How Should Climbing Shoes Fit: A Beginner’s Guide to Sizing

A good pair of climbing shoes is essential for any mountain climber as it gives the necessary grip and tension while trying to scale steep and rocky elevations. The question is, how should climbing shoes fit?

If you’re a beginner, you might immediately think that the tighter the shoes, the better the fit because the tighter ones will give you more grip. However, the truth is that there are several factors to take into consideration when you’re choosing your shoe size. In this guide, we’ll go deep into shoe size and the various considerations to take note of. We’ll also introduce you to a holistic way of choosing a shoe size by combining all of the factors into one whole guide.

As we mentioned above, there is this beginner misconception that the tighter the shoes, the better since it increases performance. First of all, there is no concrete evidence that claims that tighter shoes will increase your performance. In fact, shoes that are too tight may result in blisters, bunions, and other painful skin conditions that will keep you from climbing again for a while.

That’s why we don’t exclusively just look at the narrowness or snugness of the shoes when picking the right one. We also look at other things like purpose and class level. We’re going to talk about it more in the upcoming sections.

Climbing Discipline

First, let us talk about climbing discipline or the type of climbing that you want to do. There are typically three disciplines to take into account. These are bouldering, sport climbing, and alpine climbing. Each of these disciplines has different shoes required, and that’s why you need to keep this in mind when picking your shoes.

Bouldering refers to climbing on vertical walls with rocks – in other words, rock climbing. For this type of purpose, you will need bouldering shoes that have a strong heel and enough space for the toes to curl up. The reason is simply because you need to have shoes that can concentrate the power in your bigger toes since you’ll be pressing your feet on small footholds.

What you want are shoes that are narrow on the toe areas so that you can utilize the power of your toes. At the same, you want a strong and tensioned heel for these shoes because you want to make sure your feet don’t slip while on these small footholds. With these kinds of shoes, you’ll have enough grip and balance to get you from one foothold to another.

Sport climbing is a little bit similar in terms of the shoe type required. You’ll also need shoes that are light on the front and strong on the heel so that there is tension on the heel area and grip in the toes area. However, we recommend that you get one that’s less snug than bouldering shoes for sport climbing.

You might want to get a pair that has a little bit more wiggle room in the toes area so that you can curl them for a better grip. Remember that when doing sport climbing, the grip is more important since footholds aren’t as round as the ones found in a rock-climbing wall. But in general, you can use the same shoes for sport climbing and bouldering.

Lastly, there is alpine climbing. The difference between alpine climbing compared to the other two types is that alpine climbing requires you to climb for a longer period of time. That said, you need to get shoes that are comfortable. That’s why you need to make sure that you don’t get shoes that are too snug; otherwise, your feet might hurt from the long climb. You need to get the type of shoes that have some wiggle room in both the toe and heel areas so that your feet can sustain the climb.

Climber Skill Level 

While this can be considered the main factor to take note of when looking for the best climbing shoes, there are also a few other secondary factors that you need to consider. One other factor that you must consider is your skill level as a climber. As a general rule, beginners may want to get wider shoes as compared to more experienced climbers. You see, the right climbing shoes will feel different compared to normal shoes.

If you happen to be a beginner, then you have to break into the climbing shoe fit slowly. Start off with large and wide treads first and try them out. As you gain more experience, you’ll find that the smallest toeholds work better for any type of climbing. However, the difference is the alpine shoe fit. In general, you want to go for looser fitting shoes for alpine climbing, so the width shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Brand and Manufacturer

As crazy as it sounds, each shoe manufacturer has its own size chart. This actually makes it even more challenging for climbers to choose their shoes. For instance, a size 35 from one manufacturer may be different from the size 35 of another.

The good news is, the shoe sizes of models from the same manufacturer are pretty much the same. Therefore, when choosing your climbing shoes, we recommend that you only stick to around 2 brands when picking out your shoes so you’ll have no problem with shoe size consistency.

The only challenging part here will be the first pair of climbing shoes that you buy. But once you find a brand that you like, all you have to do is stick to it. You can look for shoes from another brand, but make sure to get recommendations from reviews so that you can get the one that’s most suitable for your own needs.

Putting Everything Together

Now that we’ve given each individual factor, let’s put them together. When going through shoe models, you need to remember that there is a strong relationship between climbing discipline and climber level. We’re going to get a little specific here so that you’ll have no issues when choosing shoes.

In a general sense, bouldering requires the narrowest shoes, sport climbing requires comfortable shoes, and alpine climbing requires the widest shoes. Let’s add now the climber level into the equation. Since sport climbing shoes are the most balanced, we’ll use that as our standard.

If you are a beginner, you need to wear sport climbing shoes that are one size smaller than your normal shoes. If you want to buy alpine climbing shoes, you need to buy shoes that are one-half size smaller than your normal shoes. For bouldering shoes, choose ones that are half a size smaller than your alpine climbing shoes.

If you are an intermediate level climber or perhaps an expert level climber, then your sport climbing shoes should be two sizes smaller than your normal shoes. For alpine climbing shoes, you may want to try a size one and a half size smaller than your regular shoes. For your bouldering shoes, strive to get a size that is one and a half size of your alpine shoes.

Of course, you need to take into consideration the shoe manufacturer. Since your basis will be your normal street shoes to sport climbing shoes, you need to make sure that the manufacturer of your sport climbing shoes has a similarly consistent size chart to your street shoe manufacturer.

When you’re shopping for your climbing shoes, you can show the salesperson your existing shoes and ask him or her whether the size charts are consistent. If they are, then go for a good pair. If they’re not, then you’d best look for another brand of climbing shoes.

Just remember that all three of these factors are somehow related to each other. So when choosing your shoes, you should know how each factor works then you should put them all together.

Conclusion

Picking out your ideal climbing shoes isn’t as straightforward as you may think. There are a couple of factors that you need to consider before you make your choice. For one, you can’t follow the sizing or fitting of your street shoes to pick your climbing shoes. You can use them as a basis, but climbing shoes will always have a different size chart. You just need to find out the sizing that is consistent with your street shoes.

With this handy little guide, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you should look for in a good pair of climbing shoes and be able to answer the question, “how should climbing shoes fit?”. So once again, you need to consider what type of climbing you do, what climbing skill level you’re currently at, and what brand you’re looking at.

Once you have all of those factors considered, then you should have absolutely no problem picking out the most suitable pair of climbing shoes.

We hope you learned a lot from our comprehensive guide and happy climbing!

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