Climbing shoes feel expensive. They’re now about even with the price of a rope. In the 70’s (when climbing shoes were mostly boots) and 80’s (when the now modern style of climbing shoes took off) climbing shoes were around $60. That sounds cheap until the inflation calculator shows those same shoes would be $232 (1980) – $477 (1970) today.

In this sense, shoes have, thankfully, stayed significantly under the price of inflation. Since the 70’s/80’s climbing shoes have also become much more complicated to make as the craftsmanship has increased substantially.

Today, a number of climbing shoes have passed the $200 mark and there are very few shoes that are under $100. But why is that exactly? We interviewed 10+ manufacturers to find out what makes one shoe more expensive than another, below you’ll find the reasons they cited.

The Rubber

Almost half the climbing shoe is rubber, so it’s natural this would be a large part of the cost. Name brand rubber, like Vibram®, comes at an extra cost. The largest shoe manufacturers are able to offset this cost a bit, with the huge quantities that they order. For many small brands these costs can be so high they have to look elsewhere to be able to create a competitively priced shoe.

There are many companies creating their own rubber and this significantly reduces the overall shoe cost. You’ll notice that even though La Sportiva and SCARPA have mostly Vibram® shoes, their lower cost entry-level shoes have a non-Vibram® rubber compound.

For most brands, rubber is bought in sheets and the sole of the shoe is stamped out of these sheets. There is technology to help pattern this cutting so the most amount of rubber is used but there is still some waste.

Some companies are using molded rubber parts, like Mad Rock and Black Diamond. These molded parts have a higher initial cost (to make the molds), but there is a material savings due to minimal rubber waste. Additionally, it’s faster to put these molded parts on a shoe – particularly when talking about heel cups, as there are less parts to tension and stretch by hand.

molded heel cups 1

Both of these shoes use a molded heel cup. Left is the Black Diamond Method and right is the Mad Rock Drone.

Material Composition

Outer materials have a wide variety of cost based on the quality and how hard it is to source/make. Generally speaking, the more genuine leather in a shoe, the more expensive that shoe will be. Suede is a type of split leather that is also used and is often less expensive.

Similarly, the price scale of synthetic microfibers and microsuedes hold a wide range; it will cost significantly more for a durable plush microfiber. Replacing leather with synthetic often makes vegan shoes more expensive for this reason. Related aside: you can see all the vegan shoes in this post.

Materials aren’t the only difference in the shoes below, but you’ll notice the materials and prices reflect each other. For example with Scarpa, the lowest cost Helix model uses a suede, the Velocé uses a softer higher end suede, and the Maestro uses an eco-leather.

Licensing a material (and using its name) also costs money. So you’ll have larger shoe manufacturers that are able to meet the material minimums to buy high end materials like Lorica® – a premium mircrosuede and use its name. It’s likely you won’t find this licensed material name with a smaller brand.

We had some shoe brands mention, they’d love to use some specialty microfibers for the whole lining (instead of just a small spot here and there) but that change alone could move the cost of the shoe over $300.

The midsole material can also be expensive when using different plastics or carbons to achieve specific flex patterns.

And, even though shoelaces don’t cost that much, there is still a wide variety of prices and tradeoffs (cheaper is often less durable). Each “small” material decision adds up significantly over the whole shoe.

Manufacturing Time

Anytime you add more pieces to a puzzle it takes longer to put it together. Shoes are still made almost entirely by human hand, so the time spent adds up significantly in terms of paying for that time (in wages), which increases the overall price. Below are some examples of parts of shoes where the manufacturing time can really add up.

Sewing Patterns

Any time you increase the amount and difficultly of the sewing time, the price will go up.

Some shoes have a fairly basic sewing pattern, akin to that of a sock. Other shoes have 4 – 9 different pieces of materials stitched together that make up the sock shape. Not only does it take time to cut and sew all these pieces together, but the reason for so many different pieces is that the materials are often specialty fabrics, to perform a certain duty (stretch, softness, etc) that are also more expensive.

Having a different material over a toe knuckle area, for example, might help the shoe stretch in a certain way or eliminate a pain point.

The next time you’re in the shop, look inside the shoes. Look at how clean and close together the stitching is inside the shoe, or how many piece of materials are stitched together. This will help show the time it takes to create the shoe.

Cypher CoDex interior construction 2

You’ll notice the stitching on the left shoe is tight and uniform. You can also see multiple panels and materials. The materials are all very soft. The shoe on the right is cheaper and it shows with inconsistent stitching, less panels, and it has rougher materials.  

Split Soles

Having multiple pieces of rubber extends the manufacturing process as it’s a more complicated construction process. This means multiple cuts from the rubber sheet and also multiple placements that need to be aligned and connected to the shoe.

The benefit of multiple pieces is that these rubber parts can be different thicknesses so they can perform different duties. Less rubber also increases the shoes flexibility.

Climbing Shoe Sole Comparison 3

Here you can see a few different models of different sole construction from the La Sportiva line. From left to right, the TC Pro, the Finale, and the Futura.  


As we mentioned above, shoes are put together by humans. The cobblers making climbing shoes range from highly skilled labor to incredibly skilled labor.

There is no moving assembly automation line. You have workers sitting on stools (or standing) and stretching parts over a last, and specialty glueing the pieces on.

Depending where the factory is located, the living wage is also different. Italian laborers will get paid more than cobblers in Croatia or Vietnam.

To get a sense of the complexities, when the SCARPA Drago and the Ocún Fury first came out, both shoes had so few people (only 1-2) in the factory that could make those shoes correctly that the production was very limited. It took the master cobblers in each facility to be able to tension the huge top rubber pieces correctly.

SCARPA Drago Ocun Fury 4

Two shoes with incredibly complicated toe rubber: the SCARPA Drago on the left and the Ocún Fury on the right. 

Inflation & Rising Material Cost & Shipping

Almost every industry is getting hit with inflation. These costs are sometimes eaten by the company for awhile but inevitably they are shared or passed down to the consumer.

In the middle of the pandemic, some companies told us they were experiencing shipping prices that were 6-figures higher than what they were used to paying. During COVID there were less price raises on shoes, as companies say, stopped going to trade shows and then used those dollars to pay for shipping instead of raising the price.

Import Taxes and Duties

This can come into play for multiple reasons. The most obvious is country of origin. The import taxes to import into the US from China or Italy are much higher than some other countries, like Vietnam. A loss of a free trade agreement could pump the price of shoes over 20% overnight.

Similarly, you will likely see lower shoe prices when buying a European shoe in Europe. In some cases there are even government subsidies that can offset this cost further.

One brand mentioned that the US has a higher import tax and duty on anything that’s more than 49% synthetic. So all synthetic shoes, inherently are going to cost the manufacturer or the distributor more to bring in.

Climbing Shoes are Complicated to Make

Overall, the standout costs are materials (including rubber) and labor (the shoe takes longer to make). Then there are an additional amount of complexities that are sometimes unpredictable – like trade agreements.

When you dive into the whole climbing shoe process, it seems incredible that the shoe manufacturers are able to keep costs to a near equivalent of running shoes – shoes that don’t have a hand tensioned rand or are able to have many machined parts of the process.

Our Best Advice for Climbing Shoes

Go to shoe demos (at the gym or climbing festivals) and try on ALL THE SHOES. Including the high and low volume versions of the same model. Ideally, try climbing the same routes in each pair so you can get a sense of how they fit and perform differently. Note how they fit: are there pressure points or any gaps between your foot and the sides / top / bottom of the shoe? Pick what fits snugly and feels right to you.

If there’s a spot on a shoe that’s nagging you or any part of your foot slips in the shoe, keep trying on shoes. After trying on a ton of shoes, at one point you may wonder, “is this shoe perfect?!” because you can’t find anything wrong with the fit – at this point trust your intuition. And, for future reference, write all this info down on your phone: whether the shoe model fit or not, and what sizes are good/bad.

Want to See All The Climbing Shoes (over 400)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every climbing shoe and give you filters for volume, closure, material, last shape (downturn / asymmetry), and more. You can also filter by on sale items with discounts > 20%.