The Truth About Climbing Shoes: Do They Really Stretch?

The Truth About Climbing Shoes: Do They Really Stretch?

Sizing down your climbing shoes 2, 3, or even 4 sizes was the norm when the first technical climbing shoes were made. These shoes were made with leather and would stretch a few sizes over their use, so climbers needed to downsize to have the right fit eventually. That isn’t the case anymore. Somewhere in the mix, after modern climbing shoes started being made, climbers kept the idea that they needed to downsize their shoes incredibly to obtain a proper fit. Even today, some climbers believe they must downsize their shoes.

This myth has created a barrier for beginner climbers breaking into the sport. Understandably, many people don’t enjoy shoving their feet into a shoe that is too small.

What Makes Climbing Shoes Stretch?

Climbing in your climbing shoes is what makes them slightly stretch. Your foot heats up through use and makes the shoe more malleable, which is how climbing shoes mold to your specific foot. This small amount of malleability is what allows climbing shoes to stretch.

More modern shoes are made with synthetic, non-stretchy materials or have large amounts of rubber – these minimize stretching. Contrary to the past, getting the right fit the first time is essential.

Some shoes stretch more than others! The amount of stretching will depend on what materials are used in the shoe. A full synthetic upper will not stretch much, while a rubber upper will stretch a tiny amount. Think 1/8th of an inch all around.

How Do I Size My Climbing Shoes?

Sizing your climbing shoes is like Goldilocks finding the perfect porridge. You don’t want them too tight where you can’t feel anything, but you don’t want them too loose, where your footwork feels sloppy.

Not all shoes are created equal; some shapes fit your foot better than others. For a beginner, finding a neutral, flat climbing shoe is recommended. Then, as you progress, you can look for moderate or downturned styles.

Climbing shoes aren’t made to walk around all day but to climb in. They’re supposed to fit tighter than a pair of hiking boots or dress shoes, but they don’t need to deform your feet every time you put them on.

A Size You Want

You want a fit with the least dead space while still comfortable enough to move around. Your foot should meet the shoe on all sides of your foot, and your toes should be pressed against the front with your heel fitting snugly in the back. As mentioned above, not all shoes are created equal, so you may need to try on different brands and sizes until you’ve found your Goldilocks shoe.

Check out a gear store or your local climbing gym and try on as many pairs as possible. Remember that you’re looking for neutral, flat shoes. If you don’t have the option to try on shoes in person and must order online, consider ordering the size you think you are, then a half-size up and down. If you must do so, this will reduce the time it takes to exchange, and you can return the pairs that do not fit.

How Climbing Shoes Should Feel

Climbing shoes should feel snug but not overtly painful. You should be able to stand in them without wincing. Try standing on your toes when you put on a new pair to judge for pain!

When your climbing shoes are adequately sized, you’ll feel when you’re standing on a foot chip or edge. A fit that is too tight won’t let you feel the holds you’re standing on, making you feel insecure while climbing.

Tip For Breaking in Your Climbing Shoes

The best way to break in climbing shoes is simply climbing in them. You can try some crazy online methods, such as using plastic bags over your feet or even showering in them. But the sure way to break in your climbing shoes is to wear them and go climbing.

Don’t forget to rest your feet, though. Like you take a break to relax your arms, do this with your feet. Take your shoes off and let them breathe after each boulder problem or route you climb.

Remember that not all climbing shoes are made equal. It may take three different brands or styles to find that Goldilocks fit. When you do, you’ll be surprised that you ever considered downsizing your shoes.

Butora Altura Climbing Shoes