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A former member
Post #: 8
How are climbing shoes supposed to fit? I'm new to all this but would like to get my own shoes, and also have them fit properly from the start rather than having to re-learn my technique in the future as I readjust to how my shoes feel. Also, how much do they loosen up as you break them in?
user 3893408
Falls Church, VA
Post #: 4
Some people believe that there are different types of shoes for different types of climbs. Maybe I'm just not hardcore enough, but I'm all about one pair of "all purpose" climbing shoes. I've only been climbing for a couple years, but here's my suggestion:

- Go for a shoe that's very tight/snug, but not hurting as soon as I put it on. However, you shouldn't want to just walk around in them. Personally, I'm usually happy to take them off after climbing and some days they're just uncomfortable (Maybe I suffer from days of fat feet syndrome. I dunno). You should not be able to move your foot around in it.
- Think about your toes and how they feel. Again, no pain, but they should probably curl a little.
- Most shoes (dare I say all?) are going to stretch. How much depends on the shoe. If you've got a good salesperson they might be able to tell you what each is known for. Just keep this in mind, but I wouldn't recommend buying a shoe that hurts in anticipation of it now hurting after it stretches. I don't think your average shoe is going to stretch that much.
- Velcro is nice to get shoes on and off easily, but personally I think laces give you a better fit.
- Take your time looking for shoes, trying on a bunch in different sizes. Feel free to try different stores. I went to HTO a few weeks back and was not impressed with the selection or the customer service assistance so I just left. A good knowledgeable sales person can be nice.
- Don't worry TOO much about it. I think everyone worries at first if they're getting the right shoe and may even have some buyer's remorse ("oh no! this shoe is horrible!"). Take your time, do it right, but don't get stuck in your head.

Hope this helps. I'm sure some of the vets will have some additional advice. Keep climbing.
Adam M.
Group Organizer
Arlington, VA
Post #: 4
Edwin's response is pretty on-the-mark. A few more comments.

Gym climbers tend to get smaller/tighter/"higher performance" shoes, and then they take them off between each climb. That's what the slip-on and velcro shoes are for. For all-day continuous climbs, you want something more comfortable and since you won't be taking the shoes on and off, most people go for shoes with laces.

As a beginner climber, your best bet is to get whatever pair fits you the best. The best way to learn which shoe fits you the best is to spend some time climbing in them. Sportrock Alexandria just had an Evolv brand demo day yesterday, where you could try on and climb in any of their shoes for free. I don't know if the gyms will let you climb in the shoes they sell, but if not you can ask if they have different brands of rental shoes. When I'm trying on climbing shoes, I put them on and then stand on my tip-toes and (if there's a climbing wall nearby) try standing up on tiny holds. Keep the new shoes on your feet as long as the store will let you. I'd say *at least* a few minutes. Shoes that seem to fit perfectly when you first put them on have a tendency to start to feel very tight after a few minutes. I think the REI in Baileys Crossroads has the widest selection of climbing shoes in the area, but even they don't have all the models by all the manufacturers. If you want to try buying online, REI lets you ship to their stores and you can return at their stores so you don't have to pay shipping either way. Another option is, which has free shipping and free return shipping.

Whether a shoe stretches depends on the materials its made from. Some shoes are made with leather uppers and some are made with synthetics. The synthetics barely stretch at all. Most leather shoes are unlined (meaning there's nothing between the leather and your foot), but there are some leather shoes w/ linings that won't stretch as much as the unlined leather shoes. I have also personally experienced shoes that shrunk. I think what happens is you sweat in the unlined leather shoes and then when you take them off the leather actually shrinks as it dries.

In my opinion, until you get to climbing 5.10s and above, the footholds are big enough that having a tighter "performance" shoe won't matter. So don't be afraid to ignore the general wisdom and get shoes that are comfortable.

A note about socks: The shoes will be more comfortable with socks, but you will also loose some performance because your foot will move around a bit more. I also don't think this is a big deal. I actually sized my current pair while wearing socks and now I usually wear them without socks so the different shouldn't be a big deal. But I don't recommend you wear climbing shoes with thick socks. If you want to wear socks, buy a pair or two of synthetic (non-cotton) running socks to wear with your climbing shoes. Wear those socks when trying on shoes.

A former member
Post #: 9
Thank you both so much! This is exactly the kind of information I was hoping for. smile
Ashburn, VA
Post #: 145
REI has a nice write up on how to choose your climbing shoe. I'll also add that if the store has a climbing wall, you should ask to try it on the wall so you can see how well they smear or edge depending on your prefered technique.­
A former member
Post #: 10
Wow, beautiful information--thank you so much for sharing!
A former member
Post #: 3
I'm trying to figure out if my shoes are too small. I tried on my shoes I only wore a few times about 3 years ago. The left foot is snug and only curls my toes a little bit but with my right foot I think my toes are curling much more. I'm not sure I can fully extend my toes. Are they too small? I'd be using them for climbing gyms for now.
Washington, DC
Post #: 8
Jennifer, if the curling of your toes in the shoes is tolerable, you have a good fit. You don't want any wiggle room in your toes since you want to climb with your toes acting as one entity. A good analogy is to think of your foot as a mountain goat hoof. This allows for the best edging on face climbs (climbing that uses the feet and hand holds). In addition to your toes, you also want the heel to have a perfectly tight fit as well. Too much space in your heel will not only cause blisters but cause pain when you heel hook.

If you plan on crack climbing, however, you want a totally different pair of shoes that allow your toes to sit perfectly flat in your shoe; this reduces the amount of pain when you jam your feet into the crack.

Since you are gym climbing, I believe you will be face climbing most of the time. If the fit on your right foot is too painful, some companies such as Evolv do split sizing where you can order your left shoe at one size and your right shoe at another size for an additional fee. I would only do this if you know precisely what each size is as split orders are unrefundable. Like Adam said, if you want to try out different shoes, both Sportrock and Earthtreks have shoe demos from time to time. The other option is to go into REI or Eastern Mountain Sports and tryout their shoes. Both have a wonderful refund policy that allows you to return your shoes unconditionally. Happy climbing!
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