So you’ve decided to commit to the radical sport of rock climbing. Maybe you’ve already gotten a small taste of these painful ballerina shoes with your local climbing gym’s shoe rentals or maybe you haven’t and if so you’re in for a treat. Truth be told, climbing shoes are not and should not be painfully tight and that’s what this guide is for, to help you purchase the best pair of beginner climbing shoes so you can enjoy the sport of climbing, not just sit by and watch while your feet are cramped and uncomfortable.
While rental shoes are highly recommended for your first few times climbing, purchasing your own pair of shoes is significantly more comfortable. Climbing shoes break in to your foot specifically and after 10 or so routes and the painful hotspots of climbing shoes should go away.
In addition, climbing shoes come in 3 different styles: Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive. Beginners will be looking for Neutral climbing shoes for a more natural, flat footed shoe. On top of that there are a variety of different features like stiffness, uppers, durability, all of which have to do with comfort and performance. This guide is here to explain all that you need to know to help you not look like total “noob” walking around the crag or gym like a cowboy because your feet hurt hurt so bad.
First things first, lets cover what all the climbing shoe terms mean…
Things to know before purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes
Fitting your climbing shoes
There’s a huge stigma among climbing that your shoes should be as tight and uncomfortable as possible. It’s true that you do want your climbing shoes to fit snug, but they definitely should not be uncomfortably tight, especially when you’re a beginner.
Realistically, your shoes should fit tight enough to where you can’t wiggle your toes nor should there be “hotspots” or places that are extremely abrasive on your foot. In general, climbing shoes are worn half a size to two sizes down from a regular shoe but that’s a big gray area which is why it’s important to try on climbing shoes yourself. It’s also important to take into account shoe style and materials as I’ll explain below.
Try on the exact pair of shoes you’re interested in
You now know that you should size down on climbing shoes and try them on in person, but there there are things to think about when trying on shoes. Sizing can vary quite a bit between climbing brands and just because those size 35s in the mens La Sportiva Mythos fit perfectly doesn’t mean a Scarpa Origin size 35 will be even close to fitting right.
Sizing varies significantly across brands and can even vary among shoes within a brand. For example, the Tarantulace will fit much different than the Mythos and those are both La Sportiva Shoes. Before buying your climbing shoes, be sure to try on the exact pair of shoes you’re considering.
Mens vs Womens shoes
This is rock climbing. People won’t know nor care if you’re wearing the mens or womens version of climbing shoes. While brands do make climbing shoes in both genders, women don’t have to wear women’s climbing shoes and vice versa. More often than not I actually wear mens climbing shoes and that’s because mens climbing shoes are made wider than women’s.
Point being, don’t necessarily assume that you need to wear the corresponding gender style of the climbing shoe. Pick your shoe based on fit, narrow or wide but remember, look at the brand’s sizing chart to convert from women’s US sizing to men’s US sizing.
Rubber and Rands
Probably the most confusing terms in this blog are the rands, soles, and uppers. You probably know what soles of a shoe are and it’s the same with climbing shoes. The soles of climbing shoes are made of rubber but they vary in thickness between brands. Thicker soles can endure more milage and can support your foot more. Thinner soles are more flexible and mold to your foot but force you to develop more foot strength to support yourself.
Uppers are as they sound, the top part of the shoe. This part of climbing shoes are made of leather or synthetic leather. See below to find out the difference.