How to Choose the Right Pair of Climbing Shoes

A Beginner’s Guide to Selecting the Perfect Pair of Climbing Shoes

Any experienced rock climber knows the importance of choosing the right pair of shoes. The slightest difference in shoe can have a big impact on the way you climb, so it’s vital to make the right choice. There are actually three main things to consider when selecting your own pair of climbing shoes, and we’ll be going through each of those factors today.

The first is the type of shoe, with neutral, moderate and aggressive being the three primary categories. The next factor is the feature list of the shoe, including things like the laces, rubber and more. Finally, the last thing to consider is the fit of the shoe, as this can have a big influence on your performance. Without further ado, let’s get started.

categories of climbing shoes

Categories of Climbing Shoes

As previously mentioned, climbing shoes are separated into three distinct categories: neutral, moderate and aggressive. Neutral shoes are the most comfortable of the bunch. In fact, you can pretty much just wear them as all-day shoes. They have a flat shape, allowing your toes to lie in their natural position, parallel with the rest of your foot. These shoes are ideal for novice climbers who are just getting started, but can also work well for more seasoned climbers in need of an all-day shoe for extended sessions. Their flat shape allows them to fit snugly into many cracks in the rock, but neutral shoes won’t work too well on the trickier routes.

Now let’s talk about moderate climbing shoes. They’re a little less comfortable than the neutral variety, and this is because they have a slightly concave shape which pushes your feet into a more appropriate climbing position. They also have a bit more grip on the soles than neutrals. These shoes are well-suited for almost any kind of route type, but won’t be very effective on the most overhung routes.

Finally, we have the aggressive variety. Engineered for maximum climbing performance, these shoes are perfect for the most difficult routes you can find. They push your toes down even further than moderate shoes, with a bit of extra pressure placed on the big toe, putting your feet into the optimal climbing position. They’re not too comfy though, so you won’t want to wear them as all-day shoes.

fit of climbing shoes

What Features You Should Be Looking For in a Climbing Shoe

We’ve looked at shoe types, now let’s look at shoe features. There are many different aspects of a shoe for you to consider when shopping for your own pair. First off, let’s look at the different methods of closure. Laces are perhaps the most classic variety, offering a nice degree of adaptability for different circumstances. In hot conditions, you can loosen the laces for additional comfort, but you’ll need them extra tight for tricky climbs.

Straps are another option. These shoes are great for bouldering and can be put on or off very quickly and easily. Finally, there are slip-on shoes. These are great for gym climbing and training as they give a good amount of maneuverability to your feet.

Climbing shoes can also be made from either leather or synthetic materials. Leather is easier to keep clean and fresh, but synthetic shoes tend to offer better performance. Leather will also stretch more than synthetics, but this can all come down to personal preference. Once you’ve chosen your material, you’ll need to think about the last. The last is essentially the shape of the climbing shoe.

The majority of climbing shoes are slip-lasted, meaning they are quite flexible and usually have no insole. Otherwise, you could choose board-lasted shoes, which are a bit tougher but can be much more comfortable for all-day use. Last can also come in straight, asymmetric and downturned varieties. Straight shoes are flat and comfortable for extended climbs. Asymmetric shoes allow the big trip to grip onto rocks more easily. Downturned shoes push the toes down for better overall grip.

The sole is another feature to consider. This is the base of the shoe that comes into contact with the rocks. Naturally, climbing shoes need to have good grip levels, but some are more effective than others. Soles made from firm rubber will be better for edging, which is when you balance the edge of your foot on very slim ledges, while stickier soles work nicely for smearing, which is when you slide upwards across a slab. It all depends on the type of climbing you’re going to be doing. If you’re not too experienced, it’s also wise to choose a thicker sole, as this will provide extra support and last for a longer time.


How a Climbing Shoe Should Fit

Finally, let’s discuss the fit of a climbing shoe. Like with any type of footwear, you need these shoes to fit properly. It’s wise to test out various sizes and models to get a feel for the right fit for your feet. Another good tip is to do your shoe shopping after doing a bit of exercise. This is because your feet will actually swell up during a climb, so it’s good to have a slightly larger size than normal.

Naturally, we recommend you do your shoe shopping in person, as online purchases can often disappoint. It’s also important to note that different companies will size in different ways. The same numbered size can mean different things from one brand to the next, so keep an open mind and try multiple shoes and sizes before making a decision.

If you’re purchasing shoes with laces, try doing them up at different levels of tightness to see how your feet feel. Also remember that, if you feel any pain in your feet when trying on shoes, that means that they aren’t the right size for you. Some people think climbing shoes need to be a bit painful to be effective, but this isn’t true. Out on the rocks, pain will prevent you from performing at your best levels.

Pain is therefore bad, but a little bit of discomfort isn’t the worst thing. The best climbing shoes will force your toes into a slightly unnatural position that can feel strange to begin with, but you will be able to get used to it after a few sessions. Hopefully these tips will help you find the very best pair of climbing shoes.

About the author

Mike Paris

Mike is the editor of NWT Outfitters and as you may expect, an avid outdoorsman... When Mike isn't logged into the NWT backend, he's camping, climbing, hunting, fishing, or doing some combination of the four.

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