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Rock Climbing Shoes


Without specialized rock shoes it’s tough to leave the ground. Make them your first purchase or rent several pairs at the gym to get a feel for what type and size works great for you. There are countless shoe designs from an abundance of brands, and every pair is designed for a different style of climbing—even the sticky rubber on their soles will vary by shoe brand and model type. Shoe selection is critical because climbing shoes are the only item of gear that will actually help you get up a route. What to buy depends on the type of climbing you are apt to try.

Rock shoes come in hundreds of styles for various types of climbing and foot shapes. Generally, there are three basic types. [ 1 ] The high-performance sport and bouldering shoe, with a radically curved shape and tensioned rands that compress your feet for maximum power. [ 2 ] The relatively flat, straight design for maximum comfort, good for all-day wear and as an entry-level shoe. [ 3 ] An all-arounder, with some curve and slightly tensioned rands that deliver all-day performance, pain free. [ 4 ] A slip-on version of shoe #3. Numerous shoes have lace-up and slip-on versions. This one would be a good gym and bouldering shoe.Shoes broadly fall into three categories based on their “camber” (downturn): neutral, moderate and aggressive.

Neutral shoes allow your foot to lie flat much like street shoes, and they don’t compress your feet, which means lots of comfort, but less power when you really need to crank up steep or overhung routes. Neutral shoes are both for novices, who need comfort so they can focus on technique and learning, and experienced climbers, who may require a comfortable shoe for wearing most or all of the day on long routes. The beginner models will usually have harder and thicker rubber, which is great for durability and edging when you first start out and don’t have expert technique.

Moderate shoes are your all-arounders. These have a slight downturn and often have a tensioned rand to compress your feet, increasing toe power without sacrificing (much) comfort. They can be either asymmetrical or symmetrical, and are great for slab climbs, technical edging, and even somewhat overhung sport routes. This style of camber includes the widest variety of models, so carefully check each shoe’s specifications to understand what you’re buying.

Aggressive shoes are very downturned. Use these for significantly overhanging sport routes, technical boulder problems, and vertical face climbs that demand extra power and precision. It’s tempting to purchase a pair of top-end, aggressive shoes right off the bat, but these types are uncomfortable if you are not used to them. In addition to their camber, aggressive shoes are usually asymmetrical to place more weight on your big toe for micro edges.


Slippers. Some slippers are thin, sock-like affairs, while others are simply shoes that you slip on and tighten up with hook-and-loop straps, so “slippers” by themselves doesn’t mean much beyond the method for how you tighten down the footwear—in fact, many companies offer lace and slip-on versions of the same models. Slippers offer fast on/off making them great for bouldering and gym use, where you climb in bursts then rest.

Fit. Regardless of the shoe design, getting a proper fit is imperative. A well-fitting neutral shoe won’t have any extra room, but it will be comfortable enough to wear for hours. A moderate shoe will curl your toes, but not painfully so. Aggressive shoes press your toes into a significant curl for maximum power, also pain. The stiffer the shoe, the more comfortably you can size it. Usually, flat-lasted, medium-flex, all- purpose shoes are designed to let your toes lie flat, while soft, curved sport shoes and slippers are meant to bunch up your toes.

First shoes. When you’re just starting out at the gym or crag, a neutral shoe is the way to go. Unless you’re climbing difficult indoor boulders, durable and comfortable neutrals are great until you get the hang of climbing.

You may want to sample every type of climbing, including longer routes where you’ll wear your rock shoes most, if not all, of the day. In that case, a solid all-purpose shoe is your best bet. A stiffer shoe like this will support a rookie’s weak feet, is comfortable, and will help protect your feet from being crushed in cracks or bruised when you fall off a boulder problem.



When you are learning to climb, you’ll tend to paddle and scrape your feet on the wall, accelerating rubber wear. Your feet will also tend to hurt, as you’ll be unaccustomed to rock shoes, and your feet will be weak. As you learn to climb you’ll develop good footwork that is easier on your shoes, and your feet will strengthen and hurt less.

Try on several pairs of rock shoes to find your perfect fit. Neutral cambered shoes are best for beginners, being the most comfortable of the various shoe shapes. Until you start banging out V6 boulder problems, neutral shoes should serve you well. It’s wise to buy a pair with thick rubber soles and rands for extra wear. Some companies make gym shoes specifically for beginners.


Check out Rock and Ice's climbing shoe reviews here.


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Revisit Climbing Terminology

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