The buzz you get from sending a problem on a wall — complicated or relatively simple, indoors or out — is what’s helping to make rock climbing one of the hottest trends in fitness. Along with the sense of satisfaction derived from pulling off a route you hadn’t been able to complete before, your whole body gets a killer workout that pumps up not only your forearms, but targets your core, upper body, legs, and hands.
A perfect-fitting set of rock shoes, however, is the one of the first pieces of gear beginners need to buy before getting up on the wall. Especially if you’re starting out in a climbing gym, which will have all of the other gear ready to go.
How to Shop for Rock Climbing Shoes
To find the best rock climbing shoes for you — whether you’re a man or woman — you’ll need to take a few factors into consideration. Mainly: your skill level and where you’ll be climbing.
Newbs should go for an all-around shoe at first, with a neutral, or almost flat sole that’s similar to a regular shoe, especially if you’re starting out in the gym. “A more relaxed shoe is more forgiving of how you use it. For a beginner, that’s a good thing,” says Zahan Billimoria, a mountain guide certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association who is based in Jackson Hole, WY, and owns and operates Samsara Mountain Experience. And if you think you’ll be climbing only occasionally, neutral beginner shoes are a good choice.
Intermediate and advanced climbers
If you’ve logged some experience as a climber you’ll want to step up to a more radical shoe that offers a more down-turned shape, or camber, for better grip on slabs and cracks. Such shoes are typed moderate or aggressive, the latter boasting an even more pronounced camber for more challenging faces.
“More aggressive shoes are going to focus more energy into the big toe,” says Billimoria. “They’re going to need to be tight, and they’ll curl your foot down to create more force.
Fairly athletic people who climb in the gym regularly will likely progress quickly, and will probably want something with more camber fairly soon after starting, he says. “In a gym setting where even intermediate routes can be steep — because of the good holds — more aggressive shoes will be beneficial.”
How to ensure the right fit
When heading to the store for a new pair of climbing shoes, there are some tips you should consider to ensure the best fit. Go in the late afternoon, after your feet have swelled up a bit throughout the day. The fit should be tight but not painfully cramped, else you won’t want to climb in them for very long. You want to go for a comfortable snugness.
After you buy them, if your shoes have more traditional laces (newer models feature more convenient Velcro closures), remove them and and wear the laceless shoes around the house to help break them in. Re-lace them after they’ve formed to your feet some and you’ll get a better, almost bespoke fit.
Best All-Around Rock Climbing Shoes
Following are some great choices, no matter your skill level, from some of the top rock climbing shoe brands.
This neutral shoe in a traditional lace offers great all-day comfort with adjustable fit. The synthetic knit upper allows for lots of breathability and cozy snugness.
These versatile shoes have an unlined leather upper that forms to the shape of your foot over repeated wearing. Its slight camber and stiffer midsole will help with more technical routes and moves.
These classic all-around climbers are back with eco-friendly, 95 percent recycled materials. The tried-and-true lacing system and leather upper allow for a precise, customized fit over time.
This shoe features a split tongue and Velcro closure for ease in taking them on or off. The synthetic, neoprene-like upper and antimicrobial liner help keep them fresh after a long day climbing.
This shoe combines optimal comfort with a great price. It’s considered a multi-purpose shoe so fast-learning beginners can hit multi-pitch climbs after getting confident in the gym.
Best Performance Rock Climbing Shoes
Whether bouldering in a gym or heading out for multi-pitch climbs on big slabs, there’s something here for you.
Perfect for intermediate climbers who want to move from a more neutral shoe to something more performance oriented. It has a slight camber and a nice Z strap closure for easy fine-tuning on the fly.
Steep climbs will send easily with these aggressive shoes. The snug fit and asymmetrical toe box help in pulling off sketchy, technical moves.
An aggressive camber and minimal midsole means enhanced sensitivity on hard, steep climbs. The Velcro strap and engineered knit upper make for a secure, comfortable fit.
Built on an asymmetrical form, this rock shoe is great for enhanced control on tiny ledges and small smears. The three-strap Velcro closure is a cinch to use and the side-pressure relief feature makes it super comfy.
This high-performance shoe has an aggressive camber and special No-Edge tech that lets your foot stick closer to the rock. A fast-lacing system and stretchy synthetic upper make it easy to take on or off.