How to Choose the Best Climbing Shoes

May 29, 2019
climbing shoes
Chris ShaneNot all climbing shoes are created equal. Make sure you find one that fits your foot shape and complements your skill level.

Climbing shoes come in three different styles—neutral, moderate, and aggressive—and become progressively more arched, or “cambered,” to take on more difficult climbs. Beginners should opt for the flattest, most neutral style, which offers good all-around performance with a relaxed, wear-all-day fit. More advanced climbers will want arched shoes, which compress your toes and create more stability, helping your feet grip smaller holds and overhangs. The type of rubber varies, too. Thinner, softer rubber is stickier but wears out more quickly than thicker, harder versions, making the latter a better choice for novices.

Climbing shoes are designed to be worn barefoot, with your toes pressing against the end. The more compressed your toes, the stronger and more stable they will be. Look for a tight fit that feels slightly uncomfortable but not painful. Shoes with leather uppers will mold to your feet over time; unlined versions will stretch more (up to a full size) than unlined versions (half a size or so). Synthetic materials stretch little, if at all. Women’s climbing shoes run narrower and have a smaller heel cup than men’s—a good option for anyone, if men’s versions are too roomy for your feet. Regardless of the style, look for a snug fit throughout. Your feet should not shift or move around inside your shoes as you climb. 


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.