So you’ve decided to commit to the radical sport of rock climbing. Maybe you’ve already gotten a small taste of these painful ballerina shoes with your local climbing gym’s shoe rentals or maybe you haven’t and if so you’re in for a treat. Truth be told, climbing shoes are not and should not be painfully tight and that’s what this guide is for, to help you purchase the best pair of beginner climbing shoes so you can enjoy the sport of climbing, not just sit by and watch while your feet are cramped and uncomfortable.
While rental shoes are highly recommended for your first few times climbing, purchasing your own pair of shoes is significantly more comfortable. Climbing shoes break in to your foot specifically and after 10 or so routes and the painful hotspots of climbing shoes should go away.
In addition, climbing shoes come in 3 different styles: Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive. Beginners will be looking for Neutral climbing shoes for a more natural, flat footed shoe. On top of that there are a variety of different features like stiffness, uppers, durability, all of which have to do with comfort and performance. This guide is here to explain all that you need to know to help you not look like total “noob” walking around the crag or gym like a cowboy because your feet hurt hurt so bad.
First things first, lets cover what all the climbing shoe terms mean…
Things to know before purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes
Fitting your climbing shoes
There’s a huge stigma among climbing that your shoes should be as tight and uncomfortable as possible. It’s true that you do want your climbing shoes to fit snug, but they definitely should not be uncomfortably tight, especially when you’re a beginner.
Realistically, your shoes should fit tight enough to where you can’t wiggle your toes nor should there be “hotspots” or places that are extremely abrasive on your foot. In general, climbing shoes are worn half a size to two sizes down from a regular shoe but that’s a big gray area which is why it’s important to try on climbing shoes yourself. It’s also important to take into account shoe style and materials as I’ll explain below.
Try on the exact pair of shoes you’re interested in
You now know that you should size down on climbing shoes and try them on in person, but there there are things to think about when trying on shoes. Sizing can vary quite a bit between climbing brands and just because those size 35s in the mens La Sportiva Mythos fit perfectly doesn’t mean a Scarpa Origin size 35 will be even close to fitting right.
Sizing varies significantly across brands and can even vary among shoes within a brand. For example, the Tarantulace will fit much different than the Mythos and those are both La Sportiva Shoes. Before buying your climbing shoes, be sure to try on the exact pair of shoes you’re considering.
Mens vs Womens shoes
This is rock climbing. People won’t know nor care if you’re wearing the mens or womens version of climbing shoes. While brands do make climbing shoes in both genders, women don’t have to wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa. More often than not I actually wear mens climbing shoes and that’s because mens climbing shoes are made wider than women’s.
Point being, don’t necessarily assume that you need to wear the corresponding gender style of the climbing shoe. Pick your shoe based on fit, narrow or wide but remember, look at the brand’s sizing chart to convert from women’s US sizing to men’s US sizing.
Rubber and Rands
Probably the most confusing terms in this blog are the rands, soles, and uppers. You probably know what soles of a shoe are and it’s the same with climbing shoes. The soles of climbing shoes are made of rubber but they vary in thickness between brands. Thicker soles can endure more milage and can support your foot more. Thinner soles are more flexible and mold to your foot but force you to develop more foot strength to support yourself.
Uppers are as they sound, the top part of the shoe. This part of climbing shoes are made of leather or synthetic leather. See below to find out the difference.
The rands are the are in between the uppers and the soles. It’s also made of rubber and covers the tips of your toes. Rands wear away fastest so thicker rands last longer however it’ll make the toebox of a shoe feel tighter. I prefer thinner rands so my toes don’t hurt while climbing.
Synthetic vs Leather
I’m going to be throwing around terms like synthetic, leather and mixed often in this blog. What these terms refers to are the material that the uppers (the part of the shoe that touches the top of your foot) are made of.
Leather uppers breathe much more than synthetic leather materials but they also stretch 1 full size. Because of this you are going to want to purchase your shoes on the tighter side because they will stretch significantly however, that could be a downside for a beginner who wants maximum comfort. You will have to deal with tight shoes until they break in to their full size.
Synthetic leather on the other hand doesn’t stretch so you can purchase you shoes exactly as you’d like them to fit in year. Synthetics don’t endure wear and tear as well but it doesn’t really matter if you won’t be climbing outdoors. Again, synthetics aren’t quite as soft and breathable as leathers so its a tradeoff.
Velcro vs Lace-up
Climbing shoes are usually velcro or lace up style. Your preference between the two could be affect your decision on climbing shoes.
I personally like that with velcro, I can wear my shoes tighter for higher performance and then I can take them off and put them on really fast when I’m not climbing. If you’d rather not have to put on and take off your shoes often, then you might want more form fitting lace up shoes. Lace up shoes often mold to the top of your foot better.
You can almost ALWAYS find climbing shoes at a discounted price online with the help of REI Outlet, Amazon, and Backcountry. We post current prices at multiple different locations on this blog so you can get the best deal on some beginner climbing shoes.
Remember to convert
Usually when you shop online for climbing shoes you’ll be purchasing in EU sizing. Be sure to take note of the EU size of the shoe you try on and if not, be sure to convert your shoe size properly if you only remember the US sizing. Pro tip: Always use the sizing chart on the corresponding brand’s website.
Now that we’ve covered the important stuff, here are what I think are the best beginner climbing shoes.
Top 6 Climbing Shoes for Beginners
1. Five Ten Rogue
The Rogue is my top pick for beginner climbing shoes. The Rogues were actually my very first pair of climbing shoes and even after owning and testing out a diversity of other climbing shoes, these are still my top pick. Why? Because while they’re soft and form fitting, they’re rugged and durable.
The Rogues have some of the most comfortable rubber soles of all climbing shoes so your foot can flex and move around footholds. The rubber itself practically molds around your foot with its supportive midsoles, providing ultra awareness of your footwork all the way up the climb.
The Rogues don’t lack durability. While the rubber is soft it’s also 4mm thick and along with some tough mixed leather/synthetic uppers, they can withstand plenty of rough terrain.
As far as the tightness, I like that these shoes can be worn tight without being uncomfortable. Along with the form fitting feeling of this shoe, the toe-box has a bit more room than other climbing shoes removing and of the common “hot spots” beginners feel in tight climbing shoes.
The velcro option also makes them great to take on and off really fast so your feet can breathe between routes.
2. La Sportiva Mythos
Standard price: $135
Pros: By far the most comfortable climbing shoe on the market
Cons: The price is a bit overkill for a beginner who may not be climbing that much
The Mythos are without a doubt the most comfortable climbing shoe EVER. The Mythos are built for anyone and anything from gym climbing to long single pitch days, multi pitch routes, and crack climbing. They have a rugged layer of rubber making them perform on any type of rock.
The Mythos aren’t the most suitable for intermediate to advanced bouldering but for a beginner who wants weightless shoes to get them onto the V0-V5s, the Mythos will be just fine.
The toe to ankle lace-ups an amazing feature that make them fit just right for your foot whether you have and narrow or wide toe box. Unlike most climbing shoes, the Mythos don’t have any synthetic leather making the inside super soft and unabrasive while make the uppers form to fit your foot. Of course the only big downfall is the price. If you’ve got the money, there’s no real downside to the Mythos. Due to the price, the Mythos might not be necessary if you’re a beginner who’s just getting started at your local climbing gym, especially if you’re still climbing grades below 5.10.
3. Black Diamond Momentum
Standard price: $95
Pros: Extremely breathable, soft, and comfortable
Cons: Non durable uppers for any sort of foot jamming on real rock
Just looking at these shoes, it’s not hard to see why they’re a great beginner climbing shoe. The uppers are unlike any other climbing shoe. They’re knit which allows for extreme breathability and flexibility. This is especially appealing for those who hate the claustrophobic feeling of climbing shoes.
These climbing shoes come in either velcro or lace up version to suit your preference. The Momentums have the perfect amount durability in the rubber for beginners.
These shoes could definitely be seen as having a lot of downsides for more advanced climbers but for a beginner who wants total comfort, the Black Diamonds have been known to deliver. Plus, you can often find the Momentums at a discounted price on REI, Amazon, and Backcountry (see below).
4. Evolv Defy
Standard price: $90
Pros: A fantastic all around beginner shoe at the best price
Cons: Slightly stiff
Much like the Rogues, the Defy shoe is an amazing all around shoe with a soft interior, due to an antimicrobial lining, high volume rubber, and easy on and off velcro. The Defy provides all day comfort from the gym to the crag.
While the thick rubber of the soles make them slightly less flexible than the Rogues, they are more durable to rocks like sharp limestone and high volume use in the gym.
Again like the Rogue, the Defy has a a thin rand and spacious toe-box which is often the most uncomfortable part for beginner climbers. The Defy is a velcro shoe with a split tongue, pretty much as easy as it get to put on climbing shoes and take them off fast.
5. La Sportiva Tarantulace
Standard price: $100
Pros: Very neutral fit, flexible uppers, and form fitting lace-ups
Cons: Very stiff, unsupportive, and not “sticky”
Much like the Mythos, the Tarantaluce caters to a natural, flat fit which is extremely ideal for beginning climbers.
While La Sportiva certainly goes above and beyond with the Mythos as far as comfort, it’s surprising to see the extreme stiffness on the soles of the Tarantulace. The shoes are not uncomfortable, after all they are among our list of best beginner climbing shoes, however the rubber on the Tarantulace is one of the stiffest shoes on this list because of the 5mm rubber.
On top of that, I wouldn’t really consider the rubber of these shoes to be “sticky” however it’s important to note that as a beginner climber this doesn’t really matter and it’s why we’ve still mentioned the Tarantulace. Stickiness matters more when climbing real rock or stepping onto the tiny little gym holds of a 5.13.
Even still, many would consider these the most comfortable shoe on this list because of the flexible uppers and the long toe to ankle lace-up feature that allows the uppers to mold around your foot.
Note: The womens version of this shoe runs extra narrow
6. Scarpa Origin
Standard price: $90
Pros: A great all around beginner shoe
Cons: Stiff and bulky
The final climbing shoe on this list is the Scarpa Origin. The name says it all. This is a great base to build your climbing off of. The Scarpa has all the typical feature of a comfortable climbing shoe: velcro on/off, all leather uppers plus cushioning near the velcro straps, thin rands, and unstitched interiors. The Origin’s only downside is the 5mm thick rubber soles which can feel bulky for a beginner. The thick soles do provide more durability and milage before retiring them but it could be overly thick for the intro level gym climber.
Other Noteable Mentions
- Evolv Nighthawk – A cheaper but slightly bulkier version of the Defy
- La Sportiva Finale – I haven’t tested these out firsthand, but I hear these are a good alternative to the
- Five Ten Anasazi VCS – Almost identical to the Rogues but built with a moderate sole for intermediate climbers
- Scarpa Force V – A thinner, flexible, and more form fitting alternative to the Origin but $50 more expensive
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- Best Beginner Climbing Destinations around the World
- Best Beginner Rock Climbing Spots in Europe