Rock climbing is all about excellent footwork. Hence, choosing a good pair of climbing shoes may be the most important move that any climber can make. Climbing shoes usually do more than just look aesthetically appealing – they are extensions of your body and if you invest in the right shoes, you should be able to enhance your climbing capabilities.
In this climbing shoe buying guide, we will focus on the climbing shoe sizing and everything else that you need to know to avoid investing in shoes that may hold you back. Armed with the tips below, purchasing your next rock climbing shoes should be easier.
Climbing Shoe Sizing – Make Sure the Shoe Fits
When selecting a pair of climbing shoes, the first thing you need to consider is how well they fit. Your fit will be largely dependent on the type of climbing you intend to focus on, combined with your level of experience.
Climbing shoe sizing often varies from brand to brand and to confuse things even further, often from model to model within the same brand. Most brands will have numerical sizes. However, you should use the numerical sizes purely as a guideline. Keep in mind that a size 42 from one brand may end up fitting different than a size 42 from another brand.
Visiting a store to try out the climbing shoes – compared to shopping online – offers you a better chance of choosing footwear featuring the right fit. If you haven’t worn rock climbing shoes before, you must have realistic expectations about how the shoes will feel like. Chances are that they won’t be the comfiest things that you have worn. However, the shoes shouldn’t be crazily tight, especially for beginning rock climbers.
Ensure that the toes are at least touching the end of the shoe and are ideally curved slightly so that they can be as close as possible to the rock. The tips below should help you get the climbing shoe sizing right:
- Shoes made using unlined leather stretch with use to their full size.
- Shoes made using lined leathers or Non-stretch synthetic materials stay true to the original size.
- Feet usually swell slightly throughout the day. For this reason, try rock climbing shoes in the afternoon.
- Check to make sure the shoe’s heel cup contours comfortably around your ankle bone and does not end up digging into the Achilles.
- Ensure that when laced or fastened, the shoes don’t have dead space. Focus on your forefoot but also aim for a snug feel.
Types of Climbing Shoes
Different types of climbing shoes exist in the market. In this climbing shoe buying guide, we will look at the 3 main types.
Allowing the toes to lie flat, these shoes feature a relaxed fit. They allow all-day comfort. Since they tend to be more comfortable, they are a perfect option for you if you just invested in climbing shorts and climbing backpack and would like to try rock climbing for the first time. The shoes are also ideal for experienced climbers who prefer comfortable all-day shoes for their long multi-pitch climbs.
- Their thick rubber and medium-to-stiff midsoles offer good support.
- Their flat profile makes them ideal for slotting into cracks.
- Thicker and stiffer soles feature less sensitivity.
- They aren’t designed for difficult overhanging routes.
These shoes are generally distinguished by their slightly downturned shape – also called camber – that makes them ideal for technical climbing. Armed with climbing ropes and belay devices, you can use the moderate trad climbing shoes to explore crack climbs, slab routes, slightly overhung sport routes, and long multi-pitch climbs.
- The downturned shape makes climbing more challenging routes much easier.
- Their stickier rubber and thinner soles allow better feel and grip.
- Less comfortable than neutral shoes.
- Their thinner soles wear faster than neutral shoes.
These shoes feature very downturned toes and have lots of heel tension to put the feet in a powerful and strong position for the challenging overhanging climbs. Most aggressive climbing shoes will have an asymmetric shape that curves toward the big toe – focusing power on the big toe allows for precise placements on small holds.
- They are perfect for extremely challenging routes.
- They have stickier rubber and thinner soles for improved grip and feel.
- Less comfortable than neutral and moderate shoes.
- Downturn shape does not fit into cracks as well as the moderate and neutral shoes.
- The thinner soles wear quickly.
Climbing Shoe Features
While numerous types of footwear closure exist, we will be focusing on lace-up, strap, and slip-on in this climbing shoe buying guide. These are the most common types of closures among people trying to improve their climbing technique.
This is the most versatile footwear closure. You can easily loosen the laces if your feet swell up to stretch the climbing shoes. For difficult climbs, simply crank down at your toe to improve performance.
Also known as hook-and-loop, these closures offer superior on/off convenience. They are ideal for gym climbing and bouldering when you may want to slip the shoes off between the climbs.
Slip-on shoes have an elastic closure system that offers the greatest sensitivity and lowest profile. Slip-on shoes are generally good for training. Also, most crack climbing shoes are slip-on – since the slip-on shoes have a low profile, they are usually good for slotting into thin cracks.
Climbing Shoe Last
The last is the foot-shaped model around which the climbing shoe is built. It gives the shoe its heel and toe dimensions, width, height, and volume. Most climbing shoes are slip-lasted while a few are board-lasted.
Most slip-lasted shoes are less stiff and sensitive to the board-lasted ones. The climbing shoes normally get their stiffness from the mid-sole which is generally located above the outsole. These shoes normally don’t have an insole.
Compared to the slip-lasted shoes, board-lasted shoes are usually stiffer. While they sacrifice a bit of sensitivity, they are more comfortable, making them ideal for people who are mentally prepared to climb all day.
The last determines the shape of the rock-climbing shoe. In this climbing shoe buying guide, we will discuss 3 primary last shapes – straight, downturned, and asymmetric:
Shoes built around the straight last feature a relaxed fit that offers great comfort. They are great for long climbing days. Most shoes featuring the straight last are neutral shoes.
This shape will place the longest point over the climber’s toe – this increases the power on the shoe’s inside edge and also gives the climber a single point contact with the rock. Depending on the amount of downturn, shoes featuring the asymmetric last are either aggressive or moderate.
Also known as cambered, this last shape generally bends toward the toes. It is usually available on the aggressive and moderate shoes built for heel & toe hooking on overhanging rocks.
The outsole is the shoe’s rubber part that touches the rock. Both thickness and type of rubber do affect the climbing performance.
Firmer rubbers usually offer better support and edging for the foot while stickier rubbers offer a better grip for smearing on slaps. Stickier rubbers tend to be less durable – this means that they don’t stand up well to abrasion.
Thicker soles range between 4 and 5.5 mm. They offer good support for edging and are usually durable. However, they have a lower level of sensitivity. If you are just learning the rock climbing terms – meaning you are a beginning climber – thicker soles should be ideal for you.
Thinner soles are 3 to 4 mm thick. They are ideal for smearing on slab routes. Most experienced climbers prefer thinner soles since they offer a better rock feel.
Q: Are Climbing Shoes True to Size?
The answer to this question depends on the material used to manufacture the shoe. Shoes manufactured using unlined leather usually stretch to their full size. However, shoes made using non-stretch materials and lined leather stay true to their size.
Q: Should Climbing Shoes Be A Size Smaller?
Climbing shoes don’t have to be smaller than normal street shoes. However, you should ensure that you have zero dead space in your shoe. The right shoe shouldn’t be too tight – it should have a snug feel.
Q: How Do La Sportiva Climbing Shoes Fit?
La Sportiva shoes are built on the European half sizes which are smaller increments than the United States half sizes. This results in 4 extra sizes per size run. This usually offers the users a better fit.
Q: How Tight Should Climbing Shoes Fit?
If your climbing shoe is the right fit, the toes should be comfortably curved or flat and the toe knuckles shouldn’t be bunched painfully against the top of your shoe. Your heel should have a snug fit. If the shoe is difficult to slip on your foot, chances are, it is too tight.
Q: Should Your Toes Be Curled in Climbing Shoes?
Whether the toes curl inside the shoe depends on the type of climbing. For example, for crack-climbing slippers, the toes should be flat. For normal rock climbing, however, the right shoes should allow the toes to curl gently but should not be painful to wear.
Q: Do Black Diamond Climbing Shoes Stretch?
Black diamond shoes are designed to offer minimal stretch. Their microfiber liner mitigates any “give” in the shoe’s toe box. The shoes usually stay true to their size.
Q: How Can I Make My Shoes One Size Smaller?
To reduce the size of your shoes, you can use an insole. If the insole does not work for you, you can try using small foot pads and heel strips. These will occupy the extra space making the shoe more fitting.
Q: Is It Better to Buy Shoes Bigger or Smaller?
Getting shoes that are bigger is usually a better idea. Shoes that are too small will cause incredible pain, making them impossible to wear. If the shoes are big, however, you can use inserts to make them fit better.
Globo Surf Overview
Rock climbing shoes are the interface between the rock and the climber, and getting the climbing shoe sizing wrong can easily hold you back. This climbing shoe buying guide has everything you need to consider to get the right shoe for climbing. Keep in mind that trying out the shoe is the best way to verify that the shoe is a good fit for you.