How To Choose Climbing Shoes

By February 21, 2020 No Comments

Choosing a pair of climbing shoes can seem to be exciting, but can easily become in an overwhelming and daunting experience if you get caught in the huge variety of options out there. We’ve personally been there so we now how you may be feeling right now.

Just perform a quick google search and you’ll understand exactly what I am talking about.

Irrespective of what type of climbing you decide to make, climbing shoes are the first thing you need to get. They are basically the main gear you will need to invest on. There are heaps of options available for your first pair. When you are at your learning stage, I wouldn’t bother too much on getting anything fancy.

The rock climbing shoes are coming with various aesthetics, design & colors, and these elements are looking more important than technical features of shoes. That’s why buyers are always confused to choose the best climbing shoes, because they are not sure, what to look for in rock climbing shoes; its design & colors, or its technical features.

So without any further due, let’s get straight into this buying guide we’ve created for you in order to hopefully help you take out any confusion you may have regarding this type of gear.

Features and Design of Climbing Shoes: There are different features and design elements, which can affect the performance of shoes. For instance, rubber, linings, straps, and laces are critical features in this regard. You should always look at these features and design of your preferred climbing shoes so that you can get an optimum performance.

Below we’ve created s short list with the main features to consider when choosing a rock climbing shoe:

the best rock climbing shoes1) Climbing Shoe Fit

This is a crucial feature to consider and it will ultimately depend on the shape of your foot but always keep in mind that it should feel good- meaning it should fit but shouldn’t be painful. We recommend testing some models in order to get a “feeling” of the shoe before you decide to buy one online. Also, a critical element is the width of your feet because you will have to get a pair of shoes, which fits well with your feet’s width.

2) Shape

Typically the climbing shoes come in three different shapes; neutral, moderate and aggressive shoes:

  • Neutral shoes: Ideal for beginners, they have a flat sole and tend to be quite comfortable. They work really well in flat routes, cracks and their thick rubber soles provide great muscle support;
  • Moderate shoes: These shoes are generally a bit more thinner and contain stickier rubber soles. The tend to perform quite well in more advanced routes and contain a downturn which offers a bit more tension and may feel more uncomfortable than the neutral climbing shoes;
  • Aggressive shoes: These shoes also contain a downturn and asymmetric shape with high heel pressure which can turn out to be really good for edging but can also create a lot of strain in the foot. They focus more on performance rather than comfort.

3) Flexibility

Here one of the main factors to consider is what type of climbing you have in mind. Firmer shoes are ideal for more complex obstacles, and allow a better grip on rocks and crags. Flexible shoes are really good for indoor climbing or easier climbs.

4) Support

On the one hand, if you opt for the thinner and stickier rubber soles, they will perform really well at gripping and pushing at the rock but they can also make your feet feel sore and quite sensitive. On the other hand, if you choose a thicker sole you will ensure your foot gets the appropriate comfort it requires but they can also prove to be more heavier to move around small edges and steep inclines.

5) Closure

Climbing shoes will typically come with either Velcro closures or lace-up. Both options offer the required support and tightness for your shoe. The Velcro is a nice option to have in mind as they are easier to use and slide in and out. The lace-ups, while they may take a bit more time to put on and take off, they also offer a tighter grip and can ultimately enhance your climbing experience.

6) Protection

This is always a feature to consider when buying a pair of climbing shoes as you want to make sure you get the right level of comfort and protection on your climbing activity.

7) Comfort

I personally always look for this feature on my climbing shoes as I want to keep my foot in condition when I am rock climbing. I consider that soft materials tend to keep your feet more fresh, dry and looked after.

8) Surface

While most shoes available on the market are quite versatile, it’s always a good practice to be niche focused. Thin and sticky soles are more ideal for flatter surfaces whereas thicker rubbers tend to perform better in more bumpier terrains.

Type of Rock Climbing Shoes

As described above that there are different types of rock climbing shoes, and one should select a type, which is suitable for him/her. We will now proceed to look at the three main types of shoes in more detail

Aggressive Climbing Shoes

This type of climbing shoes comes up with the most downturned design from all the climbing shoes varieties. They tend to come with an extra heel tension so that your foot is put in a powerful and strong position. These climbing shoes actually come with an asymmetric shape. The good thing about aggressive climbing shoes is that they have good rubber, which is thinner and stickier. However, one of its disadvantages is that they tend to be a bit uncomfortable compared to the other two options.

These shoes will perform best when utilized in single terrain sports climbs as opposed to multi-terrain routes or on extended climbs.

Moderate Type

The moderate climbing shoes have a camber shape, where the shape is a bit downturned, but not as downturned as an aggressive pair of shoe. In terms of technical climbing, moderate climbing shoes are the best fit for purpose. Different types of climbing can be handled by moderate shoes, such as multi-pitch climbing, crack climbing, and slab routes.

As mentioned above, a downturned shape is optimal for providing a powerful and strong positioning of the foot and this happens to be the  case with this type of shoe as well. Also, if we compare this model to its aggressive counterpart, they offer more comfort and are easier to use. But there is a disadvantage as well as these shoes are not as performance-oriented as other climbing shoes can be.

Neutral Type

If what you are after is comfort, then these are your perfect match!. Unlike the aggressive and moderate shoes, these shoes come along with a flat inside which ensure which ensure your toe to feet smoothly without the need to actually force them into a point. Also, these type of shoes are ideal for beginner rock climbers but can be utilized as well by more experienced climbers which want to experience a comfy long climb.

A negative item to call out are their thick soles as they are not as sensitive as they should be making them really challenging to utilize in difficult routes.

What Climbing Shoe To Choose as a Beginner?

As a beginner the best option would be to start getting used to rock climbing, therefore comfort should be a crucial factor to consider when buying a shoe. Consequently, I would strongly encourage you to stay away in your early stages from the asymmetrical and downturned models.

Once you start to gain more experience and feel more comfortable with both your climbing skills and shoe, you can start consider moving to one of the other two types of models described above. In the end, the idea is that you enjoy your outdoor activity as much as possible and then you jump into more complex and sophisticated options.

Materials for Climbing Shoes

These shoes are made from a variety of materials. The main ones are either synthetic or leather.


Based on customer reviews, the leather shoes are the easiest option to maintain and clean, whether they are lined or unlined.

If we look at lined leather, it is a fact that there is a reduction in the stretch.

As far as unlined leather is concerned, their stretch is not reduced so these shoes are stretched to a full size. Their size is made in a way that toes are just able to touch the end portion. It is important to know that lined or unlined leather both can be good for many climbers, so it ends up being a personal choice which one you prefer to use.


The other important material used for climbing shoes is a synthetic material. These shoes do not come up with a feature that enables them to stretch as much as the leather ones; rather they tend to get softer with the passage of time. The more you use them, the more they soften up. They provide great comfort to the feet by allowing them to breathe, as well as, dealing with sweat. Also, they tend to be associated with high-performance.

How To Fit Rock Climbing Shoes?

In order to ensure the best climbing experience, it is imperative that your rock climbing shoes fit smoothly and correctly. So how do you pick the best shoe for your next climbing adventure? Well, firstly you will need to make sure you get the right size and width. Some shoes are made more narrow whilst others are wider. It is a good practice to settle for a smaller size that your usual shoes size so as to obtain a secure fit.

Another item to consider is the type of surface you will be climbing. The more difficult the climb, the tighter your shoes should be. If you are a beginner, or are about to embark in an indoor activity or bouldering, then a loose option can be something to consider.

Finally, each brand will have specific sizes and models so we strongly recommend that you personally try them and match your foot size before you decide to buy them.

how to choose rock climbing shoesFAQ

How should rock climbing shoes feel?

This will depend a bit on your personal tolerance but in general as a beginner, they should feel firm, tight and well fitted. The idea is to avoid feeling any pain, a good way to test this is to utilize them for at least 30 minutes and see how they go.

Will climbing shoes stretch?

We’ve described this above, but in general, it will depend on the material. Typically, leather will stretch up to full size, lined around half a size and synthetic may not stretch too much

Do you wear rock climbing shoes with socks?

This is not recommended as they will affect your shoes performance and your feet may end up slipping around. Also, socks tend to lead to foot odor which nobody wants to have.

How often do I need to change my climbing shoe?

Your climbing shoes will typically involve your biggest investment as a climber. It will depend of the frequency which you are climbing but in general you will need to consider getting one pair per year! However, this will largely depend as well if you look after them as if not, you could find yourselve buying more than one pair per year.