DK's Corner - Climbing Shoe Guide

Posted: 18th Apr 2012
Tags: Shamen

Imagine walking into a shoe are after a pair of your favourite Nike trainers and the helpful assistant asks you your size. You tell her your normal size, she retrieves your shoes and they fit perfectly – toes are just short of the end and they feel incredibly comfortable. Next you walk into a climbing shop to get a new pair of climbing shoes....Problem 1 - You are faced with a wall of models, brands and types of shoes all designed for different purposes. Problem 2 – the shop assistant asks your climbing shoe size...well should they hurt, should my toes curl back under so I can only see my toe knuckles, should my feet really be bent around like a banana?!?! Buying climbing shoes is one of the most difficult purchases you can make in the world of climbing and it can literally make or break your climbing experience. Therefore I have decided to do my very best to give you some sound and useful advice that you can hopefully utilise the next time you fancy a new pair of climbing shoes.

My goal in this blog post in to strip down the complications that most climbing shoes guides use. I will give you the basics, explain what the best shoes are for certain types of climbing and hopefully give some decent advice on sizing your shoes correctly. I have worn more shoes than most fashion models and I do feel like I can offer some fairly good advice.

First things first I want to give you a terminology breakdown – not a long winded essay on what all the technical specifications mean, but a simplistic key so that you can understand what the deal is.

Shoe Terminology


Climbing shoes are built around a 'LAST'. This determines how a shoe fits. Traditional climbing shoes rely on creating a relaxed foot shape and therefore has quite a comfortable fit, whereas a newer modern shoe is an active last.

Some 'Lasts' are FLAT – more comfortable, but not quite as high performance. Whereas some 'Lasts' are DOWNTURNED – this creates an aggressive shape that concentrates power to the big toe area.


Situated between the shoes inner and out sole. Its shape, material and placement can determine how a shoe performs.

Thick 'midsoles' that are firm will create a very stiff shoe that is ideal for standing on small edges but will suffer on delicate smears.

Thin 'midsoles' or Curved 'midsoles' will help focus power on the toes, which will leave the inner area soft for better smearing action. However they will not perform as well on tiny edges.


Leather or synthetic – this is a determining factor on the shoes 'stretchability'.

Leather 'uppers' are renown for being more comfortable as they mould to the shape of your foot and allow a very precise fit. However with this comes a price and that is the fact that the shoes will stretch and lose the tightness that was originally there.

Synthetic 'uppers' are more consistent than real leather and will offer minimal stretch. This is a better option if you want a shoe that will fit almost the same on it's final days in the world as when you first brought them.


Has Two main purposes:
1.To reduce stretch. Unlined shoes can stretch up to a size and a half, whereas Unlined shoes will barely change.

2.To help the shoe retain its shape and also to increase the durability of the shoe.


This is quite simply an area that comes down to personal preference. There are all sorts of technical designs to ensure your foot stays in the shoe. You have laces, velcro, elastic (slippers) and other strange pulley systems.

Each one has benefits and uses:
Laces - Positive: can be fine tuned so that you are maximising the performance.
Negative: Takes time to put on and laces might break.

Velcros- Positive: Quick to get on/off, good compromise with a high level of performance.
Negative: Not quite as precise as laces for tweaking the fit.

Slippers- Positive: Perfect for the gym, soft and sensitive. Quick to get on/off
Negative: Can lose tightness and no method to tighten, very soft - need good foot power to maximise potential.

Now that I have given you all the terminology and knowledge you should ever need when faced with the barrage of climbing shoes, I will quickly explain the types of rock shoes and give you some idea of what shoes are good for what!


Bouldering Specific Shoes:

If like me you spend more time sitting on the floor looking at holds and wondering why you keep falling off then I'm guessing you will be gunning for some of these shoes. Most bouldering shoes are normally downturned and asymmetric (shape your foot in a weird way). This 'asymmetric' toe shape helps to focus power on the big toe and pull in like a claw on steep ground. Some bouldering shoes offer a rubber toe plate (on the top of the shoe) helping with those tricky toe hooks. Lastly the heel will be highly tensioned to meet the demands of modern rock wrestling.



Five Ten: Dragons, Arrowheads, Hornets
Evolv: Shamans, Talons
Scarpa: Instinct Lace-ups, Instinct Slippers


General Performance:

Shoes in this area an still be slightly downturned, but not as extreme as a bouldering shoe. They may be flat but with a lot of tension for more power. This is a ver

y traditional shoe shape and one that has only recently been adapted to include the downturned shape. Normally these shoes will have a fairly good midsole - not too soft and not too rigid. This is a type of shoe that will suit most people and can be used for most disciplines of climbing.


Five Ten: Anasazi Lace-ups (Verdes & V2), Anasazi Velcros
Evolv: Bandits
Scarpa: Vapor Lace-ups, Vapor Velcros

All-day Comfort:

These shoes will normally be flat lasted and have very little tension. The idea is that you can wear them on a long climb, eat your lunch in them and even walk from the car to the crag - shocking! I would still advise buying all-day comfort shoes tightly enough that this doesn't happen - they should be sized like a tight trainer!


Evolv: Defys, Elektras
Scarpa: Reflex, Force


Hopefully you now have all the knowledge you could ever need to buy the correct shoes for your next climbing outing. Buying climbing shoes is never easy and after 8 years of climbing I still end up with shoes that I got too small and end up have a bath with my climbing shoes on - yeap! Climbing shoes have changed though and this needs to be taken into consideration. It wasn't long ago that the idea was to buy climbing shoes that had to rolling around the front room crying and walking up and down the shoe sobbing trying to break them in. Now climbing shoes are made to be sized very similar to your trainers - especially American based shoe companies (Evolv, Five Ten). The other brands - (La Sportiva and Scarpa) still need to be experimented with when trying them on as they are hand made and therefore may vary slightly. I would never advise buying climbing shoes off the internet - I have done this a long time ago and they are still sat in my cupboard untouched. They were fine when I tried them on in the shop, but completely different from the place I ordered them from. The best thing you can do is get into the shop, try on some pairs that interest you and see how they feel. Any questions feel free to track me down at the Depot or ask one of the experienced staff behind reception!


All the above shoes are in stock at the Depot Climbing Centre so get on down to the wall and try out some of the slickest models in the climbing shoe market!

Or try our new online shop here.




2 comments so far. Add yours!


14.01.2012 19:11:11
Nice article. Do you have any idea how to size a Scarpa from normal shoe size? I was thinking vapour V and I take a 5 (uk) in street shoe.


18.02.2012 22:09:05
I'm a size 5 and wear a 37.5 women's vapour v. The 'mens' only go down to 38's and I had to search high and low for somewhere stocking the women's and therefore small enough shoes. You have to try them on to get a good fit. Don't order on line unless you can send back/exchange sizes.