Once you have a grasp on different climbing shoe materials and closures, you’ll need to understand the different areas of a climbing shoe, what they do, and how they are supposed to fit. Let’s take a look at those areas so that the next time you are trying on climbing shoes you can be sure that you find a pair that properly fit your foot and will work for the kind of climbing you want to do.
Climbing Shoe Areas
Let’s break down a climbing shoe into three important areas: the toebox, the arch, and the heel. Each of these sections of the shoe is used in different ways when rock climbing and you want to be sure that you find a shoe that fits you well in all three areas. Often times we see climbers purchase a shoe because it fits in one or two of these important areas but fail in the third. Let’s take a look at these areas.
The toebox of a climbing shoe is the rubber covered area around your toes that consists of an inside edge, an outside edge, rubber on the top of the toe, and rubber below the toe. In a properly fitted climbing shoe, you want your big toe touching the very edge of the toebox. Remember a leather shoe will stretch, so when sizing a leather shoe, the first several wears are going to be more uncomfortable than the final fit. Often if you go with a properly fitted leather shoe at purchase, within 5-10 sessions your big toe will no longer touch the edge, and you are left with improperly fitted shoes. The top of the toe may have a small bit of rubber or the entire top of the foot may be covered depending on the shoe style. Bouldering shoes tend to have more rubber coverage while sport climbing shoes tend to have less. Finally, shoes have different downturn angles in the toebox. Flatter shoes will be more comfortable for longer sessions but may not provide the technical advantages of a downturned shoe. As far as fit goes, downturned shoes are always going to feel more scrunched. Whether you are looking at a more aggressive or a flatter shoe, you want to be sure that the toe box has enough room for your big toe. You want light pressure on top of your big toe in a flat shoe and moderate in an aggressive shoe. If you feel more than moderate pressure, the toe box may not have the proper volume for your feet.
Once again, climbing shoes are made with varying angles in the arch which correlates to how aggressive the shoe is. The biggest mistake climbers make when sizing a shoe to their arches is not making sure that the shoe’s curvature follows the whole arch. You want as little air as possible in the shoe. So if you have high arches, insoles can’t save you. You want to be sure that you pick a shoe with a greater instep height and volume. Shoes are made around different lasts (or foot models) that determine the internal dimensions of the shoe. So pay close attention to these dimensions when sizing your climbing shoes.
The heel-cup is the number one place where we see climbing shoes improperly fitted to a climber. There are a number of different heel-cups depending on the shoe design and manufacturer. Low volume (or women’s) shoes often have a smaller heel cup, and heel cup designs vary in depth depending on the last used to design the shoe. So when you are looking at shoes, find a heel cup that wraps all the way around the ball of your heel with as little extra space as possible, especially on the sides. If you have too much extra space or the heel-cup doesn’t encompass your whole heel, you’ll find your shoes slipping off on just about every heel hook, and there is nothing more annoying than losing a shoe while climbing.
Properly fitted climbing shoes will make climbing a more enjoyable experience and even make your shoes last longer! You want to be sure that when you purchase your own shoes, whether it's your first pair or your fiftieth, that you are properly fitting your shoes. So be sure to pay close attention to the different areas and material of the shoe and the shoe closure. Each of these components plays a huge role in how your shoes will fit.