High-end rock shoes are like ballet slippers, Karenhighly specialized and able to perform as designed only when worn by someone who has trained to take advantage of them. Really good rock-a-nauts have strong feet that don't need much support, and find that the "toes down" position encouraged by cambered shoes improves grip on tiny nubs or ledges. For someone like me, who rock climbs just often enough to remember what I'm there for, they're uncomfortable and not even very helpful.
It's all a matter of practice, then. If you spend a lot of time on rock then you'll be able to make better use of cambered shoes, such as the Five Ten V10 ($130; www.fiveten.com), a slip-on "slipper" design with a strongly cambered sole. Great shoes, but ideal for technical climbers with some skills and experience.
Still, there are lots of great rock shoes out there that the occasional climber can use and enjoyand that include Velcro closures. Five Ten, for instance, makes a shoe called the X-Ray ($89), which is a low-top, all-mountain shoe that's perfect for the intermediate climber. A snug fit, but not uncomfortably so, and Velcro closures for easy on and off. La Sportiva's Mythos ($120; www.lasportiva.com) is a low-top lace-up shoe, but still one of the best for all-around climbing.
Check out more essential climbing gear in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.
Lead Photo: courtesy, Five Ten
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