three pairs of climbing shoes five ten la sportiva side view

Guide to the Best Bouldering Shoes for every Boulderer

Bouldering is a passion of ours that has grown over the years. The world of bouldering pushes one to your limits in ways you never thought possible. One of the most important basic climbing gear you need to reach those new heights is a quality pair of bouldering shoes. 

While you may think any cheap bouldering shoes at Decathlon will do, that’s actually not the case. We’ve discovered firsthand just how much of a difference different types of pairs make when climbing those varying routes

In this complete guide to buying bouldering shoes, we’ll tell you everything you as a boulderer need to know to find a pair that fits you. 

three pairs of climbing shoes five ten la sportiva side view

Variations of Bouldering Shoes

When we think about bouldering, we often picture the bold dyno moves, the big falls and overhangs, and the thrill of completing a very technical route. What we don’t often think enough of is how the form of the shoes affect the precision of the moves. Those smears, edging, transitions and edging.

So why are these shoe features so essential to our climbing experience? Here are the top ways they benefit climbers.

Tackling Varied Surfaces

From smooth concrete indoor climbing walls to the craggy, limestone or granite surfaces of outdoor boulders, every surface demands a specific type of climb. 

Not every type of climbing shoe can provide the traction we need. Some bouldering shoes are meticulously designed with specialized sticky rubber that not only provides an enhanced grip but also offers the friction needed to smear or stick to even the tiniest of footholds. Popular brands like La Sportiva or Five Ten uses renowned, patented type of rubber called Vibram.

Sensitivity Needs

When we’re up there on the wall, feeling the rock or hold beneath our feet is crucial. It’s almost like having an extra set of eyes on the soles of our feet. 

Bouldering shoes are crafted to be snug and offer a tight fit, which magnifies the sensation from our feet to our brains. They also have a toe segment that offers greater sensitivity in your feet while climbing. This heightened sensitivity allows us to make micro-adjustments, ensuring our feet are in the best position to push us upwards.

Added Performance

As you progress in our bouldering journey, the routes and problems you encounter often become more complex. Precise foot placements, toe-hooks, heel-hooks, and edging techniques become essential. 

Bouldering shoes, with their unique bend or curved sole design – be it aggressive, moderate, or neutral – support these advanced moves, letting you tackle more challenging problems with confidence.

Feet Protection

Protection is another essential aspect of bouldering shoes. The snug fit of bouldering shoes also ensures that our feet are secure and supported from the inside, reducing the risk of strains or sprains.

Types of Bouldering Shoes

There are so many different aspects when it comes to bouldering shoes that it can sometimes feel a bit like deciphering a foreign language. Luckily, it’s easy to get the hang of the lingo with a bit of practice. 

The first thing you should know about is the three different types of bouldering shoes based on downturn: neutral, moderate, and aggressive. 

Neutral Shoes

First up is neutral shoes. These shoes have a flat profile, which means your feet will be in a relaxed and natural position, perfect for those who are new to bouldering. 

They’re generally more comfortable for extended periods, making them a great choice for longer climbing sessions or if you’re still getting used to the feel of climbing shoes. 

While they might not be the top pick for very challenging routes, they’re fantastic for building skills and confidence on the wall.

Moderate Shoes

Stepping up a notch, we have the moderate shoes. These shoes have a slight downturn to them, resembling a gentle curve. This shape positions the foot to have more power in the toes, allowing for better precision on those trickier holds. 

These shoes are a great middle-ground, suited for a variety of terrains, from slabby walls to overhangs. If you’ve got a bit of experience under your belt and are looking to tackle more technical routes, moderate shoes are likely your best choice.

Aggressive Shoes

Finally, we have aggressive shoes. With a pronounced downturn and often an asymmetrical shape, these shoes mean business. They push the foot forward, focusing power onto the big toe. This gives climbers the precision and edge they need for steep overhangs and tiny footholds. 

While aggressive shoes pack a punch in terms of performance, they might not be the go-to for comfort on long climbs. They’re typically best suited for short, challenging routes where every move counts.  Hence, it’s best to avoid these models if you are looking for long endurance routes like lead climbing or multi pitch.

If you’re eyeing those advanced problems or aiming to push your limits, aggressive shoes are your key to success.

Key Features to Consider

There are many different features to consider before buying yourself a pair of bouldering shoes. Here are all the different aspects to think about, from material to price. 


The material of your bouldering shoes often determines their fit, feel, and longevity. The two main contenders in this category are leather and synthetic. 


Leather shoes are like that vintage jacket we adore – they might start a bit stiff, but over time, they mold to our feet and offer a personalized fit. Though they can sometimes be more expensive, they also tend to be extremely durable and long-lasting.

Keep in mind that leather shoes will stretch, so initial snugness might ease with use. Because of this, we often recommend sizing down even further. 


On the other side, we have synthetic shoes. These shoes are consistent, maintain their shape over time, and often come with the bonus of being more breathable. They also tend to be a bit more affordable, depending on the type that you get. 

Because they often don’t stretch as much, you shouldn’t have to size down as much with these. 


Rubber is a key part of bouldering shoes, as it helps climbers grip onto surfaces using the sole of their shoes. There are different types of rubber; some are soft for a better feel and strong grip, especially on overhangs, but they wear out faster. 

Harder rubber lasts longer and is good for standing on tiny holds, but it doesn’t provide as much grip. 

The thickness of the rubber also matters: thicker soles are durable and supportive, while thinner soles offer more sensitivity. Some shoes even have rubber on the toe and heel for advanced climbing moves. 

Different brands have their own special rubber, so it’s good to try various shoes to see which works best for you. Keeping the rubber clean and only using the shoes for climbing will help them last longer and perform better.

Closure Type

Your shoe’s closure type is how you ultimately secure the shoe to your foot. There are a few different closure options in bouldering shoes:

Laces: Laces are traditional and offer climbers exceptional precision. Your laces allow you to adjust the tightness of the shoe across your foot, ensuring a tailored fit. If you’re someone who values customization and wants that “just right” feel, laces may be your go-to.

Velcro Straps: Velcro is the king of convenience. Velcro straps are all about quick adjustments and are perfect for climbers who want to easily slip in and out of their shoes between climbs. They’re also great for those who value efficiency without sacrificing a secure fit. However, you should always make sure your velcro straps are high-quality and won’t unstick easily. 

Slip-On: Slip-ons, or “slippers,” as they’re sometimes affectionately called, offer a minimalist approach. With no external closure system, these simple shoes often provide the best sensitivity, allowing you to truly “feel” the rock or holds. They’re snug, straightforward, and great for training or indoor sessions.

climbing shoes in field on grass

Heel and Toe

A shoe’s heel and toe construction can make or break our climbing experience. A well-fitted heel cup ensures the shoe stays snug during those critical heel hooks, while a supportive toe box allows for precise placements and toe-hooking maneuvers. 

Depending on the design, some shoes focus power onto the big toe, which can be a game-changer on challenging routes. Exploring these features and understanding what feels best for your feet is key to unlocking your climbing potential.


Sizing in bouldering shoes isn’t always straightforward. Unlike our comfy sneakers, climbing shoes are designed to fit snugly. But how snug is snug enough? A general rule of thumb: they should feel tight but not painfully so.

Every brand has its quirks, and sizes can vary, so it’s always a good idea to try on multiple sizes and brands. And for those of you buying leather – remember, they’ll stretch a bit with time.

Shoe Symmetry

Symmetry is a big aspect of bouldering shoes. The more asymmetric your shoe is, the more curved it appears from the front. This puts more emphasis toward your big toe. The level of symmetry you pick depends on your preferences as well as the overall type of shoe you get. 

Flat (Symmetrical)

If you imagine your everyday shoes, you’re thinking of flat or symmetrical bouldering shoes. These shoes mimic the natural shape of the foot, leading to a relaxed and comfortable fit. 

These shoes are fantastic for longer climbs and extended sessions. Beginners might find symmetrical shoes more to their liking because of the initial comfort they offer, especially for simpler climbs.

Slightly Asymmetrical

Taking a step towards a more aggressive design, slightly asymmetrical shoes curve gently to align with the natural bend of our feet when climbing. They provide a bit more precision than their symmetrical counterparts, particularly for edges and pockets. 

This shape is a good choice for those who are delving into more technical climbs but still want a good level of comfort.

Highly Asymmetrical

These shoes are the rebels of the bunch. With a pronounced curve, they direct power predominantly towards the big toe, offering maximum precision and performance.

Advanced climbers often gravitate towards these for challenging problems or steep terrains. They’re built for power and precision, but might require a bit of getting used to in terms of comfort.

Shoe Stiffness

Yes, the stiffness of your shoe matters too. Stiffness greatly impacts flexibility, comfort, and sensitivity, so it’s certainly something to consider. There are a few different levels of stiffness in bouldering shoes:

Soft: Like your favorite worn-in sneakers, soft bouldering shoes offer flexibility and sensitivity. These shoes allow climbers to “feel” the rock or holds, making them a preferred choice for smearing or overhanging routes. If you’re someone who relies on foot flexibility and likes to move dynamically, soft shoes will be a good choice.

Medium: A balance between support and sensitivity. Medium stiffness shoes are versatile, making them suitable for a range of terrains and climbing styles. If you’re unsure about your preference or climb varied routes, this middle ground might be just what you’re looking for.

Stiff: Think of stiff shoes as the supportive friend who’s always got your back. They provide maximum support, especially beneficial for edging or when standing on tiny holds. Climbers tackling vertical terrains or looking for more foot support often gravitate towards stiff shoes.

dangling in mid air on cliff rock climbing


Budgeting for bouldering shoes can be a balancing act. While we all love a good deal, it’s essential to remember that a higher price often reflects better materials, craftsmanship, and technology. 

However, this doesn’t mean breaking the bank. There are fantastic mid-range options that offer a blend of performance and value. 

Determining your budget and what you’re looking for in a shoe will guide you to the perfect pair that’s both kind to your feet and your wallet.

Budget-Friendly ($50 – $100): At this price range, you can find solid entry-level shoes. They might not boast the advanced features of pricier counterparts, but they’re perfect for beginners or those who climb occasionally. They provide a taste of what specialized climbing shoes can offer without a hefty investment.

Mid-Range ($100 – $150): Stepping into the mid-range, you can find shoes that balance performance, comfort, and durability. These are often popular choices for both beginners and intermediate climbers, offering enhanced features and materials that can handle a variety of terrains.

Premium ($150+): This is where the magic often happens. Premium shoes are the result of advanced research, high-quality materials, and innovative designs. If you’re an avid climber or looking to tackle challenging routes, investing in this range might provide the edge you’re seeking. These shoes also tend to have longer lifespans and offer unparalleled performance.

Final Thoughts

We know that the right pair of bouldering shoes can truly elevate your climbing experience. It’s about more than just fashion or brands – it’s also about finding a pair that feels right and allows you to climb safely and efficiently. 

If you’re just starting out, be sure to check out our guide on Best Climbing Shoes for Bouldering to see some great choices. You can also check out our additional bouldering reviews below. 

List of Bouldering Shoe Reviews

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By Climbing Ability