Is pebble-wrestling your climbing discipline of choice? Have you bought your membership to the local bouldering gym and started dreaming about topping out your pro on the weekend? If yes, then it’s time to invest in the best bouldering shoes to help you reach the next level.

Bouldering tends to lend itself to dynamic movements and physical, three-dimensional climbing. Due to the nature of bouldering you will need a shoe that helps you push and pull with your feet while keeping you locked in on steep terrain.

In this guide, we break down everything to look for in a fantastic bouldering shoe. Climbing shoes are arguably one of the most important pieces of gear you will own. These are even considered extensions of yourself while on the wall. So, buying the perfect pair can definitely make a world of difference.

 

 

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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIND THE BEST BOULDERING SHOES

PICTURE
BOULDERING SHOES
BEST FOR
SOLE THICKNESS
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
BOULDERING SHOES
BEST FOR
SOLE THICKNESS
PRICE
RATING
Scarpa Instinct VS
All Around
3.0 mm
$$$
4.7
La Sportiva Solutions
All Around
4.0 mm
$$$
4.8
Five Ten Hiangle
All Around
4.2 mm
$$$
4.2
Evolv Agro
All Around
4.2 mm
$$
3.5
La Sportiva Skwama
Budget
4.0 mm
$$
4.5
Butora Acro
Budget
N/A
$$
4.8
Evolv Shaman
Budget
4.2 mm
$$
4.4
Five Ten Team 5.10
Sensitivity
2.5 mm
$$
4.5
Tenaya Oasi
Sensitivity
3.5 mm
$
4.5
Scarpa Booster S
Sensitivity
3.5 mm
$
4.1

 

 

BOULDERING SHOES 101

 

6 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST BOULDERING SHOES

Bouldering shoes are very aggressive and highly specialized. Fortunately, there are several options on the market so finding the perfect shoes with a balance between comfort and power is possible. Keep in mind that all the shoes covered in this article are fairly high end.

If you are a new climber, consider starting out with a pair of beginner climbing shoes. Steep terrain is easily accessible indoors. Many climbing gyms offer boulder problems in the V0-V2 range that climb through overhangs. Beginners may benefit from a more aggressive shoe if climbing primarily indoors.

Lastly, true bouldering-only shoes do not exist. All models covered in this review can also be used for other climbing disciplines.

 

1. SHOE CONSTRUCTION

Understanding the parts of a climbing shoe is super helpful in narrowing down your option.

 

UPPER

The upper on a climbing shoe is the material that covers the top of the foot. Climbing shoe uppers are usually made from leather/microsuede or synthetic materials. The upper also provides comfort and breathability. Some uppers are lined to reduce stretch.

 

RAND

The rand of a climbing shoe is the rubber that wraps around the toe box and heel, providing something for the sole to attach to. In an aggressive shoe, the rand is often tensioned to deliver power to the toe.

For example, Scarpa uses a tri-tensioned rand in some of their shoes. Evolv uses a tension power system and La Sportiva has a patented P3 permanent power platform.

 

MIDSOLE

The midsole is a hidden component of the shoe. It is located between the sole and the upper. It gives the climbing shoe its structure while being lightweight and flexible to support torsional and flexional pressures. Ultra-flexible shoes have very small, thin midsoles.

 

SOLE

The sole is the outermost rubber on your climbing shoe. It’s the part of your shoe that makes contact with the rock. A thicker sole will give you more stability and last longer.

But, a thinner sole will provide greater sensitivity. A variety of rubbers is used on the soles of climbing shoes. All of them aim to provide stickiness, sensitivity and durability to keep you on the smallest of edges and the glassiest of smears.

 

LAST

The last is the foot shape that the shoe was constructed on. There are wide and narrow lasts offered to meet the needs of various foot shapes. Once you learn which last (or lasts) fit your feet well, it can make shopping for the perfect climbing shoe a breeze.

 

CLOSURE

There are three different types of climbing shoe closures: lace-ups, velcro hook-and-loops and slippers. All the bouldering shoes in this review feature a velcro-style closure.

Velcro closures add a little bit of customization to a true slip-on. They are easy to get on and off quickly. The closure also tends to stay out of the way for toe-hooking in steep terrain. Actually, most bouldering shoes are a hybrid slipper-velcro design.

 

2. THINK AGGRESSIVE!

Bouldering shoes are downturned – or aggressive – to help keep your feet on the wall in steep terrain. Downturned shoes have a talon-like or hooked appearance and focus the power into the toe. In aggressive shoes, the toes are pressed into the end of the toe box and slightly curled.

Every shoe we’ve suggested in this article is down-cambered or hooked. These shapes are not ideal for all-day comfort and often not a good choice for beginner shoes.

 

3. HOOKING ABILITY

Bouldering involves pulling short sequences of difficult moves on relatively small rocks known as boulders. Many difficult boulder problems require climbing through steep terrain. To keep the body locked in when moving through overhangs, climbers use techniques such as toe hooks and heel hooks.

To facilitate better pulling with all parts of the foot, bouldering shoes have powerful heel cups that allow precision heel hooking. Most bouldering shoes also have sticky toe rubber that extends over the upper on the front of the shoe so that climbers can pull with the tops of their feet as well.

 

4. FIT

The most important consideration when choosing the best bouldering shoe is fit. Every person has a slightly different width, volume and heel depth.

Climbing shoes are constructed on multiple different lasts that aim to meet multiple different foot shapes. We recommend testing as many models as possible in shops or at shoe demos to find the ones that hug your foot best.

If your feet are of two different sizes, there are solutions for that problem as well! Some companies allow you to order a different size for each foot for the addition of a nominal fee.

 

5. SIZING

Sizing your climbing shoes comes down to personal comfort, type of climbing, and the brand you’re buying from. Lined shoes often fit true to street size, whereas European brands like La Sportiva and Scarpa usually require downsizing. Climbers often buy their bouldering shoes a half-size down from what they wear for sport climbing.

Downsizing to a snug fit immobilizes your feet in your shoes. A perfect tightness with no gaps or hotspots can increase precision in all aspects of footwork. Downsizing too far can be dangerous though especially in the case of lined shoes that will stretch no more than a half size at most.

Stretch is a realistic concern when buying climbing shoes especially when you’re seeking a highly specialized precision shoe for bouldering. While the length of your climbing shoe from heel to toe won’t change, an unlined leather climbing shoe can stretch up to two sizes.

 

6. MEN’S VS WOMEN’S

Most climbing shoes on the market are “Men’s” or “Unisex.” When a women’s specific version is available, the options are usually fewer.

Some companies deliver women’s versions to the world as a pink or purple model, whereas other companies advertise a gender-neutral low-volume alternative. Many men have low-volume feet and choose women’s models for a better fit.

 

what bouldering shoes to wear when climbing

Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/anatoliy_gleb

 

BOULDERING SHOES REVIEWS

 

1. BEST BOULDERING SHOES FOR ALL-AROUND USE

SCARPA INSTINCT VS

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Bouldering, smearing, edging

SOFTER VERSION: Scarpa Instinct VSR 

UPPER: Unlined microsuede

RUBBER: Vibram XS Edge

SOLE THICKNESS: 3.0 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Highly charged bi-tension active randing that connects toe box to heel cup

PROS: Excellent heel, powerful aggressive shoe good for smearing and edging, good from slab to steep, aggressive toe rubber coverage, an identical, softer version available

CONS: Not ideal for wide feet, EX Edge rubber reduces sensitivity and flexibility slightly

 

 

 

LA SPORTIVA SOLUTIONS

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Bouldering in steep terrain

WOMEN’S VERSION: La Sportiva Women’s Solutions

UPPER: Unlined synthetic

RUBBER: Vibram XS Grip2

SOLE THICKNESS: 4.0 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Patented P3 permanent power platform

PROS: Downturned position is maintained due to patented P3, very aggressive in the toe and excellent for toeing in

CONS: Molded 3D heel cup does not fit many climbers’ heels

 

 

 

FIVE TEN HIANGLE

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: All-around performance and comfort, technical footwork

WOMEN’S VERSION: Five Ten Hiangle Women’s 

UPPER: Unlined split grain leather

RUBBER: Stealth C4

SOLE THICKNESS: 4.2 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Supportive, stiff midsole

PROS: Great intro to downturned shoes, rubber bites into holds well, toe specialized for technical terrain, stiffest profile in five ten aggressive line offering great stability and comfort

CONS: Wears out somewhat quickly, narrow opening can be difficult to get foot into, men’s version dyes feet blue

 

 

 

EVOLV AGRO

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Bouldering in steep terrain

WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A

UPPER: Synthratek with microfiber lining

RUBBER: TRAX SAS

SOLE THICKNESS: 4.2 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: TPS (tension power system) technology, thin-rubber midsole, downturned and down-cambered

PROS: Optimal toe rubber coverage, TPS maintains downturned position in toe over time, moisture-wicking microfiber lining

CONS: Sizing runs a bit small compared to other Evolv shoes, somewhat bulky

 

 

 

 

2. BEST BUDGET BOULDERING SHOES

LA SPORTIVA SKWAMA

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Bouldering and technical routes

WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A

UPPER: Unlined leather, microfiber

RUBBER: Vibram XS Grip2

SOLE THICKNESS: 4.0 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Slip-lasted with patented P3 permanent power platform

PROS: S-heel construction for perfect heel fit and optimal heel hooking ability, glove-like with soft midsole, Climbing Magazine editor’s choice for 2017

CONS: Higher volume shoe than others in the La Sportiva line, downsizing may be necessary

 

 

 

BUTORA ACRO

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Bouldering and steep routes, technical edging

NARROW FIT VERSION: Blue Acro Narrow Fit 

UPPER: Lined synthetic and leather

RUBBER: Butyl F5

SOLE THICKNESS: Unknown

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: High-tensioned heel rand, down-cambered

PROS: Tensioned heel rand directs pressure into toe for edging, excellent coverage of toe-hooking rubber, durable, custom heat mold binds finished sole rubber and rand to reduce delamination issues

CONS: Shoe runs a little small

 

 

 

EVOLV SHAMAN

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Bouldering and steep routes

WOMEN’S VERSION: Evolv Shaman LV – Women’s 

UPPER: Unlined synthetic

RUBBER: TRAX

SOLE THICKNESS: 4.2 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: 1.0 mm half-length “Love Bump” midsole under the toe and obtuse angle “knuckle box” over toe

PROS: Designed by Chris Sharma, downturned asymmetric with the knuckle box, great for wide feet, excellent coverage of toe-hooking rubber

CONS: Three velcro straps can get in the way when toe hooking, rubber lacks sensitivity, users either love or hate the “knuckle box” and “love bump”

 

 

 

 

3. BEST BOULDERING SHOES FOR SENSITIVITY

FIVE TEN TEAM 5.10

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Steep bouldering and routes, gym and competition climbing

WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A

UPPER: Lined synthetic

RUBBER: Stealth HF

SOLE THICKNESS: 2.5 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Medium stiff midsole

PROS: Great heel and toe-hooking, shoes are “pre-downsized” so they fit similar to street shoes, vegan, great on overhanging terrain, ultra-sensitive

CONS: Soft, not ideal for edging, not as comfortable as the Hiangle

 

 

 

TENAYA OASI

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Steep bouldering and routes, smearing, edging

WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A

UPPER: Synthetic with cotton lining

RUBBER: Vibram XS Grip

SOLE THICKNESS: 3.5 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: Built on down-turned and down-cambered last

PROS: Almost no stretch so sizing is predictable, great power in the toe, rand does not bulge out at all

CONS: Velcro doesn’t last as long as the shoe itself, but it’s replaceable

 

 

 

SCARPA BOOSTER S

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Steep bouldering and routes

WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A

UPPER: Unlined Microsuede upper

RUBBER: Vibram XS Grip2

SOLE THICKNESS: 3.5 mm

CONSTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTS: 1/3 length vibram sole with tri-tension active randing

PROS: Super-light, ultra-sensitive and supple, great for pulling with toe and in overhanging terrain, power focused in the toebox

CONS: Soft rubber can wear out more quickly

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