What Shoes to Wear for Rock Climbing | Beginner’s Guide

If you’re looking for a fun and exciting outdoor activity to get involved with, you could do far worse than take up rock climbing.

Rock climbing is not an easy sport, and anybody that tells you otherwise is sadly very mistaken. It is a sport that requires physical and mental strength, endurance, courage, discipline, and skill.

It also happens to be a sport that requires the right kit and equipment.

Rock climbing without the right kit is not only much tougher, it is also extremely dangerous, which is why we want to talk to you today about climbing shoes.

There are plenty of rock climbing shoes out there to purchase, but not all are as effective and safe.

In order to help you choose the right rock climbing shoes for when the time come, here is a handy guide on choosing the right rock climbing shoes.

How do I Choose a Climbing Shoe for Beginners?

If you’re new to rock climbing, understanding how to choose the right climbing shoe is vital. You don’t want to choose whatever pops up first in front of you or simply choose by the price.

In order to choose the best climbing shoe, it’s important to know that there are neutral, moderate, and aggressive types of climb shoes. You will also need to get familiar with closures like lace-up closure, slip-on, and straps. Then there are 3 types of materials and outsoles you need to consider. Let’s dive in and make you a pro rock climbing shoe shopper.

Choose the Right Shoe Type

You must understand that different climbing shoes come in different types, depending on what type of climbing you intend to do. These consist of:

Neutral – Neutral climbing shoes are the best for beginners because they offer a comfortable relaxed fit, with a medium-stiff midsole so you can wear them all day comfortably.

They’re best used on surfaces that are less challenging.

Moderate – Moderate climbing shoes feature a downturned shape, which is officially known as a camber. This type of climbing shoes is ideal for technical climbs.

They are ideal for intermediates as they can handle crack climbs, slab routes, multi-pitch climbs, and even moderately overhung sporting routes.

Aggressive – Finally, we have what are known as ‘aggressive’ shoes. These feature a very prominent downturn design in the toes, along with great amounts of heel tension.

This design looks unusual, but it will allow your feet to remain strong and stable for challenging climbs, including extreme overhangs. Because the fit isn’t the most comfortable, climbers will usually only wear these for short climbs.

Choose the Right Closure 

Next up, when choosing climbing shoes, it’s important to know which features to look out for.

Take the footwear closure as an example. You need to decide on which shoes to pick, making sure to consider how the shoes actually fit onto your feet.

Lace up – If you look for lace up shoes, these are ideal if you plan on doing a diverse selection of routes. Here, you can wear them on walk-off routes and simply loosen the laces if your feet get hot or start to swell. 

On the flip side, if you are doing a tougher climb or pitch, you can improve the shoe’s performance by tightening the laces by cranking down at the instep and toe.

Slip on – If you’re looking for a shoe that you can simply, well, slip onto your feet, slip ons are ideal. These shoes have durable elastic closure systems that allow the wearer to comfortably slip them on and off, with minimal fuss.

These are best worn for training, or very simple routes, as they do not feature a stiff midsole or sole.

They also have a very ergonomic low profile design, thanks to the lack of laces or a strap, so they will slot into cracks and crevices much easier as well.

Straps – Finally, the last rock climbing shoe foot closure design that we’re going to look at today is the humble strap.

Also known as ‘hook and loop’, these shoes are ideal for getting on and off much quicker and easier than lace up shoes.

Because of this, they’re ideal for gym climbing sessions and bouldering sessions when you need to get the shoes on and off easily between climbs.

Choose the Right Material

Choosing the right material for your climbing shoes is also important. You see, some shoes are made from synthetic materials, whereas others are made from leather. Here’s a look at some of the different material options to choose between.

Unlined leather – Unlined leather climbing shoes are ideal for comfort, as they can stretch up to as much one full size larger.

It is best to size them so that you can feel your toes barely touching the end of the shoe so that you can feel the knuckles of your toes gently pressing against the leather.

Unlined leather shoes should fit snugly, but should not be painfully restrictive.

Lined leather – In shoes with a lined upper, you’ll find that the stretch is typically reduced to a half size or less.

You can normally tell when a lined leather shoe is of a poorer quality, as, rather than lining the entire shoe, manufacturers will instead line just the toes.

This is to help keep production costs low, due to the fact that stretch in the toes is where it occurs the most frequently. 

Synthetic – Lastly, we have climbing shoes made from synthetic materials.

Usually, these shoes will soften up slightly after a bit of use, and they don’t offer much in terms of stretching either.

There is also little give, so basically don’t expect the fit to change dramatically after frequent use. Sometimes you’ll find that synthetic materials are designed to help the feet breathe and to wick sweat away, so that is certainly something to consider.

Choose the Right Outsole

Just to make things confusing for beginners, the outsole of rock climbing shoes is often also known simply as the sole.

Basically, it is the rubber part of your rock climbing shoe that comes into contact with the rock or other climbing surface you happen to be scaling. 

The thickness, type, and the quality of the rubber itself can all affect the performance of the shoe, so it’s important to know the basics.

Rubber – Not all rubber is created equally, and when it comes to the outsoles of climbing shoes, the type of rubber used will affect the performance greatly. 

If you want better support for your feet, and superior edging, you’ll find that firmer rubbers are ideal.

If you want better grip, say for smearing on slabs, stickier rubber outsoles are better. The downside to stickier rubber is that they are far less durable, so they will not withstand harsh conditions or extreme use.

Thinner soles – The thickness of the soles is also very important when it comes to choosing your ideal climbing shoe.

Shoes with that are classed as ‘thinner soles’ usually have soles, which are just 3 – 4mm thick.

Usually, these are the best for smearing on slab routes and are recommended for climbers with a decent amount of experience under their belts.

Thicker soles – On the other side, we have climbing shoes with thicker soles. 

Usually, these have soles ranging in thicknesses of between 4mm and 5.5mm.

The thicker soles offer superior support for edging, plus they are also durable, and hard-wearing so are built to last.

Thicker soles are better for beginner climbers as they last longer, they’re more supportive and more comfortable as well. 

Can you Use Running Shoes for Rock Climbing?

People often wonder whether running shoes can be used for rock climbing, and it is simply not recommended. Technically you could, but you would be putting yourself in danger, and you wouldn’t get the most from your climb.

Running shoes are not recommended to be used for rock climbing because it is built with the sole purpose of running, and climbing shoes are specialized for climbing.

There is a reason why you’re reading this for a specialized shoe for rock climbing. You’re doing the smart thing by spending time researching so you can enjoy your climb and come home safely without any incident.

How much should I Spend on Climbing Shoes?

How long is a piece of string? In reality, there is no definitive answer to this question because it depends entirely on your budget and your own personal circumstances.

Of course, if money was no concern, you could quite happily spend as much as $300 or more on climbing shoes, as generally the more expensive the shoes, the better quality they will be (though this isn’t guaranteed).

If you are on a budget, though, try to save a little more money and avoid the real low-end, bargain basement-type climbing shoes because if they are very cheap, they’re very cheap for a reason.

Tip: A good mid-range price figure to have in mind is around $70 – $100.

Are expensive climbing shoes worth it?

Generally, when you consider some of the fantastic manufacturers out there who are well established within the climbing community, expensive climbing shoes are worth investing in.

However, please do not think that just because a pair of climbing shoes are considerably more expensive than the majority of other climbing shoes you’ve come across, that they are guaranteed to be superior because they aren’t.

Typically, expensive climbing shoes cost more than usual because they utilize high-quality materials, and have been manufactured to a high-quality spec.

For those reasons, it is usually worth spending more if your budget would allow it.

A Word from Love At First Fit

So, now that you understand more about the different types of climbing shoes out there to choose from, it’s now time for you to use the info above to head out and pick up your next pair of climbing shoes.

Remember, not all climbing shoes are made equally, so be sure to try them on, consider your personal preferences and requirements, read reviews, ask for recommendations, and follow your gut instinct.

If you do all of that, you’ll be a pro on the rocks before you know it. Happy climbing and stay safe out there.