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|Top Pick: La Sportiva TC Pro|
|Best for Wide Feet: Evolv Astroman|
|Best Value: Cypher Sentinel|
|Elusive Classic: Boreal Ballet Gold|
If you look back in the photo archives of climbing’s colorful history (I recommend following Climbing in the 80’s on Facebook for some awesome photos), you’ll notice that, before the 21st century, high-top climbing shoes were by far the most common style.
However, they fell out of favor over the past 20 years and now the market is flooded with low-cut shoes that don’t go above your ankle.
Finding a good pair of high-tops can be difficult nowadays, so, for that reason, we compiled a list of the best high-top climbing shoes available.
These shoes are often most applicable to trad climbing, but they also work well for face climbing and can be your go-to pair for long, multi-pitch routes.
Top Pick: La Sportiva TC Pro
The TC Pro is considered by many to be the top trad climbing shoe on the market today. La Sportiva recruited big-wall extraordinaire Tommy Caldwell to help them make the shoe, and Tommy put his money where his mouth was when he climbed the Dawn Wall in TC Pros earlier this year.
The TC Pro has a low-profile toe box which means your toes, once the shoe has stretched out, will lie flat or mostly flat inside. Flat toes reduce the height of your toe box which makes it easier to jam your foot into thin cracks.
The shoe comes with Vibram XS Edge rubber, a top-quality compound, and the P3 Midsole, a technology that keeps the shoe’s downturn over the course of its life.
Together, the shoes design and rubber make it great for technical face climbing and trad climbing. Also, if sized correctly, the shoes will break in to be supportive and comfortable which makes them good for multi-pitch climbs as well.
If you’d like to know more about this shoe, check out our full review.
Best for Wide Feet: Evolv Astroman
March 2020 Update: The Evolv Astroman has been discontinued. As of this writing it can still be found in limited sizes at some online retailers.
The Astroman, designed by trad masters Peter Croft and Matt Segal, has many similarities to the TC Pro and is even called the “PC Pro” by some. It performs as well as the best, and — in atypical Evolv fashion — it comes with a leather upper.
The main differences between the Astroman and the TC Pro are the rubber and the shoe volume. The Astroman comes with Trax rubber which, while not as beloved as Stealth or Vibram rubbers, can hold its own on trad terrain and is particularly adept at smearing.
Second, the Astroman is a higher-volume shoe, meaning it accommodates wider feet and larger toes better. If La Sportiva shoes are uncomfortably narrow or tight for you, the Astroman is a great alternative.
Best Value: Cypher Sentinel
Cypher is a relatively new climbing shoe company that has gained some noteworthy traction and accolades over its short lifetime. Two of those accolades have been given to the company’s high-top climbing shoe, the Cypher Sentinel.
Climbing Magazine gave a highly positive review of the shoe in their 2015 Gear Guide. Additionally, Men’s Journal, albeit not a typical thought leader on climbing information, put the Sentinel on their list of 10 Best Rock Climbing Shoes.
The Sentinel comes with Vibram XS Grip rubber, one of the top compounds on the market which is softer and stickier than the TC Pro’s XS Edge. Even with top-of-the-line rubber and “world-class” edging according to Climbing Magazine, the Sentinel still retails for less than any of the other shoes on this list and takes the cake as the best value option.
Also, in my opinion, it’s the best looking shoe on the list. So maybe buy it for the style points as well.
Elusive Classic: Boreal Ballet Gold
The Boreal Ballet Gold has apparently been on the climbing market for over 30 years. It is a shoe from a different generation, when high-tops were the norm.
You’d think, as I did, that a shoe designed 30 years ago would be terrible relative to the shoes of today, because, well, climbing shoes technology has advanced, right? Yes, you’re right, it has. Rubber has gotten better and shoes have become more specialized. BUT, this particular Boreal high-top climbing shoe is one of the few remaining shoes that is board-lasted.
Board lasting is the most time-intensive and expensive way of making a shoe, but the shoes made from this method are widely thought to be more durable. So, although the rubber on the shoe is outdated, many climbers buy this shoe, wear through the original sole, and then are able to get it re-soled multiple times before having to get a new shoe.
The durability and time-tested design of the Ballet Gold make it a good choice for anyone with an itch to own a pair of high-tops. Also, know that it’s likely your pair won’t reach its full potential until you re-sole it with some better rubber.
The main downside of this shoe is that it is difficult to find in the United States. A few choice retailers and websites carry it, so you might have to go out of your way to get it. Otherwise, go with one of the above shoes.
Best Women’s High-Top Climbing Shoes (or lack thereof…)
Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, currently there are no high-top climbing shoes designed specifically for women.
However, that doesn’t mean women can’t wear the above shoes. The shoes are likely designed with men in mind, but they are listed as ‘unisex’ and can fit women’s feet, too, especially women with wider feet.
A general rule of thumb is that men’s or unisex climbing shoes have a larger toe box, smaller arch, and larger heel than a comparable women’s shoe. This means women purchasing men’s shoes need to get the sizing right in order for the shoe to work well. Otherwise, the shoe will likely be too big.
How to Choose the Best High-Top Climbing Shoe for Your Needs
High-top climbing shoes are usually used for crack and/or trad climbing. For these styles of climbing, you’ll often be jamming your foot into cracks. Laces (or slip-ons) are the preferred closure style for cracks since velcro straps have a chance of coming undone when forced into and torqued inside cracks and can painfully press against the tops of your feet when smushed against the rock.
Like I said, crack and trad climbing require torquing your feet inside cracks to get traction on the rock. The rubber on your high-top climbing shoes, therefore, needs to be pliable enough to bend and conform inside of cracks, but stiff enough to protect your feet from the hard rock.
Low-profile Toe Box
When referring to climbing shoes, a low-profile toe box means that the front of the shoe where your toes are (the toe box) is designed so that your toes lie flat or mostly flat when in the shoe. For comparison, some climbing shoes are designed for your toes to be curled up in the toe box (a high-profile toe box). High-top climbing shoes should not be this way.
Low-profile toe boxes are good for crack and trad climbing because it is easier to stick your foot into thin cracks when your toes lie flat.
Questions & Answers
How do high-top climbing shoes compare to shoes designed for trad and/or crack climbing? They are similar in many ways. High-top climbing shoes are designed for trad and crack climbing so the top options of each shoe will have laces, semi-stiff rubber, and low-profile toe boxes. The main difference then, it would seem, is the higher ankle flaps on high-tops. If you’re not set on a high-top, here is the list of the best trad climbing shoes.
What happened to the Five Ten Anasazi High-Top climbing shoe? It appears the shoe has been discontinued. Though no official mention of its discontinuation has been made (climbing shoe companies never seem to officially announce them), the shoe is no longer listed on Five Ten’s website and it is out of stock on both REI.com and Backcountry.com.