Whether you’re looking for your first pair of climbing shoes, or just a need a new pair and want to make sure you make the right choice, this guide is for you.
In this rock climbing shoe buying guide, we’re going to cover some of the most common questions climbers have about picking out the perfect pair, for optimum climbing performance.
Question 1: Will the More Expensive Shoes Last Longer?
Answer: Not necessarily. A lot of the more expensive climbing shoes are what is called “aggressive”. This means that they have a very deep arch and essentially force your foot to be arched while climbing. A lot of these shoes are also more expensive.
Why is the Climbing Shoe Arch Design Important?
The answer, is that the arch design of the climbing shoe is optimized for climbing on overhangs. The shape of the shoes allow you to more easily hook your foot into holds that are on intense overhangs like in the picture below. This can prevent you from losing your footing on the climbing wall holds, and thus prevent you from falling off the wall.
So Shouldn’t You Always Want Aggressive Climbing Shoes?
DEFINITELY not. There are actually several critical disadvantages of aggressive shoes which can especially hurt your climbing if you’re a beginner climber, and if your using them on a wrong type of route. We go into this in much more detail in the PEAK Climbing Video Training Program where we explain which moves are easier to execute with the different types of shoes, so that you can choose the best shoes for your routes to get maximum performance. But, for now, it’s sufficient to say that as a beginner climber, you generally don’t want aggressive climbing shoes to be your first pair and here’s some more information why:
One reason for this is that many of the aggressive climbing shoes have soles that are built out of thinner material. This isn’t as big an issue if you’re an advanced climber and have very precise foot movements (so you put very little strain on your shoes). When you’re just a beginner climber however, realistically you’re going to be putting a lot of wear and tear on your shoes. This is normal. It simply takes practice to be able to get you climbing shoes on the right holds in the right spot, without scraping them against the climbing wall or any of the climbing holds. You’ll probably notice that you first pair will last the least amount of time since at that point you’ll still developing your climbing finesse and precision.
Because of all the above, you really want your first pair to be extremely durable. The durable shoes tend to:
- Have thick soles compared to other climbing shoes that you’re looking at. Usually slipper style climbing shoes and aggressive shoes can give you a good indication of what a thin sole looks like in the world of climbing shoes.
- Have soles that aren’t extremely flexible: The thicker the sole, the less it will bend. As a beginner climber, you want that strong stable foundation which you get in a nice thick sole. Once you get more advanced, you can opt for shoes that you can wear when you want that extra foot flexibility instead of a solid platform (like when you’re doing very advanced overhangs)
So are the Non-Aggressive Climbing Shoes Less Expensive?
A lot of times the climbing shoes with the characteristics I mentioned are actually less expensive. This is perfect to make it easier for beginner climbers to get into the sport.
Velcro or Lace-Up Climbing Shoes?
This is huge! It may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but I can personally say from experience that each has distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Advantages of Lace-Up Climbing Shoes:
With lace-ups, you can adjust the level of tightness on each part of the shoe. This is HUGE and is the main reason I don’t think I’ll ever go back to velcro shoes. As a climber, you want your climbing shoes to be pretty tight around your foot. They are supposed to feel like an extension of your foot (the way wearing a rubber glove feels on your hand). Since different people have different foot shapes, laces let you have direct control how tight each part of the shoe is around your foot for that really snug fit that you want for maximum climbing performance. It essentially lets you form your shoe to your foot and gives you that amazing level of control.
Disadvantages of Lace-Up Climbing Shoes:
Laces can be annoying as you have that risk that they will untie during your climb and wreck that climb for you (that’s why I always suggest tucking the laces into your shoes).
They also take longer to put on and take off. For optimum performance, many climbers buy shoes that are EXTREMELY tight and thus EXTREMELY uncomfortable. Because of this, they actually can’t wear their shoes for an extended period of time (some climbers even take their climbing shoes off between climbs). If you take this route, then you can imagine how it may be annoying untying laces every time that you want to take your shoes off. If you feel that the discomfort is worth the boost in performance and thus want to get extremely tight shoes that you can barely wear, them I suggest you get velcro.
Personally I don’t want to be in discomfort while climbing from my shoes. So, I just get laces and make sure that the shoe is snug. I then use the laces to tighten the parts of the shoe that don’t feel very snug so that I can get that level of control, while still ensuring that the laces are at the right level of tightness to make the shoes wearable for extended periods of time.
If you find that you get an amazing snug fit with velcro shoes (i.e. almost the same that you get with laces) then I suggest velcro due to the convenience factor (i.e. ease of taking off and putting on).
Other Climbing Shoe Considerations:
While there are other types of climbing shoes, remember that if you are a beginner climber, what you are looking for are called “all-around” shoes. These types of shoes fit the profile that I described above and is what you can ask for when doing your shopping. Remember that if you’re a beginner climber, you also don’t want the shoes to be too pointy in the front. Below is an image of what I’m referring too. Once again, we go into more detail on this in the PEAK Climbing Video Training Program but for now it suffices to say that you are looking for more of a square toe for the types of climbing moves that you will be learning and executing.
What About Slipper Climbing Shoes?
Lastly, you may also find what are called slipper climbing shoes. As a beginner climber, you definitely don’t want to get these to start. They are very easy to put on and off which is great. They also let you really feel the climbing holds underneath your feet which can be nice for control. However, the reason that they let you feel the holds better with your feet is because they are very thin. This means that the lack of cushion that they have may make them more uncomfortable for you as your feet and toes are not yet used to absorbing your body weight while on tiny uncomfortable climbing holds.
Another big reason to avoid these when starting out, is that because they are so thin, they will wear out VERY fast. Therefore slipper style climbing shoes are very convenient, but it can get very expensive if you have to replace them every few months. These types of shoes are more for advanced climbers who have developed very good foot control so that they barely ever scrape their shoes against the climbing wall. Even so, you will still hear advanced climbers complain from time to time about having rapidly worn out a pair of their slipper climbing shoes.
Remember that your climbing shoes aren’t supposed to be comfortable like your running shoes. If they are, then it’s a clear indicator that they are simply too large for you.
Ultimately, you want them to be as snug as possible around your foot, without it actually being painful. It is difficult to have fun climbing if you are in pain the whole time so definitely don’t push it too far to get that extra edge in your climbing performance.
What’s also interesting is that there is a fine line between increased performance due to climbing shoe tightness, and underperformance due to too much tightness/pain: If a climbing shoe is actually painful to wear, then there are certain climbing techniques and moves that you actually won’t be able to execute.
For example if you are experience pain in your toe from normal wear of your climbing shoes, then imagine having to go on the tips of your toes to reach the next hold. The weight put on your toes will generate too much pain and you’ll never be able to get to that next level. These are important things to keep in mind as you search for your first (or next) pair of climbing shoes.
I hope you found these tips useful!