How to buy your first rock climbing shoes
If you’ve never owned a pair of climbing shoes, you’re probably a bit lost as to what to look for. You go to the store (REI, wherever) and are faced with a wall of shoes.
You’re probably thinking:
- Laces or no laces?
- Why are some downturned and others are not?
- How snug should they fit at first?
- Will they stretch?
Even as a seasoned climber with many pairs of climbing shoes under my belt, buying a new pair is both an exciting and a challenging day.
Because your needs change, your feet change, and climbing shoes can be expensive. Yes, I’ve paid over $150 for a pair of climbing shoes before. That’s a lot of dollars.
So how do you buy new rock climbing shoes if you’ve never done it before?
Fit and comfort
The most important thing for your first pair of rock climbing shoes is fit and comfort. Rock climbing shoes are not made to be comfortable, but if you get the wrong shoes your climbing experience will be less than awesome from the beginning.
Remember, rock climbing shoes are meant to let you step on extremely small footholds and stay there. So, you need to have a snug fit that allows you to feel the rock, without destroying your toenails (trust me, I’ve done this).
You’re supposed to wear rock climbing shoes without socks, so be sure that you try them on with bare feet. I tend to go a full size smaller in rock climbing shoes than I go in regular shoes. I wear a size 10.5 US men’s, and my rock climbing shoes are usually a 9.5.
It’s important to find the shoes that work for your foot type as well.
For example, my first pair of shoes were Evolv’s (Evolv Defy’s) and they absolutely killed my feet plus smelled awful.
Next I went to the Scarpa Instinct S slip on climbing shoes, which were way more comfortable but truly meant for bouldering. They did fine for routes, but they are definitely an aggressive shoe meant for overhanging boulder problems.
Now I’m on my second pair of La Sportiva, first the Solution and now the Otaki. I love La Sportivas and they seem to be right for my foot, so I will stick with them.
Lesson being, try on a bunch of different models at a place like REI that has a wide selection, and choose the ones that feel comfortable for your foot width.
Style of climbing
Ordinarily when you are getting advice for climbing shoes, you’re told to find shoes that fit your style of climbing.
But since you’re new, you don’t know yet if you prefer bouldering or roped climbing!
So that advice falls kind of flat and is totally worthless.
Instead, we at Single Geared recommend that you find a neutral shoe, like the Defy, that is not too aggressive but is also not completely flat like most lace up leather trad climbing shoes.
You want a shoe that will let you both boulder and top rope well enough to get a feel for both. Then with your next pair of shoes you can optimize for the type of climbing you prefer doing and buy accordingly. And who knows?
Someday you may end up with shoes for top roping, shoes for trad, and shoes for bouldering. We call that a quiver.
Finally, let’s recognize that price absolutely matters. There is absolutely no reason to spend $150 on a pair of climbing shoes when you are not sure if you are going to stick with the sport.
After you’ve rented a few times and know you want to do it more, go buy a pair that is in the $45-$60 range. These shoes should last you a good year, get you into the sport, let you learn some skills, and know what style of climbing you want to invest in.
Above all, when you’re just getting started you should enjoy it as much as possible. Climb things that push you, climb things that scare you, and climb things that give you a sense of accomplishment.
Check out our best rock climbing shoes for beginners post if you’re in the market!