Twenty-three boots, from rad to trad
Not long ago, you either bought a trad shoe (stiff) or a sport shoe (painful). But nowadays, the way people wear shoes has changed — high-end tradsters will often wear the same model (sized up for comfort) on El Cap free routes they’d use on Rifle sport climbs. Still, with that in mind, it’s hard to know which shoes work best for you until you try them.
For our 2008 rock-shoe review, Climbing called in both a performance and an all-around model (all tested were slip lasted) from 12 industry shoemakers, to help you find the boot best suited to your needs. And we recruited 14 testers, from beginner to rock ace, visiting crags from Red Rock, Nevada, to Yosemite, California, to the T-Wall, Tennessee, and most points (rock and plastic) in between, putting each model through its paces. As with past reviews, we’ve awarded standouts with Climbing’s Editors’ Choice Award.
Need-to-knows: climbing shoe terminology
FIT: The fit’s the thing — no other shoe feature is as important, which explains why one climber’s favorite kicks are another’s clodhoppers. Ultimately, the best shoe for you is the one that conforms snugly to your foot, with no dead space or pain points (read: pinching or rubbing). Hence, it’s integral that you try before you buy. We recommend trying many different brands and models — some brands run wide, others narrow; you’ll never know true performance without testing your options.
LAST: Two types of last determine the stiffness of a shoe: 1) a board last means the shoe is built on a rigid platform along the sole, good for support and edging, but not for sensitivity. This type of last seems to have become a thing of the past, as all the shoes in the 2008 review are slip lasted. 2) A slip last means the shoe will be much softer and more flexible, like a slipper, and thus more sensitive. These days, companies use midsole materials or sole inserts to increase stiffness and edging power in a shoe.
Three types of last dictate the shape of a shoe: 1) a straight last has a flat sole and puts the foot in a relaxed, natural position, like a street shoe. Straight lasts are comfy and good for all-around, multi-pitch, and crack climbing. 2) An asymmetrical last bends the foot inward, forcing the big toe into a position of power. This design offers more precision and edging ability, and thus is preferable to a straight last for sport climbing and bouldering. 3) A down-turned last, often combined with an asymmetrical last, bends the shoe downward (in a twisted banana shape). Such shoes allow you to grab incut footholds on overhangs, making them a great choice for steep terrain, but they’re often too extreme (read: painful) for everyday climbing use.
CLOSURE: There are three basic ways to keep a shoe on your foot: laces, Velcro, or elastic (slipper style), though some companies are creating hybrid closure systems, combining multiple closure systems. 1) Laces allow you to tighten the shoe so it best conforms to your foot and allows adjustment after stretching, but can be a pain to get off and on. 2) Velcro closures offer a convenient on-off transition, great bouldering and sport climbing, but it’s often harder to dial the fit than with laces. 3) The elastic of slippers is not adjustable, so you’ll need a vacuum fit for performance. (No slippers were submitted for this review.)
LINING: A lined shoe (one with a fabric layer sewn into the interior) will stretch less than an unlined shoe, thereby maintaining superior shape and performance during its lifespan. But linings can also make a shoe less breathable (and thus smellier). Most technical edging shoes are lined, while softer, high-sensitivity models (good for steeps) are designed to mold to your feet, and so go unlined. (Here, too, hybrids in the form of partial linings are being introduced, to get the best of both worlds). Both types of shoe can be comfortable if fit properly.
The Merlin is a soft, extremely sensitive lace-up you can trust on tiny holds (thanks to its precise toe) and feel comfortable in. Testers noted a lot of stretch — the unlined leather uppers gave nearly a full size after two weeks. The slightly downturned, asymmetrical Merlins rated above average at all styles, but excelled notably on slightly overhanging face routes. They don’t edge so much as they “smedge” — thanks to Acopa’s 4.2mm RS rubber, testers found themselves smedging handily on the most wee of footers.
Ideal Uses: Face climbing, from slab to slightly overhanging
Bottom Line: Comfortable; extremely sensitive; masterful “smedging”
As one of the only hightops on today’s market, the JB fills a niche mostly ignored since rock shoes’ early days. (If you climb offwidths, you’ll know what I mean.) Made on a straight, flat last, with a padded tongue and canvas-lined upper, the JBs are great for comfortable, all-day trad climbing (and they’re not as stiff as their old hightop precursors). The laces extend way down to the toe box, offering extensive fit options. The JBs are lined (and so won’t stretch much), so size generously. Testers found the shoe stiff enough for micro-edging, plenty sticky for smearing (4.2mm RS rubber), and well-suited to jamming, with a full rand and extra toe rubber.
Ideal Uses: Crack and face climbing; all-day or multi-pitch climbing
Bottom Line: Comfortable; excellent for edging and jamming
Testers pegged the Falcon as “close to climbing barefoot.” The laces let you fine-tune fit, but this downturned, asymmetrical shoe is still softer than many slippers. The Falcon is super-flexible (read: grabs like a machine) because it has no midsole, and the sole itself (Boreal’s FS-QUATTRO) varies from 4mm under the ball of the foot to 4.6mm under the pointed toe — plus, it’s unlined (the leather upper stretched up to a full size and tended to fit high-volume feet). Testers mentioned that the Falcon wasn’t suited for all-around use — it’s a steep-terrain specialiste.
Ideal Uses: Steep, hard sport climbing and bouldering; advanced climbers
Bottom Line: Soft and sensitive; feels like you’re climbing barefoot; specialized for the steeps
Designed for women (i.e., narrow, low-volume feet), the Luna is built on a straight, flat last and has special mid-shoe lacing eyelets that really allowed testers to tighten down the arch (nice for narrow feet or high arches). The sole is made of Boreal’s FS-QUATTRO rubber and varies from 4 to 4.6mm, depending on shoe size. As with most all-arounders, the Luna held its own across the board, but didn’t stand out in any one category. The Luna also fared well on cracks, due to its comfort and thin, low-profile toe.
Ideal Uses: Moderate bouldering, sport, and trad
Bottom Line: Comfortable all-around shoe; fits women or men with low-volume feet; solid crack shoe
ÇaVa T-Rex Velcro
The T-Rex Velcro has a flat, asymmetrical last and uses 4.2mm Stealth Black Magic rubber. The crisscross Velcro closure tightens around the mid-foot and locks down the notched heel. The lined synthetic upper means it’s best to get a comfortable fit out of the box. The Velcro was stiff enough to excel at edging but felt a bit softer than the lace-up (the midsole here is Extreme Board 30, versus the T-Rex lace-up’s 45) — hence more confident on severe overhangs.
Ideal Uses: Moderate-to-hard sport and bouldering
Bottom Line: Comfortable all-arounder; strong on edges, from slabs to overhanging terrain
The T-Rex lace-up is ÇaVa’s flagship boot. The laces are (mostly) covered by synthetic material (protecting them while jamming or toe hooking), and you get a flat, asymmetrical last, with a chiseled toe. The stiff Extreme Board 45 midsole and 4.2mm Stealth Black Magic rubber make it an edging machine. The cotton-lined, non-stretchy synthetic upper kept the T-Rex comfortable but prevented stretching. Testers found the T-Rex heel hooked well on steep stuff, but the stiff, flat toe wasn’t quite dexterous enough for easy grabbing on overhangs.
Ideal Uses: Slabby-to-slightly-overhanging sport and trad routes
Bottom Line: Comfortable; great edging shoe
Evolv Pontas Lace-Up
The Pontas Lace-Up stood out for its blend of performance and comfort. Built on a flat, asymmetrical last, the chiseled toe and firm midsole made for precise, powerful edging, without sacrificing comfort; testers also noted the smooth lace action. The Pontas are cotton lined and have a squishy synthetic upper that resists stretching, so make sure they’re comfortable brand new. The flat last and moderately stiff feel meant the Pontas Lace wasn’t quite the ultimate steep-climbing shoe, but the toe box had plenty of hooking rubber, and the heel stayed put, too. The 4.2mm TRAX XT-5 rubber was exceptionally confident on edges and rugosities.
Ideal Uses: Technical face climbing; high-end all-around use
Bottom Line: Comfortable given its high level of performance; great for all but the steepest rock or all-day trad
The Quest-AF is a solid all-around rock shoe. Built with a super-stiff midsole and flat, asymmetrical last, the Quest-AF offered confident edging in comfort. However, the 5mm TRAX XT-5 sole is slightly thicker (and thereby less sensitive) than what’s on the Pontas Lace-Up. All testers agreed that the lined, synthetic upper was comfortable enough for all-day use — it won’t stretch much, so size accordingly. The Quest-AF’s generous rand rubber allowed for confident crack climbing, too.
Ideal Uses: Edgy face climbs; all-day use
Bottom Line: Reasonably priced and comfortable all-arounder
Five Ten Jet 7
The Jet 7 was made for advanced steep-rock craft. It’s an unlined, radically downturned shoe covered almost entirely in rubber. (In addition to the Stealth HF sole and rand rubber, there’s a thin layer of recycled rubber atop the toe box, for hooking and jamming.) The slipper-like shoe has a single Velcro strap for closure, but this didn’t do much to fine-tune fit, so size snugly. For the testers who fit the Jet 7 well, it vacuum-sealed to their feet. The shoe also stuck to micro-edges with the power of a stiff lace-up.
Ideal Uses: Hard bouldering, sport, and gym climbing
Bottom Line: High-end performance shoe with reliable heel- and toe-hooking skills; specialized for the steep stuff
Five Ten Prism
The Prism’s unique, angular, extremely pointy toe is designed to maximize edging performance. With its Stealth ONYXX sole, this shoe was an ace on edges as long as it fit tightly enough. (One tester — wearing his Prisms a little on the roomy side — posited that the toe stuck out too far to trust on micro-holds.) The Prism’s flat, asymmetrical last empowers your big toe, while keeping the shoe comfortable. A non-stretch synthetic upper maintains the boot’s form over time. Testers appreciated the easy-snugging lacing system, which had more eyelets than most shoes.
Ideal Uses: Slabby to slightly overhanging face climbing; edging; cracks
Bottom Line: Comfortable face shoe that excels at edges and pockets
FM Tech Lizard
In addition to its asymmetrical, downturned last, the Lizard sports a thin rubber bridge between heel and forefoot (to hold the downturn). The sole is 4.2mm X2 rubber. Although the bridge is unusual, it never hung up, and the Lizard performed remarkably well on steep climbs. This lined shoe was both sensitive and comfortable (due to its rounded toe), and the generous heel and toe rubber made for strong hooking. A tight fit is recommended — testers found the two Velcro closures only partially effective in honing fit.
Ideal Uses: Steep climbing, be it rock or plastic
Bottom Line: Performs on steep, toe- and heel-hook-intensive climbs; very affordable for a high-performance shoe
FM Tech Raptor
This is FM Tech’s basic beginner’s shoe, designed for comfortable all-day use. This low-cost lace-up has a straight, symmetrical last, a comfortably rounded toe, and a lined leather upper. A padded tongue adds to the comfort. The Raptor edges well for an entry-level all-arounder and is a competent player from slabs, to just beyond vertical (sharing the same 4.2mm X2 rubber sole as the Lizard). Go any steeper, testers found, and it was a bit too stiff to really grab.
Ideal Uses: Moderate and/or all-day climbs
Bottom Line: Comfortable and competent on most terrain; good starter or all-day shoe
La Sportiva Miura VS
The streamlined Miura VS offers true high-end performance on a wide variety of terrain. The Velcro version shares the same asymmetrical, downturned last and pointed toe as the classic Miura, creating a shoe equally fluent on thin faces and wicked overhangs. The three Velcro closures were almost as effective at fine-tuning fit as laces, though one tester with wide feet commented that the middle strap wasn’t long enough for his liking. The Miura VS has a lined upper but no lining underfoot, which allowed for a sensitive feel with only moderate stretch (about a half-size). Testers commented on the stickiness of the Vibram XS Grip rubber.
Ideal Uses: Moderate-to-hard face climbing; edging
Bottom Line: Extremely high-performing and all-around shoe
La Sportiva Mythos
With the Mythos, La Sportiva takes the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to heart — they introduced the Mythos in 1992, and today it’s their all-time bestseller. Built on a straight, flat last, the Mythos has a toes-flat fit. The unlined leather uppers are meant to stretch to fit, and the laces extend all the way to the rounded toe and around the ankle, which allowed a marked range of adjustability. Our testers liked the Mythos’ all-day comfort; generous toe and rand rubber (Vibram XS Grip), for jamming; flexibility, for smearing; and moderate edging power.
Ideal Uses: Trad climbing; cracks; all-day comfort
Bottom Line: Time-tested all-arounder; great for all but the steepest rock climbs
Mad Rock New Mugen
The New Mugen is designed with a subtly asymmetrical, flat last. Two Velcro straps secure the narrow fit, while the lined, synthetic upper kept the boot from stretching more than a half-size. Generous toe rubber, a pointed, precise toe, and the trademark Mad Rock “Hooker” heel made the New Mugen stand out on steep climbs. The dual-density sole places full-thickness Mad Rubber only at the toe and edges of the shoe, reducing bulk and stiffness by using a thinner rubber everywhere else. Fit is on the narrow side.
Ideal Uses: Steep bouldering, sport, and gym climbing
Bottom Line: A reasonably priced, narrow-fitting, high-performance shoe
Mad Rock Onsight
Mad Rock’s women’s-specific shoe is built on a straight last and is unlined for a highly malleable fit. This soft shoe lends itself to high sensitivity, for bouldering and sport climbing. Testers found the Onsight’s fit to be wider in both the heel and toe than most (typically narrower) women’s shoes. The Onsight handled smearing, steep rock, and plastic very well, due to its Fx-5 rubber and soft, flexible feel. Size snugly.
Ideal Uses: Vertical-to-overhanging bouldering, sport, and gym climbing
Bottom Line: Comfortable, soft, and sensitive women’s-specific shoe; slightly wider fit; excellent value
Mammut’s high-performance Velcro shoe is built on an asymmetrical, downturned last for steep bouldering and sport climbing. The toe comes to a sharper point than most shoes tested, which made a real difference on miniscule footholds. The cotton-lined synthetic upper will keep stretch to less than a half-size. The sole is 4mm Vibram XSV rubber, and the heel is coated with rubber and slightly ribbed for secure hooking. Like most Velcros, the two straps didn’t dial toe fit perfectly, so size small. (Editor’s Note: For this review, Mammut provided one shoe model only. Another, the Samurai, is also available for 2008.)
Ideal Uses: High-end bouldering and sport climbing
Bottom Line: High-performing Velcro for steep, hard climbing
Millet Okto II
The new-to-America Millet’s steep-rock shoe, the Okto II, builds on a steeply downturned, asymmetrical last for maximum toe power. This high-end lace-up has unlined leather uppers and a padded tongue, and will stretch a half to a full size; the sole is 4pt GRIP 4.5mm rubber. While the laces stop a bit too far back for premium toe-box tightening, the shoe fits best anyway with a toes-curled configuration, for grabbing — size snugly. The top eyelet is attached to a tension strap that wraps the heel, a nuance testers found well-secured the Okto II for hooking.
Ideal Uses: Steep bouldering and sport climbing
Bottom Line: Dexterous shoe for steep climbing; aggressive for most moderate climbing
Built with a straight last and chiseled toe, the Hybrid is billed as Millet’s all-purpose shoe. The Hybrid’s medium stiffness meant very able edging and frontpointing on small footholds, while the unlined leather upper and padded tongue kept it comfortable and allowed for stretch. Three Velcro straps that extend close to the ball of the foot offer better-than-average adjustability for a Velcro, and extra rubber atop the toe made this a great thin-crack shoe; the sole is Millet’s 4pt GRIP 4.5mm rubber. On the whole, testers found the Hybrid lived up to its name, combining comfort and precision.
Ideal Uses: Slabs to just past vertical; thin cracks
Bottom Line: High-performing all-arounder great for all but the steepest rock
Red Chili Spirit Lady VCR — Impact Zone
This women’s Velcro is built on a trimmed-down version of the Spirit’s flat, asymmetrical last. The Spirit Lady comes with the “Impact Zone” foam-padded heel and sole, both of which our testers liked when bouldering. Red Chili’s 4.2mm RX1 rubber coats the sole. Testers also praised the shoe’s comfort: the unlined upper stretched somewhat, but the three straps did a great job customizing fit. Designed with a sharp, low-profile toe, the Spirit Lady excels at edging and pocket climbing, and its low-volume heel stuck to tenuous hooks, though one tester found smearing to be a challenge.
Ideal Uses: Bouldering, sport, and gym climbing
Bottom Line: Comfortable, highly adjustable Velcro shoe for women; strong edging capabilities
Red Chili Durango VCR
An entry-level shoe, this comfortable Velcro version of Red Chili’s Durango is built on a flat, slightly asymmetrical last that our testers easily wore all day. A thick (5mm) RX1 rubber sole provides longer wear than most shoes, while unlined leather uppers readily stretched up to a full size. Our testers gave the boot solid performance marks in each discipline, and found it to edge and “jib” well, especially when new.
Ideal Uses: Moderate all-around climbing; all-day use
Bottom Line: Reasonably priced; comfy for all-day wear
The very downturned, moderately asymmetrical Feroce is a high-performance shoe for vertical to overhanging terrain. It comes equipped with a slightly pointed toe and a very thin (3.5mm) Vibram XS Grip sole, making it highly sensitive. The Heinz Mariacher-designed Feroce is an excellent edging and jamming shoe, due to its stiff midsole and three Velcro straps, which offer near lace-up-quality tightening. Testers found that the “hooking rail” (a unique rubber bar wrapping the heel) effectively grabbed lips or rough spots, while the extra-soft sticky-rubber patch atop the shoe snagged toe hooks.
Ideal Uses: Moderate-to-hard, vertical-to-overhanging climbing; jamming
Bottom Line: High-performance shoe with a knack for cracks
The Techno fills the performance-trad-shoe niche. Built with a straight, flat last, comfortable toe box, and no lining, these shoes fit testers all day, even on harder climbs. In the interest of comfort, Scarpa eliminated the typical heel rand and replaced it with their “Heel Lock System” — a webbing/lacing advent testers found locked in the heel as they tightened the laces. The low cut of the shoe allowed for good ankle mobility on slabs and cracks, while its medium stiffness handled smearing (thanks to 4mm Vibram XS Grip rubber), edging, and jamming like a pro.
Ideal Uses: Hard, technical trad routes; all-day wear
Bottom Line: Comfortable, high-performing trad shoe that can swing sport climbing, too
Also Out: Approach Shoes
• Boreal Approach ($99, e-boreal.com): Midweight, breathable approach shoe with waterproof leather uppers and a Vibram Multisport sole
• Evolv Escapist ($79, evolvesports.com): Lightweight, breathable approach shoe with TRAX rubber sole; vegan-friendly
• Mad Rock Hustler ($69.95, madrockclimbing.com): Midweight, well-ventilated, with a Mad Rubber Formula 5 sole and sticky-rubber rand
• SCARPA Expresso ($99, scarpa.com): Ultra-lightweight, breathable, and built on a climbing-shoe last (with a rocker for hiking), with a sticky-rubber rand. Click here to buy now from MountainGear.com