Lined Vs Unlined Climbing Shoes

What is a shoe lining and why does it matter?

Lined vs unlined climbing shoes

If you have been doing your homework on climbing shoes, you might have seen terms like ‘lined’ or ‘unlined climbing shoes’ being thrown around.  It can be pretty tricky to find an explanation as to what climbing jargon like this means, let alone how it will impact your choice of climbing shoes.

For all those who are left scratching their heads as to what this ‘lined’ and ‘unlined’ business means  – and learn how this can impact your choice and size of new climbing shoes – then this is most likely the explanation, you have been looking for.

When we refer to a climbing shoe being lined or unlined, we are referring to the number of layers of fabric that are used on the material part of your shoes. Unlined shoes have an upper that consists of just a single material layer, most usually made from leather or vegan-friendly fabric. Lined climbing shoes have multiple layers of (fully or partially) lined fabric glued and stitched on top of one another.

By choosing to make a shoe model lined or unlined, a manufacturer can dictate certain qualities that the shoe will inherit.

If you want to learn about the characteristics a lined or unlined shoe can impact, as well as the benefits of both types of construction, then read on!

The difference between lined and unlined climbing shoes

As you just learned, the difference between unlined and lined shoes is the number of layers that make up the shoe upper. Unlined climbing shoes have an upper that is made of just a single layer of material, whereas lined shoes have two layers – sometimes more – stacked on top of one another to create a thicker material layer.

While this might sound like a minor difference, this small difference can have a pretty big impact on how a shoe fits, feels, and performs. Here are a few of the characteristics that are going to differ between each type of shoe.

Lined climbing shoes


One of the most significant impacts of the lined/unlined shoe conundrum you will want to consider is how much the shoes will stretch during, and after, the break-in period. While the use of leather or synthetic upper will undoubtedly play a big role here, regardless of what material a shoe uses, unlined shoes stretch more than a lined shoe would. 

It’s common for unlined leather shoes to stretch up to a whole size – if not more – over the course of their life. While this often allows shoes to create a one-of-a-kind fit that is perfectly shaped to your feet, over time, it will most likely start to become overly stretched and misshape. Although an unlined synthetic shoe will stretch less than its unlined leather counterpart, the fabric will too become worn and misshaped after excessive use. 

Most performance shoes use a combination of leather and synthetic materials to make the most of the mouldable properties of unlined leather, yet minimize stretch in other places to preserve the lifespan and performance of the shoe.

In areas of the shoe where climbers benefit from stretching and creating a modeled fit – like the toe box and insole – manufacturers opt to use leather. In high-pressure areas, like the back of the heel or around the shoe’s closure, a lining can be used to reinforce and reduce unwanted stretch. A manufacturer can choose fully or partially line their shoe to create the desired effect they want to achieve.

DON’T FORGET: A lined or unlined design will have a huge impact on how you should size your climbing shoes, so be sure to keep this in mind when buying your next pair!


Even time you fight your way up a route or boulder problem it takes its toll on your gear and some form of micro-damage is going to occur. Your climbing shoes are no stranger to this abuse, in fact, because they are in constant contact with the wall they are probably the most high-wearing piece of equipment in your kit bag. 

With every smear, edge, or jam your outsole rubber will become slightly more worn. Your material uppers are the same, especially if you plan on doing a lot of crack climbing and foot jamming. The material on the inside and outside of your shoes will wear down and eventually, a hole can appear thanks to the relentless rubbing from the wall. 

When manufacturers want to make their shoes more durable, they will add multiple layers of lined material to reinforce these high-wearing areas on our shoes. This is common practice for shoes that are created for trad big wall adventures and beginner climbers.


Generally speaking, unlined shoes are often made with leather uppers, which make them considerably more breathable than their lined counterparts. Leather’s amazing breathable properties aside, fewer layers of construction contribute to helping regulate your foot temperature, reduce sweating and minimize the odor that your fruity feet let off.


Depending on the model you choose, you may notice a difference in the comfort level between lined and unlined shoes. 

Unlined suede leather has a softer touch on the skin, so is the perfect upper for those with sensitive skin or climbers who prioritize comfort. Plenty of manufacturers recognize leather as superior comfort, which is why some synthetic shoes, like the Five Ten NIAD or Scarpa Instinct line, use a leather insole to create a comfortable personalized underfoot fit. 

While unlined leather has plenty of great benefits, it does have its downsides too. For example, it’s not uncommon for the dye of unlined leather shoes to bleed and stain your feet. 

How can you tell if a climbing shoe is lined or unlined?

A lined or unlined upper can drastically impact the characteristics of a climbing shoe, but how can you identify between each type of shoe? 

If you are in a shoe store, you could just ask a shop assistant, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, you can probably find it out for yourself pretty easily. Grab that shoe in question and shine your torch inside that bad boy. 

Unlined shoes are the easiest to identify. 99% of the time, the upper will be the same color and type of material on the inside as it is on the outside. There will be no additional layers of material on the inside of the shoe. With lined shoes, you will notice layers of material stacked on top of one another, most usually around the toe box, heel cup, or reinforcing the lace or velcro closure. 

If you don’t have the luxury of seeing your shoe in a store, it’s pretty easy to find out if a shore is lined or not. Many online retailers will list if the is lined or unlined in the technical specification section of the shoe page. 

Failing this, be sure to check the climbing shoe manufacturers’ website or our shoe reviews.

Which is right for you? 

So, now you understand what a lined climbing shoe is, how it differs from its unlined counterparts, and how to identify for yourself. 

But which type of shoe is right for you? At the end of the day, finding a climbing shoe that offers you a perfect fit, and has all the features you need for your preferred style of climbing is the most important things to bear in mind.


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