How to Choose a Pair of Climbing Shoes | Buyer’s Guide
Whatever your preferred climbing discipline, be that lead, speed or bouldering, this article should help you on your way to choosing the perfect pair of climbing shoes for you
Choosing the perfect pair of climbing shoes can work wonders for your performance on the wall. The right pair could not only boost your confidence, but unlock new climbing techniques and styles to help you to push your climbing further.
Unlike buying regular street shoes, picking out the best climbing shoe for you will come with some unique considerations. Technical performance, durability, intended discipline and comfort are key things you’ll want to think about when weighing up the best option for you.
As each climbing shoe will have specific strengths and drawbacks depending on intended use, knowing which model to settle on can be tricky. A training session at the indoor bouldering wall will require a very different shoe than an all-day multi-pitch. So how do you know which shoe you’re going to need, and when?
Whatever your preferred discipline, this article should help you on your way to choosing the perfect pair of climbing shoes for you.
Our Fuss-free Features Guide
Looking up at the shoe display in your local climbing gym, you’re faced with a myriad of styles, designs and materials. How exactly do you make sense of fit, closure, lining and rubber type? What does a downturned shoe bring to the table compared to one with a flat sole?
These features will affect the performance of your climbing shoe, so it’s crucial to know your way around their characteristics and definitions before you buy.
To fulfil their unique function, climbing shoes require a different fit to most other types of shoe. If you’ve ever worn a pair of climbing shoes, you’ll know that they feel considerably stiffer than your favourite pair of trainers. But how tight should climbing shoes feel, and do they ever need to be painful?
Whilst a snug fit is important in a climbing shoe, you don’t want your climbing shoes to hurt. Despite common advice to downsize, it’s best to avoid a digit-crushing, grimace-inducing fit, especially if you’re newer to the sport. On the flip side, you don’t want your shoes to be too baggy or slippy. An ill-fitting climbing shoe will shift and slide around on your foot as you climb, making precision and stability more difficult and foot placements hard to trust. It’s all about finding the balance!
Our Climbing Shoe Fitting Advice:
It’s normal for your shoes to feel tight. You should expect compression in the heel and toe, but you shouldn’t feel painfully bunched up.
Your climbing shoe should keep to the shape of your foot, with no ‘loose’ rubber around the heel, toes or arch.
You should avoid shoes that press painfully on your Achilles tendon or pinch uncomfortably around your midsole or heel.
You can expect your climbing shoes to stretch over time, with the amount of stretch depending on the nature of the materials used.
When picking a pair of climbing shoes, you can generally expect to be choosing from two main profiles: flat and downturned.
Flat shoes are better suited to beginner climbers as they allow for longer, more comfortable wear than their downturned counterparts. Many seasoned climbers opt to wear a flatter, more comfortable shoe for day-to-day training or gentle climbing sessions and switch to a more performance-focussed or downturned shoe when needed.
Downturned shoes are shaped with a downturn in the toe to make light work of steeper terrain. They are well suited to performance on overhanging routes and precision boulders as well as to training boards with small feet as their aggressive shape hooks you into the wall.
Comfort tends to be dictated not just by the general shape of the shoe in relation to your own foot, but also by how performance-orientated the shoe is. The volume of the toe box is the key area to look at here. For downturned shoes, these tend to have a larger toe box with a narrow width but more height to accommodate toes that are squeezed in. With flat shoes, your feet and toes are in a more natural, less bunched and therefore flatter position, so less width and height in the toe box is required.
Uppers And Lining
For upper material, you’ll have the choice between leather, suede, or a synthetic material.
Leather is typically used in most climbing shoes as it tends to offer the best performance. It’s breathable, it moulds to the foot shape and, if the leather is of a good quality, it won’t end up stretching out over time.
While climbing shoes made out of synthetic fabrics are less common, with careful construction they can give nearly as good a performance as leather and bring the added benefit of being an option for vegan climbers. The La Sportiva Skwama Vegan is one such example. It’s a sensitive, snug fitting, flexible climbing shoe that’s made without any materials derived from animals.
“The right pair could not only boost your confidence, but unlock new climbing techniques and styles to help you to push your climbing further.”
Type of Rubber
An important consideration with any climbing shoe is the type, thickness and durability of the rubber used. Each climbing shoe manufacturer will use slightly different rubber compounds and each rubber type will perform differently in different settings. For delicate slab climbing, indoor bouldering and smearing on tenuous volumes, softer rubber can enhance sensitivity on holds. For long days out in the mountains, or for a trad climbing session at the local crag, a thicker, stiffer rubber that can deal with sharp edges and prolonged use is preferable.
There’s also often a distinction drawn between shoes and rubbers designed for indoor use versus outdoor use.
As with regular shoes, climbing shoes come in a variety of closure types, the two main styles being laced and velcro straps. The benefit of a lace-up climbing shoe is they ensure the most precise fit but unlacing and lacing your shoes between climbs can be cumbersome.
Velcro closures, such as the double velcro closure and hook-and-loop fastening offer a quick and easy way to get your climbing shoes off and on. If on/off ease is a priority, you might lean towards a fuss-free slipper, bearing in mind that slip-on climbing shoes leave little room for customisation in fit.
If you’re after a pair of shoes that can withstand frequent-use indoors, and long training sessions on abrasive textured holds and volumes, you might orient towards all-rounder options like the La Sportiva Kubo.
The La Sportiva Kubo promotes versatility through a durable 4mm rubber sole that has been built to be easily re-soled – a cheaper way to sustain the life of your shoe when the toe rubber starts to wear thin.
Choosing Your First Pair Of Climbing Shoes
If the time has come for you to hang up your gym’s rentals and invest in a pair of climbing shoes to call your own, you’ll likely want to go for a model higher up on the comfort and durability scale. You should be on the lookout for a non-specialised, beginner-friendly shoe that’s able to perform over varied climbing terrain, whilst feeling comfortable enough to keep on your feet for a whole session.
A great all-round option might be the La Sportiva Tarantula. Described as ‘a multifunctional climbing shoe, ideal for beginners’, the Tarantula is available in Men’s and Women’s models and is well suited for long and multi-functional wear at the climbing gym.
A quick hook and loop closure with a suede upper ensures easy ‘on and off’ capability and all-day comfort. Coupled with a padded tongue, the build of the Tarantula offers a secure fit with no compromise on comfort. FriXion® Black 4mm rubber gives grip and durability which will be more forgiving and long-lasting as you develop your skills and explore fancy footwork at the wall or your local crag.
The Tarantula’s comfortable fit and friendly price point makes them a great all round beginner climbing shoe, worthy of its reputation in the climbing community.
Try Before You Buy
When deciding which climbing shoe model is the perfect one for you, we would always recommend trying before you buy. We’d suggest you test out a shortlist of pairs across a variety of brands to really get a feel for which features work best for you.
Many climbing gyms have a shop or host brand events where you can try on a couple of different models and explore different sizes.
The longer you climb, the more you’ll get to know which brands and models line up with your needs. You may even find you have a variety of different climbing shoes for different occasions and alternate depending on the day! Whatever you choose, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them, so they need to give you confidence on the wall.
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