by Jullie

April 8, 2021

What to Look for in Climbing Shoes

Climbing either indoors or outdoors is all about your footwork. It is therefore essential to choose a good pair of climbing shoes.

The first thing when looking for a pair of climbing shoes is to identify your type of climbing. Are you more inclined to alpine, trad, bouldering, or sport climbing?

Just as you require different climbing equipment sets for different climbing types, every kind of climbing has various shoe properties. For instance, boulderers prefer tighter shoes, sports climbers too, as they are easy to pull off between climbs. 

Alpine and trad climbers need climbing shoes for trad or alpine climbing that they can comfortably wear the whole day. If this is your first time shopping for climbing shoes, let us guide you on what to look for in climbing shoes.

What to Look for in Rock Climbing Shoes

Types of Climbing Shoes

1) Neutral

These types of climbing shoes can be comfortably worn the whole day. They permit your toes to stretch out inside the shoes. Due to their comfort, neutral rock climbing shoes are a good option for beginner climbers.

However, experienced climbers seeking comfort can also wear them for long multi-pitch climbs. Some beginner climbers prefer wearing socks with rock climbing shoes.

2) Moderate

Moderate shoes are identifiable through their slightly downturned shape, which makes them ideal for technical climbing. They appeal more to people on long multi-pitch climbs, crack climbs, handle slab routes, and overhung sport routes.

These climbing shoes have thinner soles and stickier rubber than neutral shoes, which provides a better feel and grip. 

3) Aggressive

Aggressive shoes have sufficient heel tension and downturned toes to put your feet in a powerful and robust position for overhanging climbs. Most of the aggressive shoes in the market have an asymmetric shape curving towards the big toe.

The shape is to enable the toe to have an accurate placement on small holds. The downturned shape and snug fit of aggressive shoes are ideal for routes at the gym and single-pitch sport climbs.

Look for in Climbing Shoes


Velcro Closures vs. Laces

Velcro closures are fitted on slipper-style climbing shoes as they are easy to put on and remove. This is a feature preferred mainly by people bouldering and sport climbing. They provide a blend of performance and comfort. Slipper-style climbing shoes are softer such that they suit aggressive or steep bouldering and climbing.

On the other hand, lace-up shoes are comfortable as you can wear them snug or loose; toes can be tightened without heels to fit comfortably. However, climbing shoes with laces are not easy to put on and remove when moving between boulders or after finishing a route.

Look for shoes with laces reaching the toe to provide a precise fit. However, the laces can cause pain or get in the way when taking technical climbing moves such as toe hooks. Read our special guide on laces vs velcro climbing shoes.

What to Look for in Climbing Shoes Material

The outer part of climbing shoes is either made of synthetic material or leather. Leather shoes are easy to maintain and are deodorizing. Synthetic material can be found on most high-performance shoes, and vegans and vegetarians mostly prefer them.

1) Lined Leather

When a climbing shoe has an upper leather lining, stretch reduces to half size or less. Sometimes, the lining is only found at the toes to bring down the cost and minimize stretch when it occurs most.

What to Look when buying Climbing Shoes

2) Unlined Leather

Leather shoes without a lining stretch to full size. When fitting unlined leather shoes, ensure that your toes feel the end of the shoe. You should feel your toe knuckles against the leather. Know that unlined leather shoes bleed the color of your shoes onto your feet.

3) Synthetic Materials

Synthetic shoes soften up after using them for a while and don’t stretch much. However, they have little allowance; hence the fit will probably remain the same. Perforated synthetic shoe uppers are better than those made from a solid fabric. Some materials are breathable and allow sweat to escape.

Guidelines on Fitting Climbing Shoes

  • It will help if you fit the shoes at the end of the day as your feet are larger at that time.
  • Climbing shoes should be snug around your foot, without dead space or gaps that will minimize sensitivity.
  • Do not go for shoes that are too short. Such shoes won’t get longer with continued use even though the upper part stretches.
  • Be keen on the back of the heel. Try standing on your toes to ensure that the shoe is not painful on your Achilles tendon.
  • Take time by trying on different shoes until you find climbing shoes that fits best.

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About the author 


Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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