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Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners

How Tight Should My First Pair Of Climbing Shoes Be?

There is a common misconception among new climbers about how tight a climbing shoe needs to fit. We are often asked the question “are these tight enough?” The question new climbers need to ask is “are these shoes comfortable enough?”

Unfortunately, the comfort question is kind of difficult to quantify if you have never climbed before and aren’t used to the “performance fit” of a climbing shoe. Let me explain the two different shapes of climbing shoes and find you the best fit along the way.

It is important to know a couple of quick things to start. One, not all shoes are measured the same, while you might be a size 9 in La Sportiva, you might be a size 10.5 in some Scarpas. Two, most people don’t climb with socks on and you should try climbing shoes on without socks. Three, if a climbing shoe is made from leather as most are, it will stretch about a half size. Try on several until you find the size that form-fits and then downsize by a half size. 

Types of Climbing Shoes

Most people new to the sport are not going to be inherently amazing at climbing and for that reason, you should start in what we call a flat-lasted shoe or simply a flat shoe. Luckily most of the time a flat shoe is cheaper and more comfortable than its alternative. Every climbing brand makes both flat-lasted shoes and downturned shoes. A downturned shoe when put flat on the ground has an arch to it. The more pronounced the arch, the more downturned or aggressive the shoe is. The reason a downturned shoe has a curved shape is to focus the pressure and weight of the foot to a single point. This style typically fits much tighter than a flat shoe. Generally, climbers in a downturned shoe will take their shoes off between every climb, a reason that new climbers think all climbing shoes are supposed to be painfully tight.

Butora Mantra (Wide) is an example of a flat shoe

While the Butora Acro is an aggressive shoe

How Much Performance do I Need?

While it’s true that the tighter a shoe is, the more performance oriented it is. It’s also true that if you want to enjoy the day, you should start with a shoe that fits comfortably. The analogy is often drawn to a ski boot, the tighter and stiffer a ski boot is the more power transfer you get from the boot, but would you want to be in an Olympic fit boot for your first boot?

Next, the way a climbing shoe is made, like most shoes, is around a plastic or wooden last that is carved into the shape of a foot. However, we do not all have the same foot shape and different brands and models will fit your foot better than others. It is important to try a few shoe brands on before pick your first shoe.

Foot Shape

Lastly, take into consideration your particular foot shape. Don’t be afraid to ask the benefits and downfalls of any particular model. For example, if your feet sweat a lot you should probably steer clear of synthetic shoes because they can get stinky and getting the smell out of an old climbing shoe is really hard. If you have a skinny or wide foot ask a salesperson about wider or more narrow shoes. The brand Butora makes this user-friendly, as they make all of their shoe models in a narrow and a wide version.

Remember these are just some suggestions to keep in mind while picking your first climbing shoe. If you know you want maximum performance to outshine your friends in the climbing gym, get something more aggressive. If you want to climb big mountains in the Pacific Northwest get a shoe that you can wear socks under and a high top for more ankle protection and support. 

What was your first climbing shoe?

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