The question i get asked most often
One of the first questions i get asked by friends and family members who i teach basics of rock climbing. It’s a justified question that one: When people learn to climb, one of the first things to buy are usually shoes and they obviously need to fit.
In fact, i got asked this question so many times that i decided to write this post, answering the question “Should rock climbing shoes hurt”.
I will also give you tips and advice on choosing the right pair of climbing shoes and tell you some of the stuff you need to know about climbing shoes.
After reading this guide you will be ready to start buying your climbing shoes.
The short answer to the question: No, climbing shoes shouldn’t hurt.
BUT: They should be tight enough to make some people feel a little uncomfortable at first. And this is what beginners often describe as “they hurt”.
Difference between snug shoes and shoes that hurt
New climbers have problems differentiating between snug shoes and hurting shoes. I always tell them the easy rule: Your shoes are too tight and hurt if the pain is so strong that you cannot focus on your climb. If they just feel uncomfortable and twinch or peak a bit when you slip in them – that’s totally fine.
About rock climbing shoes
Your connection to the rock is made mostly by feet and hand. You don’t wear gloves for the hands but you wear shoes. That means your shoes are at least as important as hands and a good grip strength. You can find shoes designed for any style or niche of climbing: Bouldering, crag climbing, traditional climbing or big walls and sport-routes.
My rule of thumb
Start on a neutral, not too aggressive shoe that feels comfortable. I teached friends and family members the basics of climbing and i will always recommend a pair with round toes a neutral shape and medium level of stiffness. You can use them to get used to climbing shoes, and when you feel ready you can make the transition to a pair with lots of heel tension and a downturned shape.
Your first climbs shouldn’t be about enduring pain in the feet because your shoes are too tight. They should be about learning technique, coordination and moves on the rock.
Keep your climbing shoes off when belaying or taking a break and chatting. This tip will save your feet on long climbing days.
Only wear them when you actually climb. So remember to bring a pair of flip-flops or easy to slip-in sneakers in your backpack. And of course, don’t wear socks in them!
Why fitting rock climbing shoes are important
Your rock climbing shoes are your contact point with the rock. Since the 50s when people where climbing with mountain boots or barefoot and today lies a world of technology advance. Technology of climbing shoes was a major driving force of rock climbing performance and style. And wrong type of shoes can not only hold you back but also destroy your performance gains. So make sure to keep these three points in mind when choosing your shoes.
Types of shoes
It’s your choice: The can be neutral, moderate and aggressive. We’ll discuss pros and cons in a minute.
Features of the shoe
If you like laces or straps, linings and rubber reinforcements. All these influence the performance and feel of the shoe.
Fit of the shoe
They should be snug but not painfully. Find the right fit and it will help you climb longer, harder and more difficult. Plus it’s a wonderful feeling to find bomb traction on tiny footholds or smears (smearing is when you use the surface friction of your shoes sole because there are no good footholds).
The three types of shoes explained
Perfect all-day shoes. These will let you go flat on your toes, and they are a great choice for beginners because they feel comfortable. But even if you’re experienced: I always keep a pair of neutral style shoes in my backpack for all-day climbing and when im climbing easier climbs. If you’re doing multi-pitch climbs its also good to have a backup pair of neutral, feet friendly shoes.
- Awesome all-day comfort
- Medium-to-stiff midsole, with thick rubber sole for support
- Flat profile is perfect for slotting into cracks
- You don’t get as good a feel for the rock like with more aggressive shoes. It’s because of the thick stiff soles – they are not designed for maximum sensitivity.
- Due to the relaxed fit they are not that good for very difficult overhanging climbs. Don’t worry about this too much: You can definitely do overhanging routes with neutral shoes. If you fail overhanging climbs, chances are way higher it’s because of your technique and strength then due to your shoes
Moderate shoes have a slightly downturned shape. This shape is called camber, and it makes them good when you climb technical stuff. They are the swiss-army knife of climbing shoes: You can do slab routes, crack climbs, long pitches and overhanging sport climbs with them.
- The Downturned shape gives your feet a strong and more powerful position. It will help tackle difficulties and cruxes. (A crux is the most challenging part of a climb)
- They have more rubbery and stickier soles. Soles are not as thick as neutral shoes.
- Still more feet friendly than aggressive shoes
- Not that good for very overhung climbs or hard boulder problems
- Hurt more than neutral shoes
- Sticky rubber and thin soles mean they won’t last as long as neutral shoes
The pro stuff. Lots of downturn and heel tension. This type of shoe gives your feet a very strong and powerful position. Which means you can climb the hardest overhanging climbs with them. The asymmetric shape curves toward your big toe, which will give you incredible focus and power over the toe. You can use this power to find precise placement on even the tiniest holds. But they can hurt – if you are a beginner, stay away from them, these shoes take time to get used. Even experienced climbers usually only wear them for single-pitch sport climbs or at the gym when tackling boulder problems.
- Very downturned shape means a strong, powerful position for overhung sport climbs, boulder problems or hard gym climbing.
- Sticky rubber and thinnest soles: More grip and feel than neutral or moderate shoes.
- Feet can hurt after a while. This is normal. You will get used to it.
- The pronounced downturn won’t fit into cracks as good, and can make smearing difficult.
- Sticky rubber and thinnest soles war down fast
Climbing shoe features explained
Climbing Shoe Closures
Very versatile. When you rest and your feet are hot, just open them. For difficult climbs, strap them down, crack down at the toe and make them even more performant.
These hook and loop closures are super convenient. Great for bouldering and gym climbing, and super fast to slip out off between climbs.
Only downside: Straps can get dirty quickly and won’t work until you clean them. So keep them clean.
Greatest sensitivity and a very low profile. They are good for training too: Without a stiff sole your feet get strong quickly. Also good for thin cracks because of the low profile. But you need to be careful when trying them: They must fit your feet good, as there are no means to adjust them
Rock climbing shoes shouldn’t hurt, but they also have to be tight. Hope this guide is helpful to find a good pair of climbing shoes!