“Comfort-performance” seems like an oxymoron when talking about climbing shoes. Dime-edging and precision pocketing mean dealing with the features of purely performance shoes: a tight, toe-crunching fit and an aggressive downturn. Wearing purely comfort kicks can feel clunky or sloppy on hard routes. What about somewhere in between? Say, a dead-vertical, sixpitch 5.10? Before, you compromised and took your tight shoes with plans to take them off at every belay, or packed the all-day shoes with prayers of high friction and perfect footwork. Now, five companies have filled the void with their version of a “comfort-performance” shoe, meaning you won’t have to compromise. And the beauty of this crop is that each pair has a specific blend of these two attributes, meaning you can pick a shoe that is customized to your needs.
Five Ten Stonelands Lace-up($135, fiveten.com)
Performance: “Fits like a street shoe and sticks like a climbing shoe,” one Colorado tester said. “These are now my go-to pair for soloing in the Flatirons.” Their claim to feel-good fame is thanks to the new asymmetric Stonelands last and a roomy toe box that’s both wider and higher than other shoes in the line. The space up front allows you to keep the shoes tightened while giving the toes somewhere to curl up into if that’s your style. You get lots of edging and precision power without the scrunchy aggravation of downturned shoes. An upgrade from other Five Ten shoes is the narrow heel, which improved the overall fit and function by keeping our heels secure, while making this shoe appropriate for a greater variety of foot shapes (in past testing, Five Ten models have fit wider feet best). Rigid and thick sole rubber gave full support on long granite routes in Joshua Tree, so foot fatigue was never an issue, even on four-pitch climbs. The Stonelands scored a 5 (out of 5) for stickiness (thanks to the Stealth rubber) and stiffness/edging, and a 4 for sensitivity, smearing, and jamming.
Cons: One of the four testers had durability issues with eyelets popping out, but the other three testers had zero complaints. The Stonelands also comes in Velcro and slipper models, though our testers universally preferred the lace-up version.
Conclusion: Don the Stonelands for anything and everything from long cracks to moderate bouldering up to V6 or V7. “The combination of comfortable fit with performance toe position and stiffness make the Stonelands a near-perfect all-around shoe.”
Scarpa Force X ($129, scarpa.com)
Performance: With an overall score of 4.5 (out of 5), one tester summed it up: “On White Whale (5.7) at Lumpy Ridge, I had confidence to fiddle with gear 20 feet above my last piece plus the comfort to go hours without dying for a break.” The secret is in the padding: Scarpa lined the back of this shoe with quarter-inchthick padded mesh, so the most sensitive parts of your foot—starting mid-arch and wrapping around the Achilles, then up and over the bony top of the mid-foot—stay happy even when you crank ’em down. The bottom strap is directly attached to an extra piece of rubber that wraps under the sole right behind the ball of the foot, which keeps your toes in the very end for power in pockets. The padding, a stiff sole, and sturdy rubber that curves up into the arch feel like a fortress of support when you’re standing at a belay for 45 minutes like one tester did on Playin’ Hooky (5.9), Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. Although it was stiff, the sole broke in nicely and was more flexible than others, so it was great for smearing and “smedging” on the tiny features of the slabs in Yosemite.
Cons: The padded heel prevents any sort of true vacuum fit, so bouldering, heel-hooking, jamming, and overhanging routes are quite difficult; this also contributes to the potential for the shoes to get funky after only a few wears.
Conclusions: Party in the back, business in the front. A stiff, padded heel protects your foot and keeps it happy for hundreds of vertical feet, while a sensitive forefoot and pointed toe boost precision for pockets and edging.
La Sportiva Jeckyl VS($120, sportiva.com)
Performance: Marry La Sportiva’s highest performance shoe, the Solution, to its bedroom-slipper cushy Mythos, and its offspring would be the Jeckyl VS. Although it sports a flat last, the highly tensioned sole rubber creates a tiny upward arc that pulls the forefoot up while keeping the toes down to form an ever-so-slight downturn. This grabs and pulls footholds on everything up to slightly overhanging, like Pink Torpedo (5.9+) at Shelf Road, Colorado. You get the function of a downturned shoe with the feel of an all-day shoe. They were well-suited for the granite climbs of Boulder Canyon, where edging, smedging, and smearing are required. “The Jeckyl strikes a delicate balance between sensitivity and stiffness in the sole,” one tester said. “It’s stiff enough to feel protected standing at belays but sensitive enough to pull on near-miniscule holds.” Dot cutouts in the unlined leather upper enhanced breathability, which was nice in the sweaty gym. Nice touch: A small, split in the upper that sits against the back of your heel, so the shoe can cup the bottom of the heel without aggravating the sensitive Achilles.
Cons: A shortened bottom Velcro strap prohibits a dialed-in fit, and testers found the heel to be somewhat baggy on these shoes, compared to La Sportiva’s usual fit. The oversized tongue wraps around the foot and feels bulky.
Conclusion: An excellent balance if you truly need comfort and performance in equal parts, plus bonus points for being one of the most sensitive out of the review while keeping the feet completely protected.
Tenaya Masai($140, trango.com)
Performance: From overhanging routes at Rifle, Colorado, to sandstone bouldering at Joe’s Valley, Utah, the Masai handled every pocket, edge, smear, jam, heel-hook, and heel-toe cam with ease. They are high-performance shoes that are a pleasure to wear all day, so they’re ideal for hard single-pitch sport routes and long trad routes alike. Testers found they excelled on difficult vertical routes, like on seven pitches of miniscule sandstone edges on the dead-vertical Prince of Darkness (5.10c), Red Rock, Nevada. Testers have had them for eight months, and each one has gotten consistent performance on every single pitch, from right out of the box to thousands of vertical feet later. “My favorite aspect of these shoes is their predictability,” said one long-term tester. “I put them on and know exactly what I’m getting every time.” That’s thanks to the super-sticky and durable Vibram XS Grip rubber, as well as the synthetic upper that doesn’t stretch. Plus, the laces let you fine-tune the fit, so you can go tight when you need to crank out some moves, or loose for warming up or cruising moderates.
Cons: The highest performance shoe can’t be the most comfortable, too, so you do sacrifice some cush, but climbers used to the pain of ultra-tight kicks will find these great to wear all day.
Conclusion: A high-performance shoe that also happens to be really easy to have on, especially for low-volume and narrow feet. Climbs everything (read: everything) on rock well.
Millet Hybrid($120, milletusa.com)
Performance: Having climbed up to 5.13a on Spurt-A-Tron in Rifle, Colorado, these shoes have proved their worth on everything from overhanging, glassy limestone to sharp, vertical sandstone. With rigid 4 Points Grip rubber throughout the shoe and an inflexible forefoot, the Hybrids were some of the best edging shoes in our review. Unfortunately, that means they didn’t excel at smearing: “It’s smearing with your entire foot—ok when there’s a big platform, but not great for nuanced smears,” said one tester. They did stand out for jamming—especially on thin hand cracks and wider—thanks to the rigid forefoot, Velcro straps farther back on the foot, and extra rubber up over the forefoot on both sides. A favorite was the Crash Pad heel, which was “great for bouldering, both landing and walking between boulders,” said another tester. It has a built-in EVA anti-shock insert so the force from every heel strike is absorbed into the shoe, and not back up into your bony foot. They also scored high marks in the durability department (4 out of 5); the leather upper held up really well to repeated foot jamming and scumming.
Cons: Although they did climb some high-end routes, that climber said, “They felt pretty boxy and clunky.” They fit narrow feet well— wide feet might find them relatively uncomfortable.
Conclusion: Comfortable shoes geared toward a narrow foot, these would be an excellent upgrade if you want to climb a little bit of everything: moderate sport, trad, and bouldering, especially for jamming and edging.