I can still remember my first time in the climbing hall. I didn’t have my own climbing shoes back then and had to borrow some. I was asked my shoe size and then answered with: “Ok, then these will fit you two sizes smaller and don’t worry – they must be so tight.”. As a result, my first climbing experience was one of foot pain. But how should climbing shoes really fit? Climbing shoes should wrap the foot perfectly. There should be no air holes or pressure points. They won’t be as comfortable as sneakers, but they shouldn’t hurt either. The toes should not be squeezed and you should still be able to move your front foot well.
You will only find such a shoe, which feels as if it has been deep-drawn on your foot, if you try numerous models and sizes (in most specialty stores there are small climbing routes for testing). If you order on the internet, you should buy 3 different sizes directly and then send back the two that don’t fit so well.
Before I go into what size and what fit a climbing shoe should have and how you can widen too tight shoes, a fundamental thing in advance – a climbing shoe must not hurt!
The myth of necessary pain
To put it in a nutshell: That shoes for climbing and bouldering must constrict the foot into a painful bundle is probably one of the most widespread misconceptions on the subject, even today. This may be because the recommendation follows a comprehensible idea: Unfortunately, the fact is that almost every climber buys the first shoe in the wrong size, namely too big. After a few weeks at the latest, you then notice that the shoe bends on the kicks like a clown’s slipper. Its actual purpose, to support the foot when standing on smaller structures, he can not fulfill so. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that some shoes give way when they are worn in and can easily widen by half a size. To prevent this, many climbers advise buying a shoe that is painfully tight when trying it on. Once it’s worn in, it fits perfectly – at least that’s the logic behind this recommendation.
And indeed: a few decades ago, this was a useful tip in many cases. At that time, climbing shoes were still mainly made of leather and thus of a material that yields strongly. If you wear a leather shoe for some time, it adapts more and more to your foot. This is true for simple climbing shoes as well as for street shoes. However, the cut and materials used have changed more and more in recent years, so that this simple truth can no longer be applied to every model.
Guidelines for climbing shoe sizes
Depending on the area for which you want to use your shoes and how advanced you are, you select your shoe size in advance. Since the sizes can sometimes differ greatly between the individual manufacturers, you can only give rough guidelines in advance.
Beginners should subtract half to a whole shoe size from their normal street shoe size – regardless of the climbing discipline. Only for advanced and professional climbers does the ideal fit of a climbing shoe differ between the individual disciplines.Generally speaking, you need somewhat tighter shoes for bouldering than for rope climbing. Advanced or professional climbers subtract about two sizes from their normal street shoe size for bouldering and about one and a half sizes for mountain climbing.
Since these values, as mentioned, can vary greatly between brands, you should find out before buying how big the shoes will be in reality.
A special feature take climbing shoes made of leather. Leather expands after a while. Therefore, you should buy leather shoes a little tighter – about half a size to a whole size.
As a beginner, you should definitely opt for a comfortable-fitting climbing shoe that is not too small. Only when you really go climbing often and could gain experience, two pairs are worthwhile – one for bouldering in the hall and one for climbing with rope.
New shoes, new rules
The most obvious difference between the often ankle-high old-timers and modern models is certainly the increased use of rubber. Performance models in particular not only have a rubber sole and edge, but also a heel completely encased in rubber and, in some cases, a toe box that has been covered all the way over the instep with this very material. The point is to thus improve the shoe’s heel and toe-hook properties. But while the rubber coating promises better friction properties, it also hardly gives in the long run. Consequently, such shoes remain more true to their original shape than would be the case with a pure leather shoe.
Moreover, leather and rubber are not the only materials used in shoe manufacturing today. Synthetic fabrics are a popular alternative, and in rare cases cotton fabric is used. Both materials are hardly impressed when the foot tries to get more air in the shoe. Consequently, the models expand only slightly when worn in. And thus the chances are high that any pain endured when trying them on will remain a problem in the long run.
Not too tight, but the wrong shape
Not only does this drag down comfort, it can also negatively affect your own performance on the wall. If every time you put your foot down it hurts, you will be inclined to distribute as little load as possible from your hands to your feet. Both together then reduce the fun you can develop while climbing. Buying a painfully tight fitting shoe is therefore not very effective.
Of course, it is still true that a climbing shoe must fit tightly for you to really benefit fully from the purchase. However, pain is not a good indicator of whether a shoe is tight enough, as even shoes that are too wide can hurt. This is where the cut of the particular model comes into play. When it comes to climbing shoes, especially those designed for heavy climbing, it doesn’t necessarily have to be ergonomic. Manufacturers try to improve performance with certain tricks. However, this is often at the expense of wearing comfort. In addition, there is the diversity of foot shapes. Toes of different lengths, flat or high instep, a strong or weakly pronounced heel – all this influences how well the foot and shoe harmonize with each other. If the shape of the foot and the cut are far apart, this inevitably leads to problems. Even if the shoe is bought in the right size. And vice versa: If both fit well together, even a narrow shoe can be worn without pain, at least for some time.
The right fit on the toes
Roughly, three toe formations can be distinguished:
- Egyptian: The big toe is the longest. All toes after it are each longer than the next.
- Greek: The second toe is the longest of all.
- Roman: The big toe and the two toes next to it are the same length.
If you are looking for climbing shoes on Amazon, it makes sense to check the product details, reviews or directly on the manufacturer’s website to find out whether the shoe fits your own foot shape or not.
The right fit at the heel
For beginners, the fit at the heel is quite indifferent. Only the shoe should not press on the Achilles heel. However, if you want to get special climbing shoes for bouldering, you should make sure that the heel fits tightly. A tight-fitting climbing shoe in the heel area is necessary for a certain, somewhat advanced technique in bouldering – the “hooking”. When hooking, you clamp the heel of your foot to the wall.
Put on, test, swap
The latter is exactly what you actually want: a shoe that tightly encloses the foot, thereby providing a good step feel, at hooks not only on the plastic or rock, but also sticks to the foot and thus provides optimal support. But without hurting. Ideally, even when worn in, the problems remain within limits and subside at the latest when the shoe has warmed up and thus become more elastic. If the pain remains and gets worse, this is not a sign that the shoe is tight enough. It rather shows that the model does not fit. Therefore, when choosing a climbing shoe, you should always take your time, test different models and sizes and, if possible, climb a few moves in them. In the end, the choice should then fall on the shoe that could be worn tightest at the same time and still felt the most comfortable.