There are times when having the right shoes is way more important than having new shoes, like when you work in a kitchen, are a race horse, or want to go out and climb on rocks without breaking the bank. Here is a rundown of different types of rock climbing shoes, as well as how to choose the right rock climbing shoes for you.
The characteristics that distinguish rock climbing shoes are the way they fasten and the amount of camber they have built-in. Fasteners come in three main types: lace-up, strap, and slip-on.
Lace-up rock climbing shoes are the oldest and most versatile style, and are favored by trad climbers. Although rock climbing shoes with laces take longer to put on than other types, they are the most adjustable, offering a by-the-grommet fit to your foot, which can make a huge difference if you’re on a long climb. This also helps with their longevity, allowing you to compensate for stretching or other changes over the shoe’s lifetime.
Loop-and-fastener shoes are easier to put on and take off than lace-ups, and are great for sport and indoor climbing, or any time you’ll be taking your shoes off between climbs. Strap shoes offer a little less of both customizability and durability, as velcro can degrade from use and dirt, and there are fewer fastening points on the shoe for you to adjust. However, being easy to remove makes them a great choice for getting a really snug fit to maximize the benefits to your climbing.
Slip-on shoes rely on the elasticity of their materials and the vacuum suction of their fit to stay on, but some also have a strap for added snugness. Slip-on shoes are perfect for indoor climbing, or for climbs with narrow cracks where any additional shoe bulk is a detriment. A pair of slip-on shoes can offer you fantastic control and sensitivity without the pressure points you may get from laces or straps, but it’s important they fit right.
All rock climbing shoes are going to fit more snugly than sneakers, but the industry is always evolving, and there are many factors at play in the exact fit of shoes.
Shoes with a neutral fit are the most relaxed, with thicker soles and enough space for your toes to lie flat inside.
Moderate climbing shoes have some noticeable camber, or downturn, to allow you to grip overhangs and more directly apply power through your legs onto smaller footholds. They fit less comfortably than neutral shoes, but are not as snug as aggressive fits.
Shoes with an aggressive fit are sharply cambered, and often asymmetric, concentrating your foot’s weight distribution on the bit toe. These shoes maximize control for small holds, challenging overhangs, and tight cracks. However, in addition to being less comfortable to wear, they are usually made of thinner material than more relaxed fit shoes, and will wear out faster.
Now that you know the basic types of fasteners and fits, getting the right rock climbing shoes for you is just a matter of deciding what type of climbing you want to do! When shopping for used rock climbing shoes, be sure to note the size of the shoe and how adjustable it is. Everyone’s feet are different, but you may be able to fit into a pair of climbing shoes a whole size smaller than your casual footwear. You’ll get the best performance out of shoes that fit tightly but not painfully, but if you’re just starting out, a more relaxed fit is a great way to ease into asking more of your feet.