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Best Climbing Shoes for Men of 2021

We tested men's climbing shoes from La Sportiva, Scarpa, Five Ten, and more to find the best shoes for your particular climbing discipline
Photo: Matt Bento
Thursday November 18, 2021
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On the lookout for the best rock climbing shoes that 2021 has to offer? Over the last 10 years, our testers squeezed their feet into 60 different models to bring you the most comprehensive climbing shoe review in existence. For our latest update, we compared 29 of the best models, ranging from classic stand-bys to those featuring the latest in climbing shoe technology. We evaluate each shoe based on our metrics of comfort, edging, sensitivity, steep terrain proficiency, and crack climbing. We've identified the best shoes for a weekend at the boulders, your next transcontinental trad trip, as well as the best shoes for beginners and climbers on a budget.

Related: Best Climbing Shoes for Women of 2021

Top 29 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 29
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award  
Price $195.00 at REI
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$149.21 at Backcountry
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$151.16 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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84
84
84
82
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Pros Versatile, stiff, durable, comfortableExtremely precise toe, extra heel sensitivity, comfortable for an aggressive shoeExtremely sensitive, comfortable right out of the box, solid edging performanceSensitive, comfortable, great for toe hookingExceptional edging, quick lace closure, comfortable for its sharp downturn, great at toe hooking
Cons Expensive, limited sensitivityPricey, tall toe box, too narrow for some feetReally expensive, limited support, low versatilityExpensive, too soft for super technical edgingBig toe volume, painful in cracks
Bottom Line This stiff shoe is an all-day crack climbing workhorse that also performs well on edges and slabsAn ultra-high-end shoe that could put you on the podium of your climbing competitionAn ultra-premium shoe for ultra-hard climbing routes with a bold color schemeThese soft shoes excel at steep climbing but aren't a good choice for super technical edgingAn ultra-premium shoe with a solid all-around performance at a reasonable price
Rating Categories La Sportiva Katana... La Sportiva Solutio... Scarpa Chimera Scarpa Drago Evolv Oracle
Edging (20%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Cracks (20%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Comfort (20%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Steep Terrain (20%)
8.0
10.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
Sensitivity (20%)
8.0
8.0
10.0
10.0
8.0
Specs La Sportiva Katana... La Sportiva Solutio... Scarpa Chimera Scarpa Drago Evolv Oracle
Style Lace Velcro Lace Velcro Lace
Upper Leather/Lorica Leather / microfiber Microsuede Microsuede Synthratek VX synthetic
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Lining Pacific (forefoot and back) Pacific, lycra None Unlined None
Rubber Type Vibram XS Edge Vibram XS Grip2 Vibram XS Grip2 Vibram XS Grip2 TRAX SAS
Rubber Thickness (millimeters) 4 mm 4 mm 3.5 mm 3.5mm 4.2 mm


Best Overall Climbing Shoe


La Sportiva Katana Lace


88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 10
  • Cracks 9
  • Comfort 9
  • Steep Terrain 8
  • Sensitivity 8
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Pacific
Low volume toe can slot into thin cracks or pockets
Awesome edging power
Lacing system more comfortable in cracks than velcro
Downturn makes them less comfortable for all-day climbs
Bulky imprecise heel
Pricey

Despite its considerable price tag, the La Sportiva Katana Lace is an exceedingly popular shoe, and it only took a couple of pitches for our testers to understand why. The Katana supplies astounding edging power and precision in a downturned design that doesn't require you to wholly abandon your comfort. The narrow toe profile solidifies this shoe's credentials for both steep pocket pulling and thin crack climbing. Add to this the stiff-yet-sensitive feel of its Vibram XS Edge sole, and you have a shoe that's perfectly suited for nearly any type of roped climbing.

Although these shoes are pretty comfy, they're not "El Cap in a day" comfy, so most people will prefer a more comfortable shoe like the TC Pro for mega missions. The Katana is also a narrower shoe, so folks with wider feet should consider similar designs with roomier dimensions. One possibility is the Scarpa Instinct Lace which has a lace closure with a similar downturn and toe profile but a wider midsole and heel. Although there are arguably better shoes for high-end bouldering, for everything else, the Katana is ready to crush.

Read review: La Sportiva Katana

Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets


La Sportiva Tarantulace


64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 6
  • Cracks 7
  • Comfort 8
  • Steep Terrain 5
  • Sensitivity 6
Rubber Type: FriXion RS | Lining: Unlined
Super affordable
Flat sole keeps feet in a relaxed position
5 mm of rubber increases durability
Too soft and insensitive for good edging performance
Imprecise fit
Loose in the heel

If you're just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the La Sportiva Tarantulalace. Few cheaper shoes provide the same level of quality and versatility. At the same time, more advanced shoes usually put your foot in a curled position that can be painful and unnecessary when you're beginning your climbing career. More advanced shoes also cost significantly more. We don't advise spending that extra dough until you've developed some footwork and can avoid wearing through your rubber too rapidly.

Although the Tarantulace doesn't have the impeccable design of the other award winners, it's comfortable and precise enough to serve as a good tool while you're improving your technique. Serious climbers, however, will probably be happier spending more for a higher-performing shoe. Still, for casual climbers or folks just dipping their toes into the sport, the Tarantulace is a solid choice. And it's versatile enough for just about anywhere-- from the gym to the crag, or even boulders and multi-pitch routes.

Read review: La Sportiva Tarantulace

Best Bargain for Solid Performance


La Sportiva Finale


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 7
  • Cracks 7
  • Comfort 8
  • Steep Terrain 6
  • Sensitivity 7
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Rubber Thickness: 5 mm
Affordable
Thick, durable rubber
Decent edging performance
Comfortable
Outmatched on steep terrain
Imprecise fit
Loose heel cup

Rock climbing shoes are one category of gear where performance closely corresponds to price. Bargain hunters should rejoice, however, because the La Sportiva Finale is a fortunate exception to this rule. These affordable lace-ups come fitted with the same Vibram XS Edge rubber as the premium, top-rated Katana Lace. And there's also a whopping 5 millimeters of that rubber on these shoes to improve durability. We particularly like these shoes for beginners and casual climbers searching for some decent footwear that won't break the bank.

Although we like the performance of the Finale on less-than-vertical cliffs or moderate multi-pitch routes, they disappoint when the angle steepens. The neutral sole is certainly comfortable, but it's ill-suited for pulling your body in on overhanging terrain. At the same time, the thick rubber that enhances durability, unfortunately, reduces sensitivity. We consider these faults relatively minor, and we hope they won't serve as a deal-breaker for any shopper seeking acceptable performance at a great price.

Read review: La Sportiva Finale

The Softest and Most Sensitive Climbing Shoe


Scarpa Drago


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 8
  • Cracks 7
  • Comfort 8
  • Steep Terrain 9
  • Sensitivity 10
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Grip2 | Upper material: Microsuede
Exceptional sensitivity
Convenient velcro closure
High-volume design accommodates wide feet
Extremely soft midsole
Arguably too soft
Expensive
Mediocre crack climbing performance

If you like to feel every bump and divot on the rock, then you'll likely love the Scarpa Drago. These ultra-soft, premium kicks supplied the most sensitivity of any shoe we've tried. The 3.5mm of Vibram XS Grip2 seems hardly noticeable as the extremely soft midsole allows your foot to flex and bend to utilize any type of foothold. We also like the extended rand and supple heel cup for enhanced grip while attempting fancy, arm-saving footwork on overhanging terrain. The unlined, microsuede design should stretch a bit, so size down a little to strike a healthy balance between comfort and performance.

The Drago is a favorite shoe among our wide-footed testers, but some slim-footed climbers complained of a sloppy fit. This was most noticeable during pure edging when the perceived sloppiness caused the shoes to occasionally ooze off micro edges. The Drago is also a poor choice for crack climbing because its exceptional sensitivity will make this already painful type of climbing even more painful. Despite these flaws, we believe this shoe offers more sensitivity than any other. So pick up a pair if you desire the confidence boost from being able to truly feel the rock you're standing on.

Read review: Scarpa Drago

Best for Bouldering and Steep Roped Climbing


La Sportiva Solution Comp


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 9
  • Cracks 7
  • Comfort 8
  • Steep Terrain 10
  • Sensitivity 8
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Upper material: Leather / microfiber
Outstanding edging platform
Secure velcro system
Aggressive downturn excels at steeps
Enhanced heel sensitivity
Pricey
Modest sensitivity
Mediocre crack climbing performance

When a bouldering or sport climbing project involved tiny rock edges, or testers reached for the La Sportiva Solution Comp. These velcro beasts supplied some of the best edging performance of any shoe in our tests. What's more impressive is that they offered outstanding edging while still providing solid levels of support and sensitivity. Although the original Solution remains a stalwart at countless gyms and crags, we prefer the newer Solution Comp due to its redesigned heel. The pared-down heel cup is now coated in a thinner, more pliable rubber, and this seems to enhance grip and sensitivity while introducing limited performance drawbacks.

One problem with the Solution Comp is the expensive price tag. This price may not be justifiable to beginners or occasional climbers, but dedicated folks will probably be happy to accept the high cost for the substantial performance benefits. Another issue is that the pointy toe on the Solution Comp is not compatible with all feet. If this is a problem for you, we suggest checking out the wider Scarpa Drago which features a broader toe box and excels at the same types of steep climbing. The Solution Comp remains our favorite model for narrow-footed boulderers.

Read review: La Sportiva Solution Comp

Best Shoe for Trad and Crack Climbing


La Sportiva TC Pro


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 10
  • Cracks 9
  • Comfort 9
  • Steep Terrain 6
  • Sensitivity 7
Rubber Type: Vibram XS Edge | Lining: Sentex/PU Foam
Serious support for all-day comfort
Stiff and supportive
High-top ankle protection
Serious edging power
Expensive
Delicate laces and rand
Big toe profile
Achilles pain for some

America's top trad climber, Tommy Caldwell, helped design these high-top powerhouses that now bear his initials. But don't attribute the popularity of the TC Pro shoes to Tommy's celebrity; rather, they owe their ubiquitous status at American trad meccas to their outstanding ability to slay cracks. They're particularly good at doing that all day long, for what would otherwise be pitch after painful pitch in an ordinary shoe. To achieve this, they're built on a stiff P3 midsole that provides excellent support for utilizing tiny edges and a sturdy platform for enduring relentless foot jams. The updated version of these shoes also addresses several common complaints about the originals, making these already desirable shoes even more appealing.

Despite their ubiquity, however, the TC Pro really should be viewed as a specialized piece of equipment. Although they offer unmatched performance in cracks that are hand-sized and wider, their large toe box is less effective for thin splitters. The flat sole that keeps your foot in a comfortable, relaxed position also limits its usefulness on overhanging terrain. Nevertheless, these drawbacks do little to detract from the TC Pro's overall awesomeness, and it's our top recommendation for long multi-pitch adventures or moderate crack cragging.

Read review: La Sportiva TC Pro

Best for Less Than Vertical Terrain


Black Diamond Aspect


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Edging 9
  • Cracks 9
  • Comfort 8
  • Steep Terrain 6
  • Sensitivity 8
Rubber Type: NeoFriction Force | Lining: Hemp
Reasonable price
Stiff, flat sole reduces foot fatigue
Low-top upper is gentle on your Achilles
Uncomfortable break-in period
Broad toe is a problem for narrow pockets
Mediocre performance on the steeps

Black Diamond made a splash with their entry into the climbing shoe scene a few years ago. Since then, their shoes have yet to gain the same level of popularity as their beloved camming devices, but one model that might eventually get there is the Aspect. With a stiff, neutral sole, it supplies a powerful edging platform that feels somewhat similar to our favorite trad shoe, the La Sportiva TC Pro. The Aspect also employs similar laces and a padded leather upper to keep your feet from screaming during sustained crack jamming. And with its low-top design, we were spared the usual complaints about Achilles pain that occasionally hear due to the high ankle height of other trad shoes.

What really sets the Aspect apart is the price. At full retail, it offers modest savings compared to the premium models, and it's also not uncommon to find it on sale. Keep in mind, though, that you might have to accept some drawbacks to receive these savings. Our testers found it was surprisingly uncomfortable during the break-in period. It's also more of a specialty shoe, ideal for long romps on less-than-vertical stone but poorly equipped if things get steep.

Read review: Black Diamond Aspect

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
88
$195
Editors' Choice Award
An awesome shoe for long climbs requiring a variety of crack climbing and edging techniques
84
$185
Top Pick Award
A comp-oriented shoe with a plethora of nice features
84
$210
A super expensive shoe designed for bouldering and comps
84
$200
Top Pick Award
These supple masterpieces are ready for miles of steep European limestone
82
$180
Reasonable savings for an ultra-premium shoe
82
$200
Top Pick Award
With this shoe, you can climb pitch after pitch without pain
80
$185
This shoe edges well and fits narrow feet like a glove
80
$160
Top Pick Award
A simple shoe with solid performance for trad climbing
78
$180
A tried and true modern classic, this model excels while steep and technical climbing
78
$170
An affordable shoe that is perfect for difficult sport and trad climbs
78
$179
A solid shoe for many situations and rock types
76
$180
A great tool for thin cracks and multi-pitch outings
76
$139
A gym and bouldering shoe that supplies supreme sensitivity
76
$180
A softer trad shoe that's ideal for all-day jamming
76
$145
Sensitive and covered in sticky rubber, these shoes are ready for steep gymnastic boulder problems
76
$185
An incredibly sensitive and comfortable shoe that excels at edging
76
$195
An innovative design with rounded edges that inspires devotees and detractors
74
$165
A worthy option for sport climbing at all angles, from steep to slabby
74
$165
Used by many big names in climbing, it excels at both sport climbs and long trad routes
72
$185
Super stiff, this shoe eats micro-edges for breakfast
72
$189
A stiff, high-top traddie ideal for all-day adventures
72
$170
Most at home on steep terrain but underperforms on techy slabs and faces
70
$150
On granite cracks or in the gym, this versatile shoe is a good choice for new climbers
70
$109
Best Buy Award
A bargain price for respectable performance
66
$190
An average shoe for a heft price
64
$85
Best Buy Award
A great deal for an adequate climbing shoe
62
$125
These comfy kicks will take you straight to hand crack heaven but aren't a good choice for edging
58
$89
This super comfy shoe is perfect for folks who are just starting to climb
56
$95
This shoe isn't the highest performer in our review, but it's a bargain for someone looking to train in the gym

Why You Should Trust Us


Authors Matt Bento and Jack Cramer are devoted rock climbers who've spent the last decade pursuing the sport through a string of jobs and a habit of continuous travel. In real ways, performing this review is not outside the norm for their lifestyles, with the exception that they often carry a few extra pairs of rock climbing shoes to the crag. Matt and Jack are both former members of Yosemite Search and Rescue — the best high-angle rescue team on earth. Jack is also a National Outdoor Leadership School Alumnus who's established more than a dozen alpine first ascents.

Our testing took place on extended road trips across many of the most iconic climbing destinations of the American West. These shoes saw everything from steep, pocketed limestone near Lander, WY to the smooth granite cracks of Yosemite National Park, with plenty of sandstone and volcanic tuff in between. Rest assured, we've edged and smeared on rock that's something like your next destination or home crag. In addition to rock types, we tested the shoes on various foot shapes, intentionally selecting testers that represent the wide variety of human foot designs. This is in recognition that a great shoe for one climber might be unbearable for another, purely based on fit.

Related: How We Tested Climbing Shoes

Analysis and Test Results


Start your engines...
Start your engines...
Photo: Matt Bento

When it comes to rock climbing, there's a strong case that the single most important piece of gear goes on our feet. You can't place too much emphasis on getting the right shoes because they're often the difference between sending and whipping. And the harder the climbing gets, the narrower this margin becomes. The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is arguably warranted--once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you, it's like the skies open up, and you can leave the performance plateau you've been stranded on. 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 video could restore it.

Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Shoes

The right climbing shoes are critical to fun and success.
The right climbing shoes are critical to fun and success.
Photo: Matt Bento

Our favorite shoes are the ones that have a good balance of strengths. Manufacturers seem to always be trying to design a shoe that can do it all, but the reality is that all design involves tradeoffs. The different styles of climbing require different performance characteristics. Over the years, some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to 3 pairs. One for pure Indian Creek-style splitter cracks, another for hard sport climbing and bouldering, and a comfy third pair for all-day romps up long multi-pitch routes. If popularity is any judge, the La Sportiva TC Pro might come the closest to an all-around ideal. In contrast, others argue these high-volume clunkers are insensitive and a terrible choice for anything even slightly overhanging. Some climbers will never climb a crack in their lives, wearing the cheapest shoe they can find and spending all their time in the hollows of Kentucky paddling up steep jug hauls. We're envious of these climbers and their single-minded obsessions, but for the majority who share diverse palettes, one shoe will never be enough. No matter your goals, we'll try to get you in the right shoes for the task.

Although the Tarantulace might not offer the best performance, it&#039;s...
Although the Tarantulace might not offer the best performance, it's more than capable of some excellent climbing.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Value


Rock climbing shoes offer a wide range of performance across a broad spectrum of prices. We selected several premium models to receive awards for outstanding performance for different applications. Most of these top-rated models, however, come with top-shelf prices. These prices could be worth the cost if your shoes are the difference between whipping on your project again or clipping the chains.


However, if you're not battling through the anguish of a long-term project, a top-shelf price becomes much tougher to justify. For folks like this who happen to take a less obsessive approach to the sport, we recommend selecting mid-level shoes such as the La Sportiva Finale, the Black Diamond Aspect, or the Mad Rock Shark 2.0. Another category of climber who probably shouldn't spend their last cent on climbing shoes is beginners. When you're learning to climb, it's common to exhibit imprecise footwork that is likely to quickly wear through any shoe, regardless of price. We, therefore, suggest that new climbers select less expensive models with thicker rubber, such as the La Sportiva Tarantulace or the Evolv Defy. After wearing through a couple of pairs of bargain shoes, most climbers will possess the proper footwork to upgrade to a pricier, better-performing model.

For maximum edging performance, our testers usually prefer a lace-up...
For maximum edging performance, our testers usually prefer a lace-up closure. This design allows for the most secure fit to eliminate any foot slippage inside a shoe.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Edging


The ability to stand on tiny edges is paramount to climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can support with your feet, the less you will burden your throbbing forearms, and the more likely you are to send. Some of the top edgers are the La Sportiva Katana, the La Sportiva Genius, and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. All of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity.


The Katana achieves its excellent edging performance with a classic design. It features a stiff LaspoFlex midsole and a slight downturn from heel to toe that supplies both support and sensitivity when utilizing micro holds. Although the Katana comes new with standard right-angle edges on its rubber, its cousin the La Sportiva Genius incorporates innovative "No-Edge" technology. No-Edge means that these shoes are sold with a rubber edge that's already rounded. This allows your toes to be positioned as close as possible to the rock, and it results in exceptional performance so long as you're willing to modify your technique to account for the unusual design. Finally, the Tarifa achieves its own edging performance by offering a tight fit in combination with excellent sensitivity. This combination gave our testers the confidence to utilize minuscule features. Keep in mind that the best shoe for you will be the one that fits the best and provides the comfort and performance you deem necessary. For many of us, the Katana delivered just that. However, our wide-footed testers generally opted for the similar, but wider, Scarpa Instinct.

The pointy toe and sturdy P3 platform help the Solution feel like...
The pointy toe and sturdy P3 platform help the Solution feel like one of the most precise and capable edging shoes.
Photo: Jack Cramer

We evaluated each shoe's edging capability on vertical routes from Wild Iris to Yosemite Valley, where the ability to stand on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds and how well we could feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but more supportive on longer pitches, while our testers unlocked techy edging sequences during 20+ minute efforts. Soft slippers like the Five Ten Moccasym seem to be the worst edgers unless you size them super tight.

When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust...
When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust your shoes. That's easy to do on marginal edges with the La Sportiva Katana.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Crack Climbing


An ideal shoe for crack climbing would be wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, but low volume in the toe so they could still squeeze in narrower cracks from thin hands down to fingers. Tight or aggressive shoes can cause your toes to curl and make it harder to wiggle them into small cracks. Therefore, the ideal crack shoe would also be sized comfortably with a neutral sole to ensure that your toes lay flat.


We tested crack climbing performance in Idaho's City of Rocks and Utah's Indian Creek. While crack climbing in each shoe, we noted 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 Scarpa Vapor V helped reduce foot pain from lateral compression. Beyond shoe width, softer shoes usually hurt more than their stiffer counterparts. For example, the La Sportiva TC Pro and the Five Ten Grandstone both have similar high-top designs, but our testers noticed less pain and foot fatigue with the stiffer TC Pro. When it comes to shoe closures, laces generally feel more comfortable and fare better on long crack climbs. Velcro straps, in contrast, can create irritating pressure points in certain areas, and the buckles can come undone when moving your feet in or out of a crack.

Our lead tester cranks out one more lap before the storm.
Our lead tester cranks out one more lap before the storm.
Photo: Matt Bento

Despite our desire to find the perfect crack shoe, we have yet to find one ideal model for all types of cracks. There is simply too much variation in cracks for one model to hope to excel at all sizes or rock types. For most people climbing moderate cracks (i.e., 5.10 and under), we recommend a high-top design. Moderate cracks are generally wide and/or less-than-vertical. For these cracks, high-top shoes will guard your ankles during jams hand-size or wider, while their stiffness and flat soles improve comfort and reduce foot fatigue. Our testers' favorite design in this style is the La Sportiva TC Pro, but there is plenty to like about similar models, such as the softer Five Ten Grandstone or the wider Scarpa Maestro Eco. High-tops shoes, however, can cause Achilles pain for some people. If that's the case, we recommend the Black Diamond Aspect, which is a low-top, trad-oriented design that could also save you some money.

A few of the most popular high-top crack shoes. Clockwise from the...
A few of the most popular high-top crack shoes. Clockwise from the upper right: La Sportiva TC Pro, Five Ten Grandstone, Scarpa Maestro Eco, and the previously tested Butora Altura.
Photo: Jack Cramer

As the grades rise, some climbers swear by low volume, slipper-style shoes like the Five Ten Moccasym, especially for thin cracks. If you size them up from their normal sizing to allow your toes to lay flat, you can create an extremely narrow toe profile that will let you cram extra rubber into slim openings. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will likely be climbed in shoes that can squeeze into thinner (sub-0.75-inch) cracks, but argue whether slipper designs can supply enough edging performance for all rock types. Difficult granite cracks, for example, often involve bouldery cruxes where shoes also need to be able to utilize small edges or face holds. The La Sportiva Katana is perfectly equipped for this kind of test piece. The Katana is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, while the lace closure locks your foot in place.

The neutral sole of the Finale leaves your foot flat and...
The neutral sole of the Finale leaves your foot flat and unconstrained, improving comfort during crack jams.
Photo: Jack Cramer

The La Sportiva Skwama is another of our favorite crack climbing shoes because it's shaped perfectly for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the upper also offers a little extra grip and protection for sore feet, and the single velcro closure remains mostly out of the way while jamming your 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 higher volume shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pro.

Heel hooks, toe hooks, and other creative footwork are much more...
Heel hooks, toe hooks, and other creative footwork are much more important on steep terrain. These techniques require special design features.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Steep Terrain


A shoe's performance on steep terrain is influenced by many factors, including the angle of the shoe's downturn, the fit and sensitivity of the heel, and the volume of the toe box, along with other things like edging performance, sensitivity, and stiffness. Our testers assessed the steep terrain metric by evaluating each model's performance at toe and heel hooking, utilizing small pockets, and their overall ability to pull your lower body into the wall and take the weight off your pumping arms.


The pointy-toed, narrow-fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the La Sportiva Solution came up as the top performers when the steep terrain included small pockets. When wearing the Tarifa, our testers were able to gain noticeable purchase, even in mono pockets. The Solution and its cousin, the Solution Comp, feature a distinctly downturned toe that improved traction on steep terrain. Between these two shoes, we prefer the newer Solution Comp because it has a slimmed-down heel cup that greatly improves precision and sensitivity while heel hooking. Meanwhile, the extended downturn on the forefoot of the Evolv Shaman came in handy for pulling on larger pockets to keep our bodies closer to the wall.

Our favorite change from the original Solution to the Solution Comp...
Our favorite change from the original Solution to the Solution Comp is the supple heel which provides greater sensitivity while heel hooking.
Photo: Jack Cramer

The Scarpa Drago and the Butora Acro come in slightly behind the top performers in this metric. They both lost some points due to their blunter toe shape, which doesn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. Some of our testers also complained about the steep forward lean on the Acro leaving excess heel space and causing Achilles pain.

The La Sportiva Katana is no slouch when it comes to pockets, and the La Sportiva Skwama performed surprisingly well despite its softness because we could wiggle lots of rubber into shallow pockets. More symmetrically shaped, relaxed-fitting shoes like the Five Ten Moccasyms are not the best choice for steep or pocketed climbs.

A big part of sensitivity is the stiffness of a shoe&#039;s sole. As you...
A big part of sensitivity is the stiffness of a shoe's sole. As you can see here, this stiffness varies wildly between different models.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Sensitivity


A sensitive shoe allows you to feel the rock while you stand on a hold or smear, so you can press down and move upwards with more confidence. We tested shoes for sensitivity by lapping nearly featureless slabs in Tuolumne Meadows and scaling the gritty granite of Pine Creek Canyon, CA. The most sensitive shoes tend to be the softest, but a few stiffer shoes also supply excellent sensitivity. Again, our favorite shoes are the ones that have a balance of strengths.


The Scarpa Drago, Chimera, and Veloce all fit like a rubber sock, making them slightly more sensitive than the "no-edge" La Sportiva Genius. We could feel every bump and dimple with these supple masterpieces, and on steep terrain, it was easier to pull ourselves into the wall because we could flex our feet in any direction to suit the nature of the foothold. The feeling was almost as if we had sticky rubber monkey hands on our feet. Unfortunately, these ultra-soft shoes are so soft that they don't provide as much sport on vertical or low-angle cliffs as stiffer shoes. The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, is a medium stiffness shoe that's still one of the most sensitive we tested. The no-edge concept leaves less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you, in theory, to feel and stand on smaller edges or ripples. These shoes took some getting used to, though. Initially, our testers missed the crisp, right-angle edges they'd come to expect on a brand new shoe. After a handful of pitches, however, we got used to our toes being farther forward in the shoe and learned to take advantage of the Genius's unique sensitivity and edging power by employing a slight roll of the foot as they placed the shoe onto a hold.

Some testers called Scarpa Drago too soft, and some called them...
Some testers called Scarpa Drago too soft, and some called them "smearicles". Everyone agreed the soft midsole makes them ultra-sensitive and easy to get loads of rock-to-rubber contact.
Photo: Matt Bento

The Tenaya Tarifa is also particularly sensitive, with soft Vibram XS Grip rubber and a bi-tension rand system that offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. The La Sportiva Katana isn't a slouch either 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 Katana.

The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered...
The Skwamas performed best on granite, where our testers encountered slabs and cracks.
Photo: Matt Bento

Despite being relatively stiff, the Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, and our testers appreciated them on the delicate crystals of the Buttermilks boulders. Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. Although the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel small footholds with 4.2 mm of rubber between you and the rock. Both the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V fail to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top-rated models. After a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they soften up, and their techy climbing performance improves.

As you consider our shoe sensitivity results, keep in mind that higher sensitivity often comes from thinner rubber. You can wear a hole much faster through the 3mm of rubber found on more sensitive shoes than through the 5mm of rubber of the La Sportiva Finale. In other words, to enjoy awesome sensitivity, you usually have to sacrifice some durability.

The Evolv Oracle has one of the comfiest heel cups with plenty of...
The Evolv Oracle has one of the comfiest heel cups with plenty of padding for your Calcaneous bone yet soft rubber for sensitivity.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Comfort


The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: the shape of your foot, the size of the shoe, and the shoe's upper material. Generally speaking, the tighter your shoe, the better it will perform. However, tight shoes are usually painful, so any climber without an infinite pain tolerance will be forced to balance comfort and performance in their shoe sizing. Fortunately, modern designers have been shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform great while fitting properly. "Love bumps," "reverse bi-tension rands," "P3 Platforms", and "S-heels" may sound like a list of fancy terms invented to sell more shoes, but they actually represent a significant leap forward in climbing shoe design.


Comfort is pretty subjective, and everybody's feet are unique. The Tenaya Tarifa, for example, feels like a torture device to our broad-footed testers, but it climbs like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. Comfort can be evaluated somewhat objectively, however, by considering a shoe's downturn, or the position of the toe relative to the heel. Shoes with flat soles, or zero downturn, are generally more comfortable during a big day than a shoe with a dramatic downturn that forces your toes below your heel and your foot into a curled position. We also tested comfort by assessing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we noted how the shoe feels after a reasonable break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.

Leather slipper-style shoes score great for comfort. The Five Ten Moccasym features a flat sole in a model made from stretchable leather that can form to your feet. Together these features achieve considerable comfort, but the minimalist design undermines edging performance too much for many of our testers. For a balance of comfort and edging performance, consider other flat-soled shoes like the Black Diamond Aspect or the TC Pro. Either of these shoes will pad your feet for a long multi-pitch romp, but the lack of downturn in the sole is less suited for overhanging terrain. When it's steeper, our testers appreciate the aggressive downturn of the Scarpa Drago, the Evolv Oracle, and the La Sportiva Solution Comp. All of these shoes are covered in rubber and ready for miles of steep limestone. Just don't expect them to feel comfortable during sustained all-day efforts or on taxing, less-than-vertical, technical routes.

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

Sizing

Sizing climbing shoes can be a nightmare. Some companies intentionally calibrate a performance climbing fit to correspond with normal street shoe sizes, so we would say that they run very small. Others run true to size, and climbers have to select a size or two smaller than usual since their comfortable street shoe size would be too loose for a performance climbing shoe. Still, other manufacturers seem to vary their sizing from model to model, making buying shoes online a maddening task. If all else fails, order from a retailer with a generous return policy so you can be sure you will get the right fit eventually. Here is our subjective and hotly debated brand-sizing summary:

La Sportiva seems to run true to size, so you'll want to size down up to 1.5 sizes from your street shoe. Scarpa shoes are sized a little smaller than Sportiva — we found ourselves sizing down just a half size from our street shoes. Tenaya shoes run small and are especially narrow. We suggest starting with half a size down from your street shoe. The Butora runs smaller still, so we recommend buying your street shoe size. If you wear a 10 in your street shoes, you'll want a size 10, or even a 10.5, in the Butora. Good luck with Evolv's sizing. Our lead tester had to go up a whole size just to get his feet into a pair of Evolv Oracle, while the Shaman fit his street shoe size. Five Ten seems to change their sizing a lot. If you're looking for a pair of Moccasyms, you'll likely want to size down two whole sizes. For the Grandstones, try your street shoe size.

Stiff for the long haul, but still plenty sensitive, you can jam out...
Stiff for the long haul, but still plenty sensitive, you can jam out all day in a pair off Katanas if you size them correctly.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Conclusion


The selection of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: product reviews are inherently subjective, and this is particularly true with rock climbing shoe reviews. 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. Our wide-footed testers had few good things to say about the Tenaya Tarifa, while their narrow-footed colleagues had nothing but praise. The opposite was true for the Scarpa Drago, which our wide-footed testers loved while their slim-footed colleagues lamented. However, we meticulously researched these shoes and tried to talk to as many industry professionals as possible to gather informed opinions about design and construction. We hope we've helped you find the perfect pair of climbing shoes, no matter your climbing goals.

Jack Cramer & Matt Bento

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