Choosing the best bouldering shoes is an essential part of having the best experience possible while climbing. The main elements to consider picking the best climbing shoes for bouldering include:
Bouldering shoe type:
The levels of shoes include aggressive, moderate, and neutral. all of which are specific to your climbing style, and the difficulty of the surfaces you are attempting to boulder.
Bouldering Shoe Features:
Features including linings, straps, rubber, and laces all have an effect on the shoe’s performance.
Bouldering Shoe Fit:
The shoes should fit fairly snug around your feet, not to the point of being too uncomfortable; however, they should feel tighter than other types of footwear. Climbing shoes fit differently than regular shoes, or any other shoes for that matter, so getting the right size and the right type of shoe is particularly important to ensuring you have the best climbing experience.
Are Climbing Shoes and Bouldering Shoes the Same?
Essentially, yes, climbing shoes and bouldering shoes are the same.
As bouldering is a form of climbing the shoes needed will be referred to as climbing shoes, however for the type of shoe you choose will be different for rock climbing that for bouldering.
Bouldering Shoe Type
Neutral Profile Climbing Shoes:
A neutral profile bouldering shoe is the most comfortable option, and the best bouldering shoes for beginners. Your toes remain flat and parallel with your feet, giving them a relaxed feel and fit.
Experienced climbers may also want a pair of neutral shoes for longer, all day climbs or more casual climbs, as the thicker insoles make it easier not only for sustaining longer climbs, but also for walking around different areas.
Comfortable, all day fit
Best first step towards transitioning into climbing shoes
Feature medium to stiff mid-soles and thicker rubber soles for good support
Flatter profile makes them better at slotting into cracks
The thicker, stiffer soles offer less sensitivity than thinner soles on the more advanced shoes
The more relaxed fit does not perform as well with more difficult overhanging routes
Moderate Profile Climbing Shoes:
Moderate profile climbing shoes have a more pronounced arc and more asymmetry to their shape.
The down-turned arc (a.k.a camber) makes them better for technical climbing than the neutral profile climbing shoe.
This shaping allows you to balance easier on thin holds, using just your toes, which makes these shoes excellent for: longer multi-pitch climbs, slightly overhung cliffs, and generally mid-level climbs as the name would suggest.
The insoles are thinner which gives them better sensitivity and agility for foot holds, and is a step towards preparing you for the most aggressive and least comfortable shoes.
- More aggressive camber than the neutral shoes allows for a better, more powerful position when attempting more challenging routes
- The thinner insole creates a more sensitive feel
- Stickier rubber helps in more complex climbs
- Increased comfort over more aggressive shoes
- More aggressive lines and techniques such as slabbing become more difficult
- Not as comfortable as neutral shoes
- Sticker rubber and thinner insoles will wear out faster than those on the neutral shoes
Aggressive Profile Climbing Shoes:
As you are starting to become more experienced with climbing and bouldering, your feet will become more conditioned to the strenuous activity and start developing more muscle.
After this begins to happen, purchasing the more aggressive profile shoes will become more viable, as they are the most uncomfortable out of all the options and have the thinnest insoles.
These bouldering shoes also have the most aggressive downturn camber and a lot of heel tension, increasing the ability for precise placements and small holds.
- Sharp down-turned camber helps your feet to grip rocks and surfaces at difficult angles
- Sticker rubber and thinner insoles allow for increased sensitivity and flex to grip surfaces easier
- Less comfortable
- Downturn shape can make it more awkward to fit into cracks
- Wear down faster than neutral profile shoes
Type of Closures for Bouldering Shoes
The most versatile and customizable style. You can loosen laces on your bouldering shoes when you’re not climbing and want increased comfort and crank them down for when you need the shoes to be more responsive and improve performance.
This hook and loop system is an excellent choice for those wanting to slip off their climbing shoes between different boulder problems.
The slip on climbing shoes elastic closure system offers the lowest profile and the best sensitivity on any shoe. They will help strengthen your feet faster as they don't contain a stiff sole or mid-sole.
Climbing Shoe Materials
Shoe uppers on climbing shoes are designated as leather or synthetic. Leather climbing shoes are lower maintenance, while synthetic climbing shoes may be cheaper and fit the vegan ideology.
The most important thing to keep in mind when sizing an unlined leather bouldering shoe is their ability to stretch, so you must take this into account when sizing them. Your toes should barely touch the end of the shoe, and your toe knuckles should be pushing upwards against the leather.
Lined leather can only stretch up to half a size, less in some cases. It’s important to keep this in mind while sizing your shoes for bouldering.
Synthetic shoes have very little stretch in them, unlike unlined leather. Make sure the shoes that you are trying on are comfortable as they are.
Climbing Shoe Last
The Climbing Shoe Last is the foot shaped model used to create the inner shape of the shoe. Most climbing shoes are slip-lasted, while a few are board-lasted.
Slip-lasted climbing shoes are less stiff and more sensitive than board-lasted shoes. This makes them favor a more aggressive climbing style. They do not have an insole, but their midsole is stiffer which makes up for the lack of insole.
Board lasted are on the other end of the scale, sacrificing sensitivity for a stiffer, more comfortable shoe, although the loss in sensitivity and flex can make aggressive climbs more difficult.
Climbing Shoe Outsole
The outsole is the outer rubber part of the bouldering shoe that touches the rock while you’re climbing. Elements of the outsole such as the stiffness and thickness have a great effect on the climbing performance.
Outsole Stiffness for Bouldering Shoes
The stiffness or stickiness of the rubber that you use will affect your bouldering performance based your type of climbing.
Softer and stickier rubbers will give you a better grip, but will also wear out quicker. Firmer rubbers on the other hand, will provide superior edging ability and foot support.
Thickness of the Outsole for Bouldering Shoes
The thicker the outsole, the better support for edging you will have, although your sensitivity will be decreased. The thinner your outsole, the better your ability to slab will be, and your sensitivity will be increased.
Best Climbing Shoes for Bouldering
Basically, it all comes down to the type of bouldering you plan on doing.
When just starting out, gyms will often have shoes you can rent or borrow there, and if you do a solid climb for your first day, you may have a better idea of what type of climber you want to be.
Choosing the best bouldering shoes for you will change as you progress in your climbing.