Rock shoes have come a long way since the 1980s when there were only a few options available. Today, there are numerous models to choose from, making it difficult to find the perfect pair for your climbing needs. To help you in your search, we have conducted extensive research and testing to bring you a list of the most interesting and highest-performing climbing shoes of 2023. Whether you’re a gym boulderer, a sport climber, or a trad climber, there’s a shoe on this list for you.
The Winners at a Glance
Here are the top 10 climbing shoes for experienced climbers:
- Editor’s Choice: Scarpa Vapor S
- Butora Gomi
- Black Diamond Aspect Pro
- Black Diamond Method S
- Five Ten NIAD VCS
- La Sportiva Katana Lace
- La Sportiva Skwama Vegan
- Red Chili Voltage LV
- Scarpa Quantix SF
- Tenaya Indalo
How We Tested
We assembled a team of 10 experienced climbers ranging in age from their twenties to their fifties. Over the course of our testing, we tried out 16 different climbing shoes on routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.14. We tested the shoes at climbing gyms, on outdoor sport routes and boulder problems, and on various types of rock including sandstone, limestone, granite, and basalt. Our goal was to thoroughly evaluate each shoe’s fit, comfort, performance, and durability.
Factors We Considered
When evaluating the climbing shoes, we considered several factors including fit, break-in period, comfort, precision, edging, smearing, hooking, scumming, and jamming. We also looked at the shoes’ durability and how well they held their structure and last after heavy use. Our testing covered a wide range of climbing styles and terrains to ensure that the shoes performed well in various conditions.
Our Lead Tester
Our lead tester, Matt Samet, is an avid rock climber with over 20 years of experience. He has tested climbing gear for various publications and has a deep knowledge of the sport. Alongside Matt, we had other experienced climbers and members of the Climbing staff who provided valuable input and feedback for this review.
The Reviews: The Best Climbing Shoes of 2023
Here are detailed reviews of the top 10 climbing shoes for experienced climbers:
Editor’s Choice: Scarpa Vapor S ($229)
The Scarpa Vapor S is our top pick for its incredible sensitivity and performance. With a sticky, full-length XS Grip 2 outsole and a surprisingly flat last, this shoe provides a glove-like fit and excellent footwork on steep rock. The Vapor S is versatile and performs well on both small edges and slopey feet. It’s a powerful shoe that excels in bouldering, gym climbing, and sport climbing.
Butora Gomi ($160)
The Butora Gomi is an excellent all-around climbing shoe that offers soft, intuitive, and sock-like fit. It provides good feedback in the toe box, heel, and scumming patch. The Gomi is sensitive and performs well on smears and tiny jibs. It’s a great option for bouldering and sport climbing, especially for climbers with wide feet.
Black Diamond Aspect Pro ($200)
The Black Diamond Aspect Pro is a solid choice for trad climbers. It offers a kind fit and long-term comfort, with incredible stability at stances. The narrow toe profile is great for cracks, and the thick, sticky Fuse rubber outsole provides excellent grip on slabs. The Aspect Pro is a versatile shoe that performs well on a variety of terrains.
Black Diamond Method S ($144.95)
The Black Diamond Method S is a comfortable shoe with a soft, pliable last that’s ideal for smearing, steeps with big footholds, and volume climbing. It has a unique camouflage aesthetic that stands out from other shoes on the market. The Method S is a great choice for gym bouldering, board climbing, and cave bouldering.
Five Ten NIAD VCS ($150)
The Five Ten NIAD VCS is a very stiff and precise shoe that excels at edging and micro-edging. It has a sticky 3.5-millimeter Stealth outsole that provides good smearing performance. The NIAD VCS is a great option for climbers who prefer old-school edging and who value support over sensitivity.
La Sportiva Katana Lace ($219)
The La Sportiva Katana Lace is a high-performing all-around climbing shoe that offers extreme precision for edging and micro-edging. It has a long toe box and a laser-cut sole that promote access to thin cracks and pin scars. The Katana Lace is a great choice for climbers who prefer thin face climbs and thin crack routes.
La Sportiva Skwama Vegan ($199)
The La Sportiva Skwama Vegan is a high-torque, highly sensitive slipper that performs well on any terrain. It has a forgiving fit and is extremely versatile. The Skwama Vegan is a great choice for climbers who value feedback, a high-torque fit, and are looking for a shoe with a synthetic upper for ethical or fit reasons.
Red Chili Voltage LV ($180)
The Red Chili Voltage LV is a friendly downturned shoe that offers a forgiving fit and stretchy elastic tongue. It performs well in smearing, edging, hooking, and grabbing. The Voltage LV is a great option for climbers with narrow feet who want a comfortable fit.
Scarpa Quantix SF ($189)
The Scarpa Quantix SF is an extremely precise shoe with a stiff forefoot and overall flexibility. It offers a soft PAF heel and is a jack-of-all-trades shoe that performs well in various climbing styles. The Quantix SF is a lightweight, precision all-arounder that is perfect for sport climbers, boulderers, and trad climbers.
Tenaya Indalo ($215)
The Tenaya Indalo is a well-balanced and precise shoe with a forgiving fit. It performs well in grabbing, overhanging edging, and smearing. The Indalo has a molded heel cup that excels at hooking. It’s a great option for sport climbers who prefer technical, gently overhanging routes.
How to Buy
When buying climbing shoes, it’s important to consider your intended use and the fit of the shoe. Determine whether you’ll be using the shoes for gym bouldering, gym lead climbing, performance sport climbing, bouldering, trad climbing, or all-around climbing. Consider the volume of your feet and how different brands size their shoes. Make sure the shoes fit properly, with your toes sitting flat or slightly curled at the tip and your heel fully in the heel cup. Don’t skimp on the break-in period, as some shoes require time to mold to your feet.
In conclusion, the right climbing shoe is essential for a successful climbing experience. We hope this guide has helped you find the perfect pair for your climbing needs. Happy climbing!