Climbing Shoes

Amongst the many colors and models of shoes available on the market, you should first decide for which model to go for. If you are a beginner we strongly recommend to buy cheap and comfortable 'all-round' shoes. It is alright if they’re tight, but it is important that they fit correctly and let the blood circulate freely.

The price of a decent pair of climbing shoes ranges from €80 to €140 (£60 to £120). Due to their rapid wear, particularly on beginners’ feet, climbing shoes must be replaced (or resoled) before any other piece of climbing equipment.

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Comfort VS Performance

La Sportiva - Shoes chartSome people may advise to always buy a pair of climbing shoes a few sizes below one’s regular fit, we do not.
We at Climbing Sardinia advise to always try a pair of new shoes before buying, keeping them on for a few minutes and truly understand if they are fit for your feet shape. Choose a comfy model, one that would not alter excessively the shape of your feet and let the blood circulate freely. Each shoes brand and model has different shapes and measures, we know for sure that a size 7 by La Sportiva does not correspond to a size 7 by 5.10!

Climbing shoes can be divided in three main groups, depending on how they reshape our feet natural form. Climbing shoes can thus be divided between Comfort, Technical and Performance models.
Shoes belonging to each of these three categories can be subsequently divided in different models, depending for instance on their fastening system. Common climbing shoes use laces, elastics or Velcro[1].

Comfortable shoes have a low-asymmetric flat sole, and are known as ‘all- round’ shoes. These shoes are the most adequate for beginners because they offer good perception of the rock and permit to be used for prolonged times. Beginners should keep in mind that the pain produced by over-tight shoes will diminish (not pass) only after a long time, when calluses will grow, often deforming the feet.

Technical shoes are conceived to improve climbing performance and show a slight arching and a more asymmetric tip. The front of the foot, on its internal side, is the part we use the most on our vertical progressions, directly under the joining of the toe phalange and the first metatarsus. Technical shoes enhance frontal grip and help when climbing on smaller holds. When buying these shoes it is often required to choose a tight measure, always remember not to overdo!

Performance shoes allow climbers to exert more pressure on the toes. The top performance shoes have a distinctive arching and high-asymmetry. To be used at their best they need to press the toe inwards, using only a tiny part which can fit even the smallest irregularities of the rock. Those who buy high performance shoes often climb on boulders or very hard sport routes, and know that there’s no time to waste with them on! Although they allow climbing on hard problems, their high asymmetry is often cause of serious problems, amongst which the usual bunions (hallux abducto-valgus). On the image below you can see how the shoes brand La Sportiva has classified its various models.

Besides knowing shoes categories, when buying a new pair of climbing shoes we must pay attention to other contingent factors. First of all, we must pay attention to some personal issues. It is generally advised to try a new pair of shoes in the late afternoon. Why is this? After a long day our feet swell a bit, same as they do when we walk carrying a heavy rucksack to reach the bottom of a crag. Moreover, women suffer swelling  caused by altitude: the higher the altitude above sea levels the higher the water retention on hands and feet.

Should I buy very tight climbing shoes?

bunions

Left: X-rays of a climber’s fee, standing position.
Right: X-rays of the same climber with climbing shoes on (notice how allux is bent).

We can never stress enough on how important it is to have a comfortable pair of shoes. Very tight shoes do not directly imply better performances but surely cause a long series of problems.
Very tight shoes allow the foot to become a solid block and enable it to get a grip on tiny rock protrusions. On the other hand, ankle’s limited flexibility may cause fractures in case of fall. Although ankle’s fractures cannot be considered a direct consequence of over-constricting shoes, they surely help its occurring.
A study carried by Audry Morrison[2], a UIAA physician, proved that excessive pressure exerted on the toe, and thus on the first metatarsus, directly affects the plantar fascia. The repetition of stress on the toe causes an irritation of the plantar fascia, known as Plantar Fasciitis, or jogger’s heel. The usual symptom of the Plantar Fasciitis is an intense pain at the talon, particularly when wakening, as soon as the feet touch the ground. Fasciitis can affect one’s feet for months, but rarely lasts over one year.An article written by sport physicians Volker Schöffl and Thomas Küpper [3] proved that unreasonably tight shoes modify the bio-dynamic mechanism of the feet and increase stress on its frontal part. Chronic problems such as bunions and flat-feet can follow, besides the usual under-nails hematomas, calluses and pain.
Another common problem caused by excessively-tight shoes is a certain predisposition to ankle sprains. A team of American physicians leaded by doctor Killian[4] has published a study on the devastating effects overtly-tight shoes have on ankles. They proved that a foot forced inside a tight shoe and twisted inwardly loses all its flexibility and the muscles around the ankle cannot intervene to protect it against an eventual sprain. Inhibited muscles cannot dissipate the power caused by an impact against solid ground or rock, ligaments are left as the only protection for bones not to fall apart, and so they are usually the first to snap on a fall, causing severe distresses to other articulations.
A research by orthopedists Morrison e Schöffl[5] has proved that, even more than with adults, young climbers should wear large shoes. Young climbers should not force their feet in tight climbing shoes, as their feet anatomy is different from that of adults, as they are in constant growth and it is absolutely necessary to avoid malformations.
 

Young girls feet stop growing around the age of 14, while boys feet keep growing up to the age of 16. Full maturation of connective tissues and maximum toes flexibility usually comes at the age of 15. Before that age, climbing shoes should neither hinder growth nor distort the shape of the feet. Apart from bones malformations, excessively-tight shoes push hardly on ankles and on Achilles’ tendon, causing even further damages. Morrison e Schöffl correctly noted that expert climbers’ feet show more deformities and fractures than beginners’. This is obviously due to the widespread habit of wearing overly tight shoes.

Re-soling climbing shoes

If you intend to resole your climbing shoes and bring them back to a decent state you should stop using them before they can get any hole. We are often tempted to do that last climb, and end up consuming that last millimetre of gum on the tip of the toe. If climbing shoes have a front hole showing the fabric or leather at the back, this means that the resoler will have to glue an additional patch, ruining the pointing shape and thus the performance of the shoes. Once a front patch gets added, those shoes will never be the same.

We should have our climbing shoes resoled before we consume the lower sole, and way before we punch a toe-hole. Watch the image below as reference to when to stop.

 Climbing shoes


[1] Many climbers prefer elastic fastening shoes for the rapidity on putting them on. Others prefer Velcro because it is not only rapid, but also allows adjusting its grip. Fewer climbers nowadays prefer laced shoes, because they require longer time, although their tightening can be fully adjusted to personal choice.

[2]- Audrey Morrison, Climbing shoes: is pain insane? British Mountaineering Council, https://www.thebmc.co.uk/climbing-shoes-is-pain-insane, 22/03/2014.

[3] – Volker Schöffl e Thomas Küpper, Feet injuries in rock climbers, World Journal of Orthopedics, http://www.wjgnet.com/2218-5836/full/v4/i4/218.htm, 22/03/2014.

[4] – RB Killian, GS Nishimoto e JC Page, Foot and ankle injuries related to rock climbing. The role of footwear, Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 1998, pp. 365-74.

[5] – Audry Morrison e Volker Schöffl, Physiological responses to rock climbing in young climbers, British Journal of Sports Medicine, dicembre 2007, pp. 852–861.

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