Last updated on April 9th, 2023 at 06:48 am
Traditional climbing – commonly referred to as “trad”- is the purest form of free climbing. Long before the days of climbing gyms and bolted sport crags, climbing legends like Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard were molding the future of climbing.
Trad climbing involves placing your own fall protection with trad gear like nuts and cams.
In comparison to a sport route, where climbers follow a route along a line of bolts, trad climbers follow the line based on where they can place reliable protection.
When it comes to types of trad protection, they can be classified in a few different ways. The first is active protection, meaning they move. Camming devices are the most popular type of active protection. Cams are spring-loaded and have three or four curved edges that project force outwards in the event of a fall, jamming the device into the rock. Passive protection, like nuts and hexes, are slotted into the rock or crack and – if correctly placed – will not pop out of the rock, protecting a climber against a potential fall.
Unlike sport climbing, trad climbing anchors are also built with your gear instead of bolts. A simple three-point anchor that is equalized by a sling is built at comfortable belaying points.
This style of climbing is usually done on granite or sandstone, with the valleys of Yosemite and Squamish and the sandstone walls of Red Rocks being full of trad routes suitable for beginners.
THE TOP THREE
The Best Trad Climbing Shoes
As trad climbing is usually done in cracks, trad climbing shoes and crack climbing shoes are usually one and the same. Here are a few of our team’s favorite trad shoes.
MY TOP PICK
La Sportiva TC Pro
Professionals and casual climbers swear by these shoes designed by legendary big wall climber Tommy Caldwell. Beloved by tons of climbers, TC Pros were intended to be used on granite, and indeed, Tommy Caldwell sent the Dawn Wall in them. They are so popular at well-known trad destinations that they are commonly marked with names to avoid getting mixed up at climbing camps.
Insanely stiff, the TC Pros are precise, edging demons yet still remain comfortable enough to wear all day long. The stiffness comes at a price; they aren’t very sensitive, and some feedback on tiny holds will be sacrificed. They are a high-top climbing shoe with extra padding around the ankles to protect from abrasions and nicks when jamming.
Five Ten NIAD Lace
The NIAD Lace picks up from where its predecessor, the Anasazi Lace, left off. The Anasazi Lace, affectionately nicknamed the “Pinks”, and its sister shoe, the Blancos, have been some of the most popular trad climbing shoes for the last few decades.
The good news for Five Ten fans is that NIAD shares many of the winning properties of its predecessor. They are stiff enough to edge, yet flexible enough, once broken in, to allow for respectable smearing ability. The precise big toe is protected by additional rubber for jams, and the newly-designed tensioned heel cup keeps your foot snug in the shoe.
The laces extend far down the center and allow for a fit right down to your toes. Combined with the padded tongue, this shoe is one of the most comfortable shoes for narrow-footed climbers.
The laces and padded tongue make the Helix a comfortable shoe for all-day climbing. The flat profile and symmetrical shape make them suitable for beginners or advanced climbers looking for comfort over performance on certain days.
They have a thicker sole and contribute to the durability of this shoe while sacrificing some sensitivity for the tiny edges. You won’t be climbing steep, challenging routes in the Helix, but they make an excellent choice for someone just starting on trad.
An alternative to the more expensive TC Pros are the Butora Alturas. Also a high-top shoe, the Altura is even stiffer than the TC Pros and will help you stand on tiny footholds and edge well.
Like the TC Pros, they are relatively high volume and may not fit in thin cracks, but they make an excellent choice for someone that likes stiff trad climbing shoes.
Five Ten NIAD Mocc
With the slipper design and smooth upper, these incredibly comfortable, low-profile shoes are perfect for thin cracks and long multi-pitches. No velcro or laces gets in the way, and the semi-flexible sole allows for twisting and turning into cracks while still remaining some rigidity. The soft design makes them ideal for beginners and advanced climbers alike.
The full leather upper conforms to the shape of your foot after breaking in, while the Five Ten’s signature Stealth C4 rubber sticks to everything.
What Makes A good Trad Shoe?
Good trad shoes are usually low-profile shoes that are able to squeeze into thin cracks, sturdy yet flexible, and give you support for all-day adventures. Trad climbs tend to be long multi-pitch days where you spend several hours on walls, so the shoes should be comfortable enough to keep on after every pitch.
They should be durable and stand up to the wear and tear of foot jams, in addition to edging and smearing well. Trad climbs usually have slabby sections that require tons of smearing. They are generally stiff shoes with a neutral profile.
In addition, you’ll want shoes with generous toe rubber to protect your foot whilst jams.
Ready To Start Shoe Shopping?
Whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned trad pro, good shoes will make a world of difference. They will allow you to stand on holds where you normally could not and jam your feet into the wall, often twisting painfully.
They are often designed with thicker rubber and uppers to be more durable, standing up to more abuse than sport or gym climbing shoes. As always, size them for a balance of performance and comfort.