To find the right climbing shoes, there are several things to consider.
However, be aware that there are no shoes that are suitable for every type of climbing and if there are that get close to it, they will inevitably come with a hefty bill.
I prefer to have two or three shoes adapted to the types of climbing I do. This ensures that I have optimal footwear for each activity.
It costs more at first, but they last much longer.
Table of Contents
- The best brands of climbing shoes
- What exactly do we mean with “comfort”?
- The price
- Boulder, wall or long routes?
- The closure and tightening system
- How tight should climbing shoes be?
- The anatomy of climbing shoes
- Each experience has its own type of climbing shoes
- Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?
The best brands of climbing shoes
To find your way around with climbing shoes, you first need to know the brands.
These include Black Diamond, Boreal, Butora, Evolv, Five Ten, La Sportiva, Mad Rock, Millet, Scarpa, and Tenaya.
They all have a good reputation and can be trusted.
I’ve worn Evolv, Five Ten, Millet and Scarpa, but La Sportiva suits me best.
One difference between the brands is that some make narrower shoes while others make wider ones.
Remember: it’s not about the brand, it’s about finding a shoe that’s compatible with your foot and feel comfortable.
What exactly do we mean with “comfort”?
What we call comfort is above all the space for the foot, the contact with the materials and the inner volume of the shoe.
Too often neglected, the comfort of your climbing shoes is one of the main reasons why you will appreciate this demanding discipline.
Shape plays an important role in comfort, which is why you will surely see more “comfort” on entry-level and intermediate ranges than on so-called “technical” models.
However, we do not like to segment products and thus create groups of users. We are convinced that many climbing shoe models can be suitable for several profiles, like a hiking boot, your foot is not universal, so you will have to adapt the models according to your morphology.
It’s important to keep in mind that an uncomfortable shoe will hurt your feet and if you will feel bad just with the thought of putting your foot on the wall, it won’t help you progress… or even climb!
Try before buying.
You can’t always let price dictate what you buy, especially when it comes to your climbing gear.
Think about how you’ll use your climbing shoes to set your budget.
If you’re a beginner, you can pay a little less to first make sure that rock climbing is for you and if yes discover the style you prefer.
Similarly, if you are looking for a second pair of shoes for indoor training, there is no need to empty your bank account.
You can find very reasonable indoor climbing shoes for less than $100.
If you know for example that you love bouldering and plan to go out often, then find the perfect rock climbing shoes and have fun!
I prefer to climb outdoors, but I also go indoors on occasion.
I always keep a pair that I only use indoors, where the holds are more abrasive. This way, I protect my best climbing shoes and increase their lifespan!
Boulder, wall or long routes?
If you climb all year round, finding suitable climbing shoes on the cliff as well as indoors is quite difficult.
Here is a summary of the characteristics to favor when choosing climbing shoes, depending on where you practice.
When bouldering, you won’t keep your shoes on very long.
You can afford to choose a very technical, very tight, very precise and … very uncomfortable pair!
On cliffs, and even more so on long routes, you will keep your rock climbing shoes on for a long, even very long time.
Pick shoes that won’t hurt you too much or you’ll cry.
Flexible or rigid cliff footwear, it all depends on what you are doing: rather flexible for overhangs, rigid for vertical walls and slabs to make the most of small footholds.
Indoors, you will need to be able to fit the proposed grips.
Fairly flexible shoes will allow you to have a maximum of sensations.
And since the indoor routes are never as long as the cliffs, you can go for it!
The closure and tightening system
The day of the knotting lesson at climbing school, did you call in sick?
It’s too bad, now you can only take a Velcro-strap model or a slip-on. The rest of you have the option of lace-up.
These slippers must be chosen very tight since they do not have any tightening adjustment system.
Advantage: Very flexible, they will really fit the shape of the foot and provide you with incredible precision.
Disadvantage: Without a system to compensate for the tightness, they may deform over time, expand and become useless to you. In general, slip-ons are reserved for expert practice.
Lace-up climbing shoes
They allow you to adjust their tightness with extreme precision.
This is very practical for those who have thin feet and always have to lace up all their shoes as tightly as possible. The lace-up climbing shoes are also very suited for climbing cracks.
Advantage: a tightly closed shoe means it won’t move, even when you do your super heel hooks. Incredible precision on small holds, improving your power. What more could you ask for?
Disadvantage: Climbing shoes always end up hurting your feet. No one wants to spend time to undo and then re-lace at the foot of the route. The lace-up shoe is also the most rigid of the three types. If it is not well chosen, it will be harder than others to fit the shape of your foot correctly.
Velcro climbing slippers
It’s a bit of a compromise between the slip-on and the lace-up shoes. The Velcro straps allow you to adjust the tightness of the shoes while remaining flexible enough to really “stick” to your foot.
Besides, nothing is more fun than taking off your slippers in a second and throwing them at your belayer when he does tricks when you come down.
Advantage: Easy to put on and take off, you can purchase a more aggressive model of climbing shoes. They’re really good for bouldering.
Disadvantage: They can be limited in tightness for very thin feet, or when the shoes expand. They are generally unsuitable for climbing cracks.
How tight should climbing shoes be?
Beginner or advanced, climbing shoes are worn tight!
There must be no floating between the toes and the shoe.
This helps to better position the feet on the holds and make the most of the rubber’s grip.
On the other hand, the chosen model should not be so tight that you’d be in excruciating pain.
Try on and test a shoe before you buy it, whether it’s a new one in the store or a friend’s. If you don’t like them, move on to the next one.
Entry-level climbing shoes will be more comfortable, but you won’t be jogging with them, mark my words!
You will be able to wear them during your sessions without taking them off during your breaks.
On the other hand, they will be less technical and aggressive, which could become a disadvantage when you reach a better level.
Technical climbing shoes, so here, even at rest they can be uncomfortable!
You can even choose a smaller size to make sure the shoes fit snugly.
Your foot should be tight without causing you pain, your toes should be slightly bent in the shoes without being completely curled up.
This will allow you to exploit the full capabilities of your climbing shoes. The summits are all yours!
Deviations from the size of dress shoes according to climbing level and discipline
(7 – 9)
The above matrix should specify the differences between climbers in the different disciplines and clearly indicate the degrees of difficulty.
The values in the table are average values based on all makes and models!
However, it should be kept in mind that there are considerable differences between the different makes and models.
For example, Evolv’s shoes are worn 0.2 sizes smaller than city shoes, and La Sportiva’s shoes even 1.8 sizes on average.
The anatomy of climbing shoes
Let’s take a closer look at these climbing shoes, their characteristics:
- closure system…
will tell you a lot about what you can expect to use it for.
The outsole: as on any shoe, it is the underside of your shoe, the barrier between the wall and your skin. The outsole of the climbing shoe is always made of 100% rubber, rigid or flexible, to be chosen according to the use.
The midsole: you don’t see it, located between the shoe and the outsole, it influences the rigidity of the shoe and the shape of the sole (more or less scratchy). Moreover, depending on its quality (cardboard or EVA – Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate), it will facilitate or not the resole of the shoe and, in fact, is more or less durable.
The upper: the upper part of the shoe, which envelops the foot. It can be made of leather or synthetic.
The toe box: this is the tip of your shoe, where your toes are curled up. It is, therefore, an element to be taken into account in the final choice of your climbing shoes according to the proposed technology: well-housed toes, it’s a little more comfort after all.
The heel cup, at the perfect end, is completed by the heel rand. What happens in the climbing shoe? When you put your foot in the climbing shoe, the heel rand pushes the foot forward so that your toes can be placed at the end of the shoe for more precision. A nicely filled heel is proof that your shoes are the right size and give a quality of “hooking” that will be very useful technically speaking.
The arch can be nil, medium or strong.
The stronger the arch, the more technical the shoe is: TRUE.
In use, on slopes and on blocks, the shoe is cambered and flexible to allow you to push on the holds and to work with grip or flat on the volumes. Rigid climbing shoes are perfect for beginners or for use on slabs to load on small holds with less foot and calf fatigue.
Shapes of climbing shoes
Finally, let’s talk about the asymmetry of climbing shoes.
Asymmetry is for climbing experts because even if you gain in precision and technicality, you seriously lose in comfort.
It can be straight, weak, moderate or strong. The more asymmetrical the shoes are, the more their toe box will be curved inwards.
The idea of an asymmetrical shoe is to bring as much force as possible on the big toe, we are on a particularly technical use.
Which one will suit you best?
Two criteria: your level and maybe the shape of your feet.
There’s a rule that says the better you climb, the more asymmetrical the shoes are.
There’s a reason for this: the smaller the holds, the more the asymmetry of the shoes allows you to mobilize all the power of your toes to push on your legs.
Afterward, if your foot doesn’t fit the shape, there’s no need to bother with overly asymmetrical shoes. Again, it depends on your body type.
The shape of your feet
If you don’t have a high level, the shape of your foot will determine the choice of your climbing shoes.
Greek, Egyptian or square foot, choose accordingly!
Asymmetrical models are best suited for Egyptian or square feet. For Greek feet, a straight model will do the trick.
But you don’t have to make it an absolute rule and rule out certain shoes on this criterion alone.
Because all feet are different, and even more than their shape (in a climbing shoe, the toes are always compressed regardless of their respective lengths), it’s the feeling, once the shoe is put on, that counts.
And there, no rule can decide for you…
The “arch” of a climbing shoe refers to the rounded shape it imposes on the foot.
If the shoes are very arched, your foot takes the shape of a claw to push on the small holds.
The more your shoes are downturned, the less comfortable they will be.
Also, remember that the curvature of your shoe will never replace the power of your foot. A very arched shoe is normally for those with a high climbing level.
It all depends on what you’re looking for. A lot of performance? Soft gum. Resistance to wear and tear? Thicker rubber.
Without being as clear-cut, the choice of your shoe should take into account the hardness of its outsole.
Keep in mind that it’s not always the cliff that wears out the gums on the slippers the most.
Resin grips are much more abrasive than most rocks (yes, that’s why they’re all black) and they literally eat your outsoles.
It’s up to you to find the best compromise between performance and resistance!
The quality of the rubber used goes crescendo with the level of finishing of your shoe.
An entry-level model, in addition to being generally less technical than a more expensive model, will also wear out faster, forcing you to buy a pair of new climbing shoes.
Each experience has its own type of climbing shoes
Beginner? Intermediate? Advanced?
Your needs in sensations, your budget, and your playground are not the same.
Again, without wanting to generalize, here are some good advice.
Comfort for beginners.
If you are new to climbing, choosing the first shoes that you feel comfortable in, tight without being compressed, is essential.
Have your foot measured to know your exact size. Start with this number and then try to move up or down to the right size depending on how the shoes feel on your feet.
Your foot should not move in the shoe at all. Prefer a flat or medium cambered shoe, perfectly suited to good holds on boulders and easy routes.
If you have fun climbing and your pair of shoes is a tool and not torture, you will progress quickly.
Versatility for intermediate levels.
To refine your sensations and perfect your moves, the shoes must be a little tighter.
You can keep comfort with versatile models such as the Momentum shoe by Black Diamond or the Silex shoes by Boreal, or move towards a first versatile technical shoe such as the Katana by La Sportiva or the Vapor V by Scarpa or the Guardian by EB.
Last update on 2021-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Last update on 2021-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If discomfort is felt in shoes whose shape is too restrictive for your feet, opt for more classic shoes with less asymmetry and arch.
Note that it is better to choose less technical climbing shoes in the right size than more technical shoes that are too big. You risk losing precision and power.
Technicality for experienced climbers.
Finally, experienced or even expert climbers will generally know what they want: velcros or laces, rigid or flexible?
Indeed, after your third pair of climbing shoes, you will know better your needs and the sensations you are looking for since you will have learned which climber you are.
Your questions will then be much more focused on the pure technicality of the shoes. All that will be left for you to do is to find your shoe size and to know how the shoe moves when you use it.
If necessary, purchase more than one pair for optimal performance for the types of climbing you prefer.
Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?
This is THE question being debated within the climbing community.
Some will tell you that it is unthinkable to wear socks when climbing: loss of sensation, slipping in the shoes, problems with shoe size…
Others will point out that it may not be such a bad idea, especially with regard to the formation of odors in the shoe worn barefoot or to limit the appearance of blisters.
It’s up to you to decide. But if you’re ready to try some, you will find socks specifically designed for use with climbing shoes.
Their manufacture is ultra-ventilated with quick-drying synthetics and micro-cells that enhance the breathability of the fabric as well as antibacterial materials.
Some climbing socks are reinforced at the toe and heel to increase comfort while the arch of the foot is covered with a very thin, sheathing fabric that provides a great feeling of support for the arch of the foot.
Wearing socks in your climbing shoes considerably reduces the feeling of wet feet, which is very interesting from a hygienic and comfort point of view.
It’s your turn!
Climbing is an exciting, even intoxicating sport.
There are a variety of routes for all tastes and being on a wall to accomplish routes offers incredible thrills.
However, you must make sure you climb with proper footwear.
If the wrong shoes can make you scream in pain, the right shoes will make you scream with happiness when you have completed this route that you have been coveting for the past few weeks.
To find your perfect climbing shoes, ask yourself the right questions and know your goals and preferences.
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