Best climbing shoes 2021: Great rock shoes to suit all budgets and ability levels

It’s said that the best climber is the one who’s having the most fun but, no matter what your skill level, our list of the best climbing shoes should help you get the most out of your climbing. Although rock climbing is a complex sport with a long and colourful history, there really is a place for everyone in the great church of climbing, from the seasoned trad climber to the enthusiastic beginner at the local wall. And now that climbing has officially been made an Olympic sport, it’s bound to get more popular than ever.

When buying climbing shoes there are numerous factors to consider. Our roundup includes the best climbing shoes to suit all types of climbing and climbers of all skill levels. Most importantly, it also caters to all budgets, big or small. Before our list of shoe recommendations begins, you’ll find a short buying guide that’ll answer the questions you might have about how to choose the perfect pair of climbing shoes.

Best climbing shoes: At a glance

Don’t have time to read the full guide? Here are our top picks:

How to choose the best climbing shoes for you

Do you really need special shoes for climbing?

Technically you can go climbing in any shoes you like – but you may not get very far. Climbing shoes use special, grippy types of rubber on the soles, heels and toe areas to assist you in sticking to the wall. Trainers are too clunky for precise foot placements and don’t provide the required grip on angled or blank surfaces. Unlike normal shoes, climbing shoes have firm, stiff midsoles to provide extra support when putting all your weight on small footholds.

Why not just rent shoes?

If you’re just getting into climbing in an indoor setting then you’ll likely start off by renting rock shoes each time you visit the gym. Even if the gym’s hygiene standards are of the highest level it’s still not ideal because those hiring fees will add up over time. It’s actually more cost-efficient to buy a pair of shoes that works for you early on and, provided the fit is right, you’ll have more confidence on the wall too.

Can one pair of climbing shoes do any style of climbing?

There’s no need to splurge on multiple pairs of climbing shoes right away. Finding one pair that you like (and that fits!) is more important. With that said, there are various styles of climbing shoe aimed at different forms of rock climbing. Some shoes are designed with long outdoor climbs in mind, while others are best suited for hard, steep routes or bouldering. There are plenty of all-round climbing shoes out there too, though.

How many types of climbing shoes are there?

Climbing shoes come in three general shapes: flat (or neutral), moderate and downturned (or aggressive). Flat shoes are great beginner shoes and tend to be more comfortable, with a straight last and stiff sole that allows the foot and toes to remain in a neutral position. The toe rubber and sole are thicker than other kinds of climbing shoes.

Moderate shoes, sometimes called intermediate or all-around shoes, have a slightly downturned shape that provides a technical edge over flat shoes. They typically have thinner soles and stickier rubber too.

Finally, downturned shoes are aimed at high-performance and have aggressively cambered toes and high-tension heels for maximum accuracy and power. While excellent for hard climbs they are uncomfortable due to the curved and asymmetrical shape, and the rubber is even thinner so they wear out quickly.

When should you switch from beginner shoes to performance shoes?

A flat or neutral shoe with a thicker sole and toe is ideal for beginners because it takes time to advance your footwork and you’ll burn through lots of rubber in the process. Wearing expensive high-end shoes with thin rubber when starting could get expensive.

Naturally, as you improve you may consider buying more performance-oriented shoes. Then again, plenty of advanced climbers wear flat, comfortable shoes if they’re climbing outdoors all day long. Comfier models also make for excellent ‘burner’ shoes that can be worn during warm-up climbs, before bringing out the big guns.

How does the sizing work for climbing shoes?

Fitting climbing shoes correctly is extremely important although it can be tricky to get it right. Aim for a snug (but not painful) fit that won’t come off or slip around while you climb.

A portion of advanced climbers go for the tightest fit possible but this tends to cause discomfort and they’ll usually have to remove the shoes between climbs. When starting out, a comfortable fit is definitely best. Most climbers do not wear socks; going barefoot reduces slippage within the shoe and increases sensitivity on the rock.

Sizing varies wildly between climbing manufacturers. You may find your perfect size with one brand only to find you can’t get your feet into the same size in another. With aggressive, downturned shoes that contort the shape of your foot, sizing can be even more unpredictable. If you need some help, Alpine Trek’s Climbing Shoe Size Guide calculates (roughly) the ideal size for almost any model of climbing shoe based on your normal shoe size.

READ NEXT: The best barefoot shoes for all occasions

The best rock climbing shoes to buy in 2021

1. Simond Rock+: An affordable velcro shoe

Price: £40 | Buy now from Decathlon

The Rock+ is a cheap beginner model from Decathlon’s Simond brand, based out of the Chamonix Valley in France. It’s £10 more than the lace-up Simond Rock (further down) but you get quite a lot for that money. It’s much easier to put on, adjust and remove the Rock+ because of the dual velcro straps, while the padding in the heel and tongue make for more comfortable wear.

As for the sole, Simond has used 100% VirbamXS Grip rubber that provides excellent stick on indoor and outdoor surfaces. The build is flat and straight, with a wide toe box, so it’s definitely not a performance shoe but makes a solid option for beginners. For more advanced climbers it’s a decent pair for warming up or for all-day outdoor use.

Buy now from Decathlon

2. Ocun Crest LU: The most comfortable beginner shoe

Price: £49 | Buy now from Go Outdoors