How To Choose Climbing Shoes

So you’ve been climbing once or twice. Maybe you tried it out at a gym or with friends at a local crag. Regardless, you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and become a climber yourself.

One of the first pieces of equipment new climbers purchase are shoes. Yet selecting and fitting this crucial piece of equipment can be a daunting task for a newbie to the vertical world.

We spoke with Ronnie Jenkins, an assistant product developer for climbing shoe manufacturer 5.10 to get some tips on how to select and fit your first (and second, and third…) pair of climbing shoes.

1)   Comfort is key. “If you’re not comfortable, you’re going to be miserable,” Jenkins said of new climbers. “You want to look for kind of a flat looking shoe that fits your foot well.

2)   Find a reputable shop. A well-educated salesperson can be a great ally in finding the properly fitting climbing shoe that is right for your style and goals. Ask some fellow climbers (like that buddy that took you for the first time) if they have a favorite shop or salesperson.

3)   Start small. Jenkins said that most leather shoes will stretch up to a full size an that synthetic materials stretch between a third and a half size. The rubber, however, will not stretch. Start trying shoes about a half size below your street shoe size.

4)   Curl the toes. Your toes should press on the front of the climbing shoe with enough force that your toes curl just slightly downward. This puts the foot in its strongest position for pressing down on tiny ledges or nubs in the rock. But remember, don’t go too tight.

5)   No pressure points. If a pair of shoes has any extreme pressure points, move on to a different pair. Fit should be your number one prority.

6)   Start with a generalist shoe. When looking at shoes, many are designed with extreme downturn on the sole or a slingshot type heel. While these features help experienced climbers push their limits, the novice will be better served with an all-around shoe that provides a modicum of comfort. An added bonus is that a comfortable shoe will grow into a great multi-pitch, trad climbing shoe as it breaks in. By the time you’re ready to resole that first pair, you will know what style you’d like or more challenging sport routes or bouldering.

7)   Velcro or lace-up? “The main advantage of Velcro shoes is they are easy on, easy off,” Jenkins said. If you have a narrow foot, laces usually make more sense and allow more adjustability.

8)   Chose a stiff or soft sole. Stiff soles are great for edging and cracks. Soft soles provide much more sensitivity and work great on slabs and small features. Some beginners prefer a stiff sole because they have not yet built up much foot strength and the shoe will grow into a good traditional climbing shoe as the climber’s skills expand.