The 9 Best Bouldering Shoes (2023 Buying Guide)
Published on: 12/01/2022
Last updated on: 07/28/2023
Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that involves short, difficult routes, climbed without a rope. Climbers boulder outdoors, on natural boulders and cliffs, and inside on artificial walls at climbing gyms.
Bouldering routes, also known as problems, are often steeply overhanging with powerful moves. But boulder problems can also involve slab climbing on thin holds and smears that require core strength, balance, and delicate footwork.
That means no one shoe’s best for bouldering in all conditions. Beginner climbers don’t need a bouldering shoe with the latest extreme design. In fact, high-performance shoes give little advantage, if any, on problems of easy to moderate difficulty.
In this roundup, we’ll pick out the best bouldering shoes for several different uses and climber types.
Our Method for Choosing the Top Bouldering Shoes
We started our shoe evaluation with climbing shoes marketed by manufacturers as best suited for bouldering. In addition, we considered shoe models that are popular with boulderers at local outdoor areas and gyms. Some shoes widely used for bouldering aren’t explicitly designed or billed as bouldering shoes. Our final shoe rankings are based on personal testing and experience, along with opinions from other expert reviews.
Our Selection of the Best Bouldering Shoes for 2023
|Shoe Model||Downturn||Best for||Vegan||Best Offer|
|La Sportiva Theory||High||Competition||❌||Check price|
|Tenaya Tanta||Low||Budget||✔||Check price|
|Evolv Ashima||Moderate||Kids||❌||Check price|
|Scarpa Instinct VS Women’s||Moderate||Women||❌||Check price|
|La Sportiva Solution Comp||Moderate||Outdoor Bouldering Performance||❌||Check price|
|Tenaya Oasi||Moderate||Beginners||✔||Check price|
|Butora Acro||Moderate||Gym Bouldering||✔||Check price|
|La Sportiva Skwama||Moderate||Wide Feet||❌||Check price|
|La Sportiva Futura||Moderate||Narrow Feet||❌||Check price|
1. La Sportiva Theory: Best for Competition and Indoor Climbing Performance
The La Sportiva Theory is a purpose-made climbing shoe for hard indoor bouldering and competition climbing. With a single velcro strap and slipper-like comfort, it’s incredibly sensitive but offers surprising edging ability thanks to La Sportiva’s P3 tensioned rand system and No-Edge sole technology.
The Theory’s soft and flexible nature, XS Grip 2 rubber, and variable thickness sole let it hook, smear, and scum any hold or volume at any angle. These features are made to accommodate modern competition bouldering problems. These problems require a lot of smearing on the wall and volumes since there are very few positive edges available.
This shoe’s lower volume heel and velcro closure make for highly secure heel hooks, and the flexible midsole and 90% rubber coverage on top ensure that toe hooks are equally solid.
The downturned sole and sensitivity in the toe box make the Theory a dream on the radically overhanging terrain often encountered while gym climbing. Your toes will feel like another set of fingers with their ability to positively grasp small chips and wrap around jugs.
That said, the Theory isn’t ideal for longer routes or anything less than vertical. It’s still an excellent choice for super technical, steep sport routes. Just know that it may not last long with its lightweight construction and thinner rubber.
If you want to be at the top of the climbing gym food chain or seek Olympic rock climbing glory, you might want to look closer at La Sportiva’s Theory.
Alternative Pick: Scarpa Drago
2. Tenaya Tanta: Best Budget Bouldering Shoe
If you’re serious about bouldering hard, your best bet for a budget shoe is to look for high-performance models on sale. Most climbing shoe manufacturers’ lower-priced and entry-level models are flat, relatively stiff shoes to make edging easier for beginning climbers. The lack of sensitivity and neutral shape of the last limits this type of shoe’s performance on steep problems.
The Tenaya Tanta is an exception to these norms, offering a slightly more aggressive design in a budget-friendly package. Right in the middle of Tenaya’s model line in terms of sensitivity versus support, the Tanta is stiff enough to edge fairly well but soft enough for smears and toe hooks on steeper terrain.
Tenaya recommends going down one shoe size from your US street shoe size for an aggressive fit in the Tantas, which is a good starting point if you want to use these shoes for bouldering.
Due to the moderate downturn on the Tanta, it hits its limit on technical problems that push past 45 degrees in steepness. Stay on vertical to mildly overhanging climbs, and the Tanta will outperform most any climbing shoe in its price range.
Alternative Pick: Ocun’s Oxi S
Oxi S by Czech brand Ocun is a little more pricey than the Tanta, but it packs in a whole lot more steep bouldering performance in an aggressive, slipper-like shoe that’s still under $150. Buy it here.
3. Evolv Ashima: Best Bouldering Shoe for Kids
Named after the youngest person to ever climb a V15 boulder problem, Ashima Shiraishi, this Evolv model should be expected to excel on steep rock. It’s made for kids who are already experienced and ready to move to the next level.
Thanks to its aggressive shape compared to most climbing shoes made for youth, it’s not going to be as comfortable as the flat shoes most kids start with.
The Ashima is also soft and sensitive, with an unlined leather upper and no midsole. They are good for bouldering but require your foot to do a lot of work.
Another more advanced feature is the generous rubber toe patch on top of the upper. It makes this one of the few kid shoes with decent toe-hooking performance.
While the laces make it more difficult to get on and off, they do help this model fit more kids’ feet in relative comfort. Still, overall the Evolv Ashima is pretty low volume and better suited for narrow feet.
Alternative Pick: La Sportiva Maverink
The La Sportiva Maverink is a high-performance slipper for kids with an aggressive design and advanced tech features like the Zero Edge sole and P3 tensioned rand system. Buy it here.
4. Scarpa Instinct VS Women’s: Best Women’s Bouldering Shoe
The women’s model of the Scarpa Instinct VS differs from the men’s version in two ways that make it better for bouldering. One, the sole is composed of Vibram’s XS Grip 2 instead of XS Grip Edge. Two, the women’s last is narrower and lower volume in the heel.
These features lead to a better grip on marginal holds and more secure heel hooks. This shoe is also a great edging shoe, partly thanks to the full 1.0 mm midsole lending support.
The rest of the shoe, and the thin 3.5 mm outsole, contribute to the Instinct VS’s decent sensitivity. The tight heel, single velcro power strap, and extensive rubber on top of the toe box make the shoe feel solid on any kind of fancy technical footwork, from hooks to toe scums to bicycle moves.
One thing many testers liked about the Instinct VS compared to other high-performance climbing shoes is its less aggressive architecture. It’s not quite as extremely curved as many elite shoes, either downward or inward.
Alternative Pick: Butora Gomi
5. La Sportiva Solution Comp: Best Outdoor Bouldering Performance
A softer version of the long-time favorite Solution, La Sportiva’s Solution Comp is intended to be an even more specialized weapon for steep sport climbing and bouldering.
The newer Theory is softer, but the Solution Comp edges better due to a partial 0.9 mm midsole that supports just the toe box area.
Compared to the original Solution, the Comp’s upgrades are perfectly designed for bouldering performance. A thinner midsole, lower volume heel, and larger rubber toe patch have all led to greater sensitivity and more security on technical footwork.
The La Sportiva Solution Comp has a single strap closure that attaches at four points on the upper, so you can dial in a custom fit. A pointed toe helps the Comp stick into small pockets and onto the smallest of edges.
We recommend these for outdoor bouldering because they’re more sturdy and durable than the Theory but still suited for your burliest steep projects.
Alternative Pick: Scarpa Booster
For a slightly more rigid and supportive shoe that still delivers on overhanging terrain, try the Scarpa Booster. This two-strap velcro design is also vegan in construction. Buy it here.
6. Tenaya Oasi: Best Bouldering Shoes for Beginners
A “beginner” bouldering shoe might be viewed as a contradiction in terms. When bouldering started outdoors, there were no bouldering gyms, and most of the routes were definitely not designed for beginners.
Thankfully, indoor gyms have lowered the bar for newcomers to the sport of bouldering. You can go inside and push your limits in relative safety without worrying about pads, spotters, or impaling yourself on a tree branch when you fall.
That means there are more beginners trying out bouldering, and they can improve more quickly. If you’re focused and hitting the gym regularly, you may want to go ahead and start with a relatively high-performing shoe like the Tenaya Oasi.
With a moderately aggressive design, the Tenaya Oasi will take beginners well into the intermediate climber category and perhaps beyond. But, the feature that makes this our best bouldering shoe for beginners is the widely praised comfort level of the Oasi.
This shoe might win the prize for the most comfortable, most aggressive shoes on the market. If you are determined to get good at bouldering quickly, the Oasi could help you get there.
Alternative Pick: La Sportiva’s Finale
7. Butora Acro: Best Climbing Shoe for Gym Bouldering
Another climbing shoe that is essentially a bouldering slipper with a single velcro closure system, the Butora Acro is a popular shoe for bouldering and sport climbing indoors and out.
Stiffer and more supportive than the Butora Acro Comp, the regular Acro comes in two versions for wider and narrower feet. A large rubber patch covers most of the top of the forefoot to aid in hooking and scumming.
The Acro is supportive enough to work as an all-around gym climbing shoe and take on longer routes on overhung to less than vertical routes. It edges extremely well in those conditions and has enough downturn to pull your lower body into the wall as the angle gets steeper.
Butora Acros have a reputation for being comfortable, with a not-too-aggressive architecture and a soft feel. That means you can leave them on in the gym longer with less pain. But, the triple fork velcro closure still makes them conveniently easy to remove.
Solid construction and workmanship should make the Acro a durable, long-lasting choice as well.
Alternative Pick: Scarpa Furia Air
8. La Sportiva Skwama: Best Bouldering Shoes for Wide Feet
The unlined La Sportiva Skwama is a medium-high volume shoe with a moderately downturned sole of highly sticky XS Grip 2 rubber.
While it’s in the middle of the spectrum on La Sportiva’s performance ratings, the Skwama is a favorite for climbers with wide feet.
Ribbed, molded toe patch and heel cup offer a secure grip for heel and toe hooks. However, since the Skwama isn’t as aggressive as some of the shoes on our list, you can expand its use to a wider variety of climbing styles, even trad, and multi-pitch.
The toe of the Skwama is wide and not too tall, so you can jam it into thin, technical cracks, whether bouldering or climbing a longer route. In fact, this shoe is pretty good at everything except sustained edging on vertical terrain, where its lack of support will start wearing on your calf muscles and feet.
Alternative Pick: Evolv Oracle
The Evolv Oracle is a high-end, aggressively designed lace-up shoe with a wider-than-average toe box, and the laces make it easier to accommodate a wider range of feet. Buy it here.
9. La Sportiva Futura: Best Bouldering Shoe for Narrow Feet
Somewhat similar in construction to the La Sportiva Solution, the Futura is distinguished by the company’s No Edge sole. It also has a 1.1 mm partial midsole under the toe box to provide additional support for edging maneuvers.
However, the remainder of the shoe is soft and sensitive, like most bouldering shoes, with an ultra-thin 3 mm outsole of XS Grip 2 rubber. That means these shoes will wear pretty quickly on rough textured rock, so beware.
Climbing in the Futura feels as close to being barefoot as any shoe we’ve tried. The thin rubber lets you grasp any protruding hold with your toes like you would grab with your hand. The rigidity under your toes is just enough to provide amazing support, with the tensioned rand and No Edge sole adding to the feeling that you can stand securely on the smallest of footholds.
While the rubber on the outsole is thin, the fact that there’s no edge to wear out allows the Futura to last longer than you might think. Save it for your hardest sends, and it’ll last longer than you’d expect.
Alternative Pick: La Sportiva Miura VS
The La Sportiva Miura VS is more of an all-around high-level climbing shoe than strictly a bouldering shoe, but it climbs edges, pockets, and steeps extremely well and is built on one of La Sportiva’s lowest volume lasts. Buy it here.
How to Find the Perfect Bouldering Shoes?
The best bouldering shoe for you will be a model that fits your foot shape and has features that let you excel on the type of terrain you climb on the most. If you’re just starting out rock climbing, you won’t necessarily climb better in the most advanced, expensive shoes available.
In fact, a flatter last will often be better for a beginner shoe. New climbers don’t usually spend a lot of time on steep boulders with tiny edges, where more radically downturned designs are much more effective.
Soft or Stiff, Which Is Better?
Rock climbing shoes range from stiff-as-a-board trad climbing shoes to slippers that you can bend in half with two fingers. Which is better for bouldering?
As usual, there’s no perfect bouldering shoe for stiffness. Shoes with rigid support underfoot let you stand on dime-thin edges on vertical terrain. But those same shoes will feel like wooden clogs if you’re trying to smear a slippery volume or toe hook a jug on a horizontal roof.
Some shoes try to strike a balance by using a thinner midsole or by making the edge stiffer than the middle of the sole (like the La Sportiva Theory with its variable thickness sole). This lets them gain some of the benefits of stiff shoes without the downsides of loss of sensitivity and flexibility.
Shape: Downturn and Asymmetry
Climbing shoes are often described by the amount of downturn in their sole, from flat to extremely curved. A downturned sole helps greatly when climbing overhanging terrain, as you can use your toes to pull your lower body toward the wall much more effectively. Severe downturns can hinder a shoe’s ability to flex and smear on slabby ground, though, so it’s not always an ideal feature.
Shoes also vary in how much they curve inward, toward the big toe side. That’s referred to as asymmetry. This focuses all of your downward force onto the big toe, which makes tiny holds feel more secure.
Other Important Criteria
Climbers who are serious about bouldering wear their shoes as tight as they possibly can. If your goal is to strictly use your shoes for bouldering, you can get away with a tighter fit than for shoes you use on longer routes too.
Since most boulder attempts take just a few minutes at most, you might also choose a more aggressively shaped shoe since you know you can take them off frequently. Flat shoes are certainly the most comfortable, but they’ll limit your performance and strain your core muscles on steep terrain.
If you’re buying a high-performing shoe, especially for bouldering, you shouldn’t prioritize durability. Soft, sensitive shoes with thinner rubber will break down faster and wear out their soles faster than an all-around climbing shoe or a trad climbing shoe.
That being said, you still want your shoes to last as long as possible. So, if you have a pair of elite bouldering shoes, don’t wear them on routes where you don’t need the performance. Use more durable, comfortable shoes for warming up and long gym sessions, and save your most aggressive pair for sending the hard stuff.
The best type of shoe for bouldering will depend on your climbing level and the kind of terrain you tend to climb on the most. The most common type of shoe used by hardcore boulderers these days leans toward the soft, sensitive side of the spectrum because they’re better at steep climbing.
There’s no real difference between climbing shoes and bouldering shoes. Shoes that are good for high-level bouldering are also good for sport climbing on steep, difficult terrain. At the same time, you could boulder in shoes designed for crack climbing, but the stiff, flat nature of those types of shoes will limit your bouldering performance.
Some climbers wear socks when they boulder. However, at higher difficulty levels, it’s almost always better to maximize sensitivity and climb without socks.