The 5 Best Intermediate Climbing Shoes

It's time to level up.
Scarpa Veloce small

Scarpa
Veloce

The perfect shoe for gym rats looks to push those harder grades.

La Sportiva Skwama Black

La Sportiva
Skwama

The Skwama is the ideal ‘quiver of one’ shoe for intermediate climbers.

Scarpa Instinct VSR Review

Scarpa
Instinct VSR

A solid all-rounder for bouldering and sport climbing fans.

Last updated: October 2022

I’m not exactly a gambling man,  but I bet 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; better sensitivity, greater toe box 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. 

Don’t get me wrong, 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.

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.

You are probably a bit 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. 

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 your preferred climbing style and terrain. The five shoes I will share with you on this page are some of the best climbing shoes for intermediate climbers available in 2022, all of which suited to a variety of foot shapes and climbing styles.

Let’s get started!

MY TOP PICK

La Sportiva Skwama

La Sportiva Skwama

I personally think that the La Sportiva Skwama is one of the best climbing shoes for intermediate climbers right now. It has all the features 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. That said the thinner midsole, split sole design, and forefoot cut-out of the outsole allow for more flexion in the forefoot and better smearing than the other La Sportiva models I just mentioned. 

This ultimately helps the Skwama adapt to slabs and less than vertical angles, which you find in abundance in both indoor and outdoor climbing. 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.

On the sole, the Skwama has Vibram XS Grip 2, a rubber that has a reputation as being some of the best in the game, creating a nice balance between friction and durability. 

All in all, the Skawma It’s hugely versatile that offers all the tools an intermediate needs to start pushing grades.

We Like

Great for all-round climbing
Sensitive and flexible
Awesome heel design
Shock-absorbing heel cup

We Don’t Like

Not great for narrow feet

BEST FOR INDOOR

Scarpa Veloce

Scarpa Veloce

If you spend most of your time climbing in the gym, then an indoor-specific shoe will probably be a good choice. These shoes are usually softer, stickier, and more willing to adapt to the more dynamic nature of indoor sport climbing and bouldering. 

Over the last few years, the choice of indoor shoes has grown pretty drastically thanks to the flurry of gym openings and the 2020 Olympics Games. Shoes like the La Sportiva Theory, Evolv Zenist, and the Five Ten Hiangle Comp are all examples of shoes that were purpose-built to crush hard on plastic hold. 

All these indoor shoes are great, but if there’s one indoor-specific shoe I think is best for intermediate climbers, it’s the Scarpa Veloce.  In fact, the Veloce is technically billed as a beginner shoe, but I think it’s a brilliant choice for any gym rat who looks for a performance boost without breaking the bank. 

It is one of the softest shoes I have tried – so soft in fact – it is about as close as it comes to climbing barefoot without ditching the shoes altogether. The Veloce’s barely-there construction not only helps make them ridiculously comfortable but make them extremely sensitive too. This means you can hike up volumes with ease and feel every feature and edge under your foot. These characteristics are ideal for your second pair of climbing shoes, as this allows you to hone your natural, flowing, climbing style. 

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 a lifesaver when it comes to those sweaty gym sessions). 

All these features are great, but they also present some minor issues. That ridiculously soft construction means the Veloce doesn’t offer much support when standing on small features, and the S-72 has the tendency to wear out pretty damn fast, especially if you use them outside.

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

We Like

The price
Ridiculously comfortable
Super soft and sensitive

We Don’t Like

Not great for heel hooking
Fast wearing rubber

BEST ALL-ROUNDER

Scarpa Instinct VSR

Scarpa Instinct VSR

The Instinct VSR is Scarpa’s counterpart to the La Sportiva Skwama. Both shoes share some 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 past the ball of your foot, both features ultimately adding 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 a little more comfortable when cranking hard on a toe hook.

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. This could be a positive or a negative, depending on your preference and heel shape.

That said, 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 Alex Puccio, Nathaniel Coleman, and Sean Bailey. 

Want a little more support? The Instinct VS is slightly stiffer equivalent to the VSR, ideal for technical faces and standing on micro edges.

We Like

  Ideal for bouldering and sport
Great build quality
Brilliant toe patch
Great for wide feet

We Don’t Like

The heel won’t suit narrow feet

BEST OF THE REST

Evolv Shaman

Evolv climbing shoes for intermediate climbers

Wrestling boulders has fast become one of the most popular climbing disciplines in recent years. 

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 moderate or aggressive downturn 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 well over a decade. 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. 

This shoe has plenty of great features going for it. The Evolv heel used on the Shaman is one of the best heel cup designs I have ever tested. The chunky slingshot rand, paired with the Dark Spine (the thin bit of rubber that protrudes up the back of the heel), creates an amazingly secure and versatile heel. I find his heel design one of the most secure in the business. 

I also really like Evolv’s signature rubber, the TRAX SAS. I am yet to come across a terrain where the rubber doesn’t inspire confidence. 

The Shaman got a next-gen upgrade in early 2022. Thankfully, most of the features of the shoe have remained the same, with the exception of the less-padded (more breathable) tongue and an updated color scheme. A lace version and a LV variation have also been included in this latest update.

We Like

Awesome heel design
Sticky and durable rubber
The Knuckle Box puts toes in a powerful position
Vegan friendly 

We Don’t Like

 Tendency to smell after while

BEST OF THE REST

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. 

You might have spotted these Spanish shoes on the feet of Olympians like Alex Megos or Tom O’Halloran, or heard that Chris Sharma joined the Tenaya team in 2019. Perhaps you have never even heard of Tenaya before. 

Either way, what you need to know is that Tenaya is that they are renowned for making performance shoes that are ridiculously comfortable. The flagship of their ‘Arial Plus’ performance line has been the Oasi since it was first let loose in 2013. It’s extremely comfortable, 

Out of the box, the Oasi is ideal for narrow feet although, 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.

We Like

Comfortable, yet offer high performance
Ability to micro-adjust the fit
Great for heel hooking

We Don’t Like

Sizing can be tricky

When to get 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 few months of visiting the gyms a couple of times each week, 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.