Last updated on April 7th, 2023 at 10:25 am
Thankfully, gone are the days when it was common practice to wear ridiculously small climbing shoes.
This outdated advice stems from a time before modern shoe technology and a wide variety of last shapes were so widespread. Pre 2000’s, climbers had no other option than to cram their feet into small shoes to minimize dead spots and maximize the performance of their poorly fitting climbing kicks.
Even with all the amazing technology available today, climbing shoes still aren’t exactly the most comfortable choice of footwear. Performance shoes, especially the softer ones, still need to be fitted pretty tight so that their clever rand systems can work their magic.
When it comes to climbing shoes, it is widely regarded that there is a direct trade-off between comfort and performance. Asymmetric, aggressive shoes are great for working those overhung boulder projects, but no matter how advanced shoe construction becomes, these shoes are never going to feel like a fluffy pair of Ugg boots.
Many of the most comfortable climbing shoes probably won’t help you send your hard overhanging projects but that’s not to say they shouldn’t have a place in your shoe collection. In fact, many climbers, both beginners, and veterans alike, still have a spot in their kit bag for a pair of comfortable shoes.
All-day comfort climbing shoes are brilliant for new climbers and beginner boulderers who are new to the sport. Squeezing your feet into an aggressively-downturned shoe on your first trip to the climbing gym isn’t exactly most people’s idea of fun. In fact, it would probably be enough to put most first-time climbers from ever coming back. Experienced climbers that spend long days on the wall on multi-pitch adventures already undoubtedly recognize the benefits of giving your feet a break from hyper-aggressive climbing shoes too.
Most comfortable climbing shoes have a flat profile that goes hand-in-hand with a stiffer construction style. This design allows your toes to lie in a natural resting position, while the stiffer platform helps support your body weight when standing on your toes, putting less strain on your feet.
IN SHORT: Comfortable shoe models probably won’t help you send your climbing projects but they should remain a part of your shoe collection for technical vertical climbs or long, multi-pitch climbing.
THE TOP THREE
The Most Comfortable Climbing Shoes
Below I will share with you some shoe climbing shoes that are renowned for their unparalleled comfort. As everyone has differently shaped feet, it’s important to remember that a shoe that works for one climber might be another’s nightmare, so take my suggestions with a pinch of salt.
That said, here are some of the most comfortable climbing shoes available in 2023 I think you should take a look at.
MY TOP PICK
Five Ten NIAD Lace
The Five Ten NIAD Lace, the next-generation version of the legendary “Pinks”, is a flat, low-asymmetrical shoe, with laces that extend far down your forefoot, allowing you to control the fit right down to your toes. Tighten them for the more challenging routes or loosen them for those cruisy days on the rock.
They smear and edge surprisingly well for a shoe that sits on the stiffer side of the spectrum, and the extra toe rubber added to this next-generation model makes foot jamming and hooking easy.
The new additions to this next-gen model allow the shoes to work well on crack, slab, and vertical routes, as well as being comfortable enough to be worn on those long climbing days.
When it comes to fit, I find the NIAD Lace to be pretty narrow, so these shoes will be best suited to narrow-footed climbers. They also have synthetic uppers, so they won’t stretch much, eliminating the need for any significant downsizing when buying them. I suggest trying these in your street size, or half a size down, and see how that feels.
BEST FOR BOULDERING
If you are looking for a comfortable indoor climbing shoe, then this might just be the perfect shoe. Not only is the Veloce Scarpa’s first indoor-specific climbing shoe, but it’s also unbelievably comfortable.
While the shoe is billed as a beginner indoor shoe, the Veloce takes a very different approach from almost every other beginner shoe – it’s ridiculously soft and sensitive – offering unrivaled underfoot feedback. The Veloce is arguably the closest you can get to climbing barefoot without ditching your shoes altogether. These properties have made the Veloce popular as a training/run-around shoe for intermediate and advanced climbers.
The soft construction is just one of the many reasons why the Veloce is quite possibly one of the most comfortable climbing shoes ever made. One of the most unique features of the Veloce is its toe box shape, which Scarpa has dubbed as a ‘relaxed performance fit’. This basically means that they have added extra space around your smaller toes, to stop that familiar cramming season synonyms with climbing shoes.
All in all, I am a huge fan of the Veloce. I love the amazing sensitivity, sticky S-72 rubber, and crazy comfort levels.
If you want to learn all about the other features that have made the Veloce a crazy comfortable shoe, then I suggest you read my full Veloce review.
BEST FOR SPORT
Looking for a shoe that can do it all? Although the Oasi was designed with steep climbing in mind, this wonder shoe can handle anything you throw at it. Whether you are looking for a shoe that can edge on a dime, have you swinging through your steep boulder project, or smearing up a gym volume, the Oasi is the ultimate “quiver of one” climbing shoe.
The Oasi isn’t just hugely versatile, it’s also ridiculously comfortable for a high-performance climbing shoe. While it looks like a relatively simple construction, there’s a lot of clever tech packed into the Oasi that makes it one of the most comfortable performance shoes on the market. The Tenaya design team went back to the drawing board and spent 2 years designing this shoe. They played every trick in the biomechanic book to design a shoe that adapts to the user’s foot, as well as the climbing terrain.
Its clever design is also paired with a highly customizable DRAXTOR closure system, allowing you to fine-tune the fit for your foot shape and a soft cotton lining for a pleasant underfoot feel.
The result is a shoe that is consistently praised for its highly comfortable properties by both amateur and pro climbers alike.
With an impressive resume of ascents, like Ethan Pringle’s Jumbo Love ascent and Alex Mego’s 9a onsight, you know this is a shoe that means business.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
La Sportiva Zenit
The Zenit is designed for new climbers experimenting with a mixture of sport climbing and bouldering in the gym. The shoe feels at home in the gym, especially on the more vertical walls, although it has all the tools needed to help work those technical crag routes too.
What makes the La Sportiva Zenit highly comfortable is its MicroKnit uppers. This not only keeps the shoe extremely breathable but also allows the upper material to actively adapt to the shape of your feet. The knit uppers can’t take all the credit for the superior comfort here though. The neutral last keeps your foot in a natural flat position, which offers great comfort for those longer gym sessions, and the leather insole insert is designed to mold to the shape to your foot.
While the Zenit certainly sits firmly within the beginner climbing shoe category, it’s still capable of helping you climb hard. Sure, it’s not exactly the most sensitive or flexible shoe out there, thanks to its 1.8mm midsole, but this pays dividends when it comes to technical footwork. The Vibram XS Grip 4mm outsole also helps keep the shoe rigid, although the rubber compound offers plenty of friction on both plastic and rock.
BEST FOR TECHNICAL
La Sportiva Katana
The laced version of the popular all-rounder, the La Sportiva Katana allows for more control over the fit than its velcro counterpart.
Downsize for increased performance or wear loose for those leisurely routes. These shoes edge exceptionally well, thanks to their stiff midsole and Vibram XS Edge rubber. This makes the Katana particularly well suited to outdoor vertical or slightly overhung sport routes
The Katanas are a pretty specialist shoe, best suited to technical footwork sequences on microscopic holds. The slight downturn also makes them good for steeper routes, although you won’t be doing many roof climbs in these. That said, for a performance shoe, they are surprisingly comfortable and will stand up to several pitches of use.
FUN FACT: The Katanas are one of Adam Ondra’s favorite climbing shoes that he used to top out that legendary repeat of Tommy Caldwell’s Dawn Wall.
BEST FOR BUDGETS
The Evolv Defy is one of the most popular entry-level climbing shoes ever made. Billed as a beginner to intermediate-level shoe, the Defy is a budget-friendly shoe that has all the tools you need to find your feet in the vertical world.
The padded tongue, wide toe box, and flat profile make these shoes extremely comfortable for long sessions at the gym or crag. Sure, the Defy lacks the performance of other shoes on this list, but don’t be too quick to write them off.
My personal favorite feature of the shoe is that it uses Evolv’s Trax SAS rubber. I think this is one of the best rubber compounds right now, offering buckets of friction on plastic and gym walls. This, paired with the 1.4mm full-length midsole offers plenty of support to new climbers.
If you are a beginner climber looking for an affordable entry-level shoe to beat up, or an advanced climber looking for training day shoes for the gym, the Defy is a tried and tested choice.
BEST FOR TRAD
LA Sportiva Mythos
The comfort of the La Sportiva Mythos is the stuff of legends. I know climbers that rarely take them off during long climbing days – even whilst belaying!
The soft, unlined leather will stretch and model to the shape of your foot, which contributes to the comfortable nature of the shoe, although ensure to downsize them to allow for this stretch.
The unique lacing system is another reason why the Mythos is so damn comfortable. Its clever design maintains tension throughout the shoe, without the use of a foot-crushing slingshot rand. This ensures the shoe keeps the foot snug and allows for fit adjustments too.
Their low profile shape makes the Mythos suitable for sticking into cracks and the flexible midsole smears pretty well. Perhaps their biggest downside is that they don’t edge as well as the Katana or other performance La Sportiva models. That said, they are still a great option for all-day trad adventures when comfort supersedes performance.
If you need a stiff shoe with more support, the Mythos might not be for you, but if you are looking for an extremely comfortable shoe and can sacrifice some performance, the Mythos is perfect.
What Makes A Comfortable Climbing Shoe?
Shoes with neutral profiles or just even just moderately downturned will feel the most comfortable right out of the box. A neutral profile doesn’t direct as much pressure onto the tip of the shoe, unlike an aggressive climbing shoe, which forces your toes into an unnatural position for increased power.
The most comfortable climbing shoe for you will be built on a “last” with the same shape as your foot. A shoe last is the 3D mold that it is made around. This determines everything about the shoe’s shape, including width, profile, and symmetry.
When looking for a comfortable pair of climbing shoes, you will also want to consider the shape of your toes. Most climbing shoes tend to favor the Egyptian foot shape, so if you have Greek or Roman feet, shoe shopping might be just a bit trickier.
Most climbing shoes will have to be broken in to conform to the shape of your feet. Leather uppers will stretch significantly more than synthetics, with some manufacturers claiming their synthetic shoes will have no stretch whatsoever, so size them right.
Ready For Your New Shoes?
Any climber knows how tricky finding a balance between performance and comfort is. Beginners just starting will love comfortable climbing shoes, while more demanding climbers who are used to cramming their poor feet into painfully-downturned talons will apricate the added comfort on more leisurely days.
Whatever your experience level, a comfortable pair of climbing shoes should be part of everyone’s arsenal.