Sick of the crusty hire shoes at your gym? If you’ve just started climbing and have the bug, you’ll want your own shoes sooner rather than later. Climbing Shoes can be very expensive so use our guide to make sure you get the right first pair for you. Read on for our complete guide to buying your first pair or skip ahead to list of Best Budget Beginners Climbing Shoes 2019.
Quick Navigation – Why Beginner Shoes? – Choosing your First Pair – Sizing, Fit, Sensitivity – Stiffness and Downturn / Aggressiveness – Material and Lining – Rubber – Closure
Skip to our Top Picks –
La Sportiva Finale –
Black Diamond Momentum –
Evolv Skyhawk and Nighthawk –
Evolv Defy –
Scarpa Origin –
Mad Rock Drifter –
La Sportiva Tarantulace
Why Get Beginner Climbing Shoes?
Some people would say it’s not worth getting a basic beginner pair of climbing shoes and to go for a mid-range or more aggressive shoe to start working on harder grades faster. We think a good pair of beginner climbing shoes is a much better idea for the following reasons: –
Climbing shoes are meant to be worn very tight. Until you are used to that, you won’t know how tight your shoes can go and how much shoes normally stretch. A common complaint for newer climbers is that your first pair feels super tight for the first few climbs but then a month later they are too loose.
Your feet take time to adjust. If you’ve spent a lot on a great shoe that is then too loose, there isn’t much you can do. If that pair is fairly cheap then it’s not too much of a problem and you can wear socks to pad them out. On the other hand, getting an aggressive shoe that is too tight – as you don’t know what your foot can handle – can be a nightmare.
If you get into climbing big time and move on to more advanced and expensive shoes, you’ll still have a pair of comfy and half-decent rock boots to use on easier climbs or multi-pitches where comfort is important. Having this extra pair you can do some scrambling in – without worrying about wearing through expensive rubber – will be helpful later.
Rubber on climbing shoes wears out fast. It’s made for grip and not for long term use. When you are new to climbing you’ll tend to be imprecise with your feet, scraping them up walls, moving around lots on grippy footholds and wearing off the rubber much faster than usual. Beginner shoes tend to have more rubber on the soles and in key areas like the toe box for this reason. This means the shoes will last much longer and won’t need to be retired or resoled in a few months.
Comfort is really important when you are starting to climb. You can injure your feet and hurt your toes really easily at first, and climbing in cramped shoes makes this much more likely to happen. As you get used to the tightness and know more about your foot shape you’ll know what to look for in the fit of your next shoe.
If you enjoy climbing a couple of times a month in a more social setting, then a cheap and comfy pair of shoes will be much better in the long term. If you find out that climbing isn’t for you at all, you haven’t blown a huge amount or can sell/pass them on to other beginners. Climbing shoes can be really expensive, don’t blow a couple of hundred dollars on something you might end up not using. Especially if that money could be better used on other climbing gear you’ll need.
Climbing shoes can be really expensive, don’t blow a couple of hundred dollars on a pair that won’t fit next week or that you might end up not using at all.
Choosing and Buying Your First Pair
It’s totally possible to get a great pair for under $100 that will last a long time. Having said that, make sure you get the right pair first time. We would always recommend either: –
- Buying a few pairs online from a retailer with a good return policy, so you can try the sizing at home and return ones that don’t fit. Please don’t abuse these policies by returning used gear.
- Support your local climbing store. Stores often have good walls for testing a few pair and gyms now often have stores that allow you a good amount of in-house testing. If you find the pair you like you can often get them price-matched (or a small reduction vs online) and you’ll support your community.
Sizing, Fit and Sensitivity
Fit is the most important thing to take into account when buying shoes. There are many different shapes of feet, length, heel size, flatness/shape, and levels of comfort people are happy with.
Climbing shoe sizing depends on brand, but a good rule of thumb is to go at least half to a full size (Euro size) smaller than your street size. Most outdoor retailers have a sizing guide function. Also, read reviews to check sizing in the longer term as some shoes stretch more than others.
“Volume” means how big your foot is and. Some shoes have a low volume (commonly LV) version or have a men’s and a women’s shoe, with the women’s being the lower volume. This will mean a slimmer shoe with a smaller heel fit. If your feet fit different gender sizes then give them a try.
Sensitivity is how much you feel when climbing based on the thickness and type of materials used. This is up to you and worth thinking about and testing before buying. If your shoes don’t fit and you hate the feel – you won’t enjoy climbing.
Stiffness and Downturn / Aggressiveness
Most of the shoes we’d recommend here will have a fairly flat profile – not aggressive. This means the toe won’t be downturned much if at all. Some downturn is common on mid-level shoes and tends to be better for harder sport routes at the price of comfort. Very aggressive or down-turned shoes perform well on overhanging routes where hooking a toe or heel is helpful.
Shoes can have a stiff sole or body that means when you put pressure on a hold, the shoe stays rigid. This can help when putting pressure on to a toe hold on overhanging routes to get more leverage, or when edging on slabby routes so you’ll use less calf strength. Softer mid-soles are better if you prefer smearing the toe box on walls while keep your heel high. Soles could be one long piece that are stiffer, or two pieces that connect, or two seperate pieces for a good flex in the middle
At the beginner level you’ll probably want a good all-rounder
Material and Lining
The material of these shoes varies. Leather and natural materials on the upper will stretch a fair amount, often a half to a full size. Synthetic material stretches less but tends to absord sweat smells more. Some shoes use a more modern synthetic “knit” that is very breathable and fairly stretchy, though doesn’t stretch much in the long term. If the shoe is lined, that means the shoe has an extra layer within in to try and keep the shape the same and stop the shoe stretching as much.
Harder rubbers work better on small edges and softer rubber works better for smearing. The harder the rubber the longer it will last. We’d also recommend a slightly thicker than normal rubber for beginner shoes for a longer last. You’ll want something in between the two for now, and all of our recommendations fit this bill.
Closure – Straps, Laces, Slippers, Gaffer Tape…
How the shoe closes is totally up to your preference. Lace-ups generally give the best fit as they allow you to custom fit for snugness and adjust as your feet swell throughout a session or in hotter climates. Velcro straps can give a good fit if they are positioned well, and you can get them super tight for a hard problem and have them off in a second. Some shoes are “slipper” style in that they just slip on with a stretchy opening without any way of fastening – though we don’t have any in our recommendations here.
Best Budget Beginners Climbing Shoes 2019
La Sportiva Finale – Most Expensive, Great Performance
La Sportiva have a great lace-up offering here that fits snugly and perform equally well on edges and smearing. A leather upper with a comfy breathable tongue. A good all rounder for slab and overhangs with a thick 5mm rubber that will last well and perform great.
Available in Men’s and Women’s with the latter being a narrower fit with a smaller heel size.
Price: $109 at Backcountry – $109 at Moosejaw – $109 at Mountain Gear – From $99 at Amazon – £93.56 at EpicTV
Black Diamond Momentum – Brand New
BD are a trusted brand in climbing but new to the shoe market. With the Momentum they are off to a great start at a competitive price. With a “knit” style upper commonly seen on modern street trainers like Adidas these shoe are breathable and comfy. However – with this they will stretch a fair amount on top and are worth getting in a smaller size than is immediately comfortable.
Again available in Men’s and Women’s, as well as a laced version and a single velcro strap kid’s version.
Price: From $89.95 at Backcountry – From $89.95 at REI – From $89.95 at Moosejaw – From $89.95 at Mountain Gear – From $89.95 direct from Black Diamond – From $80 at Amazon – From £68.44 at EpicTV
Evolv Skyhawk and Nighthawk – Versions for Bigger and Smaller Feet
These two are essentially the same shoe with all the same features, the Skyhawk is the “lower volume” shoe that would fit slimmer shoes – traditionally the women’s version. Laceups with 4.2mm rubber and a leather upper for comfort. The split tongue is made of an anti-microbial material to combat smells. A flat profile with good stiffness for support.
Prices: $78.95 at Backcountry – Nighthawk $79 at REI – Skyhawk $78.95 at Moosejaw – Nighthawk $78.95 at Amazon
Evolv Defy – Classic Beginner Pick
Similar to the Skyhawk and Nighthawk above with a flat profile and comfy fit with similar rubber. For a long time, the Defy was one of the top picks for a beginner’s first shoe. Cheap, comfortable, and decent performance from a good brand. This comes with a synthetic upper and two opposed straps for easy foot relief.
Price: $88.95 at Backcountry – $88.95 at Moosejaw – $88.95 at Mountain Gear – From £30 at Amazon – £66 at Epic TV
Scarpa Origin – Great Performance for the Price
An award winning and very well reviewed shoe from a great shoe maker. The 5mm vision rubber will last a good while. Comfort was designed in mind with this shoe, and the leather upper and dual straps will allow for a good fit.
Price: $94.95 at Backcountry – $95 at REI – $94.95 at Moosejaw – $95 at Mountain Gear – From $88.95 at Amazon – From £64.67 at Epic TV
Mad Rock Drifter – Best on a Budget
Mad Rock gets big points here for a shoe that can be found for as little as $60 but offers good performance and comfort. Another flat profile shoe with all-rounder rubber that sticks but will last. Reviews mostly praise the shoe for being a good starter that does exactly what it says on the (very well priced) tin.
La Sportiva Tarantulace – Best for Comfort
The Tarantulace are commonly found in gyms as their hire shoe for one reason – comfort. These synthetic lace up rock boots will fit many foot shapes comfortably and give decent performance from a big brand. Available in both men’s and women’s, plus a newer velcro style called the Tarantula in men’s or women’s too.
Price: From $60 at Backcountry – From $63.73 at REI – From $63.99 at Moosejaw – From $63.97 at Mountain Gear – From $59.99 at Amazon – From £66.56 at Epic TV
So there is our exhaustive guide to the Best Budget Beginner Shoes of 2019 so far. If you want to jump straight in to some more advanced shoes, we have a really in depth article on what shoes professional climbers like Adam Ondra, Alex Honnold, and Tommy Caldwell wear. If you are thinking about going outside bouldering for the first time, we’ve got an in-depth article on choosing your first bouldering mat, and a list of our top choices for a good, cheap beginners climbing crash pad too.