Best Beginner Climbing Shoes: 7 Great First-Pair Options

Climbing Shoe Score MSRP Closure Upper Material Rubber
Top Pick: La Sportiva Finale / La Sportiva Finale Women’s
85
$99.00 Lace Leather 5 mm Vibram XS Edge
Best Value: Mad Rock Drifter
78
$75.00 Velcro Leather 3.8 mm Science Friction 3.0
Evolv Defy / Evolv Elektra
77
$89.00 Velcro Synthetic 4.2 mm Trax SAS
Most Comfortable: La Sportiva Tarantulace / La Sportiva Tarantulace Women’s
75
$80.00 Lace Leather/Synthetic 5 mm FriXion RS
Black Diamond Momentum / Black Diamond Momentum Women’s
72
$89.95 Velcro Knit 4.3 mm NeoFriction
Best Beginner Bouldering Shoe: Mad Rock Flash 2018
69
$89.00 Velcro Leather/Synthetic 3.8 mm Science Friction R2
Scarpa Origin / Scarpa Origin Women’s
56
$95.00 Velcro Leather 5 mm Vision
The best beginner climbing shoes of 2018

The 7 beginner climbing shoes we tested.

We rounded up 7 of the best beginner climbing shoes on the market and put them to the test to find the top option for new climbers.

The answer? The all-around versatility of the La Sportiva Finale (or the women’s version, the La Sportiva Finale Women’s) is hard to beat.

Once you’ve been bitten by the climbing bug, there’s no turning back. Whether it’s in the gym or outside, learning to climb is a joyful experience.

If you’ve decided you’ll be making climbing a habit, a good pair of shoes is one of the first purchases you’ll make.

It will save you money over renting shoes from your gym, along with better performance and a personalized fit. Plus, if you ever want to climb outside, you’ll need to bring your own shoes.

Beginner shoes don’t need to be top performers. In the first phase of a climbing career, mileage matters far more than difficulty.

A good pair of beginner shoes will be durable enough to handle whatever you can throw at them, while remaining comfortable enough to rack up time on the wall. Performance doesn’t hurt — as you improve, it’s good to have a pair of shoes that can handle harder and more varied terrain.

We picked a pack of strong contenders, with a few distinct winners and compromises. Read on for the details.

Top Pick: La Sportiva Finale / La Sportiva Finale Women’s

La Sportiva Finale

The Finale is the most traditional climbing shoe in this test: unlined leather with a simple lace closure system.

But don’t let its simplicity fool you. The Finale impressed with its combination of comfort, performance, and versatility.

In an equivalent size, the Finale fits tighter than its La Sportiva sibling, the Tarantulace. The leather did stretch out a little as the shoe broke in, which made for a snug but comfortable fit (expect to size down 1-1.5 sizes from your Euro street size).

It was the better performer of the two, lending confidence on slabs and edges while turning in a respectable performance on steeper climbs. I felt the shoe had a good balance between stiffness and pliability, along with adequate if not exceptional sensitivity.

Most impressive of all is the Finale’s versatility. It’s competent on most terrains and pleasant on climbs of all lengths.

It’s even a decent crack climbing shoe — an honor few beginner shoes can claim. Most beginners won’t start by climbing cracks, but it’s nice to have a shoe that will take you wherever you want to go.

Racking up boulders in the gym? Learning to sport climb? Heading out for your first multi-pitch? The Finale can do it all.

Best Value: Mad Rock Drifter

Mad Rock Drifter

The Mad Rock Drifter is another strong all-around shoe. It’s competent and pleasant, and the leather upper settles into a nice fit.

The Drifter is more sensitive than many beginner shoes, which is a welcome virtue. It’s comfortable on a wide variety of terrain, from slabs to technical face climbing.

It’s not a star performer or the most comfortable, but the Drifter is strong enough in all categories to merit a decent score.

Its real advantage is price. At just $75, it’s the cheapest shoe in our test. On sale, it’s a steal. It’s also a slightly better performer (albeit less comfy) than the next cheapest shoe, the Tarantulace.

The Drifter fell into a middle-of-the-pack group of three velcro-closure shoes, along with the Evolv Defy and Black Diamond Momentum.

The Defy offers a stiffer sole and comfy padding, but the Drifter is the more versatile all-arounder. For the price, it’s our velcro-closure shoe of choice.

Most Comfortable: La Sportiva Tarantulace / La Sportiva Tarantulace Women’s

La Sportiva Tarantula

Not everyone prefers a lace closure system, especially on gym shoes. It’s a bit more effort to get on and off.

But it also allows you to dial in a precise fit, which is why the Tarantulace takes home the award for the most comfortable beginner climbing shoe in this test.

The lined upper feels like a hug on your foot, and the forgiving fit is easy to wear for hours. On my foot, this shoe was barely less comfortable than my street shoes.

And while the Tarantulace isn’t a star performer, it’s also not a dud. It smears particularly well, and it’s adequate on most terrain.

That may sound like faint praise, but for how comfortable the Tarantulace is, it’s an exceptional blend of accessibility and performance.

It may be a shoe you’ll eventually outgrow, but it’s a thoroughly pleasant companion for a beginner. The more comfortable the shoe, the less you mind wearing them, and the more time you’ll spend climbing.

La Sportiva also makes velcro versions of these shoes, the La Sportiva Tarantula and La Sportiva Tarantula Women’s.

Best Beginner Bouldering Shoe: Mad Rock Flash 2018

Mad Rock Flash 2018

The Mad Rock Flash is a staple of the beginner shoe genre.

The last generation offered solid performance in an approachable and accessible form. The Flash 2018 seems to be even more focused, but it’s not without compromise.

Namely comfort. On my foot, this was the least comfortable shoe in this test.

It has plenty of space (in fact, the rubbery sock-like tongue had to fold over itself when I closed the shoe), but the sole didn’t conform well to the articulation of my foot.

It was fine on boulders or in the gym, but on longer sport climbs I found myself grimacing by the time I clipped the chains.

Over time, the unforgiving midsole created pain points on the balls of my feet. The problem is especially pronounced on vertical to slabby terrain. Climbers with higher-volume feet may fare better.

But what the Flash delivers is performance. Especially on steep terrain, the Flash 2018 was the most confident shoe by a country mile.

It has a slightly more aggressive shape than the flatter shoes, which doesn’t help comfort but does make toeing in easier on the steeps. It also has the best heel cup of the lot, a full dome of pliable and sticky rubber.

This shoe probably isn’t the best choice for all beginner climbers. This is not a shoe I would want to climb slab in, nor would it be my shoe of choice for toproping or endurance work.

But if you know you’ll be hanging out in the bouldering cave, the Flash will take you far.

Heel hooking with the Mad Rock Flash 2018

The Flash 2018’s rubberized heel cup was the best on the boulders.

Reviews of the 3 Other Beginner Climbing Shoes We Tested

Evolv Defy / Evolv Elektra

Evolv Defy Black

The Evolv Defy was a welcome surprise.

At first wear it seemed unsophisticated, with a stiff sole and a boxy fit. But it turned out to be a reliable performer with decent comfort and a predictable feel.

The Defy shines on slabs. The stiff sole takes some of the strain off the calves, and for a stiff shoe the Defy is surprisingly capable when smearing.

The trade-off is that the Defy struggles on anything more than vertical terrain. The flat platform requires extra work to maintain contact on overhangs and roofs.

Comfort was slightly inconsistent as well — the padded tongue is cozy, but the upper is generally unsupportive.

And while the stiff sole is easy to stand on, it takes away some sensitivity. That’s not a deal-breaker in a beginner shoe, but it detracts from the Defy’s all-around usability.

The Defy was still a willing companion, and the stiffness made mileage days easy. It’s a good gym shoe, and it’s not a bad choice for (slabby) excursions outside.

On everything except overhanging terrain it performs at least as well as the Mad Rock Drifter, and it’s another strong contestant for a velcro-closure shoe. It just wasn’t enough of a complete package to take home an award.

Full review: Evolv Defy, Evolv Elektra

The Defy's padded mesh next to the Momentum's thin knit.

The Defy’s padded mesh next to the Momentum’s thin knit.

Black Diamond Momentum / Black Diamond Momentum Women’s

Black Diamond Momentum

The Momentum has earned its fair share of hype this year.

As Black Diamond makes their foray into the shoe market, the Momentum is their mainstream and beginner model.

It’s priced competitively and designed like most beginner shoes: flat, simple, and comfort-oriented.

BD’s claim to fame is their “Engineered Knit” upper, a thin fabric that replaces the usual synthetic or leather.

To BD’s credit, the material is more breathable than leather, although not by much. My feet may have been slightly less sweaty at the end of a session, but not enough to call it a game changer.

Especially when cinched down by the velcro, I didn’t find the thin fabric any more comfortable. It was more prone to pinching, and it allowed more slip and play around my foot. It wasn’t bad, but I never looked forward to putting on the Momentum.

As a result, I never felt super confident climbing in the Momentum, even though it’s a solid all-around performer.

Black Diamond makes their shoes with proprietary rubber, but their blend seemed at least as competent as the standbys from La Sportiva and Evolv. The Momentum performed well on face climbs and overhangs and only struggled a little on slabs and roofs.

I never had a predictable feel for the Momentum’s abilities, which made it a hard shoe to click with. It’s not a bad shoe, and I wouldn’t say it’s a poor choice for a beginner.

But unless it fits your foot perfectly, better options are probably available.

Black Diamond also makes lace-up versions of these shoes, the Black Diamond Momentum Lace and Black Diamond Momentum Lace Women’s.

Scarpa Origin / Scarpa Origin Women’s

Scarpa Origin

The Origin was the only real disappointment of this test.

From the first time I climbed in them, I found myself slipping off footholds, second-guessing my footwork, and climbing less confidently.

If a beginner shoe is a stepping stone to developing precision and confidence, the Origin fails to hit the mark.

I’m not an expert cobbler, but I believe the real culprit is the Origin’s rubber. The hard 5 mm sole feels glassy and imprecise.

Durability is important in a beginner shoe, but I think Scarpa may have overcompensated.

The effect was slightly less pronounced outdoors, where the stiff rubber gave the Origin a decent (if not exceptional) edging platform. The rest of the shoe is well built and reasonably comfortable, with a full leather upper, a comfy padded tongue, and an easy velcro closure.

But by the time testing was drawing to a close, I dreaded putting on the Origins. I found myself slipping off of problems I had walked through moments before.

Beginner shoes don’t need to be star performers, but they should encourage confidence and allow room for growth. As a result, we don’t recommend the Origin.

Summary

Here are the best beginner climbing shoes:

  • La Sportiva Finale
  • Mad Rock Drifter
  • Evolv Defy
  • La Sportiva Tarantulace
  • Black Diamond Momentum
  • Mad Rock Flash 2018
  • Scarpa Origin

How to Choose the Best Beginner Climbing Shoes for Your Needs

Upper Material

Leather: Leather is the most traditional material for a climbing shoe. It stretches the most during break-in, up to a full size. Be aware when you size your shoes, and leave a little room for stretch if they’re leather. Uppers can be either lined or unlined. Many are partially lined, which mitigates stretch slightly. If they’re dyed, leather shoes will sometimes stain the feet.

Synthetic: Synthetic materials don’t stretch like leather does, which is helpful during sizing. Synthetic uppers will generally stretch a half size at most, and sometimes not at all. The downside is that synthetic shoes tend not to breathe as well, which can make for sweaty feet.

Synthetic/Leather: A couple shoes we tested have an upper made of a synthetic and leather hybrid. It only stretches slightly, but remains comfortable and relatively breathable.

Knit: The new kid on the block is Black Diamond’s “Engineered Knit” technology, which is a thin but strong layer of fabric. It’s more breathable than either synthetic or leather, although not by much. It’s slightly stretchier to the touch, but it doesn’t stretch out during the break-in process.

Closure System

Velcro: Velcro shoes are quicker to take on and off, which can be a blessing in the gym. The downside is that the closure will be asymmetrical — if you need to cinch the shoes down, the upper material must fold or overlap. In extreme cases, this can cause problems in the fit or feel. Given only two points of adjustment, velcro shoes are also less customizable.

Lace-up: Because the two sides of a lace-up shoe are separated, they may be cinched according to your preferences. The toebox may be tightened more than the arch, or vice versa. As a result, lace-up shoes tend to fit a wider variety of foot shapes. Lace-up shoes take longer to get on and off, however.

Slipper/Slip-on: Although none of the shoes in this test fall under this category, some shoes use neither laces nor velcro. Instead, they have stretchy patches of fabric that allow a simple slip-on fit. This type of shoe relies on a close fit and may become sloppy over time, but it’s the easiest and lowest profile of the three.

Velcro and slip-on shoes are more convenient, and lace-ups allow a more precise and customizable fit. As long as you can find a fit that works for you, the choice is down to personal preference.

Lace-up climbing shoe vs. velcro climbing shoe

The single tongue of a lace-up next to the overlapping tongues of a velcro closure.

Rubber

The sticky rubber of the sole is every climbing shoe’s secret to success. Every brand uses different rubber, and most brands use different rubber for different shoes.

Generally speaking, the thicker the sole, the more durable and the less sensitive the shoe. Most beginner climbing shoes use durable rubber and a relatively thick sole.

4 mm: A 4 mm sole is the standard on most climbing shoes. The Mad Rock shoes fall just slightly under at 3.8 mm, but it’s not enough to notice a difference. A 4 mm sole is a nice balance between durability and sensitivity, although it will generally need to be resoled earlier than a 5 mm sole.

4-5 mm: The Evolv and Black Diamond shoes have slightly thicker soles at 4.2 and 4.3 mm, occupying a middle ground between 4 and 5 mm soles.

5 mm: The Origin and two La Sportiva shoes all have thick 5 mm soles. Soles this thick are reserved for shoes with a stiffer platform, prioritizing durability over sensitivity. They’ll last the longest before retirement or resole, but they sometimes come with compromises in feel.

With the exception of the Scarpa Origin, I found all the rubbers in this test to be plenty sticky. As the sole wears down, you’ll eventually need to either replace your shoes or get a resole.

A Brief Word on Fit

Perhaps the most important quality in any climbing shoe is the fit. Different feet will prefer different shoes, and many brands are known for a specific shape.

I encourage all shoe buyers to understand a shoe’s fit before buying. Trying shoes on in person is best, but most online outlets allow returns or size swaps. If you know your size in another climbing shoe, Size Squirrel is an excellent resource.

A shoe’s fit should be snug and precise but never uncomfortable. The hardcore boulderers at your gym may insist that shoes should be two sizes small and excruciatingly painful, but they’re wrong. Buy a shoe with a shape that fits your foot.

My own feet are on the narrow side, with a low-volume arch. My testing experience will reflect how these shoes fit my foot. Wherever possible, I tried to specify if this had specific implications for a shoe’s fit.

How We Tested

Testing the beginner climbing shoes on some outdoor boulders

I began by testing these shoes where most climbers begin: the gym.

I did full tests of each shoe on slabs, overhangs, roofs, and faces of all types. I recorded my impressions of each, then performed head-to-head tests to see where each shoe thrived.

Not all beginners stick to the gym, so I took all seven pairs outside. I wore them up long sport and trad climbs, then finished by taking them all out for a day of bouldering.

Shoe impressions are inescapably subjective. Every foot is different, and everyone climbs with their own style. I did my best to assess these shoes from multiple perspectives, but their scores are ultimately a reflection of my experience.

I scored them in three categories: performance, comfort, and sensitivity.

Performance

How competent is the shoe on various types of terrain? How confident do I feel while wearing it? How much do I unexpectedly slip?

Comfort

How long can I climb in the shoes? How pleasant are they on the wall? Is discomfort ever distracting or disruptive?

Sensitivity

How much can I feel through the shoes? How well can I predict their limits? How much do they help me understand my footwork?

About the Author:

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado, and he has been climbing mountains since he was small. He appreciates all styles of climbing and enjoys skiing and running on the side. Favorite climbing spots include Rocky Mountain National Park, Wild Iris, and Tuolumne. He attended college in Massachusetts and currently resides in Philadelphia. He loves cats, green tea, and endurance climbs. You can check out his adventures on his Instagram account.