Climbingshoes : how to pick the right size

Many climbers torture their feet in really tight climbingshoes, sometimes 2 or 3 sizes below their normal size. While it’s obviously a good idea to wear snug-fitting shoes, there’s really no need to be a total masochist …

In climbing, it’s the norm to advise wearing snug-fitting climbingshoes. A foot that floats around in the shoe, or that twists when you push on it, isn’t really going to give you confidence in your feet. Having said that, performance gains are inversely proportional to comfort, and after a while, the pain is such that it disproves the equation “tight shoes = efficiency”!

It’s just like anything else, you need to be reasonable. Bruising under the nails, corns on the feet, ingrown toenails, hallux valgus: these are some of the things you can look forward to in the end if you go for shoes that are really too small. Not only will your feet shrink like Chinese women’s used to do, but also chances are they will become deformed. And on top of that, you’re not even sure to be a better climber for it!

Climbingshoes : the right choice

To avoid these kinds of problem, it’s essential to choose the right size. And there’s only one way to find out, which is trying them out thoroughly in the shop. Once on, the shoe should match the shape of your foot, to the point that you feel like it’s not there. You shouldn’t feel a vacuum, either under the arch, or at the heel.

The toes are generally slightly curled under, to give them more power. It’s an unusual position, but don’t worry. However, you shouldn’t feel any painful pressure when you try them on. Climbing isn’t meant to be a torture session! Sizing is extremely variable from one brand to another, and don’t correspond to ‘street shoe’ sizes much. Nothing beats trying them on!

Establish your foot shape

The first thing to consider is the shape of your foot. There are three:

  • the Egyptian foot, where the big toe is longer than the others. 63% of the population have this type.
  • Greek foot, for which the second toe is longer than its neighbours. 31% of the population are in this category.
  • The Roman or square foot: the first four toes are all the same length, and the fifth is smaller. This is the case for 6% of the population.

From this, you can choose the most appropriate model, bearing in mind that a straight shoe will be better for a Greek foot, whereas an asymmetrical shoe (with the point off-centre, in line with the big toe) will suit Egyptian or Roman feet better.

Remember: if the shape of the shoe doesn’t match the shape of your foot, taking a smaller size isn’t going to fix the problem …

The width

Another important thing to establish when it comes to shoe size, is the width of your foot, which will often help adapt a given model to your anatomy. Lace-ups are good for adjusting the shoe to the foot more precisely (ideal when you have a narrow foot). With a velcro or slip-on, there is less margin for tightening the shoe, but they are definitely practical when it comes to getting your shoes off quickly between routes.


Are you going to be doing multi-pitches? Is it for ordinary indoor use? Do you need a performance shoe for crag projects? For bouldering? Depending on what you will most use the shoe for, the fit should be more or less snug. Also, think about how your feet swell in warm weather! Depending on the time of year when you buy them and when you are thinking of using them, you could be talking about a half-size difference …

Advice: always try your shoes on at the end of the afternoon, as this will give you a more precise idea of how much your feet can swell!

What are they made of?

Be careful, some models of climbingshoes can ‘give’ (expand) over time. It’s the case with leather models, so you need to anticipate a certain amount of movement and adjustment to the shape of your feet. On the other hand, synthetic models will give a lot less, as will those that have a lining. No point taking 3 sizes under your usual size if the shoe isn’t going to give at all …

In the same vein, rigid shoes that have a central ‘spine’ and a sole with hard rubber that won’t lose its shape, will logically give a lot less than the more flexible types and those that have a softer rubber. If you take two shoes of the same size, a rigid close-fitting shoe will be less comfortable than its flexible counterpart.

In summary

The best idea is to try your future shoe on in the shop, and to choose a model that suits the shape of your foot. Think about comfort. Never mind fashion or an attraction for a given brand. Don’t choose a model just because it’s the one Chris Sharma or some other star wears. The only thing that counts is that your feet are happy in their shoes!

More about climbingshoes

Bunions : climbers, stop forcing your toe into tiny shoes !

In collaboration with Pietro Dal Pra, La Sportiva has produced a series of videos about choosing shoes, here is the one about choosing the size

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