Choosing a shoe for crack climbing is an entirely different game to choosing a pair of street shoes or shoes for sport climbing. With sport climbing shoes, you might look for how aggressive the shoe is, how downturned it is - meaning you can get the most out of the razor edge thin holds in the wall.
For crack climbing though, we don’t stand on holds in the same way. We look for places in a crack to place our toes and twist, camming them in the crack so we can stand up and progress up the wall. We have to imagine how the shoe will feel and how it’ll perform while being jammed in-between two sides of rock.
What are best crack climbing shoes? For me, with what I like in a crack climbing shoe, the La Sportiva TC Pro are the shoes I would pick if I were given free rein in a climbing gear shop. While they are the most expensive on the list, their mix of durability, protection, comfort and stick wins for me.
Last update on 2019-07-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Ending up on the sandstone cracks of Li Ming with the perfect pair of crack climbing shoes doesn’t come easy. From the construction of the shoe to the way it fastens, everything about the shoe is important and will tell you how good it will be in the crack.
I’ve gathered up my top 5 picks for the best crack climbing shoes, varying from the inexpensive to the upper end of the price range.
Reviews of the Best Crack Climbing Shoes
1. La Sportiva TC Pro
Named after the one and only big wall legend Tommy Caldwell, the TC Pro is La Sportiva’s mid-top climbing shoe which falls in the upper end of the price range. This shoe is made for cracks, big walls and face climbing, but is really an extremely versatile shoe.
The TC Pro is constructed of leather upper and a large Vibram rand which runs over the toes and high on the ankles, which will help massively with durability.
The Vibram XS edge rubber sole increases the shoes edging power, meaning the TC Pro is as at home on a crimp fest as it is on a wide crack.
The shoe is fully lace up, which gives a more precise fit over Velcro, and has padding placed in particular areas to increase comfort in cracks.
2. Butora Altura Wide Fit Climbing Shoe
The Altura is Butora’s mid-priced answer to the TC Pros. They are a mid-top climbing shoe made for crack climbing, big walling, and any long day on the rock. I’m personally a big fan of Butora climbing shoes. I’ve owned a bunch of pairs, and I find the mix of price, comfort, and performance to be spot on.
They are a full lace-up shoe with ankle protection and a padded tongue for more comfort when the feet are wedged in a crack. The construction of these shoes is a mix of leather and hemp. Like the TC pro’s, the rand of the Altura goes up nice and high on the shoe, covering the toe box and the entire heel section of the shoe.
Butora uses their own secret rubber, which I’ve found to be extremely sticky, making the Altura a great all-round shoe, good for crack, slab and face climbing too.
3. La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoe
The La Sportiva Mythos has been around for 20 years, which makes it one of the oldest shoes on the market today. What’s kind of amazing about that is that this shoe has stayed basically the same this entire time. It is a mid-priced shoe with high performance and fit.
It features a 100% leather upper, a high rand which wraps around the whole shoe and a unique lace system, with runs from the toes and around the heel and back to the toes. This provides a precise fit, keeping the toes and the heel inline.
The Mythos is designed to be a comfortable, high-performance shoe to be worn comfortably all day. They have a narrow toe box, making them great for crack climbing, and they use sticky Vibram XS Edge rubber, making them also good for slab and face climbing.
4. Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym Climbing Shoe
The Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym are somewhat a staple in the crack climbing world. They are a mid-priced, simple slipper shoe with a large rand the whole way around the shoe which goes higher around the ankle.
It has a nice flat bottom and good size toe box, making it easier to jam the toes into thinner cracks. The shoe is super easy to get on and off, due to it being a slipper with big pull-on tabs.
The Moccasym’s upper is 100% leather which will help with durability, and the rubber on the shoe is stealth C4. Be careful when sizing these—with them being 100% leather, and also being slip-ons with no fastening system, they will stretch more than synthetic shoes. Make sure you size them knowing they will stretch roughly half size and they cannot be tightened.
5. Evolv Addict Climbing Shoe
The Evolv Addict is a low priced, entry level crack climbing shoe. It’s Evolv’s alternative to the classic slip-on crack climbing shoes originally designed by 5.10, like the Moccasym. They provide a basic and simple design, a flat bottom and a high rubber rand wrapping around the shoes outer, very similar to the Moccasys.
The shoe features a leather upper and two pull tabs on the heel, with elastic on top, in order to enter the shoe. It is a softer shoe, which makes it a good option for climbing crack and for smearing, but not so great on edgy or overhanging terrain.
What is Crack Climbing
Crack climbing is a style of rock climbing which utilizes cracks in the rock’s surface, usually vertical ones, to ascend the wall or route.
It’s quite a different thing from other forms of rock climbing, which use actual holds for the hands and feet. Instead of crimping on edges, pinching on tufas or hanging on jugs, crack climbers will wedge their fingers, hands, feet and any other body part which will fit in the crack, in order to ascend the rock.
Learning how to crack climb and how to feel secure pulling crack climbing moves takes most climbers quite a bit of time, due to how different it feels from regular sport climbing. While climbers of other disciplines will look for edges and holds in the rock’s surface, a crack climber will look for constrictions and flairs in the crack.
Crack climbs are generally broken up into a few different categories, based on the size of the crack:
Finger cracks, which are thin cracks which can fit fingers and toes only. These are usually climbed by using a combination of finger jams, toe jams and finger locks.
Hand cracks, which allow the entire hand to be fit inside. For these, various forms of hand jams and locks are used. This might be having the hand in the crack and forming a fist, or ‘cupping’ the hand in order to lock the hand in, essentially making your hand act like a nut (a nut is a common piece of protection in trad climbing).
Chimneys, allowing the entire body to fit inside the crack. An incredibly fun form of climbing. When chimneying, you’ll use opposing force pressure. This may be leaning on one side of the crack with your back, one foot and one hand, and pushing the opposite side with the other hand and foot. You’ll push yourself up, swap hands and feet, then do it all again.
Off-width. Most climbers have a love or hate relationship with off-width cracks. Certainly one of the most difficult forms of crack climbing. Off-width cracks are a weird size; not big enough for the entire body, but too big for just the hands and feet. Off-width climbers get creative, using various forms of stacked body parts in order to wedge themselves in the crack and slowly work themselves up the wall.
How to Choose the Best Shoes for Crack Climbing - Buyer's Guide
What is the difference between a sport climbing shoe and a crack climbing shoe
Crack climbing is quite a different discipline from other forms of climbing, like sport climbing. Crack climbs using vertical cracks rather than edges and pockets in the rock to send the route. Given its differences, it’s probably no surprise that the shoes can be different too.
Sport climbing shoes are generally designed to be tight, feather light and sensitive. The climber should be able to stand on the smallest dime-sized edges in the rock, or toe hook a tiny undercut on a 45-degree overhanging limestone route without even thinking about the shoes. For the shoe to have this kind of ability, it must have a few key things. The shoe must be extremely tight, reasonably stiff, the right rubber thickness and it must be downturned to some degree. Downturned being when the shoe isn’t flat—it curves downwards.
Due to the nature of crack climbing, and that the shoe will be dragged against the coarseness of the rock inside a crack, a crack climbing shoe is designed to be more rugged than a sport climbing or bouldering shoe. This is achieved through the mix of a lot of rubber rand around the shoe, rubber over the toe box and the shoe being constructed of leather. The tradeoff here might be a heavier shoe. They are also designed to be more comfortable, due to the length of crack climbs and positions the foot will be put in. Often, this is done by providing a padded tongue, higher ankle protection, a flatter construction with little to no downturn and less pressure on the toes.
There is certainly an overlap here. Some climbers will climb sport in their crack climbing shoes and climb crack in their sport shoes—and some climbers only own one jack-of-all-trades shoe, which is fine. When either discipline is really being pushed, though, like going for an all-day multi-pitch crack climb, or a 5.13 steep sport route, you’re certainly going to want to get the benefits that come from a specific shoe for the job.
What to look for in a good crack climbing shoe
A good crack climbing shoe, first of all, should be durable, like a great canyoneering shoe. The shoe is going to be wedged up, pressed hard into the rocks in more ways than one can imagine. The top of the shoe needs to be made of something that can withstand all of this punishment. Leather is a good option. Some shoes are constructed of synthetic materials, which usually won’t fair as well as leather in the durability department. Having said that, one plus side of synthetic materials is that they stretch less than leather, which reduces the time it takes to ‘wear in’ the shoe.
We’re looking for a shoe with a high rand. The rand is the rubber part that wraps around the shoe. This part keeps the shoe together, tight, and sends power through the shoe from the heel down to the toe. We want a rand that goes nice and high. Preferably, anywhere that comes into contact with the rock, we want rubber. Even better if the rand wraps over the toe box too (the part of the shoe where your toes will be). This will make the shoes more durable than if the rock was rubbing straight onto the leather or synthetic upper.
When choosing crack climbing shoes, I’ll also be looking for anything on top of the shoe that might dig into the tops of my feet or toes when I’m jamming. I find that the way the shoe fastens is often the culprit here. If there’s a Velcro fastener with bits of metal to loop the Velcro, I’ll usually avoid it, because this can really dig into the tops of the foot. Because of this, I’ll usually go with lace-ups and something with a padded tongue. Slippers are also a common and good choice for climbing crack.
Laces on climbing shoes allow for a more precision fit, keep the entire shoe nice and snug and wrapped around the foot, even if the shoe stretches a little.
If there are seams on the inside of the shoe, anywhere near the toes, be sure they won’t become a problem. Even the tiniest thing—a little section of stitching, can become really uncomfortable when jamming and twisting your feet into a crack.
Many crack climbers choose mid-top shoes, which is when the side of the shoes go up a little past your ankles. This helps protect the ankles from getting torn up on sharp wider cracks.
Finally, crack climbing shoes are generally non-aggressive, fairly flat bottom shoes. This is because an aggressively downturned shoe is uncomfortable and usually unnecessary for crack climbing.
How to fit crack climbing shoes
Fitting a crack climbing shoe is a little different to what most people think for sport climbing shoes. With performance sport climbing or bouldering shoes, we want them to be tight and downturned. Not painful tight, but the idea is that your toes are being forced into a slight curve, which will then drive more power through the foot. Some climbers take this to the very extreme and fit their climbing shoes multiple sizes too small because they feel they get more performance out of it. I’ve seen some very big feet fit into some very small shoes. All of this cramming can lead to multiple different issues with mostly your big toe later in life. And it hurts.
When crack climbing, you’ll be cramming your toes and feet into small spaces. If my feet already hurt in my climbing shoes when standing on flat ground, imagine how much they’ll hurt once I’m toe locking in a crack! You don’t need, nor will you want your shoes to be that tight. At the same time though, you don’t want any extra space in there either.
You don’t want to be able to wiggle your toes around. You don’t want to be able to lift your heel or the arch of your foot off the bottom of the shoe. Crack climbing shoes should fit like a ridged, tight sock.
Because cracks are usually found in areas with big walls or multi-pitch climbs—and often only offer traditional protection, it is safe to say you will be wearing these shoes for a lot longer than you would on an average sport climb. Choose something that is comfortable. It should never hurt at any point. If you’re going with a leather shoe, size the shoe so they’re a little tighter than you would want them, because they will stretch. All leather shoes will stretch, usually a bit less than a half size.
While there is no 1 size fits all when it comes to climbing shoes, I do feel some are certainly more well-made and have a better overall feel than others. This is in the stickiness of the rubber, the amount of rand wrapping the shoe, the quality of the leather, the amount of support and protection the shoe provide and most importantly, the level of sensitivity of the shoe. I need to be able to feel exactly what my shoe is on.
My Choice for the Best Crack Climbing Shoe
Though the TC Pros are my top pick for the best crack climbing shoes, my second choice—the Butora Alturas— are trailing not far behind. The Alturas offer a very similar package to the TC Pros; ankle protection, full lace-up, padding where you need it and some of the best rubber around. They also come in a little cheaper than the TC’s, which may not be a deciding factor, but it is nice.
The reason I would pick either of these shoes over, say, the Mythos or the Anasazis, is largely the ankle protection, all-day comfort, and the padded tongue. While these are deciding factors when choosing a shoe for crack climbing, these factors change quite drastically when looking for bouldering shoes or shoes to wear on over-hanging terrain.
One of the really cool things about having both the TC’s and the Alturas available for purchase is that they seem to be designed for different foot shapes. If your foot has a low volume, or your foot is wider, never fear! One might not provide the perfect fit, but the other probably will!
Top Rated Climbing Shoes
Last update on 2019-07-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API