Last updated on April 10th, 2023 at 05:21 am
It doesn’t matter if you are a gumby (that’s climbing talk for a newbie), or a seasoned pro, your climbing shoes are one of the most important pieces of equipment at your disposal, that will certainly have an impact on your performance.
One of the many ways in which we can classify the different types of climbing shoes is through their stiffness. When climbing shoes are referred to as “soft” or “stiff”, we are referring to characteristics that are inherited by the thickness of the midsole, as well as the sticky rubber on the outsole.
The midsole is built into the shoe, between the footbed and the outsole. This is responsible for keeping the shoe rigid when pressure is applied to the toe box. The rigidity of the midsole is usually controlled by the strength of the plastic, or other construction materials, that are used to create it. The outsole, on the other hand, is the rubber that has contact with the wall. The thickness of the outsole rubber usually ranges from 3mm (soft) to 5mm (stiff). The average for most climbing shoes tends to hover around the 4mm range.
Why Would You Use Stiff Climbing Shoes?
The stiffest climbing shoes are considerably more supportive than their softer counterparts. Rather than conforming to the shape of a foothold or molding around the hold when pressure is applied as a soft climbing shoe does, stiff shoes act as a platform between your feet and the hold.
This allows you to have greater control when exercising delicate footwork on small edges, as it distributes the weight from your toes across the rest of your foot. Naturally, this reduces the strain on your muscles and tendons, making stiff shoes much easier to wear for long days out. As a result, stiffer climbing shoes lend themselves to new climbers, who often find supportive shoes beneficial until their legs and feet become stronger and are able to withstand the intense pressure associated with climbing.
Stiffer shoes are also good on multi-pitch climbs, as well as slabby bouldering problems, cragging sessions, and trad climbing.
The best climbing shoes for edging also often use a stiffer style of construction. Edging is any foot placement that places your forefoot onto a foothold too small to accommodate the entire shoe. Inside edging on the area just below your big toe is one of the more common positions used by climbers, which can become extremely strenuous when using a soft shoe.
The outside edge, the side of your foot where your little toes are, is commonly used in traverses. It is naturally weaker and is not used as much on vertical climbs. When edging, a lot of feet and ankle strength has to be employed, together with calf muscles and surrounding ligaments. Stiffer shoes will help take some of the strain off and make balancing easier.
THE TOP THREE
The Stiffest Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes are a personal preference, and stiff shoes might not suit you, or the type of climbing you are practicing. Most climbers have multiple pairs of shoes that fit different needs and climbing styles. A pair of stiff shoes will do well in your arsenal for those long training days, gym training sessions, and technical face climbing.
If you decide that you’d like to add some stiff climbing shoes to your collection, here are some of our favorites.
MY TOP PICK
La Sportiva Miura VS
Having been in production for over twenty years, this truly iconic shoe is the perfect partner to help work that performance footwork. The edges are laser-precise and can stick to the smallest of all footholds, partly thanks to its Vibram rubber outsole. The male version of the shoe uses XS Edge rubber, while the female variation uses XS Grip 2, which compensates for the average weight difference between the genders.
The Miura can handle most styles of climbing you throw at it, although it feels at home on overhanging outdoor sport and boulder problems, as well as those intricate vertical routes.
Unlike a lot of the other rigid shoes out there, the Miura is built on an aggressive downturned last, which really enhances its pocket-pulling ability. Most of the power comes from the toe box, making it easy to stand precisely on pockets or toe hooks.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
Scarpa Reflex V
The Reflex V is a breathable pair of neutral climbing shoes created by Italian powerhouse, Scarpa. It is one of their most budget-friendly models that utilize a flat profile that has been designed with both comfort and performance in mind. While the Reflex V wouldn’t be my bouldering shoe of choice, the shape will suit beginners finding their feet and works well for most indoor rope climbers.
With a 5mm outsole of Scarpa Vision rubber and a 1.4mm midsole, this shoe is currently one of the stiffest climbing shoes on the market. If you’re looking for a gym shoe that is moderately comfortable, yet stiff enough to support all your edging needs, the Reflex V might be a good option for you.
While this is a great shoe for ‘learning the ropes’ the chances are your climbing ability will soon outgrow the Reflex V. Once you move onto a more performance-orientated shoe, the Reflex V is a great one to add to your collection as an all-day comfort shoe.
BEST FOR BOULDERING
Scarpa Instinct VS
Designed with sport climbers and boulderers in mind, the Scarpa Instinct VS is made with synthetic leather that doesn’t stretch, allowing you to size the shoes precisely.
The rand has maximum tension over the toes, and grippy Vibram XS Edge rubber grips rock and don’t wear out easily. It is moderately downturned and suitable for overhangs and bouldering.
BEST FOR BUDGETS
From the Czech manufacturer Ocun, the Ozone provides a 4mm rubber sole in an asymmetrical shoe. It is extremely precise on tiny footholds, edges, and pockets. Even though their 4mm rubber sole is not the thickest in the market, the 3-force system gives better pressure distribution and contributes to higher stiffness.
The Ozone Plus is a model available for people with wide feet.
BEST FOR SPORT CLIMBING
La Sportiva Katana
This technical climbing shoe is ideal for cragging and bouldering. The midsole is stiff and gives optimal edging support without decreasing sensitivity.
The 4mm sole feels thicker with the two hook and loop closure velcro straps go in opposite directions, holding everything in place securely.
BEST FOR BIG WALLS
La Sportiva TC Pro
The famous TC Pros, known to trad climbers worldwide, are the staple of all things trad.
Being the ultimate big-wall shoes, you can’t throw a stone in Yosemite without hitting a pair of these bad boys. TC Pros provide powerful edging and, being a padded boot protects your ankles from abrasions and twists when jamming into cracks. The stiff profile of the TC Pros is created by 4mm of XS Edge, the most rigid rubber compound Vibram produce, as well as a 1.1mm midsole, making this shoe one of the stiffest climbing shoes in the La Sportiva line-up.
Tommy Caldwell climbed the Dawn Wall in these shoes. Enough said.
BEST FOR STYLE
Five Ten NIAD Lace
This is the next generation upgrade of the hugely popular Anasazi Lace. The NIAD Lace maintains many of the winning qualities of its predecessor with a few extra modern upgrades, including a generously sized toe patch and all vegan-uppers.
Interestingly, the NIAD Lace creates its super-stiff profile through utilizing a board-lasted construction, opposed to a slip-last construction many modern climbing shoes opt for. This style of construction naturally creates a stiffer profile of the shoe, making the NIAD lace a super-stiff edging machine.
Paired this with Five Ten’s sticky Stealth rubber and the NIAD lace is fast becoming one of our favorite stiff climbing shoes.
Need Some Stiff Climbing Shoes?
Shoes are a very personal choice. There is no shoe to rule them all, and one man’s meat can be another man’s poison. Try various pairs on the rock and see what works for you.
It is doubtful that you have one pair of shoes for all types of climbing. More often than not, you will have several pairs. Some for gym days, cragging, multi-pitches, trad, sport, and bouldering. Stiff shoes will definitely be in your arsenal.