When the handsome prince pulled his LandRover up to Cinderella’s mountain cottage, he had no idea that he was about to become the first ever climbing shoe sales person. Trying desperately to manipulate that delicate glass slipper onto fat, sweaty appendages — anyone who has ever fitted a good pair of rock shoes can definitely relate.
And those evil step-sisters were not far from most hard core climbers. “It will fit. Here – just – let – me – break – off – my – middle – toe. Don’t – need – that – one – anyway!”
Of course, on the other side of the isle we have our noob climber, who apparently thinks he is Cinderella and thinks his climbing shoes should fit like bedroom slippers. “My toes just feel too confined.”
Like the Cinderella story, fitting rock climbing shoes is a strange combination of determination, love, and getting the stars to align. It’s as much art as science. There are no tried and true rules. But there are some basic principles that may help. So put the broom and dust pan down and let’s consider what you really want in a shoe.
First question is: what will you be using the shoe for? Obviously if you are going to be hanging on the side of an all day multi-pitch big wall route you want something a bit more comfortable. On the other hand, if bouldering is your passion, with sixty second bursts on hard projects followed by five to ten minute social breaks, during which your new send-mister shoes can be removed, well then a much tighter clog might be tolerated.
Next, you just need to try on some shoes. DON’T ORDER ON-LINE! I know you think I’m just saying that because we want you to buy from the Bliss Pro Shop — and you would be exactly right ;)! Of course we want you to buy local from us. It helps keep the doors open at your climbing gym. But even more so, sizes in climbing shoes vary by sometimes a couple of sizes (even among the same brand). And the multiple shapes of rock shoes make it even more confusing. It is just almost impossible to guess your correct size.
Climbing shoes are designed to be an extension of your own foot. As such, you want your shoes tight enough that there is very little room for movement of the shoe on the foot. This, by the way, is also why most climbers don’t were socks. Socks cause slippage: the opposite of what you are aiming for. As you try on your new shoes, aim for tight enough that your toes are touching the end and maybe even starting to curl just a bit, but not so tight that you cringe when you stand up. (It’s hard to see the next hold when your eyes are filled with tears). Also check width, as this varies substantially between shoes. The shoe should wrap around your foot like a glove. Finally, tug on the heel a bit. You want it to stay in place and not slip. Much advanced climbing involves using the heal to hold yourself into the wall or pull yourself up. There is no worse experience than doing this and feeling your foot begin to slip out of your shoe.
One more thing. Try both shoes on. Most people have one foot that is larger than the other. While this difference is seldom an issue in street shoes, it can be enough to make one side either way too tight or way too loose. Also, remember that many shoes will stretch 1/2 to even a full size in the first few months. Ask your sales person if this is likely with the shoe you are looking at and down size accordingly.
The last thing I will say about climbing shoes is to try on many different types and purchase a high quality shoe that fits your needs well. Again, your sales person should be able to help you with this.
In climbing, your shoe is the only piece of equipment that actually helps you climb better. Find the right one for you and you will begin a love affair that even the great fairy tales would be jealous of.
Climb Hard and Follow Your Bliss,