How to Choose Your Rock Climbing Shoes - barrabes.world
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BLOG | TIPS | 08 June 2016

How to Choose Your Rock Climbing Shoes

Trad, sport, boulder, beginners, higher grades, laces, Velcro, flat, curved—just a few of the factors you'll need to think about when it comes to choosing climbing shoes.

Climbing shes. Your best friend on rock
There’s no doubt that in the world of climbing & mountaineering equipment, one of the most difficult items to purchase are climbing shoes. Finding a shoe that fits all your requirements and is comfortable is no easy task, especially for newcomers who are not so experienced in the matter. It's not simply a question of knowing about the features and the specific use each model is designed for. There's another handicap: the intrinsic discomfort of climbing shoes. In this regard, there are two things to consider:

a) The type of climbing shoe required for your level and style of climbing and the type of rock.

b) Knowing which size is for you and which shoe last is most suitable for your feet.

Bearing these two factors in mind will help you find a shoe that combines the most suitable features with a size and last that will enhance, rather than hinder your climbing.

INDEX



THE IMPORTANCE OF CHOOSING THE RIGHT SIZE
Climbing should be all about footwork, which involves support, balance and constant muscle changing. The more you use your feet in this way, the less arm and finger strength is required. To achieve this, your climbing shoes need to have a close fit so that they are able to grip tiny holds and not slip off. A good fitting pair of climbing shoes should feel like a second skin and allow you to feel the rock.

Climbing shoes need to be snug, but you shouldn’t expect them to be as comfortable as a pair of trainers because the toe box should be completely filled and your toes are even normally slightly bent. This is essential in order to allow the correct footwork, both by gripping the rock as well as giving the right amount of feel on small footholds, edges or pockets.

Climbing: a question of balance
Therefore, when choosing climbing shoes, it's important not to apply the normal method for checking the size as you would for normal footwear, which involves pressing the toe to check there's enough space. This dead space shouldn't exist in climbing shoes.

Just as important as filling up the toe box is that the heel fits correctly. If your feet move inside the heel area during a climb, they’ll perform poorly and you'll compensate for this by over-working your calf muscles.

Having said this, there are those who believe that, given the inherent discomfort of climbing shoes, the tighter they are, the better they will perform. It is not unusual for some climbers to choose shoes that are several sizes smaller than their normal size.

There's no doubt that it's a question of preference, but if you cram your foot into a shoe that's too small, it will be extremely painful when putting your weight on a foothold. This pain will cause a reflexive action that will automatically result in poorer performance.

A Couple of Useful Tips


Climbing shoes, both leather and synthetic, offer a certain amount of stretch, but leather uppers stretch more than synthetic. This explains why climbers normally choose a slightly tighter fit when purchasing a climbing shoe. It’s normal for climbing shoes to feel rather uncomfortable at first, but this usually improves with use.

The lack of space in climbing shoes means that your feet will be prone to swelling, which usually occurs as your feet are in constant tension during a climb. It is always a good idea to shop for shoes after a walk or in the afternoon, when your feet will be in a bit larger due to swelling.
If a climbing shoe hurts to the extent where it’s too painful to put your body weight on the whole sole of the shoe, then you’ll know that it is ridiculously small. What you gain in feel and grip is completely lost as far as balance and foot technique. It’s true that some professionals do wear their shoes this small; but remember that they are just that—professionals. Beginner or intermediate climbers should certainly think twice before following their steps..

Climbing shoes should be snug, but they shouldn’t hurt to the point of affecting your footwork. Nor should they be so painful as to prevent you from enjoying the climb, which is what it’s about after all. Of course, some shoes are more technical than others, and more technical usually means less comfortable.

The problem of finding shoe that is snug but not painful is common to all boulder and sport climbers, whatever the difficulty. However, traditional (or trad) climbers on multi-pitch climbs usually choose to wear shoes with a more comfortable fit. The reason? Trad climbing routes are much longer and can last for days. They are also usually not as technically difficult as sport climbs. This means they don’t require such a radically asymmetric fit, but they do need to provide enough comfort to be able to spend a long time on the wall, in all kinds of weather and even while wearing socks, which is unthinkable with sport climbing shoes.

KINDS OF CLIMBING SHOES

There are several kinds of climbing shoes and the construction differs depending on the kind of rock, level of difficulty and climbing discipline. There are two basic shapes to choose from:

Symmetrical Climbing Shoes

Symmetrical climbing shoes are made on a straight last, which is similar to that used for conventional footwear. This provides much greater comfort, so they are perfect for multi-pitch trad climbs or lower grades.

Symmetrical shoes are certainly recommendable for beginners as they offer more than enough performance for these levels and ensure a more comfortable introduction to climbing.
Front view of the Mad Rock Drifter Velcro. A comfortable symmetrical climbing shoe



Symmetrical shoes provide less grip on micro-holds, small edges and pockets, but such precision is not usually necessary on most trad climbing routes. This is the same for lower- and intermediate- level climbs. Most newcomers have not yet mastered the techniques required to solve these problems.

Symmetrical shoes offer a more relaxed fit for a more relaxed type of climbing, so small, tight sizes are not necessary. Two good examples of a symmetrical climbing shoe are the Drifter Velcro, Mad Rock and the La Sportiva Mythos, or Mythos Lady.

Mythos, women’s version. A classic shoe that is still extremely popular.
Asymmetrical Climbing Shoes

Asymmetrical climbing shoes have a more exaggerated curved shape and the front is off-set over the big toe for greater power and precision on small holds. As you can probably imagine, these shoes are less comfortable than symmetrical shoes, but essential for taking on challenges at mid- to high- grades. However, reduced comfort does not mean you should feel pain, especially if they have been worn in. It is safe to say that most climbing shoes used for sport climbing are asymmetrical.

Asymmetrical shoes have a tighter fit so that they are more functional during a climb and choosing the right size is essential for getting the maximum performance from the climbing shoe features.

In this category, the Scarpa Booster S and La Sportiva Speedster are excellent examples.
Front view of the La Sportiva Speedster. The asymmetrical shape is clear.


STIFFNESS

Climbing shoes can be either stiff or soft. Each type has a series of benefits and drawbacks, according to the type of climbing you plan to do and amount of support or feel you require.

Stiff Climbing Shoes
These are mainly used for climbing on slabs or vertical walls with few or no overhangs. They offer a stiff platform that helps support your foot and reduces foot fatigue on vertical edging.

A stiff climbing shoe is good for precision footwork on small holds

These shoes are great for footwork when you need to put your weight on tiny foot holds. This concept is similar to that of a rigid mountaineering boot, which also supports your whole foot as you put your weight on the front crampon spikes.

A stiff climbing shoe provides support and prevents overloading your calf muscles. However this stiffness can also reduce sensitivity, resulting in reduced performance on more technical climbs.

The Boreal Lynx is a good example in this category.

Boreal Lynx
Soft Climbing Shoes

These shoes are much more sensitive and allow you to feel the rock. The first soft models were designed for greater grip on sport climbs and although they are still used for high grades, most are used for bouldering.

Soft shoes perform extremely well on steep overhangs and high grades, which require sensitivity and a great amount of foot agility. On overhangs your body weight is not mainly on your feet, like on a vertical climb, so the support of a stiff shoe is not necessary. Here, your feet are similar to a second pair of hands.

Your feet are like a second pair of hands
The La Sportiva Skwama, are a modern high-performance soft climbing shoe.

La Sportiva Skwama
CURVE OF THE SOLE
Finally, technical shoes can be categorised according to the curve of the sole.

Flat Soles

Until not long ago, most climbing shoes had flat (or relatively flat) soles and regardless of whether the shoes are soft or hard, symmetrical or asymmetrical, flat soles are the most widely used.

Nowadays, this curve is often designed with a slight down curve which performs well on small holds and pockets.

We recommend the 5.10 Verdon Lace, or Scarpa Techno X women's shoe.

Scarpa Techno X, women’s climbing shoe with a flat sole
Curved Soles

These were designed for bouldering and high graded climbs. They are fairly uncomfortable, but on fast boulder routes, this was not important. Most of these shoes had a soft sole, but nowadays there are all kinds.

The drop toe gives strength and support to vertical toes, in a similar way to a ballet dancer, and allows climbers to claw tiny holds.

These shoes perform well for what they’ve been designed for, but they are the least comfortable, so beginners or intermediates will find they hinder, rather than improve their performance.

Highly recommended models include the men’s and women’s La Sportiva Solution and for La Sportiva Solution Women.

La Sportiva Solution climbing shoe. Women’s model with curved sole
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
Climbing shoes do not only differ in shape, use and technical features. The construction also plays an important role.

There are three basic fastening systems, and each has its pros and cons.

Climbing Shoes with Velcro Closure

These offer less adaptability than lace-ups and climbers who are unable to find a good-fitting Velcro shoe often prefer the more adaptable fit of lace-ups.

The main benefit of Velcro shoes is that they can be removed quickly. This is perfect for advanced and bouldering climbers who prefer tight fitting shoes on hard climbs as they can quickly take them off at the belay point and put them back on when they start to climb.

During a day’s activity, your feet swell and the quick and easy adjustment of Velcro climbing shoes means that you can adapt them as the day goes on to ensure a more comfortable fit.

However Velcro shoes are not only used by advanced climbers. If you’re an intermediate climber and are able to find a Velcro shoe that fits comfortably, it is certainly a better, more comfortable option than lace-ups due to the quick on/off feature.

Two popular Velcro models are the Scarpa Feroce and the men’s and women’s Velcro versions of the La Sportiva Miura.

The Velcro Version of the La Sportiva Miura Climbing Shoe
Lace-up Climbing Shoes

Lace-up climbing shoes offer a more customised adjust and are especially useful for those who have difficulty finding a good fit as they can be tightened and loosened in different areas. Lace ups are perfect for climbers who don’t want a really tight fit or to remove their shoes during a climb. However, they’re less practical for those who buy smaller, close-fitting sizes and need to take them off each time they reach the belay point.

A good example of a lace up is the Boreal Silex and Five.ten Verdon Lace.

Five.ten Verdon Lace
Slip-on Climbing Shoes

In spite of becoming less popular since the arrival of Velcro shoes, slip ons are still quite popular for bouldering and indoor climbing gyms. The concept of slip ons is similar to Velcro shoes: they quick and easy to put on and take off, which is more practical if this is done repeatedly. Slip ons have no fastening and just have an elastic upper gusset that stretches over your foot.

A good example of high quality slips ons is the Scarpa Stix.

Scarpa stix high performance slip on climbing shoe
Finally, we’ve classified climbing shoes according to the materials used for construction.

MATERIALS

Leather Climbing Shoes

Leather is still widely used for climbing shoe uppers. It stretches more than synthetic materials, and will adapt to the shape of your foot over time, providing a personalized ergonomic fit. Another advantage of leather is the greater next-to-skin comfort when climbing sockless, compared to synthetic materials. Depending on the hours you spend in climbing shoes, this is also a factor to consider.

The trick, when buying leather climbing shoes, is to take the stretch factor into account during fitting in order to not end up with too loose of a fit once they're broken in, which will hurt your performance while climbing.

The Boreal Satori is an ultra-modern, ultra-technical model, made with a leather upper. This is an excellent example of how leather is still being used for uppers, in spite of the appearance of the latest materials.

Boreal Satori, climbing shoes with a leather upper
Synthetic Climbing Shoes

These stretch less, which is perfect if you find a model that fits you well when you buy them. However, synthetic uppers usually cause greater perspiration (and resulting foot odour) than uppers made with natural materials.

However, nowadays brands are working new materials to help solve this problem. An example of a shoe with these new materials is the La Sportiva Oxygym climbing shoe.

La Sportiva Oxygym fully-synthetic climbing shoe

FIND THE CLIMBING SHOES FOR YOU AT BARRABES

Check out the wide range of climbing shoes at our on-line store to make sure you get the best one for your needs.

All men’s and women’s climbing shoes for sport climbing

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All men’s and women’s climbing shoes for trad climbing

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