Bouldering in the gym is a lot of fun – but what about when you want to start rock climbing outdoors? Will the same climbing shoes still suffice?
Why Are Bouldering Shoes Important for Climbers?
Bouldering shoes provide grip on rock surfaces, which is crucial for maintaining position and preventing falls. But different rubber compounds perform differently on rock and plastic. In general, a softer rubber such as Vibram XS Grip works best for indoors, while a harder rubber like Vibram XS Edge can provide a bit more durability and stability for outdoor climbing on small dime edges. You can learn more about climbing shoe rubber here.
Another aspect to consider is how easy is it to walk in your outdoor climbing shoes – boulders outside may be further apart than problems in the climbing gym. With comfortable climbing shoes, you can sometimes walk from problem to problem, whereas with a more aggressive, tight climbing shoe, you’ll need to go barefoot or change back into your approach shoes – a hassle.
How to Choose the Right Bouldering Shoe
When selecting a bouldering shoe, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost, it’s important to choose a shoe that fits properly. Shoes that are too tight or too loose can be uncomfortable and ineffectivee. Additionally, you should consider the materials used in the construction of the shoe. The upper should be made of a durable and breathable material, such as leather or synthetic fabric. The sole should be made of a sticky rubber material, such as Vibram or Stealth rubber, to provide maximum grip on the rock. Finally, consider the shoe’s style. (is it fresh AF?) Aggressive shoes have a more downturned toe and a more curved shape, providing greater precision and control on small rock surfaces. Neutral shoes have a flatter shape and provide more comfort and support for longer climbs.
Bouldering Shoe Recommendations
If you’re in the market for a new pair of bouldering shoes, here are some specific models to consider:
- La Sportiva Solution: This popular shoe is known for its excellent grip and precise fit. It features a downturned toe and a curved shape, making it ideal for steep, technical climbs. Sportiva footwear tends to run slim. This shoe is also available as the “Solution Comp”, a version more tuned for indoor bouldering instead of outdoor performance. Buy on Amazon ($200 or $210 for Solution Comp)
- Scarpa Instinct VS: This shoe is designed for all-around performance, with a “moderate” downturn and a versatile design. The velcro closure system makes this shoe easy to take on and off if you have sized it small, and find your toes hurting. Scarpa generally tailors their shoes to provide a tight heel cup and a slightly broader forefoot. Buy on Amazon ($210)
- Five Ten Anasazi VCS: While dedicated V10 boulderers will sneer at the flat shape of the Anasazi, this can actually be a great beginner bouldering shoe for folks that don’t want to experience the pain of Japanese foot-binding. This shoe is known for its excellent grip and comfortable fit. While it doesn’t have the aggressive downturn and pointy shape that traditionally defines bouldering shoes, it is comfortable enough to walk around in, sticky enough for slabby and vertical problems up to about V4, and offers a convenient velcro system. This is also a great trad-climbing shoe, if your climbing desires evolve in that direction. Buy on Amazon ($140)
- Evolv Shaman: This shoe is designed for aggressive climbing, with a downturned toe and a curved shape. It’s a great choice for climbers who want maximum precision and control on small rock surfaces. Evolv shoes tend to have a wider last, meaning this shoe might be a good fit for you if you consistently find La Sportiva footwear to be too slim. Evolv *used* to be a more affordable option when compared to Sportiva and Scarpa, but sadly as of 2023, Evolv shoes aren’t cheap anymore. Buy on Amazon ($190)
Ultimately, the best bouldering shoe for you is the bouldering shoe that FITS. Everyone has a different foot shape, and different models and manufacturers will work best for different climbers. For outdoor bouldering specifically, consider fit, shoe rubber, overall comfort (how long can it be worn), as well as the closure system of the shoe. And if you are a beginner or climbing easier problems, V0-3, you don’t NEED a super aggressive shoe, so do explore some more comfortable options! By the time your first pair needs a resole, you’ll understand your own needs a little better.