Summer is here, lockdown is easing and we are all venturing out and about in the mountains again – albeit cautiously.
Whilst we’re always sad to say goodbye to winter, the transition to warmer days brings renewed psyche for summer adventures.
After all, when the snow melts and the crags appear it’s time to dig out those rock shoes and go climbing!
Finding the right climbing shoe can be a tricky business. With over 30 companies making shoes and with the largest companies sometimes making 20+ variants, finding the right shoe for your specific foot shape, ability, climbing style, and ambition can be a mind boggling – and potentially expensive – business.
For the purposes of this test, we’ve identified four categories – Beginner, Bouldering (indoor and outdoor), All-Round and Sport – and selected a men’s rock climbing shoe for each. Women’s shoes to come in our next blog post!
If you’re looking for more in-depth buying advice however, check out the video below and associated info at the end of this article but most importantly please, please visit your local climbing shop to try before you buy.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS – A GREAT FIRST PAIR
Once you have decided you’re into climbing, you need to have a think about whether you want a shoe with the potential to take you outdoors onto real rock from time to time or a shoe that’s exclusively designed to feed your new indoor gym rat status.
Wave strap system for fast and flexible closure. S-7 super sticky rubber. New FKJ last with wider square toe profile for a variety of foot shapes. Comfortable smooth microfibre upper. Twin ply weave. Easily washable. Vegan friendly.
Choosing a technical looking shoe such as the Veloce with its many elite-looking features would have been unthinkable a few years ago as it would simply have been deemed ‘too much shoe’ for a newbie.
These days however, most people are learning to climb in modern bouldering centres where progress can be rapid so there’s no longer any point in limiting your growth as a climber by starting at the bottom with an old-school clumpy, stiff, thick-soled beginner shoe.
Scarpa’s Veloce is a flexible shoe that will teach you how to feel with your feet, and get to grips with heel and toe hooking in a modern indoor gym – all in relative comfort. If you’re looking to move from V1 to V7 with a greater understanding of how to use your feet, we believe the Veloce is the weapon for the job – a climbing shoe that will help you progress through the grades whilst developing excellent technique.
With its comfortable feel and excellent rubber, the Veloce is also a great shout for committed climbers looking for an easy-to-wear shoe for long sessions in the gym or system board. All – or most – of the gain without any of the pain!
The limit to the Veloce’s powers comes if you’re a beginner with frequent outdoor aspirations as it offers none of the longevity, stability and foot protection you’ll need if you’re looking to learn how to climb on real rock. Take a look at the Ocun Crest LU if this sounds like you.
The tester normally wears a 44.5/45 street shoe and tested a 42.5 Veloce for a ‘performance’ level fit.
A 43 Veloce would offer a more comfortable beginner’s fit.
Size according to intended use.
Newbies who are committed to learning great technique indoors from the outset of their climbing journey and don’t mind spending a bit more to look and feel like a pro.
BEST FOR ALL-ROUNDERS – A MULTI-TALENTED SHOE
A good all round shoe should excel in most climbing disciplines with the exception of hard big volume bouldering indoors which requires very specific features. Sizing down in a good all round shoe will provide a performance (tight) fit whilst going up a size will deliver an all-day long mountain route style fit.
Speed lacing system. 4mm Vibram XS Edge grip – aka harder rubber compound for edge and small hold stability. 8 panel stretch Dentex lining. Leather upper. LaSpoFlex 1.1mm midsole for stiffness and stability.
In almost every category of climbing shoe the newer models take the prizes but the 20+ year old Miura has remained at the forefront of the ‘all-round’ category for years – and for very good reason. Put simply, this shoe is really good at doing most things to a very high level which may explains why it continues to be the shoe of choice for many of the world’s best climbers. It really is quite remarkable that with a just few design and material tweaks, the basic design has remained stable for longer than most of its users have been climbing.
Designed to be a precise yet solid all-round performer, the slightly downturned Miura appears competitive and capable out of the box without packing too much aggro. Sized down for a performance fit, the mid to narrow forefoot eases the toes to the front of the shoe, leaving little space and making this shoe an edging and pocket master. The slightly asymmetric (offset toe position) last, should fit most foot shapes unless you have a particularly wide foot which may force the rand to over hang the shoe edge ( you do not want that).
Depending on your own climbing desires, sizing the shoe on the smaller size will make it a potential 9b weapon but by merely adding a EU size or two, the Miura will be equally at home on a multipitch VS in the Welsh or Scottish hills.
On rock, the feel is precise, firm and structured and it’s extremely effective on small footholds, pockets and in thin cracks. Offering good friction, sensitivity, precision on edges with a reasonably comfortable fit – the Miura has the capability to deal the majority of the demands of modern climbing which is what makes it such a cracking all-round shoe.
Over a few sessions the shoe moulds and gives a little but looses none of its performance….that is until the sole and edge wears. If you are looking to pad around on slabs of granite, smear on gritstone slopers, or get 3D radical on the tufas in Kalymnos, there are better alternatives, but considering that Adam Ondra has worn the Miura for years on his hardest routes, if you have an issue with the shoe, just remember it may not be the tool at fault but the worksman – aka YOU!
Choose the Miura and you’ll be joining the many thousand-strong band of aspirational climbers all round the globe who not only want to affiliate themselves with climbing legends past and present, but who understand the shoe’s all-round potential to help them to achieve their own personal heights in the sport.
The tester normally wears a 44.5/45 street shoe and tested a 42 Miura for a performance level fit.
A 43 Miura would ease out for a comfortable all day fit for multipitch cragging and trad routes.
Size according to intended use.
High level steeper edging and pockets routes if sized small (ie Malham) or everyday trad and cragging if worn in a size closer to your street shoe.
BEST FOR BOULDERING – TIME TO GET CREATIVE
Whether indoors or outside, bouldering shoes tend to be softer so they can mould to the texture of big smooth volumes and holds. They should also have a good heel cup for heel hooking and rubber over the toe box for toe hooking. Think 3d creative moves and a shoe that you can use in any orientation.
Velcro closure for precise fit. 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip for durability and friction. Bi-Tension rand drives power through the toes and into the high-friction toe patch, and also holds the heel during heel hooks. Microsuede upper with minimal stretch. Soft and supple technical shoe designed to deliver top level friction on overhanging steep moves, glassy and polished rock and smearing on slabs.
Having heard many great things about the Instinct VSR, we were very much looking forward to putting this shoe to the test! Taking advice from committed Instinct users who advised that they do not stretch much we went for the largest size of any of the shoes chosen for this test. The sock woven construction is pretty comfortable and any space initially found above my toes due to the high toe box, quickly disappeared as the shoe moulded to my feet over the first few hours of climbing in them.
So why did we choose the Instinct VSR as our Bouldering shoe over the excellent La Sportiva Miura or the similar Red Chilli Voltage 2? Quite simple really. The Instinct VSR is a much more supple shoe than the Miura which means it delivers superior heel hook and high friction performance. Likewise, it is softer in the forefoot than the Voltage which allows you to achieve greater rubber contact on pushy boulder moves. Any problem that needs you to toe or heel hook, or smear on a shiny rock patch is easier to tackle with the VSR on your feet as opposed to a shoe with more edging power focus.
Excellent performers when things get slopey or three dimensional and/or you need friction over sharp small hold performance, the Instinct VSR’s truly are fantastic. Shod with XS Grip they are as sticky as raspberry jam on new jeans, soft as a warm bap on a Sunday morning and just as reassuring.
The tester normally wears a 44.5/45 street shoe and tested a 43 Instinct VSR for a mid performance level fit.
Mid to wide over the mid foot, the VSRs don’t give much so do not be tempted to try and force them out. It’s worth leaving your foot more open (flatter) in the shoe rather than squeezing them in so you can get more of the rubber side down and max out on the great friction they provide.
Funky boulder problems and slabs where friction moves are required and technical steep bouldering where heel and toe hooks are the order of the day. Especially good for climbers under 60kg with durability on their minds as the XS Grip will last longer on the foot of a lightweight!
BEST FOR SPORT CLIMBING – THE SHARP END
Sport climbing is all about working through the grades, leading steep routes (indoors and outdoors), pushing your limits and refining technique and performance. As a result, sport shoes need a bit more stiffness in the sole unit as you will often be standing on small edges and looking to gain height on moves by driving force and reach through your toes. Choice of rubber will be dictated by the rock that you like climbing on. For example, softer rubber offering good friction, where as UK limestone demands more edging ability and therefore a stiffer shoe with harder rubber.
Offset velcro straps for customised fit. Vibram XS Grip. Aggressive down turned shape. Anatomically designed last. RC tension midsole for precision. Sock-like liner prevents pressure points. Knitted fabric tongue for breathability.
Lining up the specs of the Scarpa Instinct VSR and the Red Chili Voltage 2, you would think they are the same shoe, they both have XS Grip sole, both are marketed as bouldering and sport shoes and both come with a sock woven upper over a wider last.
The crucial difference is that Voltage 2 is more aggressively downturned than the VSR which has the effect of driving the toes into the front of the shoe. Combine this with the Voltage 2’s stiffer toe box and mid foot which delivers superior edging performance, and you’ve got all the credentials we look for in a sport climbing shoe.
Essentially we’re talking about more stability which translates into being able to stand on your feet for longer on small holds with minimum pain and less effort. There’s no doubt that it works exceptionally well as a bouldering shoe but it’s the sticky sole combined with the force and drive that makes it such a great shoe for challenging sport routes where you need to make repeated long reaches in steep terrain.
If you’re projecting on Tunnel Wall in Glen Coe or on the gently overhanging long routes in the Verdon George, leave the Voltage 2 in the car and take your Miuras instead as the softer rubber may creep more that you want. But when things really kick over and you need sticky foot power and great edging combined with a good heel cup and toe box, the Voltage 2 is absolutely where it’s at.
The tester wears a 44.5/45 street shoe and tested a 42.5 Voltage for a mid performance level fit.
They are wide fit over the forefoot, but have a lower volume over the mid foot. They do not give a lot, but over time mould around the foot.
Climbers with wider lower volume feet moving on steeper terrain and looking for top quality friction and edging performance in equal measure.
BEST FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE CRANKERS – TOE POWER
Designed to excel on the steepest competition walls and the hardest routes and problems, high performance shoes need to deliver great friction all-around the foot and tend to feature severely downturned toes designed to stop you cutting loose. At this performance end of the scale, a precise fit is paramount. No dead or empty baggy spaces here – you need to be prepared to suffer a bit of pain bedding to gain the ultimate fit for the hardest movements. No pain, no gain as they say….
Single Velcro strap closure. 3.5mm outsole with Five Ten’s legendary Stealth C4 rubber for friction and longevity. Stealth HF rubber for excellent scumming and hooking. Compressed fibre midsole. Synthetic leather/fabric unlined upper
The Five Ten (now owned by Adidas) Hiangle is a heavily downturned, high performance sport and bouldering shoe that excels on steep terrain both indoors and outside
Big brand Adidas’s purchase of the rather more niche Five Ten a few years back was always going to be controversial. A global mainstream giant purchasing a comparatively small brand just when climbing was on its way to becoming an Olympic sport? Hmm…
Add in a clear downturn in manufacturing quality on the first few batches and things were definitely looking a bit dodgy.
And then the Hiangle showed up – a shoe that is single handedly silencing the critics.
Five Ten’s Stealth C4 rubber is the undeniable cult favourite amongst performance climbers – performing well in all situations, it’s durable, does not roll when edging, sticks like a burnt lasagne on a baking tray and retains its structure over the life of the shoe.
The 2020 synthetic vision has a slightly softer structure allowing it to compete indoors with shoes with a much softer last but can still give you ballerina-esque toe point stability on the smallest holds and steepest projects.
It has a deep mid to narrow toe box designed to bunch up the front of the shoe and get the rubber power down when climbing. Of all the shoes on test we found the hooked downturn of the sole actually allowed you to hold your foot/toe in on the Woodie, when others with a more neutral last lost that advantage. This downturned shape is likely to give you a mechanical advantage on really steep routes that overhang by 20 degrees or more…
Whilst the Hiangle is a genuinely impressive high-end climbing shoe, it may not work for all. The forefoot shape of the sole just behind the toe box does not allow for feet that are naturally wider in the mid foot. This means that for some, a performance fit will mean that you will lose the full effective edge of the edging sole due to rand bulge, and effectively you will just be using the front ¼ of the shoe rather than the entire front ½ for edging. Ultimately this makes it best suited to narrower feet.
My biggest issue however is with the synthetic upper as it really grips and holds the skin. This makes it hard to get on when you have sweaty feet and out of the box it can pinch the skin on your heel and over the toes. This can be uncomfortable when breaking in and before the inner naturally becomes oiled or dirtied up. Conversely it does not roll or slip under pressure so it’s game on if you have no issues with a bit of breaking in skin burn.
This said, if the fit works for you, the Hiangles are a weapon of the highest order. They also have the best fitting heel of all the shoes on test – positive, comfortable, and idea for heel hooks and scumming on tufa.
The tester normally wears a 44.5/45 street shoe and tested a 44 Highangle for a performance level fit.
A 44.5 would ease out for a comfortable fit for long indoor boulder sessions.
NB – The Hiangle fitted the closest to the tester’s normal street shoe size than all of the other shoes on test. Do NOT be tempted to size down more than half a euro size, or you’ll be on a one way road to painsville.
Steep routes with pockets and smears, or indoor walls where Olympic performance friction is required.
MORE TECH CLIMBING SHOE INFO:
Laces – best for fine adjustment of fit and performance or easing the tension on longer outings
Velcro – best for simple quick on and off
Stiff rubber – best for edging, longevity and the heavier climber eg Vibram XS Edge = Stiff for edging
Soft rubber – best for bouldering and rock types that require high friction moves eg Vibram XS Grip1-2 for higher friction requirements and Ocun shoes Cat 1 stiff – Cat 5 softest
Downturn – aggressive shoes with a rubber heel strap that drives the foot forward and toes down for edges and super steep climbing
Split sole – allows for mid foot flex whilst retaining edge stability