Laces, Velcro or Nothing?
LACES Since laces let you adjust shoe width at any point, lace-ups will fit the greatest variety of foot types, are the most secure at the mid-foot and allow you to dial in the fit when the shoe stretches and conforms to your foot. Make sure that the laces extend all the way to the toes, or you won’t be able to tighten up this critical area when it becomes baggy with stretch. Most long-route and all-purpose shoes have laces.
VELCRO Velcro closure offers a compromise between security and convenience, being easy to whip on and off between boulder problems or sport routes. The disadvantage is velcro doesn’t let you fine-tune the fit as well as laces.
SOFT FLEX Soft shoes, usually slippers, are good for bouldering and indoor climbing where foot fatigue is not an issue. Slippers with a narrow toe profile work well for thin cracks and a supple shoe is de rigueur for super-steep cave climbing, where it pays to be able to bend the shoe and grab features or to back toe on underclings.
MEDIUM FLEX A medium-stiff shoe will have some kind of soft midsole that provides support for the foot and stiff counter for edging. This is a good choice for climbers who like to mix it up and play on a variety of mediums, from overhanging routes and problems to granite cracks and vertical edges.
STIFF These shoes offer a stiff platform for vertical edging and protect the foot in jam cracks. A stiff-soled shoe minimizes foot fatigue on multi-pitch routes, and is good for beginners with weak toes as a stiff shoe is more forgiving than a soft one.
ASYMMETRICAL LAST The banana shape of the asymmetrical last directs the power of the foot through the big toe. Shoes of this ilk tend to be used for sport climbing and bouldering, and generally aren’t as comfortable as less-twisted designs.
STRAIGHT LAST This is the most comfortable and works best as an all-around shoe. Straight-lasted shoes are also tops for crack climbing.
TOE-DOWN LAST Works well for steeper climbing, such as in sport caves and in gyms, where the foot is already positioned to paw at in-cut holds. This shape is the least comfortable of the lot.
LINED Lined shoes will stretch less and feel more substantial than unlined shoes. Unlined shoes can form better to your foot. Most shoes have a full or partial lining, usually of canvas or a synthetic. A canvas lining feels organic, but can stink. Canvas linings also stretch. Synthetic lining stretch less than canvas and can be odor resistant. Small points but worth noting if you have especially odoriferous feet.
BOULDERING The gymnastics of bouldering call for a secure shoe that goes on easily. Most climbers go for a soft shoe, but, when you are bouldering, a sturdy shoe with a stiff sole will protect your feet.
SPORT If you plan on climbing overhanging rock, go for a soft shoe. If you’re clipping bolts on more vertical terrain, then you might want a slightly stiffer shoe with a medium-stiff midsole.
GYM Gym climbing requires an easily removable, sensitive shoe. If you’re looking to build foot strength, go with a slipper.
CRACKS For finger-size and smaller, get a supple shoe with a narrow toe profile. For hands and larger, stiffer shoes protect and support your feet the best. Size your shoes a little larger than normal, so that the toes don’t bunch.
LONG ROUTES Beginners should try a stiffer shoe. More advanced climbers will want a comfortable shoe that climbs well but doesn’t crunch the toes. Consider the fact that you might have to walk down in your shoes. Also consider a shoe that you can easily slip off between pitches.
Shoes made specifically for women will usually have a narrower fit mid-foot and in the heel, have an overall lower volume and higher arch. Regardless of your gender, you may want to check out the women’s shoes—men who have a hard time fitting regular shoes may find a Cinderella slipper in the women’s department.
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