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Indoor Climbing Shoes | Buying Guide

by Morgan Cvetkovic-Jones

What are Indoor Climbing Shoes? 

A climbing shoe is just a climbing shoe, right? Well, in recent years, with the growth of indoor climbing walls and competitions, climbing shoe manufacturers have started producing shoes specifically aimed at the indoor market. These shoes have been designed to target the typical, modern style of indoor climbing where volumes, smears and hooking are all par for the course. But, what’s unique about an indoor shoe and what is it good for? Here’s all you need to know. 

What’s the difference?

The main differences between an indoor specific shoe and every other shoe on the market are the factors of construction which determine how the climbing shoe feels. Generally speaking, the new indoor style shoes will be made to feel softer and more sensitive, making them more effective on indoor style problems. Indoor shoes are normally designed for the advanced indoor enthusiast or competition climber but, some brands make indoor shoes for beginners where durability and longevity are the priority.  

How are they different?

The main design elements that characterise advanced indoor shoes, like the La Sportiva Theory and Evolv Zenist, are the:

Midsole –High end indoor shoes are all characterised by their unrivalled sensitivity. This comes from their midsole which, in the case of most performance orientated indoor shoes, is extremely thin or non-existent. This lack of a traditional, full length rubber midsole makes the shoe supple and isolates the toe and heel regions so that the sensation through each of these areas is tactile and definitive – perfect for overhanging terrain. A soft midsole is perfect for smearing on volumes, allowing a shoe to sit flat on these surfaces, maximising the area of contact between your shoe and the hold.

Hooking –Toe and heel hooking is a significant part of indoor climbing. Indoor shoes prioritise these areas by caking them in rubber and making them incredibly soft and flexible for maximum sensitivity.

Rubber –In keeping with ultimate sensitivity, indoor shoes are usually made with the softest and stickiest rubber compounds. Shoe brands that opt for Vibram rubber usually choose the Vibram XS Grip 2 compound whilst those who use their own usually pick their softest rubber composite.

The key components that define beginner indoor shoes, like the La Sportiva Zenit and the Boreal Beta, are the:

Midsole –Unlike advanced indoor shoes, beginner indoor shoes are normally made with a stiffer, full length rubber midsole. This should be durable and supportive, especially on smaller footholds.

Upper –The upper of a climbing shoe plays a key role in its comfort. Models like the Scarpa Reflex v opt for a stretch knit fabric which is common amongst beginner indoor shoes for being comfortable, breathable and washable.

Rubber –A crucial element of any beginner indoor shoe is its durability. So, shoe companies make their indoor shoes with the most durable compound they can find - this is especially important for beginners who are refining their footwork.

Will an indoor shoe work outside?

Yes. Whilst the characteristics of your indoor shoe might alter the way your outdoor climbing feels, they will work just fine on real rock. Advanced indoor shoes will be great on coarse rock types like gritstone where smearing is one of the main footwork requirements but might struggle on rock types like limestone or rhyolite which have much smaller edges. Beginner indoor shoes will be great outside, especially if you’re climbing outside for the first time.

Who needs an indoor climbing shoe?

Indoor shoes are a great option for those who:

  • Climb inside frequently.
  • Prefer a softer shoe.
  • Want some versatility in their climbing shoe kit bag.
  • Want a separate pair of shoes for indoor and outdoor climbing.
  • Climb in competitions.
  • Are just getting started climbing at an indoor wall.

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