Rock climbing shoes have evolved tremendously and come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. What was once normal to use hiking boots has transformed into a minimal design made to perform specifically for climbing on rocks. Climbing shoe shapes vary; choosing a style depends on one’s experience and the rock they’ll be climbing on. Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first pair or an experienced climber looking for a new shoe, understanding the differences in shapes will help you choose your next pair of climbing shoes.
Neutral (All Day) Climbing Shoes:
This shape has a similar profile to your street shoe. It allows your toes to lie flatter and provides more comfort than a performance-oriented shoe.
Neutral climbing shoes are best used in cracks, directly vertical, or on slab (forward leaning) walls. When buying your first pair of rock climbing shoes, we recommend a neutral profile shoe while you’re still building your climbing technique.
Moderate (All Around) Climbing Shoes:
Moderate climbing shoes are a mix between Neutral and our next style, aggressive, and are known for being a good all-around shape of shoe that can be used on various styles of rock.
This shape has a slightly downturned toe box to position the power of your foot into the toes. It is also designed to stand on smaller footholds than neutral climbing shoes. Moderate climbing shoes are best for face climbing (directly vertical walls) and slightly overhung walls (leaning toward you).
Moderate shoes are a good upgrade between comfort and performance once you develop your technique and climb steeper terrain or smaller footholds.
Aggressive Climbing Shoes:
An aggressive shoe with a significantly downturned shape is designed to focus all your power on your big toe. Many climbers like to downsize these to ensure they can stand on the smallest footholds. These shoes are not meant to be worn all day. Oftentimes, climbers with aggressive shoes remove them after each burn. While they are resting their arms, they are also resting their feet.
Aggressive climbing shoes are great for climbing on vertical or overhung walls. The directed toe power helps keep your feet pressed into an overhang and on tiny footholds.
Climbing Shoe Flexibility
Each climbing shoe is designed to have stiff, moderately stiff, or soft flexibility. The stiffer the shoe, the more support it provides. Alternatively, the softer the shoe, the more sensitivity it offers. The caveat is that softer shoes are less durable and will wear out faster.
Stiff shoes are great for beginners or crack climbers because they allow you to wear them all day while providing support when jamming your feet into cracks. The added protection of a stiff climbing shoe will protect the foot more than other flexible options.
Moderately stiff shoes, like moderately shaped shoes, are good all-around for various terrain. This balance between stiffness and softness provides support but also sensitivity.
Soft shoes are popular among experienced climbers who want to feel the rock with their feet. These shoes are designed to conform to footholds and excel at smearing (pasting your foot on a wall with no foothold).
The most popular types of closure systems are laces, velcro, and slip-on. Each has pros and cons and should be chosen correctly after considering what sort of climbing you’ll do.
Slip-On Climbing Shoes
They are easily the most convenient shoes to put on and remove but lack adjustability. If bought too large, slip-ons can pop off while climbing.
Velcro Climbing Shoes
Popular among gym climbers and aggressive shoe lovers, velcro closure shoes quickly remove and provide different adjustable support levels.
Lace-Up Climbing Shoes
Lace-ups are the most adjustable style of closure system but also the most tedious to put on and remove. These shoes can fit a wider range of feet and are popular among all-day climbing shoe d lovers.
Symmetry of Shoe
Climbing shoes come in a variety of symmetrical choices as well. A more asymmetric shoe is curved toward the toe when looking at the bottom of a shoe. This is common among aggressive shoes, while a straighter shoe tends to be flatter and is typically a neutral shoe shape.
Each of these shapes will also commonly have two different styles:
Wide (low volume)
Low-volume climbing shoes are designed for people with wide and/or high-arched feet.
Narrow (high volume)
High-volume climbing shoes cater to people with narrow feet and a flat arch.
Remember, neutral lace-up shoes are popular among beginners because they do not need to be removed after each pitch. An aggressive velcro shoe that removes easily is better suited for steep terrain where a more experienced climber may be. When choosing climbing shoes, think of what kind of climbing you’ll do, and try on multiple styles in various sizes.