This story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of our print edition.
Thanks to the widespread growth of climbing as a sport, new companies are popping up (or expanding into the rock shoe market), veteran manufacturers are rounding out their collections with more models, and many brands are targeting the female climbing populace with additional women’s-specific options. The result is tons of new rock shoes for fall, and our test team can’t complain. They took more than a dozen pairs of top contenders to some of the best climbing hot spots in the U.S.: big walling in Zion, topping out boulders in Little Rock City, Tennessee, bolt-clipping at Wild Iris, Wyoming, getting funky in the Gunks of New York, and lots of other crags in between. Rock shoes are the one piece of gear that can make an immediate impact on your climbing, and no matter your discipline, we promise you’ll find your next favorite pair below.
Stiffness for Steeps
Ladies’ Quiver of One
Review: Boreal Dharma Shoe
If you want a high level of performance, enough comfort to wear for a few hours at a time, and an all-around shoe that edges all day, the Dharma will quickly turn into your go-to pair. Read the full review.
Review: Butora Sensa Shoe
California-based Butora has charged out of the gate with some of our favorite shoes of the year. The Sensa is a classic slipper design with a flexible, flat sole. Read the full review.
Master of all Trades
Review: Tenaya Tarifa
Following Tenaya’s motto that high performance doesn’t have to mean low comfort, the Tarifa is a medium-stiff shoe that has top-notch performance on every angle and type of terrain. Read the full review.
Review: Mad Rock Lotus
With full-on flexibility throughout the shoe and maximum sensitivity, the Lotus performs like a slipper, making it an excellent choice for steep terrain with small holds, competition climbing, and everything in between. Read the full review.
Quiver of One
Review: Butora Endeavor
As the one-stop shop of rock shoes, the Endeavor is a durable, medium-stiff, medium-flex, sticky-rubber kick that is at home on vertical, slabby, and even slightly overhanging terrain.Read the full review.
Understanding Gender Bias of Climbing Shoes
Women’s-specific climbing shoes might be a relatively new addition to the market, but don’t let the gender label fool you: Men might find these shoes fit better than some unisex models. Originally, designers would take a men’s last (see p. 39 for definition) and chisel it down to create a shoe with less volume. But that wasn’t good enough. “Men’s and women’s feet are similar, but not the same. If you start with a men’s last, it won’t fit a woman perfectly, even if you make several changes,” says Mad Rock Sales Manager Kenny Suh. With the number of ladies in the climbing scene growing rapidly, manufacturers have chosen to start from scratch, building lasts that are more specific to woman’s foot. “Typically women have higher arches, a thinner Achilles, and narrower feet,” says Suh, “so we are doing things like Arch Flex technology that creates a higher arch in the shoe, minimizing dead space and increasing tension throughout, so it hugs the foot all the way around.” Although they’re designed for women, it doesn’t mean some men don’t share the same foot traits, and in the end, it’s all about finding the right fit for your foot. The opposite also rings true: Some women might have wider, flatter feet. The moral of the story is to choose a shoe based on the fit for your specific foot shape, regardless of gender. —Leslie Hittmeier