woman climbing in gym

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be living in a climbing paradise, with world class routes on their doorstep.  Or maybe you are, but the weather sucks and there’s only one day a month when the climbs aren’t too hot, too cold, or too wet.  

Thankfully, with the rapid growth in popularity of climbing there has also been a rapid expansion of high quality climbing gyms to accommodate those not fortunate enough to be living the dream multi-pitching in El Potrero Chico or sport climbing in Siurana.

Gym climbing was once done in dark basements on homemade holds and sketchy structures.  This would allow the climbing fanatics of old to train through the cold, snowy, winter months, whilst every “normal” person had forgotten about climbing, instead enjoying the frivolities the snow had to offer.

Now, however, gym climbing is a multimillion dollar industry, with innovative walls being set up all the time, all over the world.  

Getting into climbing has never been easier, but choosing the right shoes, with such a wide choice available on the market, has never been more difficult!

No need to fret! We have compiled this extraordinary guide to the best gym climbing shoes on the market right now so you can spend less time searching and more time climbing!

Hey! By the way… this page contains affiliate links. So if you make a purchase after clicking one at no cost to you we may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support!

Types of Gym Climbing

man climbing in gym

Generally, there are two distinct types of gym climbing.  One is bouldering, and the other is roped climbing.  

Often, most modern gyms will have areas for both disciplines, but sometimes you might find a gym that only offers one or the other.  

This used to be more common, where bouldering gyms were preferred to rope climbing for convenience and used mostly for training.

If you’re not sure on the difference between bouldering and rope climbing (more commonly known as sport climbing) then take a look at our article outlining each discipline, including all other forms of rock climbing, grading systems and gear – the perfect starting point for beginner climbers.

Just before we dive right in, in case you’re wondering “how do I know which gym climbing shoes do I need”, or are just confused about any of the terminology, then skip ahead to the end of the article where we explain everything you need to know about climbing shoes. 

We’ll explain the importance of the size, shape and fit of the shoe as well as how to find the right fit.  We’ll also cover features including types of rubber, different materials for uppers and linings and the different types of closure, velcro and laces.

Also check out our helpful further reading section for more informative articles including links to the best shoes for beginners and that important second purchase – the climbing harness.

Now, without further preamble, let’s get stuck in and find out all about the best gym climbing shoes on the market today!

Best Indoor Climbing Shoes for Beginners

La Sportiva Tarantulace Climbing Shoes

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Features

  • Fast Lacing System
  • Classic Unlined Leather
  • Lined Tongue

Additional Specs

  • 5mm FriXion RS Rubber
  • Low Asymmetry

La Sportiva is, without doubt, the go to company for the best gym climbing shoes.  From professionals to beginner climbers alike they offer something for everyone that more often than not blows the competition out of the water.  

Regularly coming up on top in buyers guides, they take the podium in all disciplines from sport climbing to trad climbing.

For gym climbing this is no different.  The La Sportiva Tarantulace yet again rise up above the rest of the pack with the innovative, technical yet still very affordable Tarantulace rock climbing shoe.  

The “peak of comfort and versatility”, the La Sportiva Tarantulace is an unlined leather climbing shoe with asymmetric shape for advanced performance whether you are just beginning climbing or have been at it for years.

The shape is designed for upper end performance without hurting your toes, perfect for the beginner just starting out at the gym. However, once you have mastered the moves required to progress, the La Sportiva Tarantulace wouldn’t hold you back.  

For mid level climbers the synthetic leather lacing harness adds helpful support whilst the unlined leather is comfortable and soft.

For those micro edge holds in the gym, the aggressive rubber heel rand and hard wearing, yet sticky FriXion RS rubber will keep you on your toes.  Built to last the 5mm will take a while to wear through meaning you won’t have to resole them for ages – especially handy as a beginner when your footwork isn’t yet as dialled as the pros.

Best Intermediate Gym Climbing Shoes

Evolv Shaman

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Features

  • Velcro closure – hook and loop
  • Classic Unlined Leather
  • Lined Tongue

Additional Specs

  • 4.2mm Trax Rubber
  • Half-length Love Bump midsole
  • Knuckle Box for tighter fit

The Evolv Shaman are, in our opinion, the best gym climbing shoes for the intermediate gym climber.  Not only do we adore their “Love Bump” and revere their “Knuckle Box”, but the aggressive shape and thick rubber in all the right places make them perfectly suited to intermediate plastic pullers.

The velcro closure system is well designed so that, as well as being easy to put on and take off, it also pulls the shoe in around your feet for a closer fit.  

The “Love Bump” mentioned earlier is actually a small ridge behind the toes on the midsole that helps keep the foot in a downturned position whilst maintaining comfort.

The “Knuckle Box” is a clever feature that accommodates a tighter fit, powerful edging and pulling and toe hooking, although we couldn’t quite work out how!  However they did it, we’re sure these features will make for some legendary performance down the gym, perhaps even by the next Chris Sharma?

To pull everything together Evolv have opted for a vegan friendly synthetic upper.  We love to see more and more brands moving in this direction, although the name “synthratek vx synthetic upper” doesn’t really roll of the tongue!

All in all, these are a great update to the original Shaman’s that Chris Sharma wore for so many of his classic sends, and the perfect intermediate shoe for gym climbers from Mallorca to San Francisco.

Best La Sportiva Gym Climbing Shoes

La Sportiva Katana Lace

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Features

  • Vibram XS Edge Rubber
  • P3 technology for ultimate edging
  • Breathable Tongue

Additional Specs

  • Lorica lacing harness
  • Slip-lasted tube construction
  • Medium Asymmetry

Deciding on the best La Sportiva climbing shoe for use in the gym was not an easy proposition.  With so many great options out there it could have been any of them.  Although the La Sportiva Tarantulace already took the place for best gym climbing shoe for beginners it could easily have taken this spot too.

Likewise the La Sportiva TC Pro, although one of the best trad climbing shoes, has many features we thought could translate into the gym environment.  

However, as this takes honours as the best all round trad climbing shoe in all respects we thought we’d give the limelight to another pair.

The La Sportiva Katana Lace, as they are commonly known, offers the best of all La Sportiva climbing shoes in one perfect package.  Whether you are focused on overhanging sport routes, bouldering or technical face climbing, the Katana, one of La Sportiva’s most successful climbing shoes, can handle it.

It features the revolutionary P3 technology that gives the performance of a lined shoe with the comfort of an unlined shoe all within a tubular construction.  Coupled with the Vibram XS Edge rubber you will also not be disappointed when it comes to great performance and edging.

La Sportiva’s long and illustrious heritage, and years of innovation since their beginnings in 1928, is only rivalled by that of the other Italian masters, Scarpa.  

With these, or in fact any of the La Sportiva range on your feet, you’ll be thankful in the knowledge you have 90 years of expertise from a small mountain village in the heart of the Italian Dolomites supporting you!  

Best Women’s Gym Climbing Shoes

Scarpa Vapor V

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Features

  • Bi Tension System
  • Air Mesh Tongue

Additional Specs

  • Microsuede / Leather Upper
  • Moderate Downturn
  • Asymmetric

The Scarpa Vapor V women’s climbing shoe is not just one of the best women’s gym climbing shoes but perhaps one of the best climbing shoes period.  This shoe has it all – precision, versititly, wide appeal and a winning marriage of comfortable fit with steep climbing performance.

The Scarpa Vapor V, redesigned with new colours, tongue and Bi-Tension rand now offers a premium combination of durability and sensitivity, perfect for climbs in the gym or at the crag.

The tongue, especially, is well thought out for female gym climbers, incorporating a padded air mesh that ensures for all-day cushioning and that all important breathability.  

Combined with the microsuede and leather uppers this will almost guarantee your shoes stay odor free even after many hard gym sessions.  Well, maybe not completely odor free, but definitely enough to keep your belayers happy!

The new Bi-Tension system is a tensioned rubber wrap that reaches down the two sides of the shoes.  It gives priority to sensitivity and subtle support, factors many women climbers may appreciate.  

Specially adapted to Scarpa’s slightly asymmetric models, the Bi-Tension runs under the front of the toes and draws down along the sides of the foot, leaving the center pad for sensitivity.

A big draw for Scarpa shoes, in general, that we love, apart from their decades of expertise in Italian shoe design, is their focus on a sustainable approach.  This is something they say has always been part of Scarpa’s history, but now they have incorporated it as a manifesto for the company.

Their core principles – Sustainability, Care, Air, Respect, Performance and Authentic happily spell out Scarpa.  Obviously not just a coincidence, many could see this as simple greenwashing, but with their move to obtain B Corp certification (at time of writing currently pending) is a move in the right direction, and something climbers should look for in any responsible brand.

Best Cheap Gym Climbing Shoes

Mad Rock Drifter

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Features

  • Full Grain Leather Uppers
  • Spit Neoprene Tongue
  • 3D Molded heel

Additional Specs

  • Science Friction Rubber
  • Velcro closure

The Mad Rock Drifter is a common sight across bouldering halls and climbing gyms all over the world thanks to their great price and all-round performance.  

They are the number one choice for many, from beginners looking for their first cheap climbing shoes to more experienced climbers who want something a little less expensive to use whilst training in the gym.

While they may not feature as many technical innovations as other brands such as La Sportiva or Scarpa, they do offer a solid option for those on a budget.  They even took our top spot for Best Gym Shoes in: “7 Best Cheap Rock Climbing Shoes Under $100”.

This simplicity, however, can often work in their advantage.  The simple velcro closures and split neoprene tongue make the shoe easy to take off and put on.  

If you prefer to keep your shoes on in between routes at the gym then then you will love the comfort that the slightly asymmetric last and flat profile gives, as well as the feel of the full grain leather uppers against your skin.

The 3D molded heel helps the Mad Rock Drifter fit nicely thanks to its sticky rubber and cushy EVA.  We should note that the leather uppers do stretch over time – Mad Rock says this gives a good custom fit, but it is something to be aware of when choosing the correct size.

The Science Friction rubber, apart from having an awesome name, gives good friction in the gym, or even outside if you decide to venture out to the crag at any time.  

Whilst not as hard wearing as some other shoes, used wisely they will last you well into your climbing career.

Best Climbing Shoes for Gym Bouldering

Scarpa Instinct VS

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Features

  • Bi Tension System
  • Rubber Toe Patch

Additional Specs

  • Microsuede / Leather Upper
  • Moderately Downturned
  • Vibram XS Edge / Vibram XS Grip2

The second pair of Scarpa climbing shoes in our line up, the Instinct VS were an obvious choice for the best climbing shoes for gym bouldering.  

Working on the solid principle design of the original Instinct, just a little softer in construction, they have all the best features of Scarpa’s performance line.  This translates into an all round shoe that handles a variety of styles at the highest level.

The same Bi-Tension system found in the women’s Scarpa Vapor V above is utilised here for the same sensitivity and subtle support.  Noticeable, though, is that these come with an additional rubber toe patch which is a godsend to boulderers, providing maximum toe hooking power.

The shape, although only described by Scarpa as moderately downturned, looks more aggressive in our opinion – but either way this will only aid those looking for the best bouldering shoe, as it’s well suited to overhanging and powerful lines.  

Despite this being a guide to the best gym climbing shoes we wouldn’t hesitate to take these puppies roadtripping round the best bouldering destinations as they would hold up as well on rock as on plastic.

We mentioned above a little about Scarpa’s green manifesto, and their ongoing process to obtain B Corp certification, but to find out more check out this informative video from Scarpa Ambassador Marco Confortola as he shares his own green manifesto “To experience the mountains and let all the people understand the importance of this magic.”

 

Best All-round Gym Climbing Shoe

Black Diamond Momentum Lace Climbing Shoe

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Features

  • Engineered Knit Technology
  • Hemp Lining

Additional Specs

  • Wide / Narrow Options Available
  • Classic Flat-Last Design

The Black Diamond Momentum Lace climbing shoe is designed as the perfect entry-level climbing shoe, but we reckon it’s actually one of the best all-round gym climbing shoes.

The Momentum finds a perfect balance between affordability and performance, offering a shoe that is capable of doing almost absolutely everything.  

In the gym this includes moving flawlessly from warm up routes on large holds to working your project.  Equally at home on small edges as overhanging routes, it performs the same whether you’re sport climbing or bouldering.

The lace-up design offers ultimate adjustability for all day comfort, something to embrace when you’re in the gym for hours on end.  

Built for ultimate comfort whilst still excelling in performance, the featured “engineered Knit Technology” gives exceptional breathability – so no smelly feet! – and the innovative, proprietary molded rubber is super durable.

Black Diamond says the Momentum Lace combines innovative technology with a classic, flat-last design that offers a soft-flex midsole for sensitivity.  In combination with the soft microfiber hemp lining, this creates a shoe with minimal stretch and maximum comfort.

We like the fact they offer the shoe with wide or narrow options to those climbers with bigger or smaller feet than usual, and that they also come as a velcro option.  

As one of Black Diamond’s first forays into the competitive market of rock climbing shoes, it’s no surprise they came out with one of the best all-round gym climbing shoes thanks to their strong innovative design history.

Helpfully, Black Diamond also provides information on cleaning and disinfecting your gear, useful to protect against spreading disease or to give your smelly gear a bit of a spring clean!  

For details check out their site here – Equipment Disinfection Recommendations”.

Best Gym Climbing Shoes For Sport Climbing

Tenaya Tanta Climbing Shoes

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Features

  • TXT Treated Cotton Lining
  • 4mm Rubber Sole
  • Multi-layer Stretchtex Insole

Additional Specs

  • Handmade In Spain
  • 100% Vegan

Although a lot of brands are coming around to the idea of producing sustainable climbing shoes, we love Tenaya’s because they’ve been making 100% Vegan shoes for years now, without compromising on quality.

Tenaya, heralding from the sport climbing capital of the world, Spain, have been handcrafting their shoes since 1997, but their history begins much earlier.  

It’s no surprise, then, that they create some of the best sport climbing shoes on the planet and we think the Tanta is the best gym climbing shoe for sport climbing.

For sport climbing in the gym all day long these shoes offer comfort and performance and are not so expensive that you won’t be afraid of wearing them out in no time.  The slightly curved shoe utilizes Tenaya’s M4 technology whilst borrowing many features from their top-of-the-range models.

The moderately downturned toe box with the velcro closure system helps the shoe stay where you want it on long gym climbs whilst also being extremely adaptable to those with different widths of feet.  Also, the wide opening bellows tongue make taking these shoes on and off in the gym a breeze.

The rubber reinforced toe-box offers additional protection and abrasive resistance as well as superior edging capabilities.  So not only will you be able to climb harder but you’ll be able to climb longer with these too – perfect for long days of sport climbing.

Not too soft, or too stiff, Tenaya claims the Tanta’s will help you place your feet more precisely and effectively, and remain comfortable throughout the day.  

Recommended for vertical and moderately overhanging routes, if you happen to find a few slab gym climbs then we’re sure they’d excel here too!

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Tenaya also update their blog regularly with interesting articles and discussions from a wide range of topics, from professional climbers projects to the lives of climbing coaches, app developers and nutritionists. 

Most Comfortable Gym Climbing Shoe

Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym Climbing Shoe

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Features

  • Slip-on
  • Stealth Rubber

Additional Specs

  • Leather

If you’re a regular reader then you’ll know how much we love the classic Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym!  One of the best all-round climbing shoes available, the Five Ten has come out on top in multiple guides from the best cheapest climbing shoes to the best trad climbing shoes.  

But here we are celebrating them as the most comfortable gym climbing shoe. This is all thanks to two key factors.  

Firstly, the split-grain leather upper is so soft and welcoming you may even find yourself wearing these shoes around the house.  

With no lining there is nothing but the smooth feel of this leather against your skin, although we have noticed the dye tends to leak for the first few wears – not a disaster, but be prepared to have funny looking red feet for a while!

The second factor contributing to superior comfort is the slip on system.  To call this a system seems a bit over the top – the design is so simple that once slipped on, the shoe feels like a glove.  

It works by basically incorporating a couple of stretchy pieces of material on either side of where the tongue would be and utilizing strong loops for assisting you to pull the shoe on.

Another feature contributing to the Five Ten’s appeal as the most comfortable gym climbing shoe is the way you can half take them off between routes.  

Because they are so soft, the heel conveniently folds down under your foot whilst your toes and majority of your foot remain in the shoe. Perfect for bouldering in the gym, where you’re too lazy to take them on and off between problems.

All this comfort would be useless, however, if they didn’t perform well too.  Thankfully, in part to the super sticky Stealth Rubber, they are awesome for most kinds of routes you can find.  

Whilst at home on the granite cracks of Yosemite or Squamish they edge perfectly on plastic holds too.  

Our only reservation would be if you plan on doing a lot of heel hooks – for this we would recommend looking elsewhere.

How to Choose the Best Gym Climbing Shoes for Your Needs

woman climbing in gym

Choosing the best climbing shoes for your needs comes down to a myriad of factors.  

Finding the shoe with the right size and the right shape, not to mention all the features required to climb to your specific level in the gym, at the right price can leave you feeling like Cinderella without her glass slippers.

Whether that means you end up with one of the pairs described above or opt for others such as the La Sportiva Solution or Five Ten Hiangle – both great options that just missed the cut in our list – by defining what you need you’ll have an easy time deciding what to buy.

Shoe Size and Fit

baby foot

Always our first and most important recommendation is sizing and fit.  If the shoe doesn’t fit then no amount of technical features or super sticky Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber is going to help you climb to your best potential.

The best way to work out if the shoe fits may seem obvious, but you’re going to need to try them on!  This means taking a trip down to your local climbing or outdoor gear store and spending some time trying on shoes.  

The right pair of shoes may not be the ones you’ve been drooling over online however, so be prepared to go with a brand that fits well.  

If you had your heart set on a pair like the Butora Acro, or really liked the colours of the La Sportiva Miura but find that Five Ten fit better, then go with them and look on the positive side – you’ll have all that sticky Stealth C4 Rubber to play with!

A few notes on shoe sizing – each brand will fit differently, but it’s recommended to start half a size down from your regular street shoe.  The shape of the shoe, the toe and heel, including the heel cup and whether they are an aggressive shoe or neutral / flat shoe will all determine how they fit.  

Also be aware of stretching, something leather is prone to do over time.

With such a wide range of shoes on the market there will definitely be something to suit your needs, whether that’s a low volume pair like the La Sportiva Miura VS or a comfortable crack climbing shoe without the velcro strap like the Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym.

Common Features Of Climbing Shoes Explained

woman climbing in gym

Confused by all the weird rock climbing terminology?  Can’t tell your slip-lasted rand from your aggressive shoes?  

Well, worry not! We’ve got you covered!  

Here’s a list of many of the most common features of climbing shoes and what they mean.

Upper

The upper is the material part of the climbing shoe, most often leather or a synthetic material.

Lining

The material between the upper, sole and your foot.  Not all shoes have a lining, most typically those with leather uppers.

Rubber

The grippy part of the shoe that prevents you from slipping off the rock.  Comes in many types and flavours each with their own interesting name.  Classic examples include Stealth C4 Rubber and XS Grip 2 from Vibram.

Velcro Straps

A type of fastening system for quick on and off.

Lacing System

Whilst there are some rock climbing shoes still using a traditional lacing system, most have incorporated innovations to make tying the laces quick and easy.  Be sure to check out each shoe’s unique system.

Downturn

The angle of the curve formed from the toe to the heel of the shoe.  The angle will be high (like a bendy banana) for a shoe with an aggressive downturn, like the Scarpa Instinct VS, and low or even none for a more traditional rock climbing shoe like the Black Diamond Momentum.

Heel Cup

The portion of the shoe your heel sits in and the rubber that surrounds it.  Important for heel hooks on overhanging or three dimensional climbing, less important for face or slab climbing.  A good example of a well designed heel is the La Sportiva Solution, and a bad example would be anything from Five Ten pre 2000!

Toe Box 

Simply the part where your toes sit, although new features such as the “Love Bump” on the Evolv Shaman’s are rethinking what can be done here to improve performance climbing.  The amount of toe rubber here can also help on precarious roof climbs that utilize toe hooks.

Tongue

Just like on regular street shoes, however more often than not this is treated with some form of antibacterial substance to prevent odor buildup and involuntary retching every time you take your shoes off in the gym.

For more information about common features of climbing shoes including the difference between board-lasts and slip-lasts, as well as valuable information about budget friendly climbing shoes check out the article below.

And something just for fun!

Published by Neil Skilton

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