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Symmetrical Vs Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes

Updated By Sam on 10th Nov 2023

Here, I cover everything you will possibly need to know about symmetrical Vs asymmetrical climbing shoes. Who created asymmetrical shoes, what advantages do they offer? And when should you use them? Let’s find out!

I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe asymmetry is a new concept to you, it’s not exactly something you have to think about when buying new sneakers. But we aren’t talking about Air Jordans, we’re talking about something even better, climbing shoes!

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 in line with the heel, allowing your foot to stay straight within the shoe. Climbing shoes are classed as having high asymmetry when the toe box curls inwards, resulting in a curved point that ends at your big toe. Assessing how asymmetrical a shoe is can be best seen by looking at the bottom shoes.

Climbing Shoe Asymmetry

Here’s a fun fact for you; The Five Ten Moccasym was the first climbing shoe to use an asymmetrical shape, hence the name. It was a key element that allowed Five Ten to create a secure fit on its revolutionary slipper shoe, without the need for lace or velcro closure.

Why does symmetry matter?

Up until the late 80s, climbing shoes were completely symmetrical in shape. They were so symmetrical, that it was possible to wear a shoe comfortably on the opposite foot (although, comfort is a relive term in climbing, especially back then).

1908s Symmetrical Climbing Shoes
The symmetrical high-top boot, the classic 20th-century climbing shoe

So why the change? Well, for starters, our feet aren’t exactly symmetrical to begin with, and modern technology has allowed shoe manufacturers to build shoes that are better suited to the shape of our feet. Just as importantly, as Five Ten found out with the original Mocc, introducing a little asymmetry into the shoe profile will increase power, precision, and tension.

Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes

The reason why all modern climbing shoes have some degree of asymmetry is because it increases the precision and power you can generate from your feet. An asymmetrical shape can do this in a few different ways.

The Pros

Concentrating the focal point of the shoe between your second and big toe, allows you to exert force over your strongest toes, allowing you to exert maximum pushing power into even the smallest of edges. This is especially helpful when it comes to using the inside edge or tip of the toe box, as well as pulling pockets on steep terrain.

An asymmetrical shape also helps create tension within the shoe, which is why highly asymmetrical shapes go hand-in-hand with aggressively downturned shoes. As your foot pushes against the rand in an attempt to return to its natural shape, the elasticated rubber acts as an imposing force, allowing the shoe to stay tightly gripped around your foot. This elasticated tension offers extra support, allowing you to generate more power from your toes.

When an asymmetric shape is paired with a downturned camber, it puts your foot into a powerful ‘hooked’ position, allowing for laser precision over your big toe. 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.

The Cons

They do have their downsides though, they won’t exactly be the most comfortable shoes you will own. The exaggerated curve is an unnatural shape and can be a little weird for beginner climbers to get used to. It’s not exactly ideal for your foot health either, so you wouldn’t want to spend too long standing around in these types of shoes.

While an asymmetrical-shaped shoe is brilliant for increased edging power and precision, it can hinder other types of footwork. The curved shape doesn’t make it easy to adopt the foot positions required for smearing or crack climbing.

The Best Asymmetrical Shoes

There are plenty of brilliant asymmetrical climbing shoes to choose from right now. If you want the full selection, then I suggest you head over to our shoe library and take a browse. That said, if you want a couple of quick suggestions, here are a few asymmetrical climbing shoes that are rocking our world right now.

My Top Pick

La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution Review

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 Solution excels on steep bouldering and sport routes, but also edges exceptionally well and is more than capable of tackling vertical face climbs too.

La Sportiva Solution Toe

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 Budgets

Butora Acro

Butora Acro Review

The Korean company Butora came into the climbing scene 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.  As a bonus, these shoes come in low and high-volume versions for climbers with wider feet.

Symmetrical Climbing Shoes

Why completely symmetrical shoes are thankfully a thing of the past, modern shoes come in a wide spectrum of asymmetrical shapes. More symmetrical climbing shoes tend to be built on neutral and moderate lasts. These shoes allow your foot to lie in a more natural, flatter, position, instead of tightly curled in the toe box.

While these types of shoes are certainly more comfortable by nature, always be sure to remember the golden rule of climbing shoes. Even with low-symmetry climbing shoes, you still want a slight bend in your toes. For more on how to fit climbing shoes, check out our full article linked here.

The Pros

Because your toes aren’t curled into that super-strong hooked position like they are with highly downturned shoes, these types of shoes are often paired with a stiffer sole (there are exceptions to this) which provides extra support when weighing your toes. These types of climbing shoes are most often used when comfort is a primary consideration for the climber, or long climbing days when a little extra under-foot support is always appreciated. A flat shoe will also allow for more surface area contact with a flat wall, usually allowing for greater smearing ability.

The Cons

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

Again, there’s a wide range of less-symmetrical climbing shoes available. Here are a few of our favorites right now.

My Top Pick

Five Ten NIAD VCS

Five Ten NIAD VCS Review

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 Comfort

La Sportiva Mythos

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.

For Beginners

Scarpa Force V

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 a remarkable grip. This shoe edges extremely well, and the semi-flexible midsole makes it suitable for smearing and slab too. 

You won’t be climbing challenging overhangs with the Force V, but a beginner boulderer just starting or an advanced climber looking for all-day comfort might suit the Force V.

Symmetrical Or Asymmetrical: Which Is Right For You?

Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes

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, highly 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 who have yet to progress to a level where precision footwork is necessary on more challenging climbs. 

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