October 13, 2020

How Tight Should Climbing Shoes Be?

by Brad

One of the most dreadful sights to see as a climber is watching one of your fellow climbers pull faces (and scream) because of the sheer pain they are left in.

The reason – a tight climbing shoe. Many experts give them this advice when they ask them how tight climbing shoes should be. The answer—the climbing shoes must be painfully tight. But is this the only way?

Do your climbing shoes have to be so tight that you can’t even enjoy the sport you love without the pain afterward?

Some expert climbers certainly think so; there is always a discussion going on within the community about how tight your climbing shoes need to be to maximize results.

And that’s what we want to cover today. You can also read our step-by-step guide on how to break in climbing shoes (a new pair).

Table of Contents

How Tight Should Climbing Shoes Be and Why Tight is the Norm?

Climbing shoes should feel well-fitted around your foot, without dead space or gaps that may decrease sensitivity. Gaps under the arch or around the heel may cause the climbing shoe to slip and slide when your heel hooks or cam your toes into a crack. Avoid climbing shoes that are too short.  

Over the last couple of years, there has been a change in the market outside of the climber’s community, which shows that many people are wearing tighter and tighter shoes on their feet. Whether they are sports shoes or stylish outdoor shoes.

This trend then flows into the climbing community, where they then wear tighter and tighter shoes. Many of us knowingly do this because we believe that the shoe would eventually stretch to conform to our own feet.

Which they can do, especially with leather shoes. After all, brand new climbing shoes (just like any shoes) take some time to break in before they fit comfortably on your feet.

But how tight do they really need to be? Before we talk more about that, let’s talk a little bit about how climbing shoes expand and what you should expect when purchasing any climbing shoe style.

Related Article: How to Clean Climbing Shoes?

Climbing Shoes Advice How Tight Should Climbing Shoes Be

How Do Climbing Shoes Expand?

Your climbing shoes expand over time, but how do they do this? Well, just like with a typical shoe, the more you use it, the more it expands – to a maximum, of course.

So if you’ve got a brand new climbing shoe, you’re going to want just to keep climbing, it may feel really, really tight at first, but after a while, the shoe will conform to your foot’s shape.

If you don’t want to go through the pain of wearing a really tight shoe for hours on end before it properly conforms, you could always buy a half-size larger pair. The downside is they won’t be as snug.

Related Article: Which are the Best Neutral Climbing Shoes?

How Tight Your Climbing Shoes Must be Depends on Your Climbing Style

To no surprise, the one fatal determining factor when it comes to deciding just how tight your climbing shoes should be is based on the terrain in which you wish to climb since not every fit will be appropriate for every surface.

Let’s take a look at the most appropriate tightness for climbing shoes in different categories.

Traditional and Crack Climbing Shoes

We have doubled these styles up because climbing fanatics in these groups should be looking for a shoe that provides a supportive platform to stand on, leaving a bit of room for the foot to move around.

A climbing shoe that is aggressively fitted and downturned will cause extreme pain when jamming. On top of that, they will not be as effective.

That’s why we have selected the best trad climbing shoe and the best crack climbing shoe.

Climbing Shoes Bouldering

Bouldering Shoes

If you’re someone who does a lot of bouldering, you’re going to be looking for the best bouldering crash pads and a shoe that is downturned and asymmetrical. 

You’re looking for a shoe with a similar feel to a ballerina shoe, where the shoe forces the weight to the front of the foot, resulting in scrunched-up toes.

Unlike a trad shoe, you want to have a shoe that fits your feet tightly (but still snug) where your toes are pressed against the very front of the shoe, almost as if your foot is molded to the shoe itself.

Bouldering shoes are probably the tightest shoes when it comes to climbing, as you tend to do boulder in short bursts rather than long climbs, so sacrificing a bit of comfort to optimize performance is expected and more than okay.

But please, don’t buy a shoe that is going to leave you in tears – you still want to enjoy your time while wearing them. For example, read our guide on the best bouldering shoes for beginners.

Related Article: What is Highball Bouldering?

Long routes and All-round Climbing Shoes

Climbing long routes and multi-pitching is where you’re going to want to maximize comfort overall since you’ll be using these climbing shoes for a long time, so you don’t want to be crying in pain 20 minutes into a climb.

It would be best to look for a shoe where your toes touch the end but are not aggressively curled up. We suggest you try one of the moderate or neutral climbing shoes we have covered.

When trying on a potential pair, they should already feel snug on your feet, offering a slight bit of wiggle room.

Perhaps you could even get a half a size larger pair if you want to wear socks to keep your feet warm up on the rock.

Related Article: How Long Do Climbing Shoes Last?

Final Thoughts on How Tight Should Climbing Shoes Be

So, how tight should climbing shoes be? Well, as we’ve told you throughout this article, it all depends on what you plan on getting up to.

Choosing the right climbing shoes should be something that you put a lot of thought into; purchasing a shoe that you think will conceal your feet and then doesn’t get you anywhere.

Don’t be afraid to take it back and try another one. At the end of the day, you are the one in control – hopefully, our guidelines helped somehow, but the decision is all yours.

If you want to tuff it up and get a tight shoe, enhancing your performance when bouldering, go for it.

But don’t feel the need to go tight simply because that’s what some experienced climbers are telling you to do; it all depends on what you are most comfortable with so that you can achieve your climbing goals. Read all articles in the category climbing gear guides.

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About the author 


Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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