Rock-climber

Looking for the absolute best beginner climbing shoes out there? You’re in the right place.

Let’s face the facts – climbing in tennis shoes is only fun on V0 and most gyms don’t want your sweaty bare feet smooshing into the handholds. Likewise, climbing barefoot outdoors can give you some gnarly toe calluses. 

If you plan on sticking with the sport of rock climbing and improving your technical skill it’s critical to invest in a pair of climbing shoes!

Climbing shoes are very different from street shoes and have all sorts of different designs suited for specific climbing situations. Learning the ways climbing shoes are unique and how certain features can suit your needs will benefit you greatly in the search for your first pair. 

In this guide you will find:

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The Climbing Shoe Recipe

Climbing shoes differ from the sneakers in your closet in a few essential ways. 

Snugness

When properly fitted, climbing shoes should hug your feet tighter than normal shoes in order to maximize sensitivity to the rock and stay super secure on your feet. For this reason, your shoe size in climbing shoes will generally be smaller than in regular shoes. 

Some shoes will feel better than others; each company has their own design that may or may not feel good on your feet. That is why it is super important you go into a store and try them on before committing to a purchase. 

Unfortunately, climbing shoes are not cheap, even beginner climbing shoes, so you want to make sure you get the right ones for you. 

Shoe Material 

There are two types of material that climbing shoes are made of – leather and synthetic

Although leather shoes are more durable, easier to deodorize, and stretch with use, many folks prefer synthetic as it is vegan friendly. 

When fitting the best beginner climbing shoes for you, be wary of these traits for each material type. 

The rule of thumb is to downsize so that your toes very lightly push up against the front of the shoe. However, if you’re going with the synthetic, do not downsize as your shoes will not stretch much over time. 

Also, unlined leather shoes stretch more than lined leather shoes. If purchasing an unlined shoe, consider downsizing a full size. If purchasing a lined leather shoe, you only need to downsize about a half size or less. 

Rubber Material

The rubber covering the sole and toe box (a.k.a the “outsole”) matters a great deal on beginner climbing shoes as this is the part of the shoe that comes into most contact with the rock. Rubber firmness and thickness, in particular, greatly affect the shoes’ best technical use as well as their durability.

When climbing you will primarily use two types of footwork techniques: edging and smearing

Edging is for footholds that are too thin to place your entire foot on. For these small edges, you have to balance a small part of your foot, or even just a toe, on the hold to not fall off. 

Smearing is necessary on slab routes. Slab refers to walls that are lower-angle, or less than vertical. Slab routes often have less options for footholds, and thus sometimes require you to push your feet hard against the sheer rock and solely rely upon the friction created by this method to move up. 

Climber in gym

Firmer rubber is best for edging and precise footwork on small holds. 

Softer rubber is more flexible, stickier, and thus better used for smearing. 

Thicker rubber will last longer and also helps with edging. As a beginner climber, your footwork may not be the best, so getting a thicker rubber is a good idea if you don’t want to burn through your shoes super quick. That being said, all shoe rubber, no matter how talented of a climber you are, wears through eventually. Getting your shoes re-soled is a cost effective alternative to purchasing a brand new pair every time. 

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Thinner rubber, albeit less supportive and less durable than thicker rubber, provides for better sensitivity to the rock. It is also more ideal for smearing as it is more malleable. Consider shoes with thinner rubber as your climbing advances. 

Shape

Climbing shoes are popularly known to have a strange-feeling  “downturn” (a.k.a. “camber”), forcing the feet to arch and turn the toes downward. However, some shoes have a more aggressive downturn than others. 

Although the downturn is useful for technique, it is not good in every climbing scenario. Therefore, it is much better to think of climbing shoe aggression on a spectrum. 

Neutral shoes have close-to-no down turn and often thicker rubber soles. As a result, they are the most comfortable, but not super good for heel-hooking and toeing in on small holds. Neutral shoes are best suited for multi-pitching and crack climbing. They are also great for beginner climbers. 

When you’re looking for the best beginner climbing shoes for you, you should only really be considering neutral shoes. 

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On multi-pitch routes you are in your climbing shoes for hours on end and therefore need something that won’t cause you agonizing discomfort after thirty minutes. Finding a shoe that has a good balance of comfort and technical usefulness based on the route’s level of difficulty is crucial when taking on multi-pitch climbs. 

While crack climbing you are often required to jam your feet inside slots of rock. So, the flatter your feet, the more surface area you will have to keep your foot in there!

Most importantly, a neutral to very moderate camber is best for your first pair so you can get used to the feeling of climbing shoes (and have enough rubber to burn through while building on your technique). 

Moderate shoes have a slight camber, making them somewhat less comfortable than neutral shoes while providing greater shape and sensitivity to perform well on hard climbs. As you progress in climbing and burn through your more neutral first pair, moderate shoes are the next step. 

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Aggressive shoes have an intense camber, making them uncomfortable but optimal for tougher routes and single-pitch red-point burns. The curved shape directs strength to the heel and the big toe, thus maximizing heel-hooks and precise toe placement on very small holds. They are definitely not a good choice for crack climbing or friction-slabs, but perfect for overhanging walls and slabs with tiny, distinct features to balance your toes on. 

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Don’t worry about getting an aggressive pair of shoes (and torturing your poor feet) until you’ve climbed for a while, developed a solid foundation of technique and strength, and are starting to get on advanced grades. 

Aggressive shoes cost the most money and wear out the most quickly anyway. In general, the more aggressive the shoe, the thinner the rubber… and the weaker the support. But, aggressive shoes will definitely help your climbing on suitable types of routes! 

As you fall in love with all the different styles of climbing and types of rock, you will ideally gather a few different pairs of shoes varying in aggression so you can be prepared for any climbing situation. 

Last

Alright, sometimes gear research can go a little too deep. For the most part, you really only need to pay attention to the aggressiveness of the shoe’s downturn to make a decision. But in case you are curious and perhaps a total gear nerd, this part is for you. 

All shoes are made using a shoe last, or mold. This is what the shoe’s outline, size, and form is determined from. There are two types of lasts for climbing shoes: board-lasts and slip-lasts. Each one is a particular way the shoe is made. Check out this article if you want to learn more about the technical side of the slip and board-last construction processes. 

Slip-lasted shoes are more sensitive and less stiff than board-lasted shoes. Due to their stiffness (and thus added support), however, board-lasted shoes are often more comfortable. 

These lasts also have particular shapes, which are reflected in the varying spectrum of shoe aggression:

  • Straight-last shoes are flat and therefore conducive to a comfortable, neutral shape. 
  • Asymmetric-last shoes are longer on the side of the big toe to direct power toward the inside of the foot as well as to a defined point of the shoe. This style maximizes edging ability and helps toe in on tiny foot holds. Moderate to aggressive shoes frequently are constructed with an asymmetric last foundation. 
  • Downturned last shoes are more aggressively cambered while also incorporating an asymmetric shape. This type is ideal for difficult climbs that involve heel and toe-hooking, and therefore is seen most in aggressive shoes. 

Closure

There are three styles of climbing shoes based on their closures, or how they are secured to your feet: lace-up, velcro, or slipper.

Lace-ups, like regular sneakers, must be tied in a bow each time. They are often appreciated for their adjustable nature – i.e. they can be somewhat tightened or loosened based on how you tie them. That being said, the shoestring can come untied, and can get annoying when it dangles down far enough.

Climbing shoes

Velcro climbing shoes have velcro straps instead of shoestrings as the closure. Velcro straps are great, adjustable, and easy to put on, but the velcro can wear out and get gnarly over time. 

Slipper (or slip-on) climbing shoes have no sort of laces or velcro. Instead, their elastic keeps them tight on your feet.They have less moving parts to wear thin or get in the way, but you cannot adjust them. 

Ultimately, velcro and slipper shoes are faster to change in and out of than lace-ups. But, lace-ups allow you to increase tightness or loosen the shoes as you need it. None is particularly better than the other – it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. 

When picking out the best beginner climbing shoes for you, it doesn’t really matter. 

I’d suggest you try on all these different styles, and figure out which traits are more important to you. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Suitability

Woman climbing

Climbing shoes are rather versatile and gym climbing is not all that different from outdoor climbing once you go above the grades of  VO and 5.6 (routes easy enough to climb in tennis shoes).

For these reasons, there aren’t climbing shoes that are particularly better for indoor or outdoor climbing.

Instead, you should focus on the types of climbs you’re looking to get on most.

For gym climbing, look at the walls in the facility you frequent and reflect on whether you boulder or rope climb more. 

For example:

If you boulder more and your gym has a lot of overhanging walls, consider an aggressive, downturned shoe. 

If you rope climb more and your gym has a lot of thin, technical vertical climbs, consider a moderate shoe with a good edge and asymmetric last. 

For outdoor climbing, research the type of rock and styles of climbs at the area you plan to travel to. 

The shoes you would get to climb in the Red River Gorge would be a lot different than the ones you would get for climbing in City of Rocks

Ask yourself these questions:

Will you be doing sport or trad? Single-pitch or multi-pitch? 

Is the rock soft and gritty or slippery and bullet-hard?

Are the routes crack, slab, vertical, or overhanging?

Let your answers, combined with the above information about shoe shape, material, and last guide your shoe-purchasing decision. But…

Finding the Right Fit

Don’t commit to that decision until you’ve dialed in the right fit!

Online deals on shoes are great and can save you money, but not if you end up with the wrong shoe. 

Before clicking that “Place Order” button, find a store nearby that sells climbing shoes. REI’s, climbing gyms, and local outdoor stores generally carry them. 

Climbing shoes

Go to that store, and try on at least two different pairs of shoes (finding your size in each). Every climbing shoe brand has its own fit – varying in material, last, and closure type – that may or may not work for you. Figure out which brand and particular shoe type you like most on your feet. 

Note: Walking around and warming up your feet before trying on the shoes is important, as your feet swell throughout the day when you are active. This will affect how you fit into the shoes on future climbing days, so you want to imitate this as best as you can. 

Just try not to get your feet too stinky, as climbing shoes are not intended to be worn with socks. Socks cause your feet to slide around inside the shoe, which is not ideal for technical climbing!

You will notice that the shoe sizes on some of  the boxes look strange. Popular companies like Scarpa and La Sportiva are European, and therefore generally display the shoes’ European size. 

If you find yourself interested in a pair of Scarpa or La Sportiva shoes, check out their U.S. to European size conversion charts to get an idea of what yours is in the latter. As you try the shoes on though, it will most likely be a half- to full size lower or higher than what you originally figured. 

La Sportiva Conversion Chart

Scarpa Conversion Chart

In general, you want to down size with climbing shoes so that they fit rather tightly. You will know the shoes fit right if your toes have a slight curl. This puts your toes in a stronger and more controlled position to maximize the quality of your climbing footwork. 

The shoes should not cause any pain, but will feel strange at first as you adjust to the new feeling of the downturn. 

Be wary that pain is a good warning sign. If your shoes are super uncomfortable, you might not climb as well in them and can end up dealing with serious issues like bunions and skin damage.

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You might hear a stronger climber at the gym boast about how tight their super-aggressive advanced shoes are… and watch them grimace and struggle for minutes to get them on, and then remove them before they’ve even started to lower from the top of their project. You do not need to go this far, and potentially harm your feet, to climb successfully. 

Instead, find a shoe that fits perfect. 

You should be able to put it on without too much struggle, and not have any noticeable discomfort in the heel or on your toe-knuckles. 

To the men reading this article: don’t immediately reject Women’s-specific shoes. Women’s climbing shoes are often lower-volume, with a shorter ankle cut and minimized heel arch. These features might actually work better for your feet, so go ahead and try on a pair while you’re at it. 

Basically, all climbing shoes are unisex, which cuts alot of stress out of shoe selection. Get the one that speaks to you most and climb on!

Best Beginner Climbing Shoes: The Top 8

La Sportiva TarantuLaces

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An excellent, comfortable shoe that still performs, the TarantuLaces are a great all-around pick for beginners. The rubber is super sticky and durable, meaning these bad boys will last through your early stages of not-so-great footwork. These shoes are also made with unlined leather, which will stretch to accommodate your feet – helping you adjust to the feeling of the slight downturn. Despite fitting like a glove, the TarantuLaces have an aggressive heel and asymmetric shape that will function well into the intermediate grades without letting you down. 

The TarantuLaces come in Men’s and Women’s versions. There is also a Velcro version of the shoe if you want to spend less time getting them on your feet. 

Evolv Defy 

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The Evolv Defy helps you battle gravity without also battling your feet in the process. This is one of the most comfortable shoes on the market, as they have an extremely flat profile and low asymmetry. 

Despite being essentially a house slipper without the fuzzy lining, these shoes can still rock it out on the wall. Their asymmetric design, combined with varied thickness throughout the toe rand, maximizes durability in the necessary spots without sacrificing sensitivity and flexibility. From edging, to smearing, to jamming in cracks, these shoes can do it all. 

If you are vegetarian or vegan, this also is a great pick for you as the shoes are made of animal-product-free synthetic material that is breathable and holds its shape well. 

Black Diamond Momentum 

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Definitely the most modern and sleek looking of the beginner shoes out there, the Momentums offer another flat and low profile like the Evolv Defy. Their knit shoe material offers great breathability and stretch. Black Diamond’s 4.3 mm rubber is specifically engineered to be extra durable in the Momentum line, which includes men’s, women’s, lace-up, velcro, and vegan versions. Slab and vertical climbs are where these shoes shine the most. 

Butora Endeavor 

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If you’re looking for super sticky rubber and a memory-foam velcro closure, the Endeavors are the way to go. These shoes have a very slight downturn, making them another good all-around option that works great on beginner climbs. Their cushion-y fit almost feels like tennis shoes and their 100% Organic Hemp lining helps minimize stretch and reduce odor. Have wide feet? Check out their wide versions in both their men’s and women’s styles. 

La Sportiva Mythos

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This neutral, unlined leather shoe is hailed by beginners and advanced climbers alike. They are very accommodating to swollen feet on crack climbs and long multi-pitch climbing days. However, they have medium to low symmetry and a rounded shape, making them not so ideal for overhanging and thin technical climbs. If cracks and smeary slabs are on your to-do list, then these are the perfect pair for you. 

Scarpa Origin

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Another flat and low-asymmetry shoe like the Evolv Defy, but made with leather. 

Some of these beginner-style shoes may seem super similar, but each one will feel better or worse on your feet depending on the brand’s unique design and manufacturing methods. The Origins are board-lasted, meaning they will lend more support to your feet. The ceiling of the shoe also has added soft padding to help make your toes more cozy. 

Mad Rock Drifter

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A slip-lasted and slightly more asymmetric version of the Evolv Defy and Scarpa Origins. These features may improve performance, but cost a little comfort. The shoes are made of leather and have thick, durable rubber. Their greatest appeal is their low price tag. Unfortunately, they are somewhat lacking in visual appeal. Nevertheless, the Drifters are a sure step up from renting shoes at the gym. There is great reward in dealing with no one’s stench except your own!

Scarpa Vapor V

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Finding yourself excelling rather quickly in rock climbing, either due to natural talent or immediate obsession? Consider getting a shoe with a little more of a downturn. The Scarpa Vapor V’s are a great option for bridging the gap between beginner and intermediate level climbing. These shoes are moderately downturned and moderately asymmetric, but still pretty comfortable. You’re definitely paying more for the performance quality, so make sure your footwork is good enough to not annihilate the rubber in just a couple months. 

Best Beginner Climbing Shoes: Conclusion

Hopefully, after reading this article, you are finally feeling prepared to save some foot skin and frustration, and start on the fast-track to sending 5.10. 

Your first pair of climbing shoes are precious and will become time-pieces that mark your progression and adventures in the world of rock climbing. They are both your essential tools and your best friends, riding with you in your car to the gym and to the crag and following you up your first proud ascents. 

May you come upon the best beginner shoes and share many memories with them. 

Are you also looking to get a chalk bag to complete your beginning climbing package? Check out this article for helpful advice!

Published by Melissa Kochanowsky

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