Climbing shoes and comfort aren’t often used in the same sentence. Often we sacrifice comfort and toenails in pursuit of high performance – but the truth is that it’s not often not necessary.
Climbing shoes came in a range of shapes and sizes, suited for specific uses like trad, bouldering or gym use. While there are a huge range of options we cover in many of our other guides – today is all about comfort.
We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – the most comfortable climbing shoes and the ones that are right for you are all about your foot shape.
Why Wear Comfortable Climbing Shoes?
Because climbing is supposed to be fun! Downsizing badly designed shoes for the 80’s is a thing of the past. Really the most important thing to look for when buying a new pair is that they fit your unique foot shape well.
Often people buy a shoe that on paper has all the right features – but won’t fit their specific foot shape. That’s when people either downsize for the right fit, or deal with painful feet for at least the first few months of breaking them in.
Luckily it’s totally possible to get good performance from the most comfortable climbing shoes. A few manufacturers offer great options for many different types of climbing, foot shapes, and styles.
As ever, try a range of shoes and sizes on in store before buying. Try to test them on a climbing wall on small holds, smearing and on volumes. Also support your local climbing shop – they need your help now more than ever.
Most Comfortable Beginner Climbing Shoe
The Finale is an excellent choice for beginners or climbers who are improving in their first year or so of climbing. They perform well while retaining a fairly flat shape that won’t crunch up your foot. The leather will stretch to fit your toes and upper foot well and the laces are there to cinch unlace/tighten depending on the session.
A popular beginner climbing shoe for good reason. They generally fit medium to wide feet best and come in Women’s (low volume) version that’s slightly thinner overall. For sizing we recommend going down a US half size for pure comfort, or a full US size for performance. Expect a few sessions break in but a good usage life from these.
Easily the most comfortable climbing shoes for beginners and most comfortable climbing shoes for wide feet. Will last a while and fit better over time.
Most Comfortable Climbing Shoe For Performance
A favorite of ours, the Katana Lace is a great all-around shoe that blends comfort and performance well. Though it can be used for bouldering and overhangs, it tends to do best on long outdoors routes and small edges. If you climb a lot outdoors or stick to roped climbing indoors this is a beauty.
It’s a medium stiff shoe that supports long rests on small holds but deforms a little to match your foot. Again the leather and laces mean it will fit better over time and can be adjusted for fit. One full US size down is best for comfort with performance. Read our full La Sportiva Katana Lace review.
Most Comfortable Bouldering Shoe
Bouldering shoes – especially for use in bouldering gyms – tend to be softer than typical roped or outdoor route shoes. This is because you’ll tend to do more crunched up moves and need to smear your foot against large volumes or textured walls. The Arpia is a great soft, bouldering shoe that is still comfy.
We’d recommend these as your second pair of climbing shoes if you mainly boulder – especially indoors. They’re light, mold well to a lot of different foot shapes, and perform without huge discomfort. This is due to a well thought out design and clever closure. Much of this is due to having less molded rubber on the toe-box than more high-performance oriented bouldering shoes.
The heel is well designed to cup well and let you heel hook those odd cave problems. The slip on design lets you take breathers between attempts easily. Overall this is a great shoe and definitely the most comfortable bouldering shoe available right now. Downsizing a half size US works best for the Arpia.
Most Comfortable Women’s Climbing Shoe
The Vapor V is a classic and makes the list for our most comfortable Women’s climbing shoes. They are moderately downturned for performance but still retain comfort with a similar build to the Katana Lace though with a velcro closure.
They Vapor V’s perform in a few different situations really well but especially work for vertical or slight overhangs indoors and out. If you mainly boulder consider the Scarpa Arpia or Arpia Women’s for a slightly thinner foot shape.
Stay at the same size as your US street shoe size for comfort.
Common Climbing Shoe Questions Answered
Do You Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes? Yes
How Should Climbing Shoes Fit? Snug, toes slightly curled, the right shape for your foot, no hotspots or immediate pain
What Are The Best Beginner Climbing Shoes? Full article
How Do I Keep Climbing Shoes From Smelling Bad? Buy boot bananas, never put shoes in a bag, let them air out
Do I Need To Wear Climbing Shoes? Basically yes
What Else Makes Climbing Shoes Comfortable?
Unlined leather shoes tend to be more comfortable than lined and rubber-coated climbing shoes. This is because the shoe can freely deform to match your foot shape. A stiffer shoe generally performs better on long climbs and vertical walls whereas softer shoes perform better on overhangs and in modern bouldering with large volumes.
Leather tends to be a little more uncomfortable initially than a synthetic material – but will stretch to match your foot shape better over time. There is always a slight breaking in period with climbing shoes. Most comfortable climbing shoes need work to get to the sweet spot.
How To Break In Climbing Shoes?
You might hear a lot of weird tricks ranging from sleeping in the shoes, wearing them about the house, or having a bath or shower while wearing them. We don’t recommend any of these.
Just wear them for a few good, long sessions. The heat from your feet will do the work and there aren’t really any shortcuts. A few hard sessions over a couple of weeks is normally enough – any more than a month and you might have the wrong shoes.
Top tips: Wear thin ankle socks if there are areas rubbing. Also, don’t walk in your shoes as this will ruin the shape.