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Guide To Buying Climbing Shoes -Part 1: Shoe Construction

Submitted by fiend on 2001-07-15 | Last Modified on 2006-11-13

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     So, you've been out climbing a few times, and decided it's time to invest in your own pair of climbing shoes. You head down to the local outdoor shop and find a whole wall full of funky looking, rubber ballet shoes. What now? Which shoes to buy? What the heck is a slip-lasted rand? And how tight should I get them? Hopefully we can figure out the answers to some of these questions here. Over the next few weeks we'll be posting a few articles on the basics for purchasing your first pair of rock shoes (or fixing the mistakes from the last pair you bought!)

1. Shoe Construction.
First off, I thought we'd deal with shoe construction. With all the choices out there, it is important to be informed as to what the various features are for. Especially when you go into a store and the sales-person starts spouting on about the $185.00 "unlined, slip-lasted, down cambered, stealth rubber, performance shoe" that he recommends for your first shoe.

Basic design
Slippers and shoes with velcro closures are fast and easy to get on and off, which makes them a good choice for bouldering and climbing in the gym (when you constantly taking your shoes off and putting them back on). A common misconception with velcro is that it would come undone quite easily but this is not the case. A new alternative to velcro comes in the form of the 5.10 Zlipper, which actually uses a type of zipper closure. Those that have used the Zlipper say that it stays fastened quite well while climbing. Lace-up shoes often provide a more snug and adjustable fit, and can be cinched up tight even after your shoes stretch (most unlined rock shoes will stretch slightly over time as a result of normal use).

Climbing shoes are either lined or unlined. Most of the stiffer shoes have a fabric lining the inside of the shoe which prevents stretching of the shoe material after extended use. The benefits of an unlined shoe are greater flexibility and sensitivity; however, the unlined shoe may stretch up a full size from the original.

Slip-lasted climbing shoes have thinner midsoles and insoles, which allows them to be sensitive and flexible. They can help you feel the rock through the shoe so that you know where you're putting your feet. These thin soles also better allow you to pull off of features in an overhanging environment.

Board-lasted shoes are stiffer and more durable than slip-lasted models, generally stretching less and lasting longer. Board-lasted shoes can also be resoled more often than slip-lasted shoes. The stiff midsoles provide extra support and protection generally needed for the contortions necessary to jam your feet into a crack. Board-lasted shoes also perform well on vertical, or less than vertical, climbs where the footholds may be very small.

Toe shape
A tapered, low-profile toe box will excel when it comes to jamming your shoe into smaller cracks and pockets, however this often leads to discomfort on longer climbs as the toes are forced into an awkward position. Larger toe boxes are more comfortable, and generally allow more effective smearing.

Last shape:
A last is the general foot shape around which a climbing shoe is designed. Manufacturers create and use a number of lasts when building different shoes. Most of these fall into one of two basic categories:

The traditional, semi-flexed last replicates the natural anatomical shape of the foot and therefore provides the most comfort. The semi-flexed last design is most often chosen for all day long free-climbing routes, or just basic comfort.
Cambered or down curved lasts use compression to limit your foot's flex, forcing your toes to crimp downward so you'll have the stiffness essential for secure edging. This works without stiff midsoles, which would block sensitivity for the rock. Cambered-last shoes are precision models designed for ultra-steep routes, sports climbs and gym climbs. The downside to this is that you will want to take them off after each pitch since they compress your feet so tightly.
Rubber Types
Every company has their own special brand of climbing shoe rubber. Every company makes their own special claims as to what their rubber does. As a beginner this is of absolutely zero importance to you. If you are reading this as your introduction to climbing shoes then you will not notice the variances in the rubber until after you have been climbing for a time and are able to notice the subtleties in your shoe's performances. Here is some information anyways. The five major types out there are Fusion, XSV, Megabyte, C4, and Stealth 2. Basically, shoes used for gym climbing seem to hold up better with a harder type of rubber, stickier rubber seems to perform better on friction routes, harder rubber seems to wear longer and edge better, and for a rounded performance an even compromise between stickiness and hardness is key. As for how the different brands perform, you will need to test them out for yourself and develop your own conclusions based on your personal tastes.

Join us next time as we look at finding the type of shoe to suit your climbing needs. Same bat time, same bat channel.

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