9 Best Bouldering Shoes of 2019

Climbing Shoe Score Closure Upper Material
Top Pick: La Sportiva Solution
93
1-Strap Velcro Leather/Synthetic
Best Value: Five Ten HiAngle
91
1-Strap Velcro Unlined Leather
La Sportiva Skwama
88
1-Strap Velcro Leather/Synthetic
Butora Acro
84
1-Strap Velcro Leather/Synthetic
Most Comfortable Bouldering Shoe: Evolv Shaman
82
3-Strap Velcro Synthetic
Scarpa Instinct VS
81
1-Strap Velcro Synthetic
La Sportiva Miura VS
77
3-Strap Velcro Leather
Budget Pick & Best Beginner Bouldering Shoe: Mad Rock Flash 2018
75
2-Strap Velcro Leather/Synthetic
La Sportiva Tarantulace
59
Lace Leather/Synthetic

Some things never change — Death, taxes, and…the La Sportiva Solution. Even in a competitive field of the best bouldering shoes on the market, the Solution remains our Top Pick.

Bouldering shoes are sports cars. Sleek, flashy, cramped, and all about performance. These are climbing shoes for when the moves are at your absolute limit.

The Solution wasn’t the only contender. The Five Ten HiAngle offers strong performance for the price, while the Evolv Shaman impressed with its blend of comfort and performance.

Some similar themes crop up. Heavy downturn, velcro closures, aggressive asymmetry, and lots of rubber. But even among these thoroughbreds, some major differences are clear, and the biggest one of all is fit. Although we declare our award winners here, there is no perfect bouldering shoe — only the best shoe for your individual foot.

To see how they’d keep up, we also added two great beginner climbing shoes we’ve reviewed, with good results. If you’re a beginner boulderer or on a tight budget, we recommend the Mad Rock Flash 2018.

For details about fit and how these shoes compare, read on.

The 9 pairs of bouldering shoes we tested.

The 9 pairs of bouldering shoes we tested.

Top Pick: La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution

The La Sportiva Solutions remain our favorite all-around high-performance shoe.

The biggest reason: they outperform most of the shoes in this test. On the smallest footholds, I almost always felt that the Solutions gave me the best chance of sticking. The downturned shape in combination with La Sportiva’s stiff P3 platform makes for a powerful shoe.

That stiffness does mean sacrificing some sensitivity. Other shoes (like the HiAngle) give more feedback through the toes. In general, however, I was glad to have the Solution’s effortless power.

The heel of the Solution is unique. Unlike most shoes, which use flexible rubber on at least the sides of the heel, the Solution uses a stiff hemisphere of rubber across the entire heel. The result is an armor-like ball that doesn’t flex or conform much to features in the rock.

In many cases, I was glad for the extra protection of the stiff rubber. When heel hooking smaller holds, the ball could sometimes be harder to use than softer heel shapes.

Heel hooking in the La Sportiva Solution.

On sharp heel hooks, I was glad for the protection.

In all other aspects, the Solution is a polished package. The toe-top rubber is generous, but it doesn’t make the toe box stiff or clumsy. The closure system uses a single velcro strap, but it cinches down nicely even on my narrow feet.

The Solution may have a slightly wider box than other Sportiva shoes, but not so much that I’d consider it an especially wide shoe. The aggressive asymmetry of the Solutions isn’t particularly friendly to unusual foot shapes like Morton’s toe.

Last year saw a new generation of Solution, but the upgrades were largely cosmetic. The shoe is as good as ever.

The Solution is my favorite bouldering shoe because its limits feel so much higher than mine. If it’s good enough for Nalle Hukkataival, it’s certainly good enough for me.

Women’s version: La Sportiva Solution Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: Multi-adjustment 1-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Leather/Synthetic
  • Rubber: 4 mm Vibram XS Grip2
  • Size Tested: 1.5 European sizes below street size

Best Value: Five Ten HiAngle

Five Ten HiAngle

Much has been made of Five Ten’s new ownership in Adidas. At times, the German company has seemed sporadic, putting shoes on heavy sale before discontinuing them (RIP Team and Dragon).

Other models may eventually return, but Five Ten still has strong shoes on the market. Not least is the Five Ten HiAngle, choice of pros like Dave Graham.

The HiAngle nearly equals the performance of the Solution. On overhanging terrain, the aggressive shape and sticky Stealth C4 rubber felt comfortable in all scenarios.

On my foot, the HiAngle is slightly more comfortable than the Solution. The unlined leather upper stretches and conforms to your foot. After breaking in, the HiAngle settled into a fit that I could easily wear for long sessions.

The HiAngle’s toe box is slightly narrow, but the heel is average to wide. This can result in an odd fit. It’s not an issue in most cases, but I did notice some heel slippage on technical hooks. If you’ve tried other Five Ten climbing shoes, you probably have a good idea of whether their shape fits your foot or not.

As of this writing, this version of the HiAngle is still available on the Adidas Five Ten website (for a good price). I also tested the synthetic version of this shoe, which has since been discontinued (the leather version is better anyway).

However, a new generation is being sold simultaneously. Both generations have garnered complaints that quality has deteriorated and fit has changed since the Adidas takeover. I acquired these shoes last year, so I can’t vouch for the new generation. If it’s the same shoe, it won’t disappoint — but buyer beware. If you can still find older models, consider stocking up.

Women’s version: Five Ten HiAngle Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: 1-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Unlined Leather
  • Rubber: 4.2 mm Stealth C4
  • Size Tested: 0.5 below street size

Most Comfortable Bouldering Shoe: Evolv Shaman

Evolv Shaman

The Evolv Shaman wasn’t the best performer in this test. It’s not as much of a scalpel as shoes like the Solution or Instinct.

But I still found myself reaching for the Shaman with reasonable frequency. On my foot, it was among the most comfortable shoes in this test.

Some boulderers talk a big game about downsizing until their toes break, but I’m of the philosophy that comfort is important to performance. When my feet are comfortable, I can put more brainpower toward climbing. That means I climb better.

The Shaman’s padded tongue and three-strap velcro closure make for a more customizable fit than many high-performance bouldering shoes. Evolv adds a “Love Bump” just past the ball of the foot, which helps support the toes and eliminate dead space.

It all works. The Shamans felt tight without creating pain or pressure points. The heel is well designed, and there’s enough toe-top rubber for most toe hooks.

If I wanted one shoe to send at my limit, I probably wouldn’t pick the Shaman. But with their combination of performance, comfort, and approachable price, the Shaman’s still make a compelling case. As a performance gym climbing shoe or a shoe for longer sessions, these would be on my shortlist.

Women’s version: Evolv Shakra*

* The Shakra has the same Love Bump and Knuckle Box technology as the Shaman in a lower-volume and narrower fitting design. However, it doesn’t seem to be a true women’s version of the Shaman. The Evolv Shaman LV, the original women’s version of the Shaman, appears to have been discontinued.

Product Specs

  • Closure: 3-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Synthetic
  • Rubber: 4.2 mm Trax SAS
  • Size Tested: 0.5 above street size

Budget Pick & Best Beginner Bouldering Shoe: Mad Rock Flash 2018

Mad Rock Flash 2018

The Mad Rock Flash 2018 doesn’t get a lot of love in the climbing world, and I can’t figure out why. These shoes were fish out of water in this test, but they help up remarkably well.

The most remarkable part of the Flash 2018 is the price. These usually sell for less than half the price of the Solutions, and they’re far cheaper than any other shoe in this test except the Tarantulace.

For the price, the performance gap isn’t as big as you might expect.

Once the terrain gets severely overhanging, the Flash does struggle more than our award winners. Mad Rock’s rubber is serviceable but not all that impressive.

But the Flash’s stiff platform does surprisingly well on small edges and footholds. It’s capable on most angles of terrain. There isn’t much toe-top rubber, but I found the heel a solid performer.

The Flash 2018 isn’t particularly comfortable, but it’s no worse than most of the climbing shoes in this test. It was a little baggy on my low-volume feet and would create pressure points over long sessions. But as a bouldering shoe, it’s more than functional.

I forgive its flaws for the value the Flash 2018 brings to the table. If you’re looking for the best bouldering shoe you can get at beginner-shoe prices, this is it.

Note: Check out our beginner climbing shoe reviews for more beginner-friendly options.

Product Specs

  • Closure: 2-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Leather/Synthetic
  • Rubber: 4 mm Science Friction 2.0
  • Size Tested: Street size

Reviews of the 5 Other Bouldering Shoes We Tested

La Sportiva Skwama

La Sportiva Skwama

When I began this test, I was dubious about the Skwama. The hard synthetic material around the ankle kept digging into my feet, and the single-strap closure didn’t do a great job eliminating dead space.

But by the end, these were some of my favorite shoes. They’re a top performer on overhanging terrain and a capable all-around bouldering shoe.

The Skwama shares the Solution’s P3 platform, but the midsole is softer, granting a little more sensitivity. It doesn’t hurt the performance on overhangs — these shoes are beasts in the steeps.

The heel uses Sportiva’s S-Heel design, which some prefer to the Solution’s stiff ball. I found that my heel slid around slightly more in the Skwama, but my narrow feet may be to blame.

As for the comfort and fit issues, most had dissolved by the end of the testing period. The stiff ankle cuff eventually became comfortable, and while I could never get the Skwamas as glove-like as I wanted, performance didn’t suffer. These shoes will likely fit best if you have average to wide feet.

La Sportiva’s pricing fluctuates, but as of this writing the Skwama starts cheaper than the Solution. The difference in performance isn’t great, and for some climbers the Skwama may be a more versatile buy. Either way, it’s a strong value.

Women’s version: La Sportiva Skwama Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: 1-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Leather/Synthetic
  • Rubber: 4 mm Vibram XS Grip2
  • Size Tested: 1.5 European sizes below street

Butora Acro

Butora Acro

The Butora Acros were very nearly a standout in this test.

On the smallest footholds in the most tenuous terrain, they were one of few shoes that I felt could go toe-to-toe with the Solutions.

The platform is stiff but responsive. The design conforms cleverly to the foot without inhibiting ingress or egress. The toe-top rubber is the most extensive in this test, and it excels on toe hooks of all types.

The Acro is one of a few shoes in this test offered in low-volume (narrow fit) and high-volume (wide fit) variants. To suit my narrow feet, I opted for the lower-volume blue version. The fit was effective, with the tongue holding my foot firmly in place. One velcro strap was plenty.

Friends with wide feet have good things to say about the wider orange version, whose toe box is reportedly friendly to boxier feet and Morton’s toe.

But the Acro has an Achilles heel, and it’s…the Achilles heel.

The stiff heel rubber on this shoe only extends an inch or so above the base of the heel. On some heel hooks, that left me pressing hard with little to no protection. Too often, the result was pain and inconsistent performance.

As a result, I was hesitant to break out the Acros unless I knew I would only need my toes. It’s possible that this is a quirk of foot shape — the Acros are worth a demo to find out if the heel works for you.

If it does, this shoe is another contender for best value. Butora prices their shoes competitively, and the Acro is relatively affordable for such a high-performing shoe.

Other version: Butora Acro Wide Fit

Product Specs

  • Closure: 1-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Leather/Synthetic
  • Rubber: 4 mm Neo Fuse
  • Size Tested: Street size

Scarpa Instinct VS

Scarpa Instinct VS

The Scarpa Instinct VS is a respected name in the world of bouldering shoes, and I had high hopes for the shoes coming into the test.

Performance-wise, the Instinct was strong. The shape is aggressive and channels power well on overhangs. The toe box is relatively stiff, which helps put power down on small edges. Toe-top rubber is plentiful, and the heel is fine.

The Instinct’s forefoot fits wide, which may be part of my issues with this shoe. It was less comfortable than most, and the swathes of stiff rubber mean there’s little give in the shape.

But even aside from comfort, I found that the Instincts felt clunkier on the wall than the higher-scoring shoes. Despite a responsive midsole, sensitivity isn’t exceptional.

Lined up right, these shoes would perform well, but I found it harder to nail foot positioning, and harder to know when I had.

Other shoes scored higher as a result. That’s not to say that the Scarpas aren’t capable — especially if you have wider feet, these shoes might click for the right climber. Scarpa also makes a more sensitive VSR version (the choice of Alex Puccio), though sadly they don’t make it in the largest sizes.

Women’s version: Scarpa Instinct VS Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: 1-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Synthetic
  • Rubber: 3.5 mm Vibram XS Edge
  • Size Tested: 1 European size below street

La Sportiva Miura VS

La Sportiva Miura VS

Another classic with decades of performance accolades, the Miura VS could be called old-fashioned next to young guns like the Acro.

Although this shoe is more downturned than its sibling lace-up Miura, it felt a little less aggressive than others in this test. It’s very comfortable, and despite the stiff platform, it provides decent feedback from the toes.

Although it did well in most circumstances, the Miura VS couldn’t hang with the big guns when push came to shove. It was less confident on tiny footholds, especially on severely overhanging terrain.

Although the heel design is serviceable, the Miura VS’s three velcro straps prohibit toe-top rubber. That means that toe hooks are a struggle, which is another ding for a bouldering shoe.

On the plus side, these shoes were one of the better performers on slabby terrain. As a performance-biased all-around climbing shoe, they’re not a bad choice. But they’re usually priced near the Solutions, and for the money, I’d rather have our Top Pick.

Women’s version: La Sportiva Miura VS Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: 3-Strap Velcro
  • Upper Material: Leather
  • Rubber: 4 mm Vibram XS Edge
  • Size Tested: 1.5 European sizes below street

Full review: La Sportiva Miura VS

La Sportiva Tarantulace

La Sportiva Tarantulace

The poor Tarantulaces never truly belonged in this test. These aren’t designed as bouldering shoes — they’re designed as comfortable, beginner-friendly shoes.

In this case, the performance gap was obvious. I couldn’t push these shoes as hard as the rest of the competitors. The flat shape doesn’t toe down well on overhangs, and the stiff 5-mm rubber made precision difficult at times.

That said, I still enjoy these shoes. In one category, the Tarantulace outscored all others: comfort. I could wear these shoes all day. I would enjoy it. Plus, the laces mean a close and supportive fit.

The Tarantulace is also exceptionally budget-friendly. For the price (and the comfort), they perform well. They won’t match the rest of the pack on overhangs and the most technical terrain, but they keep up well until higher grades.

As a dedicated bouldering shoe, these probably aren’t the best option. As a beginner or comfort-oriented shoe, they’re still a good choice.

Women’s version: La Sportiva Tarantulace Women’s

Product Specs

  • Closure: Lace
  • Upper Material: Leather/Synthetic
  • Rubber: 5 mm FriXion RS
  • Size Tested: 1.5 European sizes below street

Summary

Here are the best bouldering shoes:

  • La Sportiva Solution
  • Five Ten HiAngle
  • La Sportiva Skwama
  • Butora Acro
  • Evolv Shaman
  • Scarpa Instinct VS
  • La Sportiva Miura VS
  • Mad Rock Flash 2018
  • La Sportiva Tarantulace

How to Choose the Best Bouldering Shoes for Your Needs

Climbing shoes fall along various spectrums of downturn, stiffness, and comfort. Beginner and trad/multipitch shoes tend to be flatter to allow for comfort during long days on the wall.

Comparing the La Sportiva Tarantulace and Solution.

The flat profile of the Tarantulace next to the Solution’s claw-like downturn.

Bouldering shoes, however, are heavily downturned for maximum power on steep terrain and small footholds. Bouldering shoes are designed for performance, which means top-notch rubber liberally applied to both sides of the shoe.

Within this genre, a few characteristics set shoes apart from one another.

Fit

Climbing shoes are a lot like real estate, except that instead of “Location, location, location,” it’s “Fit, fit, fit.” In bouldering shoes, I find that performance and good fit go hand in hand.

Bouldering shoes don’t need to be all-day comfortable, but I don’t believe they need to be so unbearable that you’re ripping them off every 30 seconds.

You probably know at least a little about the shape of your feet. Are they wide? Narrow? High arches or low? Chunky or thin? There’s no foot-shaming here, but it’s worth taking the time to match your foot to the shoe that will match you best.

Different brands tend to build for different foot shapes, but even within brands, different shoes can show significant differences in fit. If you don’t already know what works for your feet, see if you can attend a shoe demo, compare notes with friends, or try on a few brands at a store.

If you have no other reference, SizeSquirrel can be a good point of comparison for common shoe models.

Closure

Most (but not all) bouldering shoes use velcro closures for easy on-off. There are a few lace options out there, but they’re less common.

Velcro closures are not created equal. Some of these shoes (like the Skwama or HiAngle) use a single strap in tandem with a slipper-like stretchy upper. Others (like the Shaman or Miura VS) have three straps for more adjustability. Some (like the Solution) have a hybrid system in which a single strap adjusts multiple points on the foot.

In general, having fewer straps means more convenient on-off, and more straps means more customization in the fit. Buy according to your priorities.

Rubber

Unless you have access to a lab, testing rubber is an inexact science. Friction depends on many variables, and it’s hard to duplicate trials of friction on real rock.

Most brands use proprietary rubber. Five Ten is often lauded for their rubber compounds (don’t screw this up, Adidas), but other brands have plenty of respect.

In this test, I didn’t find many significant differences in rubber. The rubber on the Mad Rock Flash felt a little harder than most, and the Evolv Shaman felt slightly less sticky than the other high-end shoes.

If you already have rubber preferences, they may come into play on high-performance shoes. If you don’t, I wouldn’t worry about it — focus on fit instead.

How We Tested

Field Testing

Bouldering outdoors

It’s hard to get any quantitative data on aspects of shoe performance and feel like stiffness, sensitivity, and holding power.

To standardize testing as much as possible, I put all nine pairs of shoes through circuits on plastic and real rock. Where shoes were close or similar, I did dedicated A/B testing to iron out performance differences.

I scored shoes on various aspects of performance (edging, toe/heel hooks, smears, etc). Because these shoes are aimed at bouldering, my testing was biased toward steeper terrain, although I did try all shoes on faces and slabs.

Each shoe was also scored on sensitivity, comfort, and design.