Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes
What shoes are right for you?
I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe asymmetry is a new concept to most people, after all, it’s not exactly something you have to think about when buying new sneakers. When we refer to asymmetrical climbing shoes, we are talking about the lack of symmetry in its shape… although I bet you already guessed that part.
THE BREAK DOWN
Imagine you draw a line from the tip of the shoe to the heel. We classify a shoe as having low asymmetry when the big toe is more inline with the heel, allowing your foot to lay relatively flat within the shoe. Climbing shoes are classed as having high asymmetry when the toe box curls inwards, resulting in a curved profile.
This can best be understood by looking at the bottom of the shoes.
FUN FACT: The Five Ten MoccAsym was one of the first climbing to use an asymmetrical last. It was a key element that allowed Five Ten to create a secure fit , without the need for lace or velcro closure.
Symmetrical Vs Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes
Up until the late 80s, climbing shoes were completely symmetrical in shape. This made it possible to wear a shoe on the opposite foot just as comfortably as it would be on the correct foot.
Thankfully today, most climbing shoes have some level of asymmetry.
Why I hear you ask? For starters, our feet aren’t exactly symmetrical. Modern technology has allowed manufactures to create shoes that are better suited to the shape of our feet. A second reason, as Five Ten found out, is that introducing a little asymmetry into the shoe profile creates tension.
As your foot pushes against the rand to lie back in a natural position, the elasticated rubber acts as an imposing force, allowing the shoe to stay tightly gripped around your foot.
Varying the levels of asymmetry in a shoe also allows it to perform better for its intended climbing purpose.
Highly asymmetrical shoes go hand-in-hand with aggressive profiles. The asymmetric curve and aggressive downturn work together to put the tip of the toe box directly over the big toe, putting your foot into a powerful ‘hooked’ position.
Having your feet like this is ideal for practicing precise footwork and ‘pulling’ at pockets, making asymmetrical climbing shoes popular for steep terrain, most often found in sport and bouldering disciplines.
They do have their downsides though, they won’t exactly be the most comfortable shoes you will own, and their shape doesn’t make it easy to adopt the foot positions required for smearing or crack climbing.
SIDE NOTE: Even in low asymmetry climbing shoes, you still want a slight bend in your toes. M0re on how to fit climbing shoes here.
Because your toes aren’t curled into that strong hooked position, these types of shoes often use a stiffer construction (there are exceptions to this) which provides extra support when weighting your toes. These types of climbing shoes are most often used when comfort is a primary consideration for the climber.
Symmetrical climbing shoes are often found on the feet of beginner climbers, or big-wall adventurers, who recognize their benefit as trad climbing shoes. These shoes are good for comfort and standing on small edges, although their stiffer profile usually means that they lack the sensitivity of their asymmetrical counterparts, and will likely struggle on steeper terrain.
Best Symmetrical Climbing Shoes
There’s a wide range of less-symmetrical climbing shoes available. Here is a few of our favorites avilable now.
OUR TOP PICK
Five Ten NIAD VCS
The Five Ten Anasazi VCS, a shoe that has been impressing climbers since the 1990s, received a fresh upgrade for the 2021 season. This shoe was first used by legendary climbers like Chris Sharma, opening up Biographie, the world’s first 5.15a, in a pair of the original Anasazi VCS.
We think the new NIAD VCS is one of the best all-around shoes that packs a surprising punch for a neutral shoe. The addition of the toe patch and an upgraded heel ensure the VCS is more than capable of sending a tricky boulder problem or two. The next-generation NIAD VCS is soft enough to smear, yet still stiff enough to inspire confidence on small edges or quartz crystals, thanks to its super-sticky C4 Rubber and full length midsole.
These shoes aren’t specialized, so they aren’t the master of any one thing. That said, they are the perfect ‘jack of all trades’ that can take you up smears, edges, and foot jams. They are also great as a run-around gym shoe!
FOR TRAD CLIMBING
La Sportiva Mythos
The Mythos has been iconic in the La Sportiva collection for over three decades and represents a perfect compromise between performance and comfort.
Its wrap-around lace creates tension in the shoe without the need for an Achilles-crushing slingshot rand, a design that has become popular for kids climbing shoes. The Vibram XS Grip 2 and semi-stiff midsole create a balance between rigidity and sensitivity, making the Mythos a popular choice for big wall climbers.
Known as one of the most comfortable shoes in the game, the Mythos has been spotted many a time at sport crags worn by a belayer too lazy to take them off after a pitch or a trad climber up a long route.
Scarpa Force V
This padded shoe from the Italian climbing shoe brand Scarpa has been an excellent beginner’s choice for years. The V-tension technology supports the arch and forefoot, while the Vibram XS Edge rubber provides remarkable grip. This shoe edges extremely well, and the semi-flexible midsole makes them suitable for smearing and slab too.
You won’t be climbing challenging overhangs with the Force V, but a beginner boulder just starting or an advanced climber looking for all-day comfort might suit the Force V.
Best Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes
Looking for some of the best asymmetrical climbing shoes? You’re in luck, we have tested plenty of highly asymmetrical climbing shoes! Here are a few of our most loved models.
OUR TOP PICK
La Sportiva Solution
The Solution came into the scene in 2007 and has remained a hot favorite of many hardcore fans, us included. Designed originally as a modern bouldering shoe, the Solutions excel on steep bouldering and sport routes, but also edges exceptionally well and is more than capable of tackling vertical face climbs too.
This aggressively downturned shoe has a pointy toe, perfect for pulling on pockets and delivering laser-like precision. The 3D molded heel cup holds the heel firmly in place during hooks, and the Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber sticks to everything.
They won’t be your go-to for a long multi-pitch but throw these bad boys on for your latest project, and they might just help you send.
BEST FOR OUTDOORS
La Sportiva Miura
A favorite of many professional climbers – including Adam Ondra – this shoe has been at the top of its game for more than two decades. The Miura is a high-performance model with the perfect balance between friction and precision for micro edging. Seriously, these shoes are edging monsters. The Miura comes in male and female variations and is available in both a velcro and lace version.
The Miuras will be suited for intermediate or advanced climbers on overhanging routes, boulders, and technical face climbing. As they have a fairly stiff construction and a downturned profile, they aren’t the most comfortable shoes ever made. They also aren’t ideal for lengthy multi-pitch climbing but will make an excellent choice on single-pitch sport routes and boulder problems.
BEST FOR BUDGETS
The Korean company Butora came into the climbing scene recently in 2014 and quickly became a favorite for wide-footed climbers. The Acro uses Butora’s stickiest rubber compound, the trademark “Neo Fuse” meant for their sport climbing and bouldering shoes.
The wide toe box is shaped to direct power to the big toe, while the aggressive last makes them ideal for pulling on pockets. The very generous amount of rubber on the toe box helps hooks while the high tension rand keeps the heel snug in the cup.
And as a bonus, these shoes come in low and high-volume versions for climbers with wider feet.
Symmetrical or Asymmetrical: Which is right for you?
As with all climbing shoes, the right choice for you will come down to a combination of the terrain, style of climbing and your own personal preference.
In modern climbing, asymmetrical shoes are synonymous with performance. Directing power over your big toe allows for extreme precision, although where these types of shoes really excel is pulling pockets on overhung terrain.
That said, symmetrical shoes should also have a place in any climber’s arsenal. They can also allow for laser-precision footwork, and are good options for crack or slab climbing shoes.
Symmetrical shoes also have the added benefit of all-day comfort, ideal for long climbs. This also makes them suitable for beginners that have yet to progress to a level where precision footwork is necessary on more challenging climbs.