2011 Gear Guide: Rock Shoes

10 rock-grabbing new kicks for 2011
Not so long ago, you either bought trad shoes (comfy) or sport shoes (painful). Nowadays, the way people wear rock shoes has changed dramatically. What used to be a clear line between trad and sport shoes is all but obsolete, because the most important criterion for shoe selection—whether torquing toes in cracks or front-pointing limestone pockets—is fit. Alex Honnold, for example, wears the same pair of “sport shoes” (tight, heavily downturned, asymmetric) on everything from 5.13 cracks and Yosemite big walls to short, steep clip-ups. Most of us still prefer specialized shoes for various vertical genres, but fit should trump whatever the manufacturers (and magazines) recommend for a specific shoe.

For this issue, we tested new shoes from late 2010 and early 2011 from six different companies; when possible, we asked each company for a high-performance model and another, less expensive model geared toward all-day use. Several new shoes weren’t available in time for testing (see page 72); we’ll review these in upcoming editions of Climbing. In this review, we give you the skinny on performance and the features you need to know about: last, closure system, lining (if any), rubber, and fit. A mind-boggling number of rock shoe models are available today (150-plus!), so take your time to fi nd the perfect fit, and remember to think outside the shoebox.

Happy Hooker

Two testers commented that this is the best Boreal shoe they’d seen in years. It has a slightly asymmetric, semi-stiff last and a moderate downturn. Unlined leather uppers and an integrated, padded-mesh tongue offer a comfortable, sensitive fit. The lowest of the two Velcro straps is located mid-foot, so you can’t fine-tune the toe—best to size these fairly tight for high performance. One tester praised the way the flexible forefoot and under-toe concavity offer exceptional grab on overhangs. The 4.5mm FSQuattro rubber tends to roll on edges at first, but once it wears down a bit, the Krypto shines as sensitive and precise. Indeed, another tester was impressed by the “bite” of the rubber on tiny face holds. With soft, sticky rubber coating the heel and toe, the Krypto is one of the best “hookers” in the review.
Ideal Uses: Vertical to severely overhanging bouldering, sport, plastic
Bottom Line: A high-end Velcro for extreme projects and indoor training

Creature Comfort

Boreal’s latest model in its popular Joker series has a flat, symmetric last designed for all-day wear. The leather upper, synthetic mesh lining, and generous padding throughout make this the most comfortable shoe in the review. It sports the same 4.5mm FS-Quattro rubber that’s on Boreal’s high-performance shoes. One tester called these “unusually sensitive” for an all-day model. The toe is semi-stiff and slightly pointed for accuracy on edges and pockets, yet it’s soft enough to grab on slight overhangs. Soft padding surrounds the Achilles, and a thin EVA heel wedge absorbs shock on descents. The Joker Plus sports a high rubber rand, and the heel is rubber-coated for solid hooking. Two Velcro straps regulate the fit; a lace-up model is also available.
Ideal Uses: Long trad routes, cracks, allday wear
Bottom Line: Comfortable and precise Velcro for moderate climbing


If you’re just starting out in climbing, your most versatile choice is a lace-up “all-day” shoe. A low-cost model will work fine, though more expensive shoes often (not always) will be more durable. All-day shoes allow the foot to lie flat, sacrificing some ability to push hard on small footholds, but making the shoe a lot more comfortable. The toe box will be roomy and not pointed, which will only cost you on small pockets and finger cracks. The rubber will be fairly thick, meaning it will withstand plenty of sloppy footwork before wearing out. Remember that you can resole your rock shoes for a third the cost of a new pair. If you plan on doing mostly one-pitch climbing or bouldering, a Velcro cragging shoe is another good choice—you’ll get a little better performance on small holds, and the easy on-off will offset the less comfortable foot positioning. Avoid slippers until you have more experience climbing with a high-performance fit. Shoes are made on a vast variety of “lasts,” or foot molds, and you won’t know which model from which company fits you best unless you try on a dozen or more pairs. Even a beginner should fit a climbing shoe quite a bit more snugly than a street shoe, but the shoe should not be painful. A good match between your foot shape and the shoe’s last eliminates pressure points and dead spots—you want a uniformly snug fit without pain. —Jeff Achey



The Hueco gained solid footing in the 1990s as a popular recreational shoe. Now, Five Ten has retooled its upper, using higher-quality leather and reinforced side stitching. It’s built on a flat, mid-volume, slightly asymmetric last, and the fulllength laces offer fine-tuning from ankle to toes. The Hueco will comfortably fit almost any foot. The blunt toe box, with a stiff, angled inside edge, bites well, but still feels clunky on really small holds. A thin, EVA heel wedge absorbs shock on descents, and the low ankle cut offers uninhibited range of motion. The 3.5mm Stealth Onyxx rubber sole is durable yet sticky, and a high rubber rand surrounds the shoe—a bonus for jamming.
Ideal Uses: All-day climbs on slabby to vertical rock; cracks, moderate trad
Bottom Line: Very comfortable shoe that fits most feet. Excellent all-day shoe

Editors' Choice

As one tester put it, this shoe “crushes every angle of rock.” The Arrowhead is a moderately downturned version of the best-selling Anasazi VCS—stiff enough for extreme edging, yet sensitive enough to grab holds on steeper rock. The tensioned heel is rubber-coated, and a high rand of Stealth Mystique rubber surrounds the shoe, offering superior hooking and scumming. The arch is higher than in previous Anasazi models, which eliminates bagginess underfoot. Two hook-and-loop closures secure its vacuum fit. Testers called the 3.5mm Stealth Onyxx rubber on the sole “durable and very sticky.” The synthetic upper, lined with a brushed microfiber, will limit stretch and dry quickly, while a split, padded tongue adds a final touch of comfort. We climbed extensively in more than a dozen new shoes for this issue’s reviews, and the Arrowhead hit the bull’s eye.
Ideal Uses: Bouldering, sport, and trad, from technical faces to super steeps
Bottom Line: Excellent edging and grabbing on overhangs—a rare combo in one shoe

Bargain Boss

If you value price tag as much as performance, then look no further. The Rock Master is by far the least expensive shoe in the review, and it climbs quite well. A flat, symmetric last, unlined leather uppers, and mid-volume design make this a comfortable kick for all-day use. The laces extend to the toe and effectively tweak the fit to eliminate bagginess and pressure points. The 4.2mm X-Factor rubber feels hard but sticky. The blunt toe and solid edging platform feel clunky on many small holds, but one tester discovered that the shoe front-points effectively on micros. With a high rand and medium toe profile, this shoe jams well, especially on thin-hands and wider cracks. The heel is ribbed, and the ribbed rear sole improves traction on descent trails.
Ideal Uses: First-time climbers, all-day routes, cracks
Bottom Line: Excellent value for a decent all-around shoe


Face First

The Vapor is a mid-volume lace-up built on an asymmetric and slightly downturned last. Testers with both narrow and wide feet commented on how well they fit. This is due in part to the lacing system, which alternates between leather grommets and eyelets attached to lateral, wave-like stitching. These laces offer exceptional fine-tuning, and a mesh tongue adds comfort. The suede and Lorica uppers stretch just enough to conform to your foot but are designed to hold their shape over time. Expect a longer-than-usual break-in period. The stiff soles sport 4mm Vibram XS Edge, a sticky, hard-wearing rubber perfect for micro-edges and pockets. Testers described the Vapor as “hyper-precise” and “razor-accurate” for face climbing. They hold their own on overhanging rock but feel clunky compared to softer, more sensitive models.
Ideal Uses: Vertical to slightly overhanging technical face
Bottom Line: Comfortable, durable, high-end face boot that fits most feet

Steep Thrills

Red Chili’s new lace-up version of the Matador sports more rubber—on the toebox, the heel, and the rand—than any shoe in the review. They’re asymmetric, heavily downturned, and extremely sensitive, making them an outstanding shoe for jessery on the steeps. The 4mm RX2 Red Chili rubber is too soft for super-tech edging, but no matter—they’ll stick to anything overhung. A trade-off for the rubber-coated toe box is that the laces don’t reach all the way to the toe, but the Matador has a low-volume fit and sharp, precise toe profile that suits all but the widest feet. The cotton-lined, synthetic uppers ride high on the foot, which translates to excellent stability for hooking and scumming. The black and white design conveys a “unique skater vibe,” said one tester.
Ideal Uses: Bouldering, sport, plastic—the steeper the better; high-tech jessery
Bottom Line: A responsive, high-performance shoe for all foot shapes

Best Slippers Ever

The asymmetric, downturned Instinct grabs holds on the steeps better than any shoe in this review. The substantial and semi-stiff midsole also enables precise edging—a quality you don’t normally find in a slipper. Generous rubber atop the toe box provides excellent toe hooking, jamming, and scumming. Fit them tight and you’ll also get superior heel hooking—another quality normally reserved for lace-ups or Velcros. Made with 3mm Vibram XS Grip2 rubber and a Lorica upper, the Instinct is Scarpa’s most sensitive shoe. They hold their shape over time, so expect them to stretch half a size at most. One seasoned tester summed up the Instinct when he called them the “best, most versatile slippers I’ve ever climbed in, hands down.”
Ideal Uses: Bouldering, steep sport, plastic
Bottom Line:A sensitive, high-performance slipper for everything vertical and beyond 



1 When finished climbing, stuff your shoes with a small chamois that fills their interior. This helps wick moisture from the shoe and preserve its shape.
2 Allow your rock shoes to completely dry out after climbing. Remove them from your pack or gym bag as soon as possible, and loosen the laces or hook-and-loop closures to let the interior breathe. Store shoes in a cool, dry environment.
3 Sprinkle anti-bacterial powder into your shoes regularly, especially if they start to smell. My favorite powder is the all-natural Friendly Foot. friendlyfoot.org


Sizzlin’ Stiff

Edging with comfort is what the revamped-for-2011 Habanero does best. Out of the box, this hot new shoe is stiff enough to edge on a dime. Its sharp, low-profile toe fits into pockets and thin cracks with aplomb. Built on a flat, narrow, and slightly asymmetric last, this cotton-lined shoe with synthetic uppers is comfortable and stretch-resistant. The sole is made of durable and sticky 4mm RX2 Red Chili rubber. The rand is high, and the toe box is coated with textured rubber for superior jamming. This rubber prevents the laces from extending all the way to the toe, but the design works well. One tester commented that the shoe feels clunky for smearing but is “money” on edges.
Ideal Uses: Thin face and edging; all angles up to gently overhanging
Bottom Line: Comfortable, technical, all-day shoe


Millet’s latest lace-up has the pointy toe, stiff edging platform, and glove-like fit of a performance shoe. But the flat, symmetric last and padded tongue and ankle collar make it a perfect choice for all-day wear, and these babies cruise angles up to slight overhangs. The laces don’t extend to the toe, but 10 eyelets allow for fine-tuning all the way up to the ankle. The durable sole is made of 4.5mm 4PointGrip rubber, and is sticky and hard-wearing. The uppers are unlined leather with additional synthetic material surrounding the toe. (One tester experienced irritating interior stitching here.) The synthetic minimizes stretch in the toe box but allows the rest of the shoe to mold to your foot. A low toe profile and generous rand offer exceptional jamming.
Ideal Uses: Technical face and crack climbing, long trad routes
Bottom Line: High performance all-day shoe


The following shoes weren’t available for testing but will be reviewed in the coming months.

  • Climb X: Technician
  • Evolv: Evo and Demorto
  • La Sportiva: Python
  • Mad Rock: Mugen Tech 2.0 and Drifter
  • Millet: Easy Up




  • Front-point: A technique used to stand on micro-holds, where the foot is perpendicular to the rock with just the tippy-toe bearing weight.
  • Jessery: Funky body English that eases ascent. Examples: kneebars, hooks, scums, jams, bat hangs, etc.
  • Last: The basic, three-dimensional form around which a shoe is built. The last dictates the shoe’s shape and fit.
  • Midsole: Located just inside the sticky-rubber sole, the midsole largely determines the shoe’s stiffness. Materials and dimensions vary from full-length leather to ultra-thin composites that only reinforce the toe box.
  • Rand: The sticky rubber on the sides of a shoe, located between its sole and upper material. It often encircles the entire shoe.
  • Scumming: Smearing or torquing a normally unused surface of the shoe (top, sides, rear sole) against the rock for stability, pulling, and/or weight bearing.
  • Toe Box: The front of the shoe, designed for a vacuum fit around the forefoot.




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