Rock climbing shoes are vital to safeguard your feet and enhance your performance. If you’re a beginner, then more than your hands or shoulders, your feet support the body weight. Just like how you hold positions and climb up through hands, they need to work in sync with feet for you to climb successfully.
That’s where shoes play the role of safeguarding your feet and improving your performance. Now, there are many factors like your budget, designs, and aesthetics you might want to consider before buying these shoes. However, this guide brings you the factors in segments that matter.
We help you look past the budget and aesthetics to help you get the best rock climbing shoes possible. You can personalize your choice, or if you're confused, the guide will help you simplify your requirements. So without further ado, let's jump right into the buyer's guide:
As you begin browsing through the factors, remember to realize the purpose of the shoes. Is it for a beginner to learn rock climbing, or are you looking for versatile shoes? By keeping these points in mind and noting them down, you will make the best decision.
Climbing shoes seem like an average selection you can make anywhere. If you scrape through the surface and look beyond the marketing, it requires some serious consideration. There are different types of climbing shoes; each one has a different shape; even the slightest tweak makes a significant difference.
In these factors, we attempt to cover every essential aspect to bring you a full-fledged guide. So let's begin by understanding different types of shoes:
There are three types of rock climbing shoes available in the market. They are categorized according to the ‘downturn’ build they have. A downturn in the shape of the shoe's sole impacts the complete design of the shoe. There are certain benefits to each type of shoe, and they are good for different types of rock climbing activities.
Here's a quick overview of each type with insights on how to choose the one for yourself:
A neutral or flat rock climbing shoes look similar to conventional sports or gym shoes. There isn't any curve, and the feet fit to be flat on the surface. If you're a beginner who's trying to understand the sport and learn it, then a flat shoe would be the right choice. However, many veteran rock climbers prefer flat shoes due to their comfort and straightforward appeal.
For trad rock climbers, it is a boon, especially for the fit in the cracks. A flat shoe will have a thicker sole and rubber to provide a platform for your feet. Thus, you will protect your feet from the consistent impact on rocks as you move around. As a drawback, it reduces the ‘feedback’ you can get from the shoes while climbing.
In simple words, if you prefer comfort over performance and seek to indulge in extended rock climbing ventures, a flat downturn shoe would be the best pick for you.
This is a great choice for performance-oriented rock climbers who want to cross the trails quickly. An aggressive shoe is curved downwards from the toes and generates more tension around the construct. Thus, you are always ready to maximize each move and conveniently climb. You will feel like there is an easier time feeling (with feedback) and a better grip.
However, these are not comfortable at all. You will most likely exhaust yourself over time. An aggressive downturn also means you will have a thinner sole and softer rubber for better grip and feedback. As you can probably understand, an aggressive shoe is not great for cracks, making them ineffective in traditional climbing routes.
If you want a well-versed shoe that could help you in every type of trail, perhaps moderate is your best bet. It has a curve, but not as intense as aggressive while retaining some comfort of the flat shoes. You get softer and thinner sole than neutral shoes with a curve that brings you entry-level qualities of aggressive shoes.
At the same time, it does have a little thicker or 'base-type' sole that seems identical to flat shoes to bring you a little comfort and protection for the feet. You can get some feedback from the shoes, and it is a great choice to use almost everywhere.
If you find aggressive shoes uncomfortable and neutral shoes to be less performance-based, then these are a great pic. Alternatively, if you’re trying to get aggressive, then these shoes can help you practice better. Due to their well-versed applications, they are great for anyone trying to understand which type of rock climbing do they like.
Once you select the category of rock climbing shoes, the next vital consideration would be material. Sure, there is the construct, stiffness, and other factors that are mentioned below. However, if you look from a buyer’s perspective, the material should be the next preference. If you want to prioritize performance and rock climbing first, then you can move ahead.
Either way, here are the guidelines that will be helpful:
There are two leather options available for rock climbing shoes. You get lined and unlined leather shoes. Lined leather shoes are less prone to deforming or stretching the shape, many people compare them to a blended material shoe.
Meanwhile, the unliked leather shoe is most susceptible to expanding over time and loosen up. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb, people choose tight-fitting leather rock climbing shoes, which will eventually loosen up to provide the right fit.
Leather is natural, durable, and highly breathable. Its snug fit is commendable, and overtime, it shifts the shape according to your feet for optimum fitting. If you prefer fitting and 'embrace' the leather, these shoes would be right for you.
You can get a decent grip and feedback from leather. However, if you’re a vegan or someone who doesn’t prefer leather, the synthetic would suit you better.
Synthetic material is usually polyester that brings your higher size retention capacity. In other words, if you want shoes to retain exact fitting and shape for a longer time, a synthetic shoe would be the right choice. You can choose it according to the snug fit it offers.
However, depending on the quality, you may not find them to be long lasting. Many synthetic shoes lack the durability of the leather. While leather’s selection process is easier, depending on the brand, thickness, and construct of the shoes, you’d have to browse through countless synthetic shoes.
Still, synthetic shoes are remarkable. It’s evident if you look at the sports and gym shoes in every other segment of activities. Synthetic shoes can provide better comfort and performance if you can learn how to choose the right one. Thankfully, you have this guide to help you.
Finally, if you’re confused about the two material choices, then perhaps a blended option would help. As mentioned above, many ‘lined’ leather rock climbing shoes also come in this category. To put it in short, a blended material combines the durability of leather with the size retention of synthetic.
Thus, you get a shoe that is long-lasting and comfortable to wear. It wouldn’t change shape or expand in size over time, either. You get a complete snug fit with the best of both worlds. Of course, due to these aspects, they cost more than either of the two materials.
Sole is the platform of your shoes and determines the overall build and construct of the shoes. How much comfort, protection, and performance can you get from the rock climbing shoes? It will depend entirely on the sole. More importantly, the longevity and durability of your shoes also depend on the sole.
People often overlook the importance of the sole. However, while buying a rock climbing shoe, it’s indispensable for you to consider the sole’s thickness, stiffness, and quality. As every sole is rubber, examine the equality of the rubber before making a purchase. Apart from that, here are some tips and guidelines to help you get to the perfect choice:
The thickness of the sole will directly correlate with the feedback you can receive. Additionally, it determines the comfort and support you can get for your feet. If you get a thicker sole, your feedback capacity will reduce, but you will have a better platform for your feet.
Thus, you will be able to climb better and withstand any impact on the feet better. You will feel almost as if you’re climbing upright. If you get a thinner sole, it will increase the feedback you will get while climbing.
If you’re in the gym or prefer to hone your skills by training yourself in rock climbing, a thicker sole would be a better choice. Alternatively, if you want to get into real rock climbing with better feedback and performance, you will eventually have to get a thinner shoe.
Of course, a thinner sole would also wear out faster.
There’s sticky or soft sole rubber and a stiffer or firm rubber. For rock climbing, the grip of your feet is vital to ensure you can climb efficiently. That’s where soft rubber comes into play. It will provide a better grip and prevent any slipping or sliding. The firm hold allows you to climb faster and softer rubber is prevalent across all rock climbing activities.
However, a stiffer rubber is better for beginners to get a little support and ‘platform’ like sensation for their feet. It enables them to climb better with less strain on the feet. For gym climbers, a stiffer shoe would be a better choice. Similarly, a softer rubber also wears out faster with consistent use due to the lack of material integrity for the grip.
This is the segment for the ‘construct’ of your rock climbing shoes. Some people call it the ‘last’ of the shoes. However, there are other factors like asymmetry that you’d have to consider. You can often correlate it with the build of your shoes, the quality of the material, and other similar aspects. However, to put things in perspective, it has an individual section to help you choose by considering your preferences:
There are stiff-lasted and broad-lasted shoes. If you choose a stiff-lasted, you get more sensitivity without the presence of the insole. The shoes depend heavily on the midsole for any stiffness and structural hold.
A broad-lasted shoe is stiffer than a stiff-lasted shoe and aims to offer more comfort. They are less performance-oriented and usually wear out faster than the stiff-lasted sole.
The entire stiffness of the shoe depends on the material and the last design. If you choose a softer or flexible shoe, then you get something that won’t wear or damage easily. Any rigid or stiff shoe is prone to sustaining damage, especially cracks and such.
As you need to move your feet around, get the right feedback, and often use various grips and positions for the feet, a softer shoe would be better. However, that’s not always the case, you can’t overlook the convenience and comfort of a stiffer shoe that helps put less stress on your feet.
The asymmetry of the rock climbing shoes determines how much power you can give to your toes. Similar to the downturn, you get low, moderate, and aggressive asymmetry. If you get aggressive, you will build more tension for toes with higher power output and performance. However, you will also sacrifice comfort for wearing for longer periods.
Similarly, low asymmetry is best for prolonged wearing and brings you the most comfort possible.
In the end, the rigidity of the shoe’s construction depends strongly on your preferences. Many professional rock climbers rely upon the power of the stiffer shoes to quickly climb the trail. Similarly, softer shoes are preferred for their excellence and overall proficiency in the rock climbing venture. You should always choose the one you are more comfortable with. As a general rule of thumb, it’s better to start with a stiffer and flat shoe, then eventually more to move flexible and down-turn shoes.
People often overlook the importance of closure, but it can make a significant impact on your overall feel and performance.
Laces are versatile and flexible. You can tightly wrap them and get a tight fit for your shoes, or loosen them for more comfortable wear. It enables you to control the breathability factor and provides a little more versatility for your shoes.
However, if laces are undone in the middle of the climb, it would be challenging to redo them quickly. At least, the optimum ‘firmness’ is out of the question. Regardless, you still get laces that settle according to the shape of your feet. Thus, if you get softer and downturn shoes, it’s better to get lace closure for a snug grip.
Velcro straps are highly prevalent across gyms and many quick trails. It enables you to quickly wear the shoes while getting proper fitting. You can adjust the velcro more conveniently than laces if they are undone. However, there’s a slight problem that if a velcro comes loose, it will completely come loose. Thus, you run the risk of dropping your shoe while climbing.
Therefore, many people prefer strap closure for artificial or gym trails where you don't have any sudden or abrupt obstacles. Even if you drop the shoe, the risk is low, and you can retrieve it.
These were very popular across the rock climbing industry for their ease of wearing and snug fit. If you choose the right slip-on, you could wear them almost like socks or gloves. It was difficult for them to come off. But due to varying construct and shape requirements, slip-ons grew less popular.
As these usually have an elastic fitting, it could loosen up over time. If the fitting is not snug, there’s no point in wearing these either. Similar to Velcro straps, people who indulge in gym climbings prefer slip-ons. Many people love them for added convenience or changing the shoes quickly in a circuit or rock climbing training.
In other words, these are good as training shoes in artificial trails, circuits, and fitness enthusiasts who love to indulge in rock climbing from time to time, but not regularly. Some even come with the added convenience of a Velcro strap to give you dual fitting options.
A: Feedback is when you use your hands or feet to get a feel of the rock, obstacle, or platform. It is a crucial skill in rock climbing because it impacts your judgment. Every mountain climber strongly depends on the feedback to climb challenging trails.
It’s easier for you to neglect the feedback for quick trails, gym trails, or known trails you practice on. However, for a full-fledged rock climber who undertakes challenges for various rock or mountain climbing endeavors, it becomes pivotal to get the right feedback sensitivity.
A: There’s no season or right time to choose rock climbing. If you’re talking about fitting, then many professionals believe that noon is the best time. It is when your feet are completely swollen and enable you to find the perfect fit. You need a snug or tight fit during noon.
A: Fitting is the primary objective of rock climbing shoes. Then comes sensitivity, comfort, and overall feeling while wearing the shoes. If you buy online, make sure that you can return them if you’re not satisfied. Stores are better as you can visit and browse through multiple options.
However, if you have the perfect size and dimension of your feet, you can give the online store a try. Many professionals would advise you to buy them from the store unless there isn’t a store available in your area or city.
A: As mentioned, noon is the best time. The next thing you need to understand is that you'll most likely be wearing these shoes without socks. Rock climbing shoes need to prevent slipping, and socks would impair their non-slip designs. You need a firm and snug fit.
As a general rule of thumb, for leather, you need to go smaller than the actual size of your feet. For synthetic shoes, choose exactly the size that brings you optimum fitting. Additionally, you might want to consider breathability and temperature regulation according to the time of the year and the climate of the rock climbing trails.
A: Of course, it would depend on the material, stiffness, and quality of the shoes. However, if you climb around once or twice a week, then any standard rock climbing shoe would last around three to six months without burning a hole in your pocket.
Additionally, if you can get a resoling store for your shoes, you can get them lasting longer than expected. Most of the time, the sole is the part that wears out or gets damaged the most. So if you can find the right resoling facility, you can maintain optimum performance for the time to come.
The guide covers everything you need to know regarding rock climbing shoes. It aims to bring you essential information. The right shoe will determine how your feet interact with the shoes, and the wrong one will void your performance.
As you might've learned, choosing the right shoes will depend on the three vital considerations – the type of the shoe, the features it can offer such as closure, sole, and softness, and finally, the fitting of the shoes. Hopefully, you get everything you need to make an informed decision.
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