Slab climbing is a love it or hate it thing. Either you love the delicate balancing act of moving over tiny holds with complete concentration. Or you hate the fact you could slip off without warning and go for a face-first slide down a sandpaper wall.
Even if you'd prefer not to climb on slab it's hard to avoid at the lower end of the grades. Learning to climb on slab will teach you a lot about balance and footwork and it's absolutely worth working on your weaknesses either way. There is even a 9a slab climb out there for the dedicated.
If you're thinking of doing some of the Yosemite classics like the Freeblast slabs that Alex Honnold bailed on in Free Solo then you'll probably need some dedicated slab climbing shoes. There are also huge slab climbs like the Flatirons that are basically all slab, all the way.
What Type Of Climbing Shoes Work Best For Slab?
It depends on the rock type. If you are climbing the granite of Yosemite or other hard, slick rocks like Limestone, the footholds are more likely to be small edges. Think tiny pebbles, little crystals of quartz or thin horizontal cracks. For these you'll want a stiffer and more supportive shoe with a harder rubber. This allows you to places a sharp toe edge on a tiny
If the rock is softer and more grained - like the Sandstone of Las Vegas or the Gritstone of the North in the UK - you'll be doing a lot more smearing. Smearing works best with more rubber contact against the rock and relies on distributed friction. Here you'll find a soft shoe with good flex in the toes and a soft rubber will help with contact and "sticking" to the rock.
Simply put - For climbing slab on hard rock you want stiffer shoes with harder rubber, for slab climbing on soft rock you want softer shoes and rubber.
What's The Best Temperature For Slab Climbing?
Conditions really do matter and again it depends on the type of rock as to what slab climbing shoes would perform best. At low temperature rubber is more compacted and hard whereas at higher temperature rubber gets softer and more malleable. In general, colder temperatures make for better friction and for better skin grip with less sweat. Think of the Dawn Wall where Tommy and Kevin climbed in the crisp, cold of the night in head torches.
In hotter climates and seasons generally the friction gets worse, more due to the humidity. However there are cases where smearing on soft rock works better on hotter days with a decent breeze and low humidity. Higher temps means the rubber is a little softer and can make more contact when smearing on slab, but low humidity and some wind means less sweaty hands and wet rock.
Best Slab Climbing Shoes - Sizing & Fitting
One last thing before we recommend our faves. If you are planning to climbs lots of smeary slabs where you'll need a good bit of contact with the bottom of your shoe - think about sizing up. If you are used to downsizing your climbing shoes for a tight fit for sport climbing then maybe have a rethink. Getting a half size or so up from your normal tight fit give your foot a bit more room to flex and smear properly.
Best Climbing Shoes For Smearing On Soft Rock Slabs
The Mythos are soft, flexible and comfy shoes that excel at smearing on insecure slabs. The unlined all leather design stretches and conforms to your foot shape brilliantly over time. Being able to really flex the front of the foot and keep contact with the rock as your move is perfect for smearing as well as jamming into cracks.
If you live near or are traveling to areas with lots of soft sandstone like Indian Creek then think of getting a pair of these for your quiver. Where cracks and smearing are key these perform well and give all day comfort. These are maybe the best smearing climbing shoes for that flexibility and softness but will stretch a couple of sizes in time.
Also consider the Five Ten MoccAsym's below for a similar shoe in a slip on.
Best Slab Climbing Shoes For Hard Rock Edging
The TC Pros are the best climbing shoes for climbing slab on Yosemite granite. In fact they are basically the official climbing shoes of El Capitan, having been designed by Tommy Caldwell for the Dawn Wall and used by Alex Honnold to climb the "Freerider" free solo style.
Where they work best are on slab and face climbs where the only footholds are tiny edges and quartz crystals poking out. When edging on credit card thick holds the stiffness, slight downturn, and XS Edge rubber will all keep you stuck to the wall.
If you are planning on climb big walls or long multi pitches on slab where edging is key then we recommend the TC Pro's. However, they are very specialized and expensive. If you aren't going to get good use out of them consider something a bit more versatile like the Katana Laces below.
Best Climbing Shoes For Slab - All Rounders
The Katana Lace are a brilliant all round shoe that tend toward being better on edges outdoors. These really are one of the best climbing shoes for slab on hard rock types but here's a little tip. If you don't downsize these aggressively and leave a little wiggle room, they are soft enough that they can smear pretty well.
The Katana Lace's do have a slight downturn for edging and small footholds but they are medium stiff and flex well at the mid foot. Being leather as well it means that if you press the front of your sole onto the wall you'll be able to smear pretty well. If you can only afford one shoe and want to do a variety of outdoor climbing - including slab climbing - these could be the shoes for you.
Read our full La Sportiva Katana Lace Review
Best Climbing Shoes For Slab - Smearing Slip Ons
Another classic slab climbing shoe that has proven it's worth smearing and jamming into cracks over the years. The MoccAsym is a flat, soft shoe that is constructed in an unlined leather. One advantage these may have over the Mythos the Five Ten Stealth C4 rubber that is consistently ranked as the stickiest climbing rubber on the market.
They're really suited to crack and slab climbing but won't do as well on overhangs or harder sport climbs. Still, definitely a contender for best climbing shoes for smearing ever made. These come in at a pretty good price point and are always a comfortable option for training or longer outdoor days.
The shoes also comes in a white synthetic version that will stretch less over time. If you aren't a fan of the build of the new Five Ten's after they got bought out by Adidas there are options. Evolv do a great soft slip called the Rave that are definitely inspired by the Mocca's.