How to Buy Your First Pair of Climbing Shoes

How to Buy Your First Pair of Climbing Shoes
By: Patrick Bodnar

Let’s face it. Buying a pair of climbing shoes is intimidating. There’s a wide range of prices, shapes, and styles (as well as some very strong-yet-conflicting opinions that friends will have about what you should get). Here are some tips so you can stop worrying and start climbing.

Set a Realistic Budget

It’s no myth; climbing shoes are expensive. You can expect to find a range of about $80 - $200 when shopping around (not including rad deals!). However, if you’re buying your first pair, you probably don’t need to spend any more than $100. The bells and whistles of $200 shoes are gonna be uncomfortable for starting out and ultimately an unnecessary expenditure (save that extra dough for some chalk or a harness!).

Make Sure They’re Tight

Climbing shoes should fit tight. Too much room and you’ll feel the toe fold when you step on it. Not enough room and you’ll be fighting blisters more than you’re actually climbing. Here’s a good rule of thumb: your toes should hit the end of the shoe, but they should not curl.

Look for Beginner-Friendly Styles

There are lots of very different-looking climbing shoes out there, but there are three key features that you should focus on when buying your first pair:

  1. Aggressiveness: Have you ever noticed that some climbing shoes are curved down like ballerina shoes? These are called aggressive climbing shoes. Avoid aggressive shoes! While they do a great job of molding your foot into a single stepping point for steep climbing, they’re extremely uncomfortable for beginners. Find something semi-flat (or with a subtle curve) that more naturally fits the shape of your foot.
  2. Stiffness: Some shoes are very stiff, while others easily fold between your hands when you squeeze them. Avoid stiff shoes! These are usually intended for wedging your feet in outdoor cracks. In any other setting, ultra stiff shoes will make your feet sore, and make it more difficult to mold around larger shapes in the gym. The choice between super soft and kind of soft is less important; try them both on and see what feels better on your feet!
  3. Laces and Velcro: The choice between lace-up and velcro strap climbing shoes is almost entirely personal preference, but there are a few arguments for each. Laces allow you to control the tightness of your shoe a little better and remove air pockets across the top of your foot. However, we recommend that beginners start with velcro because they’re easier to get in and out of. If you’re planning to boulder more than climb on a rope, especially, you’ll be able to quickly take a break and pop your shoes off between climbs.

Try Some Shoes On and Go with Your Gut!

Online shopping is easier and more convenient than ever before, but it creates one major hurdle for buying climbing shoes: you can’t try them on! Sizing varies between brands and you’re preparing to place the majority of your weight on the shoes that you choose, so take the time to visit us at the Longmont Climbing Collective. We've got a great selection of shoes in our retail store that you can try on in person.

Once you’ve tried some shoes on, go with your gut! Choose a shoe that feels comfortable on your foot, and don’t let a friend or macho man pro climber try to sell you on a fancy shoe that doesn’t feel right.

If you have any questions or want to try some shoes on, come by the Longmont Climbing Collective and talk to a member of our team! We’ll make sure you get a good, comfy pair of shoes so you can get to the fun part: climbing!