How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

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Rock Climbing Shoes are the most important Equipment item you have to own. Choosing the right rock climbing shoe can be tricky. In this article you will learn everything you need to know to choose the right shoe for your climbing needs!

If you are a beginner, you can start with a less aggressive but more comfortable shoe. You can go for a shoe that has a rounded toe, medium stiffness and a shape that is neutral. Understand that it can take some time before you can get used to the feel of the climbing shoes especially if you are a beginner. You have to avoid shoes with too much heel tension, downturned shape, and a pointy toe box because you will not be comfortable if you are not used to it.

Climbing a stiff rock requires you to have the necessary climbing shoes. Their sticky rubber provides more traction as opposed to any other shoes. They help you to stand on imperfections on an otherwise bare rock. You can wear these shoes without socks, and they fit snug to give you high performance. Climbing shoes come in different types, and there are several things worth considering when it comes to choosing your shoes. They include:

  • The type of rock climbing shoe – you have to choose between neutral, moderate, or aggressive shoes. This depends on the kind of climbing you want to do.
  • Features of your climbing shoe – straps, linings, laces, and rubber features all affect the performance for your rock climbing shoes.
  • Climbing shoe fit – you have to use shoes that fit snug. If you get the right fit, you will be able to climb longer and harder.

If you don’t want to read too much, you can look in here: The Top 6 of the Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners

Rock Climbing Shoe Types


These shoes provide a relaxed fit and comfort throughout. With these shoes, your toes will lie flat inside. They are more comfortable, and if you are a beginner in rock climbing, you should get them. You can also use them if you are an experienced rock climber because they will enhance your multi-pitch climbs.

These shoes have stiff or medium midsoles as well as dense rubber soles that enhance your support. With these types of shoes, you can easily slot into cracks. However, if they have a thicker, stiffer sole, they become less sensitive as opposed to thinner soles on aggressive or moderate shoes. You cannot use relaxed, comfortable fit because it is not designed to tackle difficult and overhanging rock formation routes.


These shoes have a slightly downturned shape and are used in technical climbing. They are all-purpose shoes, which you can use when climbing block routes, slab hikes, long multi-pitch ascents, and sports paths that are slightly projected. These shoes strengthen your feet and give them power. You can use these shoes to climb more challenging rock routes. Their rubber and soles are stickier, thin and give you a better grip. They are considered more comfortable than aggressive shoes.
However, they are not suitable for hang over routes and difficult boulders. These shoes do not guarantee you maximum comfort.

Aggressive Shoes

For those of you going for challenging overhanging climbs, aggressive shoes should be your choice. They have toes bent down and adequate heel tension that gives your feet strength and power. Aggressive shoes have an irregular shape that bends towards the big toe. This enables you to concentrate your muscle over the toe for exact placement on small holds. These shoes work best in single-pitch ascents and routes in the gym as opposed to multi-pitch ascents.

Due to the shape of these shoes, they are ideal for drooping sports limbs, and they strengthen your feet. They have a stickier rubber and a much thinner sole as opposed to neutral shoes. They enhance a better grip and feel. However, aggressive shoes are less comfortable and do not fit into cracks due to their bent shape. Their soles are thinner and have gummier rubber, both of which wear faster than those found on neutral shoes.

Features of Rock Climbing Shoes

Very popular: La Spotiva Mythos*

You want to choose the best shoes for your rock climbing experience, whether you are a first-timer or an experienced rock climber. You can consider these features:

Footwear closure

  • Lace-up: You can adjust your laces if your feet heat and puff up. However, if you are dealing with a challenging pitch or climb, you can crank down at the toe and instep for you to enhance your shoe’s performance.
  • Straps: They are also known as hook-and-loop. They give you a superior off and on convenience. If you are bouldering or gym climbing you, can slip off the shoes between climbs.
  • Slip-on: They have an elastic closure system and have great sensitivity and lowest profile any shoe could get. They are excellent shoes for training because they do not have a stiff sole and midsole. This makes your feet stronger quite fast. They are good for slotting into thin cracks because they do not have straps or laces.

Best Materials for your Rock Climbing Shoes

When choosing your climbing shoes, ensure that their uppers are either synthetic or leather. Leather shoes are easy to maintain and allow for easy deodorizing. Other high performing shoes are also synthetic, and they guarantee comfortability during their use. Let us look at several of these materials:

  • Lined leather: If you are using a lined leather shoe, its stretch is reduced to half size or less. Sometimes this lining is put on the toes to cut on cost and minimize the stretch where it is likely to occur most.
  • Unlined leather: These can stretch up to full size. You can size them to allow your toes to reach the end of the shoe for you to feel the toe knuckles pushing against the leather. If you have all-leather shoes, note that they tend to bleed shoe colors on your feet.
  • Synthetic shoe materials: These shoes do not stretch much. They tend to soften with continued use and do not expect the fit to change because they have too little to give. If you are using shoes with perforated synthetic uppers, you are better off than when using a solid fabric. Some of the materials allow your foot breath.

When your Climbing Shoes are too Tight

Look here, if you want to know how your rock climbing shoe has to fit.

The idea of climbing rocks with tight shoes is becoming outdated as time goes by. In yesteryears, climbers were convinced that climbing rocks with tight shoes was fun. However, this notion is not as true as it seems. You will experience pain if you use too stiff and too tight shoes. These shoes can also cause lasting damage to your feet beside holding back your climbing. Some studies have even found out that there are climbers who experience chronic pain after using shoes that are too tight.

If you are using climbing shoes that are too tight, it becomes difficult for your ankles to absorb the impact of a fall. Climbing shoes for kids should be flexible enough, and this also applies to adult climbing shoes. Kids shoes should be flexible because they tend to sweat a lot and they can grow different size shoes within a specific period. Tight shoes do not increase performance, and if it is stiffer, it will not be comfortable.

On the other hand, if you are using softer climbing shoes, you will feel more comfortable even if the shoes are quite snug. The softness and stiffness balance depends on the craftsmanship and the ability to leave dead space in the shoe making easy to wear. When you are shopping for your rock climbing shoes, check to see if it is lined or unlined. With lined shoes, there is not much stretching as opposed to unlined shoes. You have to choose the best climbing shoes that will not damage your feet for good.

Rules for the perfect fit:

  1. If your shoe has a higher performance, then you have a tighter fit.
  2. Refrain from using shoes that have dead space between your toes and the inside of the shoe. The reason is that they will not remain rigid when placing your toes on a foothold.
  3. If you have difficulties slipping on your shoe, then it is too tight for you. Remember that everyone’s feet bend differently.  
  4. Your toes ought to be comfortably curved or flat. Your toes knuckles should not be bunched painfully against the top of the shoe.
  5. You should have a comfortable feet heel. If you are standing on your toe, the back of the shoe is not supposed to pinch the bottom of your Achilles tendon.

Climbing Shoes Last

Rock climbing shoes are built on a foot-shaped model known as “Last.” This gives the shoes instep height and volume toe and heel dimension as well as width. A few of the rock climbing shoes are board-lasted whereas the majority of these are slip lasted. Board lasted shoes are much stiffer. They reduce a little bit of sensitivity and are comfortable. This makes them great all-day wear. Slip-lasted shoes, on the other hand, are sensitive and less stiff. They do not have an insole, but their stiffness comes from the midsole located just above the outsole.

The shape of the climbing sole is also determined by the last. The three primary last shapes include the straight asymmetric and downturned. There are three shapes:

  • Straight last: For neutral shoes. This is also called the flat last and shoes built around it offer a relaxed fit and are conformable. You can use these shoes for long day climbing as well as crack climbing.
  • Asymmetric last: Shoes built on this last have the longest point placed over the big toe. This increases the power on the inside edge of this shoe to give you one point of contact on the rock. Moderate or aggressive shoes are built on this last, and this depends on the amount of the downturn.
  • Downturn last: It is also known as cambered because it bends downwards towards the toes. Aggressive and moderate shoes are also made using this shape. They are designed for toe and heel hooking on overhanging rocks. These shoes have an disproportionate shape and are best used in difficult routes for maximum performance and control.

The Outsole of your Rock Climbing Shoe

This is simply the sole of your climbing shoe. The rubber part of your climbing shoes is the part that comes into contact with the rock. Your climbing performance depends on the rubber and its thickness. Different types of rubbers are used to make the soles of the rock climbing shoes. Some rubbers are softer and stickier than others are and they are all meant to provide good grip. Firmer rubbers have better edging and support for your feet. Stickier rubbers have a better grip especially for spearing on slabs. However, stickier rubbers do not last long and do not do very well if there is abrasion. Outsole thickness also affects the performance of your rock-climbing shoe.

There are soles whose thickness range between 4-6 mm. This makes them durable and makes them ideal for edging. However, they do not guarantee same sensitivity and feel for the rock as opposed to thinner soles. If this is your first time to engage in rock climbing, go for a thicker sole. It will last longer as you improve your footwork technique. It also offers more support to prevent your feet from getting tired quickly.

Thinner soles have a 3-4 mm thickness, and you can use them for smearing on slab routes. If you have honed your technique enough, you can go for a shoe with a thinner sole to get a better feel for the rock.

Low Volume Climbing Shoes

These are sometimes referred to as women’s climbing shoes. However, do not underrate them just because they are women-specific. They have a smaller heel cup because they are cut lower around the ankle. They have a slightly longer toe bed and lower volume forefoot as opposed to men’s climbing shoes. This category has different good designs that can be used by men with low volume feet.

Tips for Buying your Rock Climbing Shoes

Now that you are ready to embark on your first rock climbing experience consider these tips when you purchase your shoes*. You want your feet to stick to the rock the way racing car tyres stick to the track. You have to know your size, the type of climbing you want to do and where to get your shoes. Remember that rock shoes are essential gear of rock climbing and can affect the way you climb that rock. These tips will get you on the right trajectory of your experience.

  • Do not buy shoes which are too small: If you are an experienced rock climber, you can attest that at times you squeeze your feet into very small shoes to stand on small holds. This can be very painful. Do not get shoes that are too tight and your feet cannot breathe in them. If you are a first-timer, go for a good snug but comfortable fit. An uncomfortable climbing shoe will affect your climbing process, and you will not stand on small holds due to pain.
  • Size flexibility: Rock shoes do not have sizing standards, and people have different shoe sizes. Most of the rock climbing shoes you see around come in US, UK, and Europe sizes. Remember that one size from one brand will fit differently than a the same size of another brand. Rock climbing shoe companies have different lasts, and every time there is a change in material or design, it affects the fit even with the same last. If you are trying lace-up shoes, you can undo them completely and then tighten them from toe to your ankle.
  • You have unique feet, and so you have to get shoes to match: What works for you may not work for your friend. Everyone has a different shape of their feet, and this is catered differently in rock climbing shoes. You have to ensure that the pair that you purchase fits you.
  • Some shoes can stretch: There are rock climbing shoes that can stretch over time as they get used. However, the stretch is not too much. When you are buying your rock climbing shoes, you can ask your dealer for advice on the stretching ability of individual models. This helps you to tailor your choice according to what you need. Remember that a lined rock shoe stretches much less than an unlined rock shoe.
  • Select the material: Most rock shoes are made from flexible but durable material. There are those that are made of leather or something close to that. Other shoes are made of synthetic fabric and what you choose hinges on your preference. Leather shoes allow your feet to breathe more as opposed to synthetic rock shoes. Synthetic shoes do not stretch as much over time since they are made from a less flexible material. Most rock shoes have rubber soles for better gripping. Also pay attention to laces because they can affect your climbing experience. There are those that come undone and may not give you the snugness that you need.
  • Toe box: This is for the experienced rock climbers. There are those of you who buy their rock shoes to fit their fit with toes bending over at the knuckles. Even if it is a stronger position, it ‘crimps’ your feet and can be uncomfortable at first. However, with time your feet become more familiar with the position. This is not necessary if you are a beginner.

Other important Tips

  • Take off your rock climbing shoes when you can: If you are not climbing, feel free to take off your shoes. You get a chance to stretch your feet and toes. Your feet also can breathe easily. If you wear your climbing shoes for too long, you can constrict your feet too much and subject them to stress. This can lead to cramps or injuries that are more serious.
  • Stretch, massage and clean your feet: Even if you climb in well-fitting shoes, your feet will become sore. You can have hotspots even though the entire feet may not hurt. You can massage and stretch these spots to stimulate their nerves. If the pain persists, then you might have a serious condition. Wash your feet after every climb, whether you are retreating to a tent or your house.

Final Words

Rock climbing shoes are important, and it is best for you to choose the best type of shoes for the type of rock climbing that you plan to do.

If you are climbing rocks or walls in a gym, you have to choose the right shoes. You have to choose a shoe based on your preferred material and its ability to stretch. The shape of your foot is important because it will determine the shape of the rock climbing shoe that you are going to buy.

Remember that a bad choice of a rock climbing shoe comes with its tribulation in the name of backaches, pinching on your toes and in extreme cases, you can fall off a rock to your death.

This is why we have provided you with the important information on how you can choose your best climbing shoe especially if you are a beginner.

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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