Introduction to Climbing Shoes
By John Walter
You've always said that one of these years you were going to learn to
climb. Well stop talking and start climbing. Summer is here and GearReview.com
is kicking off our new climbing section, and to get things going we've
got a couple of this year's new climbing shoes to review. In the coming
weeks we will be adding reviews for more shoes, harnesses, ropes and belay
devices, all items that you will need to get started, so stay tuned. First,
let's go over a few climbing shoe basics so that we understand each other.
The last is actually the model "foot" around which the shoe is constructed.
In the climbing shoe industry, the last also refers to the "midsole" of
the shoe. Climbing shoes are constructed using two different types of
lasts, board lasted shoes and slip lasted shoes.
Board lasted shoes are made with one or more layers of midsole that provide
a stiffer feel to the sole. Although still flexible, board lasted shoes
offer greater support and durability, and better edging (envision standing
on a dime edge). The drawback to board lasted shoes is that there is less
sensitivity. These shoes are great for long routes and crack climbs.
Slip lasted shoes may or may not be made with an midsole, but are always
a great deal more flexible. The midsoles are very thin and there is more
sensitivity to the sole (allowing you to "feel" the rock). Slip lasted
shoes will not typically last as long as board lasted shoes. Slip lasted
shoes are perfect for steep sport routes and climbing indoors at the gym.
The traditional flexed pattern is the anatomical position of the foot
while climbing. It puts the foot into a natural climbing position without
exerting excessive pressure on your foot. It is very comfortable and is
used for all-purpose climbing shoes.
The cambered, or reverse curve pattern is the position of the foot in
an unflexed position. This means that the toe of the shoe points down.
The result of this pattern is that you can incorporate great edging in
a slip lasted shoe.
The shape of the shoe sole is important to the fit of the shoe, as well
as the functionality. Some shoes are very asymmetrical, meaning there
is a pronounced displacement toward the big toe. This achieves greater
edging and better control on steeper routes. Other shoes are more symmetrical.
These shoes are typically more comfortable, and good for longer routes.
The rand is that rubber section that goes around the sides of the shoe.
A good rand will keep the shoe from stretching too much, protect the sides
of the shoe, and keep a sung fit to your shoe. A good shoe will have lots
of rand around the toe, and a snug fit to the heel. New designs in the
heel of the rand are always developing. Cupped heels are typically a little
looser than the slingshot heel that crams your toes into the toebox.
The uppers of climbing shoes are of two types, leather and synthetic material.
Leather will stretch and conform better to the shape of your foot. Synthetic
uppers stretch very little and are usually a bit cheaper.
Lining material is used to make the shoe more durable and more comfortable.
Lined shoes will wear longer but will stretch a great deal less. Lined
shoes will also absorb more moisture and breath less causing a tendency
to retain odor more than unlined leather shoes.
The Holy Grail of climbing shoe questions, "How tight should I wear my
shoes?" Climbing shoes should be "comfortably tight" meaning they should
fit tight without any painful points of pressure, especially in the toebox.
So what exactly does that mean? Take me for an example. I wear a 9.5 street
shoe. When trying climbing shoes, I will usually start at a size 8 and
go up or down from there, depending on the shoe and the way it is fitting,
and how much I think it is going to stretch. One thing to consider is
that many manufacturers will use European and/or UK measurements to size
their shoes. Most manufacturer's websites will have a conversion table,
and your local climbing shops can help get the right size for you.
John Walter is a Contributing Editor at GearReview.com.