If you’re looking for the one climbing shoe you can wear bouldering at the gym or crack climbing all day in Yosemite, look no further than the La Sportiva Miura.
With a choice of lace-up or velcro, this shoe is the time-tested answer to an age old question: How do I buy one shoe that can do it all? It has a sort of cult following for being both stiff and sensitive, good at edging, and ultra-durable. At around $165, it’s not the cheapest shoe on the market, but it’s also not the most outrageously expensive—and its versatility and reliability will make the Miura worth the investment.
Unless you’re an old-school climber who only likes traditional crack climbing in one part of the world and has no interest in what the kids are doing these days, buying climbing shoes is kind of like trying to hit a moving target. As adventure seekers, I don’t think I’m entirely off base in saying that climbers might have a tendency to lack focus.
One day, I’m super stoked on bouldering at the gym—then it gets sunny out and I want to get outside and multipitch all day. The next day, I decide I love heights—but lead climbing is scary, and I just want to top rope stuff that’s too hard for me. Next, I decide I’m going to be a “real climber” and learn to crack climb. Then I remember I’m a terrible crack climber, have no discipline to learn something I’m bad at, and go back to bouldering indoors. And the cycle continues.
This saga of my personal “journey with climbing” is all to say: Buying shoes is difficult. You want them to be specialty, but you also want to be able to use them for whatever phase you’re going through. What’s more, they’re expensive—so unless you have an unlimited budget and a Paris Hilton shoe closet, investing in a single pair of climbing shoes can be daunting.
When it comes down to it, choosing the shoes is about fit. Most importantly, you want a pair of shoes that fit your feet. Second, you want a pair of shoes that fit your lifestyle and stage in climbing. I can’t tell you which shoes will fit your feet (you’ll want to try them on), but I can help with the rest.
Long before the first woman climbed 5.15, or a proposed V17 existed, or a 9-year-old girl climbed harder than you’ll ever project, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” We can all learn a lot from the 26th president, to do what we can, where we are, with the best climbing shoes we’ve got.
To determine the best we’ve got, there are a few variables to consider. This mostly comes down to the type of climbing you do most.
First, you’ll want to consider low angle versus high angle. This is also known as “downturn,” or how “aggressive” a shoe is. It’s pretty obvious by looking at shoes side by side, but some shoes are flat and look closer to a street shoe, while some are curved like a ballerina slipper. If you like steep climbing or bouldering on tiny footholds, you’ll want an aggressive, downturned shoe. If you like crack climbing, go with a flatter, more durable shoe. This also applies to multi-pitching or longer days, as downturned shoes tend to be more uncomfortable.
Next, consider soft versus stiff rubber. This is also known as how “sensitive” a shoe is. This basically comes down to whether or not you like to be able to feel the rock with your toes. Soft rubber puts more pressure on your foot, and stiffer rubber provides more support. The two main rules would be for newer climbers to go with a stiffer shoe (because you’re not ready to feel so much), and for people who just love to smear, you’ll want sensitive rubber for those nonexistent foot “holds.”
The next question is whether you want lace-ups, velcro, or slipper style of shoe. This one is pretty easy. Definitely get lace-ups if you like crack climbing, as the rock will pull your velcro shoes open and cause a lot of wear on the more delicate velcro. Laces are also useful for getting a perfect fit, as you can control exactly how tight they are on your foot.
Get velcro if you want to slip them on or off more easily but still want them pretty tight, like aggressive bouldering shoes you can only endure for three minutes at a time.
If comfort is a high priority, slip-ons are your best option. They’re low maintenance, easy to get on and off, and the least torture-y. That said, they also stretch with no way to tighten them, and I find the feel less secure in general.
When considering what goes above that nice sticky rubber, you’ll need to choose between synthetic and leather. Basically, leather will stretch significantly, whereas synthetic remains about how you bought it—give or take maybe half a size, depending on the shoe. If you’re willing to be uncomfortable in your new shoes, your efforts will be rewarded in the form of leather shoes that mold to your feet. If you’re not a big fan of change or you just like to know what you’re committing to, buy synthetic in a size that fits out of the box.
To summarize, I would narrow down shoe options that fit your lifestyle, then find a pair that fit your specific foot. Try them on if you can! Or make sure you purchase shoes online from a retailer that allows returns.
If you have a lot of different interests and a smaller budget, get an all-around shoe that you can take on your many diverse adventures. I hate to say it, but I have multiple shoes that I use for specific things. I find it helps my shoes last longer, and I’m partial to aggressive bouldering shoes that start to feel like foot binds on longer days. I use a comfortable shoe to warm up (which I also use for longer climbs) and an aggressive shoe for bouldering. I use the same shoes indoors and outdoors, but a lot of climbers like to save their expensive shoes for pushing their limits outside.
Remember—buying shoes is fun! Unwrap them, take in that fresh, rubber, not-yet-stinky-foot smell, slide them (or force them) on your feet, and get on that project you’ve been working on all week. Feel that? Yeah, that’s the feeling of fresh rubber.
I kept a few things in mind when narrowing down my shortlist for climbing shoes. I like to think of finding your shoes as being like penguins finding their mate and sticking with them for life. Once you pick a pair, you’ll likely get used to how they feel and have a hard time switching. Before recommending products, I wanted to make sure they were high-quality and worth taking that leap of faith—so you, too, can find your own personal penguin ♥.
- Durability: There’s nothing worse than dropping your hard-earned money on a pair of shoes just to have them rip on you, or get a giant hole in the toe a month later. Durability is one of the more important factors, since you’ll put so much wear and tear on these shoes by nature.
- Type of climbing: See above for specifics on this, but your shoe choice will depend on the type of climbing you love most. I picked out my favorites for every style.
- Cost: Shoes are one of the more expensive pieces of gear you’ll need—especially when you consider how often they need to be replaced. You might drop $300 on a crash pad, but that will last you longer than the rubber on your toes. I kept cost in mind, especially for beginners. But, in all honesty, shoes are one of those bite-the-bullet purchases if you’re really committed to climbing at your limit. Think of it like oxygen for scuba divers—it might be expensive, but it also might be super necessary.
- Comfort: Climbing shoes are not exactly known for being attractive, and they’re really not known for being comfortable. In fact, I would call them torture devices that happen to have rubber that helps you climb up rock or plastic. I kept comfort in mind to some extent, especially for shoes you’ll wear all day, but mostly I counted discomfort as a necessary trade-off for this weird sport we all love so much.
The Best Climbing Shoes
La Sportiva Miura
The Miura wins 1st place for a number of reasons. You’ll probably notice from my shortlist that I tend to trust shoes that have withstood the test of time. The Miura is no different. It’s been on the market for a solid 10 years and is still the golden child of all-around climbing shoes.
This shoe requires some breaking in, and has a “harder” rubber that won’t feel sensitive enough straight out of the box. That said, they hold a good reputation for being durable. They’re on the expensive side, but they’re built to last. And, since they’re so good at so many things, they’re worth the investment. Plus, they’re aggressive enough to get the job done while being comfortable enough to wear on longer days.
If you just love one style of climbing, you can probably find a shoe designed exactly for that style, and which will do what you want it to better than the Miura. But if you’re looking for one pair that can fill all your needs, this is the one you’ve been searching for.
- Comfortable enough for long days
- Not “specific” enough for some
Five Ten Moccasym
The shoe is basically the Ugg boot of climbing shoes (minus the fact that it’s actually the best-looking shoe on the market, in my opinion). My #1 favorite thing about the Moc (and the Ugg boot, for that matter) is that it’s comfortable. I find I can wear them all day without pain, and I’ve even had friends who just use this shoe as their approach shoe.
This is a slip-on model and pretty flat, and it’s a surprisingly good all-around shoe for everything from bouldering to crack climbing. It’s far from aggressive, so if you’re used to a downturned shoe with thick rubber, the Moc will be hard to “trust,” but this just takes some getting used to. What’s more, the Five Ten is known for having some of the stickiest rubber—so you can remind yourself of that when you’re hesitating on a small foothold.
I absolutely love to recommend this shoe for new climbers. It’s not the absolute cheapest shoe on the market, but it will last you a lot longer than other “beginner” shoes, and it will actually be usable after you conquer that 5.9 grade (great job!). Make sure you size down, as these shoes stretch quite a bit. To the ladies and gentlemen out there with very small feet, the smallest size will likely be too large, unfortunately. One final warning: Don’t panic when you take these off—they dye your feet bright red!
- Great for beginners
- Good all-around
- Fairly Durable
- Good value
- Doesn’t come in very small sizes
- Dyes your feet red
- Not the best for heel-hooks
- Not the best for steep stuff
La Sportiva Solution
These are my personal go-to for bouldering shoes. I think of them as like a lifted truck—they’re pretty aggressive and not super versatile, but they’ll make you feel like you can roll over just about anything.
I love my Solutions, but you should know that the second I get off the boulder problem or my belayer starts lowering me, I am ripping them the eff off my feet. They are far from comfortable, but I haven’t found a pair of shoes that make me feel so secure and heel hook so well, while still being able to feel the rock on my toes. It’s a magical, albeit masochistic, relationship. That said, they’ve been described as comfortable for an aggressive shoe, so maybe I’m just a bigger wimp than I like to admit.
These shoes lose points for versatility. Yes, you can use them to crack climb, but there would probably be a lot of cursing (and potentially a couple of broken straps) involved. They’re also very expensive. But, if you want to boulder or do short sport climbs at your limit, buy these shoes TIGHT (they stretch). Get the pink ones if you have narrow feet or the yellow ones if your feet are wide.
- Good for steep climbing
- Heel hooks well
- Sensitive yet sturdy
- Not versatile
La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes
The TC Pro is at the top of its class for long days of traditional climbing, but it’s a solid all-around shoe as well. It’s the only high-top on the list (so it comes with ankle protection for long, tiring days on your feet). Its stiff rubber makes it very durable, which almost makes up for the incredibly high price point.
This shoe is known to be good at edging and smearing, but its lack of downturn makes it less ideal for steep routes. Again, it’s an all-around shoe, so it’s not going to be your best choice if you can’t get enough of steep boulder problems. It does gain points for being comfortable, and, for what little it may be worth, I like the way these look.
- Go-to shoe for trad climbers
- Ankle protection
- Very expensive
- Not ideal for bouldering
Five Ten Anasazi Lace
These are often known as the Anasazi “Pinks,” and they get a lot of praise for their ability to morph to the foot, despite being made of synthetic “Cowdura” fabric. You don’t have to try to gamble on stretch, because this shoe provides the comfort of leather without the stretch factor.
The price point is about standard for a nice climbing shoe (otherwise known as expensive). But these lace-ups are built to last and work well on a variety of terrains. The heel can be too narrow for some climbers, so you’ll want to try these on, especially if you have a rounder heel. It’s a moderate shoe, so it’s not ideal if you love very downturned, aggressive shoes for steep or overhanging climbs.
- Well-made with minimal stretch
- Not ideal for bouldering
- Heel can be too narrow
La Sportiva Katana Lace
This shoe’s selling point is its downturned toe and design that still keeps your foot relatively flat—giving you the precision of an aggressive shoe without the discomfort. It has a “lacing harness,” so it gives you exact fit without the time or discomfort of a shoe tongue. This technology also makes the shoe really breathable, so if you have excessively hot feet you’ll appreciate this feature.
The Katana is built for all-around climbing, so it won’t be the best at any specific discipline. It’s also lower on my list because it’s insanely expensive. But if you’re looking for a solid all-around shoe that’s still very comfortable, this is the one for you.
- Very expensive
- Not ideal for bouldering
Climbing shoes can be especially scary if you have a naturally wide foot. Fear not! The Butora Acro was designed with a wider fit option, so you can still size your climbing shoes tight without cutting off circulation.
The Acro is an aggressive shoe with a sharp downturn, so they’re not ideal for longer days. That said, they are designed to fit like a slipper, so they’re a lot more comfortable than comparable bouldering shoes. A lot of climbers have issues with the heel, as it tends to stick out too far for many people’s feet. They’re slightly cheaper than other aggressive shoes, but not by much.
Moral of the story: This shoe is worth trying on if you like bouldering and steep climbing. It’s a unique fit, so it might be that perfect Cinderella slipper you’ve been searching for.
- Great for bouldering
- Comes in a variety of widths
- Not as versatile
- Heel fit can be awkward
Five Ten Team
If you’re willing to sacrifice any semblance of comfort or convenience, consider the Team. It’s really aggressive and oh-so sensitive, so your foot can become one with the shoe and the shoe one with the rock. Depending on your pain tolerance, this can be a huge plus if you’re smearing on slippery foot holds or climbing really steep routes.
One huge downside to this shoe is that it’s hard to get on and off. This is especially brutal when you consider how uncomfortable the shoe is. I used this shoe for bouldering for some time, and can still vividly remember the inner dialogue of whether or not to take off my shoes every time I got off a climb.
If you do decide the squeeze is worth the juice, make sure you try these on. They’re synthetic and made to fit tight, so don’t make the mistake of sizing too small to begin with.
- Great for bouldering
- Great for smearing
- Great for steep routes
- Not Versatile
- Hard to get on and off
Dear beginning climbers: Enjoy these days of learning something new, where just getting to the top is exciting and you don’t need to buy expensive and painful shoes because most of the foot holds double as hand holds. These days are beautiful—and fleeting.
Okay, now on to the Evolv Nighthawk. This is your shoe if you don’t want to spend slightly more money on the Five Ten Moccasym. Maybe you’re not sure about this whole climbing thing, or maybe you want to wear out your first shoes before you invest in something specific to the style you like best. The Nighthawk is one of the least expensive shoes on the market, and it qualifies as a decent all-around shoe that will do the trick until you start climbing harder routes. And, since it’s so comfortable, if you find you want to buy a more aggressive shoe before these wear out you can always demote them to your warm-up pair.
- Solid beginner shoe
- Weak at steep/precise climbing
- Unlined = smelly feet
Black Diamond Momentum Climbing Shoes
These shoes are new to the market and still working out some kinks in terms of design and construction. That said, they’re a quality first-shoe choice for when you’re tired of renting. The breathable material is a huge plus for newer climbers who are concerned with foot sweat. They’re also really comfortable, so you won’t have to take them off between climbs.
Black Diamond took a unique approach to sizing for their first line of climbing shoes—they sized them identically to street sizing. And the material is synthetic, so you don’t need to worry about stretch. This is the one shoe you might get away with just purchasing online without trying on (unless you have particularly wide or narrow feet). These rank slightly lower than the Evolv only because they perform at a similar level but cost slightly more.
- Solid beginner shoe
- Weak at steep/precise climbing
- Awkward closure system
How Do I Size My Climbing Shoes?
This is also a (somewhat) personal choice. Any front desk person at the gym (or REI employee) will tell you that you want your shoes tight, but not super painful. They should never pinch anywhere or cause excessive discomfort to the point where you question everything that has brought you to this moment and why you choose to torture yourself like this and why you couldn’t have taken up golf or something like that. That said, your shoes will stretch, and I’ve had friends who put plastic bags on their feet just to get a new pair on. I like my shoes pretty tight, but this is on the extreme side for my pain tolerance. Plus, too-tight shoes tend to wear out quicker.
Is There a Difference Between Men’s Climbing Shoes and Women’s Climbing Shoes?
Companies advertise shoes differently, but my personal opinion is that this is just marketing. “Women’s” shoes are just the narrower version of the men’s (I take that back—“men’s” shoes are the wider version of the women’s). Buy the shoes that fit your feet, no matter what your nether regions look like.
How Do I Care for My Climbing Shoes?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is: Never leave your climbing shoes in your climbing bag (or any sealed bag, for that matter). This is how your sweat seeps into them and never dries, and the entire gym or crag has to smell that ick every time you take off your shoes. You can use deodorizing foot sprays, but letting your shoes fully dry out after each session will be your best hope for preventing smelly shoes. You’ll also want to wipe off any dirt after each session, using a wet (but not too wet) rag. Finally, don’t leave your shoes in a hot car or direct sunlight.
Should I Wear Socks?
This is really up to you. I would personally wear them with rental shoes (because, ew!) and I sometimes wear them when I warm up (I’m a big fan of Mocs with Socks!), but wearing socks with climbing shoes is pretty uncommon and not recommended.
When Should I Replace My Climbing Shoes?
I think it will be obvious when you need to replace your shoes, but a better question is when, and whether or not, you should resole them instead. Often, the rand and rubber wears off your otherwise perfectly good shoes. Rather than buy a whole new pair, you can choose to send them to be resoled. This will likely save you money and definitely reduce your waste. It also allows you to have fresh rubber on a pair that you’ve put in the time and effort to break in. Resoling takes some attention and self control, because you have to send them in before the rand (rubber on the toe case) has worn through. If you can see your toes, it’s too late. Finally, this requires some patience, as you’ll have to wait a few weeks between shipping and resoling. Rule of thumb: This is a great option for those of us who use expensive, aggressive shoes and have a backup pair. Here’s a handy map that will help you find a resoler near you.
Now that you’ve invested in your perfect shoe (or two), consider these products to help you take better care of them!
- Right Foot Deodorizer Spray: I hate to break it to you, but your feet are gross. Use this 100% natural, made-in-the-USA spray to pretend your feet are less gross.
- Shoe Goo: Use this goo to patch small dings in your rubber, so you can wear them longer.
- Evolv Cruzer Psyche Approach Shoe: These ultra-light, affordable approach shoes will get you to and from the crag in style.