April 12, 2017

Buying climbing shoes can be daunting, especially if it’s your first pair. Here are 10 tips to help you know what to ask and how to answer seemingly obvious questions.

We ask you (or should ask you):

How long have you been climbing?

Be honest!  We don’t ask you this because we want to giggle about you being new.  We are psyched that you’re committed enough to buy your own shoes!  We mainly ask you this so we know what kind of shoe will help you grow as a climber. If you’ve only been climbing for a month or two we aren’t going to sell you the Ferrari of climbing shoes or something so painful it hurts to stand. Instead, we’ll suggest something more comfortable and durable. We’ll want to get you in a work-horse that won’t blow out because you haven’t quite fine tuned your footwork yet and won’t kill your feet because they are scrunched in a down-turned position.

Is this your first pair of climbing shoes? What are you climbing in now?

It’s important for your salesperson to know if this is your first pair of climbing shoes because they will know to put you in something flat that isn’t terribly downsized. Now, while we are on the topic of “tight is right,” just because some dude at your gym said, “Get the smallest size you can squeeze your feet into,” does not make him the master and commander of rock slippers. In fact, I would say he knows very little about fitting people for climbing shoes. Extreme downsizing is not necessary anymore. Most climbing shoes are already manufactured to fit very snugly and downsizing further may cause more pain than necessary, possibly deterring you from climbing!

What type of climbing will you be doing in this shoe?

Knowing if you are going to be bouldering, trad, or sport climbing helps the staff narrow down over half of the shoes that we would fit you for. This way we aren’t wasting your time running to the back bringing out multiple sizes of the La Sportiva Genius when you plan on using the shoe for all day trips to climb cracks in Joshua Tree. Many climbing shoes are designed for a very specific type of climbing so make sure you get the right shoe the first time.

What is your street shoe size?

Not all climbing shoes are made the same, and the sales associate helping you should be completely aware of this. It’s easier for the staff to know your street shoe size and bring out what they think will work for you in a specific climbing shoe. You may need to make small adjustments within each brand and each shoe, but this is a better starting point than telling them what size gym rental you’ve been wearing. This is especially crucial for La Sportiva since they manufacture their shoes to the size of the shoe, not the length of the foot that would fit in that shoe.

Do you have a certain price you are trying to stay under?

We know that not everyone is made of money. Like you, we are dirtbags too, and work in a climbing shop (meaning we aren’t making the Forbes list anytime soon). We get that you don’t want to spend $175 on your first pair of climbing shoes and can definitely help to keep you within a comfortable budget. Also, if this is your first pair of climbing shoes keep in mind that you may be needing to buy a harness, belay device, chalk bag, and chalk- these things can add up quickly so let your sales associate know your plan, they may have some sweet climbing packages available at discounted prices.

You ask us (or should ask us):

What is this shoe made of/ will it stretch?

It’s really nice to have an idea if the shoe you’re planning to purchase will stretch. Leather will stretch more than a synthetic shoe, and shoes with rubber covering the tops for toe hooking, like the Scarpa Instinct VS, may stretch the least. If the person helping you seems a little unsure, take that handheld computer out of your pocket and put it to good use.

How long is the break-in period?

More than likely you’ll be told that the break-in period varies, which is true. It’s crucial for some new climbers to understand that wearing climbing shoes for one session will not mean they instantly become comfortable- this often takes multiple sessions. It also opens the door for some great tips on how to shorten the break-in period.

How long will these last?

Again, you’ll probably get a fairly vague answer because it is 100% dependent on where you climb, how often you get out, and how quickly you hone your footwork. I’ve seen shoes blow out in just a few months, and others take years. Treat your shoes right, know when to get them resoled (don’t wait until you can see your toes), and be aware that this will not be your only pair of climbing shoes.


What type of rubber do I need?

It’s important to get familiar with the different types of rubber out there. A very simplified concept is this: softer rubber is usually stickier but can wear through quicker; usually good for try-hard bouldering and sport climbing, not highly recommended for new climbers. Harder rubber is less sticky, but holds an edge better and typically is more durable; great for trad, all-day shoes, training days, and new climber’s shoes.

What shoes do you climb in/ what was your first pair of climbing shoes?

Try to build a rapport with your sales associate- you never know when there’s a secret members only discount that you can come up on just by being friendly. Plus, at least at the Gear Coop anyway, the person helping you definitely climbs, so find out what they wear, what shoe they first started in, and why.