Rock Climbing Shoes for Beginners

climbing shoeThe world of rock climbing shoes can be pretty intimidating if you’re just starting out. All the talk about the flexibility of midsoles and toe-crimping can be confusing if you’re not an experienced climber–really a catch-22 for those new to rock climbing.

When you’re choosing your first pair of rock climbing shoes, there are some basic things you’ll want to know about your feet and your climbing goals. Answering the following questions will give you an idea of what kind of beginner’s shoe you’ll be looking for when you head to the store. Of course, if after these questions you’re still confused, we’re here to help.

Climbing Goals and Shoes

Most people start rock climbing inside of a gym as their first ventures into rock climbing. Others start with knowledgable friends out in the wilds. Either way, you’ll want to know where you’ll be climbing and what type of climbing you’ll be doing. Starting off with all-around climbing shoes that are non-specialized is the way to go at the start so you can figure out what type of climbing you want to work on. There are shoes built specifically for edging, smearing, and toeing-in but when you’re first learning these different techniques, you’ll want a shoe that can feasibly do them all. And if you don’t know what those things mean yet, don’t fret!

Ask yourself where you’ll be climbing most often, in the gym on outside? What types of routes will you be climbing the most often? General basic routes with a variety of features are usually a good starting point for beginners. Also consider what you’ll be doing next in terms of climbing goals. Will you want to work on certain techniques? Or want to build up toe strength or arm strength?

Rock Climbing Shoes and Your Feet

The other thing you’ll need to take a close inspection of is your feet themselves. First, look at your toes. Which one is the longest, your big toe or your second toe? If your second toe is bigger, you have what’s called Morton’s toe and will want a more symmetrical shoe where the longest point is closer towards the middle of your foot. If your big toe is king, you’ll want an asymmetrical shoe where the inside edge is the longest point.

Also take a look at your feet and how they’re shaped overall. Are they voluminous and thick or thin and slender? This will help narrow down which shoes to try on because rock climbing shoes are made for different feet thicknesses. For beginner shoes you’ll want to stick with laces instead of tighter fitting rip-and-stick closures or slipper styles. Laces allow you to change the fit to your specific foot or lace them up more tightly for more power for more difficult climbs as you get better and more used to snug fits. On top of that, most lace-up style shoes are made with all-day comfort in mind and are great for hours at gyms.

Rock Climbing Shoe Fit

When you’re trying on rock climbing shoes, you’ll want to do it in person at a store the first few rounds of buying. Too often beginners buy shoes online and end up with shoes that don’t fit well that cause them pain or are too big and slip constantly. Rock climbing shoes shouldn’t be painful or leave blisters or calluses on your feet, especially when you’re a beginner. You also shouldn’t have much dead space in your shoes between your foot and the shoe itself.

To try on a pair of shoes, take off your socks and try everything on barefoot. Unless you’re doing cold weather climbing you’ll always want to go sock-less. After unlacing the shoes fully and putting them on, first check for any really tight spots. Rock climbing shoes should fit snuggly but not be unbearably tight.

Lace them up snuggly and check your toes inside of the shoe. Your big toe should just touch the front of the shoe and your toe knuckles should touch the top. You shouldn’t be able to see them through the shoe–if you can it’s too tight. After you’ve got them comfortably laced up snuggly (which if you can’t, they’re not the pair for you), try moving your foot around, being it as you would when you’re climbing. Check to make sure the back doesn’t cut into your heel when you bend your toe. Stand up and go up on your toes a few times, bend your toes towards your heel, and run your hands firmly over spots where you use toe-holds often.

If they feel comfortable and snug without any pain or hotspots, you’ve found your first pair of rock climbing shoes. Other things you’ll want to consider is what materials the shoe is made from–leathers stretch easily but aren’t an option for vegans and can stain your feet while synthetics don’t stretch much and often have wicking features.

Ask for Help

You might think you know how to try on shoes after all these years of buying them but rock climbing shoes are different than regular shoes. Asking questions and getting help is important to finding the right pair of shoes for you, even well after you’ve bought your first pair. Part of shopping at a store is getting information and assistance when buying a product so use the resource! We’re happy to help all of our customers find the perfect shoes for them, beginner, intermediate, or professional.

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