How to choose your climbing shoes

Frequently, looking for the perfect pair of climbing shoes in physical and online shops might feel extremely challenging. Will you need a crystal ball or a fortune-teller’s predictions to find the right model to support you in the crucial moments of your climbing career?

 

 

The ever-increasing number of brands and models might create confusion, especially among the less experienced buyers: this is why we decided to share our tips to make this whole process way easier! 

 

 

Matteo Pavana La Sportiva

Matteo Pavana La Sportiva

 

 

How to choose the correct size 

 

Sometimes it might feel like the more you downsize, the better climber you are. Truth is, extremely tight shoes might result not only in foot injuries, but they could also negatively affect your performance, as the pain will prevent you from taking advantage of any footholds, both big and small. Each brand has its unique fit: that’s why there is no one-size-fits-all rule that will help you choose the right shoes before trying them on. But remember: the chosen model will support your feet by combining different factors, such as sizing, sole stiffness, and lacing system. 

 

 

Your toes should never lie completely flat, and there should not be any space between them and the tips of the shoes. The heel cups should wrap your heels securely, with no air pockets but no painful pinching at the same time. Often, finding it hard to put the shoes on doesn't necessarily mean you got the wrong size. Performance shoes have such weird shapes that sometimes, wrapping your feet in a sheet of tissue paper might help slide better into the shoe. Once you put them on, you might be surprised by how well they fit you!

 

 

Stiffness

 

If we had to write a scientific essay on the right climbing shoe for each occasion, we would need to consider the type of rock, its inclination and conformation, and most importantly, the type of activity they will be destined to. Stating that a softer shoe is better for bouldering is like saying that Adam Ondra is a strong climber: it’s definitely true, but it’s not just that! Soft shoes are more flexible and allow more sensitivity on smaller edges. Besides that, if you want to wear soft shoes your feet muscles should be already strong enough to support your whole body weight on their tips. This is why beginners are usually encouraged to choose stiffer models that will support their feet and help them strengthen them in the right way, training muscles that they didn’t even know existed before they started climbing! 

 

 

If you’re looking for bouldering shoes, you will also have to consider the heel cup shape to perform perfect heel hooks: they might be crucial to cross a crux! Even on the smallest of holds, a successful heel hook depends on the heel configuration, the kind of rubber used, and the shoe flexibility itself. Nevertheless, you will see experienced climbers wear stiff shoes at the crag, on vertical slabs, or on walls with pockets! Stiff shoes put feet under less pressure, supporting them better on smaller holds or more technical climbs.

 

 

Stiffness often depends on the sole construction: a stiff shoe will have a looser fit, while a soft shoe will be tighter and more precise. The goal is always the same: to keep your foot in place. Only experience will lead you to understand the best combination between all these factors and your personal preferences. But you will also learn which shoe will perform best on which occasion: that is why climbers of all levels own all sorts of climbing shoes, and they know exactly which one they need depending on the situation. 

 

 

 

 

Profile 

 

There are no doubts on this: the more a shoe is downturned, the more aggressive it will be, hence better suited for experienced climbers. Neutral and symmetrical shoes are perfect for beginners and those  moving their first steps on the rock, because they will be far less painful. Neutral and moderate shoes are great for those who spend a lot of time on the wall, either on multi-pitch routes or because they like to try the same route multiple times with no rush, but they are also ideal for long gym sessions. Beginners will soon realize when it is time to move on and get a more precise model to increase sensitivity on smaller edges and wrap the foot more securely. Aggressive shoes are designed with a steep downturned shape which places a lot of tension on the heel. They are perfect for climbing single pitches and boulders when you want to reach peak performance. 

 

 

A shoe’s aggressiveness depends not only on its curvature but also on its asymmetrical shape and toe box configuration. Most climbers opt for asymmetrical shoes after a couple of months of experience because it allows them to enhance their performance on smaller edges and improve their balance. Unfortunately, this type of shoe is not necessarily the right one for everyone. When choosing a model, you need to consider the shape of your foot. If your feet are on the wider side, you will probably have to pick a moderate model with a less aggressive curvature and shape.  

 

 

Last but not least, consider the shape of the toe box. The most aggressive models will comprise a wider toe box, often covered by a layer of rubber to improve the grip on toe hooks: the toes of climbers who wear these shoes will naturally curl, and never lie flat. Consequently, a wide toe box allows more space on the upper, accommodating the curled toes better.

 

 

Closure

 

Closure systems are the most visible and recognizable features of a pair of climbing shoes. We can divide closure systems into three different types: slip-on, velcro, and laces. Although there are a lot of myths concerning this topic, such as the idea that velcro shoes must be used only indoors and shoes with laces only outdoors, there are some advantages choosing one over the other. Shoes with laces take longer to put on, but once they are well tied they adapt to the foot perfectly. That is why they are less common for bouldering, where climbers tend to put them on and take them off more frequently due to the shorter sessions and therefore prefer a quicker closure system. Slip-on shoes are very fast to wear, but there is no way to adjust them around the foot. Velcro shoes are the perfect balance between fast wearing and precise adjustment. That does not mean slip-ons provide poorer performance: if you find the model that will be tight enough and with a shape that will support your feet well, they will be just as precise as the others. 

 

 

 

 

Upper material

 

Shoe uppers are made of either leather or synthetic materials, entailing different characteristics. Leather is the first material used in climbing shoe construction for its flexibility, durability, and perspiration features. When trying on leather shoes, remember leather is a material that tends to stretch easily. A leather shoe that might feel too tight at first will probably become more comfortable after a couple of uses. If you prefer to avoid leather for ethical reasons, you can opt for synthetic models. Synthetic materials are stiffer- hence they are used on more aggressive and performative shoes. Thanks to new technologies, these materials are now more breathable. Wild Climb’s Wild Microfiber are good examples of breathable synthetic shoes. There are also shoes made of both leather and synthetic fabrics, obtaining the ultimate compromise, such as La Sportiva’s Kataki and Tenaya Lati. 

 

 

Sole material

 

Climbing shoes, just like any other type of shoe (except for the 90s legends Esppadrillas), have a rubber sole. Originally, rubber was a natural product, but through the years, it has been combined with synthetic components making it a chemical product in its own right. As you will probably have noticed, climbing shoes have a far thinner sole than approach shoes. On the one hand, that means you will have enhanced sensitivity on small edges; on the other, the sole rubber will be less durable. Sole stiffness is directly proportional to its thickness. A thinner sole (3 or 4mm) is softer- hence more sensitive and suitable for short pitches and boulders. In addition, thin soles are best for performance attempts, as they wear off quickly. Stiff soles instead are more stable and perfect for beginners looking for their first pair of climbing shoes.  

 

 

Every brand relies on specialized rubber producers to obtain the best high performance soles. La Sportiva and SCARPA paired with Vibram, known for its three main products: XS Edge, XS Grip, and XS Grip 2. On a scale from softer to stiffer, XS Edge is the most durable and hard rubber while Grip 2 is the softest, stickiest, and most precise. 

 

 

Five Ten produces its own rubbers, called Stealth. The most popular Stealth compound is C4, one of the favorites among climbers. HF is softer and extremely precise on small edges. Onyxx is both sticky and stiff. Finally, Mystique is a great compromise between lightness and durability: it takes twice as long to wear it out compared to other compounds. 

 

 

 

 

Sole Construction

 

Besides stiffness and shoe profile, you will also have to consider the sole construction. There are three different types: full soles, split soles, and no-edge. As the name suggests, full soles cover the whole shoe length from heel to toes. You can find them on most symmetric and stiff shoes. These soles are the first to have been introduced to the market and therefore they have been the most popular for quite a long time. As climbing shoe technologies developed, split soles made their way in providing excellent flexibility and precision on heel and toe-hooks. The Solution from La Sportiva are a great example. Finally, La Sportiva introduced the no-edge construction, shaping their shoes perfectly around the foot and removing all edges from the tips and the sides of the soles. This allows maximum sensitivity and enhances precision. You can find no-edge construction on all types of shoes, from slip-ons to laced and velcro shoes. 

 

 

The role of color 

 

Climbing shoes offer a wide variety in terms of design and looks. Even though we know this is uniquely a matter of personal preferences, we would like to open a discussion on the “women’s climbing shoes” issue. Some climbing shoes are available in both men’s and women’s versions: at a first glance, it might feel like the only difference is how they look but there is much more besides color and pattern choices. Five Ten women’s models for example comprise a smaller heel cup, a lower ankle cut, and a different toe box configuration. La Sportiva models instead present no structural differences but the women’s versions are optimized to break in easily with lower weights.

 

 

And now check our climbing shoes online shop here!