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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

29 Models Considered
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best women’s rock climbing shoes

Last Updated July 2020

When the only thing between you and the rock face stretching above you is your shoes, those shoes had better be designed for the best traction and maneuverability possible. That’s why experienced rock climbers, and even beginners who expect to fall in love with the sport, take their rock climbing shoes so seriously. 

Whether you’re scaling the indoor climbing wall at your local gym, facing a near-vertical cliff in a canyon, or tackling an overhang in the mountains, you need a pair of shoes that helps your toes grab and hold even the tiniest outcropping of stone.

Choosing those shoes, however, can be complicated. There are several types of women’s rock climbing shoes, and the right choice depends on both your experience level and the formation of the rocks you’ll be climbing. That’s why we’ve done the research for you and researched the 411 on women’s rock climbing shoes to simplify your buying decision. Here’s what you need to know before starting your climb. We’ve included some of our favorites, too.

The right pair of rock climbing shoes makes it easier to tackle even the toughest cliff or boulder.

Key considerations

There are several basic considerations when choosing shoes for rock climbing, including shoe shape, closure, and materials.

Shape

There are three basic shapes of rock climbing shoes: neutral, moderate, and aggressive.

Neutral: These shoes are the closest in shape to regular shoes and have a relatively flat sole from toe to heel. That makes them well suited to wedging your toes into cracks in the rock but not so good when climbing overhangs. Typically, neutral rock climbing shoes have somewhat stiff soles and thick rubber outsoles for maximum traction on potentially slippery rock surfaces. 

As a general rule, neutral shoes are the best choice for beginners or when your climbs are mostly across boulders or rock surfaces with a moderate incline. These are the most comfortable type of rock climbing shoes and the easiest to wear for a full day of the sport.

Moderate: These rock climbing shoes have a toe that turns slightly down: imagine holding your foot out straight and then curling your toes slightly. Most moderate rock climbing shoes have thinner and more flexible soles than neutral shoes and “stickier” rubber outsoles for improved traction on technical climbs. 

Moderate shoes are the best choice for slight overhangs, crack climbs, rock faces with a lot of changes in pitch, or advanced indoor courses.

Aggressive: These rock climbing shoes have a steeply angled toe box: the profile resembles a banana, with your toes and the ball of your foot angled downward and a slight slant toward your big toe. Typically, aggressive climbing shoes have the thinnest soles and stickiest rubber outsoles.

The curved shape makes aggressive shoes ideal for tackling overhangs and highly technical climbs on steep rock faces, but it also means these shoes aren’t very comfortable, and few climbers wear them for all-day adventures on the rocks. 

Closure

Choose from three basic types of shoe closure: lace-up, hook-and-loop, or slip-on.

Lace-up closure: The laces on these rock climbing shoes normally start at the base of the toes and extend to the top of the shoe, making it easy for you to adjust the tightness of your shoes as the day progresses or your climbing needs change. This is the favorite type of closure for climbers who enjoy lengthy climbs and don’t plan on removing their shoes all day.

Hook-and-loop closures: These make it quick and easy to get your shoes on and off, and they also allow a bit of wiggle room in shoe tightness over your upper foot, although not quite as much as laces. These closures tend to wear out more quickly than laces, however, and sometimes can loosen during a really technical climb.

Slip-on shoes: Also called slippers, these rock climbing shoes don’t allow the precise adjustment of laces or the moderate amount of adjustment provided by hook-and-loop closures, but they make it a snap to remove the shoes when desired. Slippers usually have very thin soles and often an aggressively angled shape. Mostly favored by climbers who like tackling boulders and tough climbs, slippers are generally not the best choice for beginners.

Material

When it comes to climbing shoe materials, you’ll find three basic types of uppers: unlined leather, lined leather, and synthetics.

Unlined leather: This lets your feet breathe, cutting down on foot odor and potential skin irritation. It also tends to stretch significantly, sometimes as much as a full size, so take that into account when trying on unlined leather shoes. These shoes tend to conform the most to your foot shape over time, but they also tend to bleed leather dye onto your skin.

Lined leather: These shoes are comfortable against your skin, and while they do stretch, it’s not nearly as much as unlined leather. While these shoes let your feet breathe, they do hold in some sweat, so foot odor can be a problem.

Synthetic materials: These are the least breathable, so expect some foot odor. Skin irritation is also a possibility. These shoes won’t stretch, so keep that in mind when trying them on. Synthetic materials are very durable and a good choice for vegan climbers.

Outsoles

Rubber is the primary material for the outsoles on rock climbing shoes. While experienced climbers can debate the particulars for hours, as a general rule, there are two main considerations here: the thickness and the stickiness or softness of the rubber.

Thickness: As a general rule, neutral climbing shoes have the thickest outsoles, and aggressive climbing shoes have the thinnest outsoles, with moderate shoes somewhere in the middle. The thicker the rubber, the stiffer the shoe, so beginners often find thick rubber soles to be the most comfortable because they provide more foot support during rigorous climbs. However, thinner outsoles allow for the most foot flexibility, which can be crucial during a very technical climb.

Stickiness: Rubber “stickiness” refers to the amount of grip the material provides. The softer the rubber, the stickier, meaning the better your traction on slippery or technical rock surfaces. However, the softer the rubber, the faster it wears out. Beginners usually do best with rubber outsoles that are just a little bit sticky, allowing them to readjust their foot positions more easily.

EXPERT TIP

Many experienced rock climbers have more than one pair of climbing shoes because different shoes are suited to different techniques and challenges.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

While climbing shoes should be snug, they don’t need to be painful.


Staff  | BestReviews

Women’s rock climbing shoe prices

Expect to pay more for a good pair of rock climbing shoes than for a casual pair of athletic shoes you’d wear to the gym or to knock about town.

Inexpensive: In the $50 to $75 range, you’ll find rock climbing shoes best suited for beginners, or those who only occasionally practice the sport. Expect a neutral shape, synthetic uppers, fairly stiff and thick rubber outsoles, and a less “responsive” feel than more expensive shoes.

Mid-range: The $75 to $150 range is the sweet spot for most rock climbers. Here you’ll find the widest range of climbing shoes, including neutral, moderate, and aggressive designs, a wide choice of uppers in snazzy patterns and colors, and responsive rubber outsoles that hold tight to the rock walls.

Expensive: Above $150, you’ll find rock climbing shoes favored by very experienced or enthusiastic athletes. These are brands and styles that are the most technologically advanced and able to conquer the toughest rock surfaces.

EXPERT TIP

Beginners usually do best with a neutral shape, thicker outsole, and stiffer shoe.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Don’t wear your climbing shoes for anything other than rock climbing. Wear regular athletic shoes to walk to the rock face, and then change into your climbing shoes. That cuts way down on rubber wear and tear.

  • Wipe off or wash your feet before putting on your climbing shoes.

  • Wipe any grit or soil off the bottoms of the shoes before and after your climb. Use an old toothbrush or small cleaning brush with a bit of mild dishwashing soap to scrub away dirt or mud from the shoes, and then blot them dry with a clean cloth.

  • Care for your shoes between climbs. Let the shoes air-dry thoroughly. Never leave your climbing shoes for extended periods in a hot car, backpack, or anywhere else they’ll be exposed to temperature extremes or moist air. Fight odor with charcoal inserts, baking soda, or even antiseptic spray between climbing sessions.

Always let your climbing shoes air out between uses to cut down on odor and germs.

FAQ

Q. Is there really a difference between women’s and men’s rock climbing shoes?
A. While the difference might be slight, it’s there. Women’s rock climbing shoes are generally narrower in the heel and have a smaller toe box and a slightly higher arch. Often the outsoles are very slightly softer and thinner than comparable shoes designed for men, too.


Q. What about socks?
A. Most climbers don’t wear socks with their rock climbing shoes because the shoes are designed to be form-fitting, leaving little room for extra material. If you must wear socks while climbing, they should be the thinnest material possible.


Q. How do I choose the best-fitting rock climbing shoes?
A. While your climbing shoes should never be so tight that they hurt, they do need to fit fairly snugly to provide the best performance on the rock. Typically, rock climbing shoes are tighter along the sides than regular street shoes. There shouldn’t be any “dead” space between the end of your toes and the shoe, and the heel needs to hold firmly in place without any slipping or sliding. Generally, aggressive shoes are tighter than neutral or moderate shoes. And remember that if the shoes are leather, they are going to stretch.

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