What size climbing shoes should I get?
Everything you need to know for finding your fairy-tale fit
THE BREAK DOWN
- 1 Our climbing shoe size guide – things to remember
- 2 How to size climbing shoes
- 3 My Tips on Climbing Shoe Sizing
- 4 The Verdict
Sizing climbing shoes is without a doubt one of the most difficult challenges when buying new climbing gear. This isn’t like slipping your feet into a sloppy pair of old sneakers, when it comes to climbing shoe sizing, it is essential you have a perfect fit in order for you to perform at your best.
Regardless of how long you have been climbing, I am willing to bet you have heard people talking about wearing ridiculously small shoes. While there is some sense in this, unless you are climbing or competing at the highest level, the chances are this isn’t going to apply to you.
Don’t get me wrong, climbing shoes need to be tight – especially the softer ones – but if you are in trauma-inducing pain when you cram your feet into your shoes, then that’s a sure sign you have overdone the downsizing.
Here, I want to share with you the tricks I use when sizing climbing shoes to maximize your chances of picking the perfect shoe size every time.
Our climbing shoe size guide – things to remember
First and foremost, it’s important to remember sizing climbing shoes is an immensely personal affair and is a process that will most likely involve a bit of trial and error, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the perfect size on the first attempt. Even if it’s not completely right, with every shoe you try you will gain a little bit more knowledge that will eventually help you find your fairy-tale fit.
The single biggest reason why it is so damn difficult to get the perfect fitting climbing shoe is that no two feet are the same, even yours. In fact, it is thought that only 1% of the population has left and right feet that are the exact same length. Even then, length isn’t the only factor at play here, you will need to think about width, instep volume, and heel dimensions too.
So where does a novice climber even begin when they have little to no experience wearing climbing shoes, most likely have two different-sized feet, and don’t have the luxury of trying on shoes before buying them?
Here’s the trick: The process of sizing climbing shoes is made a little bit easier when you are armed with the knowledge that will help you make an educated decision.
Before I share my step-by-step process on how to size climbing shoes, I want to make sure you understand two important pieces of the sizing puzzle: Last shapes and EU sizing.
How well a climbing shoe fits your feet will ultimately be dedicated by the shoe last it was built on. A shoe last is a foot-shaped mold, often made of plastic or wood, that footwear is constructed around.
Every climbing shoe brand has their own range of last shapes, all of which are designed to cater to varying sizes and shapes of feet. Scarpa, for example, uses over 20 different last shapes, 9 of which are dedicated specifically to cater to women’s feet. La Sportiva has 13 different shapes across their climbing shoe line, 5 dedicated to women’s feet and 1 for the kiddos.
Each last has its own dimensions and sizes. Some are wide, others have low volume to boxes, and some will have narrow heel cups. Half the battle of choosing climbing shoes is discovering which last shapes offer the best fit for your feet.
When trying on climbing shoes, be sure to make a mental note of which last offers you the best fit. If the PD75 last of the La Sportiva Skwama fits like a glove then there’s a good chance that the Solution, Futura, and Miura models – all of which are all built on the same last – will be suitable for your feet too.
Another important thing to understand is EU shoe sizing. You may have noticed that some manufacturers list their shoes in European sizes. Of course, many climbing shoe brands do originate from Europe, however, there’s actually a good reason why many manufacturers do this.
The reason for this is that European sizes offer a more precise fit due to the smaller increments compared to US or UK shoe sizes. In fact, 30 different EU shoe sizes cover the same size range as 24 US sizes do.
If you work from EU sizes when sizing climbing shoes, you are far more likely to find a shoe that offers you that perfect fit.
Here’s a rough shoe sizing chart to help you convert your US and UK sizes.
REMEMBER: Because each brand uses its own unique last shapes, shoe sizing will vary from brand to brand. More to follow on that shortly.
How to size climbing shoes
So now you know all about the different last shapes and EU sizes, it’s time to learn how to size climbing shoes. Although your first-hand experience trying different brands and shoe models is by far the best way to gauge sizes and suitable shoes, if you are completely new to the world of climbing shoes, here’s a five step process that will help you on your search for the perfect fitting shoe.
Step 1: Measure your foot
If you are a novice climber with little to no experience with climbing shoe sizes, then I suggest you start by getting a good idea of what size your foot actually is. Sure, you could go off your normal street size, but you will get a far more accurate size by measuring your foot.
REMEMBER: No climbing shoe sits completely flat and your toes always need to be curled within the shoe, so this isn’t an exact measurement but rather a starting point for finding the right size.
To measure your foot, first, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Go stand next to a wall and put your paper up against the wall. Stand on the paper, with your heel against the wall, and mark the top of your big toe with the pen.
Once you have done this, repeat it again with the other foot (the chances are your feet aren’t going to be the exact same size). Next, grab a ruler and measure the distance from the edge of the paper to your big toe mark on your largest foot.
Take this measurement and compare it to the size chart above to find your true shoe size.
Step 2: Get to know brand sizing
Knowing the size of your foot is a good start but if you really want to get the right size rock climbing shoes then you will need to know how each brand sizes their shoes.
Remember how each manufacturer uses its own last shapes? Because these lasts aren’t standard, sizing isn’t consistent between manufacturers. This means a size 42 EU in Scarpa will give a completely different fit from a 42 EU in an Evolv shoe.
Here are a few examples of how some popular shoe brands size their shoes.
Five Ten recently updated their last sizes for its next-generation models that were released in early 2021. After testing many of their new shoes, I have found many of these shoes are true to size. I’m not the only one that found this either, have heard plenty of people say that sizing true is the way to go with their new shoes.
If you are looking for a performance fit, you can go a ½ size down, although I think sizing true to your foot size will suit most climbers.
Scarpa shoes have a reputation for running on the big side, which I have found to be true with many of the shoes I have tested.
The Italian shoemakers actually recommend you size down between ½ and 2 full EU sizes, however, this will depend on the individual models, your intended use, and of course personal preference.
Personally, I downsize any Scarpa shoe that uses a PAF heel by 2 EU sizes, as this design allows for a tighter fit without any additional pain. For their other shoes, downsizing 1.5 sizes seems to do the trick for me.
Like Scarpa, it’s highly likely you will need to downsize La Sportiva climbing shoes. The company actually recommends going for a size that’s 2 – 3 EU sizes below your foot size, although I think 3 EU sizes might be a bit excessive for new climbers.
Many of my La Sportiva shoes are between 1.5-2 EU sizes smaller climbing shoes and that usually offers a semi-comfortable performance fit. For a more relaxed fit, try downsizing by 1 – 1.5 size.
With Evolv their sizes will run close to their street shoe, if not a little on the small side. It’s most likely a true size will give you a performance fit, and a ½ size up will give you a slightly more relaxed fit.
REMEMBER: This is just a rough guide, as brands use various sizes of lasts throughout their shoe lines. If you really want to understand how to size each individual shoe, make sure to check out our individual shoe reviews.
Step 3: Mind the stretch
It’s worth remembering that, depending on the material of the shoe, you will likely experience some stretch in your shoes.
At its most basic level, upper materials can be grouped into three categories; Leather, synthetic, or a combination of both. These uppers all offer a different amount of stretch. If you have your eye on a pair of leather climbing shoes, be prepared to see them stretch up to a whole size bigger (if not more) after breaking them in.
Hybrid uppers will still stretch a little in the areas that use leather but won’t see much stretch in the parts that use synthetic materials. For these types of shoes, you can expect to see about a ½ size growth out of these. Synthetic uppers, on the other hand, will hardly stretch at all throughout the course of their life.
You will also want to consider if your uppers are lined or unlined. If an upper is unlined, there will only be one layer of material, so it will stretch more than its lined counterparts.
Step 4: Think about your climbing discipline and intensity
What style of climbing you intend on pursuing, and the intensity at which you do it is another important factor you will want to consider when deciding what size climbing shoe to wear. If you are looking for a serious-sending shoe for sending hard bouldering and sport routes, then a performance fit shoe is more desirable.
If you are just looking for a shoe for training or as an every-day work horse, then a fit like this is probably a little excessive. Again, trad or multi-pitching are other examples of when comfort is more of a priority than performance.
Regardless of whether you want a performance or comfort fit, just remember that your toes should never be completely flat!
Step 5: Learn to put shoes on properly
Once you have collected all the knowledge from steps 1 – 4, it’s time for the fun part! Let’s buy some damn shoes. If you don’t know where the best place to shop is, here are a few of the best places to buy climbing shoes.
Once those bad boys arrive, it will be time to see if your hard work and newfound knowledge on sizing climbing shoes have paid off.
Learning how to put a shoe on correctly might sound a bit ridiculous but there’s probably a little more to it than what you would first think.
Here’s a brilliant 2-minute video that covers everything you need to know.
Notice how they ensure the toe box is properly fitted before putting the heel on? Putting your climbing shoe on this way ensures your toes are sitting currently in the shoe and will reduce the likelihood of any dead space or hotspots.
How do you know if your climbing shoes are the right size?
Okay, so know how you have put the shoe properly, but how do you know if it actually fits? After all, climbing shoes aren’t meant to be like comfortable slippers, so what are the key signs you have the right climbing shoe size?
First things first, this isn’t like a pair of sneakers that you should walk around your house with. Climbing shoes aren’t designed for walking in – doing this offers you no real help – and excessive walking can damage that beautiful downturned camber.
First, let’s talk about signs that suggest your shoes are too big. My favorite method for testing shoes is by simply raising my heel up and pressing the toe into the ground (or an elevated edge somewhere around your house). If you have the right size shoe you should instantly feel those tensioned rubber rands keeping that shoe tightly compressed around your foot.
A key sign to look for is that there should also be no excess bagging on the toe box upper when pressing down on the toe. Here’s some Scarpa’s I recently tested.
Notice how baggy the upper toe box is on my left foot compared to the right? This is a clear sign that this is the wrong size for my left foot. I can feel the difference too, the loose-fitting left foot doesn’t engage the tensioned rands and my ability to edge on small holds will be severely impacted.
You will also want to make sure the heel fits properly and that there aren’t any air pockets between the bottom of your heel and the shoe. To test the fit of a heel, I like to sit on the floor and recreate a heel hook on the corner of some sturdy furniture. If the heel doesn’t pop off when cranking that heel hook, then this is an encouraging sign that you have a good fitting heel cup.
So what about the tell-tale signs that your climbing shoes are too small?
The chances are, that even if you find the perfect size climbing shoe, they still won’t be the most comfortable pair of shoes you will ever own. That said, anything that creates unbearable pain, unnecessary pressure on the sides of your metatarsals or creates a toe crushing sensation, either on the knuckle area or by over curling, then it’s likely you need to try a bigger size.
My Tips on Climbing Shoe Sizing
The five-step process above will serve you well when sizing up your next pair of climbing shoes. If you want a few bonus tips, then here are a few extra knowledge bombs to help you on your climbing shoe sizing journey!
Use a climbing shoe size calculator
Various online stores have their own climbing shoe size calculator to help you choose the correct size. These are pretty handy, especially if you have experience with other climbing shoes to use as a comparison. That said, I would take these size suggestions with a pinch of salt, they are purely subjective and don’t take into account how well your foot will suit the last shape.
I have found the Epic TV calculator pretty accurate. You can find it by visiting any shoe page and clicking the ‘how I choose the right size’ button. Alpine Trek also has one, although I’m not totally convinced about its accuracy, and climbers outside of the UK might have trouble accessing it.
Speak to an expert if you are struggling
If you are really struggling to size your climbing kicks, then it might be worth speaking to an experienced sales assistant. Of course, this would be best done by visiting your local retailer (which also allows you to try on a few different models), but if that’s not an option, then Backcountry has a phone line where you can call and speak to one of their experienced team.
Of course, I am happy to answer any questions you have, feel free to shoot me an email.
Get multiple sizes to offer as a comparison
One of my favorite moves when buying new shoes is to order two pairs. While it definitely stings spending several hundred dollars on climbing shoes, it’s truly invaluable to have multiple sizes to compare. It gives you a clear understanding of a good fitting shoe feels, and allows you to make a more educated decision on a final purchase.
Of course, once you have decided which size fits you best, simply just return the other pair and get a refund!
Buy from somewhere with a good return policy
The final tip I can offer you is to make sure you buy your shoes from somewhere that has a good return policy.
The chances are you will probably have to return a pair of shoes at some point, so it’s worth buying for somewhere that offers a discounted shipping rate on returns.
With REI, you can return shoes to your local store, and save on a paying the flat fee of $5.99 for return shipping.
Trying to find the right size climbing shoe is never an easy task. If you have the chance, I would suggest trying out the shoes you have your eye on in a local store. Even if you can try the same brand, it will give you a good base to work from.
As a general rule, stick to your normal shoe size and take it from there, you won’t be far off. The points I shared above will give you a pretty good idea about what size will work best for you.