The best rock climbing shoes for every skill level

It’s the buzz you get from sending a challenge up a wall — complex or relatively easy, indoors or outdoors — that helps make rock climbing one of the fitness trends.

Besides the sense of satisfaction of pulling off a route you haven’t completed before, your entire body gets a killer workout that not only pumps up your arms, but targets your core, upper body, legs and arms.

A perfect-fitting set of rock shoes, however, is one of the first pieces of gear that beginners must purchase before climbing the wall.

Especially if you start at a climbing gym, where all the other gear will be ready to go.

How to buy rock climbing shoes

To find the best rock climbing shoes for you – whether you’re a man or a woman – you need to consider a few things. Mainly: your skill level and where you climb.

the newcomers

Newbs should first go for a neutral, or all-around shoe with a nearly flat sole that’s similar to a regular shoe, especially if you’re just starting out at the gym.

“A more comfortable shoe is more forgiving for how you use it. For a beginner, that’s a good thing,” says Jahan Bilimoria, a mountain guide certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations based in Jackson Hole, WY.

And if you think you’ll only be climbing occasionally, neutral beginner shoes are a good choice.

Intermediate and advanced climbers

If you’ve logged some experience as a climber, you’ll want to move to a more radical shoe that offers a more downward shape, or camber, for better grip on slabs and cracks.

These types of shoes are typed medium or aggressive, the latter boasting a more pronounced camber for more challenging faces.

“A more aggressive shoe is going to focus more force on the big toe,” says Bilimoria. “They have to be tight, and they curl your leg down to create more power.

Fairly athletic people who climb regularly at the gym will likely make faster progress and probably want something with more camber fairly soon after starting, he says. “In a gym setting where even intermediate routes can be steep—due to good hold—a more aggressive shoe would be beneficial.”

How to ensure proper fit

When shopping for a new pair of climbing shoes, there are some tips you should consider to ensure the best fit.

Go in the afternoon after your feet are a little swollen throughout the day.

The fit should be tight but not painfully tight, otherwise you won’t want to climb in them for too long. You want to go for a comfortable snugness.

After you buy them, if your shoes have more traditional laces (newer models have more convenient Velcro closures), remove them and wear laceless shoes around the house to help break them in.

Lace them up again after they’ve formed to your feet and you’ll get a better, almost perfect fit.

The best all-around rock climbing shoes

Below are some top picks, no matter your skill level, from some of the top rock climbing shoe brands.

1. Black Diamond Momentum

These neutral shoes in traditional laces offer all-day comfort with an adjustable fit. The synthetic knit upper allows for plenty of breathability and comfortable snugness.

2. Five Ten Niad Mokasim

These simple and comfortable shoes have a full leather upper that molds to the shape of your feet after repeated wear.

Although these are slip-ons with an elastic closure, the extra rubber at the toe gives you the ability to hit both indoor and outdoor routes.

3. La Sportiva Mythos Eco

These classic all-around climbers are back with eco-friendly, 95 percent recycled materials.

The tried-and-true lacing system and leather upper allow for a precise, customized fit over time.

4. Evolve Defy

This shoe features a split tongue and velcro closure so they can be on or off.

A synthetic, neoprene-like upper and antimicrobial liner help keep them fresh after a long day of climbing.

5. Emphatic V shoes

This shoe combines a flat last with a soft all-around feel for optimal, all-day comfort but can still perform well on technical pitches.

The tough and durable rubber outsole edge helps fast-learn beginners on their feet.

Best performance rock climbing shoes

Whether bouldering at the gym or heading out for a multi-pitch climb on big slabs, there’s something here for you.

6. Scarpa Instinct VS

Perfect for intermediate climbers looking to move from a more neutral shoe to something performance oriented.

It has little unevenness and moderate slack so it performs well in the gym, out bouldering or technical climbing.

7. Five Ten Crows

Steep climbs will be sent easily with these semi-aggressive shoes.

The snug, sock-like fit and concave toe box help pull off sketchy, technical moves while still being a great bouldering performer.

8. Black Diamond Zone

An aggressive camber and minimal midsole mean increased sensitivity on hard, steep climbs.

Velcro straps and engineered knit upper make for a secure, comfortable fit.

9. Evolving Geshido

Built in an asymmetric shape, this rock shoe has a full-length plastic midsole, making it great for superior control on short tails and traversing technical sequences.

The two-strap Velcro closure is a cinch to use and the vegan synthetic leather upper won’t stretch as much after repeated climbing.

10. La Sportiva Genius

This high-performance shoe features an aggressive camber and special No-Edge technology that lets your feet stick closer to the rocks.

A quick-lacing system and stretchy synthetic upper make it easy to get on or off.

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