Climbing was a recently acquired passion of mine in 2017, which by recommendation of my brother in law, I decided to try out given the indoor climbing facility in my hometown.
Needless to say, I loved it — the feeling of overcoming the increasingly more difficult routes as I moved from one route to another was unbelievable. Among the different sports I’ve done over the years, it was the most pleasurable, besides boxing.
The reason I’m keen on writing this buying guide on the best vegan climbing shoes was due to my difficulty, at the time, in finding vegan-friendly shoes. A great number of climbing shoes come with animal-based materials such as leather, or a leather derivative.
As a result, if you’re a climber looking for climbing shoes that do not contain any animal-based materials, here is a list of 7 of the best vegan climbing shoes you may currently find.
7 Best Vegan Climbing Shoes
Scarpa | Men’s Instinct VS Climbing Shoe
The Instinct VS is a shoe from Scarpa that has gained tremendous popularity in a relatively short period of time. It’s versatile in the sense it can be used for sport climbing and bouldering, but it’s also commonly used in indoor competitions.
The heel and toe are wrapped in rubber, which provides you with more grip on steep rock, and the medium-stiff rand also helps you push through with your edging technique.
The Instinct VS was made with a synthetic suede upper, so it stretches less in comparison to leather shoes, but the elastic patch on top of the shoes gives it a close fit.
The moderate downturn makes them different from most high-performance shoes made for bouldering (which have an aggressive shape), but the thin outsole adds sensitivity and flexibility, allowing you to make better use of your toes (and feet).
For vegans searching for high-quality synthetic alternatives, the Scarpa Instinct VS might be a notch above every other synthetic bouldering shoe.
Tenaya | Oasi Unisex Rock Climbing Shoe
The Oasi by Tenaya are versatile slip-on shoes that can handle different climbing scenarios, whether it’s bouldering or indoor climbing.
The shoe comes with a fully downturned and down-cambered last but still has enough to support to be comfortable. In fact, Oasi is regarded as a high-performance shoe that can be worn by professional climbers and beginners alike — all because of the comfort allied with the precision and responsiveness it gives you on the rock.
This being said, this shoe performs well across different climbing disciplines, from bouldering on tiny edges and friction-slopers, and even steep overhanging walls. One determining factor is the MRRB system that allows you to sustain a better balance through the motions on the rock.
On top of that, Oasi is also equipped with the SXR Dynamics system which links the fastening system to the sole and structure of the shoe for an improved fit and increased power.
It also comes with a Draxter PAT lacing system, in which the straps pass over each other, removing the tension from the velcro itself. Plus, the velcro tabs are adjustable, which means you’ll always have a perfect velcro strap length regardless of your feet width. If the stickiness of the velcro tabs fades, you can always replace it.
Climb X | Rave Strap Climbing Shoe
This is the most popular beginner-friendly climbing shoe on the market. At the same time, it’s the most affordable. It’s not designed aggressively to the point where it can be called an high-performance shoe, but it packs a lot of value for the price.
Conversely, it is comfortable, and better suited for climbing marathons, which is indicated for beginners that want to build experience.
This shoe features extra padding and has a straight last, which keeps your foot in a more relaxed position, instead of forcing your toes to bend. And even though these are neutral shoes, they have a durable edge that allows you to stand on small foot chips confidently.
The shoe also has a durable and grippy rubber outsole that doesn’t degrade as quickly as high-performance shoes, but at the same time, you don’t have the sensitivity, responsiveness, or feel the greatest climbing shoes can provide you with.
So iLL | The One Climbing Shoe
This shoe is victim of polarizing opinions where people absolutely love the aesthetics, and others hate it. The One is an all-performance shoe that can be used for sport climbing, trad climbing, big routes and vertical climbs.
The medium stiffness sole offers a good level of support on small edges and provides you with a solid balance on a variety of rock types. In addition, it also retains some flex for smearing, which is also useful for pushing off cracks.
So ILL also used its own dark-matter rubber in the One, which offers legitimate precision and grip on both plastic and rock holds. The seamless synthetic upper is all in one piece, with no seams, no sewing, so it feels super comfortable when you wear it on your feet.
However, they do not breath and that might be quite noticeable when you’re climbing on a hot day, so be sure to bring your anti-bacterial spray with you. In a market where climbing shoes usually look the same, this one (or any shoe from So ILL) stands out.
Mad Rock | Drone High Volume Climbing Shoe
The Mad Rock Drone doesn’t get the attention it deserves since Mad Rock has really stepped up with this one. Starting with the super aggressive design, that allows you to precisely reach for small holds, cracks, edges and transfer power effortlessly.
The downturned and twisted profile allows you to hit every foothold in the right place, with the enhanced science fiction 3.0 rubber giving you incredible levels of friction.
Not to mention, Mad Rock shoes with a science fiction 3.0 rubber are also more durable than their predecessors. On top of that, they also come with a 3D expanded molded heel that allows for a versatile fit, so you’re getting the best of both worlds.
In addition, the sole is stiff, but the midsole is quite flexible, giving you an edge in overhanging routes and boulders. The tongue is stretchy and breathable, so it kinda relieves your foot whenever it gets sweaty, which is particularly useful for long, tough challenges.
Compared to other shoes of the same quality (such as the La Sportiva Skwama’s), these are probably the best bang for your buck.
Evolv | Supra Climbing Shoe
The Evolv Supra from the Sharma line was clearly designed to tackle walls with delicate footwork.
While they’re not the most downturned shoes in the world, they were crafted to hold up in the face of your toughest climbs.
The velvety, smooth linen fabric in the Supras’ does not disappoint, and you can immediately feel that upon pulling the Evolv’s plush and padded overlap tongue.
They’re easy to slide on, without any lateral clustering of the tongue as you crank down the closures. Plus, the velcro is convenient, especially if you like to slip off the shoes between climbs.
The Supra is definitely more suited to steep sport climbs, with a full-length 1.2mm midsole that gives you great edging support on longer routes, as the downturned last activate your foot in the shoe.
Also, the shoes have the Variable Thickness Rand (VTR) system that puts thinner rand rubber in areas to reduce pressure points and hot spots around the foot, as well as thicker rubber that increases the durability, especially in the high-wear zones near the toe.
Conversely, the thick outsole takes a bit of sensitivity away from the climb, so it also comes down to each individual’s preference.
Black Diamond | Men’s Momentum Lace Climbing Shoe
Black Diamond has been a leader and innovator in the creation of climbing gear for decades, and they have recently decided to create their first line of climbing shoes.
The Black Diamond Momentum is a beginner-intermediate shoe with a flat last, and they’re a wonderful choice, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors.
The stretchy knit upper makes them very breathable, which is especially important in sweaty, indoor environments, and the Neo Fuse rubber is a super durable choice for high-volume climbing, which is what most beginners should be looking into!
There is a velcro alternative for the Black Diamond, but unfortunately, it is subpar.
Therefore, I’ve decided to mention the laced-up alternative, which holds up better over time, and it gives you more adjustability even though you lose the convenient factor from having the velcro.
What’s not so good about the BD shoe is that the flat last may keep you from progressing because it lacks the high-performance features in downturned shoes (precision, stability in small holds, etc) but for starting out, it’s a good overall choice. Especially if you want to put in the work early on.
How to Choose Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes are the link between you and the rock (or the wall), and having the wrong type of shoes can be detrimental to the type of climbing you intend to do.
That’s why when you’re choosing climbing shoes, there are at least three main aspects you must take into consideration:
- Type of climbing shoe: You can choose between flat (or neutral), moderate and aggressive depending on the type of climbing you want to do.
- Features: Some features like laces, straps, linings, and rubber may affect the type of performance you have on the wall.
- Fit: To maximize your performance, having climbing shoes that snug to your feet but not painfully, will help you climb with extra focus, harder and longer.
Types of Climbing Shoes
Neutral climbing shoes offer a relaxed fit for all-day comfort. They allow your feet to lie flat in the shoes, without forcing your toes to make a downturn. Because they tend to be more comfortable, they’re also an adequate choice for beginner climbers, but they’re also good for more experienced climbers aiming for multi-pitch climbs.
- All-day comfort
- Often feature semi-stiff midsoles and thick rubber soles that provide good support
- Being flat, they’re good for jamming in cracks, so they’re also used for trad climbing
- Due to having a more relaxed fit, it’s not appropriate for steep, overhanging routes
Moderate climbing shoes have a slightly downturned shoebox, making them quite good for technical climbing. These shoes can handle crack climbs, slab routes, long multi-pitch climbs, and slightly overhung walls. If you’re planning to tackle all sorts of climbing routes, these are probably the most adequate of the bunch.
- The downturned shape places your feet into a stronger position that allows you to climb more challenging routes
- Usually have a stickier rubber sole for better grip and feel
- Not as comfortable as neutral shoes
- Not as performance-oriented as aggressive shoes
- Stickier soles may actually wear out faster than rubber on flat soles
The aggressive climbing has a super downturned toe box and lots of heel tension that allows experience climbers to deal with extremely overhanging walls. Most aggressive shoes have an accentuated curve towards the toe box, which allows climbers to focus their power on the big toe for more precise placement on small holds.
Given these shoes are performance-based, they’re designed for single-pitch climbs, and not multi-pitch climbs like the previous shoes.
- The accentuated curve helps climbers precisely place their big toe on any hold
- Typically have sticky rubber soles for better grip and feel
- Less comfortable than neutral and moderate shoes
- Downturn shape does not fit as well into cracks as neutral or moderate shoes
- Sticky rubber outsole wears faster than the rubber on a neutral climbing shoe
Closures: Laces, Velcro or Slip-on.
Velcro: The velcro closures (also called “hook and loop”) are more convenient. They’re good for gym and bouldering scenarios where you want to slip off the shoes between climbs.
Laces: These climbing shoes are versatile and allow the climber to cool off their feet by loosening the laces. At the same time, for a difficult climb, you can bump up the shoe’s performance by cranking down the toe and instep.
Slip-on: Because slip-on shoes don’t have any velcro or laces, they have a low profile which allows them to slip into very thin cracks. Instead, they have elastic closure systems that offer you the best sensitivity out of any climbing shoe.
Climbing shoes are either leather or synthetic. Interestingly, many high-performance shoes are synthetic, which is something vegans like us can be really happy about.
Synthetic shoes typically don’t stretch as much and soften up over time, but they generally remain with the same fit even after prolonged use.
In addition, synthetic shoes are perfect to wear during the summer because some have remarkable breathability, and are effective in wicking away moisture.
However, I’ve seen legitimate information suggesting that leather is, in fact, more durable and less prone to wear and tear.
What is a “last”? A last is a foot-shaped model that is used to design the shape of a climbing shoe. It gives shoes their instep, height, volume, heel, toe dimensions and width.
Here are some of the most commonly used lasts:
Straight: These shoes are built around a flat last which provides a more relaxed fit for more comfort. A straight last is typically used for neutral climbing shoes, so they’re beneficial for long hours of climbing and crack climbing.
Asymmetric: An asymmetric shoe last is used to increase power on the inside edge of the shoe, giving a single point of contact with the rock via the big toe. The shoes are either moderate or aggressive, but their actual denomination depends on the amount of downturn.
Downturned: As the name suggests, this one bends down towards the toes. It’s commonly used for aggressive climbing shoes and is designed for heel hooking or overhanging rock. They come in an asymmetric shape and are typically design for performance-based routes.
The outsole is extremely important because it’s the first point of impact between you and the rock (or wall). That’s why different rubbers are used in different settings and are also important from a performance-based perspective.
Outsole rubber: Different rubbers are used to construct the outsole of climbing shoes. While most climbing shoes provide a good grip, some are soft and stickier than others.
Stickier outsoles provide you with the best grip for small cracks, but they’re also less durable, so they’re not as resistant to abrasion. On the other hand, firmer soles last longer and typically offer better support for your feet.
Thicker soles: They generally range from 4 – 5.5 mm, provide good support and are usually more durable than thinner soles. Conversely, you won’t have the same sensitivity and feel for the rock as you have while using thin soles. These are indicated for beginners who want to spend a lot of time practicing and building up their technique without feeling sore feet.
Thinner soles: These range from 3 to 4 mm, and are typically indicated for slab routes, where you need that extra bit of feel for the rock, as well as certainty in terms of grip.
Is Fit Even Important?
This is actually a legitimate question because most climbing shoes are designed to have a downward toe box that adds to the precision you have while climbing. Due to that fact, you might get shoes that aren’t exactly comfortable even though they’re the right fit. However, they shouldn’t also feel horribly on your feet, so the right way to do it is by testing them before buying.
Here are some tips on how to choose the right fit for your climbing shoes:
Try them on: The only way of knowing whether or not the shoes you’re buying are the right fit is by trying them out. If you’re buying in person, test multiple shoes. If you’re buying online, order different sizes and return the ones you don’t like — I believe Amazon allows you to do this.
Timing: Not saying this happens equally among everyone, but can swell up during the day. So try to try out shoes during the afternoon after you’ve gone for a walk, run, etc. Keep in mind that you should try the climbing shoes sockless since the insole is designed to work with the skin to reduce slippage. Naturally, that depends on the weather as well.
Be flexible: Standard shoe sizes change from brand to brand, so a 41 might fit differently from a 41 from a different brand. Therefore, keep in mind that brands usually have fitting guidelines, and if they don’t, give them a call if you’re ordering online.
Here are a few rules you take into account:
- Performance-based shoes usually have a tighter fit
- The toes should be flat or comfortably curved without the toe knuckles painfully hitting the top of the toe box.
- Your heel should be snuggled against the back of the shoe. At the same time, you shouldn’t feel an uncomfortable sensation in your Achilles heel.
I hope these tips have helped, and l wish you a great climbing journey!
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