Choosing Your Climbing Shoes
By: Gym Staff/Route Setter Jake M.
Climbing shoes are one of the most important pieces of gear to the climber. Of all of the parts of your rack, the shoes make the biggest difference in your actual climbing performance. Fit, stiffness, edge, downturn, and closure system all play a part in determining how your new shoes will feel and perform. Knowing which shoes to get for your specific style of climbing and training can make a huge difference in your confidence on the wall.
Beginner Climbing Shoes
The Kendall and AO staff usually point beginner climbers to shoes that are not too aggressive and can take a lot of beating during your first few months of rock climbing. They should be tight enough to stand on the edge of your toe on a foot chip, but not so tight that you have to take them off between climbs. There are many options at this level of shoes. Many have velcro closures for ease of use, or laces for a more dialed in fit. All beginner level shoes should be pretty neutral in terms of downturn and able to perform in all around styles. At this level, we highly recommend these models:
Black Diamond Momentum/Momentum Lace- Soft knit and breathable shoe. Dialed in fit with no slide. Fit a wide variety of foot shapes and hold their neutral shape over time.
La Sportiva Tarantula
La Sportiva Tarantula/Tarantulace- Comfortable Shoe that fits almost every foot. Durable and affordable. A very popular shoe for beginners. Will make you wonder why everyone says climbing shoes are uncomfortable.
Scarpa Origin- Sticky and durable rubber coupled with cushioned fit, and Scarpa’s PAF heel system. Another great intro shoe that will stand up to some serious abuse.
Intermediate Climbing Shoes
So you have worn a hole through the toes of your first pair of bouldering mocs and want to see what all the fuss is about with some of these slightly higher end shoes. It is probably time to move into some intermediate level shoes. These shoes really dial in fit and performance based on your foot anatomy and preferred style of climbing. Depending on how tight you get them, you should still be able to belay in these shoes, but not walk between crags by any means. Intermediate shoes can have some slight downturn and should feel like a really tight conformed sock. We recommend the following intermediate shoes:
Scarpa Helix- Neutral and laced. These have an adjustable fit and are padded for comfort. Great for long training sessions and power output through the whole shoe.
La Sportiva Finale- Popular shoes you can wear all day and shine in various styles of climbing. Unlined and slightly downturned, these are geared more toward performance than comfort.
Advanced Climbing Shoes
These shoes aren’t reserved for high level climbers only, but higher level climbers will be able to make the best use of this class of shoes. Advanced shoes will almost always have a downturned construction, as well as a more focused asymmetrical geometry that puts all the pressure through the big toe. These shoes are meant to fit tight, and it is not uncommon to take them off in between climbs. They come at a higher price point, but can be the difference maker in your project or as you get into more overhung sport climbing and bouldering. Here are our favorite advanced shoes:
Black Diamond Focus
Black Diamond Focus - Stiff and great at edging. Asymmetrical design and a slight downturn, these are focused more on technical face climbs and overhanging features.
Scarpa Arpia - Aggressive yet sensitive. Very soft design that somehow still holds a downturn and lets you put maximum power through the end of your shoe. Great aggressive shoe that doesn't have to kill your toes.
La Sportiva Skama- A great all around performance shoe. Has the edging power and stiffness for overhanging terrain, but also the symmetry still allows for decent crack climbing. Highlights Sportiva’s high end technology, such as the S-Heel, P3 Platform, and Vibram XS-Grip2 rubber.
The world of climbing shoes is daunting to say the least, especially in terms of fit. I never buy a pair of shoes without trying them on first. All of these models are available at Appalachian Outfitters. Come in and ask our staff to help fit you for your next pair of climbing shoes!