If you’re fairly new to rock climbing, chances are you have questions. And in all likelihood, several of those questions will revolve around climbing shoes. Usually, the first thing that non-climbers notice about the sport is the specialized footwear that’s used. It’s no surprise either, they stick out like a sore thumb and look quite peculiar compared to your average shoe. And the truth is, climbing shoes are a fairly complicated affair and not something you should rush into purchasing haphazardly. With that being said, here is our definitive climbing shoe FAQ that will hopefully answer most if not all of your questions related to climbing shoes.
The Definitive Climbing Shoe FAQ
Table of Contents
- Q: How should climbing shoes fit?
- Q: How to stretch climbing shoes?
- Q: Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?
- Q: How much do climbing shoes stretch?
- Q: Are there climbing shoes for wide feet?
- Q: Are there climbing shoes for narrow feet?
- Q: What are climbing shoes made of?
- Q: How long do climbing shoes last?
- Q: How to get rid of odor in climbing shoes?
- Q: Are there vegan climbing shoes?
- Q: How do you take care of climbing shoes?
- Q: What is a shoe resole?
- Q: When should I get my climbing shoes resoled?
- Q: What are No-Edge climbing shoes?
- Q: What is the difference between laces, velcro, and slippers?
- Q: What is the difference between shapes of climbing shoes?
- Q: What is the difference between climbing shoe rubbers?
- Q: What are the best shoe brands?
- Q: What are the best shoes out right now?
- Q: What kind of climbing shoes should I get?
Q: How should climbing shoes fit?
A: Climbing shoes should fit very snug but not painful. There should be no dead space in the toes, top of the foot, or in the heel area. If you have climbing shoes that are known to stretch a good amount but want the best performance out of them, having them fairly tight is deemed okay since they will accommodate your feet as you break them in. More aggressive shoes will curl your toes into a power position. As long as they aren’t so tight that you can’t stand or even climb in them, you’re good to go. For some tips on how to size the most popular climbing shoes, visit this article.
Q: How to stretch climbing shoes?
A: There are a few ways of stretching leather climbing shoes. The most obvious way is to climb in them and they will loosen up over time. You can also try walking in them around the house to speed up the process. Lastly, you can also try the hot shower technique. This involves wearing your new climbing shoes and taking a hot shower in them, then stuffing them with newspaper to dry afterward, which will cause leather uppers to stretch a good deal. However, it’s important to note that only leather uppers will stretch and not the rubber itself.
Q: Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?
A: This is really up to you. There are pros and cons for both options: wearing socks or not wearing socks with your climbing shoes. Wearing socks can help to reduce odor and bacteria, while also helping you to fit into shoes that are a tad loose. They are also great for trad and multi-pitch climbing. However, wearing socks can reduce the feel of the rock underneath you, and can even cause your foot to slip within the shoe thereby reducing performance. Not wearing socks helps to improve sensitivity and security, but they can leave your shoes smelling while dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria can collect more easily if not taken care of properly.
Q: How much do climbing shoes stretch?
A: Climbing shoes are primarily made out of one of three materials: unlined leather, lined leather, or synthetic leather. Unlined leather stretches up to a full size. Lined leather stretches up to a half size. Synthetics don’t stretch much if at all (~1/4″ tops). Some climbing shoes might be made out of a combination of materials, which means the amount of stretch will vary. The length of climbing shoes typically stay the same because rubber doesn’t stretch much, it’s mostly the upper that expands if it’s made out of leather.
Q: Are there climbing shoes for wide feet?
A: Yes! Butora’s line of climbing shoes come in wider fits as well as narrow and standard fits. A popular option is the orange Butora Acro. Other brands such as Scarpa and Evolv are also known to have shoes that fit wider feet. The Evolv Addict, Evolv Agro, Evolv Shaman, Scarpa Vapor V, Scarpa Boostic, and Scarpa Helix come to mind. La Sportiva also has some wider models, including the Miura VS, Genius, and Testarossa. But if all else fails and nothing mentioned entices you, you can’t go wrong with the Five Ten Moccasyms or Five Ten Anasazi VCS, both of which offer tons of room for the individual with the feet of a giant.
Q: Are there climbing shoes for narrow feet?
A: Yes! Again, Butora makes climbing shoes that come in narrow as well as wide and standard fits. Their flagship models include the Butora Acro and Narsha, both of which come in narrow fits (the ones colored blue). But these are explicitly labeled for narrow feet, most other brands don’t show any signs explaining how their shoes fit. But a few other brands that have narrow shoes are La Sportiva, Tenaya, and Five Ten. The La Sportiva Miura Lace, La Sportiva Futura, Tenaya Iati, Tenaya Oasi, Five Ten Dragon, and Five Ten Team are all popular options.
Q: What are climbing shoes made of?
A: Climbing shoes have a lot of different parts and are comprised of a variety of materials. The upper can be made out of unlined leather, lined leather, or a variety of synthetic materials. The last, which can be found inside, is what the shoe is formed around and can be either leather or synthetic. The sole consists of rubber formulated for climbing on rock. This same rubber is also used for the rand, toe patch, and heel. Elastic goring can also be found on slipper and velcro climbing shoes while microfiber and mesh can be used for comfort.
Q: How long do climbing shoes last?
A: This really depends on the type of rubber used, your climbing technique, and how well you take care of your shoes. Softer rubbers such as Stealth Mi6 and Hf used in Five Ten shoes and Vibram XS Grip 2 which can be found in La Sportiva, Tenaya, and Scarpa shoes wear out a bit faster than their firmer counterparts. Harder rubbers such as Vibram XS Edge and Stealth Onyxx are more resistant to wear but aren’t quite as sensitive.
Having clean footwork and taking care of your shoes can also go a long way in terms of durability. Learning to climb with silent feet reduces the friction caused by dragging your foot on plastic or rock. Also, taking care of your shoes will have the rubber lasting longer and prevent delamination and materials from falling apart. Additionally, you can also resole your shoes when the rubber starts to wear down close to the rand. This can be repeated several times to add additional years of life to a pair of shoes.
Q: How to get rid of odor in climbing shoes?
A: Stinky climbing shoes aren’t very pleasant, for you as well as the people around you. Fortunately, there are a few effective ways of eliminating that stank from your shoes.
The best way is to prevent dirt and bacteria from collecting, so try to keep your feet clean before putting on your shoes and take them off between tries. Also, you should always let them air out after every session or trip, either by using a shoe bag or clipping them to the outside of your bag. Do not leave them in your car because this creates a damp environment for bacteria to grow. You can also use charcoal shoe inserts to help fight odors. Finally, if the smell is just too strong that the other techniques don’t help at all, give your shoes a bath. Wash them in cold water, use a toothbrush and a mild soap to scrub the inside of the shoe, rinse them out until the water turns clear (this can take multiple rinses), and stuff them with newspaper to absorb all the excess moisture.
Q: Are there vegan climbing shoes?
A: Yes! There are quite a handful of climbing shoes that are animal-friendly. Unfortunately, La Sportiva has only one vegan climbing shoe, which is the Oxygen. Here is a list of animal-friendly climbing shoes from the most popular brands:
*The glue used in Scarpa shoes contain petroleum
Q: How do you take care of climbing shoes?
A: Here are a few effective ways to take care of your climbing shoes:
- Wear them only for climbing (try to take them off between tries to let your feet air out)
- Air them out after each climbing session (clip them to the outside of your bag for ease)
- Wipe down the rubber after each use
- Avoid walking and climbing with dirt on the soles
- Don’t leave them in the car
- Keep them out of direct sunlight
- Try not to drag your feet while climbing
- Resole them when necessary
Q: What is a shoe resole?
A: A resole is when the worn down soles of your climbing shoes are replaced with new rubber. This helps to extend the life of your shoes so you can keep climbing in them. You will also be saving money, reducing your waste, and not have to break in a new pair of shoes (especially if the break-in period is brutal). Most climbing shoes, if resoled early enough, only require a 1/2 sole, where the top half of the shoe is replaced and you are left with a pristine edge with which to stand on. A full resole is where the entire sole is replaced, but this is hardly ever needed. If holes appear in the rand, which is the part in front right above the soles you climb on, you’ll have to have the rands replaced, which costs extra money.
Q: When should I get my climbing shoes resoled?
A: When the bottom of the sole starts to get really thin/rounded and the rand becomes more visible. If holes appear in the rand, you’ve addressed it too late, although it might still be salvageable. Although rands can be replaced, it will cost extra money and you might end up with a shoe that fits differently. If there’s a full blowout in your shoe, it’s likely time to start shopping for new shoes.
Q: What are No-Edge climbing shoes?
A: No- Edge climbing shoes are a line of shoes offered by La Sportiva, currently the Genius, Futura, Maverink, and recently discontinued but original Speedster. Instead of featuring an edge like most climbing shoes do, No-Edge shoes are rounded off where the edge should be to give the climber a more natural and fluid shoe that can adapt to rock surfaces better. Instead of relying on the edge of your shoe to stand on, No-Edge technology allows you to position your toe into whatever angle you’d like, giving you more freedom to control the power of your big toe. This allows for better edging and increased sensitivity. No-Edge shoes work best for outdoor climbing on natural rock where surfaces aren’t uniform, but doesn’t provide much of a difference for indoor gyms where every foothold is essentially a generous ledge.
Q: What is the difference between laces, velcro, and slippers?
A: This refers to the closure system of a climbing shoe. It might seem like a small detail to most people, but there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding on how your shoes will be adjusted.
Laces allow for the most adjustment in fit, with more flexibility over the tension in the forefoot, midfoot, and ankle. However, laces take the most time to tighten, which can be quite troublesome if you’re the type of person to take your shoes off intermittently between climbs (boulderers especially). Velcro shoes fit like a slip-on, but have a velcro strap over the ankle to lock down your foot and ankle for more security. These types of shoes offer more convenience than laces but don’t let you tighten your shoes in separate zones of your foot. Finally, slippers can be slipped on in 3 seconds and are the most convenient type of climbing shoe, although they offer the least security, especially in the heel.
Q: What is the difference between shapes of climbing shoes?
A: There are three shapes that climbing shoes come in: neutral or flat-soled, moderate or cambered, and aggressive or down-turned. The main difference between each type of shape is a compromise between comfort and performance. Flatter shoes offer the most comfort since your foot isn’t positioned downwards but don’t offer the best performance when it comes to climbing overhang. Aggressive shoes position your foot downwards and focuses more power on your big toe to give you more performance when it comes to edging and climbing overhung rock, as it allows you to grab footholds without exerting more energy to do so. Moderate shoes offer a balance between comfort and performance, although it doesn’t excel at either. The type of shoe for you should therefore be based on your level of experience as well as what type of climbing you’ll be doing.
Q: What is the difference between climbing shoe rubbers?
A: Climbing shoe rubbers are specifically formulated for climbing on rock, but can have differences when it comes to the type of rock, temperatures, angles, etc. Additionally, softer rubbers offer more sensitivity and allow you to smear more easily while harder rubbers allow you to edge a lot better and wears more slowly.
- Stealth C4 – Five Ten’s most popular rubber formula, a formula that edges as well as it smears
- Stealth Hf – A sensitive rubber that lets you feel tiny features in rock really well but wears quickly
- Stealth Onyxx – Five Ten’s hardest rubber formula that excels at edging and durability
- Stealth Mi6 – Five Ten’s newest compound that is the softest and most sensitive they offer
- Vibram XS Edge – Vibram’s hardest climbing shoe rubber that excels at edging and lasts a while too
- Vibram XS Grip – Vibram’s first Grip formula that is fairly grippy and soft. Slowly being phased out by XS Grip 2
- Vibram XS Grip 2 – The upgraded version of XS Grip that provides more grip and sensitivity while being more firm than the original formula
- Trax rubber – Trax is the rubber featured on all of Evolv’s shoes, and offers a nice balance between sensitivity, grip, and durability
- Science Friction 3.0 – Featured on Mad Rock’s higher end models. Leans more toward edging and durability
- Butyl Butora F5 – Featured on Butora shoes such as the Endeavor and Acro, fine balance between edging and smearing
- NEO Friction – Featured on Butora and Black Diamond’s climbing shoes, not much is known about its performance
- Dark Matter – The rubber used on So iLL’s climbing shoes, can be colored although not much has been said about this type of rubber as of yet
Q: What are the best shoe brands?
A: There isn’t really a straightforward answer to this. Opinions are subjective and based more on preference above all else. But, if you’d like to hear our honest opinion, we’ll list some pros and cons of the more well-known brands.
Q: What are the best shoes out right now?
A: Again, this is a really hot debate with constantly changing opinions. The best shoes out there are subject to an individual climber’s preferences and needs. For our opinion on the best climbing shoes, visit this article.
Q: What kind of climbing shoes should I get?
A: To discover what kind of climbing shoes will suit you best, you’ll first need to learn all the subtle parts of a climbing shoe as well as how you intend to use them. You can learn how to choose climbing shoes with this article and the most important questions you should ask yourself here.