While it’s tempting to buy this year’s latest high-end climbing shoe guaranteed to stick to featureless faces better than Peter Parker, a more realistic approach involves carefully matching a shoe to the climbing terrain, climbing style and experience level of the climber.
Here are some tips for getting the right climbing shoe for this season:
Climbing Style and Terrain
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All manufacturers build shoes for a specific climbing style: crack climbing, multipitch routes, steep bouldering, gently overhanging sport climbing, plastic pulling and almost every other possible climbing option and combination. Within these categories, manufacturers further optimize shoes for certain terrain. The most obvious examples are in the sport climbing category which includes super-soft shoes for ridiculously steep cave climbing and stiffer, edging-oriented models ideal for vertical technical testpieces. Similar graduated options exist within the other climbing styles and climbers should spend some time considering where they’ll spend the majority of their climbing before deciding on a shoe.
A snug fit prevents foot-roll inside the shoe and minimizes the chance of blowing off small foot holds. Unfortunately, snug is a relative term and beginners often buy shoes too big while advanced climbers downsize excessively. For beginners this results in sloppy footwear that’s barely an improvement on conventional running shoes, while advanced climbers suffer from a crippling fit, torn rands and diminished performance as a super-tight fit prevents the shoe from flexing properly. And rather than arbitrarily downsize every shoe the same way, fit should be based on the shoe’s construction and intended purpose. Shoes designed for all day multipitch climbs should be snug but comfortable while high level grade-crushing sportclimbing shoes need more downsizing. The goal is the elimination of dead space and foot movement without compromising the shoe’s performance.
A precise, edging-oriented shoe, the Blade climbs beautifully on thin edges, small pockets and gently overhanging terrain. A thin and supportive perimeter-midsole provides control on small holds while the soft centre allows for pulling on steeper terrain. Two wide, Velcro-style straps lock the foot and minimize unwanted shifting, while the deep-ribbed heel cup provides solid hooking. Construction quality is superb and the lined upper and extensive rubber coverage ensures predictable performance. This is a great shoe capable of difficult climbing on rock and plastic.
With their powerful cambered fit and radically curved last, the Boosters are unmatched on steep technical terrain. The sophisticated tension locks the foot in a position allowing for excellent edging on small holds or pulling on larger features. A thin midsole adds support without deadening sensitivity and the impeccable construction assures constant performance over the lifespan of the shoe. A tensioned rubber patch across the forefoot adds control and improves hooking while two Velcro-style straps lock the heel and midfoot. The tension and extreme shape may be too much for beginners, but experienced climbers will love these precision climbing weapons.
Copperhead – $125
Thin crack-climbing specialists will love the new Copperhead. Designed with input from Canada’s own crack master Jean-Pierre Ouelette, the Copperhead takes the proven Moccasym shape and hot rods it with extra rubber and offset hidden laces. Sensitivity is exceptional and if fitted with flat toes, this shoe can snake its way into the thinnest cracks. Edging is passable and suffers as the shoe breaks in, but that’s not a priority for climbers buying this specialized shoe. A great new option for the climbing shoe quiver.
Intended as a comfortable, all-round shoe for beginner and intermediate climbers, the Force delivers category shattering fit and performance. The mildly tensioned flat last hugs the foot while the soft forefoot lining and padded tongue provide all-day comfort. A thin midsole adds edging precision without sacrificing sensitivity and two Velcro-style straps control foot movement. The front closure strap may be a touch long for climbers with for narrow feet, but can easily be trimmed with a sharp knife or scissors. An incredibly versatile and comfortable shoe with excellent performance on rock or plastic.
The Mantis delivers everything a beginner climber needs in a shoe; comfort, support and good performance. This flat-lasted and lightly-tensioned shoe is perfect for the gym or the crag and offers good edging without compromising sensitivity and smearing. The three Velcro-style straps control foot movement while the heavily padded tongue and forefoot ensure comfort during longer climbs. The fit seems to run about a half size smaller than other Sportivas, so size accordingly and enjoy balanced performance and easy fit.
Mugen Tec -$99
Mad Rock’s claims about the Mugen Tech’s new rubber are not hype – this is very sticky stuff which smears and edges significantly better than previous compounds. The flat, mildly tensioned upper has a higher volume toe box improving comfort and performance when edging and pulling. Unlike earlier versions, the supportive midsole is now more flexible increasing versatility on steep terrain, while the rubber toe patch and aggressive heel cup are perfect for the mandatory foot-trickery found in difficult bouldering. Mad Rock adds an environmentally friendly hemp lining which controls stretch and minimizes odours. Climbers wanting top-notch rubber performance and a versatile shoe will love the new Mugen Tech.
Optimus Prime -$125
As a new model in the Chris Sharma signature collection, the Optimus Prime offers exceptional performance. The shoe is swathed in rubber, highly cambered and has a thin flexible midsole – necessary elements for precision edging, pulling and scumming on steeper rock and plastic. A blunt toe shape provides a comfortable fit for wider feet and adds stability and power when frontpointing footholds. A stretch-resistant, lined synthetic upper and highly tensioned fit maintain consistent performance but require up-sizing by at least half a size from previous Evolve models. Climbers wanting solid steep-rock performance, great craftsmanship and a Sharma endorsed shoe, should check-out the Optimus Prime.
With its supersoft construction and pointy asymmetric cambered-last, the Project excels at steep climbing where pulling with the feet is critical for success. The low volume fit provides compression for added control but may not work for climbers with wider feet and high insteps. Five Ten uses its new ultra-sticky and long-wearing Mystique rubber allowing for a sensitive and paper-thin 2 mm sole without compromising durability. The unlined leather upper quickly conforms to the foot and avoids the dreaded nose-hair curling stench of synthetics, while a Velcro-style closure adds security during hooking and scumming. This is a highly specialized tool with almost unmatched performance on super-steep terrain – stay away from dime edges and you won’t be disappointed.
Lightly tensioned, flat-lasted and with a supportive midsole, the Silex is ideal for climbers seeking comfort and performance. The lined uppers minimize stretch while the highly breathable padded tongue tales eliminates lace pressure during all-day cragging. The Silex’s unique asymmetric lacing locks the foot for control on small holds and the EVA padded heel takes the sting out of unexpected bouldering falls. Sized comfortably, the Silex is a great edging-oriented beginner shoe and if sufficiently down-sized delivers the control and precision necessary for more challenging climbing. A well made shoe for beginner to intermediate climbers.
The TC Pro is a high-end do-it-all shoe with dime edge precision, good sensitivity, solid crack climbing capability and a heaping serving of comfort. Designed by Tommy Caldwell, it climbs like a slightly de-tuned Miura and delivers similar edging performance without the need for a toe-curling fit. Sportiva’s P3 platform ensures the TC Pro retains its snug and powerful shape while the ventilated tongue, cushy lining and ankle-high uppers add comfort for long days at the crag. The laces at the forefoot are cleverly protected against abrasion during crack climbing by tunnelling through the leather upper rather than threading through conventional eyelets. Sized snugly, the TC Pro is the perfect shoe for the variety of climbing found on difficult multipitch routes and redefines performance on long free routes. –GA