Last updated on April 6th, 2023 at 05:47 am
Leather climbing shoes have been around for a very long time. In fact, in the Victorian era, the first pioneers of mountaineering used boots made entirely from leather. I’m talking leather uppers, soles, and interiors.
Thankfully, climbing shoes have evolved drastically since then, but the prominence of leather in climbing shoe construction still remains fairly widespread.
Although natural leather has some really beneficial qualities for shoe manufacturing (we will get to those shortly), it’s no secret that leather has one of the most detrimental impacts on the environment of any raw material, which is partly the reason why many shoe manufacturers are now turning to vegan climbing shoes as a more environmentally-conscious alternative.
Most leather climbing shoes today are ‘lined’, also sometimes known as ‘hybrids’, that use a combination of both leather and synthetic materials. This allows manufacturers to utilize the benefits of each material.
The Best Leather Climbing Shoes
To get you started here’s what we think are the four best leather climbing shoes currently available.
La Sportiva Solution
The La Sportiva Solution isn’t just a favorite of ours, the pros can’t get enough of it either. We recently logged 1000 of the hardest sport ascents from the last 15 years, and amazingly, the Solution was used on over 25% of these ascents. In our books, that makes the Solution the most used performance shoe ever.
FUN FACT: The Solution was the shoe of choice for Adam Ondra and Nalle Hukkataival on both the hardest lead (Silence, 9c) and boulder ascent (Burden Of Dreams, V17).
This shoe isn’t just reserved for professional climbers though. Whether you’re in the gym, crushing at world-class climbing destinations, or simply just having some fun at your local crag, you don’t have to look very far before you see a pair of these bad boys.
La Sportiva Finale
Looking for a beginner-friendly leather shoe? If so, we suggest taking a look at the La Sportiva Finale.
The Finale has been a staple of La Sportiva’s line up for a few years now and has helped scores of beginner climbers find their feet at both gyms and crags across the world. At a glance, the Finale looks like most budget shoes, but don’t be fooled, there is more going on than meets the eye.
For starters, the outsole is made from 5mm of high-quality Vibram XS Edge rubber. This gives the shoe a rigid profile and gives the shoe brilliant edging ability. All that rubber also helps make the shoe more durable, so it will be more forgiving of a beginner’s less-refined footwork.
The Finale also uses La Sportiva’s clever Powerhinge, technology usually reserved for their performance shoes, like the Miura and Miura VS. To the untrained eye, the Powerhinge might just look like a hole on the center of the sole. However, when you weight your foot and pressure is applied, this clever design encourages the shoe to stretch at the heel rather than the ball of your foot, making for more secure footwork.
While this Spanish shoemaker has been churning out high-quality climbing shoes for over two decades, Tenaya hasn’t received the same attention as its other European counterparts.
That said, don’t be fooled into thinking that Tenaya is a second-rate shoemaker. These guys are making some of the best performance shoes currently on the market, and are favored by climbing superstars like Alex Megos, Chirs Sharma, and Jimmy Webb.
Of all their models, perhaps the most noticeable is the Iati. This hybrid leather shoe is Megos’ go-to shoe for most styles of climbing and even helped with his legendary 9c ascent of Bibliographie.
The Iati builds on the winning qualities of another of Tenaya’s hugely popular creations, the Oasi. The biggest difference between the two shoes is that the Iati uses a full sole, compared to Oasi’s partial split sole. This gives the Iati a slightly stiffer profile, lending itself to lead climbing and longer sport routes.
The Benefits of Leather Climbing Shoes
Like everything in life, there are benefits and drawbacks to opting for leather shoes. Here are a few things to bear in mind when deciding between leather or synthetic climbing shoes.
Breathable – Perhaps the most unique property of leather is its natural breathability, a characteristic that is extremely difficult to replicate with synthetic materials. The ability to absorb sweat, then release it in the form of vapor, is perhaps the single biggest benefit of making climbing shoes from leather. In fact, leather is so good at this, it can absorb up to 30% water without actually feeling wet.
Your feet will sweat significantly less in a pair of leather climbing shoes compared to that synthetic climbing shoes.
Durable – Leather is one of the most durable and hard-wearing fabrics available to shoemakers and clothing manufacturers. After all, there’s a reason why bikers are dressed head to toe in the stuff. The fibers inside the leather are woven so tightly that it makes the leather more resistant to wear and tear. This natural resilience lends itself perfectly to climbing shoes, an environment where our shoes are constantly being scraped across rock and rough gym walls.
The Custom Fit – While leather is a durable and strong material, it still has the ability to conform to any shape. One of our favorite characteristics of leather climbing shoes is the custom fit you are left with after the break-in period.
They are bad for the environment – The biggest downside of leather is the significant impact it has on the environment. In fact, the Higgs Index (a directory that measures the environmental impact of raw materials used in manufacturing) consistently rates cow leather as one of the worst materials to contribute to global warming, water waste, and water pollution.
The stretch – While the adaptable nature of leather helps get that custom fit after the break-in period, it doesn’t top there. Leather climbing shoes are notorious for stretching, and you can usually expect your unlined leather climbing shoes to stretch an entire size up, if not more, across the course of their life.
Lined Vs Unlined Climbing Shoes
As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to leather climbing shoes, they can usually be separated into two camps; lined and unlined.
Unlined climbing shoes use all-leather uppers for construction. These types of shoes inherit all the benefits and downsides mentioned above.
Lined climbing shoes, on the other hand, use a combination of both leather and synthetic materials. Utilizing synthetic materials helps minimize stretch in areas that you want to minimize stretch, like the toe box for example. Manufacturers often make their shoes fully lined or partially lined, depending on how they want to balance the attributes of natural and synthetic materials.
While this can help minimize stretching, there are downsides to this style of construction. A lined toe box adds another layer of material between your foot and the rock, so will inevitably decrease the sensitivity to your shoe.