Buying climbing shoes is always a bit of a mission. ‘Are they too tight?’, ‘Will they stretch?’, ‘What will they feel like on the wall?’ are some of the many questions that pop into our head as we slip our foot into an unknown territory.
Whether you are a first time buyer or a climbing veteran, buying a new climbing shoe comes with a degree of uncertainty. Unlike your street shoe size, different brands have different sizing, and different models within these brands also have different sizing. Phew! The task ahead is to find a shoe that not only fits, but that also performs.
What if you could try before you buy? That's exactly what you can do at a Boot Demo. These are free events ususally run at climbing centres and allow you to 'test drive' a shoe brand to help you make an informed decision before you buy. There will be an experienced climber on hand at boot demos to give you some advice and you can always ask our shop staff for guidance too.
We understand climbing shoes are not cheap and we want you to get the best out of your shoe so testing out different brands will help you decide what type of shoe is right for you. Boot Demos offer a wealth of shoes in all sizes, brands and shapes for you to try on the wall and experiment the fit on all varieties of climbing angles around the center; from slabs to overhangs, smears to heel hooks. These shoes are often already worn in, giving you a greater gauge of how much they will stretch.
First climbing shoe
Comfort, comfort, comfort... Any of the more technical shoes will actually hinder your climbing and hurt your feet. What you are looking for is a good all-rounder, such as the cushioned Boreal Jokers or La Sportiva Tarantula. As a new climber you will be learning technique and placing your feet a lot, wearing out the shoe’s rubber. With a higher end shoe you will wear them out in no time. The less expensive shoes are designed for durability and you will get more wear out of them.
Beyond your first shoe
Finding the next pair really depends on what you like to climb, and importantly the shape of your foot. As a general rule, tight and down turned shoes that fit like a glove, such as the La Sportiva Skwama or Scarpa Instinct VS for steep routes and bouldering. Or a flatter stiff shoe such as the La Sportiva Finale if you’re new to climbing or fancy doing a few hours of routes. You will often see some climbers with both, using flatter shoes for warming up and easier climbs.
Here's a few key things that will be a factor in finding the right shoes.
Each climber will have differing views on how tight climbing shoes should be. It depends on the material of the shoes, the shape and condition of your lovely feet, what levels you are climbing, and where you're climbing. For those steep boulder problems, especially in the Catacombs and Comp wall, a tight fit and solid heel are key. This does not mean that you should get the smallest shoe you can. If they are going to hurt you so much you can barely put pressure on your toes, you might as well get good at campusing. The Instinct VS and La Sportiva Solution are a popular choice.
On multi-pitch climbs, whether sport or trad, you'll want to size your shoes more loosely for comfort. You can compensate for a slightly larger size by choosing a shoe with a stiffer sole. Particularly for trad climbing, having a flatter-toed shoe will benefit you when climbing cracks. Even on longer multi-pitch sport climbs, a less aggressive shape (less down-turned, lower asymmetry) will keep your feet from getting bruised.
Half sizes up or down? It’s a tricky one, but if you’re in agony choosing a half size up might mean you can actually climb.
An aggresive shaped, down-turned shoe like the La Sportiva Otaki needs a tight fit. The more down-turned a shoe is, the more your toes bunch up in the front. That doesn't mean they have to hurt, but they should be tight enough to perform.
All shoes stretch, some more than others, so it is important to size your shoes with this in mind.
Leather shoes, like the La Sportiva Katanas, stretch more than synthetic shoes. However, leather shoes that are lined stretch very little, but will mold themselves to your feet. How much do you accommodate for the stretch? That depends a lot on the brand and model, and it is helpful to try shoes out at a boot demo and ask other climbers who use that shoe. For an unlined leather shoe, size them a little tighter, and expect them to be mildly uncomfortable at first. It can take around 10 climbing sessions to wear them in.
Synthetic shoes, such as the 5.10 Anasazi don't stretch much so buy them a little snugger than you would like to climb in at first but not too much.
The design of the shoe will also be an important factor in how much they will give. For example, rubber on top of the toe for hooking will prevent the shoe from stretching as much.
Brand and Sizing
Use the boot demos to try on various brands and sizes before you buy. Generally, Five Ten models run comparatively small, making it likely you'd size your rock shoes the same as your street shoes. La Sportiva and Scarpa often require downsizing one or two sizes.
Laces, Velcro, and Slipper
Lace-up shoes are the most adjustable, and typically provide the most uniform fit. If you have narrow feet these are a good choice. They tend to hold tight, and are therefore good for multi pitch routes. They take a while to get on, and when you boulder this can be a faff.
Velcro and slippers go on and off easier so are much better for bouldering, and some tighten almost as well as lace-ups. They work well on multi-pitch days too, if you want to pop them off at belays. Slippers are usually unlined, which means they stretch out more. This makes them more comfortable, but also decreases their performance.
Generally, rubber that is stickier is usually softer and less durable. Less sticky rubber is typically harder and more durable. Harder rubber holds an edge longer, but doesn't function as well on the rock. Softer rubber for high performance sport and bouldering shoes will typically work better for everything other than steep edges. When starting out or if you're looking for an all-day shoe, harder, more durable rubber will work better and will often be less expensive.
So there you have it, we the Castle wish you the best of luck finding the right shoe!