I have spent more time looking at climbing shoes than any other clothing item I wear.
Because with so many different options, sizes, and shapes of shoes out there, how do you make a decision?
With your shoes sometimes being the only thing keeping you on the wall, it’s worth spending a bit of extra time choosing the right pair.
Why its important to get the right shoes
“It’s just shoes” you might tell yourself while picking the cheapest pair.
However, once you experience those perfect fitting climbing shoes you will soon change your mind.
With shoes being the connection between your main base of support and the rock, you are going to want to make sure you have a good pair working in your favor.
Changing your shoes can give you lots of benefits in your climbs.
Some shoes will have better rubber than others which can help provide extra grip on the rock or in the gym.
But, if you are using the wrong type of shoes or a poorly fitting pair it can really hold back your climbing.
With extra space for your foot to maneuver in the shoe can cause you to slip or lose your place on a foothold.
I don’t think I even need to mention why this wouldn’t be ideal during a climb.
What to look for in a shoe?
You might hear bits of advice from people who have bought a pair such as “tighter is better” or it’s “all about what you’re comfy in.”
But what it is really going to depend on, is what you are looking for in your shoe.
This is going to differ from person to person.
Some people are just looking for that first pair; others are trying to push their limits and are taking any help they can get to hit the next grade.
If it is your first pair, you are mainly going to want to prioritize comfort and hard rubber.
Different Types Of Shoe
So when you break it down, all climbing shoes have three main things to consider.
The climbing shoe type, the features of the shoe, and the fit.
So first I’ll start with the shoe type, climbing shoes tend to be categorized as:
This style of shoe has a completely flat and straight sole, what this does is allow your toes to lie flat inside the shoe.
This is great for beginners as usually means they are extremely comfy to wear.
However, this doesn’t mean they are exclusively for beginners. If you are an experienced climber these shoes might be just the ticket to help your feet survive a whole day of climbing.
Another great thing about neutral shoes is the rubber on them tends to be quite thick. This means as a beginner you don’t have to worry too much about sloppy footwork wearing them down.
The only turn-off is due to the thicker rubber your feet will be less sensitive, this can be a huge problem when climbing overhanging routes where you need precise and clean foot placement.
Moderate climbing shoes refer to a moderate downturn in the sole of the shoe.
What this achieves is getting your toes/feet into a position that will help you generate more power on a climbing hold.
This makes them a great technical shoe allowing them to excel on most routes apart from those sporty overhangs.
This style of shoes can be uncomfortable but you get used to them after a couple of sessions when compared to the aggressive style shoes they are practically crocs.
So I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you, these shoes suck.
They are so tight when you first get them you will only be wearing them for a few minutes at a time.
However, they are known as sports shoes for a reason. These are the bad boys you only break out when you mean business.
This style is the next step up and features an even larger downturn in the sole of the shoe.
The reason for this is to allow you to make precision placements on tiny holds that you tend to see in the later grades.
I would not recommend these shoes to beginners as they will really hurt your feet if you are not used to tight shoes, not to mention that the rubber tends to be a lot thinner on aggressive shoes to up your sensitivity to make those delicate foot placements.
Because the rubber is thinner these tend to wear away faster and are also not suited to smearing which is a technique I relied a lot on as a beginner.
So a shoe’s features refer to the closure, material, and outsole of the shoe.
The choice for each of these features can change the performance of the shoe, however, some options are just plain personal preference so don’t take it too seriously.
The Closure Of The Shoe
So there are really only 3 types of shoe closure, the classic laces, the simple slip-on, and the sticky velcro straps.
Climbing shoes with laces are extremely adaptable, due to the nature of laces you can tighten or loosen at a moment’s notice. This really helps if your feet tend to get too hot or swell after a few hours of climbing.
You can even tighten the shoes up at the toe to help pull your feet into a more aggressive stance to help with those hard overhangs.
This style of shoe was originally made for children but has since started to take off in the adult range of shoes.
Don’t let this put you off, due to using an elastic material these shoes have an extremely sleek and low profile.
This can help you slip your feet into those thin cracks and crevices with ease.
Due to the lack of material used in slip-on style shoes, they tend to provide greater sensitivity for your feet. This can help toughen your feet or help you feel for that tiny hold where foot placement is everything.
These shoes can sometimes be a battle to get on, especially in a well-fitted pair but once on they feel nice and snug.
One of the downsides of this type of shoe is that it doesn’t fair well against heel hooks, they are prone to popping right off your foot if the fit isn’t really tight.
So these strap shoes are sometimes known as “velcro”
They are perfect for those gym sessions or when you are out bouldering, due to the nature of the hook and loop system.
This allows you to take your shoes off with ease, which is a blessing when you need to stretch out those toes between climbs.
Material Of The Shoe
Climbing shoes are mainly made from leather with rubber coating at the bottom.
Manufacturers mainly stick to 3 different materials.
This one is the stretchiest of the three materials used. However, it does come with a downside.
The color runs and gives your feet an interesting paint job. While this is great for your friends to laugh at, just make sure you don’t buy a yellow pair.
Since this material is known to stretch make sure you get a tight pair. The golden rule is to make sure your toes are touching the end of the shoe, but they are not cramped up.
Following this advice can keep your shoes fitting well after the stretch.
This has mostly the same properties as unlined but the stretch is reduced.
It’s known that some shoe manufacturers only use this type of leather on the toe area of the shoe to try and help minimize stretch.
When buying shoes with lined leather keep in mind it might not stretch as much as you are used to.
This material is great if you don’t like your shoes stretching and changing shape.
Unlike the leather options, the synthetic material used in climbing shoes doesn’t really change much as you use them.
So when purchasing shoes of this type, remember that they won’t change much from when you try them on in-store.
Outsole Of The Shoe
So, the rubber outsole of the shoe changes from brand to brand and shoe to shoe.
However, the rubbers that are used have different properties.
Not many of the climbing shoe manufacturers give us information about the difference between each of the rubbers they use.
In order to make comparisons, we need have to rely on reviews or personal experience.
So in terms of shoe rubber, there are two options.
The softer sticker rubber or you can go with a more rigid harder rubber.
Both are great but for different purposes.
The softer sticker rubber is great when you need max grip on volumes or rock edge, the only downside to this rubber is that it doesn’t last very long in comparison to the rigid one.
This means if your climbing daily you’re going to need to swap these out sooner rather than later.
On the other side of the fence, the rigid style rubber boasts a lot more durability and will last longer, the type of shoe is also great for edging.
So, the thickness of the outsole you choose can make a big difference in the sensitivity of your feet on the wall.
If you’re new to climbing and looking at getting your first set of shoes, I would recommend looking for a thick shoe.
The sweet spot for thick shoes tends to be around 4mm – 5.5mm.
This thickness allows the shoe to be durable enough while providing support for your feet and making it easy to edge due to the large area.
The reason I recommend a thick sole for newcomers is due to poor footwork.
Footwork is something we can all improve on, but when you first start climbing it’s especially bad.
When flailing for holds on that first ascent into unknown grades you tend to smear your shoe wildly across anything it can get purchase on, effectively lowering the life of your shoe.
Thinner soles tend to be more for climbers that are confident in their footwork. They tend to range from 3mm – 4mm the thinner soles are great for when your feet need to feel the rock, this can give a lot of climbers more confidence as they can trust their feet more.
Tips For Getting That Perfect Fit
Getting the right pair of shoes is just as hard as finding a needle in a haystack.
Lucky for you I have compiled what I think are the best tips to make sure you get that great fitting pair.
1: Try Them On
I know a lot of people purchase items online, however, this is a dangerous game to play when buying climbing shoes.
Due to the tight fits you really need to try the shoes on to ensure a good match.
The best way is to try them in a local store and see if they will price match an online pair. If that fails, at least you know if the shoe will fit or not.
Every Shoe And Brand Has A Different Fit
When buying shoes it’s important to keep in mind that you might be size 10 in one style of shoe and size 11 in another.
Make sure you try each shoe on before you buy to make sure it’s not too snug.
Is Tight Right?
So the general consensus in climbing used to be that the tighter the shoe the better it would impact your climb, this was in order to get maximum sensitivity.
However, due to the rubbers used in modern shoes, this is just not the case anymore.
This being said keep in mind most climbing shoes stretch, So depending on the material, it’s fine if it’s a little tight at first.
Purchase In The Afternoon
It might sound a bit strange – but trust me on this one! Did you know your feet swell and change throughout the day?
The best time to try on shoes is in the afternoon, as this gives your feet a chance to swell.