Last updated on April 5th, 2023 at 07:55 am
- Why listen to my suggestions?
- THE TOP THREE
- The 10 Best Beginner Climbing Shoes
- What are beginner bouldering shoes?
- Where can you buy bouldering shoes for beginners?
- The Verdict
Have you recently taken up bouldering and found yourself coming back for more? It sounds like you have got a bad case of the bouldering bug. You’re probably ready to ditch those useless gym rentals and level up your climbing game with a pair of your very own climbing shoes. Wise move, my friend.
The problem is that there are now so many different shoes available it has become practically impossible to decipher which are the best bouldering shoes for beginners. Downturned vs flat? Are velcro or laces best? What the hell is an asymmetrical shoe anyway?
There’s a lot to take in when it comes to climbing shoes, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. To help you with your search, I have curated this guide on everything you need to know about beginner bouldering shoes. Here, I will drop some serious knowledge bombs that every beginner climber needs to know, as well as share my personal favorite beginner bouldering shoes in 2023.
I guarantee that there’s a perfect shoe on my shortlist for every type of climber. That said, before we dive in, remember that my recommendations are made on the assumption you are a beginner climber. This means you have probably been climbing for less than 6 months and you have only been to the gym (or the crag) a handful of times. I will also assume comfort, durability, and cost are some of the important considerations in your hunt for the best beginner bouldering shoes.
Your first real pair of climbing shoes is an exciting step in your journey to the vertical realm. These are the shoes that will help you to find your feet, build some confidence in your footwork, and take your climbing game to the next level. Allow me to walk you through this exciting process; this step by step, shoe by shoe.
ADVANCED CLIMBERS: If this isn’t your first rodeo, you will probably want to check out our article on the best bouldering shoes for advanced climbers.
Why listen to my suggestions?
It is pretty obvious that authors of similar articles have little to no knowledge about climbing shoes. While I might not climb as well as the average 13-year-old crusher, I do have over two decades of climbing experience, I test dozens of new shoes every year and have written for leading outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, UK Climbing, and Gear Junkie. I’m boring as hell, but I do know a thing or two when it comes to climbing shoes!
THE TOP THREE
The 10 Best Beginner Climbing Shoes
If you are new to bouldering – or climbing in general – the common narrative is that you use stiffer and more rigid shoes, regardless if you are climbing indoors or outdoors. This is because your toes and ligaments aren’t conditioned to stand on those tiny edges yet so a stiffer shoe will offer you some extra support and comfort.
Once you find your feet, it is then recommended you transition to a softer bouldering shoe, as they provide more sensitivity to feel the rock or, strengthen your toes, and nurture a natural, flowing climbing style.
MY TOP PICK
Scarpa Vapor V
If your vertical adventures go higher than a 6-foot boulder, then you might want to think about a shoe that can handle a range of climbing styles. In my option, the Vapour V represents the ultimate ‘quiver of one’ shoe and one of the best climbing shoes for beginners on the market right now.
If you’re a bit of a gym rat, then you shouldn’t be put off, the Vapour V is more than capable of helping on those tricky beginner boulders. The medium-stiff profile created by the 4m of Vibram XS Edge is great for those tiny chips and techie problems, while the split sole helps you hike up big volumes. The heel is also similar to the design found on the Scarpa Instinct models, so cranking hard on a heel hook is a breeze. The clever Scarpa tension systems help keep the shoe suctioned to your foot, while the paddle split tongue and velcro straps help keep the shoe feeling nice and comfortable.
Features like these (and many others) make this shoe capable of so much more than just wrestling boulders. The Vapor V is perfect for single-pitch top-roping and sport climbing as well as dabbling with the world of multi-pitch climbing. In my books, this is a ‘do it all’ shoe with solid all-around capabilities.
The Vapor V might be a little more performance-oriented (not to mention pricer) than most of my other shortlist suggestions, but this shoe will remain in your collection long after you leave the beginner walls behind.
We Don’t Like
BEST FOR INDOOR BOULDERING
My favorite indoor bouldering shoe right now is the Scarpa Veloce. This beginner shoe challenges the common conception that new climbers need a stiff and clunky shoes. In fact, the Veloce goes in the complete opposite direction; it’s extremely soft, sensitive, and ridiculously comfortable.
There’s a good reason why Scarpa chose to do this. If you are spending most of your time bouldering indoors, you will undoubtedly benefit from a softer shoe. Soft shoes work particularly well for gym climbing because the holds are generally larger and more rounded. This means your foot usually has more surface area contact with the wall, so you a shoe that can conform and mold its sticky rubber around holds is a huge benefit.
While the Veloce is brilliant for smearing, overhangs, and slabby problems, If you are completely new to climbing, this might not be the right shoe for you just yet. Completely new climbers will most likely benefit more from a shoe that has a stiffer platform as this will nurture better footwork technique. This also allows you to get used to holding your body weight on your toes, something the Veloce struggles with when it comes to smaller edges.
That said, if you have a bit of gym experience under your belt and are ready for something a bit softer, the Veloce is a brilliant bouldering gym workhorse.
The semi-supportive platform makes this ideal for intermediates crushing in the gym on a regular basis. They are a solid pair of training shoes to help you develop your abilities, and the rounded toe box puts less strain on your toes (it’s also great for Roman-footed climbers!)
We Don’t Like
BEST FOR BUDGETS
La Sportiva Tarantula
The Tarantula is a tried and tested beginner climbing shoe. This shoe has been one of La Sportiva’s best sellers for over a decade thanks to its beginner-friendly features, long life span, and attractive price tag.
For climbers on a budget that are looking for a shoe that will outlast their footwork, the Tarantula is a worthy choice. Though designed with comfort in mind, this shoe still delivers a respectable level of performance. The updated 2021 model looks great but included some important upgrades that give the shoe a little performance boost too.
The recent upgrades to the shoes mean that the Tarantula now comes with an improved heel cup and rand design, which helps create a suction-like fit whilst improving heel hooking ability. The tongue is also now made of a breathable mesh, allowing for better breathability and temperature regulation.
The Tarantula has a flat and stiff profile, providing bags of support on slabby and vertical walls. The slight asymmetrical shape also gives this shoe a more precise edge compared to other beginner models. They’ll leave you comfortably balancing on all but the smallest footholds.
The trade-off to these shoes’ durability is the lack of sensitivity. The Tarantula uses 4mm of FriXion rubber, which is durable stuff, but lacks the ability to feel the variation in holds or small edges.
Though certainly no technical wiz or overhang-crushing phenomenon, most beginners find the Tarantulas are more than suitable enough as their first pair of shoes. And once you are ready to move on to the harder stuff, these are still a great pair of trad climbing shoes.
This shoe is available in both a lace-up and velcro version in both the women’s and men’s lines, so chances are you should be able to find a version that fits your foot. We recommend sizing down about one size down from street shoe size.
We Don’t Like
BEST FOR ALL TERRAIN
Five Ten NIAD VCS
If you are new to climbing, you are probably unaware of how popular Five Ten shoes were in the 90s and early 2000s. This American-made company was killing it back then. Their Stealth rubber was ground-breaking stuff, and Five Ten were consistently ahead of the game when it came to introducing revolutionary shoe tech.
Of all their great shoes, one of their most popular lines was the Anasazi range; a collection that was the shoes of choice of all the crushers of the day. However, after Five Ten was bought by Adidas in 2011, many fans started to question the build quality and performance of the company’s shoes.
Fast forward to 2021, and Five Ten has released the next-generation version of this shoe, the NIAD range, consisting of three new shoes; the VCS, Lace, and Moccasym.
After putting all three through their paces, I think these shoes have managed to shake off many of the problems that plagued some of the Anasazi models in later years. The NIAD VCS was the standout model which I think is an ideal beginner climbing shoe.
Its flat last and medium-stiff profile offers a comfort level and foot position that beginners will appreciate, yet the shoe still packs a punch when it comes to on-wall performance. The upgraded 3D heel is extremely comfortable and offers a great induction into the world of hooking, as does the new toe patch.
The Stealth rubber offers bucket loads of friction on both rock and plastic, yet is durable enough to forgive the clumsy technique of beginners.
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
La Sportiva Zenit
A recent addition to the La Sportiva line, the Zenit was created especially for beginner gym rats looking to bridge the gap between beginner and performance shoes. For this shoe, La Sportiva opted for something pretty different from their usual signature style of construction.
For starters, the design team decided to use a synthetic knit for the upper and tongue. Using this material might seem like an odd move for the Italian shoemakers, but any climber who spends multiple days a week in a hot gym will appreciate the amazing breathability this material brings to the table. It also helps keep the shoe extremely comfortable and allows it to easily adapt to the width and volume of your forefoot.
The injection molded heel is another unique feature that might seem a bit out of place in the LS shoe line, but seems to make perfect sense for the Zenit. The 3D shape allows for a superior-fitting heel cup and extends down the forefoot which offers support when standing on smaller footholds.
You might be wondering what is the difference between the Zenit and the Tarantula. One of the main differences (aside from the knit upper and heel design) is the Vibram XS Grip half sole on the Zenit, which offers far superior friction than the FriXion rubber of the Tarantula.
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
The Defy is one of the OG’s of the Evolv line and is the company’s answer to similar entry-level models like the Tarantula and the Joker.
Being the cheapest shoe in the American climbing companies line, the Defy has a no-frills approach to shoe construction, so doesn’t come with all the amazing Evolv tech we know and love. There’s no toe patch on the Defy, so don’t expect to be doing any bat hangs, and the heel isn’t exactly highly tensioned, so isn’t great for hooking either.
Where they do excel, however, is in helping beginner climbers build their confidence on the wall without breaking the bank. The Defy are very comfortable, thanks to their lined uppers, padded tongue, and neutral shape. The full-length midsole provides all the support you need to balance on those little edges all day while the TRAX SAS rubber will have you strolling up the slabby boulder problems with ease.
Budget-friendly, brilliant outsole rubber, and vegan-friendly! What more do you need from a beginner climbing shoe?
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
The Evolv Kronos (and its women’s model, the Kira) is a shoe that will feel at home on moderate and intermediate terrain. Being the big brother of the Defy, the Kronos is touted as a high-end shoe, although I certainly 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 has a slightly more cambered shape and a more performance-oriented heel and-toe design than the Defy. It’ll feel most at home when edging and smearing on vertical and slabby walls. That being said, they’ll do just fine with slight overhangs and modern bouldering styles. That generous toe patch and snug heel are to thank for that.
The Kronos/Kira has a sticky 4.2mm of Trax SAS rubber and a full-length 1.2mm midsole, which creates a medium-stiff profile. Like many Evolv climbing shoes, they are built with variation in the rand’s rubber thickness: thinner rubber on the typical pressure points and hot spots, while the front boasts a thicker toe patch for durability. For beginner climbers who might wear through rubber quickly, this is a brilliant addition.
Keep in mind when sizing these bad boys that they are made with a synthetic material, so the stretch will be minimal here.
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
Five Ten NIAD Mocc
Another iconic Five Ten shoe to receive the 2021 upgrade, the Moccasym is one absolute classic and this 21st-century version.
While the shoe isn’t specifically designed for beginners, Five Ten have packed in a lot into this relatively inexpensive slipper. It’s pretty soft, although not as soft as the Veloce, so there is still a bit of support to help new feet on smaller chips. The new and improved slingshot rand makes the shoe significantly more secure than the old model and the massive toe patch lends itself to toe hooking and jamming.
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
La Sportiva Miura VS
If you are doing a lot of bouldering outside, a stiffer climbing shoe is a good choice. Footholds are generally a lot smaller and sharper than in a gym, so you are going to need a shoe that can handle these 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, then you are probably going to want a softer shoe. Don’t worry about this too much though – you’re still a beginner after all!
While it’s not strictly a beginner shoe, the Miura VS is more than 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 its profile gives you confidence standing on the smallest of flakes and crystals. These shoes are no slouch in the gym either, the Miura has no problem crushing a crimpy V7 at your local gym.
The Miura is hugely versatile, with the male and female variations having both a lace and velcro option. Both styles are great but the velcro version is slightly higher volume so lends itself slightly better to wide-footed climbers and will also stretch slightly more as it only uses a partly lined upper. The simple ease of a Velcro closure is also an undeniable benefit for both indoor and outdoor climbing.
Our team has spent hundreds of hours climbing in the Miura models and it is up there as one of our favorite all-round climbing shoes.
We Don’t Like
BEST OF THE REST
Boreal was another prominent name in the pre-2000 climbing scene. They are frequently credited with creating, what many consider, the first modern climbing shoe. For decades they were leading the charge when it came to shoes that could crush hard, favored by climbing royalty like Lynn Hill, John Bachar, and Wolfgang Güllich.
While Boreal’s marketing effort and general awareness might have taken a back seat in the last few decades, the company still creates a wide range of hugely underrated climbing shoes.
One model the beginner boulders will appreciate is the Boreal Joker. The Joker has been a staple of the Boreal line for well over 15 years, and is an ideal beginner bouldering shoe for those on a tight budget. It’s one of the cheapest climbing shoes around and is surprisingly high-quality given the price tag.
The latest generation model has received a few modern upgrades. One of the most unique features of the Joker is the cushioned heel, designed to absorb impact when jumping off a boulder, taking a wall collision, or just walking between boulders.
Another cool feature is the active randing system, which helps keep its shape over time, whilst helping keep the shoe precise and suction tightly around the foot.
Be warned though, once you start pushing harder grades, you will probably find that the Joker will hit its limit as a bouldering shoe pretty quick. However, the benefit to buying a quality beginner bouldering like this is that, once you graduate to a more performance-oriented model, you can keep the Jokers in your collection for those all-day multi-pitching adventures or gym training days.
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What are beginner bouldering shoes?
Here’s a question for you: What are bouldering shoes and are they any different from regular climbing shoes?
Shoe manufacturers have extensive shoe lines that are made for excelling at different types of climbing, terrain, and foot shapes.
Bouldering shoes are simply types of climbing shoes that are best suited to modern bouldering; short ‘problems’ chock-full of powerful moves.
Bouldering shoes, especially advanced ones, are built on an aggressive shoe last that makes them ideal for hooking pockets on overhung problems. They also have large toe rands that allow you to effectively use the top and sides of your feet on technical bouldering problems.
As a beginner, the chances are you won’t be working on any serious overhung problems until your technique and strength have developed. This is why the best beginner bouldering shoes are usually flatter and more rigid than shoes suitable for advanced climbers.
Where can you buy bouldering shoes for beginners?
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 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 retailer, 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 next-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. Here are some more top tips for where to buy climbing shoes.
There are a bunch of approaches you can take to choosing a beginner bouldering shoe. The most common advice is to find something inexpensive and durable, with the expectation that you’ll wear 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 better balance between comfort and performance. These shoes will teach you to feel around and will reward you for good footwork.