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My Ultimate Guide To…

the best Aggressive climbing shoes

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When we label a shoe as aggressive, we are referring to shoes that have a highly downturned shape. This camber forces your feet into a powerful “hook” position, which is particularly useful when climbing steep terrain or situations that require pinpoint accuracy.

La Sportiva Solution thumbnail

Best Overall

La Sportiva Solution

Arguably the greatest shoe ever created. Awesome all-around bouldering and sport-climbing potential.

Butora Acro

Best Budget

Butora Acro

Perfect for entry-level climbers, especially the gym rats. Possibly the biggest toe patch in the biz.

Evolv Shaman New

For Wide Feet

Evolv Shaman

An aggressive climbing shoe that is versatile enough to do it all. Perfect for indoor and outdoor sport climbing.

Five Ten Hiangle Review

For Narrow Feet

Five Ten Hiangle

The flagship Five Ten performance shoe, worn by everyone from Janja Garnbret to Will Bosi.

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Climbing gears has come a long way in recent years, and of all the weird and wonderful innovations that have come our way, aggressive climbing shoes are one of the biggest game-changers in the world of performance climbing. These are a world away from the models of the ‘70s and ’80s – they’re high-tech monstrosities designed to tackle the spiciest of spicy boulder problems and sport lines of today’s climbing scene. 

Whether you’re wrestling boulders or flowing up a pumpy route, downturned climbing shoes are your secret weapon to conquer those gnarly overhangs and wicked pockets. Dive into this tell-all guide on aggressive shoes. I’ll introduce you to a few of my favorite models, unravel the mystery of cambered, and throw in a bit of shoe history for good measure.

What are aggressive climbing shoes? And why use them?

Climbing Shoe Profiles
Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive shapes – the three main shoe profiles

When we describe a shoe as aggressive, we are simply referring to its downturned shape. Shoes with a highly downturned shape are built with a focus on performance, usually superseding comfort. The downturned profile (or the 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 of the shoe allows you to hook and claw at these features much more easily than if your feet were in a neutral position. 

The other big advantage of these shoes is that they allow for maximum power transfer to your toes. Think about it; a full crimp is one of the most powerful grip positions in your arsenal, and the exact same logic tracks to your feet. With a properly fitted pair of aggressive shoes, you will be able to put more weight – and therefore apply more force – through your toes when they are tightly curled compared to if they were lying flat.   

The History of Cambered Shoes

Highly cambered shoes originated as a solution to increasingly difficult climbs being established by pro athletes 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. 

Five Ten UFO First Downturned Climbing Shoe
The Five Ten UFO – The first shoe to use a cambered last

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.

La Sportiva Aggressive Climbing Shoes
The La Sportiva Mirage – A Milestone for downturned shoes.

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 curved shoes was not exactly a smooth transition. Many climbers initially saw them 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 like to think we know a thing or two about downturned shoes. Here are a few aggressive shoes that get my seal of approval.

My Top Pick

La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution Review
Overall
8.6
(7 reviews)
  • Edging - 9/10
    9/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Sensitivity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value For Money - 10/10
    10/10

Pros

  • Laser precise toe is awesome for technical footwork
  • 3D molded heel is great for heel hooking
  • Secure fit thank to the hook and loop strap

Cons

  • A little expensive
  • Not suitable for all-day climbing
  • The straps can break easily

Best For: Diverse bouldering and single-pitch sport

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 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.

La Sportiva Solution Rubber

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

Scarpa Drago

Scarpa Drago Review
Overall
8.6
(4 reviews)
  • Edging - 7/10
    7/10
  • Smearing - 9/10
    9/10
  • Steep Terrain - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Comfort - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Sensitivity - 9/10
    9/10
  • Value For Money - 8.5/10
    8.5/10

Pros

  • Amazing sensitivity
  • Great for toe hooks
  • Comfortable for a performance shoe
  • Fast break in period

Cons

  • Rubber can wear fast
  • Basic heel

Best For: Friction moves on gym walls

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

Butora Acro

Butora Acro Review
Overall
7.3
(1 review)
  • Edging - 7/10
    7/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 8/10
    8/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
    7/10
  • Sensitivity - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Value For Money - 7.5/10
    7.5/10

Pros

  • Cheap(ish) performance shoes
  • Solid at edging
  • High and low-volume variations 

Cons

  •  Lacks sensitivity
  •  Stiff compared to other performance shoes

Best For: Steep routes and problems

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

Evolv Phantom

Evolv Phantom

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.

Best For Narrow Feet

Five Ten Hiangle

Five Ten Hiangle Review
Overall
8.15
(3 reviews)
  • Edging - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Sensitivity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value For Money - 8.5/10
    8.5/10

Pros

  • Extremely-secure heel that’s awesome at heel hooks
  • The highly aggressive shape is brilliant for steep climbing
  • Stealth rubber offers plenty of friction on rock and plastic holds

Cons

  • The blunt toe box isn’t super precise
  • Microfibre uppers wear fast
  • Not suitable for longer climbing days
  • The white uppers quickly become discolored

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. 

Five-Ten-Bouldering-Shoes 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 All Arounder

Tenaya Oasi

Tenaya Oasi

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 that is capable of performing on a diverse range of terrain and spent 2 years sculpting the Oasi into a versatile sending machine.

Tenaya Oasi in action

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 Style

Mad Rock Drone

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.

When shouldn’t you wear downtunred shoes?

Aggressive climbing shoes explained

While they excel on overhangs, roofs, and powerful foot sequences, aggressive shoes probably won’t be the go-to footwear for every climber.

If you are just starting your climbing journey, highly downturned shoes might turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Beginners will most likely benefit greatly from a neutral or moderate shoe when nailing down their basic footwork. Your climbing technique will undoubtedly benefit 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 for good!

Climbers who gravitate towards slabs or vertical faces will also be better off with neutral and moderate-cambered shoes. Why? Because on a near-vertical wall, force is only applied up and down, so a flatter and stiffer shoe will allow you to exert more force through smaller features more effectively. Smearing is also usually easier in flatter shoes for a similar reason; a larger surface gives your foot more surface contact on the wall. 

Aggressive Shoes For Beginners

For those rock wrestlers who 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. The main reason for this is that 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 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 lives. If you want a few more recommendations, then be sure to check out my favorite beginner climbing shoes.

FOR THE KIDDOS: I would never recommend highly downturned shoes for young climbers 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 5 Top Tips for Downturned Climbing Shoes

Downturned climbing shoes

With the information I have shared on this page, you should now be armed with all the information you require to pick our your first pair of aggressive climbing shoes. Before I leave you on your shoe search, I want to impart five final nuggets of advice that will help you find the right shoe with minimal hassle. 

1. Soft, downturned shoes rely on a tight fit to engage the rands and create tension, so make sure the shoe fits as snugly as possible

2. Downturned shoes will feel a bit uncomfortable but not painful. Try to avoid buying shoes that are overly painful or make your feet go tingly (this is your blood vessels being compressed and constricted)

3. 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. Practice some mock heel hooks on the side of some sturdy furniture, if the heel slips or there’s dead space around the shoe, then you may need to reconsider the size.

4. If you’re shopping for shoes online and unsure of the sizing, go ahead and try the shoes on at a store that sells them. If this isn’t possible, then buy two or three different shoe sizes. This allows you to have a basis for comparison and will help you make a more educated decision. Once happy, simply return the other shoes that didn’t fit.

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. Take them off after climbing and let your feet, and shoes, take a break.

That’s all from me folks! If you have found this guide helpful, or have any other questions, don’t be a stranger! Feel free to drop a comment below or shoot me an email.

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