Picking out climbing shoes can be a daunting task. With so many styles, features, fits, and even brands, it can become quite confusing. Your shoes are your best friend when bouldering so you want them to fit just right. The wrong type of shoe can lead to an inadequate climbing session which can cause more harm than good.
There are a few main things you want to look for with the best bouldering shoes and these are:
- Features on the shoe. (Laces, Rand, Sole type.)
- The type of shoe. (Aggressive vs Non Aggressive.)
- The fit to the shoe. (Snug but not to tight.)
Choosing The Best Bouldering Shoes
Lets get one thing out of the way first, there is really no such thing as a “Bouldering Shoe” more rather a “Climbing Shoe.” This is only mentioned because a “bouldering only” type of shoe does not exist. With that being said though, that doesn’t mean there are shoes that do not preform better than one another, because there are.
A climbing shoe can be used in more ways than just bouldering. Bouldering is only one specific type of climbing compared to the other types out there. You have top roping, lead climbing, and even speed climbing.
With the way the market is for bouldering shoes, it is a very specialized niche. You have so many types of shoes, there is aggressive vs non aggressive, sole sensitivity, and even widths. This can really start to narrow down where you start going with your journey for your best bouldering shoes.
No need to worry though, this article will hopefully help you decide on your next pair of shoes to help you through your next beta.
Understanding the Different Parts of Climbing Shoes
In addition to what was mentioned above, it is important to know that there are also a lot of different features in a shoe. These options can really help narrow down your type shoe you will want to wear.
This stage is where you can start being a bit picky for what you want in a shoe. For example: some people would prefer laces over velcro and vice versa. It’s all a part of personal preference.
The midsole is an area in the shoe between the foot bed and the bottom sole that will be touching the ground. This part allows for different stiffness levels depending on your preference. It can be made from either leather or composite material.
- Full Sole
The full sole of the shoe is also referenced as just the sole, It is the sticky rubber that will give you traction on the wall. It coves all the way from the toe to the heel.
This piece of rubber connects the sole to the upper. It helps keep your toes glued in your shoes. This part is not meant to be climbed on and wears down a lot faster than the sole would.
This is the part above the rand and also known as the top of your shoe. It can be made in a medley of ways from composite material, leather, or even a combination of them. Leather will tend to be a bit more comfortable but the downside is that it can stretch out compared to the other two options.
The slingshot is a strong elastic band that sits at the back of the shoe. This piece of elastic pushes your foot forward in your shoe so you have more control of your footwork. It tends to be more noticeable in more aggressive shoes to help keep the aggressive nature of the shoe while you climb.
- Strap Closure
The strap closure is what you will use to shut your shoe. There are three different forms you could get. You have your basic laces like you would on sneakers, there is also velcro, as well as slip on.
- Laces usually offer the most support out of the three since you are able to tighten any part of the shoe you feel is to lose or untighten places that might be too tight.
- Velcro is an easy alternative to laces allowing you to quickly tighten and loosen up your shoes. This happens to be the most popular out of the three options out there.
- Slip on shoes (also known as slippers) offer you the easiest way to put on and take off your shoes. Instead of relying on straps or velcro, these shoes rely on elastic to keep your foot in place.
- Shoe Last
The shoe last is the 3D structure that the shoe is built around. (Aka, your foot.) It helps give the shoe its dimensions and volume. There two main types of lasts with each having a subcategory. You have slip lasted and boar lasted shoes.
Slip lasted shoes tend to be more sensitive and get their support from the midsole of the shoe. They will start to help you develop good footwork habits and skills.
Broad lasted shoes are a bit more stiff, making them easier to wear for a longer period of time. The only downside is you lack some sensitivity that you would have with slip lasted climbing shoes.
You can find three different last shapes, these are straight, asymmetric, and downturned.
- A Straight lasted shoes are the easiest to wear giving you the most comfort out of all the climbing shoes. They’re also known as flat lased and are normally gone by neutral shoes. These are a great pair of shoes for long days at the climbing gym.
- An Asymmetric last is made so that the majority of your power is going through your big toe and the inside of your shoe. You will normally find this type of last in moderate to aggressive types of shoes.
- Downturned lasts are just as the sound, they are downturned to really get into holds on the wall. These shoes are incredibly useful for overhang climbs when trying to stick the shoe into those little pockets. This style is normally found in the moderate to aggressive type of shoe.
Types of Climbing Shoes
After learning about the different types of characteristics, you will find yourself looking at the different types of shoes offered. To find the best bouldering shoes for you, one will need to understand the three types available. These are…
Neutral shoes are the easiest and most comfortable to wear out of the three types. You can normally wear them for extended periods of times for a long day of climbing. They are flat in nature and let your toes lay flat inside, replicating an almost normal type of sneaker.
Neutral shoes are often made of a thicker and more stiff rubber than other types of shoes. The thick rubber tends to allow for more support on the foot making it easier on the climber.
The downside though is neutral shoes are not the best on overhung routes. They do not have the same design as aggressive shoes that easily allow you to put the shoe in the pockets on the wall.
Moderate shoes are great for the intermediate climber because they allow for great versatility between routes. They have a slightly downturned nature allowing the climber to have an easier hold on overhung routes while not sacrificing too much comfort.
These shoes allow your foot to be placed in a more powerful position helping you climb higher grade routes. Neutral climbing shoes are also more comfortable compared to the next runner-up known as aggressive climbing shoes.
Just because they are slightly downturned though does not mean they are made for super overhung routes. A climber will still find themselves having difficulty over excessively overhung routes trying to get a grip on the holds.
Aggressive climbing shoes are the most notable out of all the types of shoes with their super downturned nature. These shoes allow the climber to have the maximum amount of power possible by putting all their weight through the big toe to balance on smaller holds. With these shoes having such a snug somewhat uncomfortable fit, these are often worn for short periods of time. Boulderers will often take breaks to relax their feet for a bit.
These allow for the greatest precision out of all the shoes mentioned. With a softer rubber they allow for better grip o holds compared to neutral and moderate shoes.
The stickier rubber allows for the shoe to wear down faster though. It’s a sacrifice made by climbers to get the best footwork possible for the most accurate climbs. Also, being very downturned makes it harder to smear the wall as well.
How Should Climbing Shoes Fit?
The fit of your climbing shoe is the most important part of the whole process. A climbers feet should be comfortably snug in a pair of shoes. They should not be to lose on your feet but should not be too tight either. This is very important because the wrong size will lead to inconsistent climbing and you do not want that in your best bouldering shoes.
A climbers feet are very important, they help them balance on the wall. A pair that is to lose will leave room for toes to move and that’s not favorable for balancing on a smaller hold. A pair too tight and one will start to cut off circulation to their own feet.
The feet should be very snug within the shoe, this will give a boulderer the most consistent improvements over an extended period of time. Keep in mind that as a climber your shoes will most likely get tighter the more advanced the model is. All this is doing is helping you provide all the power and balance you need.
(By no means should you buy 2 sizes too small, follow the rule but keep in mind that they should be a bit tighter with the more advanced the shoe gets.)
Your shoes will break in overtime, so give it some time if your shoes are a little comfy.
Remember before buying, make sure you go and try a pair on. This will give you the guarantee that they will fit once you buy them online. If you are not able to try a pair on, buy several sizes online and return the ones that do not fit.
Not all shoe sizes are the same as well, so just because you wear a size 12 in one size doesn’t mean you’ll wear that same size in a different model. Sizes are only a guideline with the shoes and not everything will fit similarly. Think of your regular shoes, your size in one brand is not gonna be the size in another brand.
What Will You Beta In?
The best bouldering shoes is a very vague question and by narrowing it down you can start to get a feel for what you are looking for. There are so many factors to implement when getting either your first pair of shoes or a new pair. It can defiantly be overwhelming at first but once you break it down it becomes a lot easier.
I hope by listing all the factors I did it will be easier for you to find that pair of shoes you’ll love. Now go out and enjoy your new climbing shoes and notice how your technique improves.
Beta on Boulderers!