My Complete Guide to…
The Best Trad Climbing Shoes
Trad climbing is the discipline that kick-started the free climbing revolution, and while it hasn’t received the mass adoption of bouldering, it still remains one of the purest forms of climbing. Here’s everything you need to know about the best shoes for trad climbing.
My Top Pick
La Sportiva TC Pro
A high-end big-wall shoe designed to balance all-day “comfort” with performance.
Five Ten NIAD Lace
A stiff sole and rounded toe box will keep you edging away comfortably for hours.
A high-top performance shoe, without the high-end price tag.
Extremely budget-friendly and ridiculously comfy, the Helix has a lot to offer.
We price check from over 12 of our most trusted retailers and share the lowest price for every shoe we recommend on this page. If you click a link, we may also make a little commission (at no extra cost to you, obviously).
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.
What is trad climbing?
If you have landed on this page, then I’m sure you already know what trad climbing is. But just to be safe, let’s go back to basics.
Trad climbing involves placing your own fall protection with trad gear like nuts and cams. In comparison to sport climbing, 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.
What Makes a Good Trad Shoe?
Alright, so we all know what trad climbing is, but what makes a good trad shoe? Like every style of climbing, if we strategically choose a shoe that matches the demands of the terrain, we will be able to perform at our best.
Trad climbing can encompass a diverse range of rock types, crack sizes, and wall angles, so it can difficult to point at any one shoe that performs perfectly on every type of terrain.
That said, as a generalization, good trad shoes usually have a low profile that is able to squeeze into thin cracks and a stiff sole that will provide 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, as well as edging and smearing. 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 jamming.
The Best Trad Climbing Shoes
As trad climbing is usually done in cracks, trad 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.
Best For Gym
Five Ten Niad Lace
Edging - 8/10
Smearing - 7/10
Steep Terrain - 6.5/10
Comfort - 8/10
Sensitivity - 6/10
Value For Money - 7.5/10
- The full-length sole is great for edging
- Comfortable fit
- Secure heel cup
- The stiffer profile makes them less sensitive
- Best suited to narrow feet
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 new 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.
Best For Outdoor
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.
Best For Outdoor
An alternative to the more expensive TC Pros is 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 who likes stiff trad climbing shoes.
Best For Outdoor
Five Ten Niad Mocc
Edging - 6/10
Smearing - 8.5/10
Steep Terrain - 6/10
Comfort - 9/10
Sensitivity - 8/10
Value For Money - 7/10
- Improved heel tension
- Super comfortable
- Enhanced build quality
- The large toe patch
- Dye turns feet red during break-in
- Lacks performance
- Not great for small edges or overhangs
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 get in the way, and the semi-flexible sole allows for twisting and turning into cracks while still maintaining 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.
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.