Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Are they worth the hype?

downturned and aggressive climbing shoes

Climbing shoes have evolved a lot over the years. The first models were simply built to withstand the rough texture of mountain faces and rocky edges. Since then, climbing shoe design have evolved to keep up with the demands  of modern climbing. 

A wise climber once told me “you need the right tool for the job” and if you are an intermediate, or an advanced climber, an aggressive-style climbing shoe might be the right tool for you.

The History of Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Aggressive climbing shoes originated as a solution to increasingly difficult climbs being established by pro climbers in the 1990’s.

The old-school flat bottom shoes did not cut it when it came to overhanging walls and miniature footholds. The La Sportiva Mirage hit the climbing scene in 1995 and was the first pair of aggressive rock climbing shoes available at a commercial level.

With a severe downturn that matched the way a foot naturally arches, its ballet-esque design allowed 20th-century climbers to approach problems in a completely new way.

Designed by Norwegian sports scientist Marius Morstad, the odd design of the Mirage was striking and controversial within the climbing community. Going from flat bottomed high-top climbing shoes to these unusual-looking curved shoes was not a smooth transition. 

It wasn’t until climbers started realizing the efficiency of using a downturned shoe on overhanging walls that the Mirage started to gain traction, and eventually sold out everywhere it was available. The demand for aggressive shoes was just beginning, and what followed was a new chapter in modern rock climbing. 

The Best Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Our team are big fans of bouldering and steep sport climbing, so we know a thing or two about downturned climbing shoes. Here are a few aggressive climbing shoes that get our seal of approval. 

OUR PICK #1

La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution Review

The Solution was a massive evolution in modern climbing shoe design when it was first released in 2007 and is arguably one of the best aggressive climbing shoe ever made.

With extremely sticky Vibram rubber and a 3D molded heel cup, the Solutions help you find the solution to any problem.

These shoes have wonderful all-around usability due to their moderate to aggressive downturn. Because of their durability, they are great for outdoor climbing and won’t get eaten up by sharp rocks as much as softer shoes would.

OUR PICK #2

Scarpa Drago

Scarpa Drago

Taking design to the next level, the Dragos are the pinnacle of aggression. Unlike the Solutions, the Drago opts for a super soft construction and flexible structure. 

Wrapped in a combination of ultra-soft M50 rubber and Vibram Xs Grip 2 the Drago delivers unmatched sensitivity. You will know exactly where your footing is, and how much weight you should give it.

These shoes sport an adjustable strap that is strong and flexible, and they break in fast due to the soft rubber and thin upper materials. Air flow and breathability of these shoes are great as well.

OUR PICK #3

Butora Acro

Butora Acro Review

Personally my favorite shoes on the list, the Acros find a way to work in every environment and are one of the more budget-friendly performance shoes on the market.

Exceptionally comfortable for wider feet and very easy to break in, these shoes dominate bouldering with the large toe box and longer heel. Edging is made easy with the wide frame of the shoe, and the thicker rubber provides reliability and longevity for many years of climbing.

What are aggressive climbing Shoes? 

Aggressive simply means the shoe is focused on extreme performance, usually superseding comfort. The highly effective nature of the shoe has everything to do with the extremely downturned angle (also known as a camber) which arches the sole of the foot into a ‘hooked claw’ shape.

This design naturally lends itself well on overhung walls and roof climbs where small foot holds and pockets are in abundance.

That downturned shape also creates a tensioned-fit around your foot, which helps for secure heel and toe hooks, moves that are used frequently in modern climbing problems.

Not all climbs require aggressive shoes! Yes, bouldering and sport climbers who are working steep routes will excel by using downturned climbing shoes. For this reason, they are a popular choice among gym climbers, but if you’re just starting out they might be more of a burden to get used to while learning the basics of climbing. 

If you gravitate to slab wall climbing or vertical faces you might prefer a neutral or moderate climbing shoe. Why? Because on vertical walls that have little to no overhang, standing on a foothold would be far easier due to the fact that you can use the sides of your shoes more effectively. Smearing is also easier in flatter shoes for the same reasons; a larger surface gives your foot more surface area on the wall. 

Aggressive climbing shoes for beginners

For those rock wrestlers that are new to the sport, it’s usually a good idea to stick to neutral -profile shoes, at least until you find your feet anyway.  

For starters, these beginner-friendly shoes will help you nail down the basic footwork techniques required for climbing. More importantly, they will also help build up strength in your toe’s ligaments and tendons, and help avoid any early injures from over-excursion. 

So when should you get aggressive climbing shoes?  Once feel your climbing ability starting to improve and you start eye-balling the steeper routes, it’s a good time to start looking at a beginner-friendly pair of downturned shoes. 

There’s plenty of shoes out there that are designed to help less experienced climbers ease their way into the world of aggressive climbing shoes.  Shoes like the Scarpa Arpia or La Sportiva Kubo are made for beginners looking for a little more performance in their life. 

IMPORTANT: I would never recommend aggressive climbing shoes for children unless they are climbing at a competitive level. Find out more about the best kids climbing shoes here. 

Downturned Climbing Shoes Top Tips

Maybe you’ve decided to purchase a pair of aggressive shoes and you’re curious about how they should fit. Not all climbing shoes fit the same, and there is no reason to settle for shoes that are extremely uncomfortable. Here are a few tips to finding the best aggressive shoes for you:

1. Make sure the shoe fits as snug as possible.

2. Your big toe should be at the very end of the shoe, with your heel placed firmly at the back. Make sure the heel cup supports your whole heel firmly.

3. Downturned shoes will feel a bit uncomfortable but not painful. Try to avoid buying shoes that are overly painful or make your feet go numb.

4. If you’re shopping for shoes online and unsure of the sizing, go ahead and try the shoe on at a store that sells them! Then, buy the right size shoes online as it’s usually easier to find deals.

5. Climbing shoes aren’t made for walking in. Walking around in aggressive climbing shoes is the easiest way to destroy that beautiful cambered profile.

What’s your favorite aggressive climbing shoe?

Every year we see innovative designs emerge from almost every corner of the climbing industry. From neutral to the most aggressive climbing shoes, well-established climbing brands are constantly raising the bar and transforming this humble sport into a worldwide spectacle. Whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a newbie wearing rental shoes, everyone should have a chance at finding the right gear. So ask around your local gym, start a conversation with someone at the crag. When you find the shoes that work right for you, they almost become an extension of yourself.

Happy climbing!

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