Getting a pair of climbing shoes you love is essential in climbing. You will be wearing them every single session so make sure that you get a pair that will perform well and keep you happy. In fact, they are probably the piece of gear that will have the biggest impact on how well you are able to climb.
However, they can only do so much and are not a form of black magic. Getting better shoes will not automatically make you Alex Honnold (as cool as that would be). That said, they can actually make a pretty big significant difference in both your climbing experience and ability.
Which climbing shoes are right for you will greatly depend on your experience level and skill in the sport. In general, the experience levels can be broken down as follows:
- Beginner – you are new(ish) to climbing and are looking for your first or second pair of climbing shoes.
- Intermediate – you have been climbing for awhile (consistently for over a year), have gone through a pair of beginner shoes or two, and are trying to improve on your ability.
- Advanced – you are very experienced (climbing consistently for over 5 years) and are looking for your next pair of shoes that may help you make that small difference/improvement you are looking for.
My Recommended Climbing Shoes Are –
- Beginner Shoes: La Sportiva Tarantulace – Check their current price on Amazon here
- Intermediate Shoes: Evolv Kronos – Check their current price on Amazon here
- Advanced Shoes: La Sportiva Skwama – Check their current price on Amazon here
- Trad and Crack Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva TC Pros – Check their current price on Amazon here
As a self-proclaimed climbing shoe nerd, I hope to share some of my insight into the realm and help you make an informed purchase. Below I will explain why I recommend the shoes I do above and explain what you should look for when getting a pair of climbing shoes.
Feel free to jump to the section of your experience level below and see what you should be looking for in your shoes.
Recommended Beginner Climbing Shoes
Shoes are typically the first piece of gear a climber will buy. They are also arguably the most important gear piece a beginner will buy as well. Picking the right pair of shoes for you is important and will impact your climbing experience moving forward.
What To Look For In Beginner Climbing Shoes
For a pair of beginner shoes, you will want to find a pair that is more designed for comfort rather than elite performance. Although climbing shoes are not meant to feel like slippers, aggressive shoes will be a lot rougher on your feet than what you need.
Above all else, you want a pair of beginner shoes that will allow you to enjoy every climb session you use them. There is no need for you to destroy your feet when you are first starting climbing.
Listed below are the most important factors to consider when picking out beginner climbing shoes:
- Fit – the most important factor by far. You want to find a pair of shoes that are tight but not painful. You should just be going out and having fun while climbing and gaining valuable experience. Pick the best feeling shoes you can find.
- Shape – look for a neutral downturn (camber). Generally shoes with a more drastic downturn will provide you with better grip but will be much more uncomfortable. As a beginner, look for a pair of shoes with a neutral downturn.
- Stiffness – stiffer shoes are generally better for beginners. Stiff shoes will provide more comfort and support than softer shoes. You will be sacrificing feel for the wall with stiffer shoes; however, this will not affect your climbing ability a noticeable amount as a beginner.
- Durability – the more durable, the better. As a beginner your foot placements are far from perfect and you will be beating up your shoes a decent amount. The more rubber your shoes have, the longer they will last you.
My Beginner Climbing Shoe Recommendation
The La Sportiva Tarantulace check every box you could want in a pair of beginner climbing shoes. They are heralded as one of the best starter climbing shoes for good reason.
They are extremely comfortable to wear as they are made with stiff rubber and have a neutral downturn. They even are made with a bit of extra rubber to make sure that they handle the beating of beginners’ foot placement. They are comfortable without sacrificing the performance you will need.
Although you are paying a slight premium for the La Sportiva brand name, these shoes are more than worth it. You will never have to worry about your shoes holding you back if you opt to go for these.
I firmly believe that these shoes are the way to go for the majority of beginners.
Recommended Intermediate Climbing Shoes
As an intermediate you are likely looking to take your climbing to the next level! As such, it is time to start to shift your focus from comfort to performance.
What To Look For In Intermediate Climbing Shoes
When transitioning into intermediate climbing shoes, you will want shoes that will help you improve your footwork and technique. These types of shoes will have a moderate downturn and will be a bit softer than beginner shoes. This will allow you to get a better feel for the wall and will allow you to climb more difficult routes with confidence.
While providing you with the ability to climb more technical routes and improve your technique, intermediate shoes will be less comfortable and less durable than beginner shoes. That being said, these shoes should still provide you with some support and comfort.
At this level there is still no need to shove your feet into very aggressively downturned shoes that are a million sizes too small.
My Intermediate Climbing Shoe Recommendation
I have found the Evolv Kronos to provide the best mix of comfort and performance for intermediates without breaking the bank. They are moderately downturned and have medium stiff rubber.
They will provide you with a good feel for the wall and allow you to really start to hone your climbing technique. Their “middle of the road” stiffness and downturn allow the Kronos to perform well on both slabs and edges. Something that most shoes cannot claim to do.
The Kronos are also quite comfortable compared to the other high performance shoes out there. Spending a long day at the crag in them is a lot more enjoyable than some of the other popular “intermediate climbing shoes.
While they do not have as much rubber as beginner shoes, these provide you with precision that those heavily rubber shoes will not. That said, if your foot placement is lacking and you are still dragging your feet against the wall, you may run through them and need a resole relatively quickly.
In summary, I recommend the Kronos because I believe they will help hone your climbing technique without sacrificing too much comfort. I truly believe they will give you the best bang for your buck.
Recommended Advanced Climbing Shoes
Picking out shoes for experienced climbers is more complicated than for beginners and intermediates. Likely you already have an idea of what type of shoe works for you and what doesn’t.
The shoes I recommend are intended for elite bouldering performance and highly technical sport climbing. If you are looking for more of a trad shoe that you will spend long hours in, I recommend skipping to the next section. These “advanced” shoes are not designed for that.
What To Look For In Advanced Climbing Shoes
Advanced climbing shoes should provide climbers with the maximum performance possible. This typically comes at the sacrifice of comfort and durability.
Softer and more aggressively downturned shoes will be the best option for high level bouldering and overhanging routes. They will provide you with the most precision and feel for the wall. At the same time, they are likely to be pretty uncomfortable and will take awhile to get used to (if this is your first pair).
My Advanced Climbing Shoe Recommendation
The La Sportiva Skwama have come highly recommended to me by my high level climbing buddies. I personally have not worn these shoes but know a few climbers that absolutely swear by them. In fact, if you have watched any elite bouldering competitions, you probably have seen a few climbers wearing them.
They are aggressively downturned with very soft and sticky rubber. This allows them to provide climbers with the most feel and grip on the wall possible. You will have a hard time finding a pair of shoes that will provide you with more precision than the Skwamas.
While some aggressively downturned shoes don’t provide a great fitting heel cup, the Skwama’s design seems to have solved this issue. The S-design heel cup keeps the climber’s feet from slipping and provides them with a solid grip on the foothold.
In addition, the rubber on top of the toe box really helps with toe hooking and keeping your foot on the hold. They even have a slit on the forefoot which helps the shoe conform to larger footholds like volumes and slopers.
Because these shoes are so soft, you will likely notice a difference in their longevity depending on what environment you wear them in. Wearing them for indoor bouldering will maximize their lifespan while wearing them outdoors will chew through them pretty quick.
If you are looking for a shoe that will maximize your bouldering and overhanging sport climbing performance, look no further than the Skwamas.
Recommended Trad and Crack Climbing Shoe
Trad and crack climbing requires a completely different kind of shoe than the highly technical overhanging sport climbs and bouldering problems.
What To Look For In Trad and Crack Climbing Shoes
When picking out the right shoe for trad and crack climbing you will want to make sure that the shoe has the following characteristics:
- Medium stiff to stiff. Stiffer shoes will allow you to really twist your feet into the crack and get a solid hold without them rolling.
- High ankle cuff and padding. This will support and protect your ankles from the rock.
- Neutral to moderate downturn (camber). More aggressive shoes will not slot into the crack as well and are typically a lot more painful when crack climbing.
- Laces instead of velcro. Velcro can get in the way when shoving your feet into the cracks.
- Toe rubber. Having rubber on the top and bottom of the toe box will help you get way more grip in cracks.
- Low toe box profile. Having a low profile shoe will allow you to use smaller cracks.
My Trad and Crack Climbing Shoe Recommendation
The La Sportiva TC Pros are hands down the best trad and crack climbing shoes on the market and they check every box mentioned above. They have stiff soles, are moderately downturned, a high ankle cuff, low toe box profile, and are even padded.
The shoes are extremely comfortable and will allow you to climb day long multi-pitch routes with ease. The ankle support they provide climbers with is practically unmatched.
The 5mm rubber soles will detract a little bit from the feel on the rock but add so much when it comes to putting actual time in the shoes. They were made for edging and to stand up to camming your feet into cracks day after day. Sacrificing a little bit of feel is a necessary evil for what these shoes accomplish.
The primary drawback I have found is their moderately high price. As the premium trad and crack climbing shoe, they are priced as such. But in my mind, they are completely worth the extra cost.