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The Best Men's Rock Climbing Shoes

Shoe testing on granite in the Alabama Hills  CA.
By Thomas Greene ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday
Feet come in all shapes and sizes and so do rock climbing shoes. To narrow down the choice, we researched the market, picking 21 models to test. These shoes represent the broad range of designs, from aggressive to comfy, velcro to lace. Our experts bouldered, sport climbed, and trad climbed in them all, tracking which was best for cracks, steep pockets, face climbing, and everything in between. For months, from Washington to California and on many types of rock, they analyzed each's performance across disciplines, for all-day use, or concentrated redpoint efforts. Compiling this information, our review cuts through the huge selection that makes choosing the right rock shoe so daunting and provides the data you need to find the shoes best suited for your climbing style.

Updated May 2017
The rock is finally drying out, and it's time to plan your summer climbing trips. We updated this review as of May 2017 to include market updates, and we also added comparison charts and graphs to help you pick between products. Plus, we analyzed the current market to ensure that our Editors' Choice winner still takes the cake.

Best Overall Climbing Shoes


La Sportiva Genius


Editors' Choice Award

$146.25
at Backcountry
See It

Highest end performance shoe on the market
Excellent edging and sensitivity
Great comfort and pocket performance
Expensive
La Sportiva, the original proprietors of the downturned climbing shoe, has perfected their shoe design for years, and the La Sportiva Genius is the product of these advancements. Employing the best features from La Sportiva's design arsenal, these shoes combine the No Edge concept with a superior fit that requires minimal breaking in. Plus, they're built to last, and won't get sloppy after a lot of use. This model is best for sport clipping, bouldering, and high-end traditional climbing. Though three shoes (the Katana Lace, Genius, and Futura) all tied for the highest score in our test, the innovative Genius takes home the prize. But if you aren't feeling committed enough to drop $200 on climbing shoes, the other two high-scorers are good options.

Read full review: La Sportiva Genius

Best for Budget-Minded


Mad Rock Flash 2.0


Mad Rock Flash 2.0
Best Buy Award

$57.95
at Backcountry
See It

Affordable
Comfortable
Good general climbing shoe
Lots of heel/arch space
Only moderate performance
The Mad Rock Flash is an affordable and durable model that offers better-than-expected performance. However, as of April 2017, Mad Rock has discontinued this model. (The company has not yet announced a replacement.) Some retailers still carry this shoe though, so if you're looking for a super-budget model that will still bring the performance you need to climb at or near your grade, we can help you find it. Plus, since this contendor has been discontinued, big markdowns are likely.

Read full review: Mad Rock Flash

Top Pick Award for All-Around Climbing and Bouldering


La Sportiva Katana Lace


La Sportiva Katana Lace
Top Pick Award

$127.56
at Amazon
See It

Versatile
Durable
Comfortable
Expensive
Can be hard to find
The La Sportiva Katana Lace is one of our favorite shoes from the field tests. It ranked near the top in all assessed categories. The Katana Lace came closer to doing everything well than any shoe we have ever used. We used it on welded tuff and other volcanic rock, on granite sport and trad climbs, on limestone, and on sandstone. This shoe performed solidly everywhere we took it. As a true all arounder, it didn't rank at the top of any category; instead, the Katana Lace wins this award for its incredible versatility. La Sportiva's Katana Velcro, which has various differences besides just lace versus velcro, is no longer available from La Sportiva, but various retailers still carry the model.

Read full review: La Sportiva Katana Lace

Top Pick Award for Multi-Pitch and Crack Climbing


La Sportiva TC Pro


La Sportiva TC Pro climbing shoe
Top Pick Award

$125.02
at Amazon
See It

Great edging
Solid crack climbing
Good all-around shoe
Expensive
Limited sport/bouldering use
The La Sportiva TC Pro deserves attention for being a solid all-arounder that still excels as a multi-pitch trad climbing shoe. This shoe edges extremely well, letting you leave the crack systems behind and tackle some serious face climbing with confidence. When the climb brings you back to the cracks, the TC Pro handles them better than most. Not to mention this shoe provides some ankle protection because of the higher cuff. If you find yourself groveling up something wide, this shoe actually protects from getting ankle gobies.

Read full review: La Sportiva TC Pro



up to 5 products
Score Product Price Style Upper Lining
86
La Sportiva Genius $195
Editors' Choice Award
lace Suede Leather/MIcro fiber none
86
La Sportiva Katana Lace $185
Top Pick Award
lace Leather/Lorica Pacific (forefoot and back)
86
La Sportiva Futura $185
velcro Leather/Synthetic Leather Unlined
80
La Sportiva TC Pro $185
Top Pick Award
lace Leather Sentex/PU Foam
76
La Sportiva Miura $165
lace Leather dentex
76
Five Ten Arrowhead $175
velcro Cowdura⢠Synthetic synthetic
76
Five Ten Anasazi VCS $165
velcro leather synthetic
74
La Sportiva Solution $180
velcro Leather/Lorica HF
74
Evolv Pontas 2 $130
velcro Non-stretch Synthratek synthetic upper microfiber leather cotton
74
Sportiva Miura VS $175
velcro Leather synthetic
74
Evolv Shaman $160
velcro synthetic Unlined
72
La Sportiva Mythos $145
lace Leather none
72
Five Ten Dragon $175
lace Synthetic (Cowdura) none
72
Mad Rock Flash 2.0 $83
Best Buy Award
velcro Leather / Synflex none
70
Five Ten Moccasym $125
slipper leather none
70
Five Ten Team $175
velcro MicroFiber (Synthetic)
66
Scarpa Force X $139
Lace 1.8mm Suede/Micro Suede none
66
La Sportiva Tarantula $90
velcro Leather/ Synthetic Leather synthetic (tongue and arch only)
66
Scarpa Boostic $180
velcro Suede/Micro Suede none
62
La Sportiva Katana $150
velcro Leather synthetic
58
Evolv Defy $89
velcro Elastic Synthratek synthetic upper nylon

Analysis and Test Results


As climbers and guides, the single most important thing we wear goes on our feet (OK mom, it's the helmet and harness). But it's hard to place too much emphasis on having the right shoes. They are very often the difference between sending and whipping, and the harder the climbing gets, the narrower those margins become. The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is very often warranted –once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you it feels very much like the skies open up and you can step off the plateau you've been stranded on. The longer you climb the more seldom it is to have one of these epiphanic moments. Really progressing takes a lot of devotion, rigorous training, and time spent on the rock. Doing all that in shoes that make you miserable, or that under perform, will drain your psyche faster than any climbing porn can restore. The critical goal is to find shoes that fit you and what you'll be using them for.

Even if you're a veteran climber, we recommend taking a minute or two to read our Buying Advice to help you make the best choice.

Different Types


There is a broader spectrum of products on the market these days than ever before, and there are more options all the time. Some shoes are easily categorized, such as the La Sportiva Miura VS, because of their highly specialized function. Others that are intended to perform decently on a variety of terrain, such as the La Sportiva Katana Lace or Five Ten Anasazi VCS, are a little harder to place in a specific category. Below we provide a basic break down of features commonly associated with each type of shoe.

Sport Climbing and Bouldering Shoes


La Sportiva Futura climbing shoe
For starters, high-end specialized sport and bouldering shoes are typically gun-and-done shoes that you take off immediately after you finish climbing. While they shouldn't be excruciating, they will likely be sufficiently uncomfortable that you won't wear them while belaying. These shoes will typically have an aggressively downturned toe and be asymmetrical in shape. For a sport shoe you can wear all day, look for a flatter toe and more symmetrical design that is more naturally comfortable instead of just wearing a loosely fitting, aggressively shaped shoe.

Traditional and Crack Climbing Shoes


La Sportiva TC Pro climbing shoe
Shoe for crack climbing will typically have a flatter toe and a symmetrical design. This makes them more comfortable for wedging into cracks and wearing for longer durations. These shoes can also be worn larger for comfort, or to allow room for socks if you're going really high, or climbing with your grandpa. A slight downturn can still be comfortable on the really big days, and will give you an edge in performance when it matters.

Shoes for the Gym and Beginners


La Sportiva Tarantula
Depending on how hard you go in the gym, your choice of shoes will vary widely. Again, a flatter toe and larger sizing will prove to be more comfortable (which is highly recommended for those just starting out), but for pushing your limits indoors, a tightly fitted aggressive shoe will go a long way.

Lyra on Airy Interlude in the La Sportiva Katana Lace  Needles  CA.
Lyra on Airy Interlude in the La Sportiva Katana Lace, Needles, CA.

Criteria For Evaluation


The chart below shows the overall performance scores of each model included in our tests and review. Following the table, we break down each individual metric.


Edging


We tested several shoes reputed to have excellent edging capabilities. Among the models tested, the La Sportiva Genius, Katana Lace, La Sportiva Miura, Miura VS, and TC Pro ranked the highest in this category. Designed to bring the climbers toe into unparalleled contact with the rock, the La Sportiva Genius redefines the standard for performance shoes. Among more traditionally designed shoes, the Miura VS ranked very highly.


Worthy of the hype, the La Sportiva Genius provides unmatched sensitivity and a tremendous feeling of security even on the most insecure footholds. Though the Genius feels phenomenally precise, it doesn't require perfect placement of your feet to work. The Genius will mold itself onto the thinnest holds, keeping you moving through the most tenuous sections of a climb. This is a tremendous advantage when on-sighting. The shape and sensitivity of the Genius will also allow you to refine the placement of a foothold without transferring your weight. This helps you to minimize movement making you more efficient and provides security by keeping you in contact with the rock.

Let this take nothing away from the Sportiva Miura VS: it is an edging machine. La Sportiva has nailed it with this shoe. It is a fusion of the original Miura, a velcro system, and the pick of an ice climbing tool. The Miura VS stands on anything, and since it has a more traditional design, it will feel familiar, ready to go out of the box. For the Miura VS to really perform for you, you'll have to size it tight. Expect it to be painful, this is a gun-and-done shoe that you take off as soon as you've sent your project. Hold it in reserve for the days when you're really pushing your grade.

For only a marginal sacrifice in edging performance, and a significant increase in comfort and versatility, we recommend the TC Pro, Katana Lace, or Miura, but not necessarily in that order. These three shoes are solid all-arounders that perform well on a variety of terrain. Of the three, the Katana Lace ranks highest in overall versatility, performing well in all our evaluation criteria.

Shoe testing on granite in the Alabama Hills  CA.
Shoe testing on granite in the Alabama Hills, CA.

Crack Climbing


We tested several shoes generally used for all around climbing, and one specialized trad climbing shoe, the La Sportiva TC Pro. Our favorite crack climbing shoes were the TC Pro and Katana lace, both from La Sportiva. They are both comfortable out of the box and keep your foot in a relatively flat position, ideal for crack climbing. They have their individual strengths, and excel at different styles of crack climbing.


The TC Pro does well in all but the thinnest cracks. It feels precise, and the padding above the toe makes a noticeable difference when jamming. The TC Pro really thrives on the wide stuff, where the thin padding above the ankle offers excellent protection. The Katana Lace's tech fit and medium asymmetry give it an advantage when cracks get thin and technical. In anything thinner than the ankle-chewing wide cracks, where the TC Pro thrives, the shoes ranked very similarly. Other shoes that ranked well in testing were the La Sportiva Miura and the Anasazi VCS — great alternatives if the Katana Lace or TC pro isn't the right fit for your foot. If you plan to climb sandstone splitters at Indian Creek for a month every spring and fall, you can't do any better than the classic and comfy Five Ten Moccasym.

The down turned toe of the Katana lace gives it an advantage over the TC Pro in thinner cracks. Overall these shoes perform very similarly.
The down turned toe of the Katana lace gives it an advantage over the TC Pro in thinner cracks. Overall these shoes perform very similarly.

Pockets


The La Sportiva Miura VS and Genius go head-to-head again for the title of best shoe in pockets. These shoes ranked very similarly, both performing exceptionally, and getting it done in spectacularly different style. Both shoes feature aggressively down turned toes, and a P3 ("Power, Performance, Platform") midsole that helps them hold their shape. The Miura VS relies on pinpoint precision to really perform contrasted with the Genius the Miura VS felt blind on the rock. The Genius allowed us to climb more naturally, particularly on unfamiliar terrain. The other significant difference in the performance of these two shoes is their comfort. We were able to keep the Genius on between attempts at bouldering problems, and they let us hang out on sport climbing projects in comfort. While the Miura VS did provide incentive (in the form of pain) to get through a climb, we'd opt for the comfort of the Genius any day. That being said, neither of these shoes are wear-all-day comfortable.


For a shoe that you can wear on both long sport and traditionally protected routes, but that will still get it done on steep pocketed terrain, check out the La Sportiva Katana Lace. The Katana lace has a tech fit, meaning that it has a slightly down turned toe, but your foot remains fairly flat with a medium asymmetry. This compromise between a neutrally shaped climbing shoe and one with a much more aggressive shape creates a remarkably balanced shoe.

Lyra and Lindsay testing rubber in Index  WA.
Lyra and Lindsay testing rubber in Index, WA.

Sensitivity


The Genius is only rivaled only by the La Sportiva Futura as the most sensitive shoe we've ever tested. The most immediately recognizable benefit of the No Edge concept is how well you can feel the rock in the Genus or Futura. This shoe pastes itself onto blank faces better than many of the best edging shoes stuck to their edges.


Sensitivity plays an enormous role in smearing. Both No-Edge concept shoes were able to move through low angle terrain as easily as the steep stuff. As a down turned shoe, this is a testament to the function of having a more sensitive shoe. An honorable mention goes to the Five Ten Team. While it didn't rank very highly overall, it is impressively sensitive and sticky.

Lyra testing of the Katana Lace on the Mammoth Boulders  California
Lyra testing of the Katana Lace on the Mammoth Boulders, California

Comfort


The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: how you size the shoe, your foot position, and the shoe's upper material. Generally speaking, the tighter your shoe, the better it will perform. The contrary is also true: the looser the shoe the worse it performs. Typically, tight equals painful and loose equals comfortable. However, if your shoes are so tight you can't put pressure on your toes, you may have reached the point of down-sizing where it is counterproductive.


The La Sportiva Tarantula is a decent compromise between performance and comfort. This is a shoe designed with comfort in mind. Though not suitable for high-end climbing, the rounded shape, flat foot position, and higher volume fit of the shoe allows you to size the Tarantula tightly for performance without sacrificing comfort. The TC Pro and the Mad Rock Flash are flat shoes that have a much higher level of performance, but are still quite comfortable.

The TC Pro is an excellent choice for an all day shoe, particularly for long routes. The Mad Rock Flash is not the best performing shoe, but ranks higher than the La Sportiva Tarantula, and is very comfortable.
A down-turned toe and asymmetrical shape typically mean a shoe is less comfortable, but a more aggressive shape also enhances performance in many aspects of climbing. With modern technology and design, climbing performance and comfort are no longer mutually exclusive concepts. The Katana Lace and Futura both offer comfort and performance at a very high level: The Katana is a very solid all-around performer, and the Futura is a high-end sport shoe.

Accessories


Having a durable and versatile climbing rope is important to the safety of all climbers. Two of our favorites are the Mammut Infinity and the Sterling Evolution Velocity. Check out The Best Rock Climbing Rope Review for a more in-depth look at all the ropes we reviewed.

The Bottom Line


The announcement of our award winners should be proceeded by a disclaimer: reviews are inherently subjective (for example, some people think Vertical Limit is a good movie), and rock shoe reviews seem particularly so. Our individual assessment of a particular shoe is largely contingent on the shape of our testers' feet, what type of rock we climbed, and how tight we sized them. However, we have meticulously researched these shoes (primarily by climbing in them a lot), and talked to a lot of industry professionals that use and sell these shoes routinely. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an expanding market, there are more all the time. Please let us know what you'd like to see reviewed. Thanks!

History


Today, it's hard to imagine rock climbing without cranking down a tight pair of high performance sticky rubber-soled climbing shoes. Rarely do we think of the incredible technological improvements that have gone into climbing footwear over the last one hundred years. The different shapes, the different fits, and most of all, the different rubbers all have long histories in and of themselves. Lets take a look back at the first iterations of the climbing shoe in Europe.

In the late 19th century, rock climbing began to develop as a form of practice for the climbing required to arrive on the summits of mountains. The terrain being tackled in these early years was relatively easy by today's standards. However, to fully understand the difficulty we must examine the context in which these climbs were being done and it is most important to look to the footwear and gear being used by these early climbers. As these men (and a few women) became more serious in their pursuit to summit great mountains, they took to their local boulders and cliffs to practice their skills. These early climbers began scrambling on the local cliffs in the same footwear they would use in the mountains. Often this was a form of hob-nailed boot, a leather-soled, ankle high boot with metal studs pounded through the soles.

Well into the early 20th century, these hob-nail boots were the standard for many European climbers. In some regions, climbers began to explore a softer soled canvas shoe for climbing, but the major improvements came out of Europe in the 1930s. During the 20s and 30s, the French mountaineering club were meeting to 'practice climb' on the boulders outside of Paris in order to prepare for their trips to the mountains. By 1935 one particular Frenchman, Pierre Allain, was becoming more and more interested in not just climbing on these boulders as practice, but to climb for the pure challenge of it.

Allain was at the forefront of the early climbing development taking place in the famous Fontainebleau forest near Paris. Allain recognized that a new style of shoe was needed to improve ones footwork while on the rock, so he began developing a smooth-rubber soled shoe intended specifically for climbing on rocks. This was perhaps the first climbing specific piece of footwear created. The shoe looks very similar to a modern climbing shoe but lacks the 'sticky rubber' and instead has a traditional hard rubber sole that simply lacks any lug pattern.

In 1935 another mountaineer and climber, the Italian Vitale Bramani, found a need for better mountain footwear after six of his friends lost their lives in the Italian Alps. Bramani teamed with Leopoldo Pirelli of Pirelli Tires to create Vibram soles, the first rubber lug soled boots commercially available. These were game changing. Vibram soled boots became the standard for climbing and mountain endeavors for the next 25 years or more and carried climbers for the first time to the summits of many impressive high altitude peaks, including K2.

As climbers continued to push the limits in the mountains and at their local climbing areas, many people experimented with different shoe styles. In the 1940's, Joe Brown, an Englishman, began to experiment with climbing in plimsolls, a canvas topped, rubber soled shoe, similar to todays Keds. In these shoes he established many famous routes across the Peak district of England.

By 1948, Pierre Allain had improved his original smooth-rubber soled shoe design and in 1950 he marketed them commercially as PA's. These shoes were the first climbing specific shoes on the market, a shoe specifically for rock climbing and not intended as a mountaineering boot that would climb well. These shoes were used on many legendary climbs in the Alps, including the first ascent of the north face of the Dru. Still in his quest to push the limits of difficulty, Allain was limited by his footwear until he met Eduard Bourdenneau.

Eduard Bourdenneau was an expert shoe maker who teamed with Pierre Allain in 1950 to create the iconic climbing shoe, The EB. EB's utilized a softer rubber than it's predecessor, the PA. By the late 60s, the flagship shoe, The Super Gratton, was the climbing shoe of choice around the world. It was in this climbing shoe that free climbing began to press into substantially more difficult terrain; 5.11, 5.12 and even 5.13 grades were established across the globe as a direct result of this legendary shoe.

Meanwhile, in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, climbers were using various different shoes to establish impressive rock climbs and huge big walls in Yosemite Valley. Royal Robbins pioneered and marketed a boot-like climbing shoe that was worn and loved by many in the US during the pre-EB era (the EBs were not yet available in the US). However, once EBs began surfacing in the states, they quickly became a mandatory item for free climbing.

So through the 70s, EBs reigned supreme. And amazingly, it wasn't until 1980 that a new shoe hit the markets and took the climbing world by storm. Spanish climbers Jesus Garcia Lopez and Miguel Angel Garcia Gallego, The Gallego Brothers, were the first to work with manufacturers to develop a rubber specifically for rock climbing. These soles were used on a shoe marketed by Boreal, The Fire, and is considered to be the birth of 'sticky rubber,' a rubber that would stick to the rock yet maintain durability and abrasion resistance like nothing used before. Together in 1981 the Gallego Brothers arrived in Yosemite Valley and established the first non-American route on El Capitan, "Medeterraneo," a difficult route even by todays standards and one that is seldom repeated.

On this trip they met and shared the Boreal Fire, with valley locals, John Bachar tested them on the classic Midnight Lightening and was amazed that a shoe could be that much better than the current gold standard, The EB. By spring of 1983, Bachar had teamed with Boreal and the Gallegos to import 265 pairs, according to Bachar, to be sold at the Yosemite Mountain Shop; within the first two hours of the store opening, and on the first day of sales, they had sold every pair.

With the introduction of the Fire in the early 1980s, climbing instantly progressed leaps and bounds. Many active climbers recall their climbing instantly jumping a full grade just by changing shoes. From that moment forward climbers everywhere required their shoes to have the new sticky rubber. Over the next several years many climbing shoe companies pushed shoe design to new levels of performance. Boreal, La Sportiva, and Five Ten were some of the big names designing new and cutting edge shoes. But it's thanks to the Boreal Fires that climbing shoes moved in a whole new direction and athletes could continue to challenge new and impossible routes around the world.

Thomas Greene
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