How are Rock Climbing Shoes supposed to Fit?

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I remember my first time in the climbing hall. At that time I didn’t have my own climbing shoes and had to borrow some. They asked me about my shoe size and then replied with: “Okay, then two sizes smaller will fit you and don’t worry – they have to be this tight.”. As a result, my first climbing experience was characterized by foot pain. But how do climbing shoes really have to fit? Rock climbing shoes should fit perfectly around the foot. There should be no air holes or pressure points. They won’t be as comfortable as sneakers, but they shouldn’t hurt either. The toes should not be squeezed and you should be able to move your front foot properly.

You will only find such a shoe, which feels as if it has been molded on your foot, if you try out numerous models and sizes (in most specialized shops there are small climbing routes for testing). If you order on the Internet*, you should buy 3 different sizes straightaway and then return the two that do not fit properly. Learn in this article, how to choose rock climbing shoes.

Before I go into the size and fit of a climbing shoe and how to widen too tight shoes, a fundamental thing in advance – a climbing shoe must not hurt!

The Myth of Necessary Pain

Many climbers swear on climbing shoes that are so tight that they hurt. Especially walking on flat ground becomes a pain with such climbing shoes. I often see climbers taking off their shoes as soon as they reach solid ground.
Climbing shoes should never hurt! Not even for professionals. The myth that you need ever tighter shoes, the harder the track is, is also wrong. What is more accurate is that experienced climbers own and use different shoes for different routes. A good climbing shoe for a technically demanding course in bouldering differs considerably from a shoe that would be used on a long rope climbing route on a mountain.
Again, climbing shoes should not be so tight that they hurt. Too tight shoes can cause serious damage to your feet in the long run. Blisters or pressure points are just small acute injuries that don’t really worry us. The bad thing is rather the slowly developing orthopedic damage, which is caused by incorrect posture and incorrect strain. And these consequences are usually only visible when it is too late.
I also climbed for two years with shoes that were too tight due to lack of information. After doing some research, I bought myself some bigger shoes. They fit perfectly, didn’t hurt and I couldn’t see any negative effect on my performance. On the contrary – because I felt my feet less when climbing, I could concentrate better on climbing and had more fun.

The Correct Shoe Size for Rock Climbing Shoes

Depending on the area for which you want to use your shoes and how advanced you are, you choose your shoe size accordingly. Since the sizes can vary a lot between the individual brands, only rough guidelines can be given in advance.
Beginners should subtract half to full shoe size from their normal street shoe size – no matter what climbing discipline. It is only with advanced and professional climbers that the ideal fit of a climbing shoe differs between the individual disciplines. Advanced or professional boulderers take off about two sizes from their normal street shoe size and for climbing on the mountain about one and a half sizes.
As these values can vary greatly between brands, you should find out how large the shoes really will turn out before you buy them.
Leather climbing shoes take a special place. Leather expands after a while. Therefore you should buy leather shoes a little tighter – about a half to full size.
As a beginner, you should definitely choose a comfortable climbing shoe that is not too tight. Only if you really go climbing often and have gained experience, two pairs are worthwhile – one for bouldering and one for rock climbing.

The Right Fit on the Toes

There are roughly three toe forms:

  1. Egyptian: The big toe is longest. All toes after that are longer than the next one.
  2. Greek: The second toe is the longest of them all.
  3. Roman: The big toe and the two toes next to it are of equal length.

If you look for climbing shoes on Amazon, it makes sense to check the product details, reviews or directly on the manufacturer’s site to see if the shoe fits your own foot shape or not.

The Right Fit at the Heel

For beginners, the fit at the heel does not matter. But the shoe should not pinch the Achilles heel. However, if you want to get special climbing shoes for bouldering, you should make sure that your heel has a tight fit. A tight-fitting climbing shoe in the heel area is required for a certain, somewhat more advanced technique in bouldering – the “hook”. Hooking is the act of clinging the heel of your foot onto the wall. You have to be somewhat flexible to perform this movement.

Downturn and Tension

When climbing, a large part of the body weight rests on the toes. You tighten your whole foot and press it down. The shape of climbing shoes supports this position. The shape of the foot is similar to that of a ballet dancer’s foot. And that’s what climbing shoes look like – the toes are pointing down. How strong they point downwards due to the tension of the sole is characterized by the downturn, i.e. the bending downwards.
The more tension the climbing shoe has, the more uncomfortable it becomes. Climbing shoes with a high tension are only needed for very demanding climbing routes and especially small edges on which you want to climb. If you are not a professional climber and do not want to become one, you should keep away from those aggressive shoes in the shop that point sharply downwards.

How to Stretch a Too Tight Rock Climbing Shoe

If you read this article after you have already bought rock climbing shoes and noticed that they are too tight or you realize in retrospect that the climbing shoes are too tight, the following methods may help you stretch your rock climbing shoes. Wearing shoes usually stretches them the best, but if you feel that this does not help as much, there are other ways.
I have done it twice with my own shoes and once with those of my girlfriend and it worked great every time!
In the first method, heat is used to stretch the shoes, in the second method, you soak them in water and in the third method, you freeze them.

  • Heat them up: You may also have noticed that the longer you wear your rock climbing shoes, the wider they get. This is largely due to the warmth of your feet, which is transferred to your shoes. I exaggerate this effect with this method. First, I stuff the rock climbing shoes with as many socks as I can. You have to stuff it up there until it doesn’t fit anymore. Then comes the blow dryer. Heat up the climbing shoes slowly and not too hot. As soon as you notice or assume a stretch, you stuff the socks even more firmly into the shoe. Do this for a few minutes and let the shoe together with the socks cool down again. If you repeat this process and wear the shoes while climbing (also to check if you have already reached your goal), the shoe should have stretched.
  • Soak them: This method is the same as method one, only with water instead of heat. We make the shoe completely soaking wet and stuff it again. You can also wear the shoes wet to stretch them. This works even better than stuffing it. A buddy of mine took a shower with his climbing shoes on and then wore them until they were dry again. For him, the result was perfect. The shoes have adjusted exactly to his feet. It would even be best to climb with the shoes, which are not yet completely dry, in order to stretch them even better due to the pressure.
  • Freeze them: Another method, which I haven’t tried myself yet, but which is supposed to work very well, is to freeze the rock climbing shoes. With the first two methods, you can really stretch your climbing shoes. When freezing, a rather small, but finely adjustable stretch is achieved to perfect an almost perfectly fitting shoe. This method is also perfect for those who are afraid of stretching their shoes too much and prefer to take small steps. The principle is simple – we use the expansion of water during freezing. We stuff one sealable plastic bag into each shoe and fill it with water until the shoe is completely filled. We close the plastic bag. We should make sure that there is enough space in the bag for the extended ice so that the bag does not burst. Now the climbing shoes are put into the freezer overnight. The next day we defrost everything. When the shoes are warm again, we test them. If they are still too tight, we repeat the process until they fit perfectly.


Rock climbing shoes have to be chosen so that they do not hurt. But they should also not be too comfortable or too wide. Beginners should subtract half to full shoe size from their normal shoe size of their street shoes for all climbing disciplines. If you still want to buy your individual climbing shoes for bouldering, they should have a slightly stronger tension and a tighter fit at the heel.
If you have bought shoes that are too tight and you don’t have the possibility to return them, there are different ways to stretch them. The quickest way to stretch them is probably in the shower and wearing them afterward. If you only need a small stretch for a perfect fit, stretching with ice is best.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on 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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