Which Rock Climbing Shoes Should I Wear?

Properly Fitting Rock Shoes Will Let You Climb Better

Ian Spencer-Green climbing at Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado.
Get the right rock shoes and you'll dance up the rock. (Stewart M. Green)

As the old Nike ad that featured basketball great Michael Jordan used to say, “It’s the shoes, man, it’s the shoes!” Well, that’s not completely wrong when it comes to climbing and rock shoes. A good pair of rock shoes, heck any pair of rock shoes, will make you a better climber.

Use Rock Shoes Not Sneakers

A lot of folks start out climbing in a pair of sneakers, which can work fine on juggy routes, but put a beginner in tennis shoes on a sandstone slab and he will flounder like a fish out of water. His feet will slip and slide. His ankles will bend over. His shoes won’t stick to the rock. He won’t be a happy climber. Instead, he’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with him.

Rent a Pair to Start

But put him in a pair of basic entry-level rock shoes like at Front Range Climbing Company at the Garden of the Gods and he’ll be dancing up the rock like a ballerina. Well, maybe not quite that gracefully, but climbing will be a heck of a lot easier and he’ll have a lot more fun.

If you’re just starting out climbing, check with your local climbing shop, indoor gym, or guide service to see if they offer rock shoes for rent. It’s worth the few bucks to rent because a pair of rock shoes will always give you a better first-time experience—and your feet will thank you.

Find Comfortable Snug Shoes

When stores outfit beginner climbers with rock shoes, they tell them to find a pair that’s comfortable and snugly fits their foot. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortably tight, with their toes crammed in the toe box. Also, consider the width. The shoe should fit snug across the foot as well as offer some arch support. Since your footwork will be sloppy, buy a pair with leather high-tops to protect your ankles and a stiff sole so you can learn how to edge with your foot.

Socks or No Socks? 

Most experienced climbers don’t wear socks so their shoes will fit tightly and their foot can better feel the rock beneath their sensitive soles. That said, it is probably better to wear a thin pair of socks when you’re starting out, especially if you’re wearing a pair of rental shoes that some sweaty guy wore the week before.