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 protect our feet and 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 advanced sport climber or bouldering specialist, an aggressive climbing shoe might just be the perfect tool for you.

What are aggressive climbing shoes? 

When we label a shoe as aggressive, we are simply referring it downturned shape. These shoe are focused on extreme performance, usually superseding comfort. The extremely downturned profile (also known as a camber) arches your foot into a ‘hooked claw’ shape, forcing your toes into a crimped position. Using these types of shoes offer two main benefits.

The main benefit being that downturned climbing shoes are excellent for overhung walls and roof climbs, where small foot holds and pockets are in abundance. The curved shape allows you to hook these features easier than that of their flatter counterparts. 

Another huge advantage to these shoes is that it allows for maximum power transfer to your toes. Think about it, crimping with your fingers fully curled is one of the most power grip positions, so why would it be any different for your feet? Also, because cambered shoes usually have a softer construction than neutral shoes, you need the additional support of curled toes to help bear the brunt of your weight of body weight.  

Now, it’s important to understand that not all climbs require aggressive shoes! There’s little question that bouldering and sport climbers working steep routes will benefit from using downturned shoes, which is the reason why they are such a popular choice among gym rats. 

That said, if you’re just starting out in your climbing journey, downturned shoes might be more of a hindrance than help. Beginners will benefit from a neutral or moderate shoe for learning the basic footwork techniques. Your climbing will undoubtedly benefit in the long run if you learn how to properly use your inside edge, toe, and ball of your foot before tying to tackle a gnarly roof problem.

Also, I guarantee it’s going to be an uncomfortable learning curve to get uses to wearing downturned shoes. It might even enough to put you off climbing for good!

On a related note, even if you are a seasoned veteran but gravitate towards slabs or vertical faces, you will be better of with a neutral or moderate climbing shoe. Why? Because a near-vertical wall will have little to no overhang, standing on a foothold would be far easier in a neutral or moderate shoe, as this allows you to use the edges and ball of your foot more effectively. Smearing is also significantly easier in flatter shoes for the same reason; a larger surface gives your foot more surface area on the wall. 

The History of Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Aggressive 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.

One of the first manufactures to recognize the benefit of a cambered shape was Five Ten. At the hands of the companies founder, Charles Cole, the UFO prototype was released for commercial sale in the early ’90s. 

For the Europeans, the La Sportiva Mirage hit the climbing scene in 1995. Like the UFO, the Mirage featured a camber, although it was significantly more aggressive and asymmetrical than the UFO. 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 a striking and controversial development. Going from flat lasted, high-top climbing shoes, to these unusual-looking curved shoes was not exactly a smooth transition, with many climbers writing them off as nothing more than a novelty. 

It wasn’t until climbers started realizing the benefit 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

Today, the never-ending range of downturned climbing shoes is mind-boggling. There’s not a single manufacture that hasn’t created a cambered shoe.

Our team are big fans of bouldering and steep sport climbing, so we know a thing or two about these types of 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 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 Solution’s help you find the answer to any problem.

These shoes have wonderful all-round usability due to their 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

Unlike the Solutions, the Drago opts for a super soft construction and flexible structure that allows the shoe to conform to rocks and holds of all shapes and sizes. Because of this, they are very popular amongst gym climbers. 

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 have 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.

OUR PICK #4

Evolv Phantom

Evolv Phantom

The Phantom is the newest shoe on this list and has quickly become recognized as one of the most aggressive climbing shoes available. The shoe was made in collaboration with Daniel Woods, a serious crusher known for crushing heinously overhung boulders. 

It uses a completely unique last shape, specially designed for this shoe. The curvature is significantly exaggerated, enhancing its pocket-pulling ability. The Phantom also has a really nicely constructed heel cup and toe patch, both essential tools for modern boulder and sport climbing.

Like most Evolv shoes, the Phantom makes the most of their TRAX SAS rubber, which I am personally a big fan of. The rubber has great friction on both rock, as well as plastic, and is also really durable too.

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.  

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 up 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 downturned 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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