Best rock climbing descent shoes
Finishing off a multi-pitch route with a painful descent in tight climbing shoes can strip the enjoyment from an otherwise great day. Thankfully, there are a number of shoes well-suited for carrying up a route in a pack or on a harness, and then putting on for the hike or scramble back down. For this review, we tested five of these downward-minded, lightweight kicks. While they all met the basic parameters of the review (light, sticky, compact, easily handling third-class terrain), each model has particular strengths.
Best rock climbing descent shoes
Evolv Cruzer ($75; evolvesports.com)
Weight: 14 oz.
Performance: In addition to their street-wise good looks, these shoes were the best overall performers of the review. Sticky TRAX climbing rubber soles and rands, a stiff, edgingoriented toe box, and a slim fit meant they were solid on the blocky fifth-class terrain leading up to the Amphitheater in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. Hiking pleasure was adequate, considering their light weight, and was increased by a microfiber-lined upper, memory foam insole, and thin EVA midsole for support. Overall, the sole is fairly stiff and offers sound protection on rocky trails. A collapsible heel makes them a crag-friendly slip-on, unobtrusive in a climbing pack, or when you're squeezing up a chimney with them clipped to your harness with the sturdy heel loops.
Cons: On the narrow side. Those with wide feet should plan to wear thin socks or no socks. The heel cup is a little low and lacks support. Laces are short. The canvas upper showed wear points within a few rugged uses.
Conclusions: A shoe with just enough support and climbing performance for short approaches and long, tricky descents, with low weight and profile. “Performance overachievers with hipster styling,” raved one tester. Looking for the model that offers the most well-rounded performance? Look no further.
Five Ten Daescent ($110; fiveten.com)
Weight: 19 oz.
Performance: Testers were pleasantly surprised by these shoes' smearing and edging performance on terrain as varied as mudslide-contaminated slabs in Zion, Utah, and the low-fifth-class Flatirons of Colorado. One stated, “The smooth sole under the pointy toes and high, sticky rands make this a shoe ideal for real rock climbing.” Tried and true Stealth Mystique rubber and a unique manufacturing process that builds the sole and toe rand out of one single piece mean fewer layers of material between your foot and the rock, so you have the necessary sensitivity for climbing. Under-foot protection and comfort is still high, though, thanks to the shoe’s dualdensity EVA midsole and generous layer of bottom rubber.
Cons: Weight (the heaviest shoe tested) and stiff construction caused them to feel cumbersome when clipped to a harness. The pointy toe shape is not especially compatible with boxy feet. Takes up a considerable amount of room when stowed in a summit-style pack during long routes.
Conclusions: Excellent for technical approaches while wearing a crag pack, and the best on-rock performance of the review. The strongest choice for when you want to wear the same shoes all day for zipping up and down fourth- or low-fifth-class routes.
La Sportiva Vertical K ($115; sportiva.com)
Weight: 14 oz.
Performance: They're designed as trail runners, so they boast an amazing combination of light weight and hiking comfort. “Like wearing sticky clouds on your feet,” wrote one tester. “The best hiker,” stated another. Fit is superb thanks to a stretchy, gapless, foot-hugging upper that keeps trail debris out of the shoe while hiding the laces, ensuring they are snag-free. The soft, comfortable sole is partially covered with Frixion XF, a rubber concoction that stuck like glue on thirdclass, low-angle slabs. Deep tread grooves provide locker traction on loose terrain. Sleek, low-profile heel loops let the shoes pair snugly when clipped to a gear loop.
Cons: Despite the sticky rubber, a thick, squishy sole makes these below-average climbers. The sole and molded heel cup also give them unwanted bulk when packing into small climbing sacks. A tad high-profile when clipped onto a harness.
Conclusions: The best pick for big days when foot protection and hiking comfort are the numberone priority. They’ll disappear on your feet thanks to their scant weight and pillow-like feel. Durable for the weight.
Merrell Barefoot Run Trail Glove ($110; merrell.com)
Weight: 14 oz.
Performance: “They are a joy to slip on at the top of long routes,” exclaimed one tester. The generous and breathable toe box is one reason for the instant comfort; another is the smooth-running lacing system that evenly applied tension to the whole instep, boosting support while increasing overall shoe stability. Considering their light weight, they offer a surprisingly high degree of hiking comfort and foot protection. This is possible thanks to a 4mm compressionmolded EVA midsole and a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate. The moderate tread pattern and Vibram rubber work well on standard hiking terrain. A thick,ul bumperstyle toe rand protects the little piggies should you accidentally kick a rock.
Cons: Because of their light weight and flexible sole, strong feet are needed for long approaches while wearing a pack. The generous and slightly bulbous toe box prevents them from sticking securely to small footholds. Not much top-of-foot protection.
Conclusions: Quick to put on and very compressible, this shoe can be easily squished into a climbing pack. And because of their light weight, they seem to disappear when clipped to a gear loop. Good choice for someone concerned with weight but also needing extra toe/foot protection.
Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS ($120; vibramfivefingers.com)
Weight: 13 oz.
Performance: With sub-13-oz. weight and a hyper-flexible design, these shoes can be almost forgotten when clipped to a harness. One tester accidentally sat on the pair he had clipped to a gear loop and never noticed. The five-finger design allows each toe to have independent articulation and grip on the trail or rock, which works for climbing but takes some getting used to. The XSTrek Vibram sole and aggressive tread pattern were surprisingly durable, standing up to at least a month of climbing and descending during a warm Colorado spring. (These are Vibram's first trailspecific five-finger shoes.) The tread offered average stickiness and was secure on loose, gravelly hiking terrain. The 3mm polyurethane insole offered a bit of foot protection even though it is thin and flexible.
Cons: Offers a minimum amount of under-foot protection and almost no top-of-foot protection. Requires very strong feet, or lots of practice, to wear them effectively on anything but the shortest of approaches while wearing a full climbing pack. Can be tricky to put on, especially if your feet are sweaty.
Conclusions: A specialist shoe for the ounce-counting climber who also wants packability. One tester said, “My number-one choice for descending off routes: They weigh nothing and never got in my way when climbing with them on my harness.” Easily crammed into small on-route packs.