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 what should you get? How do you decide what shoes to buy? And what kind of 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 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 climbing. One of the big advantages is that you can try them on and test them--ensuring you get a great fit.
2. Buy an All-Around Rock ShoeBuy a comfortable all-around, all-purpose shoe with a stiff sole and high-cut leather upper to protect your ankles. As a beginner you'll do all kinds of climbing--get a shoe that lets you experiment and improve.
3. Get a Snug Comfortable FitGet 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 extreme climbs.
4. Rock Shoes Will StretchRemember 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 ProblemTry 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 where you can test them on a vertical surface.
6. Great Deals are Found On-LineGreat 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 BigLook for bulletin boards in shops and gyms to buy a used pair of rock shoes. Great deals are also found on E-Bay.
8. Buy Last Year's Models CheapBuy 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 DemoLook 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 shoe rep can help you decide what kind of shoe and size will work for you.
10. Rent Before Buying Rock ShoesConsider 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.