What is a climbing shoe last?
Learn how this shoe-making tool helps you climb like a boss.
Hold onto your hats folks, I am about to drop a knowledge bomb. The word ‘last’ is a homograph, a word that has multiple meanings or uses. It can be an adjective, adverb or noun.
Did you enjoy that one? Awesome, neither did I.
When it comes to climbing shoes, we use the word ‘last’ to talk about two different topics. The first is when we talk about the lifespan of a shoe (you can read our article on how long climbing shoes last here).
The second meaning – the one we are going to talk about today – is when we are talking about shoe construction or the repair process.
What is a shoe last and why should I care?
A shoe last is simply the 3D mould any shoe is built around. This simple – yet crucial – tool will ultimately determine everything to do with the shoe’s shape including the width, downturned profile, or asymmetric nature.
Understanding which last works for your foot shape and climbing style is an easy way to make sure you are performing at your best.
Here’s what you need to know.
1) The Last Shape
When it comes down to it, there are two shapes of lasts that are used when building climbing shoes.
The Traditional Last
This type of last looks just like a wooden (or plastic) foot and is primarily built to maintain the natural position of your grubby trotters. This type of last lends itself to shoes that are built with comfort or all-day use in mind. Because of the flat footbed and rigid structure, these shoes will perform best on slabs and smears.
The Cambered Last
A cambered last, on the other hand, doesn’t try to mimic your foot, but creates a funky downturned shape that is used for aggressive climbing shoes.
Shoes with downturned profile take to overhung climbing like a duck to water, so it’s no surprise that most bouldering shoes use this style of last.
2) The Construction Style
When it comes to actually make a shoe, there are two approaches to the climbing shoe construction process.
Of course, building climbing shoes is a hugely complex process – but for everyone’s benefit (mine included) – I have tried to dumb it down a bit.
Broad Lasted Climbing Shoes
A broad-Lasted shoe is made by attaching an insole or last board (if you want the real name) to the bottom of the molded last. The shoe’s preconstructed upper (you know, that lather/fabric part) is then sewn onto the insert around the last mold. The rubber outsole is then glued on top of the last board.
Board lasted Climbing shoes are stiffer, less sensitive and generally have more neutral profiles than then slip-lasted counterparts. These qualities do have their benefits for slab and crack climbing – they also tend to be more durable too.
While broad lasting in the most common form of construction you will see in most boots and sneakers, many climbing manufacturers have moved away from this style and have instead favour slip-lasting.
Slip Lasted climbing Shoes
Because every climbing shoe needs to be light and flexible, virtually all our climbing kicks are now made using the slip-lasted process.
In this process, the upper and soft materials of the shoe are sewn into a closed sock shape first and then slipped onto the last. Once on, the shoemaker will then tighten the stitching.
If I completely lost you with this broad lasted and slip lasted stuff, here’s a quick video that might help you out.
BORING! Why should I care about this?
Understanding this stuff won’t just help find you find the perfect shoe, it might just help you climb better too.
Climbing shoes are usually one of those things you would like to ‘try before you by’ but not all of us have access to a brilliant outdoor retailer. Having a quick look at which last your shoes use will take a little less guessing out the buying process.
When it comes to applying your new-found knowledge, some manufacturers make it easier to interpret than others.
Take this chart from La Sportiva, for example. Applying this information and using the key below this graph, you can understand how asymmetric, aggressive and pointed a shoe is.
You can learn a lot of information from a last, all before you have even seen what it looks like!