Wall Walkers

The Best Rock Climbing Shoes of 2019

October 17, 2019 Buying Guides By Photo by Black Diamond
Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

In a sport where gravity is your foe and friction is your friend, no single piece of gear aids you more than a pair of quality rock climbing shoes. With your feet making 50 percent of your contact with the cliff or wall, and bearing the majority of your weight, finding the right pair for your ability level and type of climbing can mean the difference between getting to that next hold and falling off.

However, zeroing in on your perfect pair is no easy task. REI alone sells 58 varieties of climbing shoes. Nuances such as a stiff vs. soft forefoot or downturned vs. flat toes drastically change how climbing shoes perform. Matching your climbing shoe to the type of climbing you do — indoor or outdoor, steep or slabby — is crucial too.

Whether you’re a newbie searching for your first pair of shoes or a seasoned sport climber, I’ve spent the past few months testing over 25 pairs of climbing shoes. I’ve scrabbled up everything from the limestone cliffs outside Las Vegas to the granite cliffs in Tuolumne to the walls of my local climbing gym in Santa Barbara to find the best shoes in 10 categories, and here they are.

Best Entry Level: Black Diamond Momentum

Three things make a climbing shoe ideal for beginners: comfort, price and durability. No other shoe on the market checks these three boxes better than the Black Diamond Momentum. Priced reasonably under $100, these neutral, flat-lasted climbing shoes are designed for slabby to just past vertical terrain. Thanks to a breathable-engineered knit upper and micro-fiber toe liner, there’s no need to take these shoes off between climbs because your feet hurt. Two adjustable Velcro straps mean easy on/off while the 4.3mm of proprietary molded rubber outlasts many more expensive competitors. The Momentum also comes in a vegan-friendly model.

Profile: Flat
Upper: Engineered Knit
Sole Rubber: 4.3mm
Type: Lace Up

Best Intermediate Level: Scarpa Apria

As a climber becomes more experienced, he or she tends to expand the angle of the terrain, venturing toward steeper, harder walls. As walls get steeper, having a downturned shoe that can hook footholds to pull your weight in closer to the wall is key. The Scarpa Apria offers a perfect transition to a bit more aggressively shaped downturned shoe from a flat-lasted entry-level shoe, such as the Momentum, without negatively affecting performance on slabby to vertical terrain. Featuring a microfiber upper with suede bottom panel, the Apria was one of the most comfortable shoes tested.

Profile: Moderate Downturn
Upper: Engineered Knit
Sole Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram® XS Grip2
Type: Slipper/Single Velcro

Best Budget: La Sportiva Tarantulace

There’s a reason the Tarantulace is La Sportiva’s number one seller — plainly put, it’s the best price-to-value climbing shoe on the market. This flat-lasted, rather stiff-toed shoe is a jack-of-all-trades that’s best suited as a one-shoe quiver for a new climber or as a beater all-day comfortable shoe. The unlined leather upper with synthetic overlay gives users a precise and comfortable fit while 5mm of La Sportiva’s sticky FriXion RS rubber keeps you glued to the rock or wall.

Profile: Flat
Upper: Leather / Synthetic leather
Sole Rubber: 5mm FriXion® RS
Type: Lace Up

Best Outdoor Performance: La Sportiva Testarosa

Ever since trying my first pair of Testarosas 15 years ago, I’ve been hooked. It’s a pure high-performance shoe with a moderate-to-aggressive downturn. Recently redesigned with a better-fitting, better-performing heel, this classic lace-up edges, heel-hooks and smears like a champ on just about every type of rock. A blended upper that uses natural leather with a non-stretch material called Lorica fits like a glove. However, best save these for your project attempts as the 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip2 rubber wears rather quickly.

Profile: Aggressive Downturn
Upper: Leather / Synthetic Lorica
Sole Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram® XS Grip2™
Type: Lace Up

Best Gym Performance: Black Diamond Zone

The perfect gym shoe is a workhorse that’s comfortable enough to keep on for all-day marathon sessions while offering high performance across a variety of wall angles. The Black Diamond Zone fits that bill perfectly. Designed with a moderately downturned toe, the Zone excels on everything from techy face climbs to hard-pulling steep cave climbs. Black Diamond’s signature knit technology upper prevents uncomfortably sweaty feet, a welcome feature for hot, stuffy gym sessions. Consider sizing up a half to full size from your street shoe as they do run small and if you have narrow feet, try the LV (low-volume) version.

Profile: Moderate Downturn
Upper: Engineered Knit
Sole Rubber: 4.3mm Fuse rubber
Type: Velcro

Specialty Climbing Shoes

Specialty shoes stand out as exceptional performers in specific types of climbing, such as the toe-in pulling power needed for steep climbing or precise placement edging needed for technical vertical climbing. If you find yourself climbing one style a lot more than others, it’s best to get a specialized shoe to suit what you do.

Best For Competition Climbing: Scarpa Furia Air

This soft, sock-like shoe excels in the balanced, parkour style required to maneuver through volumes (climbing holds) while still offering an aggressive downturned toe for edging on steep terrain. At 5.3 ounces, it’s also the world’s lightest climbing shoe.

Profile: Aggressive Downturn
Upper: Microsuede
Sole Rubber: 3.5mm Vibram® XS Grip2
Type: Single Velcro Strap

Best Face Climbing: Five Ten Anasazi Pro

This flat-lasted, stiff-toed shoe is designed to keep you glued to micro edges on technical face climbing. The steal C4 rubber sole is about as grippy as they come, bringing you closer than ever to gecko status.

Profile: Flat
Upper: Synthetic
Sole Rubber: Stealth® C4 rubber
Type: Dual Velcro Straps

Best For Slab Climbing: Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym

The Anasazi Moccasym is soft, comfortable slipper that molds and grips low-angle and less-than- vertical terrain. The relatively relaxed design means you won’t be itching to rip them off your feet the moment your day is done.

Profile: Flat
Upper: Leather
Sole Rubber: 4.2mm Stealth® C4 rubber
Type: Slipper

Best For Steep Climbing: Five Ten Dragon

A third Five Ten specialty shoe proves this adidas-owned brand rules the style-specific game. One of the most aggressively downturned shoes on the market, the Dragon hooks and edges the smallest of holds in steep and vertical terrain.

Profile: Aggressive Downturn
Upper: Lined microfiber
Sole Rubber: Stealth® HF
Type: Lace-up

Best For Trad Climbing: Scarpa Maestro Mid

If your true passion is classic rock climbing, you want something that’s comfortable and versatile while still being pretty aggressive. A stiff-soled, burly workhorse of a shoe, the Maestro mid is perfectly at home jammed into cracks or edging micro footholds.

Profile: Flat
Upper: Leather
Sole Rubber: 4mm Vibram® XS Edge
Type: Lace-up

Cory Smith

More by Cory Smith | Follow on Contact via Email
Sign Up for the
Daily Dispatch
Useful product reviews, work-from-home tips
and expert advice packed into one handy, daily email.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy and to receive email correspondence from us.