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Recommendations for my first pair of rock climbing shoes

Hey there, I was looking to buy my first pair of rock climbing shoes. I was told to stay in the "neutral" range, was hoping you had any suggestions or possibly some customer reviews towards a specific brand?

 

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Re: Recommendations for my first pair of rock climbing shoes

Hey there @pedrinij!

Thanks for reaching out to the Community with your question!

Where do you plan on doing most of your climbing or what have you been doing up until now?  Will you be solely in a gym, climbing outdoors, or a combo?  The additional information will be helpful as we try and give you the best advice. 

Take a look too at our Expert Advice article on choosing rock shoes!  There is a ton of helpful information throughout the article. Aside from choosing a neutral shoe, you will also want to look at different features and fit to help you make a decision, all of which is discussed in the article!

We look forward to following up with you!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.
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Re: Recommendations for my first pair of rock climbing shoes

@pedrinij Ooooo yay, I've been waiting for a rock climbing post like this! (If you can't tell, I absolutely love the sport). I've climbed for a good portion of my 23 years, and have worked at a climbing gym in the past. I am by no means an expert on climbing shoes, but hopefully my recommendations can help.

However, before anything else, I want to state that I highly recommend that you try on the shoes you are looking at before making your final decision. This will help make sure that you choose the right size, and that the shoe feels good on your feet. When sizing people for rental/new climbing shoes at the gym, I liked to describe the ideal fit for a climbing shoe as feeling like a hard, tight sock (start with a shoe 1-2 U.S. sizes below your street shoe size.... for example, I tend to wear a size 8.5-9 street shoe in women's (about men's size 7-7.5), and I tend to wear European size 38 climbing shoes (about 6 US men's, 7.5 US women's). You want your toes to be at the end, but unless you are looking for an aggressive pair of shoes or love jamming your feet in them, try to find a pair/size in which your feet are not curled/bent (this is especially important for your first pair of shoes, and trying to stand on curled toes is just not a fun time). Also, if you can, try your shoes out on a rock climbing wall before you purchase them. I know this may not be possible due to COVID-19, but if you can find a way, do it. Lastly, keep in mind that the sizing (size chart) for climbing shoes can vary from shoe to shoe and brand to brand, so don't always assume that a particular size in one climbing shoe equates to the same size in another climbing shoe (for example, I have two pairs of climbing shoes, one that's a size 38 and another that's a 40, but they have the same fit on my feet). This is again why it's so important to try on each pair of shoes before committing to them.

I'd also just like to state that I am personally a huge fan of La Sportiva climbing shoes. I have never bought a pair of La Sportivas that I haven't loved (and trust me, I am kind of a climbing shoe junkie...). However, there are many other great brands out there that may have a better feel/fit for you.

Another note that might not come up is that you may have two differently sized feet, like I and many people do. My feet are a half size different, which isn't too big of a deal when buying street shoes, but can become problematic when buying climbing shoes, since they ideally fit each of your feet snugly. While you could buy two pairs of climbing shoes that are differently sized and then match the different right and left shoes, that can be tedious and expensive. I tend to stick with a shoe whose size fits my smaller foot properly, but that doesn't cause excruciating pain in my larger foot. However, I tend to size this way because I love super tight and aggressive shoes. For a beginner, you should be okay finding a shoe that fits both feet comfortably (i.e. size towards your larger foot), if you find yourself in this two-sized predicament.

Now, on to the other stuff... As @REI-AlyS said, there are many things that factor into finding the ideal rock climbing shoe for you to start off with.

1) Where are you going to rock climb?

          -inside: If you're going to climb mostly indoors, there are many shoes designed specifically for indoor climbing, such as the Black Diamond Momentum climbing shoe (there are both men's and women's versions). This is also a shoe that I would recommend to beginner climbers. Neutral style climbing shoes are not only ideal for beginners, but they also work great in a gym setting, because they tend to be flat enough that you can wear them for long periods of time without causing pain in your feet.

          -outside: This can get tricky, because there are many styles of outdoor climbing (bouldering, sport, trad, multi-pitch...). However, if you are starting off outside, you'll more than likely be doing either single-pitch sport or bouldering. I personally tend to look for a shoe with a hard edge (stiff rubber, typically) when climbing outside, because the footholds will tend to be much smaller than those in a gym setting. Having a firm edge can help you gain traction on these smaller edges.

          -both: If you are looking for a shoe that works well both indoors and outdoors, I would recommend the La Sportiva Finale for beginners. Although I am not a beginner, I use this shoe inside and outside on a regular basis when climbing routes that I don't wish to wear my favorite pair of shoes (the La Sportiva Miura VS). The Finale is super comfortable, durable, provides a good amount of food support while still allowing you to feel the holds (something I find to be important in climbing shoes), and is a great all-around climbing shoe.

2) What style of climbing are you going to be doing?

          There are some shoes that are good all-around climbing shoes (i.e. they work for a variety of styles), and there are other shoes that are more specialized for a particular style of climbing.

          -ropes: This category includes indoor rope climbing (top rope or lead, although for a beginner you'll most likely stick to top roping) and outdoor rope climbing (single-pitch sport, single-pitch trad, multi-pitch, aid... but again, I'd say as a beginner one tends to stick to single-pitch sport). When climbing with ropes, the routes tend to be longer. Therefore, you want to look for a shoe that you're willing to have on your foot for more than a couple of minutes. If you're going to use ropes in the gym, I would recommend a shoe that is comfortable enough to leave on between each climb, because taking your shoes on and off repetetively gets old fast. If outside and doing single-pitch sport, you may be able to get away with a shoe that eventually starts to bother your feet (after 45 min. or so). However, finding a shoe that is comfortable is the most important, especially for beginning climbers.

          -bouldering: If you like to boulder, there are specific shoes designed for bouldering that don't work quite as well on rope climbs. These shoes tend to be more aggressive, with a good heel. Many bouldering-specific shoes are down-turned, making them less comfortable over a long period of time. People who buy bouldering-specific shoes often take these shoes off between climbs.

          -both: There are shoes out there that work well for both rope climbing and bouldering, especially if you are just getting into these sports. If you are interested in pursuing both, I would recommend finding a shoe that can serve you well, initially at least, in both aspects of climbing.

3) What type of rubber?

          This is kind of a tricky subject, but essentially, climbing rubber can be broken down into three categories: soft, semi-stiff, and stiff. Here is an article I like that explains the difference between categories. If there's too much jargon in that article, here is another that I often use as a reference when talking about soft vs. stiff shoes.

          For beginners, I recommend a stiffer rubber, as you are still getting used to using your foot on small holds, and are still developing your foot and toe muscles.

4)Lace, Velcro, or Slip-On?

          This is a constant battle in the climbing world. Some people prefer lace, others prefer Velcro, and some even like the slip-on style climbing shoe. While I tend to be a fan of Velcro strap shoes (because I'm a lazy climber off the wall who gets sick of untying and tying my shoes), I also own several pair of lace-ups. Since you're looking for a beginner shoe, which will tend to be neutral (i.e. not an aggressive fit), you won't necessarily be taking your shoes off after each climb like I often find myself doing in my super aggressive shoes. Thus, you should focus more on the fit, comfort, and feel of a specific shoe rather than if it's lace-up, Velcro strap, or slip-on (although lace-up shoes are great if because they can allow you to adjust the fit of your shoe if your feet swell due to heat). (Also, be aware that some shoes come in a both a lace-up and Velcro strap option, and the size and fit of the shoes can vary between the two options).

5) Synthetic or Leather Material - Calculating Stretch Factor

          -synthetic: Synthetic material is nice because it barely stretches over time, meaning that how your foot fits in the shoe the day you buy it will be almost exactly the same as it is years later. This can be nice, because you don't have to worry about fitting your shoe smaller in the beginning so that it doesn't become a giant flipper on your feet later on. Synthetic shoes also tend to be great at moisture-wicking and breathability.

          -leather: Climbing shoes can also come as unlined or lined leather. The downside of unlined leather shoes is that they can stretch a lot over time (sometimes even up to 1 size bigger). Another downside of unlined leather is that sometimes your foot becomes the color of your shoe when you sweat. Lined leather shoes stretch less than unlined leather, but they still stretch, and can still cause your feet to change color. However, I have found shoes to be some of the most comfortable, because you can really mold the leather to the shape of your foot, and the shoe's edges tend to be softer around your ankle and Achilles' tendon.

 

This is one of my favorite climbing shoe charts, which shoes La Sportiva's climbing shoes based on purpose and foot shape.

These are just a couple of factors that I've chosen to highlight. The article that @REI-AlyS provided has some other great info as well.

 

6) Here are the pros and cons of some of the climbing shoes (in no particular order) I recommend for beginners, based on the criteria above:

A) Black Diamond Momentum

          -PROS:

               -Good price: Typically $95, which is a good price for a climbing shoe. They are actually on sale at REI for $72 right now through 5/25.

               -Neutral fit = comfortable

               -Synthetic material = they won't stretch & are breathable 

               -Knit uppers = faster break-in time & added comfort

               -Velcro strap = great for gym climbing

          -CONS

               -A little bit on the heavy side for a climbing shoe, in my opinion

               -Rubber isn't very sticky (at least in my experience compared to other shoes such as the La Sportiva Finale) & is rather firm, which in some cases may be beneficial, but I find this to be a con because of its combination with the less sticky rubber (it's harder to find proper traction on some types of holds indoors / rock outside)

B) La Sportiva Finale

          -PROS

               -Good price: Typically $110, which is still on the relatively inexpensive side for a climbing shoe. REI also has these on sale right now for $82 which is an amazing price for a shoe of this caliber.

               -Neutral fit = comfortable

               -Great, versatile shoe that performs well both indoors & outdoors

               -Leather = added comfort

               -Sticky rubber! = You have lots of grip on the wall!

               -Beautiful edge = this shoe does wonders on small footholds!

               -Laces = easily adjustable... you can change how this shoe fits your foot (especially important, as feet tend to swell in warmer environments)

          -CONS

               -Leather = these shoes will stretch slightly over time... I've had mine for several years now, but luckily they have only stretched about 1/4 a size (practically nothing). This could increase slightly if you wear these shoes all the time, though.

C) La Sportiva Mythos Eco

          -PROS

               -Recycled materials, yay!!! This shoe is 95% recycled material, which is an awesome way to support the environment.

               -Neutral fit = comfortable

               -Leather = extremely comfortable; this shoe really conforms to your foot shape

               -Sticky, but soft rubber = Kind of a mixed bag. Softer rubber means less support for your toes and arches, but often times gives you a better feel of the surfaces you are standing on. These shoes are also super sticky, which is great.

               -Laces = easily adjustable... you can change how this shoe fits your foot (especially important, as feet tend to swell in warmer environments)

          -CONS

               -Leather = stretch... These are great shoes, but they tend to stretch a good amount. I suggest assuming that over time these shoes will stretch to 1 size larger than the size you buy.

               -Price: This shoe typically costs $145, which is starting to move away from the "inexpensive" climbing shoe category, especially for beginner climbers. REI has this shoe on sale right now for $109, though, which is actually an amazing deal.

               -Less arch/foot support than the Momentum, Finale, and Tarantulace

D) La Sportiva Tarantulace

          -PROS

               -Amazing Price: Usually only $85, REI has this shoe on sale right now for an even greater price - $64!!!

               -Neutral fit = comfortable

               -Great, versatile shoe that performs well both indoors & outdoors

               -Sticky rubber! = You have lots of grip on the wall!

               -Laces = easily adjustable... you can change how this shoe fits your foot (especially important, as feet tend to swell in warmer environments)

               -Leather = added comfort

        -CONS

               -Leather = slight stretch. I've noticed that these shoes tend to stretch similar to the La Sportiva Finale, so a bit of stretch but not as much as the Mythos. 

 

Additionally, don't hesitate to try on both the men's and women's versions of climbing shoes, as the shapes and fit of the shoes can vary. For example, although I am female, I actually tend to gravitate towards men's climbing shoes because they fit the shape of my feet better.

Also, keep in mind that any climbing shoe you buy will take time to break in, just like other types of shoes (hiking boots, for example). Don't be discouraged if the shoe feels slightly tight or uncomfortable initially, as long as you take into account how much it will stretch/soften/change shape over time. It is important to distinguish between painful and functionally uncomfortable (i.e. comfortable) when choosing a climbing shoe.

Lastly, practice good climbing technique and take care not to drag/smear your toes when moving from hold to hold on the wall! Dragging/smearing your toes is a great way to ensure that the toes of your shoes wear out extremely fast. It's a common mistake for beginning climbers, especially because many of them are unaware they are doing it!

Apologies, I didn't realize how long this post turned out to be, but I hope it helps. Have fun climbing!

www.brynsharpphotography.com
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