There are no best climbing shoes or climbing shoe brands. Different rock climbing shoes excel at different things. So we are going to teach you how to find a shoe that is right for you!
A lot of companies advertise their shoes in one of three categories:
This is not always the case, but for the most part, this is what you will find when shopping for climbing shoes.
Choosing a shoe that’s right for you is more difficult than picking from Flat, Moderate, or Aggressive.
Why? Have you ever noticed in climbing videos when climbers wear two different shoes? They are actually utilizing the best, features of each shoe for specific pieces of footwork. In other words, some shoes are good for heel hooking but might not be the best for edging. We will cover those later.
If you are going to be using shoes frequently, for training or for regular bouldering sessions, for instance, you are not going to want to buy shoes with thin rubber because they will wear out very quickly.
How about if you are picking out shoes for long sessions of top rope in the gym? Here is a list of questions that will help you to choose better:
This part is difficult. All too often in the gym, you see climbers in shoes that do not know how to take advantage of their attributes. This is a poor choice of shoes for this climber. So… how is your footwork? If you are still learning, don’t grab a pair of aggressive shoes, instead, you are going to want a pair of moderate or flat shoes that help introduce you to advanced techniques.
Aggressive shoes require a concrete understanding of footwork in order to use them properly.
The strengths of aggressive shoes are the ability to focus the weight of the foot onto pinpoint positions and the ability to pull off of holds using the downturn.
Avoid falling into the trap because you may end up with foot cramps and shoes that are not right for you! So you’ve identified what you are going to use your shoes for, use this to create a list of attributes you’d like your shoe to have, and make an honest evaluation of your climbing abilities.
If your local gym carries climbing shoes, head on in and try on some shoes that have the attributes you want.
Your climbing shoes should be snug. If you are going for a more aggressive and/or leather shoe, they may even hurt for a time. Keep in mind that if your leather shoes fit perfectly on day one, they definitely won’t fit perfectly after a month of climbing, meaning they will stretch.
A good place to start when picking out shoes is to take your street shoe and downsize it by 1 whole size. Unfortunately, however, there is no real way to know until you go try some shoes on. You will learn over time how different brands and types of shoes fit you.
Snug is good — painful is bad! You don’t want to end up with any number of nasty foot conditions (bunions, toe deformities, bleeding under the toenails, etc.) because of climbing shoes that are simply too tight! That said, it’s not as common to hear people talk about whether to wear socks or not and how to avoid ending up with stinky climbing shoes! In light of that, we thought it would be useful to discuss how to wear (and care for) your climbing shoes. After all, you spend a lot of money and put a lot of thought into getting the best shoes, so you naturally want them to last.
Slip-ons give the climber easy access in and out of the shoe. Some climbers love this and do not care about the customizable fit and tightening. There is obviously zero additional tightening with slip-ons, which may be a huge disadvantage.
Laces give the climber the ability to customize the fit of the shoe: tightening in some places or looser in others. This means tying and untying for breaks and having the laces dangle while you climb.
Velcro straps allow the climber to get in and out of their shoes fairly quickly but do not offer the customizable fit that laces do. Keep in mind that the more straps you have, the more customizable the fit… but also you lose that rubber coverage. 3-strap shoes are going to be very poor toe-hooking shoes while 1-strap shoes excel at toe-hooking.
Aside from wearing socks with rented climbing shoes for hygienic reasons, most climbers skip socks when lacing up or strapping on their climbing shoes. Many recommend a light dusting of talcum powder or baking soda to absorb sweat, but you’ll need to be careful not to let it build up. The key is to go light and tap as much of it out as possible before wearing your shoes.
The more aggressive a shoe is, the better it is going to perform when executing precise footwork. This works inversely, however. The more aggressive a shoe is, the worse it is going to perform when executing poor footwork. The more downturned a shoe, the more uncomfortable it is going to be for extended periods of time.
The toe-box is the portion of the shoe surrounding your toes, specifically your big toe as most climbing shoes come to some kind of point there. Toe-boxes range from larger and boxier to very precise and pointy. A pointier toe-box is designed to bring all of the force you apply to a hold to a single point. Wider toe-boxes are built for comfort and extended use but offer less precision.
Heel-cups vary from rounded to boxy. The most important part of the heel cup is how it fits you. Make sure the heel does not “pop” out when performing a heel hook. No dead spaces.
Most climbing shoes will develop a funky odor due to an accumulation of sweat, skin cells, dirt, etc.
What can you do about it? Most climbers have developed their own “techniques” for dealing with odor (powder, sprays, sachets), but is that enough? Here are some “dos and don’ts” for properly caring for your climbing shoes: