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Review: Our Top 11 Rock Climbing Shoes

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This story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of our print edition.

Rock Climbing Shoes Review

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

Review: Boreal Satori
Right out of the box, the Satori impressed testers with well-thought-out details, a near-perfect fit, and an aggressive feel. Read the full review.

Overhang Ace

Review: Scarpa Booster S
If your project is past vertical, in a cave, has a roof—this is the shoe for you. Read the full review.

Stiff Trad

Review: Butora Mantra
Traddies and alpinists who want full support and stability from a sticky-rubber rock shoe will love the Mantra and its old-school style. Read the full review. 

Goldilocks Performance 

Review: Five Ten Hiangle
The Hiangle is excellent for climbers looking for their first pair of aggressive shoes or those who want a higher level of performance in the gym. Read the full review.

Ladies’ Quiver of One

Review: Mad Rock Lyra
The ideal shoe for harder multi-pitch routes, because it feels like a comfort shoe, but it has the performance of a more precise kick. Read the full review. 

Everlasting Performance 

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.

Comfy All-Around

Review: Evolv Axiom Shoe
A solid, do-it-all shoe that is comfortable on everything moderate: cracks, in the gym, and on 10-pitch sufferfests. Read the full review. 

Sensitive Slipper

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.

Cinderella’s Slipper

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