“What the hell do I need climbing shoes for?” is a common reaction of beginner climbers. This reaction comes from the impression that climbing is all about upper-body strength. Sure, climbing requires a lot of upper-body strength but it is actually your legs that propel you upward. But of course, that only happens when you’ve developed proper technique.
Are Rock Climbing Shoes Necessary? Your sneakers or trainers are just fine for your first day at a rock climbing gym. As a beginner, you’ll be climbing walls described by regulars as “ladders” which are just slightly harder than an actual ladder. Later on, “Ladder” problems will be boring and you’ll want to try more challenging routes. You’ll need rock climbing shoes for these routes that need your feet to be precise.
If you intend to go to a climbing gym and test if it is for you, then feel free to wear any athletic shoes you have. Most climbing gyms rent out climbing shoes. You can decide to rent a pair later on if you want to try it.
“Your sneakers are just fine for your first day at a rock climbing gym”
#1. How do Rock Climbing Shoes Work?
Wearing climbing shoes gives you the ability to try an array of techniques. If you can put your weight on the tip of your toes, then you can add a few inches of reach and add versatility to your movement. This is very important if you are pushing to improve your climbing skills or participating in a cutthroat competition!
“Rock Climbing Shoes allow you to put your weight on the tip of your toes”
Mountain Goat – the Spirit Animal of Climbing Shoes
Rock climbing shoes gives your feet the ability of a mountain goat! These furry mammals have sharp and pointy hooves. And they use their hooves to support their whole body weight when climbing mountains.
Engineered for Rock Climbing
Climbing shoes have soles with specialized high-friction material. They are engineered to gather your toes into “one point of contact” just like the hooves of mountain goats. This allows you to put your body weight on your toes without causing injury.
Increases Your Climbing Ability
Rock Climbing shoes make it possible for you to finish difficult routes! It allows you to use your legs and feet correctly. Without them, puzzle problems can easily degenerate into upper body brute strength exercises.
#2. What is it Like to Climb Without Rock Climbing Shoes?
Climbing without rock climbing shoes is like hammering nails with a heavy rock. You can do it, yes, but passersby won’t say “Whoa! That guy is incredible! He’s building a house with just a heavy rock!”. Instead, they are going to wonder why he’s not using a hammer.
Rock Climbing Shoes are one of the tools you use to make climbing easier and safer.
But hey! If you are really that hardcore, then no one will stop you. 😛
There are climbers that climb barefooted. But those guys do it after years of climbing with shoes on. Imitating them as a beginner is a surefire way to hurt your toes in the process.
“Rock Climbing Shoes make climbing easier and safer”
#3. When do You Need Rock Climbing Shoes?
When I was a beginner, I only used my futsal shoes to climb. They were functional enough to assist me in building leg strength and learning basic climbing techniques. I didn’t need climbing shoes for “ladder” type or beginner walls.
But you’ll need specialized footwear when you start climbing intermediate grade walls. Climbing starts to get difficult since you need better friction, edging or crack placement of feet. You’ll need to stand at the tip of your toes or move your body at various awkward looking angles. At this stage, your sneakers won’t be any good anymore.
“You Need Rock Climbing Shoes when you start climbing intermediate grade walls”
I needed to use climbing shoes after so many failed attempts of stepping on small rockholds. My running shoes simply couldn’t give me enough friction and support to stand on difficult rockholds.
#4. How to Choose the Right Type of Climbing Shoes For You?
When choosing your first climbing shoes, you usually compromise between these factors:
Performance vs Comfort
Tight shoes give you better performance for stepping on small holds. The problem with it is that they can be painful to wear.
Loose fit shoes gives you more comfort. This gives you a more relaxed feeling when you climb.
Firm vs Sticky Rubber Sole
Firm rubber is good for smearing. You smear when you press your shoes on the rock or slab and use friction to get a grip. And since it is denser, your soles will last longer.
Sticky rubber is great if you need better friction on the wall! But because it is soft, your soles wear down faster.
Durability vs Sensitivity
Thick soles are durable but less sensitive. These type of shoes will last you longer.
Thin soles feels a bit closer to barefoot climbing while giving your feet protection. Helps with performance climbing but soles can wear down faster.
#5. Buying Your Very Own Climbing Shoes
If you’re a beginner, I suggest that you rent various shoes to identify which factors complement you more. I rented and tested a bunch of climbing shoes before deciding to own one. And when you are ready to buy, get a pair of climbing shoes that aren’t too expensive.
“Rent and Test Various Climbing Shoes Before You Buy”
I rented performance oriented shoes that were extremely tight. These shoes almost bent around my feet. True to its marketing, It did give me extra support on small holds. But my problem with it as a beginner was that it was super painful to wear! Wearing them gave me a hard time concentrating on the climb.
“Tight performance shoes are super painful to wear!”
So after a lot of testing, the criteria that mattered most to me was “comfort”. My first rock climbing shoes have stiff rubber sole and are quite durable. It helped me focus on improving my leg techniques while providing protection for my feet.
(Note: Climbing shoes are for climbing only! They aren’t meant for walking long distances. Learn how to take care of your climbing shoes.)
I hope this article was helpful to you! You can also read how I spent my 20 hours of active rock climbing time and use it as a guide. If you enjoyed reading this, then share it with your friends on social media! And if you enjoy reading more content like this, then subscribe to my mailing list. Have fun rock climbing! Be good at anything fast and be a rad rookie! 🙂