There is a whole world of climbing shoes out there, but what are you getting for your money?

Below we look at the most common rubbers you’ll find on the market these days and what they can do for your performance.

The Soft Compounds:

It’s bouldering season. If you’re looking to stick, then look no further. Though most frequently used on boulder problems, many rope climbers have picked up a pair of soft shoes and decided that sensitivity is the best way to reach the top.

  • Stealth – Mi6: Literally designed to smear on glass, Mi6 is categorically the stickiest rubber on the market. Unfortunately, the rubber is so soft that even a light climber will burn through it quickly. Regardless, pasty smears and overhung climbing make the lack of durability worth every penny. Found on the Five Ten VXi and Anasazi Pro, this rubber excels on overhung, pocketed limestone and is destroyed by granite.
  • Unparallel – VD: Designed by a small start up in California, this exceptionally sticky rubber compound is soft, allowing for the most sensitive of foot placements. This rubber is featured on the Leopard and will only be useful to advanced climbers. Similar to Stealth rubbers, it will excel on sandstone and granite.
  • Stealth – HF: This rubber has been around for over a decade and was almost removed from the line in 2017. Fortunately, the newly redesigned 5.10 Dragon features this high performance compound and is the second stickiest sole available. HF might be the best rubber on the market for bouldering, though competition climbers may find its lack of versatility frustrating on slabs. It wears quickly, but if climbed on with “quiet feet”, can last an easy six months. When considering bouldering shoes for sandstone climbing, look no further. If used on granite, it will work wonderfully right up until the sole rips through from the macro-texture.
  • Black Diamond – Fuse: One of the most exciting new compounds on the market, Black Diamond’s “Fuse” compound manages to bring a stiffness and sensitivity that is perhaps the best compromise in the range. The hollowed out front sole of the shoe allows the climber to pull hard with their feet, while the built up rand allows for superior edging. This sort of sole excels on limestone climbing, where the outside edge of a shoe is rewarded most.

The Semi – Stiff Compounds:

Bouldering? Ropes? How about both! This compound is made for the all around climber on a variety of rock types.

  • Vibram – XS Grip 2: Manufactured by the industry’s leading rubber manufacturer, Vibram’s XS Grip 2 is one of the most popular compounds on sale today. Found on shoes like the La Sportiva Solution, the Scarpa Drago, and the Scarpa Furia Air, its versatility is difficult to match. Not quite making the cut as a soft rubber, this sticky compound offers a nice balance between edging and overhung-climbing performance. It should be noted that the softest shoes in the Scarpa and La Sportiva ranges use this rubber. This rubber is an all rounder that excels on friction dependent sandstone smears and edges.
  • Stealth – C4: Marketed as Five Ten’s most versatile rubber, it is found on everything from the Anasazi Blancos to the brand new Five Ten Aleon. This rubber is what made Five Ten famous and is considered the main competition to Vibram’s XS Grip 2. It is stickier but less durable than Grip 2, but is found on bouldering and big wall shoes alike. Heavier climbers may find that the edge does not last long on exceptionally small feet (4mm or less), but the stickiness of the rubber makes up for this lack of durability. If climbing on sandstone or granite, the C4 will stick.
  • Vibram – XS Grip: Vibram XS Grip rubber is a sticky compound on the stiffer side of the spectrum. Found on many Tenaya shoes, climbers like Jimmy Webb, Alex Megos, and Chris Sharma have taken a liking to the combination of stick and stiffness that goes into this classic sole. The density and stickiness of this rubber makes it versatile for all rock types, though it is weak at toeing in.
  • TRAX – SAS: Perhaps the best blend of stickiness and durability, this rubber lasts much longer than C4 or XS Grip 2, making it a good choice for the money sensitive boot buyer. That said, it does not stick as well as XS Grip 2 nor C4, and the edge will roll if the climber is heavy and standing on a small edge. This rubber is best used inside.
  • Boreal – Zenith: This extremely sticky, medium stiffness rubber from Spain excels on smeary edges. Can be worn on the boulders one day and ropes the next, and competes about as well as Vibram XS Grip in terms of stickiness. Put this rubber on limestone sport climbs.

The Stiff Compounds:

Made for the hardest of the hard, stiff compounds do one thing: stand. If you are a face climber that cannot get enough of tiny holds, and delicate balances, this is the rubber for you. If you boulder hard and like to crush the footholds beneath your feet, this may also be the rubber for you.

  • Mad Rock – Science Friction: An amazing rubber on the right shoe, the durability of this compound offers long term resilience, while the edging performance is unmatched by other rubbers with similar stickiness. Found on the Mad Rock Drone, this rubber is a little better for bouldering than ropes. This rubber excels inside, but works well on edgy limestone and sandstone.
  • Vibram – XS Edge: Historically the best edging rubber on the market, Vibram’s XS Edge compound is best used on face, but has snuck its way into bouldering shoes as well. Used for decades on shoes like the La Sportiva Miura, it can stand on absolutely anything, but offers very little stick on low-pressure smears. Today it is also used on the Scarpa Instinct VS, the only bouldering shoe to feature this rubber. As such, this rubber might be best for the heavier climber. Put this compound on your big wall shoe or on your limestone bouldering shoe. Pushing hard into small feet is what this compound is for, whether on a slab or in an overhang.
  • Unparallel – RA: Very similar to Five Ten’s recently phased out XX rubber, this compound offers supreme edging, without the draw backs of slick footing. It is not as good at edging as the XS Edge compound, though the lighter climber may find that to be a good thing, offering increased smearing capabilities. This rubber is tailored more toward the climber that needs to edge and climb in an overhang on the same route. Possibly the best compound available for sandstone bouldering and sport, RA rubber brings the friction. On granite smears, this rubber annihilates.
  • TRAX – XE: This compound from Evolv is unlikely to be the climber’s favorite rubber. It is stiff, but becomes glassy easily, though it is the most durable compound on this list.

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