What to Consider When Choosing a Rock Climbing Shoe

The type of climbing shoe you purchase can make all the difference when you're out at the crag or hanging off the wall of a multi-pitch route. You’ll need to find the right style of shoe to suit the type of climbing you’ll be doing. This guide will help those purchasing their first climbing shoe or those looking to add another pair of rock shoes to their gear collection. Rock shoes are very specific in their fit and style and can range from having a flat shape to a hooked-toe shape, with many variations in between. These different variations are specific to the type of terrain you’ll be climbing, so it’s important to choose the best shoe for your climbing needs.

Rock shoes have many factors to consider: the profile, the fit, the material, and the closures. Additionally, you’ll also want to consider the thickness of both the sole and midsole of the shoe. All these factors will depend on what type of climber you are and what type of rock and grades you’ll be climbing. You’ll first want to determine what type of terrain you’ll be climbing, whether it’s bouldering, gym climbing, slab routes, crack climbing, face and juggy terrain or steep and multi-pitch routes. Each shoe variation has characteristics designed for specific types of climbing.

Profile & Sole Thickness

There are two main types of shoe profiles: flat profiles and cambered profiles. Cambered profiles are also known as hooked-toe or downturned profiles due to their claw-like shape. Between these two major profiles of climbing shoes are fusions and different variations, allowing climbers to purchase combination shoes for varied routes. You’ll be able to pick the best shoe for your needs once you understand what performance each shoe profile provides.

Flat profiled shoes are generally used for all around versatile climbing including slab climbing, crack climbing, face climbing and some multi-pitch routes. The shoe fits flat and snugly with a thick sole and medium or stiff midsole. As the toes are fitted flat and snug, this style of shoe will provide performance when using smearing techniques on slab routes. Additionally, because the toe portion of the shoe is not curled and has a thinner profile, this shoe acts well for toe jamming on crack routes. With a stiff supportive midsole and thicker sole, you’ll find the shoe also works well for edging performance on different types of face climbing.

Camber or downturned shoes are spotted by their hooked-toe shape, with the toes curling downwards. These shoes are best used for bouldering routes, indoor gym climbing, steep routes and overhanging routes. The claw shape of the toes allows the foot to easily grasp or pull steep holds and pockets. The shoes generally having a snugger fit with the toes curling into the point of the shoe. Downturned shoes generally have a thinner sole allowing for greater sensitivity to feel the holds and pockets.

Fit & Material

Some shoes will feel snugger than others depending on their profile. However, you’ll always want to ensure that the shoe you try on fits snug with no pressure points or empty space. Additionally, an important consideration will also be the material make of the shoe. A shoe made from leather or suede will stretch as you break the shoe in. Shoes made of this material can be bought a little tighter to ensure they are not too loose later on. A shoe made from a synthetic material will generally retain its shape from the factory setting. Shoes with lining will hold their shape a little more even if they are composed of leather or suede. Be sure to check the material and lining of a shoe to ensure you will have the best fit even after you have broken your shoes in later on.


Closures can make a difference in the fit of the shoe and the efficiency of the shoe. Generally, shoes come with two types of closures: lace-up and hook-and-loop velcro closures. Shoes that have lace-up closures give the user greater control over the fit and tightness of the shoe. This can allow the user to adjust the fit depending on the route, such as a tight fit during overhang routes or a looser fit during slab routes. Velcro shoes give the user less control over the fit but are more efficient if you are a user that constantly removes their shoes. Therefore, these shoes make great shoes for bouldering or climbing at the gym.

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