So, you’ve decided to take the plunge into the chalky world of indoor climbing. Congratulations! But before you start channelling your inner Spider-Man, you need the perfect pair of climbing shoes, or do you? (yes, yes you do). Let’s demystify the art of selecting the ideal climbing shoes, ensuring you’re not just climbing, but climbing in style and comfort and using the best tools at your disposal.
What Are Climbing Shoes?
First things first, let’s talk about what climbing shoes really are. They’re precision tools for your feet, like with tap dancing and ballet, the right shoes are very important. Climbing shoes are specially crafted to provide excellent grip, sensitivity, and support on climbing surfaces. Essentially they turn your five toes into one strong toe, coated with grippy rubber that can be hard or soft depending on your needs. In general, softer rubbers are best for lighter climbers and those looking for as much friction as possible on volumes and smears, whereas harder rubbers are best for heavier climbers and those climbing on small edges.
There is much more to a shoe than the rubber on its sole, however, such as its general construction, its shape, its closure systems and the midsole. Essentially having a spine running from toe to heel, the midsole is important as it denotes the overall flex and feel of the shoe. Again, “softer” shoes tend to bend more here, allowing for more surface area of rubber to be applied to a foothold, whereas shoes with a stiffer midsole are better for edging and will wear the feet out less over a long day of climbing due to greater support. It’s then personal preference and best fit for which you choose and if you go for lace up or velcro.
Do You Really Need to Wear Climbing Shoes?
In a word, yes! Climbing shoes aren’t just a fashion statement; they’re essential gear. While beginners might question the need, seasoned climbers understand that the right shoes significantly enhance their performance. True, could likely climb for the first few months in trainers, as your hands and body become accustomed to the trials of climbing, but to push past those initial grades, climbing shoes are a must-have. Climbing shoes enable you to feel the texture of the climbing holds, allowing for better control and precision of foot placement. Plus, they protect your feet from abrasions and provide incredible support during strenuous climbs compared to climbing barefoot or in standard trainers.
Of course, their main benefit is grip. The rubber on these shoes is designed to be as sticky as possible, meaning you can stand on near vertical surfaces without slipping, you can toe hook a climbing hold and grip it like a third hand and you can even walk up a blank featureless wall by smearing! Smearing refers to a climbing technique where a climber uses the friction between the sole of their climbing shoe and the rock surface to gain traction and support. Unlike using specific handholds or footholds, smearing involves pressing the smooth, rubber-soled part of the climbing shoe directly onto the rock without relying on distinct features or edges. Smearing requires precise foot placement, careful weight distribution, and trust in the friction between the shoe rubber and the rock to prevent slipping. Now imagine doing this to effect in your running shoes!
How to Choose a Pair of Climbing Shoes:
Choosing the perfect pair of climbing shoes is an art, not a science. It’s all about finding the right balance between comfort and snugness. The answer depends on personal preference and the type of climbing you do. For aggressive bouldering shoes used indoors, many climbers prefer a snug, downturned fit that provides maximum precision. Sizing down (slightly) ensures a performance-oriented fit, enhancing your ability to grip onto holds with confidence. However, if you prioritise comfort over performance, going for a less aggressive fit is fine, especially if you plan to wear your shoes for extended periods.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make the right choice:
- Know Your Type: There are different shoes for different types of climbing. For lovers of steep walls and overhangs, look for shoes with a downturned shape and an aggressive profile. This shape helps you grip onto overhangs and small holds with ease. For Comp climbing mastery, we recommend a soft supple shoe, also with a downturn. A fan of heights? For an all-around route-climbing shoe, look for a stiffer rubber and a less aggressive shape.
- Fit Like a Glove: Climbing shoes should fit snugly, but not painfully tight. Your toes should lightly touch the front of the shoe without curling uncomfortably. Remember, climbing shoes tend to stretch a bit over time, so a slightly snug fit is perfect. Leather shoes will stretch slightly more than synthetic shoes, so bear this in mind.
- Closure System: Velcro closures offer convenience, making them ideal for quick adjustments between climbs. Laced shoes, on the other hand, provide a more customisable fit, allowing you to fine-tune the tightness, but will take slightly longer to slip on and off. Or there are slippers, which sacrifice a small amount of support for an even quicker process of putting on and taking off.
- Test Them Out: Try on several pairs and walk around a bit. Most shops that sell rock climbing shoes will also have edges and climbing holds for you to stand on and get to know the shoe a little better. Pay attention to any pressure points or discomfort. Your feet should feel comfortably supported but not painful.
Do You Need Different Climbing Shoes for Indoor and Outdoor Climbing?
The short answer is no. You don’t necessarily need different climbing shoes for indoor and outdoor climbing. Many climbers use the same pair for both environments. However, the choice depends on personal preference and the specific challenges posed by the climbing routes. Indoor climbing often involves artificial holds and controlled conditions, allowing climbers to prioritize comfort and sensitivity. Outdoor climbing, on natural rock surfaces, might require shoes with a stiffer and more durable construction to handle rough terrain and provide better protection. Some climbers prefer versatile shoes that balance indoor and outdoor requirements, while others opt for specialized shoes based on the specific demands of each environment. Ultimately, it’s about finding the shoes that enhance your performance and comfort in the type of climbing you enjoy.
In conclusion, choosing the right climbing shoes is an exciting part of your climbing journey. It’s about finding that perfect balance between comfort and performance, ensuring you’re ready to tackle any wall that comes your way. Bear in mind the shoe won’t last forever – near the end of its life, consider a resoleing option to extend its use, or go back to the shop and upgrade to a fresh pair (we’re advocates of both options). So, gear up, try on those shoes, and get ready to climb like you’ve never climbed before. For footwork drills and smearing practice, consider coaching to get the very best out of you and your new shoes!