So you took up bouldering recently and found yourself coming back for more? Got the climbing bug bad and you’re ready to ditch the gym rentals? Wise move, my friend.
There are so many different shoes on the market right now, making it particularly hard to decipher which is the right pair for beginner bouldering shoes. Downturned vs flat? Velcro vs laces? Asymmetrical vs symmetrical?
We’ll be making these recommendations based on the assumption you are at a beginners skill level. This means you have been climbing for less than a few months and have probably only been to the gym a handful of times.
We’ll be keeping in mind ease of use, comfort, durability, cost and performance as important factors. These are the shoes that will hopefully support you through your growth in the sport and help you up your game.
IMPORTANT: If you are new to bouldering, you are going to want a bit extra support and rigidity from your shoes, regardless if you are climbing indoors or outdoors.
Your first real pair of climbing shoes can be a big step. No need to be anxious though! We’ll walk you through this step by step, shoe by shoe.
BEST BOULDERING SHOE FOR BEGINNERS
There had been an unfilled gap when it came to the beginner/intermediate climbers who are looking to push themselves, but aren’t quite ready yet for the ultra-aggressive, downturned bouldering shoe.
Enter the Scarpa Arpia. The Arpia sports a slightly downturned profile and mildly asymmetrical shape, providing confidence in edging ability on vertical and overhung terrain, without the extreme of bunching toes. A moderately tensioned rand runs behind the heel and around the foot providing some additional support and precision to the big toe. This balance also continues in to the midsole with a moderately supple construction: supportive enough to stand on edges but soft enough to smear.
You shouldn’t have to compromise comfort with these, so don’t go overboard on the downsizing. Size these shoes down about a half size to full size down from street shoe size. Do make sure they are relatively snug as they will stretch a bit.
A women’s version is also available. They are nearly identical but have a slightly lower volume and narrower construction.
BEST OUTDOOR BOULDERING SHOE
La Sportiva Miura
If you are doing a lot of bouldering outside, you are going to want a stiffer rubber.
Footholds are generally a lot smaller and intricate than in a bouldering gym, so you are going to need a shoe that can handle small points of contact.
Side note: There are exceptions to this rule. for example if you’re going to be climbing on a lot of soft rock or polished limestone in tropical temperatures you are probably going to want a softer shoe. Don’t worry about this too much – you’re still a beginner after all!
The Miura VS is capable of helping you find your feet on the boulders and so much more. The aggressive downturn lends this shoe to the vertically challenging boulders, while it’s stiff rubber gives you confidence on the smallest of flakes and crystals on the wall. These shoes are no slouch in the gym either, the Miura has no problem crushing a crimpy V6.
The male and female Miura come in lace and velcro version. Both styles are great, but the velcro version is slightly more downturned, so lends its self slightly better to bouldering. The simple ease of them is also an undeniable benefit for both indoor and outdoor climbing.
Our team has spent hundreds of hours climbing in the Miura and is by far one of our favorite all-around climbing shoes.
BEST INDOOR BOULDERING SHOE
If you are exclusively bouldering indoors, you want a softer rubber shoe. Soft rubber shoes work particularly well in the gym because holds are a lot larger and rounded therefore, your foot has more surface area contact.
As a beginner, you will still want a shoe that has enough fairly rigid platform that will nurture good footwork technique. If you are a complete newbie to climbing, I wouldn’t recommend these just yet (why not check out the Vapor V instead?)
If you have a bit of gym experience under your belt and are ready for something a bit softer, this shoe is one of the few that is designed to be a bouldering gym workhorse.
Its semi-supportive platform makes this ideal for beginners and intermediates crushing it in the gym. They are a solid pair for training shoes to help you develop your abilities, and use for running laps of your local gym once your climbing shoe collection grows.
Because indoor climbing is more dynamic than outdoor, you will sooner or later going to have to throw down a gnarly heel or toe hook. The Veloce gives you all the tools you need to take on even the most technical of bouldering problems.
BEST OF THE REST
La Sportiva Tarantula
The La Sportiva Tarantula is a tried and true beginner shoe. For the climber on a budget who’s looking for a shoe that will outlast their footwork, the Tarantula is a great pick for moderate performance. Though designed with comfort in mind, this shoe still delivers on the level of performance a beginner needs.
The Tarantula is constructed on a flat and medium stiff last, providing lots of support on slabby to vertical terrain. Additionally, the asymmetrical shaping gives this shoe a more precise edge when compared to other beginner models. They’ll leave you comfortably balancing on all but the smallest foot holds.
The trade off to these shoe’s durability is the lack of sensitivity. Once you’ve graduated to a more aggressive shoe, you’ll notice a world of difference. The Tarantula is equipped with a very stiff rubber so you’ll lack the ability to feel the variation in holds or small edges.
This shoe is available in both a lace-up and velcro version in both the women’s and men’s line, so chances are you should be able to find a version that fits your foot. We recommend sizing down at least a full size down from street shoe size.
Though certainly no technical wiz or overhang phenom, most beginners find the Tarantulas are more than good enough as their first pair of shoes.
Once you are ready to move on to the harder stuff, these are still a great pair for multi-pitch climbing.
BEST OF THE REST
The Evolv Kronos (and its women’s model, the Kira) is a shoe that will feel at home on moderate to intermediate terrain. Though marketed as a high-end shoe, we don’t think beginners should shy away. It’s a technical shoe with an intuitive feel so even a beginner will feel comfortable wielding them.
The Kronos/Kira is a flat, mid-stiffness shoe with an asymmetrical last that’s a step up from the Evolv Defy. It’ll feel most at home when edging and smearing on vertical and slabby walls. That being said they’ll do just fine on overhang and modern bouldering styles. A generous toe patch and snug heel are to thank in this respect.
The Kronos/Kira is made with 4.2mm of Trax SAS rubber, which creates a moderately stiff sole. They’re also designed with variation in rubber thickness: thinner rubber on the typical pressure points and hot spots, while the toe boasts a thicker patch for durability. For beginner climbers who might wear through rubber quickly, this is a great bonus.
For a snug fit consider sizing down a half size from your street shoe. Keep in mind that they are made with a synthetic material, so the stretching should be minimal.
BEST OF THE REST
Mad Rock Drifter
The Mad Rock Drifter is an inexpensive shoe with a barebones construction. If you’re unsure where to start, and aren’t ready to shell over the $130+ for an Italian made shoe, then these might be a good fit.
The Drifter is a flat shoe with a slightly asymmetrical shape. For a beginner, they won’t feel too different from the rental shoe so the learning curb is rather limited. It has a medium-stiff sole so it’ll provide you with the required support while remaining sensitive to smaller edges but lacks in sensitivity.
Size down by a half size for a snug fit. They will stretch (as leather shoes do) so again, go for something somewhat tight.
If you don’t wear through them first, eventually you’ll probably look to upgrade as they aren’t particularly precise and can start to feel sloppy when broken into.
I’m not going to oversell you on the Drifter. If you want to spend as little money as possible, then it’s a decent option. But be prepared for very little sensitivity and plenty of stretch in all the wrong places.
Nevertheless, they’ll support you in comfort as you hone your technique, all the while you won’t feel guilty about scuffing up them up.
Scarpa Force V
The Force V has been around for a while now and has been a popular choice in the beginner to intermediate market. These might feel more at home on the multi-pitch and all day climbing expeditions but they can still come in handy for basic indoor and outdoor bouldering.
The Force V will provide you with the support you need and, unlike the Tarantulas, they are sensitive enough to inspire confidence in your footwork.
Marketed as an all-around performer, the Force V has a moderate downturn and medium-soft midsole so they’ll keep performing whether on vertical or overhanging terrain. A Bi-Tensioned rand that wraps behind the heel ensures they’ll retain this shape after multiple sessions of use. This feature also doubles as a stabilizer for the heel, keeping it securely fitted to your foot.
These shoes can be sized in a variety of ways depending on their application. As a bouldering shoe, we recommend a snug, secure fit. They do run true to size. A lower volume women’s model is available.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, it’s worth considering these shoes. They’ll help you build good habits from the get-go, without the extreme discomfort and steep learning curve of a high-end shoe.
What are bouldering shoes?
Here’s a question for you: What are bouldering shoes and are they any different from regular shoes climbing?
Shoe manufacturers have extensive shoe lines, all aimed at fulfilling a different purpose. Bouldering shoes are highlight specialized to deal with modern bouldering problems.
Most are built on aggressive lasts that create a downturned profile that is ideal for climbing overhung routes, which most are. Bouldering shoes have significantly larger toe rands that allow you to effectively use the top and sides of your feet on technical bouldering problems.
Where to buy bouldering shoes?
When it comes to buying your beginner bouldering shoes, you have two options.
1. Buy them at your local outdoor store
2. Buy them online
In an ideal world, it’s better to try on your dream bouldering shoes on before you buy them. This allows you to try on various sizes and models before you hand over your hard earned cash.
However, for many of us this is unrealistic. Even if you live near an outdoor retailers, very few offer the selection of amazing shoes can find online. Prices are almost always cheaper online, and you don’t need me to tell you how great nex day delivery is.
When I buy my bouldering shoes online, I tend to buy a few different sizes and find the one that gives me the best fit.
There are a bunch of approaches you can take to choosing a beginner shoe. The most common advice is to find something inexpensive and durable, with the expectation that you’ll wear through them quickly. While there is some truth to this, the cheaper options can be clunky and might hinder a beginner’s advancement, especially if they are approaching the intermediate level.
Figure out what you are willing to compromise on and what stage of your climbing you are at. If you are only a month into your climbing career, the Tarantulas and Drifters will do just fine. They’ll keep your wallet and your feet happy while still performing better than a rental.
That being said, if you’re willing to spend a bit more, it’s worth looking at a model that strikes a tighter balance between comfort and performance. These shoes will teach you to feel around and will reward you for good footwork.