A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Rock Climbing Shoes
|Bouldering, my favorite! (M. Botos)|
What type of climbing – bouldering, sport, crack, trad, etc. – will you do most often?
You might not have a preference as a beginner, but the more you climb, the more you'll learn. It's important to buy the right shoes for the type of climbing you do and many climbers own multiple pairs for different disciplines. If you enjoy cragging all day or prefer to be comfortable, look for more flexible shoes with flatter toes and a thicker heel. If you're into steeper, harder climbing, you'll want a slightly curled toe box and a tighter toe fit to give you maximum control. If you're into bouldering, a more down turned shoe with thinner sole and a curled toe will work best.
Bottom line? Don't be fooled into thinking that the most aggressive shoe out there is best for you in the beginning. Frequent climber Haley recommends cheaper, less aggressive shoes until you've mastered footwork. Generally, shoes with thicker soles will help you feel more solid on the wall and they tend to last longer, which is ideal when you're learning.
|The Scarpa Technos have been my go-to shoes for|
a while now. I get the perfect fit with the lace-up style.
After climbing on and off for six years, I still can't find a hard and fast answer to this question. I prefer velcro closures on aggressive shoes so I can easily take them off, but love getting the perfect fit and tightness with lace-up shoes. Even with velcro shoes that fit well, it's still not the same, and as a result, I prefer laces to velcro. In general, lace-up styles like the Scarpa Techno and La Sportiva Mythos models are best for beginners. I've used both for aggressive bouldering as well. Slippers are comfortable and easy to get on and off, but aren't as stiff, and friend Angela from Go Vertical mentioned they're harder to fit. It'll take time for you to learn what your preference is, but if you're a beginner, start with lace-ups.
What kind of materials do you want?
Climbing shoe uppers are usually synthetic or leather and every climber has a material preference based on a number of factors. First, if you want your shoes to stretch and mold to your feet, leather uppers are best. Synthetic shoes don't stretch as much. Second, synthetic shoes tend to hold odor more than leather shoes, especially if they're worn without socks, which I recommend. If you prefer synthetic shoes, look for pairs with perforated uppers to allow your feet to breathe. Finally, of course, if you're vegetarian or vegan, you'll want to look for a completely synthetic shoes.
What are the different parts of a climbing shoe?
I covered this briefly in my beginner's guide to resoling, but in general, this page has a great description of each part. As a beginner, the most important parts of the shoe to understand are the midsole and toe box, as they're key to a good fit.
What should you do when you're ready to shop for shoes?
|Gearing up with my velcro La Sportiva Muira VS. I haven't |
worn these shoes since this picture was taken...
two years ago.(M. Botos)
Regardless of what size you end up with, climbing shoes should be tight. They're meant to feel like an extension of your foot. But "tight" doesn't mean "tight enough to make your feet turn numb after 20 minutes.” Climber Maijalisa's first shoes were so uncomfortable that she referred to them as #deathchambers. There's a fine line between an increase in climbing performance because of a snug, well-fitting shoe and a decrease in performance due to an ill-fitting, uncomfortably tight shoe. Friend Adam said it best:
"...if you're dropping 100 clams on rubber socks you wanna enjoy the sport, not get sucked into a crap fit cuz your 5.13b climbing broseph told you so."
Generally, avoid having open space between your toes and the inside of the shoe you choose because your feet will move around when you climb. Your heel also shouldn't move, but make sure the shoes don't pinch your Achilles tendon. I haven't worn my La Sportiva Muira VS in two years because the tops of the shoes push down on my big toes, causing some pretty serious pain if I'm not careful. That's why it's important to try before you buy. If you live in an area where rock climbing festivals like the New River Rendezvous happen, some companies will let you demo shoes for a day.
Climbing friends, any tips I missed? Beginners, any other questions you have about choosing the right climbing shoes or where to shop? Leave a comment!