How to choose the perfect rock climbing shoe – The ultimate guide.
Choosing the perfect rock climbing shoe can sometimes be a huge task – Climbing shoes tend to fit everyone differently and it can be a very personal experience as opposed to buying shoes for other sports.
This guide is designed to make it as easy as possible for anyone to find their perfect climbing shoe.
If you are a more experienced climber, then skip the first section which is written for beginners.
Here are our top 5 tips for beginners looking to find the perfect rock climbing shoe:
Tip 1 – Try them on!
This is easily the most important factor when it comes to avoiding the confusion around buying rock climbing shoes. A lot of people buy shoes off the internet without even trying the shoes on. Then when they find out the shoe doesn’t fit, they have to send them back – or even worse, they try to climb in them, which severely limits their ability to climb and to improve their technique. Big mistake!
Going to a reputable mountaineering store is better because the experienced sales staff will be able to advise you on which shoe is the best for you. They can advise you on how the shoes will change as you use them and what type of climbing they are best suited, etc.
Some stores will have a small climbing wall so that you can try the shoes out before you buy them. Keep the shoes on for about 5 minutes so that you can get a better idea of whether they will start to hurt your feet after long periods of wearing them.
Tip: Head down to your local mountaineering store and try on a variety of shoes to find the one that fits best for you. Then go online and find the best price for that shoe. That way, you can save money and be assured in the knowledge that you have chosen the right shoe in the right size!
Tip 2 – Buy online to save big!
Buying online is a great way to find discount climbing shoes or to find climbing shoes that are cheap or on sale will save you a ton of cash. As mentioned above, you must try the shoe on where possible, but if you can’t then make sure you can return the shoe if you make a mistake! Read the terms & conditions of the website before buying…
Tip 3 – Rent before you buy
Renting when you go climbing will allow you to find the style most comfortable for you and to get used to wearing climbing shoes. It is also a good idea to wait until you are absolutely sure that climbing is a sport that you are willing to do.
Also, if you find a pair of shoes at the gym you go to that suit you well, you will have a better understanding of the type of you shoe you would like to buy.
Tip 4 – Choose an all-round climbing shoe
If you are just starting out, then you will benefit from a shoe that can stand up to any style of climbing and that will allow you to improve naturally. Ideally, you want something that is comfortable, versatile and possibly with velcro straps to easily get the shoe on or off. Choose a shoe with a strong sole and a high-cut upper to protect your ankle.
Tip 5 – Get a comfortable climbing shoe with a snug fitting.
For your first pair of shoes, you don’t want to buy a shoe that is too tight for your foot and that is going to make your first year or so of climbing a painful endurance. Go for a comfortable shoe with a neutral sole. Ignore all the advice regarding down-turned soles and tight fittings.
The advanced climbers guide to buying climbing shoes:
If you are a more experienced climber then chances are you already own a pair of climbing shoes. If you’re looking to move onto a more specific area of climbing, then having a specialized shoe and size can improve your technique dramatically and you want the best shoe for the job. Here we have listed the most popular forms of climbing and what you should be looking for in a shoe to fulfil the needs for that form.
Things to think about when buying a Climbing shoe:
You have probably heard the rule somewhere that unless your climbing shoes are pinching and painful on your feet, then you aren’t getting good grip. This simply isn’t true. Yes for some styles of climbing, such as bouldering, a more snug fit will definitely benefit. But it isn’t necessary to go for a painful fit. If you are doing long haul climbs, then you should go for the opposite and choose a shoe that is comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
The shape of the shoe you choose is a very important factor and different shapes benefit different styles of climbing. For example, if you want to do short bouldering routes, then your best bet is to go for a tight fitting shoe with an aggressive shape to focus the power into your toes for those bursts of power. If you are doing long haul and traditional climbs, then it’s reversed and you want a shoe that will smear well on those tall verticals and will cling to the wall, so a stiff, less aggressive shaped shoe will be a better choice.
As in the beginner’s section above, you should always try the shoes on wherever possible and get expert advice from sales staff to help you find the right size for you. All brands sizes are different and your foot is totally unique so trying shoes on is the only way to get a definite feel for the best shoe.
It is surprising how much climbing shoes can differ depending on the material that they are made of.
Shoes that are made of leather have a tendency to stretch more – especially if they are unlined – which can affect the way the shoe acts when you are climbing and they can have a tendency to become more flimsy. Consider this when fitting a shoe, an initially tight fitting shoe could become too sloppy to use long-term.
Synthetic shoes on the other hand, have much more structure and tend to hold their shape a lot better than leather. This can be a benefit when it comes to trying them on as you will not have to guess how much to allow for stretching before buying them.
There are three types of fastening systems on climbing shoes and each has it’s own benefits.
Laces – Laces are the best for a precise, even fitting in a shoe. It is a lot easier to get the required tightness over the whole shoe which is where Velcro can fall short. However, they do take a long time to take on or off which can sometimes be annoying.
Velcro – Velcro is the best all-rounder. It is easy to get the shoes on and off and manufacturers are now perfecting the Velcro system making it a lot easier to get a precise fit like a lace-up shoe.
Slippers – Slippers are the easiest shoe to get on and off and generally the most comfortable shoe to wear on the wall. However, as most slippers are unlined, they can become sloppy and less precise. They make for a great shoe to use in the gym as they give great sensitivity to the wearer.
Choosing the rubber for your shoe all depends on your personal preference – some people prefer a more sticky shoe, whereas some people prefer a more durable shoe.
The general rule of thumb is that the stickier the rubber, the less durable it is and vice-versa so think about this when choosing a shoe.
Shorter climbs will benefit more from a sticky shoe, whereas longer climbs will benefit more from a durable shoe.
What is your style of climbing?
If you haven’t already, then you should consider what type of climbing you want to do as each style of climbing will benefit most from a particular type of shoe, so making the right choice is essential. If you are looking to do various types of climbing, then you should probably look at buying more than one pair of shoes for each style.
If you prefer bouldering routes or sport climbing with a more technical and aggressive style with plenty of overhung climbing, then you need a shoe to match. Choose a shoe with a more down-turned sole that allows you to direct more power into the toes. Go for a tight fit when you try these on to get the most out of the shoe. The downside to this is that this type of shoe are generally more uncomfortable than usual and tend to only be suitable for shorter climbs with the opportunity for regular rest.
If traditional climbing is more your style and you enjoy long, enduring climbs, then you want a shoe that won’t start to hurt your feet after a short amount of time. You should go for a shoe with a more comfortable fit and balance this with a stiff sole that will still allow for more grip.
This image is a good representation of the variations of climbing shoes available on the market. Most brands will have shoes styles similar to the La Sportiva range below.
With climbing shoes, go for a balance between comfort and shape that suits you and ignore any other bad advice from other climbers.
Remember everyone’s feet are unique and advice for one climber may be completely useless for you – So go out and try those shoes on!
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