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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.


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.


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 in

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