How To Choose The Perfect Climbing Shoe

Choosing the right pair of climbing shoes for you is so important. Purchasing the wrong shoe can not only be a costly mistake, with some climbing shoes costing upwards of £100, but it can also affect your climbing.

You’ll have your best climb when you wear shoes that fit properly, are comfortable and suited to the type of climbing you like to do. If you love your shoes, you’ll love climbing!

The different types of climbing shoe

Experienced and avid climbers often have more than one pair of climbing shoes. Why? Different types of climbing shoe are better suited to different types of climbing. Some are better for crack climbing, some are great for standing on tiny holds and a downturned shoe can make you the King or Queen of overhangs!

Flat Symmetrical Shoes

DSC_0114 (2).jpg

This type of shoe is generally (but not always) more comfortable (as they’re the same shape as your foot and normal shoes). A good all-rounder, this type of shoe is recommended as a first purchase for beginners to get into climbing for their comfort and versatility. This type of shoe is also the best for crack climbing and a must-have in your climbing shoe collection for anyone who plans to climb for several hours or the whole day, but this type of shoe will let you down on truly tiny holds.

Pros: Great for beginners, long climbing sessions and crack climbing. Widely considered the most comfortable type of shoe.

Cons: Bad for tiny holds, and can lead to bad technique if attempting to use this type of shoe on tiny holds.

Asymmetrical (pointy) shoes

DSC_0119 (2).JPG

This style is less comfy as they apply more pressure to the sides of your toes, but are better for climbing pocketed routes and are good for standing on tiny holds due to their more sculpted, precise shape. Add this type of shoe to your collection when you move up to advanced routes (where teeny tiny holds are common).

Pros: Best for climbing pocketed routes and for tiny holds.

Cons: Starting out with a pair of asymmetrical shoes and using them primarily on big holds can wear out the rubber sole at a faster rate, as your weight will be on the wrong part of the shoe.

Downturned shoes

DSC_0123 (2).JPG

These are best for overhangs as they allow you to hook your feet into holds, so stop you from swinging out.

Pros: The best for overhangs and good for technique on advanced bouldering routes.

Cons: Unnecessary discomfort for beginners.

Toe shape

Where climbing shoes differ from normal shoes is the shape of your toes when they are at rest inside the shoe. Beginners shoes and crack climbing shoes tend to have straight toes whereas shoes designed for standing on small holds have a higher “toe box” that is designed to scrunch up your toes in the end of the shoe, similar to how you use your hands to crimp on small holds. This allows you to stand on smaller holds. They are generally less comfortable if worn for an extended period of time but can be good for bouldering. However, a shoe with a higher “toe box” is truly terrible for crack climbing.

Which shoe is best for indoor climbing?

A good question. You’ll find all types of climbing and holds in an indoor wall, so the right shoe for you really depends on what type of climbing you like and the shape of your feet. Everyone has different shaped feet which can also affect what type of shoe you will find comfortable and what will best fit your feet.

For beginners, we suggest to prioritise comfort and a good fit above anything else. Painful shoes can ruin climbing and shorten your climbing sessions. Don’t go for the most expensive technical shoe or the most expensive brands: learning to climb is a time of experimentation and incorrect technique can wear out a pair of expensive shoes fast. It can also take some time to figure out what type of climbing you enjoy most, so a shoe that performs best primarily on overhangs, for example, can end up being an unwise choice.

For those who prefer ropes, look for a cheaper pair of comfortable shoes with the aim to upgrade to more technical shoes later.

For boulderers, you might want to start with a cheaper technical shoe that will continue to perform well up the grades, though a pair of flat symmetrical shoes is still a good choice and they’re generally useful to have for the majority of routes and holds.

For kid’s climbing, a pair of flat symmetrical shoes is the only sensible option, for two reasons: firstly, the holds on kid’s walls in indoor climbing centres are big and the other types of shoes are not required and, more importantly, kid’s feet are still growing - you don’t want to give your kids a pair of shoes specifically designed to squash the toes together or turn the toes downwards.

Shoe buying tips

A climbing shoe should fit like a glove, it should be the same shape as your foot and close fitting. A climbing shoe should not be so tight on your foot that it’s painful - are gloves painful?

When trying on a climbing shoe, check that there are:

  • No pressure points. Pay particular attention to the tops of the toes.

  • No dead space (ie. air gaps between the shoe and your foot).

  • No rubbing when you move your foot. Pay particular attention to the sides of the toes and to the top of the heel.

  • Make sure that the shoe fits your heel securely so that when you’re doing heel hooks the shoe won’t slide off your foot.

  • Every foot is a different shape and every model of shoe is a different shape. The best fitting shoe is the one that most closely matches the shape of your foot. This means that you need to go to a shop with a wide selection of climbing shoes and try on all of them. Just because a shoe works really well for your friend or a pro-climber, that doesn’t mean it will work well for you.

  • Ignore the salespeople trying to sell you the super-expensive high performance shoes. You’ll be far better off with a pair of well-fitting comfy shoes. The reason for this is that most of the time when you fall off a route it’s because you put your foot on the wrong place, not because the shoe let you down. Learn how to use your feet precisely and balance your body over your foot placements and try lots of different types of climbing before you buy a specialised pair of climbing shoes.

  • If you’re not a beginner, ask yourself what style of climbing you’re buying the shoe for. For instance, a boulderer would want to prioritise sensitivity and precision fit and would be willing to sacrifice some level of comfort, whereas someone who prefers all-day mountain routes would want a shoe that’s still going to be wearable at the end of an eight hour climb.

Tight is good, painful is bad. If your feet feel like someone’s been smashing them with a sledgehammer then you’ll naturally try to minimise the amount of weight you place on them, which means your footwork becomes sloppy and you put way more weight than you should onto your hands.

Why should they be well fitting?

  • A shoe that’s too loose will slide around your foot when you stand on small holds, which can cause your foot to come off and shock load your upper body, potentially leading to an injury.

  • If the heel is too loose then your foot will slide out of the shoe when your heel hooking.

  • If a shoe is too tight then you’ll be miserable, you’ll hate climbing, and your footwork will go to hell.

Why are climbing shoe sizes different to street shoe sizes?

I promise you, the answer isn’t that climbers are all sadists. Shoe size is calculated as the length of the interior of a shoe. In normal shoes, your foot will be flat and you’ll want some free space between your toes and the front of the shoe to allow the foot to move while you walk without crushing your toes. In a climbing shoe, this wiggle room cannot exist and your toes are often curled up or pointed down (or both!). These combine to make a far shorter shoe, so the size number is reduced accordingly.

DSC_0115 (2).JPG

Of course, this is complicated by the fact that different models of shoe have different dimensions, so depending on the style of shoe a different size will fit your foot. For example, I wear size 5 for everyday shoes, but my climbing shoes are size 4. My partner is a size 10 for normal shoes, but has climbing shoes in sizes 7, 7.5 and 8.

The right-hand image is an example of how types of climbing shoe can differ in size according to purpose. The model (normal shoe size 10) wears a downturned shoe, size 8 (left) and an aggressive technical shoe, size 7 (right).

We hope that you have found these climbing tips helpful and will go on to find your perfect shoe.

While we do recommend having your own pair of shoes, Vertical Limit does have shoes to hire for men and women in a range of sizes if you want to climb but haven’t bought your own yet. Our friendly staff will help you to find a good fit of hire shoe and can advise on sizing, so you can get the most out of your climbing session.

Georgina Bull