How To Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

Rilor Staff
Update: October 9, 2021
Table of Contents

Rock climbing is a fulfilling yet challenging endeavor. It requires practice and skill so that you can tackle the walls in front of you. Of course, aside from these things, you need to have the right gear to do this endeavor. 

One of the items that you need to secure is a pair of rock climbing shoes. Keep in mind that this footwear is the one that helps you ascend and descend the rocks. If you get the wrong kind of shoes, you will not be able to complete the expedition. 

These are the following considerations when choosing rock climbing shoes. 

How To Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

It is crucial that you will be able to check the following guidelines before you buy a pair of rock climbing shoes. In this way, you will be able to pick the suiting gear to maximize your performance and optimize your performance. 

Type Of Rock Climbing Shoes

Neutral Climbing Shoes

These climbing shoes are designed to give their users comfort while they are on the move. Specifically, these shoes provide a flat platform so that your toes can lie comfortably. Because of these features, they are ideal for new climbers. But of course, they are great for veterans, especially for extensive multi-pitch climbs. 

However, keep in mind that these neutral shoes are not tailored for technical routes such as overhanging rock climbs. Moreover, the thick and stiff soles of these shoes don't have the same sensitivity as the soles of aggressive and moderate climbing shoes. 

Moderate Climbing Shoes

It is easy to distinguish a moderate climbing shoe. The latter has a curved structure, which is commonly referred to as a camber. Such architecture lets you use the shoe for technical climbs. I can confidently say that these moderate shoes are all-rounders; you can use them on multi-pitch climbs, slab climbs, and crack climbs. You can also use them if you are going to ascend on overhung routes. 

One of the known drawbacks of these moderate shoes is the fact that it is not being designed for performance applications. This means that they aren't that great if you are dealing with steep boulders and extreme overhung routes. Moreover, they are not as comfortable as neutral shoes. It is also notable that the thin rubber soles of these moderate shoes are susceptible to wearing out quickly. 

Aggressive Climbing Shoes

The structure of aggressive climbing shoes is characterized by extremely downturned toes. They also provide a tremendous amount of heel tension. Because of these features, aggressive shoes are suitable to deal with technical overhanging rock climbs. The design of these shoes enables your toe to exert as much force as possible so that they will be able to clutch small gaps as tightly as possible. 

Of course, it is natural if these aggressive shoes are only worn during single-pitch sport climb or route climbs at the gym. It has to be indicated as well that they aren't as comfortable as neutral and moderate climbing shoes. Moreover, their downturn structure can't fit and isn't compatible with cracks. 

Essential Features Of Rock Climbing Shoes

Type Of Closure

  • Strap - Strap closures, also called "hook and loop," are known for the convenience that they offer. They are ideal closure systems whenever you are gym or boulder climbing, especially if you prefer slipping your footwear off between the climbs. 
  • Lace-up - With a lace-up closure, you will get versatility from your climbing shoe. Every time that you feel discomfort, you can just loosen the laces so that your feet can take a breather. 
  • Slip-on - A slip-on closure is akin to the design of slippers. Hence, it is always called that way. Slip-on shoes tend to be elastic, low-profile, and sensitive. They can be good for training, as they can help strengthen your feet. Due to the absence of laces and straps, slotting them inside thin cracks are quite doable. 

Upper Material

  • Lined leather - If the shoe has a lined leather upper, its stretch experiences a significant reduction. Other manufacturers tend to line the toe part only to minimize the cost of production, as well as to optimize the stretch of the shoe. 
  • Unlined leather - Opposite to lined leather shoes, footwear with unlined leather uppers has no restriction when it comes to stretch. When trying this particular shoe, it is ideal to size them so that you feel your toes against the leather. 
  • Synthetic - Notably, synthetic rock climbing shoes don't really stretch that much. They can soften after multiple uses, but only to a slight degree. Therefore, you shouldn't worry about their fit changing over the course of time. Compared to solid synthetic, perforated ones offer more breathability and performance. 


The outsole of the shoe plays an important role in its performance. Essentially, this is the part that gets in contact with the rock. Hence, you want it to possess as much grip, stability, and endurance as possible. 

  • Outsole material - Most rock climbing shoes use rubber as their outsole material. But keep in mind that there are different variations of rubber, so you have to inspect them carefully. Some rubber outsoles are known for their softness, while others excel in clutching the ground. Firm rubbers are ideal for support provision and edging. Meanwhile, sticky ones are great for slab smearing. However, sticky outsoles aren't that impervious when it comes to abrasion.
  • Outsole thickness - An outsole is thick if it measures around 4mm to 5mm. Shoes that have thick outsoles are extremely durable; they are also a great choice for edging. But at the same time, feel and sensitivity is being compromised here. Hence, it is often suggested that new climbers should get shoes that have a thick sole so that they can withstand the grind you are doing. The more you refine your technique, the easier it is for you to transition to shoes with thin soles. 

Meanwhile, thin soles have a measurement of roughly 3mm to 5mm. Technically, they are recommended to be used on slab routes. Thin soles also provide users with a better feel and experience. 

In Summary

When choosing a pair of rock climbing shoes, make sure that you also consider these factors:

  • Your foot type - You need to know what kind of shape your feet are before buying any specific model. This includes whether or not you have flat feet, high arches, wide forefeet, narrow heels, etc. Also, check how flexible your ankles are. It's best to buy shoes that match your needs.
  • Sizing - Make sure that you measure yourself properly. Don't just go by the sizes provided by the manufacturer. Instead, try wearing the shoes first. Then, take note of where your toes touch the inside of the shoe. That will give you a good idea of which size fits you best.
  • Fit - Try on several pairs until you find one that feels comfortable. Remember that comfort doesn't always mean having a tight-fitting shoe. In fact, some people prefer loose-fitting shoes because they allow for greater freedom of movement. So, choose something that suits your style.
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