How To Select The Best Climbing Shoe

by Justin Monday, July 14th 2014

Did you go through a whirlwind of thoughts trying to pick out your first rock climbing shoe?

I know that I did, without a doubt. It took me forever! I would go to the gym, and I’m sorry, but there is only so long you want to use a rental shoe. There’s just something about someone else’s foot that I don’t like, I don’t care who you are.

I would look at the people in the gym and think “Wow, look at those shoes! That guy must be a great climber! He’s got a sweet harness! What the heck kind of belay device does he have? Man, someday I’ll have all that fancy stuff!” (To all you who will pretend this isn’t true, stop lying to yourself)

Why do we think like that?

It’s psychological really, we look at other people and automatically start making judgments about them. In this case that was a big help in finding the perfect climbing shoe. Climbing is a social sport! It is! Ask people how they like their shoes! This is really step one, if you see a shoe you like, or catches your eye, ask! I can almost promise they’ll smile at you and proceed to tell you more details about their shoe than you’d ever care to know.

Step two is pretty important. You must must must decide what kind of climbing you’re going to do. Do you climb at indoor rock gyms exclusively? Or have you vowed to never step foot inside a gym, and only climb outside? Once you have decided this you’re well on your way to something great!

If you’re like myself, all I really wanted was a good shoe! Something all around, something comfortable and that would last me a little while? Is this you?

At this point I had never climbed outside, but would have loved to. I was planning on it. So being the internet guru I am, I started looking, googling, and shopping around. And these steps are the best advice you’ll find on the internet, not to boast here, but they are.

So in quick review, step one was to eyeball other climber’s shoes, see what they’re using, what brands are in the gym? Are a lot of people climbing in one brand? Ask them about it, again, they’ll tell you, I promise. Step two, decide what kind of climbing you’re going to be doing!

Now, step three, try shoes on! Unless you have tried a climbing shoe on, I’d go as far as to say don’t buy iy! There are different styles of shoes for a reason, some have a wider toe for those with a flatter foot, some have larger heel cups, if you have a big foot, it’s great. If you have a narrow foot, they’ll slip at the exact moment you wish they wouldn’t. If you like the look of a shoe, try it on. I promise you’ll be glad you did. After about 4-5 shoes, you’ll start to think, “Man I really liked that 5.10 shoe, or the La Sportiva shoe fit so nice in the toe”… watch, you’ll see.

Step four was a bit of a dilemma for me, I couldn’t decide if it needed to be step three or four. But four is good, you’ll see why. Step four, is deciding what type of shoe you want. They have flatter all around shoes (my first shoe), Moccasin-esque slip on shoes, aggressive downturn shoes (my second shoe), and a less common ankle height shoe. Then you can look at something super simple, do you want laces or Velcro? Some people live and die by laces, love them to death, while personally, I’ve been nothing but pleased with my Velcro. I can take em’ off quickly and put em’ on just as quick. The reason I put this as four, is because if you have tried on a shoe and just fell in love with how it fits and looks, then it doesn’t necessarily matter what style it is. If you just love them, get them.

Step Five is fit. This is perhaps the most important factor in buying your new rock climbing shoe. Seriously, I’ve found that you will rarely wear the same size as your street shoe (yet another reason to try them on), and every brand will fit differently. You want a shoe that fits tightly. My first shoes were an entire size smaller than my street shoe. Sometimes they could be a bit uncomfortable even, but you don’t want them to hurt.  I mean come on, who really wants that?

Depending on what material your new climbing shoe is will determine how much it will stretch. You would be surprised how much these shoes can stretch as they’re used. Synthetic shoes typically stretch less than a leather shoe will. So look at it and ask yourself, “If this shoe stretches a half size will it be too big?”

“Buy smaller than you think you want too” was the best advice I was given when choosing my own shoe.

One minor detail with fit that is all personal preference - socks or no socks. It’s somewhat a riddle of old. If you’re going to wear socks while climbing, try on shoes with socks. If you’re like myself, I choose to not wear socks, I like how the shoe fits better, it hugs my foot and I can use the whole shoe. If you’re like me, try the shoe on without socks.

Notice the curved bottom and aggressive toe 

I just bought a pair of aggressive shoes and climbing in them this last weekend was awesome. The shoes (Evolve Shamans) were amazing. Sticky as all get out, I learned to smear while climbing and it was a total gamechanger! I will admit though, as of right now they are the less comfortable of my two shoes. Is it worth it? Heck yeah! I love climbing in the shoe, so I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort. Just as a side note, it’s the same brand as my first shoe, yet a size larger. It’s just the shoe, another reason to try shoes on.

My first shoe (Evolve Defy VTR) is still what I refer to as my go-to shoe.

Notice the flat bottom,  and aggressive toe

This could change soon due to my love of my new Shamans, but these are the shoes I can wear all day long and be totally comfortable in them all day. It’s a great all-around shoe for all types of climbing, indoor and out.

So to review:

  1. BE CREEPY, just kidding, But LOOK AT OTHER PEOPLES SHOES, see what people are climbing in
  2. Decide WHAT KIND OF CLIMBING you’re going to use your new shoes for.
  3. TRY ON SHOES.
  4. After having a good idea of what you like, FIND THE TYPE OF SHOE YOU WANT
  5. MAKE SURE THEY FIT, take stretching and socks/no socks into account and make sure they’re comfortable.

You remember earlier in the post when we mentioned the someone with the sick climbing shoes and gear? You’re that person now! The reason people take pride in their gear is because with this sport, the better your gear, the better you feel, the better you climb. Now, that’s not all it takes to be some sort of prodigy in the climbing world, but if you want be a good climber take a look at good climbers and mimic them, see what they’re using, wearing, climbing on, practicing on. There’s a reason they’re good at this sport, and there’s no reason you can’t be

A wise man told me, “Son, don’t skimp on this gear. Buy the best stuff you can and take care of it” and I’ll give you the same advice.

It’s worth it. Trust me.

Activities | Gear

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Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!

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