The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Rock Climbing Shoes of 2019

By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday March 1, 2019
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We've researched over 60 of the best rock climbing shoes of 2019 and carefully selected over two dozen top models for side by side tests. With so many brands and models out there, selecting the right pair for your feet and climbing style can be daunting - but with so many manufacturers creating high-quality shoes, chances are that perfect fit is out there. We comprehensively evaluated these shoes to determine how they edge, how comfortable and sensitive they are, and how they perform in cracks and pockets. We tested them on a variety of foot types from the limestone crags of Wyoming to the soaring granite of Yosemite, with a few stops in between.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award     
Price $175.00 at Backcountry
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$195.00 at REI
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Comfortable in cracks, low volume toe fits in thin cracks, great edgingGreat edging, convenient and secure Velcro closure systemIncredible sensitivity, great edging, durabilityVersatile, durable, comfortableGreat precision, aggressive/down turned toe tip, sensitive, great toe and heel hooking, precise fit, comfortable, easy on/off
Cons Heel cup can feel uncomfortable across the achilles, left some testers with sore archesNot as comfortable in cracks as lace-up modelsSpecalized use, expensive, might be hard to resoleExpensive, can be hard to findNot comfortable for all-day climbing, expensive, not the most versatile, hard to fit, single strap broke prematurely
Bottom Line These shoes are high-performing crack climbing machines.This shoe is well-performing all arounder.Employing Sportiva's No Edge concept, this is a sensitive shoe that edges incredibly well.This stiff shoe shoe is an all-day crack climbing workhorse that performs well on edges and slabs, too.This shoe is a favorite of many veteran climbers and still feels cutting edge over ten years after its first release.
Rating Categories La Sportiva Kataki La Sportiva Otaki La Sportiva Futura La Sportiva Katana Lace La Sportiva Solution
Edging (20%)
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Cracks (20%)
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Comfort (20%)
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7
Pockets (20%)
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10
Sensitivity (20%)
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Specs La Sportiva Kataki La Sportiva Otaki La Sportiva Futura La Sportiva Katana... La Sportiva Solution
Style Lace Velcro Velcro Lace Velcro
Upper Suede leather / Microfiber Leather/ Microfiber Leather/Synthetic Leather Leather/Lorica Leather / Lorica
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Lining Pacific Pacific Unlined Pacific (forefoot and back) HF in toe box and arch area only
Rubber Type Vibram XS Edge Vibram XS Edge Vibram XS Grip2 Vibram XS Edge Vibram XS Grip 2
Rubber Thickness (millimeters) 4mm 4 mm 3mm 4mm 4 mm

Best Overall Model


La Sportiva Kataki


Editors' Choice Award

$175.00
at Backcountry
See It

88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Pockets - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 20% 9
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Pacific
Toe can slot into thin cracks thanks to low volume toe profile
Awesome edging power
Lacing system more comfortable in cracks than velcro options
S-heel has extra stability for heel hooking
TC Pros and Butora Alturas are more comfortable for all-day climbs

Initially, our testers were impressed with these kicks for their crack climbing prowess, but after an additional year of testing, the La Sportiva Kataki is our go-to shoe for almost everything. Edging on techy granite? The Kataikis deliver with a stiff-yet-sensitive edging platform. Hundreds of feet of glorious thin hands splitter standing between you and the summit? The Katakis' low-profile toe can fit into thin cracks, and the lacing system makes them feel comfortable in hand-sized cracks. We even find ourselves bouldering in these shoes, even though we sized them for roped climbing. They perform well in all but the steepest of terrain, and the S-heel is supportive and stable for heel hooking.

These shoes are comfy, but not quite El Cap in day comfy, so you'll want a more comfortable shoe like the TC Pro, Five Ten Quantum, or the Butora Altura for mega missions in the mountains. For everything else, the Kataki is ready to crush.

Read review: La Sportiva Kataki

Top Pick For Edging and Sensitivity


La Sportiva Genius


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 10
  • Cracks - 20% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 20% 10
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Grip2 | Lining: Unlined
Supportive /and/ incredibly sensitive
Offset lacing design for glove-like fit
Best edging performance of any shoe
Expensive

From the folks that first brought you downturned shoes, the La Sportiva Genius is the product of multiple advancements in climbing shoe technology. More than just the evolution of the No Edge concept, the Genius borrows the best features from the La Sportiva arsenal for its design. The result is a shoe that can edge with support and precision while offering incredible sensitivity. The Genius performs well on technical granite with small edges and barely-there nubbins, but it also is downturned for steep climbing. Most shoes designed for steep climbing are soft and sensitive but are too soft for techy on-your-feet style pitches. The Genius excels at both.

Comfort is its weak spot, and while our feet still feel happy after a few pitches at the crag, we wouldn't want to climb long multi-pitches in these shoes. They aren't the best for longhand cracks either due to their aggressive shape. For harder finger crack pitches, they can be a good choice, since the crack will be too small for your feet anyway and you'll need to use small holds outside of the cracks.

Read review: La Sportiva Genius

Best Bang for the Buck


Butora Acro


Best Buy Award

$153.95
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8
Rubber Type: Butora F5 | Lining: Unlined
Available in two versions: Wide (orange) and narrow (blue)
Great toe hooking prowess thanks to sticky rubber uppers
Nice price
Less sensitive than softer shoes
Some testers feel there is too much room in the heel cup

The Butora Acro is high performing, comfortable shoe at a great price. Our testers loved the out of the box fit of this shoe, many commenting that they felt similar to La Sportiva Solution. Butora's proprietary F5 rubber sticky to granite slabs and micro features with the best of them, and there is a generous helping of it slathered on the uppers, making toe hooking a breeze.

The only problems our testers found with the Acro was some unwanted extra space in the heel. This shoe isn't as sensitive as some of the softer shoes out there, but its stiff sole provides a powerful edging platform. In the wide fitting model, our testers could even climb cracks without pain, and we can't say that for every aggressive shoe out there. All this at a price that still leaves some dough left over to gas up the car for a marathon drive to the Red River Gorge.

Read review: Butora Acro

Best Trad Shoe for Climbers on a Budget


Butora Altura


Top Pick Award

$155.00
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 8
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 7
  • Sensitivity - 20% 5
Rubber Type: Butora F5 | Lining: Hemp
Stiff and supportive
Ankle Protection
Super durable
Feel clunky and insensitive out of the box
Long Break-in Period

Do you find the modern high-performance shoe to be a little…dainty? Tired of your shoes falling apart mid-road trip? Time to lace up a pair of Butora Alturas. These shoes are stiff, old-school style traddies ready to slog up miles of crack and slabs while protecting your feet plenty of padding, german split leather uppers, and an organic hemp lining. The Altura offers ankle protection and loads of edging support (if you can feel tiny edges through the thick rubber) all for a friendly price.

These shoes are not a bargain version of the TC Pro. They are much stiffer and more durable than the TC, though straight out of the box, all our testers feel they are too stiff. The Altura takes time and patience for a long break in period before we felt comfortable on climbs with techy footwork, where TC Pros feel great right out of the box. This also makes sizing these bad boys a little challenging, since you won't know exactly how they'll feel until they've softened up.

Read review: Butora Altura

Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets


La Sportiva Tarantula


Best Buy Award

$90.00
at Backcountry
See It

66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 5
  • Cracks - 20% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 10
  • Pockets - 20% 6
  • Sensitivity - 20% 7
Rubber Type: FriXion RS | Lining: Synthetic (tongue and arch only)
Least expensive shoe in the review
Symmetrical shape and flat last keep feet in a relaxed position
Too soft and insensitive for good edging performance
not a precise fit

If you are just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantula. Few shoes are cheaper at the same quality and versatility. More advanced shoes put your foot in an aggressive position that can be painful and unnecessary if you're just starting out. While it doesn't have the precise design of the other award winners, that can be an advantage. Best of all, this shoe climbs well just about everywhere: the gym, cracks and multi-pitch routes for the velcro lets you quickly give your feet a break.

Read review: La Sportiva Tarantula

Top Pick for Narrow Feet


Tenaya Tarifa


Trango Tenaya Tarifa
Top Pick Award

$123.71
(25% off)
at Amazon
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 10
  • Cracks - 20% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Pockets - 20% 10
  • Sensitivity - 20% 9
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Grip | Lining: Cotton with TXT treatment
Soft and sensitive
Ninja-like edging precision
Fits like a glove on narrow, low volume feet
Speed lacing system for quick on and off
Narrow fit and soft uppers aren't great for crack climbing

Designed in the limestone mecca of Spain, the Tenaya Tarifa is the master of technical terrain and a perfect balance of sensitivity and edging power. They are substantially narrower than all the other models, and while our wider footed testers could appreciate their edging prowess and high-quality construction, wearing them on longer pitches brought on whining and discomfort.

These shoes have a high volume toe and are not great for crack climbing, especially if your foot is wide. Our slender footed testers fought over who got to wear the Tarifas ("but I need them! I'm getting close on my project") and felt they were the raddest climbing footwear. So, if your feet are more like skis and less like flippers, pick up a pair, tie-in, and send.

Read review: Tenaya Tarifa

Top Pick for All Day Comfort


Five Ten Quantum


Top Pick Award

$166.50
(10% off)
at Amazon
See It

68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging - 20% 5
  • Cracks - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 5
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8
Rubber Type: Stealth C4 | Lining: Synthetic
Padded upper feels great on long crack climbs
Comfortable fit for wide feet
Lacing system ensures a precise fit
Many Stiffer models edge better
Synthetic uppers can soak up perspiration and get stinky

The Five Ten Quantum is the most comfortable pair we tested this year. Don't be fooled by the aggressive looking downturn. These shoes are soft enough for smearing, and that downturned toe comes in handy on steep headwalls. The wide fit and padded tongue make climbing long cracks dreamy and drama free, and the lacing system lets you dial in the fit as your feet swell, or the shoes stretch during an all-day mission.

While soft for smearing and sensitivity, the Quantum doesn't edge as well as stiffer shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pro or the Scarpa Vapor V. Designed with input from the Huber brothers, the Quantums are an excellent choice for those looking for an all-day shoe that is more sensitive and wider than the popular TC Pro.

Read review: Five Ten Quantum

Best Overall Kids Climbing Model


Evolv Venga


Editors' Choice Award

$42.00
(14% off)
at Amazon
See It

Rubber Type: Trax XT | Lining: Nylon Mesh
Full rand offers great durability and protection
Heel strap allows for growth
Sensitivity
High volume toe box performs poorly in pockets and thin cracks

The result of the Evolv Venga - Kids test was actually somewhat of a surprise to our review team. Evolv put together a really impressive all around shoe. One of our favorite things about it was the full VTR3D rand, which does an exceptional job of adding durability to the often abused toes and protecting the feet in cracks. The flat sole with Trax XT rubber excels in edging, despite being soft and sensitive. When we first saw the heel strap, we were underwhelmed by the design, but the more we used it, the more we saw how great it actually was. It's the only offering that works well and leaves the rubber wrapped heel pocket exposed for heel hooking.

Whether they are new to climbing or they have been climbing with friends and family for years, the Venga is a great option. If seriously hard climbing becomes the passion, its time to consider reaching for the more aggressive Evolv Ashima or the La Sportiva Maverink.

Read review: Evolv Venga


Why You Should Trust Us


Author Matt Bento is devoted to rock climbing, having spent the last 10 years engaged in this pursuit by means of a habit of continuous travel, and a streak of 25 jobs that didn't win out over climbing. In real ways, performing this review was not outside the norms of Matt's lifestyle, with the exception that there may have been a few more pairs of climbing shoes on hand at any given time. These days, Matt puts some of his climbing skills to work for him as a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue.

Our testing took place on an extended road trip across many of the most iconic and varied climbing destinations of the American west. These shoes saw everything from steep, pocketed limestone near Lander to the expansive granite of Yosemite. Rest assured that we've edged and smeared on rock something like your home crag or next destination. In addition to rock types, we've tested on a variety of foot shapes as well, intentionally selecting testers that represent the broad range of foot shapes and sizes. This is in recognition of the fact that a great fitting shoe for somebody might be unbearable to wear for another, purely based on fit.

Related: How We Tested Climbing Shoes

Analysis and Test Results


For the kids  we tested a nice variety of shoes  from entry level to advanced.
For the kids, we tested a nice variety of shoes, from entry level to advanced.

As climbers and guides, the single most important thing we wear goes on our feet (OK mom, it's the helmet and harness). 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 underperform, will drain your psyche faster than any climbing porn can restore it. The critical goal is to find shoes that fit you and what you'll be using them for.

Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Shoes


Our favorite shoes were the ones that have a balance of strengths. Manufacturers are constantly trying to design a shoe that can do it all because we desperately want to buy one pair that can do it all, one pair that we carry in our packs, one pair that we can resole until they completely fall apart, and then buy them all over again. Over the years some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to 3 pairs. One for pure Indian Creek splitters, one for difficult sport climbing and bouldering, and one for all-day romps up long multi-pitch. Some testers feel the TC Pros are pretty close to the ideal, while others think these high volume clunkers are insensitive and are a poor choice for finger cracks (but what about Tommy and the Dawn Wall?!). Some climbers will never climb a crack in their lives, wearing the cheapest shoe they can find, spending all their time in the hollers of Kentucky, paddling up steep jug hauls. We're envious of these climbers and their single-minded obsessions, but for the majority of us with a diverse lithic pallet, one shoe is still not enough.

Start your engines...
Start your engines...

Value


Climbing shoes offer a wide range of performance alongside a broad spectrum of prices. As such, some have earned specific awards, like Editors' Choice or Top Pick for All Day Comfort. We also take the task of awarding our Best Buy winners seriously. The Butora Brava takes the award for kids, while the Butora Acro and La Sportiva Tarantula win for men. Often, models toward the bottom right represent the highest value for the cost. In this case, since many contenders in our fleet are concentrated toward a higher price point. As climbing gains popularity, new shoe models are increasingly higher priced and higher performing. As testers, we're most excited about models that hit the sweet spot of performance and price, like the Acros and the Evolv X1


Edging


The ability to make use of even the smallest edges are paramount in climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can get on your feet, the less weight burdens your throbbing forearms, and the more likely you are to send. The top edgers are the La Sportiva Genius and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. Both these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity.


The Genius gets your toes even further into the front of the shoe with its "no-edge" technology, holds its shape with a Permanent Power Platform (P3), and remains flexible due to its soft mid-sole. These technologies all come together so that we can get a little closer to having one shoe that can do it all. The Scarpa Instinct VS and the Butora Acro are also edging champs, but lack the sensitivity of the top contenders. The Editors' Choice Award-winning La Sportiva Kataki provides the best balance of edging and crack climbing. Keep in mind that the best shoe for you is going to be the one that fits the best and provides the comfort and performance you deem necessary. For many of us, the Kataki delivered just that.

The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.
The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.

We evaluated each shoe's edging capabilities by climbing vertical routes at Wild Iris where the ability to stand securely on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds as well as how hard it was to feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but were more supportive on longer pitches where our testers unlocked techy, difficult edging sequences over periods of 20 minutes or more. The Five Ten Quantum was our favorite shoe for all day climbing on long routes, but it fell short in the edging metric. Compared to stiffer, less sensitive options like the TC Pro it's not as supportive for all-day edging. Soft shoes without a high tension rand like the Five Ten Moccasyms are the worst edgers unless you size them super tight. The super sensitive Scarpa Drago are awesome on steep routes, but our testers felt they were way too soft for techy edging unless you size them down, sacrificing comfort.

The Katakis felt great in cracks  despite their aggressive downturned appearance.
The Katakis felt great in cracks, despite their aggressive downturned appearance.

Crack Climbing


The best shoes for crack climbing are wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, complete with a low volume toe so that they can fit in cracks from thin hands down to fingers. If the shoe is so tight that your toes become completely curled, they won't be able to wiggle into small cracks. We climbed cracks in Idaho's City of Rocks and in Yosemite National Park, where cracks of many sizes are on the same pitch.


While crack climbing in each shoe, we took note of how much pain and fatigue we felt as we twisted and torqued our feet. Narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Five Ten Quantum and the Scarpa Vapor V felt the most comfortable. Laces like those on the Quantum felt more comfortable and fared better on long crack climbs. Velcro buckles like those on the Vapor V can press uncomfortably on some feet in cracks, and and the buckles have the potential to become damaged.

Our tester savors another lap in the Katakis.
Our tester savors another lap in the Katakis.

Traditionalists swear by slipper style shoes like the Evolv Addict and the Five Ten Moccasym, sizing them up from their normal sizing so they can cram the toes into thin cracks. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will be climbed in shoes that can fit in thinner (.75-.5) cracks /and/ edge like there's no tomorrow. Difficult granite crack climbing often involves difficult boulder cruxes, and the La Sportiva Kataki is perfectly equipped for modern crack test pieces. The Kataki is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, and the solid lacing system keeps the shoe in place. When your foot moves around a lot in your shoe while jamming, it can cause blisters on your pinky toes, making crack climbing a torturous endeavor, instead of a blissful adventure. The La Sportiva Otaki also does well with this style of climbing, but lost a point because the velcro closure system doesn't feel as comfortable for crack climbing.

The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.
The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.

The La Sportiva Skwama is also one of our favorite crack climbing shoes based on its perfect shape for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the top of this model also offered a little extra protection for our sore feet, and the single velcro closure remained out of the way while we jammed our feet into cracks hand sized and up. This shoe is ideal for Indian Creek or Zion, where the thin cracks on cutting edge free climbs are often too small to accept shoes like the famous La Sportiva TC Pro.

Barbara Zangerl and Jacobo Larcher used the Skwamas to make the 3rd and 4th free ascents of the Zodiac on El Cap - a further testament to the versatility of this shoe, which is designed for "high-end bouldering. The Scarpa Instinct VS is a wide shoe and felt comfortable to our wide-footed lead tester in hand cracks, but the high volume toe didn't fit into smaller cracks (think tight hands and down); we found the same results with the Skwama and the Quantum. The Butora Acro isn't comfortable enough for all-day jamming at Indian Creek but performed well on single pitch granite cracks, where a low volume toe can fit into small pods and where you still need some edging power to take advantage of micro footholds outside the cracks. The sporty La Sportiva Solutions are a great secret weapon for long finger crack due to their pointy toe and great edging performance, and are Honnold's choice for hard desert finger splitters. For offwidths and chimneys, we prefer a shoe with some ankle protection. Thankfully there are two high-tops in our review: the TC Pro and the Butora Altura.

Pocket pulling at Wild Iris.
Pocket pulling at Wild Iris.

Pockets


A shoe's performance in pockets is a function of its edging ability, the shape of the toe, and in the case of steep, pocketed terrain, how downturned the shoe is. Our testers spent a month in Lander WY, home to Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris, one of the pocket climbing meccas in the US. Some of the climbs here feature only small pockets for hand and footholds.


The pointy-toed, narrow fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the No-Edged La Sportiva Genius again came up as the top performers in this metric. When wearing the Tarifa, our testers were able to gain a little purchase, even in mono pockets. The ultra-sensitive Genius allowed our testers to feel their way into shallow pockets. The Evolv X1 and La Sportiva Solutions are also perfectly shaped for pocket pulling shenanigans. On steep pocketed terrain, the downturn of the Evolv Shaman came in handy when pulling into larger pockets and keeping our bodies pulled in to the wall.

The Butora Acro and the Scarpa Instinct come in close behind the top performers in this metric. The Acro lost some pocket points because of its blunt toe shape, which didn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. The Instincts are pointier in the toe than the Acro, but they don't edge on the lips of pockets as well. The La Sportiva Kataki is no slouch when it comes to pockets and the La Sportiva Skwama, performed surprisingly well, despite being soft, because we could wiggle lots of rubber into shallow pockets. The Scarpa Vapor V and the Five Ten Quantum fared the worst in pockets, due to their thick rubber and round toe shape. More symmetrical shaped, relaxed fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms are not the best choice for steep pocketed climbs.

Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.
Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.

Sensitivity


A sensitive shoe will let you know where you stand on a hold or smear, so you can press down and move upwards with confidence. We tested shoes for sensitivity by lapping nearly featureless slabs in Tuolumne Meadows and scaling the gritty, technical granite in Pine Creek Canyon. The most sensitive shoes tended to be the softest, but the top scorers also had some built-in support. Again, our favorite shoes were the ones that have a balance of strengths. Manufacturers are constantly trying to design a shoe that can do it all, because when desperately want to buy one pair that can do it all, one pair that we carry in our packs, that we can resole until they completely fall apart, and then buy them all over again.


The Scarpa Drago has a rubber sock-like fit, and was slightly more sensitive the "no-edge" La Sportiva Genius. We could feel every bump and dimple with the Dragos, and on steep terrain, we felt like we could pull ourselves into the wall like we had sticky rubber monkey hands on our feet. Unfortunately, the Dragos are so soft that they don't perform as well as the La Sportiva Kataki, our Editor's Choice award-winner on vertical and low angle cliffs. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, was one of the most sensitive shoes we tested. The no-edge concept puts less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you to feel and stand on small edges and tiny ripples. This shoe took some getting used to; initially, our testers missed the crisp edge they've come to depend on in a brand new shoe. However, after a handful of pitches, we became accustomed to the new position of our toe being in the front of the shoe and were able to take advantage of the Genius' unique sensitivity and edging power combination.

The Tenaya Tarifa comes in a close third with its soft Vibram XS grip rubber and bi-tension rand system, which offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. Our Editors' Choice award-winner, the La Sportiva Kataki is also no slouch when it comes to sensitivity, but less so than the Tarifa or the Genius. The softer La Sportiva Skwama is also a sensitive shoe, but it doesn't edge quite as well as the Genius or the Kataki. Finally, this year's Top Pick for all-day comfort, the Five Ten Quantum, trades in rigid support for soft sensitivity, making it an excellent alternative for those looking for an all-day shoe without the clunky stiffness of the TC Pro.

The Skwamas performed best on granite  where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.
The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.

The Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, despite being relatively stiff, and our testers appreciated them on the delicate crystal holds in the Buttermilks. Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. While the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel secure on small footholds with so much rubber between you and the rock. Both the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V failed to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top performers, but after a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they'll soften up, and their techy climbing game will improve.


Comfort


The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: how you size the shoe, the shape of your foot, 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. Fortunately, modern designers are shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform well with minimal pain.


Reverse bi-tension rands, "love bumps", P3 Platforms, and S-heels all sound like a list of buzzwords designed to sell shoes, but they represent a significant leap forward in climbing shoe designs. In the past, the shoes that performed the best were often the ones you could wear the tightest, compromising comfort (and foot health) for edging power. Now, innovative designs incorporated into shoes across all the major brands can give us performance without pain.

We could comfortably wear the La Sportiva Genius for a long pitch, and we wouldn't go any smaller since pain is detrimental to performance. The most comfortable shoe in this year's line-up is the is the Five Ten Quantum. While it's not the top performer, it's the shoe our testers could wear the longest without discomfort, making it an excellent choice for all-day adventures. The Quantums feature a soft, padded toe, a roomy, full fit, and a low profile lacing system. The Quantums are comfortable on long crack climbs in Yosemite Valley, and allow for loads of adjustment throughout the day as your feet swell or the shoe starts to stretch. Both the leather slipper style shoes get great scores for comfort. The Evolv Addicts and the Five Ten Moccasyms are made from comfortable leather and have a relaxed fit, plus if you get them a little small, they'll stretch to fit your foot. Unfortunately, this design compromises edging performance too much for our testers. The soft Scarpa Dragos are covered in rubber and ready for miles of steep limestone, ensuring that your forearms will succumb to soreness long before your feet.

The Scarpa Vapor V comes in behind the Quantums regarding comfort. It has a medium-full fit and only the slightest downturn, keeping the foot in a comfortable, neutral position. It lost a point because the buckles on the velcro closure system hurt some testers' feet in hand cracks. The Butora Acro also has a wide fit. Additionally, the elastic on the upper part of the shoe is looser than that of Instinct or the Skwamas, making it a comfortable option for sport climbers with wide, high volume feet.

These shoes are approximately the same length  but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.
These shoes are approximately the same length, but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.

Comfort is pretty subjective, and everyone's foot is unique. The Tenaya Tarifa felt like a torture device to our broad footed testers, while it climbed like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. Some of our testers thought the La Sportiva Kataki was too loose, even with the laces cinched as tight as they could go, and the Kataki isn't even the widest model in the review. We tested comfort by comparing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we note how the shoe feels after what we feel is an appropriate break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.

Sizing
Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies automatically downsize from an average street shoe size, so they run very small. Others run true to size, and every climber has to downsize, since their comfortable street shoe size is too big for an effective performance climbing shoe. Some manufacturers seem to vary their sizing from model to model, making buying shoes online pretty maddening. So here is our (fairly subjective, hotly debated) brand/sizing assessment: La Sportiva runs true to size, you'll want to size down up to 1.5 from your street shoe. Scarpa runs smaller than Sportiva; we found ourselves sizing down just a half size from our street shoes. Tenya shoes run small and are especially narrow. Start with half a size down from your street shoe. Buturas run small and recommend buying your street shoe size. We think they come pretty close to nailing it. If you wear a 10 in your street shoes, you'll want a size 10 in Butoras. Good luck with Evolv's sizing, our lead tester had to go up a whole size just to get his foot into a pair of Evolv X1s, while the Shamans fit his street shoe size. Five Ten seems to change their sizing a lot, and if you're into the Moccasym, you're likely to size down two whole sizes.


Conclusion


The announcement of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: reviews are inherently subjective (for example, some people think Vertical Limit is a good movie), and rock shoe reviews are no exception. Our assessment of each shoe is largely contingent on the shape of our testers' feet, what type of rock we climbed, and how tight we sized them. A tester with a wide foot had few good things to say about the narrow Tenaya Tarifa or the low-volume Evolv X1, while narrow footed testers had nothing but praise. However, we have meticulously researched these shoes (primarily by climbing in them often) and talked to many industry professionals that use and sell these shoes routinely. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an expanding market, more are appearing each year. We hope we've been able to assist you in finding the perfect pair, but we understand that you may want to know more.


Matt Bento