How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes
There are many things to take into consideration when choosing a pair of climbing shoes. Shoes will be one of the first pieces of climbing gear you purchase, therefore picking the right pair is important. The type of climbing you do will impact the shoes you need. Ultimately, as your climbing skills and goals evolve, so will your shoe collection. Having multiple pairs of shoes to complete the individual demands of different climbs is quite common among experienced climbers.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the type of climbing you intend to do. Are you going to be spending a majority of your time at the gym? Do you like to go bouldering, or will you be big wall climbing? Are you climbing sport, or trad? Do you climb off-width cracks? From here we can take a more detailed look at the different materials, stiffness, and profile shape of climbing shoes, all of which influence their performance while doing these separate types of climbing.
Read on to learn more about the different types, materials, and constructions of climbing shoes so you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.
In This Article
Fitting Climbing Shoes
The fit of your climbing shoe will mean the difference between a long day at the crag enjoying yourself, and a miserable, painful experience fraught with bunions and blisters. Climbing shoes should be fit snugly, with your toes flat or slightly bent at the knuckles in order to achieve a higher level of power and performance as you stand on and push off of the smallest micro-edges. The heel pocket should also fit snugly and conform to your heel, as the rand that wraps around the heel should be pushing your toes forward into the toe box for that extra power and control.
To know how to get your shoes to fit "just right" depends on the materials and construction of the shoe as well as the shape of your foot. Ultimately, it behooves you to try on as many shoes as you can at an actual brick-and-mortar shop, walk in them, stand in them, and even climb in them if possible.
TIPS FOR GETTING A PROPER FIT
- Don't be wed to your street size; use it as a starting point. Oftentimes you will find that your street size may be too big for a proper-fitting climbing shoe.
- Avoid having any extra space at all in front of your toes, it will greatly reduce the rigidity of the toe box and hinder your ability to stay on footholds.
- Shop towards the end of the day. Your foot will have swollen throughout the course of the day and will be more true to the size they are during a long climb.
- Climbing shoes, by and large, are sized using European shoe sizes. This allows for a truly dialed-in fit. Use this handy conversion table to learn where to start.
Shape & Construction
The stiffness and profile shape of a climbing shoe will vary depending on the type of climbing it is intended for. For example, if you are doing a majority of slab climbing, you would want a flat-lasted shoe instead of an aggressive hooked-toe shoe. Here is a breakdown of the different options for climbing shoe stiffness and profile.
Much like the difference between a soft and hard rubber, the stiffness of a climbing shoe affects what kind of climbing it will perform best at. A soft shoe tends to be more sensitive - great for those precise foot placements on difficult boulder problems or feeling out that subtle dimple on a slab route. However, they do not offer much support, so edging and jamming will be fairly painful.
A stiff climbing shoe is great for toeing in on dime edges and jamming cracks all day long because of their support. The thicker rubber on these shoes makes them more durable but much less sensitive than soft shoes.
The profile of a climbing shoe helps determine what kind of terrain that particular shoe is best suited for. Generally speaking, one can separate climbing shoe profiles into three groups:
Flat-lasted: These are usually the most comfortable and don’t need to fit too tightly. This makes them best for all day use on slabs, low-angle cracks, and face terrain. Because of their comfortable fit, flat-lasted shoes are often a popular choice among beginners.
Cambered-last: These are for slightly higher performance climbing--allowing one to transmit more power to smaller footholds. Cambered shoes should feel fairly snug, and are intended for use on steep cracks, face terrain, and some overhanging terrain.
Hooked toe: These are designed for high performance climbing on vertical face or sustained overhanging terrain. The downturned last, combined with a beak-like toe, allow one to push and pull on the smallest, steepest footholds. The hook-like design allows you to generate more power from your foot by forcing it into an arched position.
Climbing Shoe Materials
A leather shoe is going to breathe much better than its leather lined or synthetic counterpart. Because it breathes better, your foot will sweat less and dry more. This contributes to leather shoes retaining fewer odors, smelling better over time, also being easier to care for. One thing to keep in mind when buying a leather climbing shoe is they can stretch quite a bit, as much as 1 full size, with use. This means that wearing a leather shoe will be somewhat uncomfortable at first as you will want to take this amount of stretching into account. A good example of a leather shoe is the La Sportiva Mythos.
This type of shoe is not as breathable as a regular leather climbing shoe (still better than synthetic). It will pick up some odor as time goes on but again, not as smelly as synthetic. The lining will reduce the amount of stretching down to about ½ or ¾ of a shoe size. Some shoes have strategically placed lining to limit stretch in certain areas of the shoe. Look to Five Ten's Verdon Lace as an example of a lined leather shoe.
This is the least breathable of your shoe options. Having a shoe that doesn’t breathe well is going to make your foot hot, sweaty, and stinky on those long days. The major benefit associated with synthetics is they stretch the least, less than ½ a shoe size. This feature takes some of the guessing associated with properly sizing leather shoes out of the equation. Nearly all of Evolv's climbing shoes are synthetic and sized in US sizes, this makes them a little less intimidating to purchase online.
Outsole Rubber Types
A softer, stickier rubber outsole will give you superior grip and sensitivity. This is suited for friction slab climbing and bouldering. Soft rubber will wear faster than a harder rubber and also leads to foot fatigue on longer routes. Dense, firm rubber is better suited for vertical faces with a lot of edging involved, crack climbing, and longer routes. Dense rubber will also last longer and provide better support on longer routes. These are just general guidelines to point you in the right direction. Every brand creates its own unique formulas they say are ideal for a certain type of climbing.
This style is great because it allows you the most customization with how tight the shoe fits. For long days out, when your feet begin to get hot and swell a bit, you have the option to loosen those laces. Releasing pressure on swelled feet reduces discomfort one might be feeling. On more technical and demanding climbs, you have the option to really tighten them up for a snug fit, increasing performance. The downside to a lace-up climbing shoe is the time required to sit down and tie them, a minor inconvenience. A perfect example of a cambered-last lace-up would be the Scarpa Vapor Lace.
These offer the ease of slipping them on and strapping them up. Simple to put on and take off. They do allow you to adjust the fit, just not quite as much as the lace-up system. Velcro climbing shoes are perfect for the gym or for bouldering, where you may be taking your shoes on and off constantly as you migrate from problem to problem. A prime example of a hooked-toe, hook-and-loop closing shoe is the aggressive La Sportiva Solution.
It’s as simple as the name implies, slip them on then slip them off. In terms of adjusting how snug they fit your feet, what you see is what you get. Traditionally, slipper climbing shoes have a less-stiff sole, meaning your feet will work harder, getting stronger faster. A flat-lasted slip-on shoe, such as the Five Ten Moccasym, is great for all-day comfort.
Buying climbing shoes can feel like an intimidating experience, but it doesn't have to be! Now that you have expanded your knowledge on all things climbing shoe-related, click the link below to see all that Outdoor Gear Exchange has to offer!
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