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Climbing Shoes | The Basics

By Morgan Cvetkovic-Jones

How should climbing shoes fit?

Climbing shoes are designed to provide a snug fit and should be relatively tight to ensure your foot has enough stability and sensitivity to stand on climbing holds. However, just how tight these shoes should feel will depend on the level at which you’re climbing. Here is a simple break down of how your climbing shoes should feel relative to your climbing experience:
Beginner – If you’ve just started climbing then your climbing shoes will probably feel tighter than your regular street shoes, this is how they are supposed to feel to help you climb more effectively. They shouldn’t be painful and should be comfortable enough to wear for the duration of your climbing session.
Intermediate – A pair of intermediate shoes should be tighter than your beginner shoes or the hire shoes at your local gym. They will require a break in period to take the shape of your foot, but this should start to ease any discomfort after a few sessions. Your toes should be tight against the end of the shoe with the rest of your foot limited to marginal movement across the rest of the shoe.
Advanced – Advanced, performance climbing shoes should be sized to eliminate any dead space across the entirety of the shoe. Your toes should be curled at the end of the shoe in order to maximise downforce on smaller footholds.

Why are climbing shoes so tight?

We put a lot of force through our toes when we climb and stand on holds, if there’s any dead space at the end of your climbing shoes, it’ll be harder to stand on or feel the climbing holds, especially the smaller footholds.

High or low volume: What foot shape do I have?

Before trying on any climbing shoes, try and find out if you have a high or low volume (LV) foot. Unsure on what high and low volume means? Below is a short explanation of both:

High volume: If your foot has a medium to wide width and/or a high arch, as well as a medium to wide heel, you have a high-volume foot.
Low volume: If you have a narrow, slender foot and a flat arch, with a narrow heel, you have a low-volume foot.

Should there be any gaps in my climbing shoes?

Short answer: No. After deciding on what type of climbing shoe you need, trying them on is imperative. One thing to note when trying them is knowing not to have too much ‘dead space’. Your heel should feel snug and secure and there should be no gap between your toes and the end of the shoe. If you are trying on velcro shoes, make sure there isn’t a gap on the side of your foot either.

Will my climbing shoes stretch?

All climbing shoes will stretch or relax around the shape of your foot after continued use. But, the amount of stretch you’ll get from your climbing shoes will depend on what material they’re made from.

Leather – Leather made climbing shoes will stretch 1-2 full UK sizes over the course of their life. This is because leather, a product derived from animal skin, is biologically designed to stretch with an animal as it grows or changes shape, so is naturally supple and stretches easily. Leather shoes are often better for beginner or intermediate climbers who will be looking for comfort rather than high end performance.

Synthetic – Shoes made with synthetic materials will often only stretch about 0.5 UK sizes. This makes them ideal for climbers who want their shoes to maintain their original, often tight, fit. Synthetic shoes will take longer to break in with the man-made compounds stretching and relaxing slower than animal-based materials.

Should I downsize my climbing shoes?

Climbers will downsize their shoes to achieve an optimal performance fit. Downsizing your shoes will depend on what type of fit you want or how tight you’d like your shoes to feel. Climbing shoe brands will differ in how they size their shoes, so a standard downsizing will yield entirely different results depending on which climbing brand you choose. For conclusive sizing information about every climbing shoe on the market, check out our Rock Climbing Shoe Sizing Guide.

Should I climb with my socks on?

Wearing socks in climbing shoes is not advised. An extra layer of material between your feet and the footholds will reduce sensitivity, making it harder to feel your feet on the holds. Socks can also move around inside your climbing shoe, reducing your stability on the wall or rock. The only time we’d recommend socks is when you’re hiring shoes at your local gym – they certainly won’t help performance but if socks make you feel more comfortable climbing for the first time then wear them.

Laces or Velcro?

This choice is down to personal preference but there are a few factors that you might want to consider before deciding between the two: 

Velcro – A Velcro closure system is perfect for taking your shoes on and off easily. This is ideal if you’re wearing a tight pair of performance shoes that need to be taken off after every few climbs. Similarly, with your first pair of shoes, if you’re a beginner then the precisely tight fit of a laced pair of shoes won’t matter as much as the comfort and ease of use of Velcro.

Laces – Climbing shoes with laces are often designed with the all-day climber in mind, particularly trad or sport climbers. This is down to the adjustable nature of the lace closure system with full length laces offering an adaptable fit down the length of the shoe. This can be particularly useful if you’re an intermediate or all round climber who wants a pair of shoes that can be tight for a harder bouldering session or more relaxed for a multi-pitch trad climb.

Are my climbing shoes vegan friendly?

Synthetically made climbing shoes are often vegan friendly, forgoing the animal- based leather materials that used to be the norm. To clarify a shoe’s vegan status, head over to its product description on the Rock+Run page for more information.

Which climbing shoes should I buy?

For more information about our range of climbing shoes: