Tips to Buy the Best Rock Climbing Shoes

How to Buy a New Pair of Climbing Shoes

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 cliff. But which climbing shoes should you get? How do you decide which rock shoes to buy? How do you properly fit a pair of climbing shoes? And what kind of rock climbing shoes do you need? There are so many choices, and you need to pick wisely.

The rock shoes that 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 might give up climbing. But buy the right pair of rock shoes and you’ll be dancing up the walls. Follow the 10 tips below to make smart rock shoe buying decisions.

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Buy at a Reputable Mountain Shop

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

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Buy an All-Around Rock Shoe

Martha Morris boulders at The Blowouts at The Garden of the Gods, Colorado.
Try on and buy rock shoes at a reputable mountain shop for the best fit. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

If you're a beginner, it's best to buy a comfortable all-around, all-purpose rock shoe with a slightly stiff sole for edging and smearing, and a high-cut leather upper to protect your ankles from scrapes. As a beginning climber, you'll do all kinds of climbing on different kinds of vertical terrain both inside a climbing gym and outside on real rock. Use a  climbing shoe that lets you experiment with your footwork, which will help improve as a climber.

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Get a Snug Comfortable Fit

Tight-fitting slippers are ideal for smearing on tiny edges.
Slippers should be snug but not tight and painful. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Buy a climbing shoe with 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. Make sure the heel of the shoe is snug. You don't want your heel to move up and down.

For more information on fitting new rock shoes, read Find the Right Fit to Climb High and Hard.

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Rock Shoes Will Stretch

A climbing slipper stretches to fit your foot. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Remember that rock climbing shoes will stretch with use, but mostly in width, not in length. Rock shoes with rubber bands and linings won’t stretch much. If the shoe is painful and your toes are cramped when you try it on, don’t buy it. Your feet will thank you.

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Improper Sizing is a Common Problem

Try on lots of climbing 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 the shoes on in person and wear them around the shop for at least five or ten minutes. Some shops have small climbing walls with bolted-on footholds where you can test the new shoes on a vertical surface.

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Great Deals are Found at On-Line Retailers

Bill Springer edges a climbing shoe on a small foothold at Joshua Tree National Park.
Find great deals on-line for last year's hot rock shoes. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Great deals on rock shoes are available from on-line vendors but are aware that you may not pick the right size and if you do buy them, you might be stuck with a shoe that doesn’t fit. Before buying, make sure that you can send them back unused for a size exchange.

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Buy Used Rock Shoes and Save Big

The late Jack Mileski spots Alex at the Campground Boulders in Elevenmile Canyon, Colorado.
Used shoes are usually a great deal and save your dollars for gasoline to the cliffs. 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.

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Buy Last Year's Rock Shoe Models Cheap

A good pair of rock shoes is the one piece of gear that will make you climb better. 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 offer close-out specials. Shop early for your size, otherwise, they will have only really big or super small sizes.

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Do a Test Run at a Shoe Demo

Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company at an indoor gym in Colorado Springs.
Indoor climbing gyms usually have a couple shoe demos every year so you can test new rock shoes. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Look for rock 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.

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Rent Before Buying Rock Shoes

Nine-year-old Cam Horst climbing a 5.13a route at Shelf Road in Colorado.
Rent rock shoes at your local gym before buying, especially if you're unsure which new shoes to buy. 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 that you’re renting perform at the cliff.