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On the lookout for the best rock climbing shoes available today? Over the last 10 years, our testers squeezed their feet into 60 different models to bring you the most comprehensive climbing shoe review in existence. For our latest update, we compared 28 of the best models, ranging from classic stand-bys to those featuring the latest in climbing shoe technology. We evaluate each shoe based on our metrics of comfort, edging, sensitivity, steep terrain proficiency, and crack climbing. We've identified the best shoes for a weekend at the boulders, your next gym session, or the best shoes for beginners and climbers on a budget.
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Despite its considerable price tag, the La Sportiva Katana Lace is an exceedingly popular shoe, and it only took a couple of pitches for our testers to understand why. The Katana supplies astounding edging power and precision in a subtly downturned design that doesn't require you to wholly abandon your comfort. The narrow toe profile solidifies this shoe's credentials for both steep pocket pulling and thin crack climbing. Add to this the stiff-yet-sensitive feel of its Vibram XS Edge sole, and you have a shoe that's perfectly suited for nearly any type of roped climbing. We are also happy to report that we reaffirm this praise for the recently updated version of the Katana Lace.
The Drago is a favorite shoe among our wide-footed testers, but some slim-footed climbers complained of a sloppy fit. This was most noticeable during pure edging when the perceived sloppiness caused the shoes to occasionally ooze off micro edges. The Drago is also a poor choice for crack climbing because its exceptional sensitivity will make this already painful type of climbing even more painful. Despite these flaws, we believe this shoe offers more sensitivity than any other. So pick up a pair if you desire the confidence boost from being able to truly feel the rock you're standing on.
America's top trad climber, Tommy Caldwell, helped design these high-top powerhouses that now bear his initials. But don't attribute the popularity of the TC Pro shoes to Tommy's celebrity; rather, they owe their ubiquitous status at American trad meccas to their outstanding ability to slay cracks. They're particularly good at doing that all day long, for what would otherwise be pitch after painful pitch in an ordinary shoe. To achieve this, they're built on a stiff P3 midsole that provides a sturdy platform for enduring relentless foot jams while also offering excellent support for utilizing tiny edges. The updated version of these shoes also addresses several common complaints about the originals, making these already desirable shoes even more appealing.
Despite their ubiquity, the TC Pro really should be viewed as a specialized piece of equipment. Although they offer unmatched performance in cracks that are hand-sized and wider, their large toe box is less effective for thin splitters. The flat sole that keeps your foot in a comfortable, relaxed position also limits the usefulness of these shoes on overhanging terrain. Nevertheless, these drawbacks do little to detract from the TC Pro's overall awesomeness, and it's our top recommendation for long multi-pitch adventures or moderate crack cragging.
Black Diamond made a splash with their entry into the climbing shoe scene a few years ago. Since then, their shoes have yet to gain the same level of popularity as their beloved camming devices, but one model that might eventually get there is the Aspect. With a stiff, neutral sole, it supplies a powerful edging platform that feels somewhat similar to our favorite trad shoe, the La Sportiva TC Pro. The Aspect also employs similar laces and a padded leather upper to keep your feet from screaming during sustained crack jamming. And with its low-top design, we were spared the complaints about Achilles pain that we occasionally hear due to the high-top upper of other trad shoes.
Authors Jack Cramer and Matt Bento analyzed the data from all this testing and used it to select the award-winning models highlighted above. Both of these guys are veterans of the Yosemite Search and Rescue team and possess more than a decade of experience on the stone. They also share an affection for a wide variety of climbing disciplines, ranging from low-boulders to massive big walls and everything in between. They ensured that each shoe in this review faced the torque of numerous crack jams along with micro edges, smears, and pockets on an array of rock types. In the end, we concluded that no rock climbing shoe can do it all. But hopefully with the aid of our insights, you can find the shoe that's best suited for your goals and preferences.
Our favorite shoes are the ones that have a good balance of strengths. Manufacturers often seem to be trying to design a shoe that can do it all, but the reality is that all design involves tradeoffs. Different styles of climbing also require different performance characteristics and it's impossible to incorporate all of these characteristics into a single shoe. Over the years, some of us have narrowed our shoe quiver down to 3 pairs. One for true splitter cracks, another for hard sport climbing and bouldering, and a comfy third pair for all-day romps up long multi-pitch routes. If you're able to focus your energy on only one or two of these disciplines, we're jealous and you may be able to get away with fewer shoes. Other folks may need to expand beyond 3 pairs to enjoy the best performance in specific situations.
An ideal shoe for crack climbing would be wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, but low volume in the toe so they could still squeeze in narrower cracks from thin hands down to fingers. Tight or aggressive shoes can cause your toes to curl and make it harder to wiggle them into small cracks. Therefore, the ideal crack shoe would also be sized comfortably with a neutral sole to ensure that your toes lay flat. Fortunately, several shoes meet these basic criteria so the choice becomes finding the model that fits the best and is suited to your climbing goals.
We tested crack climbing performance at several crags including Idaho's City of Rocks, Utah's Indian Creek, and the hallowed walls of Yosemite Valley. In general, narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V helped reduce foot pain from lateral compression. Beyond shoe width, softer shoes usually hurt more than their stiffer counterparts. For example, the La Sportiva TC Pro and the Five Ten Grandstone both have similar high-top designs, but our testers noticed less pain and foot fatigue with the stiffer TC Pro. When it comes to shoe closures, laces generally feel more comfortable and fare better on long crack climbs. Velcro straps, in contrast, can create irritating pressure points in certain areas, and the buckles can come undone when moving your feet in or out of a crack.
Despite our desire to find the perfect crack shoe, we have yet to find one that's ideal for all types of cracks. There is simply too much variation in cracks for one model to hope to excel at all sizes or rock types. For most people climbing moderate cracks (i.e., graded 5.10 and under), we recommend a high-top design. Moderate cracks are generally wide and/or less-than-vertical. For these cracks, high-top shoes will guard your ankles during jams hand-size or wider, while their stiffness and flat soles improve comfort and reduce foot fatigue. Our testers' favorite design in this style is the La Sportiva TC Pro, but there is plenty to like about similar models, such as the softer Five Ten Grandstone or the wider Scarpa Maestro Mid Eco. High-tops shoes, however, can cause Achilles pain for some people. If that's the case, we recommend the Black Diamond Aspect, which is a low-top, trad-oriented design that could also save you some money.
As the grades rise, some climbers swear by low volume, slipper-style shoes like the Five Ten Moccasym, especially for thin cracks. If you size them up from their normal sizing to allow your toes to lay flat, you can create an extremely narrow toe profile that will let you cram extra rubber into the slimmest openings. Our testers agree that the hard cracks of the future will likely be climbed in shoes that can squeeze into thinner (sub-0.75-inch) cracks, but argue over whether slipper designs can supply enough edging performance for all rock types. Difficult granite cracks, for example, often involve bouldery cruxes where shoes also need to be able to utilize micro edges and face holds. The La Sportiva Katana is perfectly equipped for this kind of test piece. The Katana is more supportive than a soft slipper in cracks, while the lace closure locks your foot in place.
The La Sportiva Skwama is another of our favorite crack climbing shoes because it's shaped perfectly for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the upper also offers a little extra grip and protection for sore feet, and the single velcro closure remains mostly out of the way while jamming your feet into cracks hand-sized and up. This shoe is ideal for Indian Creek or Zion, where the thin cracks on cutting-edge free climbs are often too small to accept higher volume shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pro.
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