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Find the Perfect Climbing Shoes for Every Route: Knowing When to Use Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive

Find the Perfect Climbing Shoes for Every Route: Knowing When to Use Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive

Whether you’re a climbing enthusiast or just starting out, having the correct type of climbing shoe is essential for a successful and enjoyable climb.

Neutral, moderate, and aggressive climbing shoes each provide unique benefits depending on the type of route you’re taking. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between them, when to use each one, and why having multiple types of climbing shoes can be beneficial for rock climbers.

From beginner-level routes to more tricky ones, find out which type of climbing shoe best suits every situation!

This post includes affiliate links but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

Climbing Shoe Types

Climbing shoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but there are three distinct types of climbing shoes to choose from:

  • Neutral – Practically flat
  • Moderate – has a slight curve to the arch
  • Aggressive – has a very curved arch and pointed toe

Shoes are certainly an essential aspect of climbing. You can read about the other items you need to start rock climbing here.

Each type of climbing shoe has unique properties that make it advantageous in certain situations. Let’s take a closer look at each shoe and discuss when to use each type.

Neutral Climbing Shoes

Neutral climbing shoes tend to have a flatter profile and less downturn than moderate or aggressive shoes. This makes them well-suited for routes that require more balance and precision, such as slab, rather than steep overhangs or lots of edging. 

One benefit of neutral shoes is that they offer a more comfortable fit for all-day climbing sessions. The science behind neutral shoes lies in their ability to distribute your weight more evenly across your foot, which can provide better support and help prevent fatigue.

Neutral shoes are great for beginners, so if you want to hit the great outdoors with your neutral climbing shoes, check out our article on the best climbing areas for beginners at New River Gorge!

Also, before you go out climbing, learn the key factors to consider when selecting a climbing harness, ensuring safety and comfort on your next vertical adventure.

When To Use Neutral Climbing Shoes

Neutral climbing shoes are your best bet when you’re looking to tackle slab or technical climbs. These shoes are designed to give you the largest surface area, making them perfect for those routes with lots of smearing.

However, regarding overhangs and edges, you should swap out your neutral shoes for something with a more aggressive downturn. The reason is that neutral shoes lack the necessary power and grip needed to tackle these types of climbs.

So if you’re looking to hone your technique on those slab climbs or intricate technical routes, pack your trusty neutral climbing shoes!

Want to know everything about netural climbing shoes? Read Step into Success: Understanding Neutral Climbing Shoes and Their Best Uses.

Moderate Climbing Shoes

Moderate climbing shoes are the happy medium in the world of climbing footwear. These shoes offer a blend of comfort and performance, making them perfect for climbers of all levels.

Unlike neutral shoes that provide little support and aggressive shoes that prioritize power over comfort, moderate shoes strike a balance between the two. They usually feature a slightly downturned and asymmetrical shape that lets you maintain balance and control on edgy routes without sacrificing comfort. 

The science behind moderate climbing shoes lies in their ability to give you a mix of edging power, sensitivity, and flexibility, allowing you to tackle intermediate routes with ease. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned climber, moderate climbing shoes are a reliable choice for your feet.

Want to know everything about moderate climbing shoes? Read Navigating the Middle Ground: When to Use Moderate Climbing Shoes.

When To Use Moderate Climbing Shoes

When it comes to sport climbing, moderate shoes are the go-to for climbers tackling routes with varying difficulty levels.

The shape of a moderate shoe provides the perfect balance of flexibility and support, allowing climbers to use their entire foot to grip and push off footholds. The rubber on these shoes is also typically more sticky than that of neutral shoes, which cuts down on slip and helps climbers maintain precise foot placements. 

The slight downturned shape of moderate shoes provides enough power for vertical climbing while remaining comfortable enough to wear for extended periods.

Of course, like with any climbing shoe, there are pros and cons to using a moderate shoe. The downturned shape, while helpful, can put more pressure on the toes, which can be uncomfortable. Additionally, moderate shoes don’t offer the same precision and sensitivity as aggressive shoes, making steeper routes more challenging.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Still, a trusty pair of moderate shoes is essential for any climber looking to tackle routes of various difficulties.

A moderate to aggresive climbing shoe

Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing shoes have come a long way since the days of slipping on a pair of sneakers and hoping for the best. Aggressive climbing shoes are specifically designed with the shape and contours to support the most technical climbs.

The downturned toe of the shoe allows for ultimate precision in foot placement while also maximizing the strength of your toe grip on footholds. 

While these shoes can help climbers get up a wall faster and more efficiently, they have some drawbacks. The aggressive shape can be uncomfortable for some climbers, particularly those with wider feet or who are not used to the tight fit.

It’s important to remember that the right climbing shoe for you ultimately depends on the type of climbing you plan on doing. Aggressive shoes work well for steep and technical routes. In contrast, moderate and neutral shoes are better suited for longer climbs and more varied terrain.

When To Use Aggressive Climbing Shoes

Aggressive climbing shoes aren’t something you slip into to climb all day in. These shoes are only worn for specific climbs and do not do well on every terrain.

The truth is, aggressive climbing shoes are not your first pair of shoes. They are designed for technical climbing routes with difficult foot placements or overhangs. If you’re mainly interested in crack climbing or all-day climbing, stick with a more comfortable pair of shoes. But when you’re ready to tackle those steep, challenging routes, aggressive climbing shoes are the way to go.

Buying your first pair of aggressive climbing shoes can be intimidating – will you actually use them enough to make the purchase worth it? If you go to a local climbing gym, keep an eye out for shoe demos – a lot of times the demo companies will let you try on the shoe for a few routes. Some climbing gyms also allow you to try the shoes for a few routes before purchasing.

If you’re looking for a climbing gym in the Pittsburgh area, we’ve got the 5 BEST right here!

What Type Of Climbing Shoe For Beginners?

While aggressive shoes might look tempting, it’s important to remember they’re designed for experienced climbers who have honed their skills. That’s why moderate or neutral shoes are the best types of rock climbing shoes for beginners to start with.

Moderate shoes offer more support and are stiffer than neutral shoes, making them an excellent option for those who have a bit of experience under their belt.

And when it comes to sizing, it’s a good rule of thumb to go with a full size smaller than your regular shoe size, as climbing shoes stretch with wear. So, take your time and choose a pair of shoes that will help you to build your climbing skills while keeping you comfortable on the rock.

Which Climbing Shoe Should You Buy?

So, you’ve landed on the type of climbing shoe you want to get, but you need to decide which to buy. It’s no surprise. There are SO many choices!

To help you out, we’ve created a table of top-rated neutral, moderate, and aggressive climbing shoes. We’ve also listed some of the pros and cons of each shoe so you can make the best decision possible!

Best Neutral Climbing Shoes

The best neutral climbing shoes include the Five Tens, TC Pro, Scarpa Origin, Black Diamond Momentum, Scarpa Helix, La Sportiva Mythos, Evolv Royale, Butora Endeavor, Tenaya Tatanka, and Scarpa Vapor.

Here are some of the pros and cons of each!

Shoe NameProsConsPrice
Five Ten Anasazi LaceClassic shoe with a flat profile and stiff sole, good for edging and trad climbing. Stealth C4 rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Lace-up closure allows for a customizable fit.Some climbers find it too stiff and uncomfortable, heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well, not ideal for steep or overhanging terrain.$149.95
La Sportiva TC ProDesigned specifically for trad climbing, stiff sole provides excellent support for long days on the rock. Vibram rubber provides good grip on a variety of surfaces. Flat profile allows for better crack climbing. Lacing system provides a customizable fit.Not ideal for steep or overhanging terrain, may require some break-in time to be comfortable, limited color options.$219
Scarpa OriginAffordable option for beginners, flat profile provides comfort for multi-pitch climbing or extended sessions in the gym. Vibram XS Edge rubber provides good friction on a variety of surfaces. Two-strap closure allows for a customizable fit.Not ideal for advanced climbers or steep terrain, may stretch out over time, limited color options.$119
Black Diamond MomentumAffordable option for beginners, flat profile provides comfort for multi-pitch climbing or extended sessions in the gym. Engineered knit upper provides breathability and stretch. Rubber sole provides good friction on a variety of surfaces. Two-strap closure allows for a customizable fit.Not ideal for advanced climbers or steep terrain, may stretch out over time, limited color options.$99.95
Scarpa HelixGood all-around shoe for intermediate climbers, versatile enough for both indoor and outdoor use. Flat profile provides comfort for multi-pitch climbing or extended sessions in the gym. Vibram XS Edge rubber provides good friction on a variety of surfaces. Two-strap closure allows for a customizable fit.Not ideal for advanced climbers or steep terrain, may require some break-in time to be comfortable, heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well.$96.71
La Sportiva MythosClassic shoe with a flat profile and soft leather upper, good for crack climbing and long multi-pitch routes. Vibram rubber provides good grip on a variety of surfaces. Lacing system provides a customizable fit.Leather upper may stretch out over time, may not provide enough support for steep or overhanging terrain, not ideal for edging.$159
Butora EndeavorAll-around shoe for intermediate climbers, versatile enough for both indoor and outdoor use. Flat profile provides comfort for multi-pitch climbing or extended sessions in the gym. Butora’s proprietary NEO Fuse rubber provides good grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.May require some break-in time to be comfortable, heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well, not ideal for overhanging terrain.$114.95
Scarpa Vapor VVersatile shoe that performs well on a variety of terrain, durable construction, good edging abilities. Slight downturned shape provides a balance between power and comfort. Bi-tension rand system helps transfer power to the front of the shoe.May run small in size, may require some break-in time to be comfortable, heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well.$199

Best Moderate Climbing Shoes

The best moderate climbing shoes include the Scarpa Vapor, Tenaya Lati, La Sportiva Katana, Five Ten Quantum, Butora Acro, Tenaya Mundaka, Scarpa Instinct VS, La Sportiva Miura, Evolv Oracle, and Black Diamond Focus.

Here are some more details about each shoe!

Shoe NameProsConsPrice
Tenaya IatiHighly precise shoe for technical climbing, good for edging and overhanging terrain. Down-turned shape provides power while maintaining comfort. Vibram XS Grip rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$189
La Sportiva KatanaAll-around shoe that performs well on a variety of terrain, good for sport climbing and bouldering. Vibram XS Edge rubber provides excellent edging abilities. Slight downturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort. Dual power strap closure allows for a customizable fit.May require some break-in time to be comfortable, limited color options.$219
Butora AcroHighly precise shoe for steep, overhanging routes, good for bouldering and sport climbing. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. High-tension heel rand helps secure the heel in place. Butora’s proprietary Neo Fuse rubber is durable and sticky.Heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well, expensive compared to some other options, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$175

Best Aggressive Climbing Shoes

The best aggressive climbing shoes include La Sportiva Solution, Scarpa Drago, Black Diamond Shadow, Tenaya Inti, Evolv Shaman, Butora Narsha, Scarpa Booster S, Mad Rock Drone, La Sportiva Genius, and Black Diamond Focus.

Here are some of the pros and cons of each shoe, as well as the price differences!

Shoe NameProsConsPrice
La Sportiva Solution
& Solution Comp
Highly precise shoe for steep, overhanging terrain, good for bouldering and sport climbing. Downturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort. Vibram XS Grip rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. P3 rand system helps maintain the shoe’s downturned shape over time. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, can be difficult to put on and take off, may not fit all foot shapes well.$200 & $209
Scarpa DragoHighly precise shoe for steep, technical climbing, good for bouldering and sport climbing. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. Vibram XS Grip rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$220
Black Diamond ShadowHighly precise shoe for steep, technical climbing, good for sport climbing and bouldering. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. Rubber sole provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$190
Tenaya IntiHighly precise shoe for steep, technical climbing, good for sport climbing and bouldering. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. Vibram XS Grip rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$160
Evolv Shaman
& Shaman Pro
Downturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort, good for steep overhanging routes. Trax SAS rubber provides good friction on a variety of surfaces. Knuckle box design increases comfort in the toe box. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.May run small in size, heel cup may not fit all foot shapes well.$190 & $205
Butora NarshaHighly precise shoe for steep, technical climbing, good for sport climbing and bouldering. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. Butora’s proprietary Neo Fuse rubber is durable and sticky. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$189
Scarpa Booster SDownturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort, good for steep overhanging routes. Vibram XS Grip2 rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Bi-tension rand system helps transfer power to the front of the shoe. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.May not fit all foot shapes well, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet, can be difficult to put on and take off.$220
Mad Rock DroneHighly precise shoe for steep, technical climbing, good for sport climbing and bouldering. Low profile design provides sensitivity on small holds. Science Friction 3.0 rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.May not be as durable as other options, may require some break-in time to be comfortable.$150
La Sportiva GeniusHighly precise shoe for steep, overhanging terrain, good for bouldering and sport climbing. Downturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort. Vibram XS Grip2 rubber provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. No-Edge technology increases sensitivity on small holds. Lace-up closure allows for a customizable fit.Expensive compared to other options, not ideal for beginners or those with wider feet.$220
Black Diamond FocusHighly precise shoe for technical climbing, good for steep overhanging routes. Rubber sole provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Downturned shape provides power while maintaining comfort. Velcro closure allows for easy on and off.Expensive compared$180

Hopefully, these tables have highlighted the best neutral, moderate, and aggressive climbing shoes! Remember, there are no ‘best climbing shoes’ out there – it all depends on what you plan to climb!

How To Choose Climbing Shoes – Our Conclusion!

Climbing shoes come in all shapes, sizes, and types. When it comes to choosing the right one, the possibilities are endless! For the most part, you can narrow your choice down to three distinct types of climbing shoes:

  • Neutral: best for slab and technical climbs. Great for beginners. Not suitable for overhangs or edging.
  • Moderate: A middle ground between neutral and aggressive. Suitable for beginners and all climbing styles, but may not work as well for slabs or overhangs.
  • Aggressive: Great for overhang routes and those with edging and powerful moves. Not good for all-day wear or for slab.

If you’re a beginner looking for your first pair of shoes, go for neutral or moderate. Opt for a pair of aggressive climbing shoes if you’re ready for more challenging routes with overhangs and technical toe placement.

If in doubt, having all three is always a good idea! This way, you have a climbing shoe for every occasion! Looking for more information on rock climbing? Head on over to our climbing blog for gear recommendations and climbing tips! Want to know more about the specific gear we use? Check out The Dirtbag Climbing Gear!

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