Which Rock Climbing Shoe Rubber is the Stickiest?

Sticky Rubbers Helps You Climb Harder Routes

Which rubber is the stickiest on climbing shoes? A study shows some rubbers are sticky than others. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Which climbing shoe rubber is the stickiest? Climbers have debated that question for the past 50 years when the first smooth soled climbing shoes were imported from Europe to the United States. Rock climbers wear specialized shoes to increase their climbing performance since the rubber on the soles of those shoes directly impacts their performance. Sticky rubber helps climbers stick to the rock better, allowing them to climb harder and higher.

The rubber you put on your feet directly translates to how hard you can climb.

Study Analyzes 9 Climbing Shoe Rubbers

For the past 50 years, the question of sticky rubber has been a debate because little empirical data exists that compares the various climbing shoe rubbers. Now, however, the debate is over. A study, published by Spadout.com and conducted by climber and physicist Steven Won at Northwestern University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, analyzes nine popular climbing rubbers. Climbing shoes with each rubber were purchased and cut apart, with a sample piece of rubber used to test its “coefficient of friction” on both a granite hold and an artificial hold.

What is the Stickiest Rubber in the Test?

The results are surprising. I haven’t climbed on every type of rubber. Like most climbers, I find a rubber that works for me and then I have all my resoles done with that rubber. The study’s overall winner was Evolv TRAX XT-5 with La Sportiva’s FriXion RS the runner-up.

The 5.10 Stealth C4 rubber that I’ve always used came next to last, just above Mad Rock’s Formula #5. My climbing partner Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company isn’t surprised, “I’ve always used my Evolv shoes on my hardest face routes because they’re the stickiest.” I might have to switch over and see if a new rubber helps me climb harder.

Do Lab Tests Translate to Real World Results?

Remember, of course, that this study is a first step in determining what are the best rubbers. The study was done in a lab with controlled temperatures and a limited load on the rubber samples. Further testing needs to be done in “real world” conditions. Check out the complete Climbing Rubber Test study, including the methodology, how the tests were performed, the physics behind the test, and the mathematical Coefficient of Friction formula, at Spadout.com.

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