What size of climbing shoes should I buy? 👉 Full Guide

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Anyone who does sports always needs the right footwear in addition to the right clothing. Especially for those who are active in climbing, the right climbing shoes play a decisive role, because they give the climber, in combination with his hands, a secure hold. 

The short answer to the question “What size of climbing shoes should I buy?” is: Climbing shoes should be about 1 to 1.5 shoe sizes smaller than your normal street shoes.

However, there are a few important details (type of climbing, manufacturer, difficulty level, etc.) that influence this value.

How to take these details into account and find the right climbing shoes in the ideal size for you, we’ll give you the most important tips here.

Basic Thoughts on Climbing Shoes Size

The size of a shoe determines different things. Firstly, size is crucial for comfort and secondly, it is very important for the quality of shoe performance during climbing. 

With regard to size, the smaller the shoe, the greater the tension in the shoe. 

This basically means nothing more than that a smaller climbing shoe makes it easier for you to find support on small steps than would be possible with a larger climbing shoe. However, these considerations are particularly relevant for climbers on routes with high and highest degrees of difficulty, i.e. for professional climbers. 

Related article: How should climbing shoes fit? Is the shoe too tight?

Our musculature plays an important role in all movement sequences because, among other things, it provides body tension and is able to hold our weight. In order to be able to do its work, however, it must have enough space. For this reason, a very small shoe can lead to problems when climbing, because as a climber you are primarily dependent on the work of your foot muscles. 

If, however, your foot is almost squeezed with your toes in the climbing shoe, the muscles will not be able to develop their maximum efficiency. Very tight climbing shoes can therefore cause a lot of energy to go unused when pedalling and you can’t hold on to a wall. 

That’s why, if you’re not a pro, you should always look for a compromise in size where there’s a balance between stability and comfort. 

But you must never forget the golden rule for climbers. It says that a climbing shoe must always fit close to the foot. Without this characteristic you cannot climb safely and successfully. In any case, it is necessary that the climbing shoes fit tighter than your street shoes. If they don’t do this, you could just set off with your street shoes…

The Right Climbing Shoe for the Respective Type of Climbing

There is not only one climbing sport. Climbing is very varied and has differentiated into different disciplines. Before buying climbing shoes, you should therefore consider which type of climbing you would like to practice. 

Basic climbing disciplines are considered to be:

  • Free climbing (without technical equipment)
  • Technical climbing (with the help of climbing aids)

Within the framework of these basic disciplines, you can again become active in various sub-disciplines for which you need the appropriate footwear. Here are a few examples:

  • Sports Climbing (indoors or outdoors)
  • Alpine Climbing (outdoor climbing only)
  • Trad Climbing (traditional climbing, no prefabricated fuses fixed in the field)
  • Plaisir Climbing (pleasure climbing in secured rocks, easy to moderate degree of difficulty)
  • Big Wall Climbing (on high rocks in national parks)
  • Bouldering (unsecured climbing at jump height)
  • Deep Water Soloing (DWS, climbing on rocks over rivers or lakes, without safety materials)
  • Ice Climbing (climbing on ice fields or frozen waterfalls, with ice axes and crampons)

For each of these variants you need a different type of climbing shoe in the right size. Nothing would be worse than when you slip out of your chosen climbing shoe while climbing and lose your grip.

Which Size for which Climbing Level?

The nature of the climbing route you are on plays a major role in shoe size. It has been proven that there is a direct connection between the degree of difficulty of the route to be climbed and the so-called step size. 

In principle, you can choose your climbing shoe a bit larger if you are on routes with low or moderate difficulty and larger kicks. 

In slightly larger shoes, your toes have a little more room to move, which is OK for sufficiently large kicks. Tighter shoes for more “toe tip feeling” are necessary when you are climbing on difficult routes with very small kicks.

Different Sizes with Different Manufacturers

What you should keep in mind when looking for climbing shoes is the fact that the size of such shoes can vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, tests have shown that:

The size you need also depends on whether you wear the climbing shoes with or without socks. 

Here the thickness of the sock material plays an important role, because the thicker the sock, the bigger the climbing shoe has to be, because the sock has to be in the shoe and must not cause your climbing shoe to be too tight.

Related article: Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?

Tip for Beginners

Beginner Recommendation: La Sportiva Mythos*

If you want to start from scratch with climbing or are still unsure which climbing style you want to concentrate on, you should first buy a climbing shoe that you can use for various areas, both indoor climbing and outdoor touring. 

There are very high quality shoes for different foot sizes and levels of difficulty. You can also use these shoes for bouldering, which is becoming more and more popular.

Our recommendation for beginners is definitely the La Sportiva Mythos*

These beginner climbing shoes owe their versatility mainly to their mostly medium pre-tension and their hard sole. Both support the foot to a high degree and relieve the musculature. 

If you count yourself among the untrained climbers, you have real all-rounders with these climbing shoes.

Climbing Shoe Size for Various Applications

With regard to the size of climbing shoes, you should always consider the planned area of use as well as your own preferences. Here the following tips can be helpful:

Beginners: As a climbing beginner you will probably first try out different types of terrain. In this phase the main thing is to gain experience by climbing a lot. For this purpose, you should use a comfortable shoe that is not too small in size. After all, it’s all about bringing you closer to the joy of climbing, and strong pain caused by shoes that are too small can quickly spoil this fun for you.

Climbing or bouldering gym: When you are in a climbing or bouldering gym, you usually move in steep terrain and encounter large volumes, i.e. large climbing areas. For this you should use rather soft and above all strongly prestressed climbing shoes. In addition, it makes sense in halls if the climbing shoe is worked a bit stiffer, that depends mainly on the climbing length.

Steep climbing & small steps: If you only have very small steps available on steep walls, you need relatively tight climbing shoes that are very tight and strongly prestressed. The tight fit of the shoes gives you more feeling in your toes and ensures optimum, precise power transmission from foot to kick.

Friction or slab climbing: For this type of climbing you should use softer climbing shoes with flat toes without pretension. They allow you to build up friction over a large area. But you don’t choose such tight climbing shoes, because they allow a better buckling of the front part of the shoe.

Climbing on vertical routes & small steps: On such routes you need a bit harder climbing shoes, which also have a slight pre-tension. You should also choose them tighter to have a better feeling in your toes on the small kicks.

Classic style alpine climbing: For this type of alpine climbing, experts recommend less tight and medium-hard climbing shoes that have no pretension. If you choose too soft shoes here, they can have a tiring effect on long tours. In addition, many climbers find them more painful than helpful.

Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym Climbing Shoe*

Climbing in granite walls with cracks: If you know that you will encounter cracks in the granite when climbing, then you should either use soft, flat shoes without laces (so-called slippers*) or hard and flat shoes. For climbing in granite walls with cracks, climbing shoes that are not so tight around the foot are normally sufficient.

Practical Tip

With regard to the size of climbing shoes, you probably read over and over again that the shoe should be “close to the foot”. 

Yes, they should be tight, but they should not hurt your feet! 

To climb well, the climbing shoe should be tight enough to exert slight pressure on your foot, but it should not cause you unbearable pain that can impair your ability to concentrate.

Relationship between Material and Size

When choosing your climbing shoes, you should also consider the size of the material and any lining. The upper material of many climbing shoes is genuine leather or imitation leather. 

While artificial leather is very stable and does not give way even after frequent use, genuine leather reacts differently, stretches over time and gives the foot more room to maneuver. Although leather adapts better to your foot, the climbing shoe also loses the tightness necessary for climbing. 

Climbing shoes are also increasingly made of synthetic materials such as microfibre (e.g. Lorica). They have the same properties as artificial leather and hardly give way. 

You should also consider whether your climbing shoe should be lined or not. Usually, this is a very thin layer that is breathable and absorbs perspiration.

Related article: How to Stretch Out Climbing Shoes 👉 Step-by-Step Guide

The Right Time to Buy Climbing Shoes

It may seem a little strange to you at first, but it really matters to the size at which time of day you buy or try on your climbing shoes. 

Many people do not take into account that their feet swell more and more during the day. The reason for this is our workload during the day. As a result of this effort, the feet swell to a not inconsiderable extent and can grow by half a shoe size by the evening. 

If the weather is also very warm, the foot can swell even more. This means that your climbing shoes will be half a shoe size bigger in the morning when you try them on, and half a shoe size or even a whole shoe size smaller in the evening. 

Experts advise buying shoes earlier in the afternoon or evening. If the new climbing shoe fits perfectly at this point, you don’t do anything wrong. 

Maybe it makes sense to think about when you are going climbing during the day. If you usually climb in the morning, it may be a good idea to buy the climbing shoes at this time as well. The same applies if you normally come to climb after work.

Pay Attention to the Symmetry of Your Feet 

In order to find the perfect fitting climbing shoe, it is also important to consider the differences in size between your two feet when you buy it, as they are almost always different in length. 

In most cases, the fit of the left forefoot also differs from that of the right forefoot. Of course, it is theoretically possible to buy two pairs of differently sized climbing shoes of the same model and then use the appropriate shoe. 

In the Olympics, you can often see athletes that wear different competition shoes. However, this method is very expensive because you would have to buy two pairs of climbing shoes each time. In practice, you will probably rather live with the fact that one climbing shoe fits perfectly and the other is slightly too small or too large. 

However, the anatomical differences are usually so small that they are hardly of any significance in everyday life. Only if they exceed a certain level can this lead to misalignments, which may then have to be compensated with orthopedic aids such as shoe insoles.

Socks in a Climbing Shoe or not?

If you’ve climbed before, you know that it’s the tiptoe feeling that counts, especially on difficult routes. This is because your foot and the shoe lie as close as possible to each other and your feet are additionally brought into a hollow foot position by the pretension of the shoe and are narrowed, whereby more pressure is exerted on them. The so-called downturn provides the same effect, but only in the area of the forefoot.

Whether you feel more comfortable in such shoes with socks depends ultimately only on your subjective feeling. A sock always has a certain thickness, which may make the climbing shoe even tighter. 

In addition, it forms an additional layer that can impair the toe tip feeling. This is why many climbers do not wear socks in their climbing shoes. In this way, they want to ensure that there is actually no air between the shoe and the foot at any point. 

For this, however, it is also necessary that the shape of the climbing shoe matches the climber’s foot as closely as possible. An important feature of the climbing shoe is that it clings to the foot like a sock. 

If you now wear additional socks, this is probably more of a hindrance when climbing. Just try it out and experiment with different types of socks and shoe models. This is how you find the best solution for you.

Related article: Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?

Testing and Selecting Sizes

If you are unsure which size is the right one, stick to the old principle of trying different climbing shoes. The ideal shoe for climbing can only be found if you try on and perhaps even test different brands and models. 

The best way is to order 2-3 pairs and keep the pair that fits best.

You don’t really need to pay much attention to the size indicated in the climbing shoe. Of course, even if you first select the size that is normally suitable for you, this can usually only be used as a guideline. Some shoes require you to wear one or even two sizes smaller than normal, while other climbing shoes will only fit if you choose a slightly larger size.

This is often due to the fit that the manufacturer has given the climbing shoe.

Bottom Line

Climbing shoes are part of the basic equipment if you want to practice this sport. There are many different manufacturers of such shoes and choosing the right shoe size is not always an easy thing. 

A climbing shoe should always lie close to the foot, but should not cause much pain. 

Depending on the manufacturer, the shoes are larger or smaller. Important aspects to consider when buying climbing shoes are your feet, including all anatomical characteristics, the climbing discipline you choose, the level of difficulty you want to climb, the location (indoor or outdoor) and of course the material and fit of the climbing shoes. 

The more professionally you practice climbing, the tighter shoes you will usually use, because this will give you more control over your feet and the kicks that usually get smaller. 

Related article: The top 6 of the best climbing shoes for beginners

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on climbtheearth.com only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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