So the guy at the bouldering hall told you he wears his climbing shoes three sizes smaller than his street shoe size and now you’re wondering: ‘How is that even physically possible??”. While this may be an exaggeration, there is a time and place for skin tight shoes. But how tight should cimbing shoes be you ask?
There are a bunch of different factors that go into shoe sizing and there are just as many opinions out there to match. Let’s take a look at some of those factors so that you can make your own informed decision.
Style of climbing
The number one deciding factor that should influence your decision on sizing is the terrain you plan on using your shoes for. Not every fit will be appropriate for every use. In fact, most shoes will be intended to be sized in a specific way. A high-performance shoe vs a trad climbing shoe will benefit from different sizing as they have drastically different constructions and purposes.
Bouldering and Sport Climbing
If your primary discipline is bouldering or you enjoying pushing yourself on tough sport lines, you’ll most likely be in the market for a downturned, asymmetrical shoe. These shoes will force your weight to the front of your foot, resulting in scrunched-up toes (think like a ballerina’s point shoe). You don’t want to be moving around inside, so look for something nice and snug, where toes run up against the front of the shoe. Your big to should be curled to fill out the toe box fully. Your foot should mold to the profile of the shoe.
Here we’re looking to optimize performance over comfort for those short bursts of try-hard. While your shoes shouldn’t be leaving you in tears, a bit of discomfort is OK as you’ll most likely be taking them off after every couple of attempts.
Longer Routes and All-Around Use
While a tight fit might deliver optimal performance on steep and thin terrain, it’s often not necessary to go that small when you’re just looking to cruise some pitches well below your technical limit. To ensure your toes aren’t crying in pain, for all day use we would recommend a more comfortable and supportive shoe. You’re still looking to have your toes touch the end; however, they shouldn’t be curled up as aggressively. When trying them on initially they should feel snug, but not present any potential pain points. You’ll want a bit of wiggle room.
If you’ll be bringing the shoes out to the alpine, you might even consider sizing them big enough so that you can wear socks.
A climber that is looking for an all-around shoe should consider similar factors. Go for something about a half-size to a full size larger than you with a bouldering/performance shoe.
Trad Climbing and Cracks
If you’re a crack climbing fiend, consider the unique pressure points jamming can create. An aggressively fitted, downturned shoe can not only cause extreme pain when jamming, they also simply won’t be all that effective.
Similar to the all-around shoe, a trad shoe should provide a supportive platform to stand on, but also a bit of room to move around in when torqueing the foot. This means toes should be touching the end of the shoe, but the there shouldn’t be much curling.
Beyond the application of the shoe, you’ll want to consider the brand. They’ll vary greatly on their sizing, meaning a person might fit into a size 40 EU in one brand and 38 in another. This will depend on whether they are meant to fit “true to size”, or are modeled off of street shoe sizing. For example, La Sportiva shoes can typically be sized down at least a full size, if not two! Evolve and Butora, on the other hand, should fit about true to size.
Once you get to know the sizing of a brand, it makes it much easier to hop from one model to another. That being said, there can still be some variations within a brand, especially when comparing different styles. While a climber might fit into 39 EU for both the Miura and Katana (both aggressive La Sportiva models), they may opt for a larger size when looking at the La Sportiva Mythos (commonly used as an all-day trad shoe).
Other important factors include material type. A full leather shoe can stretch up to a size and a half when broken in, while a fully synthetic shoe may not stretch at all. Similarly, if a shoe is lined, it should not stretch much.
Lastly, the user’s skill level should also be accounted for. While a high-quality shoe sized extra tight will reward good footwork, for a beginner, the pain associated may be unwarranted. If you’re just looking for something that will keep you happy as you hone your skills, go for that snug yet comfy fit. Chances are you won’t be needing to edge on micro holds any time soon.
So, how tight should climbing shoes be? Well, in the end, shoe sizing comes down to personal preference. While most boulderers will opt for the performance fit, you can still spot the odd climber sporting socks while and crushing your local V7 classic.
So even though you might not nail the sizing the first time around, that’s OK. As long as they feel right for you at the time, they’ll probably do just fine. If you are at the beginner stage, once you’ve outgrown your current shoes, you’ll have a pair to fall back on as your comfy trainers or all-day multipitchers.
If possible, the best option is always to try them on in person. Don’t be afraid to ask for a single shoe in three different sizes and give them a test run on the store wall. If there are no brick-and-mortar stores in your area, find an online retailer with a good return policy (like Amazon) so that you may order different sizes and return the ones that don’t fit.
Before you know it, you’ll end with a quiver full of shoes in all different sizes. You’ll be ready for all occasions. Ready to get stuck in? Take a look at all our shoe reviews here!