Unlike sneakers or hiking boots, choosing a climbing shoe for the first time is more than looking at the "top 5 brands" or "best shoe for climbing". The best climbing shoe for your first pair is one that fits tight and comfortable, while providing the right balance of support and durability for your current climbing experience.
A friend recommended shoe is a good place to start, but keep in mind that a good fit for one person isn't always the same for another. Slight differences in foot shape, size, support, sensitivity, rubber, and even intended use - whether it's bouldering, top rope, multipitch, trad, indoor or outdoors - can make a huge difference in comfort and precision.
It takes research, but don't fret. We're here to explain how to choose a climbing shoe, identify your size and fit, and what else you need to consider when choosing a shoe that's right for you.
We categorise climbing shoes into three sections: All-round, Performance and Aggressive Performance. We also have a section Kids Climbing Shoes and climbing shoes that contain no animal products in Vegan Climbing Shoes.
These climbing shoes are flat, versatile, comfortable and durable. Featuring soles with hard-wearing rubber and a high level of support, these shoes are the go-to workhorse for the gym and getting started outdoors.
Mildly downturned climbing shoes for technical climbing. Trading comfort for performance, the downturn shape places your foot in a powerful position. Each shoe has different features for specific climbing styles (boulders, sport, trad etc.).
Highly sensitive, downturned climbing shoes made with thin, sticky rubber for technical climbing on hard boulders and overhung routes, where sensitivity and responsiveness is key.
Trading support for sensitivity, these climbing shoes are not ideal for a new climber. These types of shoes wear quickly, and may strain or damage the toes when worn too early.
When it comes to choosing your first climbing shoe - irrespective of whether you've been climbing for a few months or a year - an all round climbing shoe provides many benefits with understanding pressure tolerance, feeling more natural in fit, offering better durability and being cheaper to maintain.
Adapting your foot to a downturned performance shoe can feel painful if it's done too soon. Moving towards downturned shoes is gradual process. Be patient. Let your toes strengthen and adapt to being curled tightly, while also listening to your own body's tolerance for discomfort.
A pricer shoe doesn't equal durability. Climbing shoes are designed to meet a purpose. All round shoes feature harder rubber to provide support when developing better footwork & is aimed to last around 6 to 12 months. While, a softer rubber sole may provide better friction but may only last between 1- 6 months.
The more you climb, the more you will notice how your shoes have stretched and how long the rubber lasted. You'll be able ot pay more attention to the areas where you feel your current shoes are lacking (e.g they feel too big) because your tolerance may have changed. In the end, this will help choose the type of performance shoe you’ll need.
Feet come in various shapes and sizes. Your foot will look different to a friend’s foot, and between your own two feet? Well, don’t be surprised. It’s quite common if they’re slightly different sizes.
The point is: climbing shoes also vary between models and brands too. Now, they may all look the same but changes in the shape can make all the difference when it comes to comfort. So, let’s break down the mystery behind fitting shoes.
If you asked someone about fitting shoes, they’re going to say something like: “uncomfortable”, “tight but not painful”, “snug” and “toes curled”. These are all used to describe a position where all the toes are touching the front of the shoe in a half curled position, with no pressure points causing immediate pain or too much discomfort, and with no significant air gaps under the arch or around the heel. A small amount of air under the heel is normal as long as the heel doesn't slip off, which can lead to blisters.
That being said. Your toes should never lie completely flat because your toes naturally curl when the muscles engage, which will leave you with wiggle room.
Engaged, curled toes allows us to support our body weight on a small surface area or edge. Your climbing shoe may feel tight at first, but as it stretches, your toes will relax into the shoe.
Also, our toes need to be curled when fitting a shoe so they don’t ‘pull back’ away from the front when they’re used to climb. Shoes that are too big will feel like they “slip” off holds since your body weight is away from the front of the shoe.
When we help people in the store, we start with taking a good look at their feet. It’s important to find a shape that suits the arrangement of toes and the width of the foot.
Lots of people look up reviews and make decisions without considering the shape of the front of the shoe aka "toe box". What I’m about to tell you is the biggest factor when it comes to getting your shoes right. The toe box affects your comfort level because it shapes how your toes curl inside the shoe.
The goal is to have all your toes evenly curled, with the big toe as an exception (read on). So, take a look at your toes right now. What shape does it match below?
All Rounder Toebox Shapes
Almost all-rounder climbing shoes have an asymmetric profile, where the curvature of the shoe skews to the big toe. We describe the toebox in two shapes:
Here’s a quick guideline for choosing climbing shoes based on your toe shape:
The width of a climbing shoe can affect performance and comfort. When you stand on your toes, the toes naturally want to spread out for balance. Climbing shoes are designed to keep the toes together to create a strong structure, but at the same time you don’t want your toes to dig into each other. Ouch!
This one is self-explanatory. If you have a wide foot, look for ‘high volume’ or wider models. If you’ve got a narrow foot, look for ‘low volume’ or shoes with laces to get a tighter fit.
Once upon a time, climbers sized down their climbing shoes about one to two sizes to compensate for the amount of stretch in an unlined leather shoe. However, this is no longer necessary with modern manufacturing and design changes. Even leather shoes do not stretch as much as their predecessors.
While modern climbing shoes don’t experience as much stretch as they did a few generations ago, there will be some give and stretch over time. An uncomfortable shoe out of the box will become more comfortable as you break it in. But how comfortable? Well that’s the million-dollar question!
Climbing shoes go through two phases of stretch:
The “powerband” wraps around the back of the shoe and holds your heel in place. As the shoe breaks in, this band will soften, and your heel will sit into the shoe and fill any small air pockets.
Materials affect how much a shoe will stretch. Generally:
Some climbing shoes feature an inner lining for comfort and stretch control. E.g. Butora Endeavour is lined in the heel and body with hemp, a fibre that restricts stretch and has natural antibacterial and hypo-allergenic properties. While, the toes are unlined for stretch.
Now, the hardest part – sizing. I have left this to the end because it’s not a simple answer. Size varies between models of the same brand and even more so between different brands.
Start with a point of reference.
You can use your street shoe size as a starting point for size, but don't be surprised if you find you need to go up or down from your street shoe size. Another way you can figure out your size is to try on shoes at your local climbing gym. From the tag inside the shoe, you can take note of the brand, model, and size.
We are also happy to give you some recommendations. Email us at email@example.com with:
Remember, don’t stress if the size isn’t right. We offer a free shoe return service.
If the size is too small, you will immediately feel pain across the toes or at the back of the heel. A size can also be too small if there is too much discomfort to your liking. It’s ok to err on the side of comfort for two reasons:
Lastly, the “scrunch test” can help you decide if the size is too big. Go ahead, see if you can scrunch your toes inside the shoes. If your toes move away from the front of the shoes and there’s a significant gap, then the size is too big. If the shoe moves with your toes, then you’re all set to go.
Shoes need care! Check out our guide on looking after your shoes.
Here's a few tips to get you started:
As an outdoor enthusiast all my life, I fell into the world of gravity sports after seeing a friend's trad rack back in 2007 and thinking "what's that?!" Since then I have been climbing, skiing and slacklining around Australia and the world. My favourite styles of climbing are the adventurous multi-pitch trad routes of Arapiles, the steep sandstone cave bouldering local to the Sydney basin, and European alpine peaks that can take all day to slog up and what feels like mere minutes to descend, finished off with a cold pint in a warm pub.