Generally speaking, a lined or unlined shoe will not make a huge difference in your climbing experience. However there are some general rules to see if lined/unlined will make an impact. In this post we’ll cover when these general rules apply, and when those rules might not actually be true.

To write this post we interviewed 10+ climbing brands about their shoes to make sure we bring you all the details.

The differences can quickly be summed up as…

Lined Climbing Shoes

  • Less stretch
  • Softer to the touch
  • More durable

Unlined Climbing Shoes

  • Higher sensitivity
  • More stretch

How to Tell if a Climbing Shoe is Lined vs Unlined

The difference between lined and unlined climbing shoes is 1 layer of material on the inside (unlined) or more multiple layers (lined) that are glued or stitched together.

Sometimes, you can easily see partial linings, as they’ll be an extra piece of material reinforcing the laces, toebox, or heel.

Other times, the entire upper and footbed will be fully lined. This can be hard to tell at times, since the entire inside will be uniform. In the example below you can feel the looser lining material.

Lined 5.10 shoe 1
This shoe has a lining on the upper as well as the footbed.

It’s easiest to tell an unlined shoe when the upper material also makes up the footbed of the shoe and you can see/feel there is only one piece of material.

Unlined Sportiva Shoe 2
Here you can see the upper material is one continuous piece with the footbed. This is the easiest way to see/tell a shoe is unlined.

You can also having lining just in the upper – this is usually done to reinforce the closure or if the upper has another material for padding.

For some shoes, it can be tough to visually tell if a climbing shoe is lined or unlined just from looking at it. This is because many manufacturers use several different materials in a single shoe. Multiple colors and material types stitched together can make it look confusing and you’re left wondering: is that lined, or just a different material?

Unlined SCARPA shoe 3
You can see multiple pieces of different materials inside this shoe, but it is all one layer, so it's still an unlined shoe.

Another great way to tell is simply by looking at the specs. Many manufacturers write if their shoes are lined or unlined in the technical specs on their sites or supplied with the shoe. When that info is available we also add it to WeighMyRack and specify where the lining is located.


A general rule is that an unlined leather shoe will be the most breathable since there is less material and leather is more breathable than synthetic options.

A lined shoe, especially when combined with foam will decrease breathability.

Rule exception: Depending on the material of the lining, you could get more wicking in the shoe. For example, Tenaya uses a cotton lining with a waterproof treatment. So the cotton pulls in the sweat and then the waterproof treatment repels it away from the immediate surface. These brand-specific choices and technologies are often also in their specs, and we list them with each shoe model when we have them as well.


Historically, if you were looking for the most sensitive shoe possible, unlined has always been the way to go.

There are many companies that line their more entry level shoes to prioritize comfort and durability but then keep their higher end shoes unlined to ensure sensitivity.

When climbing shoes were first made, their construction was quite simple. Today, brands have been experimenting with all sorts of material types and thicknesses. It is now possible to have a lined shoe that has a much thinner outsole and a thinner midsole that will still give you the same sensitivity of an unlined shoe that has a little bit of a thicker midsole. Keep in mind that there is a tradeoff: thinner outsoles typically have less durability.

In this category of sensitivity, since it’s virtually impossible to know the entire shoe construction, we default to what the brand says the shoe is designed to do. If they say it’s a shoe for newer climbers made with comfort in mind, then we assume less sensitivity. If they say it’s great for micro-edging, we assume they’ve prioritized sensitivity.


It makes sense that the more layers you have, the more durable the shoe will be. You can generally assume a lined shoe will have more durability than an unlined shoe.

Sometimes lining can be just for reinforcement, so the shoe doesn’t stretch or blow out in ways that are unexpected. Often shoes are lined in strategic positions like the heel or the ball or the foot. This creates extra durability for the shoe, to help it stay in the designed shape.

After prolonged use, an unlined shoe that hasn’t been reinforced with materials or a specific sewing pattern can suddenly feel baggy or loose. With testing, often manufacturers can find these areas and then choose where to reinforce the shoe before it goes to production.



If you have two shoes made out of the same exact materials with the exact same construction, an unlined shoe will stretch more than a lined shoe.

Materials matter here (we wrote a whole post about the impact of leather vs synthetic). If you have an unlined leather shoe, it will likely stretch between a quarter and a half size, whereas a lined synthetic shoe will have virtually no stretch.

Note: Brands are continuing to adapt their shoe making process to decrease stretch. 5-15 years ago, climbers would often size down at least a half, if not a full size (or more!), and would often go through a painful “break-in period” where they stretched their shoe to fit. Now, the latest guidance is to fit shoes comfortably snug – and to assume the shoe will have less stretch (no stretch – less than a half size).

Take-away: Lined synthetic shoes do not stretch. Unlined leather shoes stretch the most, usually up to half a size. All other shoes are in-between and it depends on the materials used and construction.

Additional Tip: Newer models of shoes stretch less than classic models. For example, the La Sportiva Mythos just celebrated it’s 30th year of the same construction. This shoe still stretches more than any other shoe on the market.


Lined shoes are often lined specifically to add comfort.

Some brands only line their entry level shoes. They’ll often add a soft microfiber or padded upper so the shoe feels extra comfortable.

Lined Five Ten Shoe 4
This entry level shoe has plenty of padding on the upper to add comfort.

Other brands will add padding (lining) to smaller areas of their upper. This can be used to add ankle protection for a crack shoe, like the TC Pro pictured below.

TC Pro with upper padding lining 5
This shoe has padding in the upper where the ankle bone is. The footbed is still unlined (1 layer).

Lined vs Unlined

When picking a shoe, it’s not helpful to start with lined vs unlined right away. Knowing the climbing styles the shoe should perform in and shoe fit would be #1 in choosing a shoe.

Knowing if a shoe is lined or unlined can help you understand why the shoe behaves in certain ways and depending on your foot, the lining (or lack of) may be able to further support your nuanced preferences.

There is no good or bad, right or wrong answer when it comes to shoe lining. Knowing the general rules of lined and unlined shoes, will just help you be the most informed when making shoe decisions.

Why pick a lined shoe

  • If you have more sensitive feet you have a higher chance of feeling comfortable in a lined shoe, as the linings are intentionally meant to be soft and comfortable.
  • If you’d like your shoe to fit out of the box, and not have a undeterminable amount of stretch, a lined shoe will be a safer bet for fit.
  • If you’ve felt like you’ve used unlined shoes and they turned loose/baggy in certain areas, choosing a lined shoe could help in durability of your shoe not blowing out.

Why pick an unlined shoe

  • If you have particularly sweaty feet, it could be helpful to look for an unlined shoe that will have higher breathability. (Also, feel free to bring a towel and towel off your feet between climbs – that will be far more effective than picking an unlined shoe.)
  • If you’d like to maximize performance, choosing an unlined shoe can increase sensitivity (less layers of material between you and the rock) and also be related to the shoe molding to your foot (especially with an unlined leather shoe).

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%.

Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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