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My Complete Guide To…

The Best Bouldering Shoes (2023 Edition)

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There’s no shortage of awesome bouldering shoes in 2023. Allow me to share some of the latest and greatest models, combined with a few time-tested classics that will rock your world.

La Sportiva Solution thumbnail

The Top Pick

La Sportiva Solution

The undisputed king of bouldering footwear since 2007, there isn’t much the Solutions can’t do.

Scarpa Drago

For indoors

Scarpa Drago

A hugely adaptable model that feels solid on edges, pockets, and smears in equal measures.

Evolv Shaman New

For Outdoors

Evolv Shaman

One of Evolv’s longest-serving shoe models, the Shaman is a tried and tested vegan-sending shoe.

vsr

For Everything

Scarpa Instinct VSR

A popular pick for gym bros, the Instinct VSR is a bouldering shoe with all-around performance.

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It is hard to comprehend how popular bouldering has become in recent years. Long gone are the days of a dingy spray wall hidden in the back corner of a ’90s climbing gym, bouldering has taken over the main stage. It is the fast-growing discipline of climbing, with bouldering seeing a 20% year-on-year growth, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

To keep up with this demand, there’s an endless wave of new and improved bouldering shoes finding their way to our grubby feet with every passing season. But with so much choice, it’s enough to make your head spin.  

To help you with your shoe search, I have compiled this complete guide to bouldering shoes. Below, I will share some of the best bouldering shoes you can get your hands on right now, as well as offer some important advice that will help you make an informed decision before shelling out your hard-earned cash on a new pair of climbing kicks.

HEY NEWBIES! With the exception of a few models, many of the bouldering shoes I share below are chosen with intermediate and advanced climbers in mind. If you are brand new to climbing, then I suggest heading over to our beginner bouldering shoe guide instead.

The Best Bouldering Shoes in 2023

Below you will find some of my favorite bouldering shoes right now. How did I come to this shortlist, I hear you ask? This list was created using a few different methods to ensure the best shoes were chosen.

First, I did some serious digging through the climbing archives and logged the hard 1000 bouldering ascents of the last 20 years. I recorded each climb and the shoe model worn for the send. This list was then cross-referred against our own shoe testing database, as well as using secondary research to ensure

The Top Pick

La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution Review
Overall
8.65
(8 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

Shoe Width: Average – Wide
Used by: Adam Ondra, Nalle Hukkataival, Jakob Schubert

It’s only right to kick this list off with the most iconic bouldering shoe ever created. Not only has the La Sportiva Solution been a trailblazer in modern bouldering shoe design, but it has also been used on 25% of the 1000 V15+ bouldering ascents I logged.

When it was first released in 2007, the Solution felt like a big step into the future of shoe design. It was one of the first shoes to utilize the split sole design, which not only enhanced and maintained its downturned profile, but improved the flexibility, smearing, and edging ability.

The 3D heel cup was another revolutionary that created a suction-fit heel while enhancing heel hooking performance and providing shock-absorbing qualities when taking spills of boulders.

La Sportiva Solution Toe

Bouldering Indoors? La Sportiva released the Solution Comp in 2020. The Comp does away with the 3D heel and opts for a more sensitive design instead. This makes the forefoot more flexible, making the Comp better suited to the more dynamic style of indoor climbing. This model is a huge hit with all the avid gym rats out there and is a regular sight at the IFSC Bouldering World Cup.

The All-Arounder

Scarpa Instinct VSR

Scarpa Instinct VSR Review
Overall
8.8
(5 reviews)
  • Edging - 8/10
    8/10
  • Smearing - 9/10
    9/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9/10
    9/10
  • Comfort - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Sensitivity - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Value For Money - 8.5/10
    8.5/10

Pros

  • Awesome for indoor and outdoor sport/bouldering
  • Velcro/slipper hybrid closure keeps the shoe nice and secure, with easy on/off access
  • 6-panel uppers allow for custom molding without excessive stretch
  • Sensitive and flexible, but can still stick an edge

Cons

  • Not ideal for super narrow feet
  • Velcro strap is a bit long
  • The single strap  doesn’t allow for any fit adjustment
  • Wide heel can be awkward

Shoe Width: Wide
Used by: Jorge Diaz Rullo, Elias Iagnemma, Christof Rauch

The original Instinct inspired a wave of next-generation models, including a fresh-faced lace shoe, the popular VS,  and the new slipper alternative Instinct S, all of which are highly regarded as serious sending shoes.

The Instinct VSR is undoubtedly one of the best shoes for bouldering currently out there. It shares an almost identical construction to the Instinct VS, with the main difference can be found on the bottom of the shoes.

The VSR uses the softer Vibram XS Grip 2, whereas the VS opts for the Vibram XS Edge. As the name suggests, the XS Edge is a harder rubber compound that creates a stiffer shoe profile, which gives you plenty of confidence on even the smallest of edges.

When it comes to the world of bouldering, pocket-pulling, and steep climbing, however, the softer and more sensitive XS Grip 2 compound will work its magic. 

Scarpa Bouldering Shoe

We really like this shoe, and I think other wide-footed boulders won’t be disappointed either. If your foot leans towards the narrow side, make sure to try out the Women’s VS, or give take the Scarpa Drago a spin instead.

If you’re strapped for cash, then the Scarpa Veloce is an awesome alternative. The Veloce doesn’t have the same performance as the Drago or Instinct, but for the lower price point and extra comfort, it’s a really solid indoor bouldering shoe.

For Gym Bouldering

La Sportiva Theory

La Sportiva Theory Climbing Shoe

Shoe Width: Wide
Used by: Adam Ondra, Alberto Ginés López

The Theory was first introduced in 2020 as La Sportiva’s bouldering shoe of choice for the 2021 Olympic Games.
Since then, it’s become a popular choice for climbers, not just in the bouldering gym, but wrestling boulders outside, and even those weirdos that get a sick thrill balancing on smeary slabs.

Because the Theory is built with competition bouldering in mind, all its design characteristics promote a dynamic and fluid style of climbing, synonyms with this style of climbing. Its soft forefoot conforms effortlessly to gym volumes, helped by La Sportiva’s “D-Tech” design, helping improve the spreadability and allowing for greater surface contact with the wall.

There’s no mistaking that the theory sits on the softer end of the shoe spectrum. because of this, the shoe is known to struggle with smaller edges, although the P3 system does help transfer power to your toes.

If you’re prominently a gym climber looking to project the hardest problems in the gym, especially friction slabs or steep overhangs, then the Theory could be the perfect shoe for you.

Steep Overhangs

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

Shoe Width: Narrow – Average
Used by: Shawn Raboutou, Giuliano Cameroni

The Drago might not have the history of the Solution or the Instinct line, but this Scarpa creation has quickly built a name as one of the best shoes for indoor bouldering currently on the market. 

The shoe takes a lot of inspiration from the Instinct line, with a few extra tricks up its sleeve. The heel design is an almost carbon copy of the Instinct, a good thing too, as this sensitive heel cup is one of our favorite features of the Instinct.

The shoe utilizes Scarpa’s new PCB-tension system. Similar to La Sportiva P3 Platform, this orange strip down the center of the sole helps maintain the shoe’s aggressive profile, distributes power throughout your foot, and helps maintain a snug and responsive fit.

The shoe takes the super soft construction ethos to a new level, a style that was made popular by, the now-discontinued, Five Ten Team. This makes the shoe ideal for working those large volumes at the bouldering gym and sticking to other friction-dependent moves.

For Wide Feet

La Sportiva Skwama

La Sportiva Skwama Review
Overall
8.7
(10 reviews)
  • Edging - 8/10
    8/10
  • Smearing - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9/10
    9/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensitivity - 9/10
    9/10
  • Value For Money - 9/10
    9/10

Pros

  • Incredibly versatile 
  • Sensitive
  • Soft, yet still precise 

Cons

  • Difficult to resole 

Shoe Width: Average – Wide
Used by: Brooke Raboutou, Dave Macleod

With a similar fit and performance to the Scarpa Instinct VSR, the Skwama is undoubtedly one of my favorite “quiver of one” shoes, and arguably one of the best shoes La Sportiva shoes ever came out with.

It’s hard to stress how good this shoe is at a huge range of footwork. For a non-specialized shoe, it sticks an edge damn wall, thanks to the P3 Rand and 0.8 mm midsole, inspiring confidence on even those ridiculously small jibs.

Once broken in, the medium-soft profile takes well to smear and friction footwork, found in abundance in every boulder gym. The flexibility of the forefoot is made possible thanks to the split sole and unique cut-out on the Virbam XS Grip 2 sole.

The Skwama will adapt to virtually any style of climbing you can throw at them, which includes a myriad of indoor and outdoor boulder problems. They also now come in a vegan-friendly version.

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

Shoe Width: Narrow
Used by: Janja Garnbret, Will Bosi, Mejdi Schalck

The Five Ten ambassador team is packed out with some serious crushers right now, most of which regularly use the Five Ten Hiangle for all their serious sending.

If competition climbing is your thing, then you will have likely seen these shoes on the feet of Janja Garnbret, Natalia Grossman, Toby Roberts, and plenty of others. If bouldering outside is more your bag, then Will Bosi’s recent ascent of Burden Of Dreams is a testament to what the Hiangle is capable of.

Five Ten Bouldering Shoes Hiangle
Putting my questionable crack skills to the test.

The aggressively downturned shape of the Hiangle reminds me of the La Sportiva Solution, with both shoes putting your feet into this powerful claw position. This unique shape makes the Hiangle perfectly suited to pulling pockets on steep overhangs and roof boulders, although I find it does limit the smearing potential of the shoe.

One feature I really like on the Hinagle is the heel. I find the slightshot rand suctions the shoe so tightly onto the back of my foot, that it allows for some of the most confidence-inspiring heel hooks I have ever experienced.

As with many Five Ten shoes, I find the Hiangle fit to be pretty narrow, so is definitely better suited to narrow feet.

Best Vegan-Friendly

Tenya Mastia

Tenaya Mastia shoe

Shoe Width: Average
Used by: Chris Sharma, Drew Ruana

Tenaya has been churning out a bunch of great shoes over the last few years, but the one I’m really enjoying this year is the Mastia. As with many of their performance shoes, the Mastia is a vegan-friendly climbing shoe that feels and performs just as well as traditional leather alternatives.

This shoe first came on our radar in 2019 and was the shoe that Chris Sharma stated: “I imagine this will become my go-to shoe for almost everything”.

After recently putting this shoe through its paces, it’s easy to see why Sharma is such a big fan of the Mastia. The shoe has a similar all-arounder performance as the Skawma or Instinct VSR but certainly has more of a focus on edging power an the other shoes.

The split sole still allows for flexibility at the arch of the foot, but the stiff midsole in the forefoot reduces the flex under the toes, helping the shoe remain rigid and laser-precise when weighting small edges.

Even on the steep boulders, the Mastia is more than capable of holding its own. The forefoot is shaped with a dip under the toes, that sucks into pockets on overhung terrain. The new 3D molded heel design, supported with the “Friction Lock” also creates a robust heel, capable of cranking hard on.

Best For Outdoors

Evolv Shaman

Evolv Shaman Review
Overall
7.6
(2 reviews)
  • Edging - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Smearing - 8/10
    8/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensitivity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value For Money - 9/10
    9/10

Pros

  • Improved edging power
  • The stiff heel is awesome for hooking 
  • 3-Strap closure feels super secure
  • Breathable Microfibre tongue 
  • Vegan

Cons

  • The Love bump makes smearing slightly less effective
  • Synthetic materials start to smell fast

Shoe Width: Wide
Used by: Colin Duffy, Anna Hazelnutt

If bouldering outside is more your thing, then a shoe built specifically for life in a gym probably won’t cut the mustard. Regardless of the rock type you are climbing, a more robust shoe with a pedigree for climbing hard on reel rock is what you need

While many of the shoes mentioned above – like the Soltuion, VSR, Skwama, or Mastia – are all great outdoors, but there’s another shoe that’s a worthy addition to this list: the Evolv Shaman.

The Shaman is one of Evolv’s longest-serving shoe models, and has serious sending capabilities, especially when it comes to throwing down on real rock.

There are a lot of great things I could say about this shoe, but here are the highlights. The awesome Love Bump under your toes positions your feet perfectly for pulling pockets and also allows for brilliant edging power. The Dark Spine is

Best For Budgets

Scarpa Veloce

Scarpa Veloce Review
Overall
8.25
(3 reviews)
  • Edging - 6/10
    6/10
  • Smearing - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Comfort - 10/10
    10/10
  • Sensitivity - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Value For Money - 8.5/10
    8.5/10

Pros

  • Amazing sensitivity
  • Ridiculously comfortable
  • Extremely breathable and lightweight
  • Vegan-friendly

Cons

  • Not great for heel hooking
  • The velcro strap is unnecessarily long
  • The rounded-toe box isn’t great for smaller pockets
  • Rubber disappears fast

Shoe Width: Wide
Used by: Chris Sharma, Drew Ruana

If you’re looking for a budget bouldering shoe, then the Scarpa Veloce is certainly worthy of a look. The Veloce is Scarpa’s first specialized gym shoe, built with beginner and intermediate climbers in mind.

The first thing you will notice when you slip into the Velcoe is how ridiculously comfortable they are. The shoe is built on a special last shape, widening the toe box and allowing for additional space around your pinky toe. The next thing you will notice is how soft and sensitive they are. These shoes are about as close to wearing rubber socks as it gets.

Cheap Bouldering Shoes

Unspirisngly then, the Veloce is awesome for smearing. The stupidly soft construction, paired with the super-sticky S-72 Scarpa rubber, sticks to gym volumes with ridiculous ease.

Because this is a more budget-friendly shoe, don’t expect the same amount of performance found in other gym climbing shoes, especially when it comes to edging.

Slab Boulders

La Sportiva Miura VS

La Sportiva Miura VS review
Overall
7.65
(3 reviews)
  • Edging - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensitivity - 7/10
    7/10
  • Value For Money - 9/10
    9/10

Pros

  • Incredible edging
  • Versatile performance shoe
  • High & low volume versions
  • Durable rubber

Cons

  • The small toe rand isn’t great for hooking
  • Not my first choice for gym climbing

Shoe Width: Average
Used by: Adam Ondra, Kilian Fischhuber

The Miura is a cult-classic shoe that first hit the shelves over 20 years ago. It was one of the first shoes to properly drive power to the toe box, thanks to its downturned profile, its asymmetric design, and clever slingshot rand.  

Over two decades later, the Miura is just as popular as ever. The shoe is used by everyone from pro-climbers like Adam Ondra and Alex Honnold, to fresh-faced beginners and everyone in between. 

We have used the Miura extensively for both indoor and outdoor bouldering over the last few years. The Miura VS certainly isn’t my go-to for indoor bouldering, but when I am working on a technical outdoor bolder that involves delicate footwork on mico-edges, the Miura VS is my shoe of choice. 

Bouldering shoes – The Pro Picks

Okay, you’ve heard about my favorite bouldering shoes, but what about the pros? What shoes the pro pebble-wrestlers are wearing?

I have logged over 1000 of the hardest bouldering ascents from over 40 of the best climbers. Of course, many pro climbers have sponsorship deals with climbing shoe manufacturers, but if these shoes weren’t up to the mark, pro athletes probably wouldn’t wear, or work, with the brands. That said, here are the results:

Best shoes for bouldering

This should give you a pretty good idea of which shoes are considered the best bouldering shoes currently on the market. But remember, just because Nalle Hukkataival or Daniel Woods use a shoe to climb V17, doesn’t mean it’s the right shoe for you to work that V2 slab project at the gym. Your shoes must be right for your foot shape and the terrain you are climbing.

How To Choose Bouldering Shoes

Best climbing shoes for bouldering

There are a few factors you will want to keep in mind when choosing bouldering shoes for bouldering. Just like you would do when choosing any new climbing shoes, the most important factors you will want to think about are your feet shape and the terrain you plan on climbing.

Your Foot Shape

Your foot shape is one of the most important factors that will impact your choice of bouldering shoes. Climbing shoe brands manufacture a range of bouldering shoes using different shoe lasts to accommodate all the weird and wonderful shapes of our feet.

Just because one shoe fits like a glove for your wide-footed friends, certainly doesn’t mean you will have the same experience with that shoe. First, try and understand what shape of foot you have. If you have used climbing shoes before, this is a good benchmark to help you figure out which other shoes will work for you.

Climbing Terrain

Different climbing terrain demands different shoes. In this context, terrain refers to the vertical incline, the surface and types of holds. Soft bouldering shoes are ideal for gym climbing where large volumes and fiction moves are used in abundance. Whereas stiffer shoes lend themselves better to micro-edges on hard rock surfaces.  

Similarly, an aggressive climbing shoe will feel at home pulling pockets on overhung and roof climbs whereas neutral, flatter shoes, will work best on vertical and slab-style routes.

There is no wonder shoe that can do it all. Just like a golfer has a selection of clubs they use to play different shots, veteran climbers will have a selection of shoes that are suited to various climbing styles and rock types.

How to size bouldering shoes

How to size bouldering shoes guide

Climbing shoes will usually feel a bit uncomfortable but should never be painful. Getting the right size of climbing shoe is just as important as getting the right shoe itself. If you need help with sizing, take a look at our guide on climbing shoe sizing.  

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