Best Performance Bouldering Shoes For Indoor & Comps 2023

Looking for a performance climbing shoe, specifically for modern indoor bouldering? Something that will smear well on large volumes and holds but also help you tackle steep terrain? A shoe that could help you win your next competition? This 2023 Buyers Guide will help you find the best performance shoes tailored to modern boulder problems.

About this Buyers Guide

The list below covers an exclusive selection of the 7 best performance bouldering shoes that will help you perform at commercial bouldering gyms as well as bouldering competitions.

These are soft, aggressive shoes targeted toward modern gym bouldering. This is not a list of all-around climbing shoes or outdoor bouldering shoes.

Furthermore, not to be a gatekeeper but these shoes perform best with at least 12+ months of experience.

Not what you were looking for? Check out our other Buying Guides:

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get into the best gym crushers used by some of the top athletes in the world!

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7 Best Performance Bouldering shoes for Indoor Climbing & Competitions

1. La Sportiva Skwama

all-around bouldering performance

Features & Specs:

  • unlined leather upper
  • 0.8 LaSpoFlex midsole
  • 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2
View Price on Amazon

I consider the La Sportiva Skwama to be the best performance bouldering shoe for a large majority of gym climbers. Maybe not competition climbers, but definitely for casuals looking for performance in the boulder gym like yours truly.

While it’s not as soft as many other shoes on this list (Drago, Theory, etc), it performs well at everything. And I believe a lot of us are looking for exactly that. A performance shoe that excels at everything, as opposed to a smearer that only excels at modern problems.

Sure, commercial gyms are leaning heavily into the modern bouldering problems nowadays, but there are still plenty of old-school problems as well as overhang terrain where something like the Skwama will perform better than your classic smearer.

What I love about the Skwama is that it’s a comfortable shoe (unlined leather) with sticky XS Grip 2 rubber that performs well on volumes but still has a good midsole in the toe-box to support you on small edges.

The front of the shoe is covered in rubber so toe-hooking is no problem. I love the Skwama heel, which is the same as the solution heel but your opinion might differ as this heel tends to make people lean heavily on one side or the other.

As opposed to sizing, the Skwama is definitely a stretcher so bear that in mind. Sizing 0.5 down from your usual Sportiva shoe wouldn’t hurt.

Men vs Women’s model

While La Sportiva usually doesn’t usually change the last for the men’s and women’s models, that is exactly what they did on the Skwama. The women’s Skwama is lower in volume, especially in the heel than the men’s Skwama. Other than that, the specs remain the same.

Read Also: Why men can wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa

Pros

  • Soft but not too soft
  • All-arounder
  • Great hooker (toe and heel)

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not as durable as others on this list
  • Stretches a lot

How I size La Sportiva

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In La Sportiva I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 36.5 EU
  • Comfort fit: 38 EU

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear La Sportiva Skwama’s at Bouldering Comps

  • Jongwon Chon (KOR)
  • Brooke Raboutou (USA)
  • Meichi Narasaki (JPN)

2. Scarpa Drago

Beloved and widely used

Features & Specs:

  • Microsuede and leather upper
  • 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2
  • 1mm Flexan midsole
View Price on Amazon

The Scarpa Drago is the most popular bouldering shoe on the competition scene. And if your boulder gym looks anything like mine, it’s also the most common performance shoe there. Much of that has to do with the popularity of Scarpa as a shoe manufacturer, its use in competitions, and of course the popularity of Magnus Mitdbø, Drago’s most famous supporter.

Undoubtedly, the Scarpa Drago is an excellent choice for a performance bouldering shoe, given its widespread support from athletes.

If a smearer is what you’re looking for, the Scarpa Drago is a great choice. It’s super soft (3.5mm outsole) with a tiny midsole (1mm) that only covers the big toe area for edging purposes. Additionally, it has sticky Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber that will enable you to stick on those big holds found in modern boulder problems.

Furthermore, I love toe-hooking in this shoe. It just sticks, much more than any other shoe on this list. The heel is alright, not the best, but definitely not the worst. It fits my narrow heel pretty without slipping out which is something I do experience in some Scarpa shoes.

Original vs LV model

Scarpa offers the Drago in two models: the original and a lower-volume version (white). The original Drago is ideal for wider feet, while the LV model is better suited for narrower feet.

Pros

  • Phenomenal smearer
  • Great for toe hooking

Cons

How I size Scarpa

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In Scarpa I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 37.5 EU
  • Comfort fit: 38.5 EU

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear Scarpa Drago’s at Bouldering Comps

  • Sean Bailey (USA)
  • Mia Krampl (SLO)
  • Jessica Pilz (AUT)
  • Hannah Meul (GER)

3. La Sportiva Theory

crème de la crème of bouldering technology

Features & Specs:

  • Microfiber and suede upper
  • 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip 2
  • No midsole
  • P3 system
  • D Tech
View Price on Amazon

The La Sportiva Theory is La Sportiva’s answer to modern bouldering. This shoe might miss a midsole, but that does not prevent it from being an excellent edger. It features a super soft and sticky Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber outsole with a differentiated thickness.

What does this mean? Essentially that La Sportiva figured out how to make the midsole obsolete. Mark my words that we’ll see more of this in the future!

Furthermore, it features LaSpo’s D Tech, removing the edges on the side to make it perform better at smearing and toe-hooking.

This shoe is a super exciting piece of technology and feels like it honestly should not fall within the price range of other climbing shoes. The Theory is an excellent smearer, toe-hooking demon, edges well, and has a narrow heel that might not suit everyone but feels awesome when it does fit.

While the toe rubber is exceptional, it does make this one of the least comfortable shoes on this list. Having that much rubber on top just makes it hard for curled toes to breathe. That being said, the Theory breaks in pretty fast, much faster than the Skwama, and only beaten by the Futura.

Men vs Women’s model

As with most La Sportiva shoes, there is no difference in volume between the men’s and women’s models. In the case of the theory, the women’s model is made from softer materials to support a lighter climber.

Pros

  • fast break-in period
  • great hooker (toe and heel)
  • great smearer

Cons

  • strong feet required

How I size La Sportiva

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In La Sportiva I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 36.5 EU
  • Comfort fit: 38 EU

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear La Sportiva Theory at Bouldering Comps


3. Five Ten HiAngle Pro

ultra sticky performance shoe

Features & Specs:

  • Synthetic microfiber upper (unlined)
  • C4 Stealth Rubber
View Price on Amazon

Favored by bouldering superstars such as Janja Garnbret and Miho Nonaka, the Five Ten’s performance shoe the HiAngle Pro definitely belongs on this list.

The main selling point for these, in my opinion, is the legendary C4 Stealth Rubber which is ultra-sticky and performs amazingly on modern boulders. However, this climbing shoe’s one fatal flaw is definitely its edging performance. It just doesn’t perform as well on steep terrain as other options on this list such as the Skwama, Flagship, and Drago.

That’s not to say these suck at overhangs, as clearly, Janja has no problem dominating this terrain, but you will need strong feet to get the job done.

These break in really fast feeling good straight out of the box and performing at their peak after only about 4 sessions.

Pros

  • Great smearer
  • Super sticky rubber

Cons

  • Doesn’t edge well on small footholds

How I size Five Ten

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In Five Ten I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: … EU (6.5 US men)
  • Comfort fit: … EU (7 US men)

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear Five Ten HiAngles at Bouldering Comps

  • Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  • Yannick Flohé (GER)
  • Kokoro Fuji (JPN)
  • Miho Nonaka (JPN)

4. Unparallel Flagship

all-around performance

Features & Specs:

  • Vegan
  • Synthetic upper (lined)
  • 3.5mm RS rubber (front)
  • 4.2mm rubber (heel)
  • hard midsole

Unparallel Flagships are the highest-performance shoes in Unparallel’s collection. Favored by the king of dynamic bouldering, Tomoa Narasaki, these definitely perform on the modern boulder problems despite having one of the stiffer rubbers on this list.

The flagship has sticky 3.5mm RS rubber in the front and a stiffer 4.2mm rubber in the heel. Sitting between soft and stiff, these perform well on small edges and big volumes alike. I’d say this is a great all-around bouldering shoe comparable to the La Sportiva Skwama.

These are made from a synthetic upper so they don’t stretch all that much. Unparallel suggests a 1/4 size increase.

Original vs LV model

While the original flagship is advertised for medium feet, I would say they lean more toward high-volume feet. The heel feels really baggy for a medium fit. I’d say the LV model is definitely recommended for anyone with medium or narrow-volume feet.

Pros

  • Great all-arounder

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Baggy heel

How I size Unparallel

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In Unparallel I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit:
  • Comfort fit:

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Who wears Unparallel Flagships at Bouldering Comps?

  • Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  • Staša Gejo (SRB)

5. Tenaya Mastia

All-around performance and comfort

Features & Specs:

  • Vegan
  • microfiber upper
  • 3.5 Vibram XS Grip
  • 2D multilayer midsole
View Price on Amazon

Tenaya doesn’t really have a shoe that screams ‘indoor boulder demon’ but its Mastia comes closest to it. The Mastia is a great all-arounder that definitely deserves a spot on this list.

This is Drew Ruana’s go-to bouldering shoe for outdoor bouldering but also performs exceptionally on indoor boulder problems. Especially on steep overhangs.

This shoe climbs similarly to the La Sportiva Skwama. It edges and smears well and does a good job of not being too soft, and not too stiff. Making it a good versatile shoe that you won’t have to swap out during your indoor bouldering sessions.

Mastia’s mix comfort with all-around performance. They are also vegan.

My main gripe with these shoes is that I just cannot wear them. They are designed for high-volume feet and don’t have a lower-volume version of this shoe. I also can never find them in smaller sizes.

Men vs Women’s model

The Mastia doesn’t have a women’s or LV model. This is a shame because this model is only really suitable for wider-volume feet.

Pros

  • Vegan
  • Comfortable
  • All-arounder

Cons

  • Not for narrow feet
  • Shoes tend to smell

How I size Tenaya

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In Tenaya I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 36.5 EU (4.5 US men)
  • Comfort fit: 38 EU (6 US men)

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear Mastia’s at Bouldering Comps

  • None yet

6. Evolv Shaman Pro

comfortable performance

Features & Specs:

  • Sticky SAS TRAX rubber
  • Love bump and knuckle box technology
  • EvoWrap technology
View Price on Amazon

While the Phantom excels at outdoor bouldering, The Shaman Pro is Evolv’s performance answer to modern gym bouldering.

The Shaman Pro is softer than the original beloved Shaman and was released in 2023 with new technological additions.

While La Sportiva Theory is tech-heavy with performance on the brain, the Shaman Pro is tech-heavy with comfort in mind.

Evolv’s Shaman Pro features the love bump and knuckle box technology that is so iconic about the Shaman. These enable your toes to be comfortable in a curled position, and the rest of your feet to be hugged without any dead space.

Furthermore, it features the all-new EvoWrap technology. This new tech combats aggressive downsizing to get a good fit. EvoWrap uses a midsole in a three-dimensional way to mold your feet, enabling performance while maintaining comfort.

If you love pain and don’t care about comfort, the benefits of the Shaman Pro don’t stop there. One of the best features of this shoe is its super sticky TRAX SAS rubber. With this rubber, these performance boulder shoes come closer to gluing yourself to those big fiberglass holds than any other rubber on this list, including Vibrams XS Grip 2 and Five Ten’s Stealth.

If you’ve never worn a pair of Evolv’s do yourself a favor and at least give its rubber a shot, in combination with its comfort, you might never wanna wear another climbing shoe again.

Original vs LV model

The Shaman Pro is available in its original model and a lower volume model. The original is ideal for medium and wider-sized feet while the LV model is better suited for narrower feet.

Pros

  • Vegan
  • Super sticky rubber
  • Comfortable
  • Fast break-in

Cons

  • Evolv shoes smell a lot
  • Not the best toe patch

How I size Evolv

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In Evolv I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 38 EU
  • Comfort fit: 39 EU

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear Evolv Shamans at Bouldering Comps

  • Colin Duffy (USA)

7. La Sportiva Futura

smearing monster

Features & Specs:

  • Suede/microfiber upper (unlined)
  • 3mm Vibram XS Grip 2
  • 1mm LaSpoFlex toe midsole
  • No Edge Tech
  • P3 system
View Price on Amazon

This list of performance boulder shoes wouldn’t be complete without a no-edge shoe. The La Sportiva Futura, also known as the smearing monster, is the favorite of Japan’s lead and bouldering phenom Ai Mori.

No Edge technology is a little strange if you don’t know what it is. Basically, this technology enables you to climb as if you were wearing socks dipped in rubber. It’s not great for edging at all, but phenomenal when it comes to smearing on large volumes.

The future is definitely a bit of a one-trick in my book, performing at the very top on volume-heavy routes but falling off dramatically from there.

Considering the thin 3mm Vibram outsole and price of the shoe, I wouldn’t consider this boulder shoe as a training shoe. It’s definitely reserved for competition climbing and sending hard, slabby gym projects where a smearing demon could be useful.

I must say though, this is the most comfortable shoe on the list with almost no break-in period, even with appropriate downsizing it feels amazing.

Men vs Women’s model

The Futura men’s uses the PD75 last (same as Skwama) and the women’s version uses the more narrow WPD75 last. There’s no difference in sensitivity between the men’s or women’s Futuras.

Pros

  • fast break-in period
  • smearing monster
  • great for competition climbing

Cons

  • not a good toehooker
  • expensive
  • not durable

How I size La Sportiva

My street shoe size is 38.5 EU (6 US men). In La Sportiva I wear the following fits:

  • Performance fit: 36.5 EU
  • Comfort fit: 38 EU

👉 How to size Indoor Bouldering shoes

Athletes who wear La Sportiva Futura’s at Bouldering Comps

  • Ai Mori (JPN)
  • Serika Okawachi (JPN)

What should you look for in a Performance boulder shoe?

Performance bouldering shoes for indoors are aggressive shoes with great sensitivity. These shoes have soft sticky rubber like Vibram XS Grip 2 or Five Ten Stealth that will help them stick to large holds in modern bouldering gyms. Ideally, they will have a small midsole that doesn’t mess with the sensitivity of the shoe but still helps them perform at edging on small holds on steep terrain.

Performance shoes for indoor bouldering, differ from performance shoes for outdoor bouldering as indoor boulder shoes need to be much more sensitive. For example, a La Sportiva Solution is great for outdoor bouldering but much too stiff to perform well on modern boulder problems in the gym.

Here are some articles that will help you make the right decisions:

Why the La Sportiva solution didn’t make this list

La Sportiva’s Solution is a popular climbing shoe, and it’s definitely up there with some of the best climbing shoes in the world. But it’s not a shoe that I would pick for modern boulder problems, and a lot of competition climbers will back me up on that.

The solution is stiff and works great for outdoor boulder problems (look no further than Shawn Raboutou crushing 9A’s in this shoe) but doesn’t perform well on big holds and flat volumes so commonly used on modern boulder problems.

There’s a reason competition climbers are no longer wearing solutions, including the softer solution comps, for bouldering. They do use them for lead climbing though.

Anyway, thought I’d clear that up because this shoe is very popular and often purchased for the wrong reasons!

Wrap Up

Hopefully, this 2023 Buyers Guide helped you pick a performance bouldering shoe for indoor bouldering. Each of the covered models will make an excellent choice and help you send your projects, progress your bouldering grades, or even win some competitions! If there are any questions regarding to sizing and fits, or the specs of any of the mentioned shoes, ask them below and I’ll get back to you.

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