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The Complete Guide To…

The Best Intermediate Climbing Shoes

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Ready to leave the beginner shoes behind? A reliable pair of intermediate climbing shoes might be exactly what you need to take your climbing game to the next level. Here’s what you need to know.

La Sportiva Skwama thumbnail

My Top Pick

La Sportiva Skwama

A high-performance shoe that adapts to every challenge you throw at it.

vsr

For Everything

Scarpa Instinct VSR

Scarpa’s answer to the Skwama, awesome for diverse sport and bouldering.

Evolv Shaman New

For Bouldering

Evolv Shaman

Pull, hook, and stick to every overhang with the unique shape of the Shaman.

Veloce Thumb

For The Gym

Scarpa Veloce

The perfect balance between performance and comfort, awesome for gym climbing.

We price check from over 12 of our most trusted retailers and share the lowest price for every shoe we recommend on this page. If you click a link, we may also make a little commission (at no extra cost to you, obviously).

I guarantee you will be amazed at the difference after you swap your beginner climbing shoes for a more performance-ordinated model. I still remember how it felt when I slipped on my first pair of ‘serious’ climbing shoes. Prepare yourself for better sensitivity, greater precision, and the ability to pull pockets on steep overhanging terrain. Not to mention the endless other on-wall upgrades that a good pair of intermediate climbing shoes will offer. 

As with everything, there are downsides to switching to a pair of intermediate climbing shoes too. For starters, it’s highly unlikely they are going to find a pair of shoes as comfortable as your beginner ones. Another glaring downside – one that you have probably already noticed – is the higher price tag that goes hand-in-hand with performance shoes.

What are intermediate climbing shoes?

lace vs velcro climbing shoes
Intermediate shoes come in all shapes and sizes

Many beginner shoes often take a no-frill approach to design and manufacturing in order to attract new climbers with their low prices. Intermediate and advanced shoes, on the other hand, are infinitely more complex. Clever tension systems, better quality outsole rubber, and intricate stitching patterns all play a part in increasing a shoe’s ability to crush hard but contribute to a higher sales price too.

Many climbers can be reluctant to splash the cash on a quality pair of climbing shoes but trust me, once you find that perfect shoe, it will be worth its weight in gold. 

The Best Intermediate Climbing Shoes

Like every climbing shoe, the right one for you ultimately comes down to how well the shoe fits your foot and how well-suited it is to the climbing terrain. The five shoes I will share with you on this page are some of the best climbing shoes for intermediate climbers available in 2023, all of which are suited to a variety of foot shapes and climbing styles.

My Top Pick

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 

Best For: Diverse bouldering and sport

I personally think that the La Sportiva Skwama is one of the best climbing shoes for intermediate climbers right now. It has all the tools you need to level up your climbing ability.

What I love most about the Skwama is that it’s an awesomely versatile shoe that always delivers a strong performance regardless of the climbing terrain and styles (although it is undoubtedly best suited to bouldering and single-pitch sport).

The shoe is built on the same last as other popular La Sportiva shoes like the Solution or Miura, so it feels at home on the steep stuff or routes that require maximum power transfer to your toes. But this isn’t just an overhang killer, it’s awesome for climbs of all angles. The thinner midsole, split sole design, and forefoot cut-out of the outsole allow for more flexion in the forefoot and superior smearing.

La Sportiva Skwama vegan testing
Angel working a fun slab line in the Skwamas

Unlike other soft shoes, edging performance isn’t completely forsaken thanks to the thin Midsole and P3 Platform that help profile some extra support when standing on those small holds and chips.

Best for Indoor

Scarpa Veloce

Scarpa Veloce Review
Overall
8.4
(2 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

Best For: Smearing on gym walls

If you spend most of your time climbing in the gym, then an indoor-specific shoe is a wise choice. These shoes are soft, stick, and willing to adapt to the more dynamic nature of indoor bouldering. 

There are plenty of awesome gym shoes out there, but if there’s one indoor shoe I think is great for intermediate climbers, it’s the Scarpa Veloce. Okay, so the Veloce is technically classed as a beginner shoe, but I think it’s a killer choice for any gym rat who is looking for a performance boost on a budget. 

Scarpa Veloce

The Veloce is with a don’t one of the softest shoes I have tried. So soft in fact, that’s about as close as it comes to climbing barefoot without ditching the shoes altogether. This makes the Veloce ridiculously comfortable and extremely sensitive, which is perfect for hiking up gym volumes.

The Scarpa S-72 rubber sole is extremely soft and sticky, which is ideal for indoor climbing. I also love how breathable they are, thanks to their mesh tongue design (this is a lifesaver when it comes to those sweaty gym sessions). 

Nevertheless, the Veloce is one of the budget intermediate bouldering shoes, ideal for friction-dependent moves, overhung terrain, and long training days.

Best 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

Best For: Vertical and overhung climbing

The Instinct VSR is Scarpa’s answer to the La Sportiva Skwama. Both shoes share very similar features; they use a single-strap/slipper hybrid closure, a split sole with a 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2 outsole, a leather insole, and their own proprietary active rand systems. Because of the strictly similar designs, the Instinct VSR and Skwama share a very similar on-wall experience.  

So where do these shoes differ then? Well for starters the VSR has a more moderate camber and allows your foot to sit flatter within the shoe, making it a bit more comfortable for longer routes.

The VSR toe box is slightly wider and more pointed, while the outsole extends further down the arch of your foot, offering a little more support when edging on smaller chips. The toe patch on the Scarpa is also made of thicker dual-texture rubber, so feels better when cranking hard on a toe hook.

Scarpa Instinct VSR gym climbing
The VSR eats steep boulders for breakfast

The biggest difference between both shoes, however, is the heel design. The VSR heel has a wider fit and a softer construction than the Skwama.

All in all, I really like the VSR, it’s a great all-around climbing shoe for intermediates. I’m not the only fan of this shoe either, it’s an extremely popular choice for many of Scarpa’s pro athletes including world-class crushers Matty Hong, Nathaniel Coleman, and Sean Bailey. 

Best for Bouldering

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

If you have caught a bad case of the bouldering bug, then there are a few boxes you are going to want your new shoes to check. A downturned camber is a must for gnarly overhangs, a robust heel and a generous toe patch are essential for modern bouldering beta, and a split sole will allow the shoe to adapt to the varying wall angles.

Fortunately for us, the Shaman has all these things and a hell of a lot more. This was one of the first to be created as part of the ‘Sharma Signature Series’ and has been a staple of Evolv’s performance for almost two decades. And while Chris Sharma has since ended his partnership with Evolv, that hasn’t stopped the Shaman from being a world-class bouldering shoe for intermediate climbers. 

Evolv intermediate climbing shoes
Aggressive, yet still adaptable

The unique “love bump” midsole toe box hold your foot in a unique downturn, allowing you to claw at holds with pinpoint precision, yet still has the ability adaps to less-than-vertical terrain.

One of my favorite features of the Shaman is the Dark Spine heel. I personally think it’s one of the most secure heel designs of any climbing shoe. The rigid spine that protrudes up the back allows you to crack as hard on even the sketchiest heel hooks.

The Shaman got a next-gen upgrade in early 2022, but was mainly cosmetic upgrades and most of the features of the shoe have remained the same. A lace version and an LV variation have also been included in this latest update.

Best for Comfort

Tenaya Oasi

Tenaya Oasi

Tenaya might not be a household name like Scarpa and La Sportiva but these guys really know a thing or two about climbing shoes. 

Tenaya is that they are renowned for making performance shoes that are ridiculously comfortable. The shoe that really put this Spanish shoemaker on the map is the Oasi. It adapts brilliantly to most styles of climbing, and although it’s not the best edging shoe I’ve ever tested, it smears and sticks to small features equally well.

Tenaya Oasi vegan shoes testing

Out of the box, the Oasi is ideal for narrow feet, but like most Tenaya shoes, the Oasi uses ‘SXR dynamics’ which allows the shoe to adapt to varying foot sizes. It also uses its patented closure system that allows for extremely precise control of the fit.

When Should You Get Intermediate Climbing Shoes?

best intermediate climbing shoes

As a new climber, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to swap your beginner shoes for a pair of performance climbing shoes. What are the signs the time is right?

In my opinion, nobody really stays a beginner for long in climbing. In fact, after a month or two of visiting the gym, I’m willing to bet you are ready to graduate to a pair of intermediate climbing shoes.

That said, upgrading from your beginner shoes isn’t best measured by time, but rather by the grades and terrain you are climbing. If you have found yourself gravitating towards V4/V5+ boulder problems or eyeing up the cave section of your local gym, then it might be time to start looking at some intermediate bouldering shoes. Similarly, if you are starting to push the sport grades and are leading 6a/5.10a, then I think it might be time to graduate from the beginner kicks.

At the end of the day, upgrading from your trusty beginner shoes ultimately depends on how much performance you can squeeze out of them. If you have found that you have hit a plateau in your climbing ability, those cheap and cheerful beginner shoes might just be the thing holding you back.

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