If you’re new to climbing, you’re likely familiar with the gym’s rental shoes and may be thinking about purchasing your own pair. Choosing the right climbing shoes can make each trip to the gym or crag a much better experience. But with so many options available, how do you select the best rock shoes for you?
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best beginner climbing shoes to help you upgrade your gear and elevate your performance.
How to Choose Climbing Shoes
Before we get into our picks for the best beginner climbing shoes, let’s go over a few key factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a pair.
Climbing shoes generally fit into three main types: neutral, moderate, and aggressive. Most beginners opt for a neutral fit, but some prefer a moderate shoe to allow for higher performance as they progress through the grades.
- Neutral: The flat shape and relaxed fit of neutral climbing shoes provide the wearer with all-day comfort. Neutral shoes are mostly symmetrical or mildly asymmetrical and tend to have good support in the midsole. These shoes are best for beginners and for more experienced climbers who want a comfortable shoe for trad or multi-pitch routes.
- Moderate: Moderate climbing shoes have a slightly downturned and asymmetrical shape for better performance on steep terrain. This type of shoe offers increased sensitivity and precision compared to neutral shoes, making the moderate shape a good choice for climbers looking for a balance between comfort and performance.
- Aggressive: Aggressive shoes have an asymmetrical and significantly downturned shape that positions the foot to consolidate power over the big toe. These are the least comfortable type of climbing shoes and are best for hard single-pitch sport routes and challenging boulder problems.
Sizing and Fit
Climbing shoes may all look relatively similar to the untrained eye, but there are many differences between various brands and models that affect the fit, feel, and performance.
In general, climbing shoes should fit snugly without feeling overly tight. Especially as a beginner, you don’t want your shoes to feel painful. Keep in mind that most climbing shoes require a few sessions at the gym or crag to break them in and help them mold to your foot.
There is significant variation in sizing between different climbing shoes – even within the same brand. Always follow the manufacturer’s sizing recommendations and try shoes on in person with an expert’s help when possible. Many outdoor retailers have a small climbing wall in the store so that you can test how the shoes feel on the wall before you decide to purchase them.
If you buy your climbing shoes online, make sure to carefully check the shop’s return policy since it can take a few tries to find the right size.
Climbing shoes are made with a rubber sole and either leather or synthetic uppers. The materials of a given shoe affect its breathability and determine how it molds to the shape of your foot.
Leather uppers provide the most breathability and odor control but will stretch out over the course of their lifetime. Leather shoes with a synthetic lining will stretch less, while fully synthetic uppers will mostly maintain their shape and fit over time. The rubber sole and rand (the part covering the toe) will become slightly more flexible with use, but will not stretch.
It’s important to consider a shoe’s materials and stretch factor when deciding which size to purchase.
Our Picks for the Best Beginner Climbing Shoes
Now that you know what factors you should take into account when choosing your climbing shoes, what are the best options for beginners?
La Sportiva Tarantulace: Best Overall
Pros: comfortable, affordable, versatile
Cons: not ideal for steep or pocketed terrain
Upper: Leather/Synthetic Leather
Midsole: 1.8mm LaspoFlex
Sole: 5mm FriXion RS Rubber
Last: Slip-lasted RN 45
Weight: 9.3oz / 260g per shoe
The La Sportiva Tarantulace is one of the most comfortable beginner climbing shoes available and performs well for the price.
Thanks to the lace-up closure, the Tarantulace offers a more secure and precise fit than most velcro shoes. However, some wearers noted that the fit was significantly less precise than other more expensive models, resulting in decreased sensitivity and heel hooking performance.
The breathable leather upper and lined tongue help control moisture, which increases comfort during long sessions at the gym or crag. The unlined leather upper means these shoes will stretch at least a half size, so be sure to consider this when figuring out your size.
With a 1.8mm LaspoFlex midsole and 5mm FriXion RS sole, the Tarantulace provides medium stiffness and good durability. Although the FriXion rubber is less grippy than the Vibram XS sole on higher-end La Sportiva models, these shoes have decent edging and smearing performance for the price. Since the shoe has a relatively wide toe box and below-average toe and heel hooking capabilities, the Tarantulace is not well-suited to steep or pocketed terrain.
The Tarantulace is best for climbs up to around 5.10- or V3. As you hone your climbing skills and progress through the grades, you may outgrow this beginner shoe, but overall, the Tarantulace is an excellent, versatile climbing shoe at an affordable price.
Mad Rock Drifter: Best Value
Pros: affordable, good balance of support and sensitivity
Cons: support weakens with time, not as comfortable as other beginner models
Midsole: 1.8mm Polyester
Sole: 3.8mm Science Friction 3.0
Weight: 7.9oz / 223g per shoe
As one of the least expensive climbing shoes on the market, the Mad Rock Drifter is a budget-friendly option that doesn’t compromise on performance.
The durable, sticky sole uses the same Science Friction 3.0 rubber as Mad Rock’s more expensive models, and the 2.2mm Science Friction R2 rand offers improved grip and elasticity. The 1.8mm polyester midsole provides medium stiffness out of the box for support on edges and slabs. Many wearers say the shoes soften up with time, allowing for greater sensitivity on smaller holds.
This increased sensitivity makes the Drifter a better option than most other beginner shoes for slightly overhanging terrain, but also means you’ll have less support over time. As a result, the Drifter may not be the best choice for those who prefer a stiffer shoe.
The velcro closure offers a less precise fit than some lace-up models, but allows you to take the Drifter on and off more easily in the gym or at belays on multi-pitch routes. The polyester lining makes this shoe slightly less breathable than unlined models, and it is less comfortable overall than the other choices on this list.
Still, the Mad Rock Drifter excels on everything from slabs to technical face climbs and is a high performing beginner shoe at a low price point.
Evolv Nighthawk: Most Versatile
Pros: durable, comfortable, precise
Cons: not suitable for overhanging routes
Midsole: Full-length 1.4mm MX-P
Sole: 4.2mm Trax SAS Rubber
Weight: 9.4oz / 266g per shoe
The Evolv Nighthawk (as well as its low-volume counterpart, the Skyhawk) is a quality, all-around climbing shoe at a reasonable price.
Evolv’s Trax SAS rubber is very sticky and durable, resulting in strong performance in the gym and on real rock. From limestone to granite to sandstone, this shoe can handle a variety of rock types equally well. The Nighthawk has precise edging capability on medium-sized edges found on routes ranging from 5.9 to 5.11 and good smearing performance.
This shoe does well on slabs and trad routes and is better for pockets than other models on our list. Like other beginner climbing shoes, the Nighthawk is not ideal for overhanging sport routes.
The Nighthawk has mild asymmetry and medium stiffness and is a great pick for people with a wide toe box. The Variable Thickness Rand (VTR) system provides thicker rubber near the toe to enhance durability and performance, with thinner rubber in other areas to limit pressure on the foot’s sensitive spots.
While the unlined leather upper allows these shoes to mold to the shape of your foot, the lace closures and synthetic overlay ensure a good fit with minimal stretch over time. The unlined leather upper also offers excellent breathability and comfort, and the Agion antimicrobial split tongue keeps odors at bay. This combination led many wearers to say that the shoes smell fresh even after a full day of wear.
Of the beginner shoes on our list, the Nighthawk is the most versatile and offers the best balance between comfort, performance, and affordability.
Butora Endeavor: Best for Wide Feet
Pros: odor-fighting, comfortable, custom fit
Cons: slightly more expensive than other beginner shoes, not good for overhanging terrain
Lining: Organic Hemp
Midsole: 3D injection-molded polyurethane
Sole: Butora NEO Fuse Rubber
Weight: 8.8oz / 249g per shoe
The Endeavor’s very slight downturn and asymmetrical toe shape make this shoe geared more towards performance than others on this list without sacrificing comfort. The shoe is available in both a narrow and wide fit, making it the best choice for climbers with wide feet.
Because of a welded polyurethane reinforcement in the heel, the Endeavor provides better heel hooking performance than most beginner shoes. The 3D injection-molded ABS midsoles offer a rigid feel and excellent edging ability.
Butora added a variety of innovative features to enhance comfort. The velcro closure provides a customizable fit thanks to the straps’ zig-zag design and triple fork webbing, and the breathable mesh tongue contains a memory foam layer to reduce pressure from the straps. The Endeavor also includes an organic hemp lining to limit stretch and help control foot odor.
The split-leather footbed offers superior comfort in addition to moisture-wicking properties. The shoe also features a mixed upper, with synthetic material in the front to reduce stretch and increase durability and leather in the back to boost breathability.
While there are better performing shoes out there, the Butora Endeavor includes some features rarely found on other beginner models and is a fantastic choice for climbs up to 5.10 or V4.