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The Complete Guide to…

The Best Outdoor Climbing Shoes

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Nothing beats climbing on real rock, but if you want to perform at your best, you’re going to need the right kit for the job. Here’s everything you need to know about outdoor climbing shoes.

Scarpa Vapor V

My Top Pick

Scarpa Vapor V

An awesome outdoor shoe that can tackle a wide variety of terrain.

Five Ten NIAD VCS

For Beginners

Five Ten NIAD VCS

A great beginner shoe with a nice balance between support and comfort

La Sportiva Miura

For Everything

La Sportiva Miura VS

The softer, narrower younger brother of the Mastia. More suited to

vsr

For Bouldering

Scarpa Instinct VSR

The Swiss army knife of climbing shoes, the VSR is my go-to for hard boulders.

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Regardless of your preferred climbing style – trad, sport, bouldering, and even top roping – there are few things better than working your way up a real rock face. Whether it is a trip to the local crag, or a new adventure further afield, a day on the rocks always feels like an achievement compared to a low-effort, low-reward trip to the gym. 

But unlike gym climbing, for climbing outside, you’re going to need a few extra tools in your kit bag. A helmet is arguably the most important addition, but a rope, a set of draws, and maybe even a bouldering mat or two may be required for your outdoor vertical adventures.

When it comes to your choice of outdoor footwear, you’ve got a bit of thinking to do about which climbing shoes will serve you best on reel rock. Read on to find out my top tips for selecting the best outdoor climbing shoes.

What makes a good outdoor climbing shoe?

outdoor climbing la sportiva skwama
It’s hard not to have fun climbing outside.

As with every climbing scenario, the right shoe depends on what type of surface you plan on standing on. In the gym, resin holds tend to be bigger and offer bucket loads of friction, so soft shoes that can smear on these surfaces offer the biggest benefit. But outside, it’s not as clear cut.

The biggest factor you will want to take into consideration is the angle and type of rock you’re climbing on. As I discussed in my slab shoe guide, the angle of the rock is a factor at play. A low-angle slab has a greater reliance on smearing, whereas a high-angle slab and vertical faces will require your shoes to have plenty of edging power. Overhung sport and boulders will require you to hook and pull at pockets, so a downturned shoe that directs power into your big toe will perform best.

The type of rock is also another factor to bear in mind. If you plan on climbing some polished limestone, then a soft sticky shoe will offer the most friction. If it’s a high-friction granite route you have your eye on, a soft shoe might smear well on some moves, but most likely won’t be durable enough to withstand the beating of hard and sharp rock like granite. Soft edges are also more prone to rolling off smaller features than a harder rubber compound.

The Best Outdoor Climbing Shoes

Although no shoe will be the master of every type of climbing terrain, there is a huge selection of great outdoor climbing shoes that cater to every requirement you can imagine.

To help you get started on your search, here are a few of my favorite outdoor climbing shoes for various different outdoor climbing scenarios.

My Top Pick

Scarpa Vapor V

Scarpa Vapor V Review
Overall
8.4
(4 reviews)
  • Edging - 9/10
    9/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensitivity - 7/10
    7/10
  • Value For Money - 8/10
    8/10

Pros

  • Awesome for technical sport climbing
  • Great for edging and precise footwork
  • Durable Vibram XS Edge
  • High & low volume variation

Cons

  • Heel cup is a little wide

Best For: Vertical and slightly overhung sport on hard rock

If you are looking for a shoe that has the capability to help you crush hard on a diverse range of rock, then the Vapor V is certainly worth consideration.

The Vapor V is a bit of a “one shoe wonder”, it can do a lot of things really well, but not exactly outstanding at any one thing.

Vapor V climbing
Sending a granite 7b in the Vapor V

I know that doesn’t really sound like a ringing endorsement, but if you’re looking for a versatile outdoor shoe, then it’s exactly what you need.

The Vapor V also uses Vibram’s XS Edge and a full-length 1.4mm midsole, which provides plenty of support when standing on small edges and practicing delicate footwork. 

It’s not all about edging, the split sole helps keep the forefoot nice and flexible, which helps whilst smearing and bridging. The heel cup is also nice and secure, which inspires confidence cranking on a heel hook, and the small toe patch is a nice addition that offers a little extra performance, without taking away from the overall comfort of the shoe.

Best For Cracks

La Sportiva Tc Pro

La Sportiva TC Pros

Best For: Granite Slab and offwidth cracks

The La Sportiva TC is the undisputed king of big wall climbing. I guarantee you won’t see a pair of these bad boys at your local gym but where you will find this shoe in abundance is Yosemite. That’s because the TC Pro is built to excel on the endless granite walls of the Valley. 

When it comes to climbing granite faces and cracks, they don’t come much better than the Tommy Caldwell signature shoe. The shoe has everything you need to tackle granite and other hard types of rock. A stiff profile (created by a 1.1mm midsole, 4mm of XS Edge, and La Sportiva P3 technology) provides plenty of support when balancing on small quartz flakes or traversing along the smallest of edges.

They have no problem working their way up a crack either, thanks to the abundance of rubber rands, the low-volume toes, and high top ankle protection.

Best For Beginners

Five Ten Niad VCS

Five Ten NIAD VCS Review
Overall
7.6
(1 review)
  • Edging - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 7/10
    7/10
  • Comfort - 9/10
    9/10
  • Sensitivity - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Value For Money - 8/10
    8/10

Pros

  • Great all-round performance
  • The new heel makes the shoe more secure
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Not great for overhung terrain
  • The rounded toe box is super precise

Best For: Beginners on vertical terrain

The Five Ten NIAD VCS is the next-generation upgrade of the massively popular Anasazi VCS. It was one of three Anasazi shoes to get the makeover treatment in 2021 (the others being the Lace and Moccasym), all of which are designed for varying styles and demands.

The NIAD VCS is the sport/bouldering specialist of the three and while it’s not exactly what I class as a high-performance shoe, there are plenty of great features that make it a good choice for beginner climbers outside.

Five Ten NIAD

The full-length sole provides plenty of support, and the central shape of the toe box distributes weight between the first and second toe, which allows for plenty of edging power.

Smearing is pretty good in the NIAD VCS too, although it tends to struggle when the terrain starts to become more overhung.

Like every Five Ten shoe, the NIAD model uses Five Ten’s legendary Stealth rubber, which I’m a big fan of, it has good friction on every type of rock I have tested it on, and it’s pretty durable too.

Best For Everything

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

Best For: Technical footwork on vertical and slightly overhung sport

La Sportiva Miura VS has been another hot favorite with sport climbers and boulderers for over 20 years. You’d be hard-pressed to walk through a crowded crag during the weekend and not spot at least a couple of pairs of these. 

In my opinion, it sits nicely at the midway point between soft and stiff shoes, making it one of the most versatile outdoor climbing shoes around. Whether you’re looking to cruise up some easy routes or send your proj, these shoes can take you wherever you need to go.

La Sportiva Miura VS all day climbing

The aggressive profile and asymmetry make them ideal for overhanging, steep routes while the stiff Vibram XS Edge (or Grip 2 for the women’s) outsole and full-length sole provide the support needed to execute laser-precise footwork on technical face climbs.

These shoes are available in both lace and velcro variations, with the velcro being slightly better suited to higher-volume feet.

Best For Bouldering

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: Outdoor bouldering on all rock types

Most of the shoes we have mentioned up until now have a pretty stiff profile. This makes them great for standing on small edges and practicing delicate footwork on rough surfaces like granite. But what about something with less friction like a slippy, polished limestone crag?

For polished limestone, the rock formations will be larger and more rounded than granite, with less surface friction. For climbs like this, you should look for a softer shoe that will conform to these rounded features and have created surface contact with their sticky rubber outsole. 

Health benefits of bouldering

The Instinct VSR is a perfect example of a shoe that follows this style of construction. Although it’s more frequently touted as an outdoor bouldering shoe, it is more than capable of handling itself on limestone sport routes too, as Sean Bailey demonstrated with the third ascent of Bibliographie (9b+). After logging the top 1000 hardest sport and boulder ascents, I found the VS-R to be one of the used models.  

The Three types of Rock

It’s worth remembering that different types of rock offer varying levels of friction and formation shapes, demanding different qualities from your shoes. At the most basic level, rock can be grouped into three different categories, Igneous (formed by lava/magma cooling), Sedimentary (small particles that have bonded over time), and Metamorphic (rocks that have been transformed by heat or pressure). Within these groups, there are thousands of different types of rock, ranging from soft and crumbly to hard and sharp.

If you are working a vertical route on hard Igneous rock (granite) or a sharp Metamorphic (like slate) you are going to want a stiff shoe that will allow you to laser in on the small and sharp features and apply pressure on a small surface area to propel yourself up.

If you are climbing on a smooth sedimentary rock, like an overhung seawall with rounded limestone pockets, or a crumbly sandstone slab, then you will want a softer shoe that conforms to these shapes and offers greater surface area friction to help stick to the wall.

As you are likely beginning to realize, finding an outdoor climbing shoe that performs perfectly in every scenario, is a tall order.

Indoor Vs Outdoor Climbing Shoes

Outdoor Climbing Shoe

One of the key differences between indoor and outdoor climbing is that the holds are typically a lot larger, and more rounded in the gym. Because of this, indoor climbing shoes typically are softer and more sensitive. I am yet to see a plastic hold as small and sharp as a flake of granite, so save those ridiculously stiff shoes for the outdoors, you won’t need that level of support in a gym. 

Use shoes with soft, sticky rubber and a flexible midsole instead. The XS Grip rubber is a moderately soft favorite with indoor specialists. While the footholds in gyms are relatively uniform, you’ll still need a shoe that can smear on volumes, push off on edges, and pull on some holds. 

While there’s no wonder shoe that can do it all, some models are suited for both outdoor and indoor climbing. These shoes typically have:

  • Moderately stiff construction for more support on smaller outdoor holds, yet soft enough for friction moves
  • moderate downturn allows the shoe to adapt to all angles
  • Excellent durability to hold up under the constant switching between indoor and outdoor holds

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