There are many different varieties of climbing shoes to suit many different types of climbing activity. When making a choice there are certain things you should determine first of all.
Considerations When Choosing the Right Shoe
Firstly, the level of your competence – are you a beginner, intermediate or an advanced climber?
You should also consider the types of climbs you’re most likely to make. Although certain types of climbing shoe are versatile enough to deal with a number of different climbing terrains and techniques, others are made to be more specialised and suit specific types of rock and some are better for shorter routes, others more geared to longer ones. Then there are different climbing techniques such as crack climbing, edging, smears and pocket climbing which all have specific shoes to suit.
As a general guide, it’s usually better to opt for a multi-purpose shoe if you’re a beginner but more experienced climbers will tend to choose a more specialised shoe as it will improve their performance in specific conditions.
Without taking into consideration the highly specific variations of shoe depending on the type of climbing you are doing, most shoes tend to fall into 3 categories.
All-purpose shoes are made to handle a variety of circumstances and are ideal for beginners and for those who want to climb on all kinds of rock and where they might encounter different types of obstacles. They are usually cut high to protect ankles and are designed for protection as well as comfort.
High performance shoes are used more in competition and over tricky routes and difficult terrain. They provide a better level of performance when a specific climbing technique is required and are usually low cut to reduce weight and give increased flexibility. They’ll usually fit tighter than a normal shoe to improve climbing control and allow you to feel closer to the rock’s contours and curves.
Slipper style shoes almost replicate the equivalent of climbing barefoot. They have extra thin soles and mould into your foot’s shape which makes them perfect for getting your feet into tiny narrow crevices to gain a foothold. They are the lightest form of shoe and easier to get off and on but they’re not as good at providing your feet and ankles with support and they wear out more quickly than all-purpose shoes which are thicker and more durable.
All-purpose shoes, however, should be the beginner’s choice. Until you get to grips with what rock climbing is all about, you’re likely to stumble occasionally so shoes with ankle supports are better. They should be as flexible as, say, a pair of lightweight trainers or tennis shoes and will help you stand more solidly on edges and improve your technique.
There are climbers who advocate climbing without socks and those that do wear them. Some people feel more comfortable wearing socks and a thin pair of liner socks works best. Others, however, will argue that without socks, you are able to get a better feel and grip for the rock. It’s only by trying both with and without for yourself that you’ll get a feel for what you prefer.