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What Is A Climbing Shoe Last? And why should you care?

Updated By Sam on 10th Nov 2023

A climbing shoe last is simply the 3D mold that the shoe is built around. This simple, yet crucial, tool will ultimately determine the characteristics of the shoe’s shape including; the width, downturned profile, or asymmetric nature.

Alright, strap in folks, we’re about to traverse the rocky terrain of climbing shoe lingo. Ever heard of a ‘climbing shoe last’ and scratched your head? Don’t fret, that’s a pretty common reaction. But buckle up, because we’re about to delve into what the heck a climbing shoe last is and why it’s a big deal in the climbing world.

Not the page you are looking for? 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 here – is when we are talking about shoe manufacturing or the resoling process.

What Is A Shoe Last And Why Should I Care?

climbing shoe sizing

A shoe last is essentially the sculpture your climbing shoe is modeled. It’s the canvas on which skilled shoemakers begin to build their climbing shoes, which will go on to have a huge impact on the finished product. The last will dictate the size and fit of the shoe, dictating its length, volume, width, downturn profile, toe box shape, and asymmetry.

Now, that is all well and good, but I’m sure you are wondering why the hell should you care about this? The main reason is that picking the right last can amp up your climbing game, ensuring your shoes are in sync with both your foot shape and climbing style. It’s like choosing the right wand in Harry Potter; get the right last, and you’re on your way to climbing wizardry.

The Last Shape

Every climbing shoe manufacturer has their own unique last shapes, which is why you will always notice a difference in sizing and fit between various climbing shoe brands. But when you break it down, there are two main shapes of lasts that are used when building climbing shoes. The first is what most people would refer to as a traditional last, the second is called a cambered last.

The Traditional Last

Board lasted climbing shoes

A traditional last looks like a prosthetic foot, and is used when building shoes that are designed to keep your feet in a flat, natural position. This type of last ar neutral climbing shoes, shoe models that are built with comfort or all-day use in mind. To help support your foot in this position, shoes that are built on a traditional last shape are usually a lot stiffer than their downturned counterparts.

The Cambered Last

Slip lasted climbing shoes

A cambered last, on the other hand, doesn’t try to mimic your foot but creates a funky downturned shape that you will find on aggressive climbing shoes. Shoes with a downturned profile like this, take to overhung climbing like a duck to water, so it’s no surprise that most bouldering shoes are built on a cmabered last.

The Construction Style

When it comes to actually making 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 keep this simple.
 

Broad Lasted Climbing Shoes

A broad-lasted shoe is made by attaching an insole or “last board” to the bottom of the molded last. The shoe’s preconstructed upper (the material part on the top side of your shoes) 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 their slip-lasted counterparts. These qualities do have their uses for certain styles of slab and crack climbing – they also tend to be more durable. While broad-lasting is the most common form of construction in most boots and sneakers, many climbing manufacturers have moved away from this style and favored slip-lasting instead.

Slip-Lasted Climbing Shoes

Because every climbing shoe needs to be light and flexible, the vast majority all modern climbing shoes 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-length and slip-length stuff, then here’s a quick video that might help you out.

Why should you care about this?

Understanding this stuff won’t just help 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 buy’ but not all of us have access to a brilliant outdoor retailer. Having a quick look at which last shape your shoes use will take a little less guessing out the buying process.

When 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 the graph, you can understand how asymmetric, aggressive, and pointed a shoe is.

La sportiva climbing Last

Say you have been using the Miura VS, and want to find a shoe better suited to climbing indoor boulders. Using your knew knowledge of the last shapes and this comparison table, you will know that the Skwama and Futura are likely to offer a very similar size and fit to the Miura VS, as all are built on the PD75 last.

You can learn a lot of information from a last, all before you have even seen what it looks like!

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