Climbing shoes fit differently than any other shoes you own, so it’s understandable if you don’t know where to start. Here’s some things to think about when you’re selecting shoes to suit gym and indoor climbing or longer rock routes outside.
- How tight should they fit?
- How stiff should they shoes be?
- Laces or Velcro closures?
- Are women’s shoes different?
HOW TIGHT SHOULD CLIMBING SHOES FIT?
A comfortable fit is best for beginners, it allows you to wear your shoes all day. After breaking them in through a few climbing sessions, your toes might just be feathering the end of the shoe, or there might be a small gap between your toes and the tip of the shoe.
With a performance fit, you’ll want to take your shoes off regularly to let them stretch and relax. Once you’ve worn and stretched them a bit, your toes might be gently curled or just feathering the front of the shoe. They should feel snug and like a firm handshake, but not a painful squeeze.
MATERIALS AND STRETCH
Leather stretches the most, up to 1 full size. If you want a performance fit, your toes could have a curl when the shoes are new, but not a curl that’s painful.
Lined leather shoes may only stretch about ½ size. They offer a more consistent fit, but take longer to break in. Even if you want a performance fit, if your toe knuckles are popping out of the shoe, they are probably too small.
Synthetic materials offer minimal stretch and their shape won’t change much. Size them as you want them to feel when climbing. If they aren’t comfortable when you try them on, they won’t get much better over time.
Your shoes should feel snug all around your foot, without big gaps in the heel or under the arch that could cause the shoe to slip and slide around.
- Try on shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are slightly larger.
- Climbing shoes should never be painful!
- Each brand has their own sizing. If you’re an 8 in one brand you might be a 7 or a 9 in another.
- Any climber should try on lots of different shoes! The best shoe is the one that fits you best, so take your time and try out several pairs.
HOW STIFF SHOULD THEY BE?
For your first pair of shoes, stiffer is usually better. Though it’s important that any shoe flexes in a way that’s comfortable and natural for your foot.
Shoes with a layer of hardened, stiff material between your foot and the rubber are known as board lasted shoes. They’re great for beginners and for long outdoor routes.
- Stiff shoes support your feet as you build up muscles in your feet and toes. As you get stronger, you might want to progress to a softer shoe.
- Climbing on steep or overhanging rock is more difficult in stiffer shoes because you can’t flex your foot to wrap it around holds and grab them with your feet.
Shoes with little to nothing between your foot and the rubber, slip lasted shoes, are softer and more flexible. Soft shoes are excellent on steep, overhanging rock and training walls.
- They suit intermediate and advanced climbers who’ve built up foot strength and technique.
- Softer shoes can be uncomfortable on long routes, especially if you climb with a pack.
LACES OR VELCRO CLOSURES?
Lace up shoes are often the most comfortable, as they can be worn loose or snug.
- You can loosen them during a long day of climbing, and they usually have a more relaxed fit that works for long days.
- But they are less convenient to take off and put on, and laces at the toe can prevent technical climbing moves like toe hooks.
Velcro closures found on slipper-style shoes are convenient to put on and take off, something that’s common when you’re sport climbing and bouldering.
- They offer a good blend of comfort and performance.
- They should fit snugly to begin with, so you can adjust the fit as they stretch. This style is prone to stretching out, so most people wear them only while on the rock, not for walking around.
- They are typically softer to suit aggressive climbing and bouldering.
WOMEN’S CLIMBING SHOES
Women’s feet are generally narrower than men’s, and usually have a thinner Achilles tendon, lower ankle bone notches, and a higher arch and instep. Shoes that sit high on the back of your heel may dig into your Achilles tendon. Shoes that have a rand up to the top of the shoe can rub the sides and back of you heel. When trying shoes, pay close attention to where the shoe touches your ankle bones and the back of you heel, otherwise the same sizing tips apply.