The Best Men's Rock Climbing Shoes of 2017

Climbing shoes are more advanced and confusing every year. To distinguish between the 100's of options and find the best models for cracks, gyms, and face, we researched 50 models and chose the best 23 for hands-on testing by a half dozen testers. Then it was road trip time! We used these on granite, limestone, and sandstone across the country. We compared our testers confirmed their finding with professional guides, other OutdoorGearLabclimbers, and experienced outdoor retailers. Whether you're just getting into the sport, or you climb harder than the big shots (even if it's only in your dreams), we've got a pair for you.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 23 ≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product
La Sportiva Genius
La Sportiva Katana Lace
La Sportiva Katana Lace
La Sportiva Futura climbing shoe
La Sportiva Futura
Butora Acro
La Sportiva Skwama
La Sportiva Skwama
Awards  Editors' Choice Award        Best Buy Award 
Price $146.25 at MooseJaw
Compare at 4 sellers
$138.75 at MooseJaw
Compare at 4 sellers
$138.75 at MooseJaw
Compare at 4 sellers
$154.00 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$108.75 at MooseJaw
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score 
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86
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82
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82
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Pros Highest end performance shoe on the marketVersatile, durable, comfortableIncredible sensitivity, great edging, durabilityStiff yet sensitive, availible in wide and narrow versions, great edging abilityComfortable, sensitive, awesome for crack climbing
Cons ExpensiveExpensive, can be hard to findSpecalized use, expensive, might be hard to resoleLots of extra space in the heel cupLeather upper stretches more than other models
Ratings by Category La Sportiva Genius La Sportiva Katana Lace La Sportiva Futura Butora Acro La Sportiva Skwama
Edging - 20%
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8
Cracks - 20%
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9
Comfort - 20%
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7
Pockets - 20%
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Sensitivity - 20%
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Specs La Sportiva Genius La Sportiva Katana Lace La Sportiva Futura Butora Acro La Sportiva Skwama
Style Lace Lace Velcro Velcro Velcro
Upper Suede leather / Microfiber Leather/Lorica Leather/Synthetic Leather German split leather Leather / Microfiber / Rubber toe cap
Lining Unlined Pacific (forefoot and back) Unlined Unlined Unlined

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Matt Bento
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
October 25, 2017

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Updated October 2017
We added in our favorite shoes for beginners and folks on a tight budget: the La Sportiva Tarantula. It's not for top performance, which is an advantage if you're just starting out and want comfort while your feet build the right muscles for micro edging.

Best Overall Climbing Model


La Sportiva Genius


Editors' Choice Award

$146.25
at MooseJaw
See It

Highest end performance shoe on the market
Excellent edging and sensitivity
Great comfort and pocket performance
Expensive
From the folks that first brought you downturned shoes, the La Sportiva Genius is the product of multiple advancements in climbing shoe technology. More than just the evolution of the No Edge concept, the Genius borrows the best features from the La Sportiva arsenal for its design. This award winner is ready for a projecting session right out of the box and will stay that way until you finally wear through the toe. Use this model for sport clipping, bouldering, and high-end traditional climbing — it will not disappoint. If you aren't ready to spend almost $200 on a pair of climbing shoes, then take a look at a the Butora Acro or the La Sportiva Skwama.

Read review: La Sportiva Genius

Best Bang for Your Buck


La Sportiva Skwama


La Sportiva Skwama Best Buy Award

$108.75
at MooseJaw
See It

Sensitive
Comfortable
Inexpensive
Tend to stretch more compared to other models
Not as supportive as stiffer shoes
The Skwama is the hot new shoe we see everywhere - on the feet of the pros and at the gym - for a good reason. This simple slipper with a single velcro closure features out-of-the-box comfort and sensitivity. La Sportiva bills the Skwama as a high-end sport climbing and bouldering shoe, and while this model is definitely up for the task, our testers loved them the best in splitter cracks. These shoes are broad in the mid-foot, so they don't hurt in hand cracks, and the low profile soft toe wiggles into thin cracks and pods better than any other shoe in the lineup. When the cracks become too small for toe jamming, the Skwamas can still edge on jibs and nubbins with the best of them. A wonderfully designed, high quality, versatile shoe for under $150, this award winner bucks the trend of high priced, high-end climbing shoes, so you can afford to gas up the car for your next 16-hour drive to the Red River Gorge.

Read review: La Sportiva Skwama

Best for Beginners and Tight Budgets


La Sportiva Tarantula


La Sportiva Tarantula Best Buy Award

$67.50
at MooseJaw
See It

$90 - least expensive shoe in review
Comfortable and less aggressive design
Not particularly precise
Loose fit
If you are just starting out climbing, it's hard to beat the Tarantula. Few shoes are cheaper at the same quality and versatility. While it doesn't have the precise design of the other award winners, that can be an advantage. More advanced shoes put your foot in an aggressive position that can be painful and unnecessary if you're just starting out. Best of all, this shoe climbs well just about everywhere: the gym, cracks and multi-pitch routes for the velcro lets you quickly give your feet a break.

Read review: La Sportiva Tarantula

Top Pick for Narrow Feet


Tenaya Tarifa


Trango Tenaya Tarifa Top Pick Award

$164.95
at Backcountry
See It

Super sensitive
Great for edging
Substantially more narrow than other shoes
Lacing system enables you to dial in the fit
Wider feet will hurt in cracks
Designed in the limestone mecca of Spain, the Tenaya Tarifa is the master of technical terrain, and a perfect balance of sensitivity and edging power. They are substantially narrower than all the other models, and while our wider footed testers could appreciate their edging prowess and high-quality construction, wearing them on longer pitches brought on whining and discomfort. Our slender footed testers fought over who got to wear the Tarifas ("but I need them! I'm getting close on my project") and felt they were the raddest climbing footwear. So, if your feet are more like skis and less like flippers, pick up a pair, tie-in, and send.

Read review: Tenaya Tarifa

Top Pick Award for All Day Comfort


Five Ten Quantum


Top Pick Award

$184.95
at Backcountry
See It

Soft, padded, perforated upper
Wide fit
Excellent in cracks
Sensitive
Not as supportive as stiffer shoes
Synthetic material tends to get stinky
The Five Ten Quantum is the most comfortable pair we tested this year. Don't be fooled by the aggressive looking downturn! These shoes are soft enough for smearing, and that downturned toe comes in handy on steep headwalls. The wide fit and padded tongue make climbing long cracks dreamy and drama free, and the lacing system lets you dial in the fit as your feet swell, or the shoes stretch during an all-day mission. Designed with input from the Huber brothers, the Quantums are an excellent choice for those looking for an all-day shoe that is more sensitive and wider than the popular TC Pro.

Read review: Five Ten Quantum

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
90
$195
Editors' Choice Award
This high performance model is the ultimate balance of support and sensitivity.
86
$185
An awesome shoe for long climbs requiring a variety of crack climbing and edging techniques.
86
$185
An incredibly sensitive and comfortable shoe that excels at edging.
82
$154
A worthy option for sport climbing at all angles, from steep to slabby.
82
$145
Best Buy Award
An affordable shoe that is perfect for difficult sport and trad climbs.
82
$165
Top Pick Award
This shoe edges well and fits narrow feet like a glove.
80
$185
With this shoe, you can climb pitch after pitch without pain.
76
$165
Used by many big names in climbing, it excels at both sport climbs and long trad routes.
76
$165
On granite cracks or in the gym, this versatile shoe is a good choice for new climbers.
74
$175
Super stiff, this shoe eats micro-edges for breakfast.
74
$170
This model edges like a dream but lacks the sensitivity of our favorite models.
74
$180
A tried and true modern classic, this model excels while steep and technical climbing.
72
$175
This purely sport-climbing shoe is one of the lightest shoes on the market and excels at steep routes.
72
$145
A classic and comfortable shoe that is great for long, easy alpine routes or all-day cragging.
72
$160
A great tool for thin cracks and multi-pitch outings.
70
$125
This shoe belongs in the quiver of any serious crack climber.
70
$175
A great shoe for smearing on granite, but isn't the most comfortable and can be difficult to put on and take off.
68
$185
Top Pick Award
These shoes are great for all day multi-pitch missions.
66
$130
A popular choice for beginners or all-day multi-pitch assaults
66
$90
Best Buy Award
A decent and comfortable all-around shoe for beginners.
66
$180
An uncomfortable, expensive shoe that's mostly intended for micro edging on steep boulders or sport routes.
62
$160
Most at home on steep terrain but underperforms on techy slabs and faces.
58
$89
This super comfy shoe is perfect for folks who are just starting to climb.

Analysis and Test Results


With so many brands and models of climbing shoes out there, selecting the right shoes for your feet and preferred climbing style can be a daunting task. On the other hand, with so many manufacturers creating high-quality shoes, the chances are that perfect fit is out there. So fear not, it's a perfect time to be a rock climber! As climbers and guides, the single most important thing we wear go on our feet (OK mom, it's the helmet and harness), and it's hard to place too much emphasis on having the right shoes. They're often the difference between sending and whipping, and the harder the climbing gets, the narrower those margins become.

The manic devotion climbers develop toward a brand or model of shoe is warranted. Once you find a shoe that fits and functions for you, it feels like the skies open up and you can step off the plateau you're stranded on. The longer you climb, the more seldom it is to have one of these epiphanic moments. Progressing takes a lot of devotion, rigorous training, and time spent on the rock; doing all of that in shoes that make you miserable, or that underperform, will drain your psyche faster than any climbing porn can restore it. The critical goal is to find shoes that fit you and to determine what you'll be using them for. Even if you're a veteran climber, read our Buying Advice to help you make the best choice.

Start your engines...
Start your engines...

Edging


The ability to make use of even the smallest edges are paramount in climbing shoe performance. The more weight you can get on your feet, the less weight burdens your throbbing forearms, and the more likely you are to send. The top edgers are the La Sportiva Genius and the slender Tenaya Tarifa. Both of these models offer an excellent balance of support and sensitivity. While wearing these shoes, our testers could balance on small edges and make use of the tiniest ripples, despite the Genius and Tarifa being relatively soft shoes. The Tarifa employs a reverse bi-tension rand design to keep your toes firmly in place at the front edge of the shoe.


The Genius gets your toes even further into the front of the shoe with its "no-edge" technology, holds its shape with a Permanent Power Platform (P3), and remains flexible due to its soft mid-sole. These technologies all come together so that we can get a little closer to having one shoe that can do it all. The Scarpa Instinct VS and the Butora Acro are also edging champs, but lack the sensitivity of the top contenders. Keep in mind that the best shoe for you is going to be the one that fits the best and provides the comfort and performance you deem necessary.

The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.
The Tenaya Tarifa are edging machines and a favorite of our testers with narrow feet.

We evaluated each shoe's edging capabilities by climbing vertical routes at Wild Iris where the ability to stand securely on tiny edges and points is crucial. We paid particular attention to how difficult it was to stand on small holds as well as how hard it was to feel the holds under our feet. Stiffer shoes like the Scarpa Vapor V tended to be less sensitive but were more supportive on longer pitches where our testers unlocked techy, difficult edging sequences over periods of 20 minutes or more. The Five Ten Quantum was our favorite shoe for all day climbing on long routes, but it fell short in the edging metric. Compared to stiffer, less sensitive options like the TC Pro it's not as supportive for all-day edging.

Crack Climbing


The best shoes for crack climbing are wide in the midsole, so your feet aren't crushed in hand cracks, complete with a low volume toe so that they can fit in cracks from thin hands down to fingers. If the shoe is so tight that your toes become completely curled, they won't be able to wiggle into small cracks. We climbed cracks in Idaho's City of Rocks and in Yosemite National Park, where cracks of many sizes are on the same pitch.


While crack climbing in each shoe, we took note of how much pain and fatigue we felt as we twisted and torqued our feet. Narrow shoes like the Tenaya Tarifa hurt the most, while wider shoes like the Five Ten Quantum and the Scarpa Vapor V felt the most comfortable. Laces like those on the Quantum felt more comfortable and fared better on long crack climbs. Velcro buckles like those on the Vapor V can press uncomfortably on some feet in cracks, and and the buckles have the potential to become damaged.

The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.
The Skwama (left) fairs much better in cracks that the Tarifa (right) due to its low volume toe box that allows it to fit in the thin cracks.

The Best Buy Award winning La Sportiva Skwama is one of our favorite crack climbing shoes based on its perfect shape for fitting in all sizes of cracks. The thin layer of rubber on the top of this model also offered a little extra protection for our sore feet, and the single velcro closure remained out of the way while we jammed our 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 shoes like the famous La Sportiva TC Pro.

Barbara Zangerl and Jacobo Larcher used these shoes to make the 3rd and 4th free ascents of the Zodiac on El Cap - a further testament to the versatility of this shoe, which is designed for "high-end bouldering. The Scarpa Instinct VS is a wide shoe and felt comfortable to our wide-footed lead tester in hand cracks, but the high volume toe didn't fit into smaller cracks (think tight hands and down); we found the same results with the Skwama and the Quantum. Finally, the Butora Acro isn't comfortable enough for all-day jamming at Indian Creek but performed well on single pitch granite cracks, where a low volume toe can fit into small pods and where you still need some edging power to take advantage of micro footholds outside the cracks.

Pocket pulling at Wild Iris
Pocket pulling at Wild Iris

Pockets


A shoe's performance in pockets is a function of its edging ability, the shape of the toe, and in the case of steep, pocketed terrain, how downturned the shoe is. Our testers spent a month in Lander WY, home to Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris, one of the pocket climbing meccas in the US. Some of the climbs here feature only small pockets for hand and footholds.


The pointy-toed, narrow fitting Tenaya Tarifa and the No-Edged La Sportiva Genius again came up as the top performers in this metric. When wearing the Tarifa, our testers were able to gain a little purchase, even in mono pockets. The ultra sensitive Genius allowed our testers to feel their way into shallow pockets. On steep pocketed terrain, the downturn of the Evolv Shaman came in handy when pulling into larger pockets and keeping our bodies pulled in to the wall.

The Butora Acro and the Scarpa Instinct come in close behind the top performers in this metric. The Acro lost some pocket points because of its blunt toe shape, which didn't fit into small pockets as well as the models with narrower toes. The Instincts are pointier in the toe than the Acro, but they don't edge on the lips of pockets as well. Our Best Buy award winner, the La Sportiva Skwama, performed surprisingly well in pockets, despite being soft, because we could wiggle lots of rubber into shallow pockets. The Scarpa Vapor V and the Five Ten Quantum fared the worst in pockets, due to their thick rubber and round toe shape.

Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.
Sensitivity is key when balancing your way up lower angle rock with tiny foot holds.

Sensitivity


A sensitive shoe will let you know where you stand on a hold or smear, so you can press down and move upwards with confidence. We tested shoes for sensitivity by lapping nearly featureless slabs in Tuolumne Meadows and scaling the gritty, technical granite in Pine Creek Canyon. The most sensitive shoes tended to be the softest, but the top scorers also had some built-in support.


The La Sportiva Genius, with its no-edge technology, was by far the most sensitive shoe we tested. The no-edge concept puts less rubber between your toe and the rock, allowing you to feel and stand on small edges and tiny ripples. This shoe took some getting used to; initially, our testers missed the crisp edge they've come to depend on in a brand new shoe. However, after a handful of pitches, we became accustomed to the new position of our toe being in the front of the shoe and were able to take advantage of the Genius' unique sensitivity and edging power combination.

The Tenaya Tarifa comes in a close second with its soft Vibram XS grip rubber and bi-tension rand system, which offers a surprising amount of support for such a soft shoe. Our Top Pick for crack climbing, the La Sportiva Skwama is also no slouch when it comes to sensitivity, but it's less supportive than the Tarifa or the Genius. Finally, this year's Top Pick for all-day comfort, the Five Ten Quantum, trades in rigid support for soft sensitivity, making it an excellent alternative for those looking for an all-day shoe without the clunky stiffness of the TC Pro.

The Skwamas performed best on granite  wear our testers encountered slabs and cracks.
The Skwamas performed best on granite, wear our testers encountered slabs and cracks.

The Butora Acro proved to be a surprisingly sensitive shoe, despite being relatively stiff, and our testers appreciated them on the delicate crystal holds in the Buttermilks. Stiff shoes with thicker rubber, like the Evolv Shaman, scored lower in this metric. While the Shamans are excellent for steep climbing, it's difficult to feel secure on small footholds with so much rubber between you and the rock. Both the Scarpa Instinct VS and the Scarpa Vapor V failed to match the out-the-box sensitivity levels of the top performers, but after a more extended break-in and adjustment period, they'll soften up, and their techy climbing game will improve.


Comfort


The comfort of your climbing shoe typically depends on a few things: how you size the shoe, the shape of your foot, and the shoe's upper material. Generally speaking, the tighter your shoe, the better it will perform. The contrary is also true: the looser the shoe, the worse it performs. Typically, tight equals painful and loose equals comfortable. Fortunately, modern designers are shifting the paradigm and creating shoes that perform well with minimal pain.



Reverse bi-tension rands, "love bumps", P3 Platforms, and S-heels all sound like a list of buzzwords designed to sell shoes, but they represent a significant leap forward in climbing shoe designs. In the past, the shoes that performed the best were often the ones you could wear the tightest, compromising comfort (and foot health) for edging power. Now, innovative designs incorporated into shoes across all the major brands can give us performance without pain.

We could comfortably wear the La Sportiva Genius for a long pitch, and we wouldn't go any smaller since pain is detrimental to performance. The most comfortable shoe in this year's line-up is the is the Five Ten Quantum. While it's not the top performer, it's the shoe our testers could wear the longest without discomfort, making it an excellent choice for all-day adventures. The Quantums feature a soft, padded toe, a roomy, full fit, and a low profile lacing system. The Quantums are comfortable on long crack climbs in Yosemite Valley, and allow for loads of adjustment throughout the day as your feet swell or the shoe starts to stretch.

The Scarpa Vapor V comes in behind the Quantums regarding comfort. It has a medium wide fit and only the slightest downturn, keeping the foot in a comfortable, neutral position. It lost a point because the buckles on the velcro closure system hurt some testers' feet in hand cracks. The Butora Acro also has a wide fit. Additionally, the elastic on the upper part of the shoe is looser than that of Instinct or the Skwamas, making it a comfortable option for sport climbers with wide, high volume feet.

These shoes are approximately the same length  but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.
These shoes are approximately the same length, but the Skwama (right) is significantly wider than the Tarifa.

Comfort is pretty subjective, and everyone's foot is unique. The Tenaya Tarifa felt like a torture device to our wide footed testers, while it climbed like a dream for our testers with narrow feet. We tested comfort by comparing rubbing and pressure in problem spots like the back of the heel and the toes. Additionally, we note how the shoe feels after what we feel is an appropriate break-in period of ten to fifteen pitches.



Conclusion


The announcement of our award winners comes with a disclaimer: reviews are inherently subjective (for example, some people think Vertical Limit is a good movie), and rock shoe reviews are no exception. Our assessment of each shoe is largely contingent on the shape of our testers' feet, what type of rock we climbed, and how tight we sized them. However, we have meticulously researched these shoes (primarily by climbing in them often) and talked to many industry professionals that use and sell these shoes routinely. There are a bunch of great shoes out there, and in an expanding market, more are appearing each year. We hope we've been able to assist you in finding the perfect pair, but we understand that you may want to know more. Our Buying Advice will provide additional tips, helping you decipher one pair from the next.
Matt Bento

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