Last updated on June 2nd, 2023 at 03:34 am
Climbing shoes have changed a lot in recent years, in fact, they have become almost unrecognizable compared to early models from the 80s and 90s. There’s a good reason for this – climbing shoes have evolved pretty drastically in order to keep up with the demands of modern climbing and bouldering.
A wise climber once told me “you need the right tool for the job” and if you are a sport climber or bouldering specialist, an aggressive climbing shoe might just be the tool you need to take your climbing to the next level.
The Top Three
What Are Aggressive Shoes?
When we describe a shoe as aggressive, we are simply referring to its downturned shape. These shoes are focused on performance, usually superseding comfort. The downturned profile (also known as a camber) arches your foot into a ‘hooked’ shape, forcing your toes into a curled position. Putting your feet in this position offers climbers two main benefits.
The main benefit of a downturned climbing shoe is that they are excellent for overhung walls and roof climbs, where small edges and pockets are the name of the game. The curved shape allows you to hook and claw these features much easier than you would be able to in a flatter shoe.
The other big advantage of these shoes is that it allows for maximum power transfer to your toes. If you think about it, a full crimp is one of the most powerful grip positions in your arsenal, and the exact same logic applies when weighting your toes. You will be able to put more weight on your little piggies when they are curled compared to if they were lying dead flat.
As aggressive climbing shoes usually have a softer construction than their neutral shoes, you need the additional support of curled toes to help support your body weight and help create tension within the shoe.
Now, it’s important to remember that not all climbs need aggressive shoes! There’s little question that bouldering and sport climbers working steep routes will benefit from using downturned climbing shoes, which is the reason why they are such a popular choice among gym rats working those gnarly cave problems.
That said, if you are just starting out in your climbing journey, highly downturned shoes might turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Beginners will most likely benefit from a neutral or moderate shoe when learning the basic footwork techniques. Your climbing technique will undoubtedly benefit you in the long run if you learn how to properly use the inside edge, toe, and ball of your foot before attempting to tackle a V2 slab in a pair of highly aggressive shoes.
Also, I guarantee it’s going to be an uncomfortable learning curve getting used to wearing downturned shoes. If you are new to the sport, it might even be enough to put you off climbing for good!
Seasoned veterans that gravitate towards slabs or vertical faces might also be better off with a neutral and 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 much easier in flatter shoes for the same reason; a larger surface gives your foot more surface contact on the wall.
The History of Downturned Climbing Shoes
Highly cambered shoes originated as a solution to increasingly difficult climbs being established by pro climbers in the 1990s. The old-school neutral shoes did not cut it when it came to overhanging walls and miniature footholds.
One of the first shoe manufacturers to recognize the benefit of a cambered shape was Five Ten. At the hands of the company’s founder, Charles Cole, the Five Ten UFO prototype was released for commercial sale in 1991.
For the Europeans, the La Sportiva Mirage hit the climbing scene in 1995. Like the UFO, the Mirage featured a downturned 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. Many climbers at the time wrote them off as nothing more than a novelty.
It wasn’t until climbers started understanding the benefit of using a downturned shoe on overhanging terrain that the Mirage started to gain traction and eventually sold out everywhere it was available.
The Best Aggressive Climbing Shoes
Today, the range of downturned climbing shoes is pretty overwhelming. There’s not a single manufacturer that hasn’t created a downturned climbing shoe.
Here at Climbing Shoe Review, we are big fans of bouldering and steep sport climbing, so we know a thing or two about these types of shoes. Here are a few aggressive shoes that get our seal of approval.
La Sportiva Solution
The Solution represented a big leap forward in modern shoe design when it was first released in 2007. Even to this day, it is still regarded as one of the best downturned climbing shoes ever made.
With a sticky Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber outsole and a 3D molded heel cup, the Solution will help you find the answer to any problem.
These shoes have amazing all-around usability due to their aggressive downturn and split sole design. The forefoot downturn and toe box have a very unique feel, a laser-precise toe that is unlike a lot of other shoes, which is probably one of the main reasons the Solution has become such an iconic shoe.
Because of their great blend versatility and durability, these shoes can pretty much do it all. They are great for both indoor and outdoor climbing and won’t get eaten up by sharp rocks as much as a softer shoe would.
BEST FOR GYM
The Drago opts for a softer construction and flexible structure that allows the shoe to conform to rocks and holds of all shapes and sizes. Because of these characteristics, 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, and bucket loads of friction on both steep and slabby terrain. You will know exactly where your footing is and how much weight you should give it.
These shoes have adjustable straps that are strong and flexible, and they break in fast due to the soft rubber and thin upper materials. The airflow and breathability of these shoes are great as well.
BEST FOR BUDGETS
One of my personal favorites 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. Not to mention that it has one of the biggest toe patches in the game, bat hanging is a breeze with these bad boys.
BEST FOR WIDE FEET
The Phantom is one of the newest shoes on this list and is arguably the most aggressive climbing shoes you can get your hands on right now. The shoe was made in collaboration with Daniel Woods, a serious crusher known for hiking heinously overhung boulders.
The Phantom uses a completely unique last shape, specially designed for this shoe. The curvature is significantly exaggerated, enhancing its pocket-pulling ability. This shoe also has a really nicely constructed heel cup and toe patch, both essential tools for modern boulder and sport climbing.
Tenaya is slowly but surely becoming a major player in the climbing shoe game, thanks to its range of popular Aerial Plus performance shoes.
If you haven’t heard of Tenaya before, take a quick look at the social media pages of pro climbers like Chris Sharma, Alex Megos, or Jimmy Webb and you will see these Spanish shoes doing what they do best – crushing on a wide range of climbing terrain.
Of all their shoes, it’s the Oasi that takes the title as the most aggressive Tenaya shoe. While its cambered shape lends the shoe to overhung sport and bouldering problems, the Tenaya design team set out with the goal of creating a versatile model which is capable of performing on a myriad of terrain and spent 2 years sculpting the Oasi into a versatile sending machine.
It’s safe to say their hard work paid off. The Oasi feels at home on virtually any climbing project you can throw at it, whether that’s crawling up a slabby gym volume or a steep limestone crag.
It’s not just the Oasi’s versatility that is turning heads, this shoe is also known as one of the most comfortable performance models in the business. Tenaya’s obsession with foot biomechanics allows the shoe to adapt to the shape of the user’s foot, while its unique DRAXTOR closure gives you full customization of the shoe’s fit.
BEST FOR NARROW
Five Ten Hiangle
Five Ten is a name that has been at the forefront of the climbing shoe business for over four decades. After Adidas bought the American company in late 2011 some long-term Five Ten fans questioned the build quality of their new shoes, as well as the caliber of STEALTH rubber, a creation that catapulted Five Ten into climbing stardom.
That said, few can question Five Ten’s ability to crush hard, especially when you watch the comp-climbing GOAT Janja Garnbret dominating the competition scene in them. If there’s one aggressive shoe in their new range that truly stands out, and is a personal favorite of Garnbrets, it’s the Hiangle.
The Hiangle has been Five Ten’s most popular performance shoe for the best part of a decade. The updated 2020 version of the Hinagle introduced a few new features that built on the success of their old model. The new split sole design allows for greater flexibility of the forefoot, allowing for superior smearing, while the full coverage heel significantly improves the heel cup’s ability to stick a myriad of gnarly heel hooks.
Of course, the Hiangle still makes the most of Five Ten’s iconic STEALTH C4 rubber. I have tested the updated compound on a variety of their new 2021 shoes, and I still think this is a brilliant rubber that creates a nice balance between durability and friction.
BEST FOR STYLE
Mad Rock Drone
The Drone is the flagship model from Mad Rock, it’s their piece de resistance. The latest rendition of the Drone received a fresh-faced all-black makeover in 2021, although it still shares all the technical specs that Drone fans know and love.
Out of the box, the Drone feels slightly stiff, although once you have broken it in, the shoe becomes pretty soft and allows it to take on smears and other friction-dependent moves. The Science Friction rubber plays a large role here too, offering great friction on a wide variety of terrain.
The standout features of the Drone, however, is its large toe patch and heel cup. The toe patch extends up the inside of the forefoot, making it ideal for hooking and rolling your foot through toe hook sequences. The 3D molded heel cup is designed to expand and retract around the shape of your foot, which allows the shoe to become shoe suctioned to your foot, whilst having plenty of features to hook on.
The Drone also comes in both a high and low volume variation, so caters to a wide range of foot shapes.
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 and moderate 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 injuries from over-excursion.
So when should you get aggressive shoes? Once you 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 are plenty of shoes out there that are designed to help less experienced climbers ease their way into the world of cambered climbing shoes. Shoes like the Scarpa Veloce or La Sportiva Kubo are made for beginners looking for a little more performance in their life.
IMPORTANT: I would never recommend highly downturned climbing shoes for children unless they are climbing at a competitive level. Even then, I wouldn’t recommend frequent use. If you want to learn more take a look at the best kids climbing shoes here!
My Downturned Climbing Shoes Top Tips
Maybe you’ve decided to purchase a pair of downturned shoes and you’re curious about how they should fit. Not all climbing shoes fit the same, and there is absolutely no reason to settle for a shoe that is extremely uncomfortable. Here are a few tips for 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?
Every year we see innovative designs emerge from almost every corner of the climbing industry. From neutral to the most cambered 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, and 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.