While a lot of climbing shoes are labeled as “unisex”, the truth is that they are often too bulky and poor fitting for a lot of female climbers. As the gender balance continues to even out in climbing, companies have partially recognised this issue by offering a women’s version of many of their most popular shoes. Some companies have even ditched the gender label altogether and simply opt for a low volume/high volume or narrow/wide options.
There are lots of great shoes on the market today, so consider the following list of five simply as a highlight reel. We’ll address what we feel are some of the highest quality, best performing climbing shoes out there. Some of the aspects to consider to decide what are the best climbing shoes for women will be the quality of construction, fit as well as all-around performance.
The La Sportiva Miura is a classic pick when it comes to all-around performance. It’s been around since the mid 90’s and impressively still holds its title as one of the best selling climbing shoes on the market. Initially designed as a high-performance bouldering and sport climbing shoe, the Miura has since been picked up by many trad and multipitch climbers due to their edging prowess.
The Miura features a medium-stiff sole and a downturned profile. It’s supported by a slingshot rand that wraps behind the heel and under the foot, providing a precise platform to stand on. Because of this, the Miura delivers the kind of support you would expect from a stiffer shoe, while still giving the user fantastic sensitivity. Sized tightly they’ll perform perfectly well on overhanging terrain, and really come into their own on vertical and slabby routes.
The women’s version of the Miura features a narrower fit as well as a padded heel and tongue. It also is equipped with 4mm Vibram XS Grip2 rubber. This compound is better suited for the lighter climber as it is softer and provides better ease of use.
We’d recommend going at least a full size down from street shoe size (if not a size and half) in order to get a performance fit. They can also be sized a bit larger if intended for longer routes. You can expect them to stretch by a half size to a full size as you break them in.
The La Sportiva line is one of the biggest on the market, so it’s no surprise to see a second entry from them on this list. Like the Miura, the Solutions have been on the market for some time now and are a favourite of many climbers. While the Miura shines as a technical shoe, the Solutions really excell on steep terrain, hard bouldering/sport climbing, and competition climbing.
The Solution is a highly downturned, asymmetrical shoe. The La Sportiva patented P3 Permanent Power Platform system ensures the shoe keeps its shape use after use. The heel is 3D pressure molded cup and stays in place when you need it to.
La Sportiva has recently announced the release of the Solution Comp, which is a competition-specific version. It will include a softer rubber compound, a thinner heel (for greater sensitivity and feedback) and even more toe patch rubber. The women’s Solution Comp will have a slightly softer midsole construction as compared to the men’s version to account for the lighter weight climbers.
The Solution can be sized a full size to a size and half down from your street shoe size. Stretching post-break in should be minimal.
The Scarpa Instinct line is another favourite in the world of high performance bouldering and hard sport climbing. It’s a shoe made with quality and attention to detail. It offers both a slightly different fit and construction when compared to the Solution or Miura.
The Instinct VS has a medium-stiff midsole, medium asymmetry and downturned tow. It’s a fairly sensitive shoe, so you’ll be able to feel out variations in the rock. The Instinct is intended as a high performing all around shoe. While, unlike the Miura, we would not recommend the Instinct VS for multipitch and certainly not for crack climbing, it is still a very versatile shoe. From slabbing on volumes and edges to toeing in on a variety of overhanging angles, the Instinct VS will give you the power, support and sensitivity you need.
The Instinct VS can be sized either according to your street shoe size, or a half size down for an extra snug fit. Climbers with wide feet often find this shoe fits exceptionally well.
While similar to the Miura, the Kataki has a couple of distinct features that really make it stand out. Those familiar with the Katana will be familiar with many aspects of the Kataki such as the sock like design of the neoprene liner, as well as the quick lacing system.
Where the Kataki differs from the Katana, is in the last of the shoe. The last of this shoe has been borrowed from more aggressive models of the La Sportiva line (shoes such as the Solution and the Futura). The downturned style and asymmetrical shape makes it well suited for precise footwork. This all-arounder will perform especially well on slightly overhanging to vertical terrain. If you’re looking for something more aggressive than the Miura but with similar levels of sensitivity, give the Katakis a go.
The Kataki fits best on a narrower foot. You can expect to size this shoe a full size to a size and half down from your regular street shoe size. Keep in mind that they will not stretch much.
The Futura is a revolutionary shoe that has many rethinking how they approach their footwork. This shoe introduces the no edge technology that is supposed to mimic the feeling you get with your favourite already-broken-in shoe. While maybe not for everyone, if you give them a chance you might become a convert.
The Futura sports the same downturned and asymmetrical last as the Solution and Kataki. The midsole, however, is incredibly soft and malleable. This lends the shoe to being extremely sensitive and will make all other classically designed shoes feel like bricks on your feet in comparison. The Futura is adept for any type of modern climbing (sport, bouldering, comp climbing), and will allow you to feel all the little nubs and divots. Smearing is a breeze, while overhang climbing is a comfortable treat.
The Futuras should be fitted tightly as they will stretch at least a half size. We would recommend going down at least a full size to a size and a half.
Searching for the best women’s climbing shoes has never been so diverse, leaving the modern climber with oodles of shoes to choose from. Whether you’re a tradster always looking for the next adventure, or a die hard boulderer, you’ve got options when it comes to quality constructed shoes, tailored to a variety of feet.
That being said, we would still like to see more low volume options out there. Many flagship shoes are still not available in a woman’s version. Some brands however, are doing this better than others. La Sportiva has really dominated our list here (with 4 out of 5 entries), not just because they have such a large quiver, but because they offer almost every shoe in a women’s fit.
The limits of our sport are being pushed in every direction. Climbing companies as a result will need to adapt as the women really start to take lead. With the right shoe, we’ll be able to scale that much higher.