Built for beginners, the Defy is a comfortable entry-level shoe with all-around performance.
The next-generation upgrade from Five Ten, the NIAD Lace is a stiff and supportive shoe.
The Katana; the edging master. Built for sending the technical projects in your life.
Thankfully, gone are the days when it was common practice to wear ridiculously small climbing shoes.
This outdated advice came from a time before modern shoe technology and different last shapes were so widespread. Back then, 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 pretty tight so that their clever tensioned systems and sensitivity can work the magic.
When it comes to climbing shoes, it is widely regarded that there is a direct trade off between comfort and performance. Those asymmetric, aggressive shoes are great for working those overhung boulder problems in your life, but no matter how advanced shoe construction becomes, these types of shoes will never feel like a fluffy pair of Ugg boots.
So, comfortable climbing shoes might not help you send your super hard sport projects, but that’s not to say they aren’t useful. In fact, many climbers, both new and experienced, still have a spot in their arsenal for a comfortable pair of climbing shoes.
Comfy climbing shoes are brilliant for gumbie 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. It would probably be enough to put most new climbers off ever coming back.
Even experienced climbers that spend long days on the wall on multi-pitch adventures know the benefits of giving your feet a break and wearing comfortable climbing shoes.
Comfortable shoes almost always 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 that stiffer platform makes it easier to support your body weight when standing on your toes.
IN SHORT: Comfortable shoe models probably won’t help you send your climbing projects. That said, they should remain a part of your shoe collection for the training days at the gym or long, easy multi-pitches.
The Most Comfortable Climbing Shoes
Everyone has different shaped feet. This means a shoe that works for one climber might be another’s nightmare. That said, there are some shoe models that are renowned for their unparalleled comfort.
OUR 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 the center, allowing you to dictate the fit right down to your toes. Tighten them for more challenging climbs and loosen them for the cruisy days.
They smear and edge surprisingly well for a comfortable shoe, and the extra toe rubber added to this next-generation model makes foot jamming easy. Thanks to their board-lasted construction, these shoes 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, The NIAD Lace runs pretty small, so these shoes will work best for narrow-footed climbers. They also have synthetic uppers, so they won’t stretch much, eliminating the need for any significant downsizing.
BEST FOR BOULDERING
The Scarpa Arpia strikes an excellent balance between performance and comfort, thanks to its moderate profile. This makes them a great option for someone needing a little more performance in their life, without completely forsaking comfort. With a soft midsole, these shoes have a sensitive feel and perform well on outdoor boulders and overhangs.
They will not be ideal on cracks or slabs but can be a good choice on granite, sandstone, or limestone boulders. The slightly downturned profile and asymmetric shape contribute to better performance than flat shoes, yet they remain comfortable enough to wear for longer durations.
These characteristics make this a popular indoor climbing shoe for beginners, intermediate, and even experienced boulders.
BEST FOR SPORT CLIMBING
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 remarkable shoes that can do everything, from sticking slabs to helping fight your way up an offwidth crack. The slight downturn also makes them ideal for steeper routes with a more powerful toe box. 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 Caldwells Dawn Wall.
BEST FOR TRAD
La Sportiva Mythos
The comfort of the La Sportiva Mythos is legendary. We know climbers that rarely take them off during long climbing days – even whilst belaying! The soft, unlined leather will stretch over time, which contributes to the comfortable nature of the shoe, although make sure 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 toe-crushing elasticated rands. This ensures the shoe keeps the foot snug and allows for slight fit adjustments.
Their low profile shape makes the Mythos suitable for sticking into cracks and the flexible midsole smear well. Perhaps their biggest downside is that they don’t edge as well as the Katana or other leading La Sportiva models, but are still a great option for all-day trad adventures.
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.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
The Evolv Defy is a beginner to intermediate-level, sensitive shoe that allows you to feel smaller gym holds. The padded tongue, wide toe box, and flat profile make these shoes extremely comfortable for long training sessions at the gym.
In addition, they were designed for beginners but will stand up to slight overhangs. 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 Defys are an excellent choice.
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, that 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 mould 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 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.