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The GO Outdoors Guide To Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes are an essential part of your climbing equipment, and you need a shoe that can be flexible and durable enough to offer you protection, grip and comfort as you climb. 

Most climbers are used to being told 'if they aren't pinching, they aren't working'. In some senses, this is true, because for climbing you need a very close fit that would be unacceptable with general shoes.

However, your toes should always rest on the toe box at the front of the shoe, and when resting flat, your shoes should not curl up.

This can be more damaging than beneficial. Your toes should be a compromise between being flat up against the front of the shoe so you get a firm grip whilst edging, yet your toes shouldn't ball up uncomfortably. Your toes should touch the end of the shoe, but should not be uncomfortable.

You should not be able to see your toes on the outer of the shoe. Make sure you have a firm grip on the back of the shoe so your heel is flat to the back of the shoe, without being too cramped.

The aim is to find a pair of climbing shoes that are rigid enough to get a strong hold on a rockface and overhanging rock. For beginners this is achieved by using firm soled shoes with very little flex.

Many climbers do find that as their climbing style progresses climbing shoes with more flexible soles are a more favourable option.

Climbing Shoes for all day, general low level UK/Indoor wall based climbs:

  • Flexibility: Look for flexible shoes with lots of give and movement as you learn via an indoor wall or UK based climbs. 
  • Toe Shape: For beginners not needing a specific hold on a trad or sport route, look for a flat-toe fit without an upward or downward curl.
  • Midsole: A medium to stiff midsole will provide support without being too slim and uncushioned for all day wearing 
  • Sole: A thick rubber sole protects the all day wearer from impact and shocks. As you progress to a more specific or difficult climbing style, you can choose a slimmer sole for extra flexibility.

Trad/ Sport based climbing shoes:

  • Flexibility: More specific sport based climbing shoes are stiffer for getting a better hold on crags and rockfaces. 
  • Toe Shape: Make sure the toe fits snugly to the front of the shoe for extra control. 
  • Midsole: Look for a midsole with a little 'give' for smearing, whilst being stiff enough for edge work 
  • Sole: A thin sole gives extra flexibility on rocks and freedom of motion.

Bouldering Climbing Shoes:

  • Flexibility: Look for plenty of flex and bend in your shoes for easy movement on relatively flat surfaces. 
  • Toe Shape: Bouldering shoes should have a slightly curled toe fit 
  • Midsole: Look for a soft midsole for plenty of support without hindering movement 
  • Sole: Bouldering shoes have thinner soles for plenty of flexibility

Women's Climbing Shoes/Narrow Footed Climbing Shoes:

Women specific climbing shoes have a narrow fit, ideal for anyone with slimmer feet.

Climbing Shoe Midsoles

Found between the footbed and the sole of the shoe, the midsole of a climbing shoe is designed to give support to the feet.

Flexible midsoles are ideal for extra smearing capabilities, and for beginners who don't need as strong footholds, whereas stiffer, less flexible midsoles are ideal for edging work.

Climbing Shoe Fabrics

Leather Vs Synthetics:

Leather: The best thing about a leather climbing shoe is that it is supremely easy to care for. Lined or unlined leather can stretch a size (unlined) or have little stretch (lined) so you can buy to suit your needs if you require but can't
Leather is a long lasting fabric that can withstand abrasion.

Synthetics: Synthetics in climbing shoes generally have less stretch than a leather shoe, making them less suitable for beginners. Synthetics shoes may cost more than leathers, and are generally more capable than leather at absorbing sweat and excess moisture.

Technical Details In Climbing Shoes

  • Rubber Toe Patch: Ideal for edging on small cracks. 
  • Molded Heel Cup: Offers a slip-free climb by cupping your heel in to the shoe. 
  • Antimicrobial Linings: Prevent bacteria from settling on the shoes and causing smells. 
  • Two Piece Heel: Gives a wider, asymmetric fit for more ground coverage and better holding. 
  • Fully Lined: Prevents the shoe loosening, also adds comfort and wicks sweat away from the shoe's inner. 
  • Pull On Tabs: Grips for you to put your shoe on with ease, or readjust while on the move. 
  • Multi point lacing: Easily adjusted laces that fit to your foot. 
  •  Sticky Rubber: Used on the base of the shoe to add grip. 
  • Graduated Midsole: A midsole of varying height that can help improve stability. 
  • Shock Absorption: Can take shocks from impact on hard surfaces, protecting your bones and joints. 
  • Low Profile: A low length area, usually seen in the toes, so you can edge into rocks with ease. 
  • EVA: A type of foam rubber, usually seen in the midsole that can absorb shocks. 
  • Vibram: A typical sole, used to offer protection from rocks and obstacles. Long lasting and durable.