Are you just starting to climb and about to buy your first climbing shoes? Are you exploring new routes and looking for a more suitable model?
Choosing the right shoes is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of climbing. Even a harness, rope or safety equipment does not affect your climbing skills as much as climbing shoes. However, choosing the right model is not at all easy, so our tips may be useful.
Shoe last shape and profile
Toe and heel
How to choose correct size
7 tips for trying on
Care and hygiene
Why make such a big deal about your choice of climbing shoes?
It is necessary to choose climbing shoes that will make you feel as confident as possible on the terrain, and will not tend to use your hands more than necessary (the main load should be on your feet). The better and more accurately you can stand on the toe, the more of your body weight you can transfer to your feet and thus relieve your hands. You will have more strength and will rise with less effort.
But how and by what criteria to choose climbing shoes? Any model consists of several important parts with their own functions, and it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with them first.
Typical climbing shoe design:
Shoe last shape and profile
The most important detail is the shape of the shoe itself, the so-called last. The shapes are distinguished by asymmetry and profile. The asymmetry of a climbing shoe determines how much it is curved inward relative to the conventional axis from toe to heel. The more arched a shoe looks, the more asymmetrical it is.
The profile is a curve, visible when viewed from the side. If the entire sole rests on the mat, the deflection is zero; if the sole touches the mat only minimally, then the deflection (profile), on the contrary, is maximum.
The more arched and asymmetrical a shoe is, the more effectively it transfers force from the entire leg to the ball of the foot. Shoes with "agressive design" are made for climbing very small holds and difficult technical routes. However, these climbing shoes are also less comfortable and are mainly used by experienced climbers on difficult terrain or competitions.
Slightly asymmetrical and less curved models are much more comfortable, and they also have a greater range of use: you can train in them, they are often purchased by beginning climbers or those who climb occasionally (those who do not want to “suffer” in curved shoes). Children's climbing shoes usually have this non-aggressive shape.
At the same time, straighter models are also well suited for “friction” climbing, when you need to stand on the maximum possible surface area.
After the shape, the second most important detail is the sole. Developing super-sticky sole rubbers is a great science. It was its continuous development that contributed most to the expansion of the boundaries of sport climbing - to the current level of 9c (French classification).
The sticky sole is a mixture of different hard and durable materials for better contact with the rock. Its task is to hold the climber even on the smallest and most inclined holds. In short, the climbing shoe should “hold” on the terrain.
Soft rubber has more grip, but usually wears out faster, meaning it has a shorter lifespan. On the other hand, a harder and stronger material will be less sensitive and more slippery, but the shoes will last longer.
The upper part of the climbing shoe is most often made of either classic genuine leather or synthetic microfiber (or other woven materials). Each material has its pros and cons. Leather is a natural material, it allows air to pass through well and the foot does not sweat so much. However, leather shoes do not hold their shape as well and after a while they stretch (sometimes too much). Some climbers also find that leather shoes feel a little more comfortable on bare feet.
The synthetic material holds its shape much better even after long periods of use, and the climbing shoes don't stretch as much. However, artificial material is usually less breathable and causes your feet to sweat more.
What gives climbing shoes their rigidity is an “invisible layer” of material between the sole and upper. This is called a midsole. The hardness of the entire shoe structure depends on it: the softer the midsole, the softer the entire shoe, and vice versa.
Soft shoes are better suited for flat slabs where you are climbing with more grip surface (called friction), and for rocks made of soft materials (such as sandstone) where sensitivity is needed. Soft as well as very curved shoes are good for large ledges and bouldering where tipping techniques are often used. Conversely, shoes with a harder midsole are suitable for climbing on small holds and generally on hard terrain - usually granite or limestone.
The toes of climbing shoes may be more or less rubberized. Shoes with a pointed rubber toe are especially suitable for bouldering and cornice climbing. If you don't have enough rubber in the toe box on this type of terrain, your shoes will slip more.
The heel, like the toe, is also rubberized. For bouldering and ledge climbing where you'll have to swing your foot over or stick with your heel, choose as much rubber around the heel as possible. The shape of the back often varies greatly between models, and climbing shoes must be selected to ensure that the heel fits as best as possible (width, depth and height).
The shapes of modern climbing shoes have varying degrees of tension. This is such an “invisible force” that helps the foot bend correctly and transfer support to the toe when climbing. The tension together with the sole determines the shape and deflection of the shoe. More pre-tensioned shoes are suitable for advanced athletes who use small holds when climbing.
There are four types of climbing shoe fastenings:
⇒ On laces
⇒ With elastic bands (with stretch inserts or tongue)
⇒ Combined (for example, with elastic bands and a strap)
The classic type is lacing. Tightening the laces, of course, is a little tedious, but this type of fastener will allow you to fit the shoe to your foot as accurately as possible.
Putting on a climbing shoe with Velcro (usually two or three) is definitely faster and more convenient. The Velcro also holds the leg in place quite well.
Shoes without fastenings (slip-ons) are the fastest to put on, which is very convenient, and at the same time they provide excellent well-being while climbing. However, it will be more difficult for you to secure your foot in the shoe - so it is necessary that the last really suits your foot in terms of its shape and size. Also note that over time, the elastic stretches and there is no way to restore it.
If you like the simplicity of slip-ons and would like to be able to tighten the shoes further with a belt, you can choose a combination.
Climbing shoe size
Probably the most discussed issue of the entire set of “climbing” topics. In general, it is clear that climbing shoes should be tight to better grip on small holds.
Yes, the less space you have between your foot and the shoe, the better you can load the toe and the shoe will not move.
On the other hand, the last of the shoe should not put too much pressure in a particular place (the pressure should be the same everywhere). And if the shoes press too hard at some point, this is often due to the wrong shape, not the size.
Overall, it's up to you how much you want to "suffer" and how effective it is for your climbing. Just keep in mind that climbing shoes that are too tight can cause your feet to become pinched and you will lose some of the sensitivity you need.
Most manufacturers on the market have a size range adapted to the sizes of regular shoes, i.e. start by trying on your size and then try a little smaller.
Selection of climbing shoes according to climbing level:
For a beginner - more symmetrical shoes with a relatively straight profile, normal size.
For an advanced climber - more asymmetrical and curved shoes, narrower.
Selection by discipline/terrain:
Sports climbing (on hard rock) - narrower, less curved and fairly stiff shoes.
Sandstone climbing - soft, normal size shoes, ideally with a higher cut (that protect the ankle joints)
Bouldering - soft, asymmetrical and very curved shoes with a significantly rubberized toe and heel.
Training/wall climbing – comfortable, normal-sized climbing shoes (can be lined) that you can wear all day.
Some tips for trying on/choosing climbing shoes
→ Forget about blind shopping (online), allocate enough free time for testing and go to the store where there is a choice of different models.
→ Measure, test and try – in general, no two models are exactly the same on the market, so you need to choose the ideal shape for your specific foot (width, arch, heel size, instep, etc.)
→ Do not try on climbing shoes immediately after exercise or any other activity that may cause swelling of the foot (for example, after running).
→ Ideally, the store should have a small wall with holds on which you can try out the shoes in action.
→ Try a climbing shoe on your bare feet or with a very thin sock (in the store, for hygiene reasons, you may be asked to wear a disposable sock)
→ Don't be afraid to experiment with different models - perhaps during the test you will find shoes that suit you best.
→ If your shoes feel tight after you bought them, you took wrong size, or you just don't feel right in them, give them to a friend or donate them to a public climbing gym. Don't suffer trying to stretch them. It would be a shame to ruin a climb that you have been preparing for for a long time.
More about choosing climbing shoes
If you are a beginner, don't worry too much about your choice of shoes. Rock climbing is like any other sport or activity. Only with time will you learn which discipline you like best and which climbing styles suit you best. Put on shoes that are straighter, more comfortable, more versatile and not too tight, and go discover the world of rock climbing. Believe us, after some time you will have a clearer idea, and you will buy exactly the ones that suit you.
If climbing really excites you, over time you will realize that there is nothing wrong with having more pairs of climbing shoes. Especially if you are a versatile athlete who excels in different disciplines and on different types of terrain. For example, you might want to consider more comfortable climbing shoes for long climbs and training (and for climbing with children), soft ones for friction climbing, hard ones for granite, or curved and heavily rubberized shoes for bouldering. It costs money, but you'll feel at home in any terrain and spread the wear and tear across multiple pairs.
Women's climbing shoes
Of course, there are a large number of models on the market from different manufacturers that take into account the specifics of the female foot. They are narrower, with lower instep, etc. Compared to men's climbing shoes, they are also usually a little softer (for lower user weight). The most pleasant bonus is the feminine design.
Children's climbing shoes
A constantly growing, and at the same time fragile, child’s leg and a tight, aggressive design clearly do not combine (not only) from a health point of view. For trial or occasional climbing, it is certainly sufficient to rent shoes for your child at the climbing wall or allow him to climb in regular sneakers. However, if your little one really enjoys rock climbing, personal climbing shoes will provide extra motivation. Definitely choose a free size - at the very beginning, the emptiness inside can be compensated for by a sock, but the climbing shoes will last longer (children's feet grow quickly).
Care and hygiene
It is important to take care of your equipment, including your shoes. After each workout, wipe your shoes with a damp cloth to remove dirt, let them dry and air in the fresh air. Never dry climbing equipment near a heat source or in the sun. Do not machine wash. The sole and other elements can be glued.