Buying Climbing Shoes: What to Look For

Find out how to pick your perfect sending shoes...

One of the best pieces of advice you’ll receive when you begin climbing is to “use your feet”. To get the most out of your footwork, you have to start by choosing the right pair of shoes. Essentially, the design and construction of climbing shoes are intended to provide you with the best possible grip, support, and control on a variety of surfaces, which will increase your enjoyment while climbing; but finding your perfect match can be tricky, so here are a few things that might make it a little easier…


Arguably, the most important aspect to look at when buying climbing shoes is the way they fit. Climbing shoes are designed to fit snugly to the foot to provide better support and precision. A tight fit is essential for climbers to maintain control and balance on everything from micro edges to flat smears. How a shoe fits is determined by how well-suited the shoe’s design is to your foot shape. The best criteria to start with are the width of your feet and the volume of your feet (i.e. the vertical space that your foot takes up). Knowing if you have wide or narrow feet can aid you greatly in the pursuit of the perfect fit. The same applies to high-volume or low-volume feet, and because modern-day shoes come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, there is guaranteed to be the right shoe for you. It is also important to note that the different brands and their models all have different fits and purposes, so it is worth trying on a large range of shoes from various brands to find what is right for you.

So how do I know if a shoe fits me?

Snug fit: Your climbing shoes should fit snugly, without any significant gaps or spaces between your foot and the shoe. However, they should not be so tight that they cause pain. A shoe that is too tight will not only make climbing unenjoyable but will also hinder your footwork.

Minimal movement: When you wiggle your toes inside the shoe, there should be minimal movement. Your toes should be touching the end of the shoe, slightly curled but not scrunched. A good indicator that a shoe is too big for you is excess material on the top of the shoe when your press down on your toes.

No heel slip: Your heel should fit snugly into the heel cup of the shoe, without any slippage when you walk or climb.


The next important consideration is what type of climbing you prefer, as different shoes work better for different disciplines and goals. (e.g. sport climbing vs bouldering, fun vs competitive climbing etc.).

Sport climbing: Shoes are normally slightly stiffer, giving more support which allows you to climb for longer. The drawback here is that a stiffer sole means diminished sensitivity. Shoes should be comfortable enough to wear for the full route.

Bouldering: Shoes can generally be a lot softer than sport or trad climbing shoes because you spend less time on the wall. The best bouldering shoes tend to be more aggressive so that you can make the most of every hold.

Trad climbing: Shoes should be comfortable with a relatively flat profile so that you can spend a long time in them.

Typically, climbing shoes are classed into three different categories: neutral, moderate and aggressive. A beginner climber might want to go for a more comfortable, neutral shoe so that they can simply enjoy climbing and improving technique, whereas a serious climber who is trying to send hard projects would be better off with more aggressive shoes. Let’s take a closer look at what each shoe category offers…


Neutral shoes generally have a flat sole and moderate-to-no downturn. They are typically more comfortable than moderate and aggressive shoes which makes them perfect for all-day climbing and long routes or multi-pitches where taking your shoes off is not ideal. They are normally designed with a slightly thicker sole which provides a bit more stiffness for good support. Neutral shoes are a good choice for beginner climbers thanks to their comfort and stiffness level, as well as seasoned climbers wanting something they can keep on for long periods of time.


Moderate shoes have a more aggressive downturn than neutral shoes but are still comfortable enough for all-day wear. They typically have a slightly thinner sole and stickier rubber than neutral shoes. The combination of being more downturned than neutral shoes while still being comfy makes them great for beginners and experienced climbers. Moderate shoes are also great for technical slabs where aggressive shoes aren’t suitable but precision is still needed.


Aggressive shoes have a severe downturn and are designed for taking on the hardest routes with steep or overhanging sections. They provide excellent precision and are ideal for difficult technical climbs. When compared to neutral and moderate shoes, they have the softest, thinnest and stickiest rubber. These shoes will also have more rubber on top of the toe of the shoe for toe hooks and overhanging climbing, and probably a deeper heel cup so that you can really lock in on heel hooks. The shape of the shoes puts your feet in the position to get the most power out of your toes. This shape also makes them the least comfortable and requires you to have much stronger feet and better technique than a neutral or moderate shoe would.


Other factors to consider are closure systems and leather vs synthetic materials. Quick-and-easy velcro closures are great for bouldering and sport sessions where you’ll be getting on and off the wall a lot. Laces, on the other hand, take longer to put on and take off, but can offer a more tailored fit and are great for long sport and trad climbing days. There are also slip-on shoes, such as the La Sportiva Cobra, which are super easy to get on and off but offer a less precise fit.

You will also need to choose between leather and synthetic fabrics when picking your shoes. Leather is very durable and moulds very nicely to the foot so you will get a more personalised fit, but it does stretch out over time. Synthetic shoes not only offer a vegan option but also have less stretch so the shoe size won’t change much.


Just like every sport, there are shoes designed specifically for kids. The biggest issue with buying your child a pair of climbing shoes is how quickly their feet will outgrow them! Because of this, shoe manufacturers designed kids’ shoes to be stiffer, so that they can wear them a size bigger and grow into them as their skill and enthusiasm for the sport grows. If you’re worried about the expenditure for your growing bean, you can always look for secondhand shoes on the goodBETA forum or connect with other climbing families and see if shoes can be traded around.


Now that you have a better idea of what you are looking for, here are some extra tips that may help you along the way…

● Try out as many different shoes and brands as you can. The only true way to know if a shoe fits you is to try it on, and the more shoes you try the more you will begin to understand what works for your unique feet.

● If you can, test the shoes on a climbing wall so you can figure out how different moves feel and if anything is slipping.

● Make sure to go shoe shopping in the afternoon! As the day goes on, your feet can swell up by a full size, so it’s best to fit them when your feet are a little bigger.

● Avoid falling into the trap of buying shoes that are too tight. Shoes that are too small will hurt your feet when you try to stand up on them and greatly reduce your enjoyment (and potentially ruin a send). They can also damage your feet over a longer period of time. Plus, wearing a less aggressive shoe can actually help to strengthen your toes and improve your footwork as you climb.

● Bear in mind that street shoe sizes often don’t correlate to climbing shoe sizes, and different brands also tend to use different sizing (i.e. a street size 6 will not necessarily be a climbing size 6, and two size 6s from different brands will likely also differ). This is why it’s far better to try shoes in-store than to shop them online.

Above all, remember that everyone’s feet are different and the only way to find your perfect match is to try out a whole big bunch of options. Chat to the staff in your local gear store, ask questions and enjoy finding your new best adventure buddies!