toe power. The system features a tensioned rubber wrap connecting the two lateral sides. This subtle feature increases support and stability while still maximizing ground sensitivity and feedback.
Moreover, a rubber toe cap provides maximum toe hooking power, making it ideal for bouldering and overhaul climbs.
While the toe cap provides grip through the upper, the strategically-placed Vibram rubbers maximize outsole traction. Interestingly enough, the shoes use two different kinds of Vibram on the forefoot and the heel, thereby optimizing zonal traction.
Butora Acro—Best Aggressive Shoe
- Aggressive profile
- Strap Closure System
- Sticky rubber toe patch
Experience an edging prowess like never before with the Butora Acro climbing shoes. While the Acro is technically an aggressive climbing shoe, it is somehow still more easy-fitting than its competition. So, you can easily wear these aggressive shoes on a multi-pitch climb if you want.
The design of the Acro climbing shoes features a very aggressive downturn. For some people, this can prove to be uncomfortable. Moreover, the steep forward lean of the heels minimizes ground.
However, this unusually aggressive downturn is excellent for steep terrains. Toe and heel hooking has never been this easy, thanks to the combination of a sticky rubber toe patch, sharp downturn, and a NEO Fuse sticky rubber outsole.
Furthermore, the stiffness of the shoe does little to compromise its sensitivity. Even in unfavorable summer conditions, you can easily feel the tiniest bulges and cracks.
When it comes to rock climbing shoes, there’s a lot more to consider beyond just the three distinct categories: neutral, moderate, and aggressive. Sure, it’s a good place to start, but that’s all it is: a point of reference.
The real challenge is experimenting with different features and finding a compromise. For example, an aggressive shoe is infamous for being uncomfortable for full-day wear.
If you dig deep enough, though, you can easily find a downturned climbing shoe that is breathable as much as it is flexible.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of figuring out what fits you best.