Climbing shoes are incredibly nuanced and diverse in shape and feel. Finding the right shoe depends a lot on what type of climbing you’re doing and what type of rock you’re doing it on. Add in the fact that sizes, rubber type, and fit vary wildly from brand to brand, and it’s no wonder that finding the right shoe can be a challenge.
That’s why we’ve spent months seeking out and testing the top 10 best climbing shoes to meet your climbing needs and goals, examining factors like the shoe’s profile, closure system, fit and feel, comfort, performance, and sensitivity.
These shoes smeared up multipitch slab, jammed into a range of crack widths, withstood drizzle, and hit the crag during 90-degree Fahrenheit summer heat. The routes were scattered from Canada to Colorado, on various North American granite, and ranged between trad climbing, sport climbing, and toprope.
And while there isn’t a single pair of shoes that works for every person’s feet and climbing style, we’ve highlighted a variety of options. It can be useful to have different shoes for different climbing disciplines if you dabble in more than one, as many often do.
These are the shoes we wear and love — the best climbing shoes that will make you hit the boulders or the crag with more confidence than ever.
- Best Overall Women’s Climbing Shoes
- Best Budget Women’s Climbing Shoes
- Best Women’s Climbing Shoes for Beginners
- Best Aggressive Women’s Climbing Shoes
- Best Trad Climbing Shoe
- Best Shoe for Sport Climbing and Bouldering
- Best of the Rest
The Best Women’s Climbing Shoes of 2023
Best Overall Women’s Climbing Shoe: La Sportiva Katana
The Women’s Katana Lace from La Sportiva ($219) is one of the best all-around, high-performing shoes on the market. The Katana has been a beloved shoe by many for years, and La Sportiva just came out with an updated version in 2022 with slight improvements to key elements of the shoe.
The Katana is a mildly downturned, stiff shoe known for its precise edging and pocket performance while also being soft enough to smear on small granite footholds and twist into cracks. The updated version has a reconstructed heel cup, with a thinner strip of rubber that hugs the Achilles, as well as rubber on the sides of the heel for better sensitivity and performance, making this a great shoe for bouldering as well.
This shoe might not be the best for beginner climbers, however, as it has a very high price tag, and has performance qualities that are better suited for the intermediate to advanced climber. The Katana Lace performs exceptionally on all but steeper terrain, where you would want a more aggressively downturned shoe to better pull on holds.
- Closure: Laces
- Weight: 15.2 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Microfiber/leather
- Rubber type: Half-sole 4mm Vibram XS Edge Rubber
- Great on a variety of rock and terrain
- Mild downturn makes it versatile for vertical and overhangs
- Edges and pulls well
- New women’s version comes with a split sole for increased sensitivity
- Must size differently for updated version
Best Budget Women’s Climbing Shoe: Black Diamond Momentum
Due to the flat last and nonaggressive character, one tester — who used this shoe on 5.9- to 5.11-rated multipitch granite in Yosemite, South Lake Tahoe, and Colorado’s Taylor Canyon — had this to say: “The Momentum is not my go-to gym shoe, but it’s a great cragging shoe and is good for beginner climbers.”
It also comes with a price tag that’s hard to beat, making it a great budget pick for someone just getting into the sport.
The Black Diamond Momentum ($100) gets a thumbs-up for breathability. Its synthetic knit upper provides great airflow. And the shoe’s ability to flex and mold to the foot makes for a comfortable fit. Its flat profile makes it great for all-day climbing, as more downturned shoes tend to be uncomfortable for long periods.
One drawback: The rubber isn’t all-time quality, so it slips at times, especially on indoor holds. But the tester said it works best outside.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 13.2 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Synthetic knit
- Rubber type: 4.3mm rubber
- Competitive price
- Great shoe for beginners
- Flat and comfortable
- Missing top-notch rubber, so indoor climbing gets slick
- Climbers may want a higher-performing shoe after some time
Runner-Up: La Sportiva Women’s Skwama
The La Sportiva Women’s Skwama ($199) pairs the sensitivity and flexibility of a slipper with the downturned action of a much more aggressive shoe. “These excellent shoes are high performers on boulders and sport routes, and work just as well in cracks with their low-profile build,” one of our testers said.
Their sensitivity makes these shoes shine, as they flex and press on the smallest footholds in overhung terrain. Their patented S-heel construction ensures secure heel hooking action, and their Velcro enclosures allow for easy on-and-off at the boulders or crag. We loved these shoes on all types of rock and terrain, from overhanging granite crags to sandstone cracks and boulders, to pocketed limestone.
While these shoes excel at climbing pockets, toeing into finger cracks, and smearing on granite slabs, they fall short when real vertical edging comes into play. The softness that makes these slippers so comfortable and shine in other ways doesn’t make for the best shoe for serious face climbing — you’d want to opt for a stiffer shoe with better edging capabilities if that’s your primary type of climbing.
With that said, the Skwama is so good at every other style of climbing, which makes it our runner-up for best overall women’s climbing shoe.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 12 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Leather, microfiber, rubber toe cap
- Rubber type: 4mm Vibram XS Grip2
- Sensitive and aggressive for harder climbing
- Very comfortable slipper design
- S-Heel construction for superior heel hooking
- Not good for vertical edging
- Leather upper stretches over time
Best Women’s Climbing Shoe for Beginners: SCARPA Force V
Ready to start climbing? The SCARPA Force V ($169) is a solid beginner option that will grow with you.
It’s an awesome all-around shoe with great padding and support, quality rubber, and a roomier toebox. Plus, foot entry and exit are easy with large pull tabs, a soft tongue, and easy Velcro straps.
“The moderate profile and flex of the midsole provide enough support for endurance or longer days of climbing but not for routes that are too extreme,” said one tester.
This is another shoe with a flat last that makes climbing all day a comfortable affair, but it’s not the best option for steeper climbing.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 17 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: 1.8mm suede
- Rubber type: 4mm Vibram XS Edge
- Less aggressive last for long days on rock
- Great padding
- Easy to take on and off
- Lacks stiffness for climbers desiring rigid support
Best Aggressive Women’s Climbing Shoe: La Sportiva Solution
The La Sportiva Solution ($199) is drastically downturned in the toebox, provides excellent support for high arches, and has a narrow heel cup, making it a great choice for those with slim feet. The Fast Lacing System, which is an integrated single-strap Velcro attachment, allows for quick closure. Though our testers found the straps to be a tad long for super-narrow feet.
“I love the support and hug that these shoes give my feet on vertical climbs. In contrast, I might not choose these shoes for a long, multipitch day or lower-angle routes,” said one tester.
The Solutions shine in the arenas of bouldering and steep sport climbing, as their downturned nature makes toeing in on small footholds much easier than with a flatter shoe. The heel cup allows you to employ heel hooks for powerful bouldering moves, and the rubber on top of the shoe allows for purchase on those finicky toe hooks.
Because of their aggressive nature, these shoes are not our pick for multipitch routes or all-day comfort. But if you want a high-performance shoe for those hard boulders or your latest overhung sport climbing project, look no further.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 17 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Leather, Lorica
- Rubber type: 4mm Vibram XS Grip
- Awesome high-arch support
- Aggressive shoe for bouldering and steep sport climbing
- High-performance shoe
- Velcro closure is long for narrow feet
- Not comfortable for all-day use
Best Trad Climbing Shoe: La Sportiva TC Pro
The La Sportiva TC Pro ($219) has been the trad climber’s shoe of choice for over a decade now, and that hasn’t changed. An updated model released in 2021 makes great improvements to the tried-and-true classic. It has a continuous rand that is less prone to delamination, a wider tongue that is less prone to rolling, as well as a small plastic shoelace protector on the inside of the shoe to help resist abrasion from cracks.
This stiff shoe is made with 4 mm of Vibram XS Edge rubber, which lets you stand on the tiniest dime edges on vertical terrain. Its flat sole allows for all-day comfort on long routes and in cracks. Being so stiff, it has a tendency to feel “clunky” on your feet, especially if you are used to wearing softer, more sensitive shoes like many of the other models in our lineup.
You won’t be able to “feel” footholds underneath your toes as much as with the Skwama, per se, but the stiffness is what makes the TC Pro so reliable at standing on tiny edges. This is also another expensive shoe, and beginners might want to start off with a more versatile, less pricey shoe to take them from the gym to the crag.
- Closure: Lace
- Weight: 1 lb., 1 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: ECO leather, microfiber
- Rubber type: 4mm Vibram XS Edge
- High-performance edging shoe
- All-day comfort in cracks and on long routes
- Mid-height cuff protects ankles in cracks
- Not great for overhanging terrain
Best Shoes for Sport Climbing & Bouldering: SCARPA Instinct VS
There are a lot of great things we could say about the SCARPA Instinct VS ($209). First, they are the most comfortable aggressive shoes right out of the box one of our testers has ever climbed in. A very low-profile shoe, the Instincts feel a lot less bulky than some of the other La Sportiva models we’ve tested. And with a slightly wider toebox than the general La Sportiva design, these could be a great fit for those who don’t have the narrowest of feet.
Made with XS Grip 2 rubber, which strikes a good balance between stiffness and sensitivity, the Instincts are fantastic for toeing into limestone pockets and edging into small footholds. And where the Instincts really shine is in their heel cup — the SCARPA design sports much less rubber than La Sportiva shoes, fitting snugly around your heel so you can really feel the rock underneath and power through on those important moves.
Rubber completely encases the front toebox, allowing you to pull into toe hooks with confidence. These features combined make this our top pick for a bouldering and sport-climbing shoe where the terrain is steep and precision is paramount.
Because of the downturn shape, we don’t recommend the Instincts for slabby terrain. They also seem to fit the best when they are sized tightly, so that all the air is sucked out of the shoe for a slipper-like fit, making them not a top contender for multipitch or trad climbing. But for those who spend a lot of time pulling hard on small rocks or sport climbing on gently overhanging to steep terrain, these shoes are superb performers.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 14.2 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Microsuede and leather
- Rubber type: 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2
- Slipper-like fit
- Moderately downturned, asymmetric shape great for bouldering or steep sport climbing
- Rubber toe patch for toe hooking power and protection
- Low-volume heel hook for better fit and sensitivity
- Wider toebox may fit some better than La Sportiva models
- Not a great all-around shoe due to aggressive shape and fit
Best of the Rest
“This is a great all-around shoe for experienced climbers that need a step up from a beginner shoe, and the breathability is excellent,” said one tester who climbed in 80-degree F weather while avoiding sweat-soaked feet.
The heel cup of the SCARPA Vapor V ($199) is comfortable, and the upper is very supportive. And we like that the rubber is sensitive and high quality, allowing for precise footwork when needed.
“The edging and precision were tricky for small pockets because of the toebox shape, but the flexibility is amazing,” added the tester.
This is a great step up from the flatter-profiled shoes at the beginning of this review, as the Vapor V is moderately downturned but not aggressively so. This allows for more versatility on varying rock types and terrain. They may not win a specific category, but they’re some of the best climbing shoes out there.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 14.8 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Microsuede, leather
- Rubber type: Vibram XS Grip2
- Nice intermediary choice for progressing climbers
- Excellent breathability
- Moderately downturned for versatility
- Slimmer toebox is not super-conducive for edging power
The So iLL Street LV ($140) offers a fit for narrower feet, with the “LV” standing for “low volume,” but “there’s also quite a bit more volume in the forefoot compared to other narrow designs,” said one tester with a wide forefoot and narrow heel.
If you’ve shied away from other women’s-specific climbing shoes because you’re afraid they’ll be too narrow, the Street LV might strike the balance between having a well-fitting heel and a forefoot that isn’t as tight as a corset.
This pair’s aggressive parrot-bill shape powerfully dominated overhanging bouldering problems. More experienced climbers will appreciate the Street’s ability to perform well on steeper, more difficult terrain.
This shoe may prove to be too narrow for those with wider feet, but for those looking for a tight-fitting shoe to send their next project in, the Street LV is a good choice.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 16 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Synthetic
- Rubber type: Dark Matter rubber
- High-performing for angled, overhanging problems and routes
- Women’s-specific, low-volume build
- May be a tight fit for wider feet
The La Sportiva Women’s Miura VS ($199) are pocket-climbing, vertical-edging machines. “The stiffness of this shoe allows for precision on technical granite face climbs in California, to the long limestone sport routes of Mexico,” said one of our testers.
Built for pushing on micro edges and small pockets, your confidence on thin routes will surely improve with the Miura VS.
The downturned shape of this shoe makes it excel in steep climbing as well. This is a highly asymmetrical model, which combined with its downturn, provides tension throughout the shoe and places the toebox directly over your big toe for top-notch pulling and pushing power.
“These shoes are workhorses for vertical faces as well as steep boulders and routes,” said our lead tester.
To perform their best, you will want to downsize the Miuras, which can make them painful. These are also not our top choice for slab climbing or crack climbing, as they are too stiff and aggressive for those types of terrain.
- Closure: Velcro
- Weight: 16.5 oz. (pair)
- Upper material: Leather
- Rubber type: 4mm Vibram XS Grip2
- Edging and pocket-pulling machines
- Stiff shoe
- Asymmetric build
- Not good for slab or crack climbing
- Can be a slightly painful shoe
|Climbing Shoes||Price||Closure||Weight||Upper Material||Rubber Type|
|La Sportiva Katana||$219||Laces||15.2 oz. (pair)||Microfiber/leather||Half-sole 4mm Vibram XS Edge Rubber|
|Black Diamond Momentum||$100||Velcro||13.2 oz. (pair)||Synthetic knit||4.3mm rubber|
|La Sportiva Women’s Skwama||$199||Velcro||12 oz. (pair)||Leather/microfiber/rubber toe cap||4mm Vibram XS Grip2|
|SCARPA Force V||$169||Velcro||17 oz. (pair)||1.8mm suede||4mm Vibram XS Edge|
|La Sportiva Solution||$199||Velcro||17 oz. (pair)||Leather/Lorica||4mm Vibram XS Grip|
|La Sportiva TC Pro||$219||Lace||1 lb., 1 oz. (pair)||ECO leather/microfiber||4mm Vibram XS Edge|
|SCARPA Instinct VS||$209||Velcro||14.2 oz. (pair)||Microsuede and leather||3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2|
|SCARPA Vapor V||$199||Velcro||14.8 oz. (pair)||Microsuede and leather||Vibram XS Grip2|
|So iLL Street LV||$140||Velcro||16 oz. (pair)||Synthetic||Dark Matter rubber|
|La Sportiva Women’s Miura VS||$199||Velcro||16 oz. (pair)||Leather||4mm Vibram XS Grip2|
Why You Should Trust Us
Miya Tsudome is a former rock climbing guide for the Yosemite Mountaineering School, and has been climbing outdoors for the past 8 years. She is a fan of climbing sport, trad, and alpine routes across the country as well as trying hard on boulders.
She has climbed all over the granite cliffs of Yosemite and the east side of the Sierra Nevada, has spent months shoving her hands and feet into the sandstone cracks in southeastern Utah, and has traveled to Spain and Mexico to sample international limestone.
Years of climbing on different terrain and in different disciplines have guided her to know what she is looking for in her climbing shoes, and she hopes to bring an objective view to the strengths and weaknesses of popular shoes for women today.
Buyers Guide: How to Choose Women’s Climbing Shoes
Identify Your Climbing Style
“To choose a rock climbing shoe, analyze the terrain where you’ll take the shoes and determine where you’ll be doing 70-80% of your climbing. Then dial in the right fit,” said Stefanie Kamm, athlete manager and digital marketing coordinator for SCARPA North America.
Kamm started climbing in 2012 and climbs weekly in Boulder Canyon, Colo. So, she knows a thing or two.
One of our testers, Miya Tsudome, a former rock climbing guide in Yosemite National Park who has been climbing for 8 years, also has some advice to give:
“It’s nice to have a shoe that can do it all, but more often than not us rock climbers will have many different types in our quiver. If you like to boulder and climb overhanging sport routes sometimes, it will benefit you greatly to have a more aggressive shoe.
“If at other times you like to do long multipitches or go crack climbing, you’ll want a more comfortable pair. If you’re serious about climbing, don’t be afraid to buy a few to round out your arsenal.”
We spent months testing these 10 pairs of climbing shoes and can provide you with all the information you need to choose your next pair.
Shoe Shape & Fit
The shape, or last, of a climbing shoe greatly determines its purpose. In general, bouldering, overhanging, or vertical single-pitch routes need shoes with a tight, performance-type fit, also known as aggressive, down-cambered, downturned, or slightly downturned. The La Sportiva Skwama, La Sportiva Solution, and SCARPA Instinct VS are good examples of aggressive shoes.
A flatter last, like in the La Sportiva TC Pro, SCARPA Force V, or Black Diamond Momentum, might be more comfortable for multipitch and low-angle, sub-vertical climbs. Commonly, rock climbing guides and new climbers choose a flatter shoe for all-day comfort. As you progress or are drawn to harder styles of climbing, you may look to upgrade to a more aggressive model.
Shoe softness refers to the pliability of the rubber in the outsole, which increases sensitivity, or a climber’s ability to feel the rock features. The slipper-like La Sportiva Skwama is a good example of a sensitive shoe.
Comparatively, harder rubber provides more foot support and can be better when you need to stand on very small footholds on vertical terrain. The stiff La Sportiva Miura VS shoes are the wizards of this style of climbing.
A good fit is greatly determined by foot compatibility with that last shape and the shoe size. This is also a subjective measure, as everyone has a different foot shape. Make sure there are no air pockets around the foot or heel. Toes will curl under in a downturned shoe compared to a flat shoe.
Most people also size down from their street shoe size. If you haven’t done so before, try sizing down in half-size increments and see how that feels.
Your toes should always curl slightly, and your shoes should always feel tight for the best performance. If you prioritize all-day comfort, find a flat shoe where your toes barely curl.
Whether you choose a Velcro or lace closure system will alter the feel and fit, so try out both. Lace closure systems are typically more adjustable, while Velcro systems make it easier to take your shoes on and off. Also, a shoe’s materials affect the fit over time, as shoes with a leather upper will stretch while synthetic uppers will not.
Leather vs. Synthetic
Leather uppers are generally more durable than synthetic uppers. If you’re mostly trad climbing or spend a lot of time with your toes jammed in cracks, leather is the way to go. However, sizing can be tricky, as leather uppers stretch over time. Synthetic uppers stretch much less, and the fit you get out of the box is pretty much the fit you can expect for the life of the shoe.
Vegan footwear addresses leather uppers and footbeds. Some brands, like Evolv, are known for their vegan products.
When trying on shoes with leather uppers, be aware that they can stretch over time, sometimes up to a half-size larger. This is important when considering what size to buy, and sometimes it will benefit you to buy a size that feels a bit too tight knowing they will stretch in the future.
Overall, women’s-specific models have a lower-volume heel, narrower last, and softer or thinner rubber for easier flex and more sensitivity. We encourage you to try on a ton of shoes to find the foot mold that fits your foot the best.
Be open to wearing any shoe regardless of gender. Men with a lower-volume heel often prefer the women’s version. Women’s shoes also tend to have thinner or different types of rubber so that they are more sensitive for lighter climbers.
The women’s SCARPA Instinct VS, for example, uses XS Grip 2 rubber, which is softer and stickier. The men’s version uses XS Edge rubber to accommodate the typically higher weight of the male climber with a little extra stiffness.
Velcro vs. Lace-Ups
Climbing shoes with Velcro straps are easy to take on and off, making them a good choice for bouldering, gym climbing, and single-pitch climbing. Some models, like the La Sportiva Solution, have one integrated Velcro strap that zig-zags over the tongue of the shoe and can be easily pulled tight and attached via its Velcro tab. This ensures a nice, snug fit.
Other models, like the Evolv Kira, have two Velcro straps across the top so you can dial in the fit over two parts of your foot.
Shoes with laces, on the other hand, can be cinched tight, and those who are very concerned with having their shoes fit as perfectly as possible for high performance will opt for models with laces such as our top pick, the La Sportiva Katana.
While either type can be and is used in all different styles of climbing, each will still have certain limitations. Velcro straps can work fine for many types of cracks, but may make it harder to fit into hand cracks and larger. Modern shoes with Velcro straps allow room for rubber on top of the toebox, which will greatly aid in toe hook maneuvers.
Lace-ups will have a slimmer profile overall and may be more appropriate for crack climbing. While lace-ups ensure that you’re able to fine-tune your fit, they may not be the best for steep bouldering where the laces can get in the way of toe-hooking.
Soft vs. Stiff
Soft versus stiff shoes come into play when you’re getting serious about finding a shoe to match the terrain you’ll be climbing on — and pushing yourself to try harder grades, making this more applicable to intermediate climbers.
Our best recommendation for beginners is the SCARPA Force V for its comfortable, flat profile and softer feel. Having a softer shoe is good if you’re just starting out because it’ll allow you to feel footholds more and learn better technique.
If you’re graduating from your beginner shoes, you’ll wonder what direction you need to go in for your next pair. The SCARPA Vapor V strikes a great balance between stiffness and sensitivity, with a moderate downturn that makes it a good all-around, nonspecialized shoe. The La Sportiva Katana could be the next upgrade after this, for its high-performance rating across a variety of terrain and stiffer construction, which allows you to learn to stand on small edges.
Soft shoes like the La Sportiva Skwama are great for steep or off-vertical terrain because paired with their aggressive downturn, they allow you to pull in on small footholds and smear on bad feet and small cracks.
Stiff shoes, like the La Sportiva Miura VS or the La Sportiva TC Pro, are made more so for edging and climbing on small pockets. With so much stiffness throughout the shoe, you are able to more easily stand on dime-size edges than with a flexible shoe like the Skwama. This is because your whole foot is supported.
In summary, if you find yourself climbing on steeper routes or, conversely, slabby routes and cracks, a softer shoe like the Skwama would be a good match. If you’re more into vertical routes with pockets or tiny edges, a stiffer model like the Miura VS would be the shoe for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best brand of climbing shoes?
The best climbing shoe is the one that fits well and supports your climbing style and goals. Some of the leading climbing shoe brands — like Five Ten, La Sportiva, and SCARPA — are generally well-regarded, but personal preference is the most important factor.
What are the best climbing shoes for beginners?
On this list, we’ve named the SCARPA Force V as our favorite beginner climbing shoe. The Force V is comfortable, durable, and adaptable to a wide variety of foot shapes and climbing styles.
For new climbers, comfort is more important than advanced features like a downturned last or a massive patch of toe rubber. The Force V is precise enough to progress in the gym or at the crag, but ultimately it was designed for comfort. With the Force V, new climbers can focus on learning the sport, improving, and having a good time.
Should you wear socks with climbing shoes?
Most climbers prefer not to wear socks with their climbing shoes. It’s generally accepted that wearing socks decreases sensitivity and reduces the effectiveness of your climbing shoes.
These days, climbing shoe companies are working hard to make thinner, more sensitive shoes, and wearing socks is often seen as a step backward.
However, when climbing in cold conditions, some climbers find a pair of socks can be an essential way to maintain warm feet. In the end, it’s all personal preference. If you like to wear socks, wear socks!
Should your toes be curled in climbing shoes?
That depends. Many advanced shoes are designed to be worn with the toes curled to maximize precision and toe power.
When the toes are slightly curled, many climbers find it easier to transfer power to the point of the shoe and stand comfortably on tiny footholds. This is especially important in shoes that are both stiff and aggressive.
However, curled toes are not comfortable, and such an aggressive fit is unnecessary for many climbers. For all-day comfort in the gym or on multipitch routes, a roomier fit is probably the way to go. Beginning climbers should prioritize comfort above all else.