Outdoor Myths - Climbing Shoe Fit
Climbing shoes need to be bought at least two sizes too small, and if your feet don't feel like they're going through some ancient foot-binding torture then they won't work!
No they don't, although like most great myths this one has some root in truth, stemming from the dawn of climbing shoe manufacturing. But to understand why it's no longer relevant we need to know what a modern climbing shoe is designed to do.
- Provide a sticky rubber surface for maximum grip when 'smearing' (or literally using the toe and ball area of your feet to walk up a wall)
- Provide good 'sensitivity' so you can feel the rock and utilise the tiniest of lips.
- Move your feet into a key 'Power-Position'.
Power & Lift - It's all about the big-toe!
Most of the time when climbing you'll want your weight supported, and any vertical lifting to come from the inside edge area of the big-toe. It's the strongest area of the foot in this regard. Watch a ballerina stand on her toes...it's the big-toe doing the support. Now most climbers do not train their toes as hard as a ballerina has to...and this is where climbing shoes come in.
By using clever design and lasting they can effectively support your foot in this power-position, and thus allow you to use even the smallest lips to stand on, and to move upwards from....try climbing in trainers and see how much difference a proper shoe makes to your 'feel' and 'control'.
So why's the myth false again?
Well back in the days of 'Yore', climbing shoe technology was basic...merely some sticky rubber on a basic frame-work. To achieve the power-position, climbers would deliberately buy shoes that were far too small. This had the effect of manipulating the feet into the position that most climbing shoes are now designed to do more gently!
Shoes should have good contact all around the foot, but never crush or squeeze.
So how should a climbing shoe fit?
Most simply put, like a sock. Start at your sport shoe or walking boot size and go from there, manufacturers do now adjust the shoe last for the foot size, rather than have you guess! (e.g. I take a size 41 in both Scarpa walking boots and climbing shoes.)
- You don't want any space at the front or the back of the shoe.
- Your heel should sit comfortably in the heel cup (with little to no excess air).
- Your toes should be touching the front of the shoe (with ideally a tiny amount of bend)...you do not however want your toes to be crunched!
- Remember that if you do not intend to wear socks with them, then fit them without socks or vice versa. You'd be surprised how much difference even the thinnest socks make.
- My rule of thumb is that if you can put them on (using the above criteria) and then jump up and down in them a few times without crying or falling over...they're probably about right! Also try supporting your weight on your big toe using a skirting board...if it's really painful then try a larger size. If you can't feel/keep slipping off the skirting board try a smaller one.
Why do some shoes have more 'bend' than others?
The bend (or asymmetrical last) in a climbing shoe is basically what helps put your feet into this power-position...however the more extreme the last a shoe has the less stiffening & support it usually offers.
This is not a great combination for beginners...because your foot will not be used to this shape, it won't be very comfy (even if the size is technically correct), and because of the lack of underfoot stiffening, your feet will have to do a lot more supporting work! These 'technical' shoes are ideal for bouldering, or sports climbs, when tend to allow you breaks every once in a while.
Left - Entry to mid-level shape | Right - A more technical shape.
If you're a beginner, you may be best off getting an entry to mid-level shoe first, which have more support, and a less pronounced angle. This will help to ease you feet into being contorted, and your feet will gain strength through practice. Many advanced climbers often also use this more 'basic' shape when climbing long routes, or in cold weather with socks as it's more comfortable for protracted use.
Once your climbing reaches a level at which a more advanced shoe will actually start to benefit you, you'll probably know what you're looking for!
Check out our full climbing equipment range.
Unfortunately we cannot fit over the Internet, although the process is actually deceptively simple, you may wish to get yourself measured up in a specialist store. Always remember that climbing is a dangerous activity and take all precautions necessary to remain safe.