Climbing Shoes 101: Everything You Need To Know

Climbing Shoes 101: Everything You Need To Know

Rock climbing is a hobby that's been around for years. Recently, the annual sales of climbing shoes doubled due to its increased popularity. You need a good pair of climbing shoes to protect your feet and climb more efficiently, which is why every rock climbing aficionado needs a good pair of climbing shoes.

Today, we'll briefly discuss the mechanics behind climbing shoes. Climbing shoes are sophisticated pieces of equipment that you need to understand before making a final purchase. Our primary goal is to improve your knowledge, so you'll become a more informed shopper in regards to rock climbing shoes.

Climbing shoes.

Hopefully, you'll have enough confidence to buy your climbing shoes by the end of this post. Then, we invite you to check out our buying guide. The guide will help you find the best climbing shoes that are available in today's market. That being said, let's get on with our guide!

Brief History Of Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing started in these three prime locations:

  • Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Germany
  • Lake District, England
  • Dolomites, Italy

Rock climbing started in the late 1800s with early climbing pioneers such as John Muir, traveled various summits in the U.S. For instance, summits such as the Half Dome in Yosemite California gained popularity because climbers could successfully reach the top with limited equipment.

During the 1900s, advancements to climbing shoe designs were in full effect. Shoe innovations such as the steel carabiner, modern piton, chockstones/stoppers, and rope out of nylon material enhanced the user's capabilities, which resulted in an easier climb and enhanced foot safety.

Climbing shoes started to boom during the 1940's when John Salathé, a professional rock climber, climbed the Lost Arrow Spire at Yosemite Valley.

His feat changed the way the world viewed rock climbing. At first regarded as a dangerous activity, rock climbing became more accessible for the average person.

La Sportiva Women’s TarantuLace

During the 1960s, rock climbing gained more traction. Before this era, rock climbing was very risky and achieved by a select few. In 1963, aid climbing tactics were invented which allowed climbers to pull on gear that helped them ascend to higher mountain levels.

Today, rock climbing is an internationally recognized sport that has technological advancements in regards to footwear to thank since it's now easier for individuals to climb higher summits without falling.

Types Of Climbing Shoes

There are several types of climbing shoes available, and here they are, explained:


Neutral shoes provide a lot of comfort to the user's feet. The shoes allow the toes to lay in a flat position in the shoes. Neutral shoes are perfect for beginner climbers because it provides suitable comfort for your feet. Expert climbers like neutral shoes because they are comfortable 24/7 and are for multi-pitch climbs.


  • Comfort
  • Flat profile makes sliding into cracks easier
  • Features thick rubber soles and medium midsoles for extra support


  • Relaxed fit shoes aren't for overhanging routes
  • Less sensitive soles than the moderate and aggressive soles.


Moderate shoes are known for their downturned shape, which makes them good for technical and advanced climbing. Moderate shoes can handle crack climbs, sports routes, and multi-pitch climbs.


  • Thinner soles and thicker rubber create a natural feel.
  • The downturned shoe design places your feet in a better position than neutral shoes.
  • The downturned shoe design places your feet in a better position than neutral shoes.


  • Less durability than natural shoes.
  • Not performance based like aggressive shoes. Thus, making it harder to use for bouldering.


Aggressive shoes have a larger downturn design than moderate shoes. These shoes are made for tough climbs and are better suited for sports climbing. Aggressive shoes have a non-asymmetrical shape that reaches and curves around your toe. Use aggressive shoes if you need maximum performance for intensive climbing


  • More grip than neutral shoes
  • Places your feet in a powerful and functional position for bouldering, gym climbing, and overhanging sports climbs


  • Wear faster than neutral shoes
  • Aggressive shoes don't fit into cracks or other areas as well as neutral shoes.

On What To Pay Attention When Choosing Your Climbing Shoes

Pay attention on these important things when you are buying climbing shoes:​


Size is the most important factor to consider when shopping for climbing shoes. Climbing is an activity where you use your feet 97% of the time. You'll have a hard time utilizing your feet if they hurt to the point you can't add extra weight to them.

Red Leather Climbing Shoes.

The best beginner climbing shoes are at least a few shoe sizes larger than your casual shoes. As a rule of thumb, bigger is better, so it's always a good thing to have larger shoes around even if your next pair is a few sizes smaller. Larger-sized climbing shoes are ideal for when your feet tend to swell under a lot of pressure.


Leather shoes stretch the most and are the most common shoe type. In comparison to the other shoe types, leather shoes provide the most breathability, so., as a result, your feet will sweat less and experience less moisture buildup. Ultimately, leather shoes are easy to maintain, smells better over time, and retains fewer odors.

One thing you must understand when buying a leather shoe is its expansive stretching capabilities. Most leather shoes can stretch up to one full shoe size. While it feels uncomfortable at first, your leather shoes will eventually fit the form of your feet. Take time to break in leather shoes until it molds to your foot.

This ensures that you'll properly break them in and have functional shoes once you start climbing.

Unlined Leather

Unlined leather climbing shoes are entirely made of leather and have the ability to stretch up to a full size, depending on how much you use the shoes.

Out of all the materials commonly used for climbing shoes, unlined leather is by far the most breathable and the one that's most conformable to your feet.

Unlined leather climbing shoes are entirely made of leather.

If you're interested in unlined leather rock climbing shoes, you should size them so that your toes are just barely touching the end of the shoe. You'll want to feel the top of your toe knuckles pressed against unlined leather and not see them pushing out.

As a side note, unlined leather climbing shoes come in various bright colors that tend to bleed onto your feet, so after a strenuous climbing session, it's completely normal for your feet to become discolored.

Lined Leather

Lined leather shoes have a mixture of leather and synthetic materials. These shoes are harder to breathe than leather shoes but are still comfortable to wear. When stretched, the shoe expands at least ½ to ¾ a shoe size.

When compared to unlined leather shoes, lined leather shoes provide more skin to skin contact which makes them more comfortable to wear if you have callous feet. Keep in mind that these leather shoes will emit more stinky smells than unlined ones because they have less breathable features.


Synthetic shoes have the lowest breathability than all the other climbing shoe materials. These shoes have poor ventilation, which increases the chance of sweaty, stinky, and hot feet.

However, people do tend to like synthetic shoes because of their simple foot measurements.

Synthetic shoes have the lowest breathability than all the other climbing shoe materials.

Since synthetic climbing shoes have the least stretch capability when compared to both unlined and lined leather models, you have to make sure they fit your feet the moment you try them on.

Vegans, as well as vegetarians, prefer synthetic climbing shoes because these are the most animal-friendly option available on the market.

Some climbing shoe manufacturers have taken innovative steps to design perforated synthetic climbing shoes, which allow more breathability than just solid synthetic fabric. This means you can choose synthetic climbing shoes that can prevent moisture and sweat buildup, which can cause severe foot pains and blisters.

Types Of Climbing

Climbing shoe profiles can be separated into three categories- flat-lasted, hooked toe, and cambered.​

Sport And Bouldering Climbing Shoes

Here's a good rule of thumb, the higher the climbing steepness, the more you'll need a downturned performance climbing shoe. This shoe design gives users more power through their toes. For the best bouldering shoes, your feet need to be properly sized and fitted, so you can be comfortable enough to withstand steep climbing.

Sport And Bouldering Climbing Shoes

Ultimately, we recommend sizing your shoes first before buying bouldering shoes. You'll surely focus on speed and power when you're embarking in high-performance climbing, so an aggressively shaped as well as a tight fitting shoe is the one that will best suit your needs.

In fact, you'll specifically require a climbing shoe with a hooked toe profile since the arched position that this design forces your feet to stay in will permit you to generate the optimal amount of power from your foot. In high-performance boulder climbing, you'll need as much power as you can get.

Traditional And Crack Climbing

Traditional climbing is the most common form of rock climbing that involves a multitude of techniques and needs a stiff shoe that fits your feet correctly. Since numerous rock climbing techniques are involved, the shoe needs to allow you to perform these skills with ease.

Traditional And Crack Climbing

For crack climbing, you need a shoe that allows your toes to lay slightly flat yet still provide some arch support. Climbing shoes with a cambered profile are your ideal option especially since they are classified as being all-purpose shoes. If you find aggressive climbing shoes to be uncomfortable, a cambered profile shoe is your next best choice.

These moderate climbing shoes will handle crack climbs, overhanging terrain, long multi-pitch climbs, as well as face terrain.

Even though these shoes feature a highly snug fit, they still allow you to stand on its edges, so you have an excellent grip when you encounter steep cracks. Also, they prevent foot fatigue for long, all-day climbing activities since you can effortlessly transfer power from your feet to variously sized footholds.

How To Get Used To Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes should fit snug on the user's body, but the shoes should not create "hot spots" when used. Hot spots are painful, raw, blistered, or red spots that emerge anywhere on your feet, and are common when you’re trying to break in a new pair of climbing shoes.

Choose Your Climbing Shoes Carefully

Keep in mind that attempting to break in new shoes when you have a cut or blister on your foot increases the chance of injury as well as infection. Some people think socks are the perfect barrier, but the increased friction can lead to more foot problems emerging.

Luckily, there are a few methods to reduce the impact that climbing shoes have on your feet. Read below to see the multiple techniques to prevent blisters.

Grocery Bag Method

The grocery bag method is an inexpensive way to break in your shoes without inflicting pain upon your feet.

  • You’ll need to get a plastic bag and cut it into four squares. The bag should be cut to a length of five inches on each side. Before you wear the climbing shoes, make sure to place the squares on areas of your feet that are prone to get blisters

This method sounds weird at first, but it does provide ample protection when wearing climbing shoes. The bag effectively removes the friction, so you can easily wear socks with the shoes. Also, it eliminates irritation and pain occurring around your toes, back of the heel, and the side of the foot.

When you obtain a new pair of shoes, try this method for at least 30 minutes. You'll successfully break in your shoes without getting blisters.

Ice Bag Method

The ice bag method is recommended for minimal shoe stretching, so it works best on synthetic climbing shoes. This method gives you ultimate control over the stretching, which makes it easier to adjust how much you want your shoes to stretch.

  • First, start by removing your shoes from its packaging. It’s essential to make sure to remove the stickers and labels that might be on the sole or in the shoe.
  • Use two zip lock bags, one for each foot, and fill them with water. Fill the bag until it takes the shape of your foot. Place the bag in the climbing shoes and then continue to lace them up. Since the bag is mimicking your foot’s shape, it’ll function to stretch the shoes to your foot’s standards.
  • Put your shoes in the freezer and keep them in there for around 5 hours.
  • After the five hours are up, your need to let the shoes thaw. The thawing process is responsible for helping stretch out the shoe’s material.
  • Repeat this process until you achieve your desired result. Keep in mind that this process works best for users who need minimal stretching.

Climbing Shoe Fit Tips

Here's some advice how to choose right size of the climbing shoes:

Flexibility When It Comes To Size

Most early climbers make the mistake of buying shoes that are too tight. Tight shoes keep your feet positioned, but wearing them for too long causes long-term damage. You run the risk of deforming your feet or reducing your climbing performance.

Flexibility When It Comes To Size

Climbing footwear for adults should be flexible, well ventilated, non-restrictive, and not have too much cushioning. Remember, you want your shoes to be functional while climbing, so you need to measure your shoe size and then refer to the manufacturer's size chart before making a rash decision and buying the wrong size.

Shop In The Afternoon

As the day goes by, your feet deal with a lot of pressure, which causes them to swell up. Climbing shoe experts recommend going on a run or climb before you shop, so when you try on the climbing shoes, your feet have swollen to their proper size. This proves that shopping in the afternoon the best time to buy yourself some climbing shoes.

Reducing Slipperiness

You need a pair of climbing shoes that don't slip. Slippery shoes occur when the shoe receives too much moisture. Water, sweat, or other liquids act as a lubricant and decrease the friction of your shoe. In fact, moist skin reduces the chances of your shoes working properly.

Periodically wash the insides of your shoes to prevent slipping. Use soapy water to remove dirt, bacteria, or any other contaminant hidden in your shoe. Leave the shoes to air dry in direct sunlight and voila. You have a pair of non-slipping climbing shoes!

Mad rock climbing shoes.

Because of the reasons above, it's imperative to choose your climbing shoes carefully. Impulsive buying leads to dysfunctional shoes and a weak performance while climbing. In this buying guide, you'll find quality climbing shoes that don't hurt your feet while in use.

Popular Manufacturers That Won’t Disappoint

Compared to when rock climbing shoes first entered the market, nowadays there is an immense variety of climbing shoe manufacturers for you to choose from.

In the rock climbing world, three brands stick out the most because of their long history in regards to producing high-quality rock climbing shoes. Below is a brief look into each of these three brands, which will help narrow down your search for the best climbing shoe that will ensure comfort as well as high-performance value.

Mad Rock Climbing Shoes

Back in 2002, Mad Rock was a small operated company that dedicates its time to producing extremely technical yet affordable rock climbing shoes. In fact, Mad Rock's prices in regards to climbing shoes are some of the lowest in the market yet they still maintain a high-quality standard.

Mad Rock Men's Drifter Climbing Shoe

About 15 years later, Mad Rock continued to sell over a million pairs of climbing shoes, which the brand took as encouragement to design even more innovative and revolutionary shoes that are still reasonably priced.

Mad Rock offers climbing shoes with intricate designs and advanced technological features that are unique to this manufacturer alone.

La Sportiva

During the late 1920’s, an Italian named Narciso Delladio manufactured leather wooden shoes by solely using his hands for farmers and lumberjacks located in Dolomites, Italy.

As time went on, the demands for Delladio’s boots increased, which forced him to hire workers. The expansion led to the La Sportive we know and love today.

During World War II, La Sportiva manufactured custom made mountain boots that consisted of a unique lacing system that would later revolutionize climbing shoes. Nowadays, La Sportive still produces its shoes in Fiemme Valley and are internationally distributed to more than 60 countries.

La Sportiva Men's TarantuLace Rock Climbing Shoe


La Sportiva makes sure to produce shoes for all sorts of outdoor activities that range from mountain climbing and running to ski-mountaineering. The brand recently went on to expand its production to more than just shoes since they have entered the apparel market.

There is now a large selection of La Sportiva clothes that are ideal for ski-mountaineering, mountain running, and climbing. Keep in mind that La Sportiva climbing shoes are some of the more expensive shoes in the market, but contain the most sophisticated design and high-grade material.


Similar to Mad Rock, Evolv came into existence around 2003 and set its heart to create the best rock climbing shoes ever made in the USA. The first two rock climbing shoe models released from Evolv, Kaos and Bandit, is what set the brand apart from its competitors and allowed the brand to make a name for itself in the rock climbing community.

In current times, Evolv is considered to be a top rock climbing shoe manufacturer that’s well-known worldwide. In fact, professional athletes to everyday climbers trust Evolv climbing shoes to help them achieve their physical potential.

evolv Men's Shaman Climbing Shoe

Evolv is based in southern California and holds the location responsible for providing the necessary inspiration to develop innovative climbing shoes that bridge over to various sports. Back in 2012, Evolv released its newest performance lifestyle climbing shoe called the CRUZER, which set new standards for lightweight yet high-performance footwear.

The manufacturer continues to develop innovative footwear technologies and designs that are reasonably priced for the quality guaranteed.

Maintenance And Cleaning

Is It Okay To Wash Climbing Shoes In A Washing Machine?

We don't recommend using a washing machine to clean your shoes. Unless you have synthetic material, which is resistant to stretching, you shouldn't risk it. However, if your shoe comes with a machine washable feature, then you're in the clear.

When using the washing machine, you need to adjust its settings to your shoes. Climbing shoes aren't like casual clothes and will lose its quality if the washer is set to its maximum setting. You need to use cold water, mild detergent, and a soft spin level.

  • Make sure that your laces are untied or loose. This ensures that the water enters this section as well. Place your shoes inside a pillowcase to prevent the rubber from hitting the walls. If possible, hand wash your shoes to maintain its quality.

Should I Repair Or Replace Climbing Shoes

The answer to this question relates to the damaged level of your shoe. For instance, you should immediately fix your shoe if the sole isn't providing the grip you need during your climbing excursions, The sooner you realize that the rubber sole is giving out, the better your chances are for its repair.

Rock Climbing Shoes Repair

You know a climbing shoe’s sole needs repair once it loses friction ability and stickiness quality, so a new layer of rubber seems to be necessary. While you may like getting the most out of our climbing footwear, waiting too long will destroy the quality of your shoes.

Signs To Look Out For

Typically, you'll want to resole the shoes before the rubber wears out, and a professional climbing shoe resoler is your best bet to repair your shoe's rubber sole. If you see a small cut in the rubber, a thinning of the rubber material, or the edges feel slick and round, it's time to find a new pair of shoes.

Consider getting a repair if your shoe is severely damaged. Also, it's not wise to continuously repair your shoes. After the third repair, it's time to invest in a newer and better set of shoes.


Rock climbing is a popular and fun sport that’s open to everyone, regardless of age, but with the wrong equipment, rock climbing can prove to be a draining physical activity.

Mad Monkey Climbing Shoe

You can enhance your rock climbing experience when you equip yourself with the proper tools that ensure your comfort and optimize your power. Hopefully, the comprehensive information regarding climbing shoes was sufficient enough for you to make a purchase confidently.

If you still want a more detailed look at specific climbing shoes, check out our buying guide!

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