Climbers are often highly opinionated when it comes to their climbing shoes. On one end, some climbers think climbing shoes are all basically the same and need not much consideration. Some people on the other end of the spectrum put too much emphasis on how it affects their climbing and are often the ones blaming their shoes for failing on a climb. If you have a decent fitting shoe, I believe that technique is the deciding factor on most climbs. However, when pushing my personal limits, I can think back on a number of times where changing my shoes made all the difference. In this post, I will describe using personal experience and object reasoning for why certain shoes can be game changers.
I have climbing shoes from 37-42 that all fit my foot. The size 42 shoe is one of the tightest fitting pairs I have, where the size 37 is still tight, but a more comfortable shoe. I have a size 41.5 that took me longer to slip my foot into than any other shoe I have ever worn. That same shoe has stretched out so much now, it is my comfort shoe. I have worn many brands including LaSportiva, Scarpa, 5.10, Evolv, and Butora, and they all have their pros and cons. It is important to note that no amount of online research will be as good as being able to try on different pairs of shoes at your local outdoor retailer. Here are some things to look and feel for when trying on different pairs of shoes:
Watch the video below to learn more about climbing shoes:
The 3 levels of climbing shoe fit:
First Level: NOPE.
- Toe rubber bends backwards when toeing on small footchips
- Heel slips off when heel hooking
- Foot slides around in the shoe when standing on non-flat surfaces
Second Level: Good enough.
- Fine for submaximal effort while climbing
- Lacking some sensitivity in the toe and heel
- Every time you push limits, the shoe fails you...
Third Level: Cinderella
- True love exists
- Glove like fit with no gaps between skin and shoe
- Performs well for your style of climbing
Which Style of Shoe is Best For Me?
Finding the right climbing shoe for yourself is a difficult task. Climbing shoes are standardized, but everyone’s feet are shaped differently. My left and right foot are even different sizes. So how do you go about finding the best pair? Here are three questions to ask yourself when looking for climbing shoes:
What type of climbing will I be doing most?
Remember, climbing shoes are like tools in a toolbox. No one shoe is good for all styles of climbing, so even when you find multiple shoes that have a Cinderella fit, they may still fit differently depending on the style of climbing they are made for. This is why many great climbers mix and match shoes depending on the climb they are doing. I can say that after 7 years of climbing and around 9 different styles of shoes, I am still experimenting.
On overhanging climbs it is often helpful to have an aggressive and downturned climbing shoe. These shoes have a “talon” look to them. Having a strong heel cup and a patch of rubber on top of the toe box come in handy for heel hooks and toe hooks. The La Sportiva Solution and Scarpa Instincts are classics for
his style of climbing.
On slab climbs with small edges it is beneficial to have a pair of shoes with stiffer soles and sticky rubber. Shoes like the La Sportiva TC Pros were designed specifically for this style of climbing. This shoe is also an excellent choice for crack climbing.
For indoor climbing, shoes that are softer allow the climber to get more surface area on holds in order to stand on insecure sloping angles and smear against the wall. The Scarpa Veloce and La Sportiva Solution Comp are designed specifically for modern indoor climbing.
What is my budget?
Ideally, there would be one climbing shoe that is great for every style of climbing and could last a long time. Often though, the highest performing shoes wear out the fastest. Their great sensitivity often means the shoe is softer and there is less rubber. Price does not always reflect on quality, so spending more for shoes is not always the right choice. Climbing shoes generally range between $50 and $200. Know how much you are comfortable spending prior to looking.
How much climbing will I be doing?
Beginner climbers should consider that their technique is likely not going to be great when starting. Buying an expensive pair of shoes that you cannot utilize to their potential only to have them wear out before you understand good technique can be hard on the wallet. This does not mean you should buy poor performing shoes or shoes that do not fit well. If you buy shoes that do not fit well or are poor performing, you will resort to inefficient methods of climbing that will work against you in the long run.
If you know you will be climbing around 4 to 5 days a week, but you cannot afford more shoes, it may be smart to buy a shoe that has more rubber and will last you longer. Personally, I have a pair of shoes I use for indoor climbing and training that has more rubber on it, and another pair that has more sensitivity that I use for outdoor climbs at my limit. They are similarly performing shoes, but at a $90 price difference, I can absolutely tell the difference when pushing my limits, and want to save them for special climbs.
Finding a good shoe can be a process, so be patient. It takes time to realize what you like and do not like in a shoe. Even after you find a pair you like, do not be afraid to try different shoes in order to have a better understanding.
The last thing you want is to be falling off climbs because of your shoes. Go to your local outdoor retailer and try on their options. Expect that your shoes will slightly change shape and size after you climb in them too. Although it is true that climbing shoes make a difference in your performance, things like technique, mental strength, and physical fitness will always be superior.