Choosing the right rock shoe is perhaps the most difficult kit choice of them all (certainly if it's your first pair and certainly if it's online) and therefore should not be treated lightly. Here at V12, we stock the best shoes from the best manufacturers, namely: 5.10, La Sportiva, Scarpa, Evolv and Boreal.
That means we stock a lot of rock shoes (more than any other retailer in the UK) and we appreciate that such a large amount of choice is daunting. It isn’t really though, if you consider that you can split all rock shoes into four fairly distinct categories:
Velcro tabbed for ease of use and surprisingly technical. Buy them relatively ‘big’ as they will quickly grow into them (and out of them!). Recycling to younger siblings is a good plan, although the ‘peddling’ footwork that most kids use means you can probably only do this once, and it does mean that it’s only the older one who gets new shoes! Check out the Mad Rock Mad Monkey 2.0
and the Edelrid Crocy
to see what is on offer.
Well fitted but comfortable shoes that you will be happy to wear all day. Good for both experienced climbers and those just getting started. There is lots of choice, but have a look at the Boreal Joker
and the 5.10 Hueco
for two popular examples.
Closely fitted, precise shoes for those who like to climb at their limit and don’t mind a bit of discomfort to get good performance on small holds. Again, there is a wealth of choice, but have a look at the La Sportiva Katana Lace Up
and the 5.10 Anasazi Velcro
for two typical examples.
Top end, high performance shoes, with a particular focus on steep sport climbing and hardcore bouldering. Expect thin soles, a tight fit and some radical designs, such as the La Sportiva Solution
and the 5.10 Dragon
Obviously there will be some crossover between the different categories, but these divisions will help to narrow the field down significantly and allow you to focus in on the right selection of shoes.
The first rule of rock shoe purchasing is fit; the second rule of rock shoe purchasing is fit...etc, etc.
Last on the list of criteria, in no particular order, should be looks, price and popularity. Just because one is a jazzy colour or it matches your harness, it is not necessarily the one for you - just because the shoe is the most expensive one on the rack, it doesn't mean it will do everything for everyone - and just because your mates have all got the same ones, it doesn't mean you should buy them too (although it will help if one of them is the same size as you to try them on before ordering).
So, where to start? Well, if you're reordering an old favourite then go ahead - most shoes are fairly consistent. If you know what you want but don’t know how they size up, give us a ring or drop us an email and we'll find someone with similar size feet to try on a few pairs for you. Like we said before, if it's your first pair or you don’t know what you want, you may have to use ‘the force’
to an extent...we will do our best to guide you in terms of fit (asymmetry, width and volume being the crucial factors) and then it's just a case of finding the right length. Once again, we can compare a street shoe size with a style size for you and give our best estimate.
Unfortunately there is little in the way of standard sizing in modern rock shoes. At the end of the product descriptions for each shoe design you will find some advice about the nature of the fit, including the width of the shoe, the volume of the toe box and a suggestion for how many sizes to drop from your normal shoe size – this should be taken as a rough guide, as fit is a very personal thing.
Fitting rock shoes is certainly a dark art, but we do relish the challenge. We pride ourselves on our hands-on technical expertise; if you are ever in the area call in and try on as many pairs as you like - and don’t worry about taking your time, it's an important decision.
Comfort vs Pain
Rock shoes do need to be close fitting; otherwise they don’t work very well. Get them too big and your foot will slide around inside the shoe; standing on anything smaller than a finger wide hold will be nigh on impossible. With Technical or Specialist shoes it is normal, for performance reasons, to accept a tight fit, and one that may be initially quite uncomfortable. After a break in period the shoes should have stretched and moulded to your feet. With Classic shoes a more comfortable fit is appropriate; you should be able to wear them all day without too much bother.
Most women have narrower feet than men, so it makes sense to offer rock shoes specifically designed on a women-specific last. Obviously, some women will get on with the wider men’s fit, and some men with narrow feet will prefer a narrower last. Check out the 5.10 Siren
and the Scarpa Women's Reflex Velcro
for some examples.
Most rock shoe ranges are limited to small – medium sizes; however, if you do have large feet, all is not lost. Check out the Boreal Joker Large
, which is specifically designed for the gentleman (or lady) with bigger than average feet.
Synthetic vs Leather Uppers
Synthetic uppers are quite common nowadays, 5.10 in particular, have made the amusingly named Cowdura fabric a key component in many of their shoes. The main advantage of synthetic uppers is that they will stretch less than leather, however there is a price to pay and that price is the ‘stinky rock shoe syndrome’.
Excessive odour can be reduced by wearing socks, but, for reasons of increased sensitivity, it is normal to wear rock shoes without socks.
Leather uppers are certainly more pleasant on the nose, but they will stretch a bit more. Some styles have an extra liner which helps to reduce stretch.
Velcros vs Lace Ups
Velcro closing straps allow you to get in and out of your shoes quickly. This is useful on long routes when feet can get sore; upon reaching the belay you can just whip them off in a matter of seconds and give your toes a break. (Do be careful not to drop them though!)
Lace ups are more faff but they do allow for a more precise, nuanced fit. This can be particularly important when the rock shoe is older and has stretched out a bit. Also, climbers with narrow feet will appreciate being able to cinch up any dead space in the shoe.
Down Turned vs Edging style
Most routes suit a conventional edging style rock shoe; but on steeper routes and boulder problems a down turned twist in the sole allows more power and pull to be exerted through the big toe – the result being that you can hold your weight in closer to the rock and relieve some of the pressure on your arms.
Who’s got the stickiest rubber?
We are firmly of the belief that getting the right fit and style of shoe is much more important than the type of rubber used on any particular shoe. Over the years various different manufacturers have fought to convince us that their rubber is the stickiest. 5.10 are the company that famously garnered the reputation for the ultimate Hard Grit
shoes, and it is true that they do work well on sandstone and grit.
Nonetheless, if there was a really significant advantage to 5.10 rubber then everybody would be wearing their shoes, and that clearly isn’t the case. These days most manufacturers use different types of rubber for different shoes. Softer ones for Specialist shoes and harder, edging rubber for Technical or Classic shoes. Some shoes even use different rubber types for the rand and sole.
To an extent you can consider rock shoes to be a bit like a set of golf clubs. A golfer wouldn’t use the same club for each shot and there is a lot to be said for adopting a similar approach to rock shoes. Indeed on some specialist boulder problems or routes it is not unusual to wear a different style of shoe on each foot. A radical but effective solution!
Even if there is only one style of shoe that you get on with, it’s worth carrying a worn in pair (good for sensitive smeary moves and comfortable on long routes) and a newer pair (good for holding those tiny edges), and maybe one with neat heels for that hard to stick heel hook manoeuvre!