Climbing shoes are designed to have a really close fit, leaving very little padding, with the rubber sole being smooth yet sticky, with an extended rubber rand. Climbing shoes are actually designed in multiple pieces so that it can closely contort and conform to your feet. Leather is typically the go-to material, especially for the upper material. Other materials like fabric and synthetic leather are also used in other parts of the shoe.
The Science behind the Climbing Shoe’s Rubber Sole
Each shoe is made with science and chemistry behind it, especially the bottom of climbing shoes. At a molecular level, each strand of rubber or latex are flexible, but when compacted together they form a sticky rubber that molds itself around things that you’re stepping on — like stone boulders, dirt, and sand. The more contact it makes with a surface, the more friction is generated to ensure that the foot stays secure.
The sticky rubber is soft enough to form around the smallest bumps, while also creating more surface contact between the sole and rocky surfaces. This provides exceptional friction and improved tactile feedback. The sticky rubber also deforms hundreds of times during any particular climb and has the ability to pop back into shape without its structural integrity being undermined. While most brands and manufacturers won’t specifically spell out what is formulated into their sticky rubber soles, they’re usually made with a combination of latex, chloroprene, butadiene, clay, and additional fillers.
Chemistry Behind Rock Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes take advantage of the coefficient of friction, which helps maximize your climbing efforts. The best climbing excursions rely on proper climbing techniques, stamina, strength, but also the law of physics.
The coefficient of friction is defined as the angle of incline in relation to the roughness of surfaces, and how much force climbers have to exert to support their body weight. Gravity influences how much energy you need to exert yourself while rock climbing. Kinetic and static fictions make up coefficient calculations — static coefficient refers to your motionless body, while kinetic friction refers to a body in motion. While the style and the design of the climbing shoe are important, what is most important is its ability to aid you when executing climbing techniques.
Similar to a way a tree frog adheres to a tree with tiny hairs that takes advantage of friction, climbing shoes work in a similar fashion. While human themselves do not have the little hairs on the palm of their hands and on the soles of their feet for them to climb, the rubber sole provides friction needed for edging and smearing. By taking advantage of friction, your climbing shoes allow you to secure placement while edging. If you aren’t able to find an edge and use smearing, the rubber provides enhanced foot coverage and additional pressure to allow friction to work.
Consideration When Selecting The Right Climbing Shoe
The first step in determining which climbing shoe is right for you is to narrow down the type of climbing you do most. For example, there are specialty shoes that will be beneficial for sport climbing, Alpine climbing, bouldering, or traditional climbing. Alternatively, you can also purchase an all-around shoe that’s snug and will perform adequate enough for most climbing excursions.
When you start browsing through the list of recommended climbing shoes, you’ll notice that they will usually be designed with three types of upper materials. These materials include unlined leather, lined leather, and synthetic leather. Each type of leather has its own unique pros and cons.
Unlined leather is most breathable, and are noted to be very comfortable. They are designed to contort to the shape of your foot. However, keep in mind that some dyes will stain your feet for the first couple of wears.
Lined leather is more breathable than synthetic and won’t have your feet stinky. It doesn’t stretch as much as unlined leather. Synthetic is very durable and is usually made with animal-friendly materials. However, they can be a bit restrictive and do not give or stretch.
When selecting a climbing shoe, you also need to factor in the closure that it uses. Most climbing shoes are designed with a Velcro, lace up, or a slipper style closure. The Velcro and slipper are easy to put on and take off. The lace ups provide a more customizable fit.
- 1. La Sportiva Men’s TarantuLace Performance Rock Climbing Shoes
- 2. Climb X Rave Strap Climbing Shoe 2019
- 3. Mad Rock Men’s Drifter Shoes
- 4. La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoe Mens
- 5. La Sportiva OXYGYM Women’s Shoes
- 6. Evolv Elektra Climbing Shoe 2014
- 7. Evolv Shaman Climbing Shoe
- 8. Scarpa Men’s Instinct VS Climbing Shoe
- 9. La Sportiva Mens Miura Shoes
- 10. SAGUARO Mens Womens Minimalist Barefoot Water Shoes
- Climbing Shoes Selection Tips
- Types of Climbing Shoes
- Top Climbing Shoe Brands
- Selecting Climbing Shoes: Questions and Answers (Q&A)
1. La Sportiva Men’s TarantuLace Performance Rock Climbing Shoes
This performance shoe is designed with a lacing system that allows for precision, allowing the upper part of the shoe to closely contort to your body. It is designed for intermediate climbers who tend to use smear and the edge technique. The bottom is made out of an aggressive rubber and a sticky FriXion base. It enables climbers to find edges with great sensitivity without cramping that is sometimes associated with more cheaply designed shoes.
- Accommodates the average foot.
- Snug fit without the pain points or discomfort.
- May not be adequate enough for difficult routes with small footholds.
- Lace holes may start to rip apart after several months
2. Climb X Rave Strap Climbing Shoe 2019
If you're looking for a climbing shoe with more than adequate padding, then the Climb X Rave Strap Climbing might be the shoe for you. It is a great all-around shoe that has the proper features for climbing excursions. The double stitch construction and a padded collar ensure snugness with lasting comfort. If you need more of an aggressive performing shoe, then stick with the Climb X Rave Strap Climbing --- just make sure that you order a size down.
- Thick padded collar and heel.
- Beginner pricing for a shoe with adequate padding.
- The extra padding may not withstand repeated aggressive climbing.
- Long Velcro may be an issue.
3. Mad Rock Men’s Drifter Shoes
The Mad Rock Men's Drifter Shoes may look a bit unassuming, but the value is in its construction. It's a wallet-friendly classical rockclimbing shoe with an upper material made out of premium leather. The bottom is made from polyester, with the midsole constructed of compressed polyester to help accommodate micro vibrations when climbing. The Mad Rock Men's Drifter Shoes skips all of the fancy features and hones in on what makes a reliable rockclimbing shoe: quality rubber soles and a leather upper for maximum breathability.
- Mild stiffness that will accommodate most climbing styles.
- Comparable to more expensive brands.
- While most rock climbing shoes run a bit small, these tend to run very small --- some users are reporting that you may need to buy a full two sizes up.
4. La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoe Mens
The La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoe takes a multifaceted approach when it comes to their ability, performance, and comfort. The flat fit delivers comfort for long climbing sessions, with the lining whisking away moisture to mitigate odors, with a lacing system that uses unlined leather for all day multi-pitch routes.
- Very comfortable, with the rubber heel helping climbers gain footholds due to enhanced sensitivity.
- No pinched feeling.
- These are highly comfortable shoes --- almost too comfortable. They aren't designed for aggressive rock climbing and they will expand in size after several sessions.
- May not be suitable for aggressive or experienced climbers.
5. La Sportiva OXYGYM Women’s Shoes
Rock climbing is for everyone, with LA Sportiva releasing a series of rock climbing shoes designed for women. The La Sportiva OXYGYM Women's Shoes are a crowd favorite due to not only their aesthetic but also their performance. It is a highly comfortable shoe that is perfect for extended excursions. There's a patented hook and loop closure that will allow the person wearing them to personalize their fit.
- The upper portion of the shoe is made out of three layers that are washable and helps prevent sweat.
- Easy slip on and slip off.
- Some are reporting that holes are developing on the top of their shoes after just a couple of sessions.
- Shoe strap may snap after several months.
6. Evolv Elektra Climbing Shoe 2014
The Evolv Elektra Climbing Shoe is a perfect entry-level rockclimbing shoe that is affordable as well. Unlike the other shoes, these usually run true to size.
- Ideal for the occasional climber or for those who do not want to pay for shoe rentals.
- Velcro and an easy slip on and slip off for maximum convenience.
- Synthetic material isn't as breathable.
- Potential for shoes to smell after repeated use.
7. Evolv Shaman Climbing Shoe
This is one of the more pricier options from the same brand, Evolv. While more expensive, it is a crowd favorites for a reason --- it has an improved fit when compared to previous reiterations, and the end of the rock climbing shoe actually hooks slightly downward for a better grip. The additional rubber at the tip aids with hooking.
- The hook at the end helps with maneuverability.
- The rubber is particularly sticky for maximum cohesion between the foot and rock surfaces.
- The Velcro strap has been pushed slightly up to grab onto the complete foot, starting from the base of the ankle.
- There are stitches inside of the shoe --- if you are not wearing the proper footwear it can cause mild abrasion after a climbing session.
8. Scarpa Men’s Instinct VS Climbing Shoe
The Scarpa Men's Instinct VS are popular due to the fact that it is one of the more easier shoes to put on. Sometimes shoes that are easy to put on sometimes sacrifice its performance. However, with these pair of shoes, the bottom is made with a Vibram XS Edge. These are a hard and durable rubber that is ideal for edging. They are extremely durable and it is meant to keep their shape after several sessions.
- Harder rubber accommodates aggressive climbing.
- Resistance to deformation.
- It may stretch after a couple of climbs.
- May need to be broken in if you have super wide feet.
9. La Sportiva Mens Miura Shoes
This shoe is made out of 100% leather, with a fast lacing system that uses a harness for precise regulation of inner volumes. This will ensure comfortability as well as guarantee a close fit to ensure confidence while executing your techniques. The rubber sole is made out of a high tension material the transfers power to the toe for an easy hook or smear.
- The shoe was built to last with maximum torsion rigidity.
- It does not delaminate.
- Runs particularly small --- make sure to purchase a size up and a half.
10. SAGUARO Mens Womens Minimalist Barefoot Water Shoes
This is one of the more inexpensive options recommended, but they have become a favorite, especially for those who are just be getting with their new hobby. This is more of a general working out shoe that can be used for walking, jogging, running, and climbing. However, they are very comfortable since they aren't marketed as solely rockclimbing shoes, which can run small.
- Affordable and accessible, perfect for newcomers to the hobby.
- Very lightweight.
- Not ideal for very wide feet.
- A bit tight on in the instep.
Climbing Shoes Selection Tips
Shoes for climbing allow you to hold on to the smallest rock outcrop and help bring the weight of your body optimally to the tread surface without slipping. Many models come with a rubber edge that slides over the sole to provide additional support. A good shoe wraps the foot properly like a tight glove. The pressure of the footwear must be distributed as evenly as possible over the entire foot.
These sporting shoes typically feature a midsole and a rubber sole with excellent grip to the rock. The presence of a certain rubber quality on the heel gives the footwear shape, which helps during the vertical ascent. This enables improved finger thrust. Beginner shoes should not be excessively curved but rather have a flat sole and a more comfortable fit.
The correct size has always been a point of discussion among climbers as some suggest choosing shoes that are two sizes smaller than the normal size to improve performance. Experts suggest that you prioritize on comfort. For this reason, the shoe should not be overly tight. This offers the right balance between sensitivity and comfort.
For those taking their first steps on the wall, it is good to remember that the first goal of climbing is fun. The experience should not be ruined with unnecessary suffering. It is important to opt for less technical models and not narrow designs to avoid cramps and pain. Always try the shoes on both feet and choose the model that fits you like a glove. Keep in mind that some models with uppers in natural leather tend to widen slightly with use while variants with synthetic uppers and inserts are less likely to lose shape.
Climbing shoes are traditionally made of leather, which offers optimal comfort for the foot, breathability and high resistance. Plastic quickly loses its original shape, it is not comfortable and does not effectively neutralize any odors.
Some climbing footwear is lacing-free with only an elastic insert that offers a snug and precise fit. Other shoes come with asymmetrical lacing perfectly adapt to the shape of the foot and are perfect for very narrow shapes and for large ones. Shoes with Velcro closure are easy to put on or take off and offer better stability than other lacing methods.
Hardness: This variable depends on the wearer’s personal taste. The best soft-profile climbing shoes offer more sensitivity for less demanding climbing activities and adapt well to the foot for greater comfort. Hard profile climbing shoes are preferred for longer and more technical routes so that the feet do not tire quickly. Experienced climbers usually bring with them several pairs of climbing footwear: soft for short routes, bouldering and climbing with much friction and harder for difficult and long routes or for very technical passages.
For beginners, it is vital to go for shoes with a hard sole, which requires less force near the fingers.
Types of Climbing Shoes
The choice of climbing footwear is essential for any climber. Depending on your level of climbing, there are three types of footwear to consider when selecting climbing shoes.
These variants are oriented models designed for beginners. Neutral profile footwear is also perfect for experienced climbers who want to climb all day long on simple, non-aggressive tracks. They provide several advantages, including flat sole, comfy fit, and the sole is thick enough to provide maximum support.
This footwear is designed for the more experienced climbers who are starting to make routes or more technical blocks. They make single rolls possible because you can hook a little more catch. The sole is thinner, which makes the feel of the foot more precise.
With these variants, you can forget comfort. Aggressive models are arched, which generates more tension in the heel. They are developed for asymmetric feet and allow you to focus all the weight on the big toe to have more power and precision in your feet. The sole is even thinner for more precision.
The choice of the model of shoes that you will buy depends on the type of climbing you do (block, track), the place (indoor or outdoor) and your goals (training, fun or competitions). It is not surprising to see climbers with several pairs of footwear. Gum footwear tends to wear more quickly indoors.
Top Climbing Shoe Brands
The best climbing footwear brands offer items with a good sole, which ensures better grip on the wall and an adequate midsole to support the foot when all the weight of the body rests on the tip. In absolute terms, however, the fundamental factor lies in the fit: a shoe that fits perfectly offers greater sensitivity and transfers energy better. Another detail to consider individually is the presence of laces or Velcro closures.
Some of the top brands that offer footwear for climbing include La Sportiva, Scarpa, Wild Country, Red Chili, and Millet. La Sportiva offers an impressive selection, some of which are the most popular shoes for climbing in the world. This is due to the ability to adapt to many types of feet and to climbing techniques.
They can ensure a perfect fit thanks to the double Velcro closure and the upper fabric that combines the elasticity of suede calfskin with the resistance of synthetic fibers. The slightly arched Vibram sole ensures a good degree of comfort even on longer climbs. The midsole is much thinner at the tip to leave more sensitivity to the fingers.
Scarpa is another top brand known for soft, light shoes with a slightly accentuated bows, which allow the footwear to be worn for a long time. The strings enable proper adjustment while the design provides high grip with the heel both on the artificial and natural walls.
Wild Country is a top brand offering awesome climbing picks, such as the Meshuga. Expert testers found the special sole made by Michelin, the accentuated plantar arch and the pointed shape of the Meshuga impressive. These characteristics provide sensitivity to the foot and allow the wearer to generate strength on the fingers, thus facilitating climbing.
The upper has two asymmetrical Velcro closures that optimize the fit. The wing feature rises from the sole towards the upper to blend into the midsole facilitates the lateral supports, thus making prolonged efforts in the wall less tiring.
Tenaya offers vegan climbing shoes and guarantees items made without animal products. Climbing is an outdoor sport, climbers love nature and take care of their protection. Respect for animals is also contemplated by an increasing number of climbers. Tenaya offers vegan climbing shoes and guarantees items made without animal products.
A suitable shoe must wrap the foot properly, like a tight glove. The shoe must be distributed as evenly as possible over the entire foot. The important thing is that the shoe perfectly wraps the foot. Shoes with Velcro closure are easy to put on or take off and offer better stability than other lacing methods.
In every sport, the choice of the right technical equipment is fundamental to achieve maximum results. In climbing the choice of shoes is decisive as it represents the most important point of contact with the wall and will allow you to reach the most difficult peaks.
The climbing shoes can be made with elastic closure, such as the La Sportiva Cobra ballerinas, in Velcro like the Katana by La Sportiva or the Anasazi VCS by Five Ten, or with laces like the historic La Sportiva Mythos.
The soles can be more or less flexible depending on the type of use. The more the difficulty increases the more the sole must necessarily be soft and flexible to guarantee adherence and sensitivity even on the smaller supports. The shoes for long routes instead, are more rigid to give support and support to the foot but decreases the sensitivity they offer
Also, the shape often changes according to the technical level of the climber and the type of use. Those with a particularly asymmetrical shape and a more arched sole, guarantee excellent grip and maximum precision on challenging walls even overhanging ones.
Climbers can expect to find reasonably priced shoes to meet different budgets and needs. The available range of footwear for climbing sold for prices starting from $25 to $200. Both men and women can take advantage of good deals available via Amazon. The shoes for climbing come in attractive, functional and comfortable designs that are ideal for both beginners and experienced climbers.
Selecting Climbing Shoes: Questions and Answers (Q&A)
Are you supposed to wear socks with rock climbing shoes?
There are limited benefits to wearing socks while climbing.
What are the best shoes for indoor rock climbing?
Some of the best footwear for climbing include Unisex Genius Climbing Shoe, Scarpa Men’s Force V Shoe, Women’s Hueco Low LTH and Women’s Skwama Shoe.
What size should Climbing shoes be?
Most experts recommend a shoe that is twice the size of your regular footwear. Start by trying your normal size down half a measure at a time until you experience proper comfort.
Should your toes be curled in climbing shoes?
Yes, the best shoe for climbing enables your toes to curl without causing any pain.
What are the best rock climbing shoes for beginners?
The best options for novice climbers when selecting climbing shoes include La Sportiva Finale, Black Diamond Momentum and Scarpa Origin.
Elizabeth Sparks received a Masters Degree in geology from The University of Colorado. Elizabeth has been working as a full-time geologist for the past 5 years. In her spare time, Elizabeth participates in rock climbing competitions and frequently goes camping with friends.