Have you ever considered going on a rock climb?
Climbing aficionados usually find it daunting when tasked with having to find the perfect climbing shoe.
Climbing shoes form an essential component of your overall climbing equipment. Grip, protection, and comfort are some of the features that a good shoe should provide.
Not only are first-time buyers facing this challenging task, but veterans do as well, since they have to carefully weed through a large market offer of shoes, that satisfy their demands.
Unlike regular ole’ walking shoes, sizing isn’t enough. Every climbing shoe has its unique size, shape, and design.
That said, should take finding the perfect climbing shoe very seriously.
Climbing shoes essentially form an interface between your feet and the rock you are climbing. Therefore, buying the wrong pair, type and fit could hold you back or even cost you your life.
Bearing this in mind, there are three primary considerations when picking good rock climbing shoes.
1. Climbing Shoe Type
As mentioned before, climbing shoes come in different types and forms. Seriously considering the climbing shoe type is the first step in finding a suitable pair. There are various types of shoes suitable for climbing. They include:
This type of shoes offers a relaxed fit and comfort throughout the day. Being relaxed, they allow your toes to lie flat inside the shoe. They are a great choice for amateur climbers. However, they can work well for experienced climbers too in need of a comfortable pair for long multi-pitch climbing.
Also called cambered, they are distinguished from other footwear types by their slightly downturned shape. This makes them an excellent choice for technical climbing. Besides, they can also be perfect for slab routes, crack climbs, slightly overhung sports routes and long multi-pitch climbs.
Aggressive shoes are almost similar to moderate shoes. However, they have extensively downturned toes and some serious heel tension. This makes the feet stronger and powerful enough to challenge overhanging climbs. A majority of aggressive shoes have asymmetric shapes that curve towards the big toe, thereby focusing power for precise placements on small holds. Due to their snug fit and downturned nature, they are a perfect choice for single-pitch climbing and routes, especially at the gym, rather than all-day multi-pitch climbing.
2. Climbing Shoe Features
Climbing shoe’s features are what really set them apart from normal shoes. The main features to consider for a good climber, are the footwear closure, materials, last and outsole.
There are several designs of footwear closures.
- Lace-up. This is arguably the most versatile style available in the market. It has laces that can be loosened up in the case of excess heat and swelling experienced by the feet after long routes. For a difficult pitch, it allows for a crank down at the toe and instep so as to boost and bump up the performance of the shoe.
- Also known as hook-and-loop, this shoe design has closures that offer superior on and off convenience. Such types are a perfect choice for bouldering and gym climbing, or cases where you need to slip off the shoes between the climbs.
- Slip-on. Otherwise referred to as slippers, they have an elastic closure system that offers the greatest sensitivity compared to any other model. They are fun for training as they facilitate the development of stronger and faster feet. Besides, they do not have straps and laces, making them low profiled thus an excellent choice for slotting into thin cracks.
There are two main types of climbing shoe materials.
- Leather materials. They offer the easiest care including ease of deodorizing. There are two varieties of leather shoe materials. First being unlined leather shoes. Such shoes can stretch to a full size. With this type, you can size them so that your toes can only touch the end of the shoe as your knuckles push against the leather. The other leathered type of shoe is lined leather. As the name suggests, the leather in this shoe is lined, so it reduces the stretch to half the size or less. Manufacturers often line up this type of shoes to reduce the cost.
- Synthetic materials. The majority of high-performance shoes are made of synthetic materials. Besides, many vegans and vegetarians prefer these types of shoes. That said, they do not stretch much and soften up with continuous use. Some materials and modifications of the synthetic type allow the feet to breathe, beside wicking away sweat.
For starters, a last is the foot shape model that the shoe is built around. This gives or determines the shoe’s instep height and volume, width, heel and toe dimensions. A majority of rock climbing shoes are designed slip-lasted whereas a few are board-lasted.
- Slip-lasted shoes.These are the most common type of lasts to be used for making rock climbing shoes. This type tends to be sensitive and less stiff compared to board-lasted shoes. Normally, this type does not have an insole. Therefore, they get their stiffness from the mid-sole. The mid-sole is located just above the outer-sole.
- Board-lasted. These shoes tend to be stiffer compared to slip-lasted shoes. However, they have lower sensitivity, but are more comfortable and great for all-day wear.
That aside, the last of the shoe determines the shape of the climbing shoe. In this case, there are three primary last shapes. They include:
- Sometimes referred to as a flat last, they offer great comfort and are ideal for long days of rock climbing and crack climbing. Most of the shoes built with this stature are considered to be neutral shoes.
- This shoe last shape places the longest point over the big toe. This is in a bid to increase the power of the specific inside edge of the shoe. It also gives a single point of contact om the rock. Unlike the straight last shape, shoes built with this stature are considered to be a moderate or aggressive type. This depends on the amount of downturn.
- Sometimes referred to as cambered, this last shape bends towards the toes. It is designed for heel and toe hooking especially in overhanging rocks. They have an asymmetric shape and appropriate for difficult routes where maximum performance and control is vital. This last type is also common with moderate or aggressive shoes.
Simply referred to as the sole, the climbing shoe outsole is mainly the rubber part of the shoe that spends a lot of time in contact with rock. The type of rubber used in making this part, and its thickness, often affects the climber’s performance.
- Outsole rubber. Different rubber types are used in making outsoles of climbing shoes. Whereas others provide a good grip, others are relatively softer and stickier. Firm rubbers provide a better edging, and enhanced support for the foot. Stickier rubbers have better grip for smearing on slabs. However, they are less durable and can’t stand continuous abrasion.
- Outsole thickness. Soles of climbing shoes come in different sizes. The thickness usually affects the performance and general feel of the shoe. Soles can either be thick or thin. Soles are said to be thick if they have a diameter of about 4-5 mm. Such thickness provides excellent support and is durable.
Nevertheless, their range of sensitivity and feel for the rock, differ from thin soles. Thick-soled shoes are a perfect choice for beginner climbers. This is because they will last long while you work on footwork techniques. They provide more support, preventing you from tiring prematurely.
On the other hand, thin soles have a diameter ranging from 3-4 mm. They are the best choice for smearing on slab routes. Individuals who have also mastered their footwork, prefer this type for a better feel of the rock.
3. Climbing Shoe Fit Tips
Getting a pair of fitting climbing shoes is of immense importance. You can compare and try various models available before selecting one. Some of the fit tips to try out include the following.
- Shop the afternoon. It has been discovered that human feet swell up to full size during the day. Therefore, before going out to shop, consider taking a walk, run or climb. When trying out the shoe, keep in mind that you will be using them without socks as they are designed to work effectively with the skin to avoid slippage. However, if socks are a necessity due to cold conditions, find an accommodative shoe.
- Try them on. This is the only sure way to confirm the fit of your shoe. When shopping in person, you should try out multiple sizes. For online orders, you could order more than one size and return the sizes that don't fit.
- Size flexibility. Shoe sizes have no standard sizing. Besides, everybody’s feet are different. Rock shoes are manufactured and marked in the US, European and UK sizes. For instance, size 42 of one brand fits differently with the same size from another brand. Other things that affect this include varying materials, last and design.
- There is much subjective information regarding how you should size your shoes. However, depending on the intended use, finding the perfect shoe with the right tightness is crucial. That said, there is a strong correlation between the difficulty of the climb and the shoe size. Shoes that have a tight feel are better, in some situations, compared to those with a snug fit. Tight shoes work best for sports climbs and bouldering as there will be minimal contact with the rock. Loosely tight shoes are perfect for multi-pitch climbs.
General Fitting Rules
- Besides the above guides, below are some of the general tips for selecting a perfect climbing shoe.
- Avoid shoes with dead space between the toes and the inner side of the shoe. This is because the shoe won’t be rigid when the toes are placed on a foothold.
- Ensure that the toes are relatively flat or curved comfortably. Also, the knuckles shouldn’t counter the top of the climbing shoe.
- Your heel should experience a comfortable fit. This is to ensure that the back of your Achilles tendon doesn’t get pinched by the back of the shoe when standing on your toe.
Finding the perfect climbing shoe is the key to enjoying your overall climbing experience. Especially for newbies, you can be discouraged early due to a premature (and poor) selection. Therefore, to increase your climbing motivations and enhance your performance, considering the strategies laid out in this guide, is absolutely critical. However, note that various climbing shoes are designed for various uses.
Some of the common uses and adaptations include the following.
- A sturdy, secure shoe with a stiff sole is the perfect choice for this gymnastic.
- This involves climbing of overhanging rocks. Primarily, a soft shoe can do this better. Those involved in a vertical terrain, require a slightly stiffer shoe with a medium-stiff midsole.
- This location requires shoes that can be easily removed and are sensitive.
- Supple shoes with a narrow toe profile, are best for finger sized or smaller cracks.
- Long routes. For this situation, beginners should try stiff shoes, whereas advanced long route climbers should try any comfortable shoe that doesn’t crunch the toes.
Women have their own special category when it comes to climbing shoes. Their shoes have a narrower fit in the mid-foot. The heel is also of lower volume and has a higher arch.