Choosing Climbing Shoes


Our Choosing Climbing Shoes guide offers some general fitting advice for this tricky job.  Our aim is to help you with the challenge of getting shoes that fit well without being too uncomfortable.  We really hope you find it useful.  


When we first started climbing the general advice was to find climbing shoes that fit your feet and then choose at least a size smaller.  Your toes were crushed into the toe box and you used your feet like some type of claws.  

Times change.  Ideas change. Designs and technology change.  Do you still need climbing shoes that destroy your feet?  No!  Infact, we probably didn’t need to crush out feet all those years back and we certainly don’t nowadays.  Having said that, it is still a persistent myth that you will hear from some climbers.  

So, what are the key things to consider when choosing climbing shoes?  In our choosing climbing shoes information below we first share some things to consider and then offer some top shoe selection tips.

Shop At A Reputable Retailer

Let’s get the most important one out of the way.  Whenever choosing climbing shoes visit a reputable retailer with knowledgable staff and a broad selection of models to try.  We don’t recommend buying climbing shoes online.  Different manufacturers lasts fit differently and different models fit differently.  The key thing is to try plenty of models and various makes.  

Over time, you get to know which manufacturers you favour, but even then variations between models are very likely.  A good retailer will usually have a small climbing wall where you can test your shoes.  This will help to highlight any issues.  Lastly, we’d always recommend going into a shop at quiet times.  The staff will then have more time available to focus on your needs.

Know Your Foot Morphology 

Some people have a narrow tapered foot with less pronounced arch.  This foot type will usually also feature a fairly horizontal metatarsal bone.  People with this foot type generally have a fairly pointed foot shape.  

Others have wider feet.  These people often have a more vertical metatarsal bone and pronounced arch.  Feet of this type often feature shorter and more square toes.  If you aren’t sure whether you are pointy or square, it again pays to ask a specialist retailer to make an assessment.

Many manufacturers offer models for different foot morphology.  There are also more companies offering low volume (LV) models to cater for different foot shapes.  It is well worth trying different volume models as they can really make a significant difference. 

There are also differences between genders and this should also be factored in. Most manufacturers will produce different models for men and women.  Having said that, these model ranges are still interchangeable and not being restricted to a gender range can offer additional options.      

Size Matters

You don’t want shoes that are too tight. You don’t want shoes that are too loose.  Oversized shoes have as many downsides as ones that are too small.  As you climb harder routes you need more sensitivity to cope with smaller holds.  In oversized shoes your feet will reduce grip and certainly reduce sensitivity.  It all goes back to finding that holy grail of shoes that are the right size.  What you need are shoes that are snug without being too snug.

Unfortunately, there are other spanners in the works to consider.  Shoes will change shape and stretch over time.  Different models change to a different amount depending on their construction and the materials used.  Leather will stretch more that synthetic materials. Unlined models will stretch more than lined ones. 

Again, we’d advise you to speak to that knowledgable shop staff member who will be able to advise on how certain materials act.  It is also worth reading online reviews and doing general online research.  Never has so much information been available to consumers, although choose the sources you trust carefully.  There is also a lot of mis-information out there. 

It is also common for a person to have slightly different sized feet.  Your feet also change size at different times of day and in different temperatures.  It all needs to be factored in   

Closure Styles

Another consideration is that different shoes have different closure systems.  There are some models that are held in place by elasticated panels.  Others have laces or velcro closures.  Some have a combination of closure systems.  They all have their pros and cons.

Lace systems on climbing shoes usually extend from ankle to low in the toe box.  This system allows a fine tuned fit that can be adjusted along the foot length.  Velcro closures allows very quick and simple adjustment.  This works well if you want to quickly loosen or remove your shoes between climbs.  Elastic closures offer quick and simple on/off but, as there is no adjustability, fit can’t be fine tuned. 

Identify Your Needs  

Climbing is broad.  Decide what type of climbing you will be doing.  Manufacturers make shoes for climbing steep pocketed limestone.  There will be models for gritstone smears and shoes for all day comfort.  Some shoes are focussed on beginners and some on all day comfort.  Decide what type of climbing you will be doing and ask to try some on to suit your requirements.

Your experience level is also key.  Novices will be better served with a flatter and more rigid model.  This style will perform well while giving your feet chance to develop the muscles required to climb harder and steeper routes.  Later, asymmetry and downturn shapes may become more relevant.  As your muscles develop you can later also consider softer shoes which will often give more feel and sensitivity.  They often feature softer and more grippy rubber.    

Many climbers will end up collecting different shoes for different objectives.  Initially, though, you will probably be best choosing a type designed to perform well for different things.  Don’t be swayed by the way the shoes look or the colour.

Tips For Choosing Climbing Shoes

So, with that all said, how do you make the right choice?  Here’s our choosing climbing shoes top tips. We want to help you find shoes that will become a trusted companion for your vertical adventures.  We are focussing these tips particularly at first time buyers, but hopefully they are of use to others too. 

  • Head to a reputable retailer but have realistic expectations.  Climbing shoes are never going to be the comfiest footwear you’ve tried.
  • Get the shop to measure your foot length and width.  Do this for both feet as there can be differences. Ask them to also to assess your foot type.
  • Have a clear picture of what you want the shoes for and share this with the staff member helping you.  Choose according to your needs at this point rather than buying for where you hope to be in a few years time.   
  • Use your street shoe size as a starting point, but only as a starting point.  Different manufacturers shoe sizes will vary.  Be guided by how the shoes feel rather than what size they are.
  • Listen to your feet. Your shoes need to be snug without being painful.  Make sure your heels are tucked right into the heel cup.  Your toes should also fit snugly up to the end of the toe box.  
  • Make sure you try on both shoes.
  • Play around with different fastening tightnesses.  For example, explore the difference between tightening more at the toe and less at the ankle.  
  • Be sure to try the shoes on the shop climbing wall.  If there is no wall (there should be), try edging in different positions on the lip of steps.
  • Your feet swell during the day.  It is worth trying shoes on in the afternoon if you can. 
  • Don’t rush into a decision.  If you don’t find the right shoes then be prepared to wait until you can try some different models or makes at another time.
  • Once purchased, wear your shoes around the house for a while.  This will help fit them to your feet but should also help identify any problems.  Your retailer will probably be happy to exchange them if they haven’t been worn outside (but check their store policy). 
  • Keep the faith.  If you have followed good advice and our how to choose climbing shoes top tips you may still find your shoes aren’t too comfy for the first few times you use them.  They are very likely to get better with more use. 

If you’ve found this guide useful you may also find these other articles useful. Advice on Choosing Climbing Ropes is here. Choosing Climbing Nuts is here. Choosing Carabiners (part one) is here and Choosing Carabiners (part two) is here. Finally, Buying a Climbing Rack is here.