Rock Climbing Shoes — Climbing shoes are the most important investment you can make as a climber. In order to reach your highest climbing potential, you need to get the right shoes for your feet.
Shoes are the most basic equipment for every climber from the bare-bones minimum boulderer to the gear laden big wall climber. You might want to consider making them your first gear purchase.
Today’s climbing shoes are scientific wonders compared to the antique shoes of a decade ago. Sophisticated sticky rubber, cushioned soles, synthetic leathers and anti-fungal treatments are just a few of the many options available for you to choose from.
To begin, you need to understand how a climbing shoe is made, and then you can find one that fits your foot. That’s right, not every shoe was made for your individual foot, so let’s turn away from all the glitter and smoke and look inside the shoe.
Climbing shoes are made around a “last.” A last is a piece of wood or plastic shaped like a foot, much like a mannequin’s foot that models sandals in a shoe store. Shoe manufacturers take that last and sew the inside of the shoe around it. That shell is covered with the outside leather of the shoe and then the sole is glued on, laced up and put on your foot.
Every manufacturer of climbing shoes has their own set of lasts. Some are shaped like your feet, others like your climbing partner’s feet. To find the right shoe to fit your foot, you have to try a bunch on. When you are just learning how to climb you will want a “board lasted” shoe. This is just what it sounds like, the soles on these types of shoes are quite stiff allowing the beginner to learn how to edge and smear.
Once you teach your feet how to move you can get a shoe with a more supple sole that will allow you to feel those miniscule holds under your pinky toes. However, you’ll want to keep those hard soled kickers around if you ever do a multi-pitch climb—your toes will thank you for the breathing room.
Make sure you go to a quality rock climbing store to try on climbing shoes. Be patient and take your time. Listen to the sales person, they will help you. Beware of stores that don’t have at least some small holds for you to practice edging on. You can’t get a feel for your shoes if you don’t try them on and practice edging in them. Try on at least three different brands before buying, because again, every manufacturer uses a different last.
When you lace up your shoes for the first time, leave room to lace them tighter. As you break in your new shoes the material will stretch and you’ll need some room to tighten the laces. Slippers (shoes without laces) are not a recommended starting pair of shoes, though most boulderers and gym climbers prefer them for the ease of a quick on and off. Shoes with laces allow you to tighten them in different places to dial in a perfect fit. Don’t let your friend talk you into a certain brand of shoes unless your feet are identical twins of his feet, though you might find a different model from the same company that will fit your foot.
Finally, take care of your new shoes and they’ll last you a long time. Leaving them in the back of your car on a hot summer day or by a camp fire can make the soles come unglued. Dirt and mud will make your feet skid on holds, so take a tarp or crash pad to launch off of onto the rock. It is best to fit and climb in your shoes without socks to get the sensitivity your toes need on the rock. The rewards of properly fitted shoes are happy feet for years to come.
• Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing
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