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 pair of shoes is significantly more comfortable. Climbing shoes break into your foot specifically and after 10 or so routes 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, and 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 a total “noob” walking around the crag or gym like a cowboy because your feet hurt so bad.
First things first, let’s cover what all the climbing shoe terms mean…
Or, you can just click here to jump straight into a breakdown of the best beginner climbing shoes.
I also updated this blog to include the best-advanced climbing shoe for when you are ready to start sending bigger projects. Don’t forget to download my free Fearless on Lead meditation to help you overcome any mindset blocks you have on the wall.
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. You do indeed want your climbing shoes to fit snugly, 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 differently 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.
Related: Best Women Climbing Pants
Men’s vs Women’s shoes
This is rock climbing. People won’t know nor care if you’re wearing the men’s or women’s version of climbing shoes. While brands do make climbing shoes for both genders, women don’t have to wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa. More often than not I wear men’s climbing shoes and that’s because men’s climbing shoes are made wider than women’s.
The point is, 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 the 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 is made of leather or synthetic leather. See below to find out the difference.
The rands are the area 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 refer to is 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 into their full size.
Synthetic leather on the other hand doesn’t stretch so you can purchase your shoes exactly as you’d like them to fit in a year. Synthetics don’t endure wear and tear as well but it doesn’t matter if you won’t be climbing outdoors. Again, synthetics aren’t quite as soft and breathable as leather so it’s a tradeoff.
Velcro vs Lace-up
Climbing shoes are usually velcro or lace-up style. Your preference between the two could affect your decision on climbing shoes.
I like that with velcro, I can wear my shoes tighter for higher performance and then I can take them off and put them on 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.
Comparing Beginner Climbing Shoes
|Black Diamond Momentum
Top 6 Climbing Shoes for Beginners
1. Best All Around Beginner Climbing Shoe: Five Ten Rogue
Standard price: $100
Pros: My favorite all-around beginner shoe. Soft and durable.
Cons: Wears down easily on hard rock
Click to shop for men or women
The Rogue is undeniably my top pick for beginner climbing shoes! The Rogues were 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 they’re soft and form-fitting while also being rugged and durable.
Sadly, when Adidas bought out Five Ten, they chose to discontinue many of their climbing shoe models. On the bright side, you can still find these shoes on Amazon.
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 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 of the common “hot spots” beginners feel in tight climbing shoes.
The velcro option also makes them great to take on and off fast so your feet can breathe between routes.
2. Best High-Performing Beginner Climbing Shoe: 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
There’s a reason why the Mythos is one of the oldest and best-selling climbing shoes of all time and has recently released a 30th-anniversary design. Mythos are without a doubt the most comfortable climbing shoe EVER.
These shoes 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-hiple lace-ups an amazing feature that makes 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 making 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. Best Comfortable Beginner Climbing Shoe: Black Diamond Momentum
Standard price: $95
Pros: Extremely breathable, soft, and comfortable
Cons: Nondurable uppers for any sort of foot jamming on real rock
Just looking at these shoes, it’s not hard to see why they’re great beginner climbing shoes. The uppers are unlike any other climbing shoe. The knit fabric 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 versions to suit your preference. The Momentums have the perfect amount of durability in the rubber for beginners.
These shoes could 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. Best Beginner Climbing Shoe for All Day Use: 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 makes 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 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 gets to put on climbing shoes and take them off fast.
5. Best Durable Beginner Climbing Shoe: Scarpa Origin
Standard price: $90
Pros: A great all-around beginner shoe
Cons: Maybe a bit 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 features 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.
6. Best Beginner Climbing Shoe for Versaitily: La Sportiva Tarantulace
Standard price: $100
Pros: Very neutral fit, flexible uppers, and form-fitting lace-ups
Cons: Very stiff, unsupportive, and not “sticky”
On other lists of the best beginner climbing shoes, you may see the Tarantulace at the top of many lists. And while no list of beginner climbing shoes is complete without their mention, they’re not the most comfortable shoes.
Much like the Mythos, the Tarantaluce caters to a natural, flat fit which is ideal for beginning climbers. However, it’s very surprising to see such extreme stiffness on the soles of the Tarantulace when compared to the Mythos.
The shoes are not uncomfortable, after all, they are among our list of best beginner climbing shoes, however, the rubber on the Tarantula is one of the stiffest shoes on this list because of the 5mm rubber.
The Taratulace isn’t a top performer in terms of edging and smearing but when it comes to beginner climbing shoes, it doesn’t matter.
Even still, many would consider these the most comfortable shoes 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.
While maintaining comfort, they also provide versatility with durable rands and strong edges.
Note: The women’s version of this shoe runs extra narrow.
Other Notable Mentions
- Evolv Nighthawk – A cheaper but slightly bulkier version of the Defy.
- Five Ten Anasazi VCS – Almost identical to the Rogues but built with a moderate sole for intermediate climbers (note the
- Five Ten Moccasym– Great trad shoe; An around, user-friendly shoe that you can wear all day but will turn your feet red
- La Sportiva Finale – I haven’t tested these out firsthand, but I hear these are a good alternative to the Anasazis
- Scarpa Force V – A thinner, flexible, and more form-fitting alternative to the Origin but $50 more expensive
Best Advanced Rock Climbing Shoes
- The Five Ten Anasazi Pro (Velco) – these shoes are good for everything and great for nothing
- La Sportiva Muira – Molds to your foot making them great for edging; Horrible for smearing; Laces allow you to tighten them up after stretches out
- La Sportiva Katana – Great for big walls
- La Sportiva Testarossa – best-advanced sport climbing shoe in
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