Scaling Comfort: A Friendly Guide to Finding the Perfect Climbing Shoe Fit Blog Feature

By: Hunter Price

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Scaling Comfort: A Friendly Guide to Finding the Perfect Climbing Shoe Fit

beginner climbing | Climbing Tips | Start Climbing | Climbing Gear

There is a saying in climbing:

“All you need to get started is a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag.”

But there is something weird that happens when you slide on climbing shoes the first time, whether you borrowed them from a friend, inherited them from your aunt, or got a pair of rentals from the front desk. “…oh these feel, different” is a VERY common reaction. It’s a strange, strange sensation.

Now you have a shoe that has never felt like anything else on your foot. Where do you go next? What is this shoe supposed to feel like? The wall of options in the gear shop can feel overwhelming.

Not to worry! In this blog, we'll spill the beans on the tips and tricks for landing that ideal climbing shoe fit.

 2 people getting fitted for climbing shoes

How Should Climbing Shoes Feel?

Imagine your feet snugly wrapped in a climbing shoe like a cozy sock. The fit should be tight, but not painful. You're looking for a snugness that eliminates any extra space, ensuring maximum sensitivity. It's like a handshake – firm and reassuring. Your toes should lightly touch the front of the shoe without being painfully scrunched up.

Depending on the shape of the shoe, a little scrunch is preferred (as long as it is not painful). Think about it this way, take your hand and act like you are going to do a pull-up on a door frame. Are they curled a bit? The same goes for your feet when wanting to grip onto something small! That slight curl maximizes the advantage of your foot structure and provides support while on extra small foot holds. The flatter the toes are, the weaker that advantage becomes, though often results in a slightly more comfortable fit.

To Sock, or Not to Sock?

Should you wear socks with your climbing shoes? It is one of the most frequently asked questions in the realm of climbing. The answer comes down to personal preference. Adding another layer inside of your shoe decreases the sensitivity of your foot. Your toes can feel a surprising amount of detail while climbing, and it’s this feel that can lead to you either trusting your foothold or not. On the flip side, socks can add a nice layer of comfort to the shoe-wearing experience. It’s for that reason, that we say, "You do you!"


Shoe Shape: What’s the Deal?

Now, let’s talk about the shape of your climbing shoes. There is a spectrum ranging from neutral to aggressive. This refers to how downturned (think the shape of a banana) the shoe is.

Neutral shoes have a flatter profile, offering a more relaxed and natural position for your feet. Toes should touch the edge of the shoe with little to no scrunch.

  • Climbing shoe code name: The ol’ Reliable: Perfect for beginners and long climbs, neutral shoes are versatile and forgiving. They offer more comfort during extended wear, making them great for all-day climbing sessions.

Moderate shoes offer a little more precision to your foot work while remaining comfortable. The bend is very slight, and your toes should be up to the edge of the shoe and curling.

  • Climbing shoe code name: Goldilocks: Jusssst right. Perfect for technical footwork when you need it but comfortable enough to climb in for a whole session.

Downturned shoes have a noticeable curve, directing your toes downwards. This shape focuses your weight on the toe, providing excellent precision on small footholds. Though with this power often comes slight discomfort and the tight scrunch of the toes takes getting used to.

  • Climbing shoe code name: Precision Tools: Ideal for advanced climbers tackling steep routes and overhangs. They give you that extra edge (literally!) for pushing your limits.

The Material Dilemma: Pros and Cons


  • Pros: Breathable, molds to your foot shape over time, and generally more comfortable.
  • Cons: Can stretch quite a bit, so make sure to size accordingly.


  • Pros: Holds shape well, less stretch, and often more affordable.
  • Cons: Can be less breathable, potentially leading to sweaty feet during extended climbs.  
A Pro Tip or Two:
  1. Try Before You Buy: It’s like Cinderella finding her glass slipper. Trying on different brands and styles is crucial to finding your perfect match. The feel and size from brand to brand can vary greatly. So, stop by the front desk and ask to try some on, even if you’re just curious to learn more. Our team members are always stoked to talk gear. As a bonus, members get 10% off in our gear shop and we can special order the perfect pair if we don’t have the size that you are looking for.
  2. Timing is Everything: Your feet swell throughout the day, so it's wise to try on climbing shoes in the afternoon for a more accurate fit. 
  3. Battle the funk: We get it, climbing shoes can develop a… special odor. Our gear shops carry a variety of shoe deodorizers to help battle the funk. But, if you’re looking for a dirtbag innovation to help reel in your stinky shoes, those little silica packets that you get in packages can work in a pinch.
  4. Don’t Break the Bank: High-end performance shoes are designed to be ultra-specific. They often come at a higher cost and wear out quicker due to the fragility of the high-texture rubber. Invest in an all-around pair for training in the gym, and then when you progress to a more advanced shoe, you now have a perfect pair for warming up in. With a warmup shoe, you can save the rubber on your performance shoes for when you need them most!
Let's Lace it Up:

Remember, finding the perfect climbing shoe is a journey, not a destination. And as you progress on your climbing journey, what you are looking for in a shoe can change. At the end of the day, the “best” climber is the one having the most fun. You can’t have fun if your feet are screaming mercy the whole time you are trying to get in some vertical meditation. So lace up those shoes, hit the climbing gym, and enjoy the vertical dance! Happy climbing, friends!Large-Bouldering_Portland_MVMT_2023-121


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