Beginner’s Guide: Choosing Rock Climbing Shoes

Choosing Rock Climbing Shoes

Choosing Your First Pair of Climbing Shoes

With so many considerations and unlimited options, it can be daunting choosing rock climbing shoes for the first time. However, those icky damp gym rental shoes don’t quite cut it for you anymore, and you’re now ready to commit.

“Every Expert was Once A Beginner”

Good news is that we’ve been there, and we understand. Here are some tips and advice to help in your decision-making process, and begin your personal journey to be an expert rock climber!

Finding The Right Fit

Like any other pair of shoes, the key to a good climbing shoe is how well it fits you. Climbing shoes come in all many varieties; narrow or wide feet, high or low volume feet. You can choose from a variety of rock climbing shoes designed to cater to each individual foot shape. For example, if you have wide feet with a high volume, the Mad Rock Remora might be worth considering.

Choosing Rock Climbing Shoes: Perfect Fit

A general rule of thumb is to compare the end result to the same feeling that you experience when trying on a new pair of shoes. Find a pair that fits you well, and you are on your way to improving your footwork by a good mile.

Follow these steps when you’re trying on shoes:

  1. Ensure that your toes are in a slightly crimped position and snug, but not in pain.
  2. Avoid hotspots, areas that are especially uncomfortable.
  3. Make sure your feet has proper circulation

Features To Consider

1. Shoe Type

choosing rock climbing shoes - downturned sole
Downturned Shoe
choosing rock climbing shoe - flat sole
Flat Shoe

Downturned

Most of us would have definitely witnessed the more experienced climbers squeeze their feet into mean-looking, aggressively shaped shoes. The downturned camber of the shoes pushes power into the toes, giving you a better foothold as you step into those tiny nubbins on the wall.

However, this performance comes at the price of comfort. By forcing your toes to the front of the shoe and into a claw like position, a high tension rubber rand is often used in the design of these shoes. This design places a large amount of pressure on your Achilles tendon, and often causes a significant amount of discomfort for the uninitiated.

Examples: La Sportiva Solution, Mad Rock Shark

Flat

While flat shoes do not exert as much tension on the foot as the downturned one, this comfort sacrifices on the sensitivity and power that you get when your foot is in a fully tensioned, claw-like position. But, hey, you’re still starting out. What’s important is to get your footwork fundamentals down.

While some performance may be sacrificed when you get a flat shoe, once you get your footwork down while wearing a flat shoe, upgrading to an aggressive one wouldn’t take too much of an adjustment next time.

Examples: Mad Rock Weaver , Mad Rock Drifter

2. Softness

There are various factors to consider in this conundrum, sensitivity (soft) or support (stiff), smearing (soft) or edging (stiff).

choosing rock climbing shoe - soft sole
Soft Shoe
choosing rock climbing shoe - stiff sole
Stiff Shoe

Soft Shoe

A soft shoe moulds well into the climbing holds and your feet. As a result, you would have a better feel of what you are stepping onto and where to plant your toes for optimum power. Soft shoes also allow your toes to apply maximum rubber contact to better grab onto holds when things start to get overhung and gripping with your toes become more and more vital.

Soft shoes have a shorter break in period compared to stiff ones, and comfort out of the box is easily achieved. However, a soft shoe offers less support for prolonged climbing sessions or long routes on top rope or lead. For those with less acclimatised feet muscles, you will definitely feel the fatigue in your feet after a long day of climbing in soft shoes.

Examples: La Sportiva Python

Stiff Shoe

While stiff shoes lose out in terms of sensitivity, they more than make up for that in terms of edging. The idea is that the stiff sole acts as an extension from the micro footholds, giving you a larger, more stable platform for you to push down on. This support also goes a long way in reducing fatigue over a long day of climbing. While they can feel clunky and unwieldy initially, do take heart that the sensitivity does get better as the shoes start to break in.

Examples: Mad Rock Drifter, La Sportiva Otaki

3. Material

In choosing rock climbing shoes material boils down to personal preference and none of which is superior than the others. Each material has its own unique benefits and disadvantages.

Leather

Leather is soft, breathable and molds to your feet, to give your shoe a fit that’s unique to you only. However, leather is the least durable of the 3 materials. It also tends to overstretch, leaving your shoes feeling unnecessarily baggy as it nears the end of its lifetime. Leather is most commonly used on higher end, more pricey shoes, like the

Examples: La Sportiva Testarossa , La Sportiva Cobra

Synthetic

Synthetic is the toughest material. Synthetic materials can take a lot of abuse, and has the least amount of stretch, giving you a pair of shoes that fits about the same throughout the time that you use them. However, synthetic is the least breathable material. For those with especially sweaty feet, you will often find yourself with a pair of incredibly smelly and damp shoes. There are tricks and hacks that allow you to get rid of the smell, a simple trick would be to make sure to air your shoes after a climb before you store them back.

Examples: Mad Rock Drone HV

Cloth

Cloth gives your toes the softest treatment among all 3 materials. They are also the most welcoming and breathable. Cloth shoes are therefore long-wearing because of its exceptional comfort. However, the looseness of cloth does not offer the snug fit that less stretchy materials offer. This results in a slight drop on performance.

Examples: Mad Rock Weaver

4. Footwear Closure

This is purely personal preference. Between velcro or lace, you’re essentially prioritising either convenience or custom fit.

choosing rock climbing shoe - velcro closure
Velcro Closure
choosing rock climbing shoe - lace closure
Lace Closure
choosing rock climbing shoe - slip on
Slip On

Velcro

Velcro offers an easy on and off, ideal for bouldering in the gym, or even outdoors. Velcro allows a certain degree of security and tightness adjustment. However, there can be loose areas on the shoe that the Velcro cannot reach, and these excess space can be a little distracting when you are climbing.

Examples: La Sportiva Katana (Women’s),La Sportiva Katana (Men’s)

Lace

The lace option on the other hand offers a tight customised fit. The lace running down a significant length of the shoe, allows different parts of the shoe to be tightened to fit your unique foot shape. Your feet will tend to expand from exertion during climbs and using laced shoes would allow you to readjust the fit on the spot. However, laces are a hassle if you prefer to take off your shoes in between climbing attempts.

Examples: Mad Rock Pulse Positive

Slip On

As the name suggests, slip on shoes are the easiest to get in and out of. Slip on shoes use an elastic closure system to maintain the fit and tightness over your feet. Slip on shoes tend to be the most comfortable among the 3 due to the lack of tension on the top of your foot. However, being the least snug among the three, slip on shoes often require you to size down to get the same snug fit. Slip on shoes also typically stretch more as compared to other shoes. Lacking the closure systems, slip on shoes tend to blow off your feet during powerful heel hooks.

Examples: Mad Rock Remora

Our Recommendation

This article points out to you some factors you could consider before making the purchase commitment. The old-school trick of “If it doesn’t hurt, the size is not right.” should be proceeded with caution, and what is important is for you to have your basics nailed down. A pair of painful shoes may prematurely dampen your passion for climbing.

Selecting a shoe that fits you is a personal experience, and at the end of the day, never discredit your gut feeling.

A word of advice that goes a long way in choosing rock climbing shoes: “The shoes don’t make the climber; the climber makes the shoes.”