The Best Climbing Shoes of 2021: Staff Picks

Send your next route with our staffers’ six favorite climbing shoes.

11 reviews with an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars
Person climbing a rock wall while being belayed.

Regardless of where or how you climb, your shoes are one of the most important pieces of gear, the connection between you and the rock. When climbing any vertical face, the sticky rubber of your climbing shoes allows for traction and precise footwork to help you ascend to new heights. The right pair can make the difference between sticking the crux or potentially taking a whipper.

The best climbing shoe is the one that fits well and feels good on your feet. But how do you find one to match your climbing needs? To start, check out our guide on how to choose the best rock climbing shoes for you. Then read on for our staff’s six favorite picks available at REI. We’ve selected shoes for every type of climber, whether you’re sport climbing, trad climbing, bouldering, climbing at the crag, sessioning problems at a gym or just starting out. 

 

Staff Picks

Find our quick recommendations here or read on for our staff and members' favorite climbing shoes.

 

Black Diamond Momentum

Best Climbing Shoe for Beginners

black diamond momentum climbing shoes

VersionsWomen’s, men’s

Climbing shoe type: Neutral

Price: $94.95

An often recited piece of climbing wisdom is that the best climber is the one having the most fun. A comfy shoe can help up that fun factor. For beginners, it pays to have a shoe with a neutral fit and softer toe rand, like that of the Black Diamond Momentum shoe. This design allows your tootsies to lie flat as they would in any other shoe—an easier transition for new-to-climbing feet. This shoe still provides a tight fit and sticky rubber for gripping power, while also staying nice and relaxed. And the engineered knit uppers on the shoe mimic your favorite running shoes: room to flex and breathe and security where you need performance.

Two hook-and-loop tabs (pull in opposite directions to tighten) secure your feet while making it easy to pop off when you’re resting or giving your climbing partner a belay. With a lower price point, these are the perfect entry-level shoes if you’re starting out in the sport or you’re an intermediate climber looking for a cushier pair of rock shoes for a day of slab routes at the crag or gym sessions. Buy here.

 

La Sportiva Tarantulace

Best Climbing Shoe Under $100

 

la sportiva tarantulace climbing shoes

Versions: Women’s, men’s

Climbing shoe type: Neutral

Price: $85

There’s good reason the La Sportiva Tarantulace is the best-selling climbing shoe at REI: It combines comfort and sticky grip at an approachable price point. The Tarantulace has been Jake Mueller’s go-to shoe since he started climbing years ago. The sales lead at the REI Indianapolis store is now on his third pair. He reaches for the pair time after time, because it’s “the most comfortable and versatile climbing shoe” he owns.

“It is a fantastic shoe for beginners and experienced climbers alike,” Mueller adds. “For beginners, it's comfortable, affordable, easy to fit into, easy to adjust, easy to take off and is durable. This shoe allows them to really grow as a climber and find their confidence.” One customer called it "a no-frills shoe," noting that "while this shoe doesn't excel in any specific areas, it is a basic shoe that performs fairly well in a variety of situations."

The unlined leather uppers offer a fit that gets even better with each session while the tongues are lined to help manage sweat and keep the funk to a minimum. Quick-pull laces running down the shoe allow you to adjust tightness to boost confidence on smaller footholds. The 5mm-thick FriXion RS rubber offers long-lasting stickiness, though the thicker sole doesn't provide the same sensitivity. Buy here.

 

evolv Kronos / evolv Kira

Best Climbing Shoe for All-Day Comfort

evolv kronos climbing shoes

 

VersionsWomen’smen’s

Climbing shoe type: Moderate

Price: $130

The only thing better than a day at the crag with friends is knowing your feet won’t be pinched by the end of it. The evolv Kronos and Kira help make extended crag or gym sessions more bearable for your toes with comfort-forward features like a wider toe box. Evolv also strategically placed thinner rubber in certain areas of the shoe to alleviate common pressure points while keeping it thicker at the front for better toe hooking. “They're so comfortable I leave them on to belay,” says one customer, who calls it a do-it-all moderate shoe.  

Elizabeth Nguyen, a retail specialist in Atlanta who has been climbing for a decade, recommends the Kira as a solid all-around shoe for intermediate boulderers and sport climbers in the gym, or as a great starter shoe for new lead climbers who don’t want an aggressive shoe with a sharp downturn. Another feature to love: A 4.2 mm Trax rubber sole to help you find your sweet spot on tricky footholds. And single hook-and-loop closure offers a customized fit, while the uppers use a vegan-friendly synthetic. Buy here.

 

La Sportiva TC Pro

Best Climbing Shoe for Trad Climbing

la sportiva tc pro climbing shoes

Climbing shoe type: Neutral

Price: $190

La Sportiva asked professional climber Tommy Caldwell to help design a pair of shoes that would combine the comfort and performance needed for climbing some of the largest and hardest trad routes. The result: the TC Pro. These shoes deliver performance, protection and comfort for long multi-pitch climbs that require edging, smearing and foot jamming.

Damon Yeh, a climbing instructor for REI Experiences and retail specialist in San Diego, grabs his TC Pros for long days of trad and multi-pitch climbing. “The stiff soles are great for smearing and edging on small footholds, especially on granite. They feel super secure in foot jams, and the extra ankle protection is a nice feature,” Yeh says. While the shoes may have been designed with big-wall, granite climbing in mind, they also “feel super solid on the not-so-big granite walls I've been climbing on,” he adds.

Thin foam padding at the ankles and above the toes provides protection when crack climbing, while the stiff 4 mm thick Vibram XS Edge rubber gives plenty of grip on thin edges. The precise toe box allows for delicate footwork on faces, and the ventilated tongue and perforated uppers help your feet breathe. Buy here.

 

Scarpa Instinct VS

Best Climbing Shoe for Bouldering

scarpa instinct vs climbing shoes

 

Versions: Women’s, men’s

Climbing shoe type: Aggressive

Price: $189

Bouldering is as simple as climbing gets—at least when it comes to gear. Only a few moves, a crash pad or two, your chalk bag and a pair of shoes. However, these short problems involve difficult movements that are concentrated and require more technical footwork to send. This makes the Scarpa Instinct VS perfect for most boulders, particularly overhanging problems and sport climbing roofs.

The super aggressive shoe provides power and precision on steep climbs and small footholds. The shoe is crafted with a precise heel and a hard rubber patch on the top of the shoe to provide extra purchase on tricky heel hooks and toe hooks. ”They toe hook like a dream. Heel hooks are solid with no slippage. No dead space in the shoe. They really do fit like a sock. I wear them for bouldering and sport climbing,” says one customer-reviewer.

The sensitive Vibram XS Edge rubber allows you to really feel the foothold for maximum precision. The synthetic leather adds comfort, and a single rip-and-stick closure makes them easy to slip on and off between burns. Buy here.

 

La Sportiva Miura VS        

Best for Steep Sport Climbing

la sportiva miura vs

 

Versions: Women’s, men’s

Climbing shoe type: Aggressive

Price: $185

Finding the perfect shoe for days at the crag is tough. You need something precise with great edging for techy face climbs but with enough of a downturn to allow you to power through roofs and overhangs. All this, plus you want comfort. It can be a lot to ask of a shoe.

Enter the La Sportiva Miura VS. The P3 platform ensures the shoe keeps its aggressive downturned shape and helps engage your footwork. A three hook-and-loop closure allows a tight fit while a lined leather footbed increases your comfort. The stiff Vibram rubber sole delivers stickiness for pitch after pitch. 

“The La Sportiva Miuras are like having little arrows on your feet that stick into the rock,” says Arthur Ilnicki, a new store assortment specialist with REI. ”These shoes edge beautifully on granite in the Sierras and Joshua Tree where you have tiny sharp crystals for edges and small pockets where you are not able to place your whole foot into.” The stiffness particularly excels on overhanging routes where your foot is demanding to grab onto any edge you can find, he adds. 

One downside? While not all found these aggressive shoes uncomfortable, a few reviewers did note that they had to take them off between climbs. Buy here.

 

Climbing Shoes Buying Advice

 

Consider these factors when deciding which climbing shoe to buy.

Climbing shoe type

Choose between neutral, moderate and aggressive shoes depending on the type of climbing you do.  

Neutral shoes like the Black Diamond Momentum, La Sportiva TC Pro and La Sportiva Tarantulace offer a more relaxed fit and stiffer rubber. Your toes will lie flat inside the shoes for increased comfort. They’re often great choices for beginner climbers, though experienced climbers prioritizing comfort may also want neutral shoes on long multi-pitch routes.

Moderate shoes like the evolv Kronos / evolv Kira have a slightly downturned shape (also called camber) that put your foot in a more powerful position, making them good for technical climbing. These all-around shoes can handle slab routes, crack climbs, long multi-pitch climbs and slightly overhung sport routes.

Meanwhile, aggressive shoes like the La Sportiva Miura VS and Scarpa Instinct VS have very downturned toes, a snug fit and lots of heel tension to put your feet in a strong and powerful position for challenging overhanging climbs. Most aggressive shoes have an asymmetric shape that curves toward the big toe. That shape focuses power over the toe for precise placements on even the smallest holds. Climbers often prefer aggressive shoes for single-pitch sport climbs and gym routes rather than all-day multi-pitch climbs because they tend to be less comfortable than moderate or neutral shoes. 

Climbing shoe closure

You typically have three choices when it comes to how to close your rock shoes. Lace-ups like the La Sportiva Tarantulace and the La Sportiva TC Pro tend to be the most versatile because you can loosen or tighten the laces as needed. Crank down on the laces at the toe and instep to bump up the shoe's performance; or loosen them up when your feet get too hot or sweaty or when you need to hike a bit.

Shoes with strap closures (also known as "hook-and-loop") like the Black Diamond Momentum, the evolv Kronos and evolv Kira offer the convenience of slipping your shoes on and off. They are often great for bouldering and gym climbing when you want to slip the shoes off between climbs.

Often called slippers, slip-on shoes have elastic closure systems and offer the greatest sensitivity and lowest profile of any shoe. Slippers are great for training—without a traditionally stiff sole and midsole, your feet will get stronger, faster.  

Climbing shoe fit

Rock shoes come in U.S., European and United Kingdom sizes. Check shoe charts for size translations, and note that the same size can vary across brands.

Once you’ve found the right shoe for you, remember that fit is the most important factor for a higher-performing shoe. It's best to compare and try on a variety of models and multiple sizes to find the one that fits you best.

Don’t forget to factor in stretch. Climbing shoes should fit snugly but not painfully. Be sure to learn about how much the shoe will break in and consider the type of climbing you’ll be doing to really dial in your fit. One size up may be great for multi-pitch and alpine climbing, but you might want a smaller size when jumping on a hard boulder or sport climb. Learn more tips for improving your climbing shoe fit.

 

Our Process

We surveyed REI Co-op climbers, retail staff and REI instructors for their favorite climbing shoes on shelves at REI. They reported back with their favorite picks for all-day comfort, value, steep bouldering, trad climbing and more.

 

Article by Kevin Erps.