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This story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of our print edition.
We’re all looking for a Cinderella moment. Of course, finding that perfect kick is more difficult than ever in the rapidly expanding world of sticky rubber. This year, we spent more than six months testing 10 top contenders to find the best kicks for whatever your shoe stash is missing. With options spanning from aggressive sending shoes to comfy all-day foot armor to high-performance all-arounders, the testing field was more competitive than ever. Our testers scaled Boulder Canyon sport and trad lines, picked their way up holey limestone in Wild Iris, slapped some Chattanooga sandstone, and strapped in for enduro alpine routes in the Tetons to come away with these five top-notch pairs.
Hard Sport Hero
Review: Boreal Kintaro
The Kintaro delivers exactly what you want from a medium-aggressive performance shoe: superb edging, power on steep terrain, and comfort for longer pitches. Read the full review.
Ladies’ Comfortable Versatility
Review: Lowa Women’s Sparrow
These durable queens of comfort are tailored to any climber who wants a sizeable step up in performance from pure-comfort shoes without losing ease of wear. Read the full review.
Review: Five Ten Verdon
The Verdon ups the ante for the classic all-around, medium-high performance shoe, offering more comfort and precision from slabs to steeps than any comparable shoe on the market. Read the full review.
Quiver of One
Review: Boreal Lynx
Improved fit and feel make the updated Lynx more comfortable than previous versions, while a new randing system and stickier rubber increase performance on all angles, rock types, and objectives. Read the full review.
Understand the Upper
The material in your shoe’s upper makes a huge difference in fit, feel, and performance. Leather was used in the first renditions of boots of all types; it’s a flexible yet durable material made from animal rawhide, and it stretches under pressure, forming to the shape of your foot. The tanning process in leather-making permanently alters the protein structure of the fabric, making it durable, supple, and less susceptible to decomposition. It’s usually best to downsize leather rock shoes up to a whole size. Synthetic uppers are man-made polymers, like nylon or polyester, that are woven together to create a fabric that is just as durable as leather, without the stretch. Synthetics also tend to wick sweat better and are more breathable. Some companies use a combination of materials strategically, placing leather to stretch in tight spots (over toe knuckles) and synthetic (top of the foot) to hold shape and keep the foot cooler. —Owen Silitch