How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes
Updated: Apr 28
If you scour the hundreds of thousands of online reviews and blogs, and you will find, time and time again, climbers tell you which climbing shoes is best for what. But there’s a trade secret they don’t want me to share with you: there’s no best climbing shoe or climbing shoe brand.
Does this mean that no pair is better than others? Of course not! Different rock climbing shoes excel at different things. And I am going to teach you how to find the right shoe for you!
Let’s break this down. There are about 8 BIG climbing shoe brands: La Sportiva, FiveTen, Evolv, Scarpa, Butora, Mad Rock, Tenaya. Heck, even Black Diamond is in the game now. Each of these brands boasts a selection of shoes ranging in price from somewhere around $50 to somewhere around $170—some more, some less.
A lot of companies advertise their shoes in one of three categories: Aggressive, Moderate, or Flat. As such, we see that, to use Yelp-speak, Aggressive=$$$, Moderate=$$, and Flat=$.
That is not always the case, but for the most part, this is what you will find when shopping for climbing shoes.
Now, what do these words mean?
You would think that Flat=Beginner, Moderate=Intermediate, Aggressive=Advanced. And this, for the most part, is true! But choosing a shoe that’s right for you is more complicated than picking from Flat, Moderate, or Aggressive. Why?
Have you ever noticed in climbing videos when climbers wear two different shoes? Apart from being a bold fashion statement, they are actually utilizing the best, most optimal features of each footwear for specific pieces of footwork. In other words, some shoes are suitable for heel hooking but might not be the best for edging.
Around the gym, we often see the same popular shoes flashed around: La Sportiva Solutions, Butora Acro, FiveTen Hiangles, Evolv Shamans, Scarpa Origin. Try not to fall into the trap of buying shoes because they are trendy at your gym. That happens more often than you’d think. I remember once in college walking into the gym and seeing the strongest guy in there wearing Scarpa Instinct VS’s. Two weeks later? Boom! Orange feet everywhere!
Let’s get into it. Here are my tips for choosing climbing shoes:
1. The first thing that I do when picking out a pair of climbing shoes is to identify what I am going to use the shoes for.
Gym Sport Climbing
Outdoor Sport Climbing
Learning to Boulder
Gym Top Rope
Learning to Sport Climb
Shoes for Crack Climbing
From here, I have already vastly narrowed my search down. How? Different attributes of shoes are beneficial for doing different things. If I am going to be using climbing shoes frequently, for training or regular bouldering sessions, for instance, I am not going to want to buy shoes with a thin rubber because it will wear out very quickly. How about if I am picking out shoes for long sessions of top rope in the gym? I am not going to want a pair of aggressive shoes because my feet will be killing me halfway through every session.
2. After I decide what I am going to use the shoes for, I use this info to build a list of attributes I’d like my shoes to have.
Here’s a breakdown of the different attributes of climbing shoes that you can use to create your list when you are choosing shoes! There’s no formula for building this list. We’re trying to choose shoes that are right for you, after all. What we can do is take a look at these attributes and talk about why you may or may not want to take advantage of them: