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10 Rock Shoe Buying Tips

Buying A New Pair of Rock Shoes

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Okay, you're interested in rock climbing and you've seen all those cool colorful rock shoes that the cool guys and gals are wearing at the crag. But which ones should you get? How do you decide which shoes to buy? And what kind of rock climbing shoes do you need?

The rock shoes you buy, even your first pair, is one of the most important climbing equipment purchasing decisions you will make. Buy the wrong pair of shoes and your feet will hurt and you’ll probably give up climbing. But buy the right pair of rock shoes and you’ll be dancing up the walls. Follow my 10 tips below to make smart rock shoe buying decisions.

1. Buy at a Reputable Mountain Shop

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
It's always best to buy rock shoes, especially your first pair, at a reputable mountain shop with an experienced sales staff that is knowledgeable about rock climbing. One of the big advantages to shopping at a store is that you can try them on and test them--ensuring you walk out the door with a great fitting pair of shoes.

2. Buy an All-Around Rock Shoe

Martha Morris boulders at The Blowouts at The Garden of the Gods, Colorado.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Buy a comfortable all-around, all-purpose rock shoe with a stiff sole and high-cut leather upper to protect your ankles. As a beginning climber you'll do all kinds of climbing on lots of vertical terrain both inside a climbing gym and outside on real rock--get a shoe that lets you experiment with your footwork and improve as a climber.

3. Get a Snug Comfortable Fit

Tight-fitting slippers are ideal for smearing on tiny edges.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Get a snug but comfortable fit—not too tight but not sloppy. Make sure the toe box is big enough for your foot. A tight pointed toe box is uncomfortable and useful only on extremely difficult climbs.

4. Rock Shoes Will Stretch

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Remember that rock shoes stretch, but mostly in width, not in length. Shoes with rubber rands and linings won’t stretch much. If the shoe is painful and your toes are cramped, don’t buy it.

5. Improper Sizing is a Common Problem

Get a comfortable fitting pair of shoes and your climbing feet will be happy.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Try on lots of shoes to find a pair that fits your feet. Improper sizing is the most common problem when buying new rock shoes. Rock shoes come in US, UK, and European sizing, which makes size conversion difficult. It’s always best to try them on in person and wear them around the shop for at least five minutes. Some shops have small walls with bolted-on footholds where you can test the new shoes on a vertical surface.

6. Great Deals are Found On-Line

Bill Springer edges a climbing shoe on a small foothold at Joshua Tree National Park.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Great deals are available from on-line vendors, but be aware that you may not pick the right size and if you buy them, you might be stuck with a shoe that doesn’t fit. Before buying, make sure you can send them back unused for a size exchange.

7. Buy Used and Save Big

The late Jack Mileski spots Alex at the Campground Boulders in Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado.
Photo © Stewart M. Green

Look for bulletin boards at mountain shops and indoor climbing gyms to buy a used pair of rock shoes. Lots of people start climbing and buy good shoes only to lose interest and sell their gear. Great deals for used rock shoes are also found on E-Bay.

8. Buy Last Year's Models Cheap

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Buy new rock shoes in the late winter and spring when last year’s models are passé and heavily discounted. Most mountain shops and on-line retailers will have close-out specials. Shop early for your size, otherwise they will have only really big or super small sizes.

9. Do a Test Run at a Shoe Demo

Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company at an indoor gym in Colorado Springs.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Look for shoe demos, usually at local climbing gyms, to try out different rock shoes and see what works for your foot, experience, and climbing style. The company shoe rep can help you decide what kind of shoe and size will work for you.

10. Rent Before Buying Rock Shoes

Nine-year-old Cam Horst climbing a 5.13a route at Shelf Road in Colorado.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Consider renting shoes for the first few times that you go climbing, whether outside or in a rock gym. That way you will know if climbing is a sport you will stick with as well as have an understanding about how you climb and how the shoes you’re renting perform at the cliff.
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