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Buying your First Climbing Shoes

My first climbing shoes were green. I don’t remember what brand. My dad had borrowed them off the local outdoor centre and the laces were so long that I had to wind them around my ankles. There was toe space for me to ‘grow into’, which left them a little loose, but they did the job. 

Spot the ill-fitting borrowed shoes...

Fifteen years or so on, at the bottom of the crag, I dig out my red lace up 5.10 Sirens. I’ve been wearing the same pair (not the exact pair, but the same model!) for some time now and these are the ones for me. I’m lucky, I’ve found my shoe-soulmate. But how do you go about your search to find The One (or perhaps The Pair?). 

If you’re anything like me and most of the climbers I know, as you started out, whether that was in the gym or outside, you won’t have been struggling with trainers. You already have a pair of shoes available, whether that’s a rented pair, or ones you’ve borrowed from a friend or climbing club. I also presume that as you’re reading this, they don’t fit or they don’t seem quite right for you. If they do? What are you waiting for? Go buy your own pair, you lucky thing!

On the Cotswolds Outdoor website there are currently 33 different climbing shoes on sale. At Go Outdoors there’s 91. And that’s just the big shops. Scarpa currently has 25 variations, whilst La Sportiva has a whopping 30 ‘women’s’ and 35 ‘men’s’ fit.

How to choose climbing shoes...

The quick answer is get more experience. You’re just at the start of your climbing journey. Who knows whether in a year’s time you’ll be taking on gritstone crack climbing, tackling that daunting roof in the gym… hell, you might have even taken up alpine mountaineering. For each of these activities you would want something different out of your shoes, so unless you’ve got the bank balance to buy five pairs, it's probably too early to choose your lifelong shoes. 

Nice shoes....

What do I NEED?

At the start of your climbing journey, what you usually need is something comfy, sticky and without any holes to help you discover your inner climber. Once they wear out (which will vary depending on how much you climb, what you climb and how good your footwork is), you’ll have a better idea of what you want. You can get hold of low-cost shoes from Ocun, Mad Rock and at places like Decathlon. 

Testing, Testing, 1...2...3...

There is no substitute for trialling different shoes. It takes time, but if you want to have relative comfort and the right performance you're looking for, then testing out different shoes and comparing the fit around the heel, ankle and toes will; help you make a good choice. Here's how:

1) Plenty of climbing walls have ‘demo-days’ where brands will bring in their latest or popular shoes for you to try. Contact your local wall and find out when their next demo day is happening. 

2) When you visit a new wall take a look at their rental shoes & have a go.

3) Persuade your best mate with conveniently similar feet to let you slip theirs on for a route.

Keep searching for that Cinderella moment, you never know when it might hit you.

A pile of (smelly) climbing shoes...

Some models to try out....

For now, here’s a few all-rounder shoes that you could call your own.

Ocun Crest LU

Red Chilli Spirit

Decathlon Simond Rock Adult Climbing Shoes

Boreal Joker

My Beloved Siren's enjoying the view in Yosemite.

And Finally...

Before you go and invest your hard-earned cash, remember that you probably don’t need super tight shoes, no matter what the person in the shop might say. If your feet are in agony every time you wear your shoes climbing, then it might not be so fun. This is especially the case if you're climbing outdoors. Think ‘Snug, not tight’ for your first pair.

Happy Climbing.

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