February 26, 2021

Climbing Shoe Fitting Guide

22 min read

Compared to other rock climbing gear, climbing shoes arguably have the most direct correlation with your performance. Choosing the right shoe for your discipline and foot shape is, therefore, of the utmost importance. 

There is an incredibly wide variety of climbing shoes to suit a broad range of foot sizes and climbing styles. As a result, picking out a pair and finding the right fit can be a daunting task – no matter whether you’re new to climbing or have years of experience. 

To help you navigate the vast selection, we put together this comprehensive climbing shoe fitting guide covering all the major aspects of climbing shoes. Our guide will help you understand the most important things to consider when evaluating different climbing shoe models and selecting a size. 

By the end of this climbing shoe fitting guide, you’ll know how to find the right climbing shoe and size your shoes appropriately for your skill level, climbing style, foot shape, and personal preferences. 

The Importance of Finding the Right Fit

Before we get into the details of how to find the right fit when choosing a climbing shoe, let’s go over why it matters. 

Performance 

Even the best performing climbing shoes on the market will falter if they don’t fit you right. Extra space inside the shoe can negatively impact your grip and cause you to slip off of the wall, while a cramped toe box can make it too painful to stick a move. 

Comfort 

Choosing the right type and size of climbing shoe for your foot shape and climbing style will make your experience significantly more enjoyable and allow you to climb longer. 

Injury Prevention

Climbing places a large amount of stress on many areas of the body, especially the bones and soft tissues in the feet and lower legs. If your climbing shoes do not fit you well, it increases your risk of developing foot pain or sustaining an injury. 

Common foot conditions in climbers that can be caused or worsened by ill-fitting shoes include tendinitis, Achilles pain, bunions, hallux rigidus, blisters, and more. 

Anatomy of the Shoe 

One of the most crucial steps to learning how to choose and size climbing shoes is understanding their various components. Below we explain the different parts of climbing shoes that you’ll see referenced in this article, climbing shoe reviews, and manufacturer descriptions. 

  1. Toe Box: The section of the climbing shoe that surrounds the toes. There is a fair amount of variation in the shape and design of the toe box on different shoes, making some models better for certain foot shapes than others. 
  2. Rand: Also called the toe rand, this is the rubber that wraps around the toe box. On many aggressive climbing shoe models, this rubber covers a large part of the top of the shoe for better toe hooking performance. 
  3. Sole: The sole, or outsole, is the rubber layer on the bottom of the shoe. Some climbing shoes have a full-length sole, while others have an outsole only under the forefoot and heel. This is the main surface that you climb on and the part of climbing shoes that generally wears out the fastest. Many climbing shoes can be resoled, meaning an expert can replace the entire sole and rand with new rubber. 
  4. Upper: Made from either leather or synthetic materials, this is the main body of the climbing shoe. The upper construction affects things like stretch, breathability, and odor-retention. 
  5. Insole: Also known as the footbed, this is the part directly under your foot. It can be made of leather or synthetic materials and affects the shoe’s fit, feel, and odor-fighting abilities. Not all climbing shoes have an insole. 
  6. Midsole: This layer between the footbed and sole provides extra stiffness and support. There is significant variation in midsoles’ size, shape, and thickness, allowing brands to achieve the desired level of support and sensitivity. Often, the midsole extends from around the arch to the toe. 
  7. Arch: The part of the shoe underneath the arch of your foot. Downturned shoes typically have a clearly defined arch, while neutral or flat-lasted shoes do not. 
  8. Heel Rand: The rubber that extends around the heel holds the foot in place and helps maintain the shoe’s shape over its lifetime. Heel rands have varying levels of tension, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on. 
  9. Heel Cup: Together with the heel rand, the heel cup keeps the foot in place. This is one of the most common areas where climbers run into issues with the fit of their shoes. Improper fit in the heel cup can lead to slipping on heel hooks, Achilles pain, and blisters. 
  10. Heel Loop: This feature makes it easier to put your climbing shoes on and allows you to clip them to your harness easily. 
  11. Lining: A lining is sometimes added to the entire shoe or specific parts to increase comfort and control stretch. Lined shoes will stretch less than unlined ones. While linings certainly have their benefits, keep in mind that a full or partial lining in the toe box can decrease a climbing shoe’s sensitivity. 
  12. Closure System: Climbing shoes are available with lace, velcro, zig-zag/wave, or slipper/slip-on closure systems. Shoes with laces or zig-zag-style closures usually provide the most adjustability. 
  13. Tongue: The part separating your foot from the closure. Some climbing shoes feature padded tongues for a more comfortable fit. 
  14. Tongue Tab: Not all climbing shoes have this feature. Most often found on slippers, the tongue tab allows you to widen the shoe’s opening and slide your feet in, making it easier to put them on. 
  15. Collar: The rim of the shoe near the ankle. Some climbing shoes have padded collars for added comfort. Most climbing shoes have a collar that hits below the ankle bone, but some high-top styles have a collar that extends higher for additional ankle protection. 

All of these parts are important to consider when selecting climbing shoes, but several of them play a crucial role when choosing and sizing your climbing shoes. These include the closure system, upper material, lining, midsole, sole rubber, and tensioning system, all of which we discuss in more detail below.  

Closure System

Climbing shoes have several possible closure systems: (1) laces, (2) velcro strap or straps, (3) wave or zig-zag-style, and (4) slip-on. While it often comes down to personal preference, each closure system has its pros and cons. 

Laces

Shoes with lace-up closures provide excellent adjustability but require the most time to put on and take off. Laces can make a climbing shoe feel stiffer and are often found on more comfortable models that don’t need to be removed between climbs. 

Example: La Sportiva Katana Lace 

Velcro Strap(s) 

Velcro closures make climbing shoes fast and simple to remove between climbs. Although they provide slightly less adjustability than lace-up closures, velcro straps still offer a fairly customizable fit. Velcro climbing shoes usually have between one and three straps. 

Example: La Sportiva Otaki 

Wave or Zig-zag

This newer variation of the velcro closure offers an excellent balance between easy on-off and adjustability. The zig-zag or wave-style design spreads out pressure across the upper to minimize hot spots and provides a better, more tailored fit. 

Example: Scarpa Veloce 

Slip-on

Slipper-style shoes lack any type of closure system and instead slip on easily over the foot. This type of shoe tends to be very soft and flexible. 

Since there is no added adjustability from the closure on slippers, the shoe must be sized snugly with no gaps or spaces. 

Example: Five Ten Moccasym 

Upper Material, Lining, and Stretch 

The upper material and lining on climbing shoes are the most important factors determining how much your climbing shoes will stretch over time. These characteristics are therefore crucial to consider when finding the right shoe and deciding on a size. 

Climbing shoes come with leather, suede, or synthetic uppers and can be lined or unlined. Each of these materials has pros and cons, which we explain in more detail below.  

Leather and Suede Uppers

Pros: 

  • Mold to the shape of your foot
  • Better odor-prevention
  • More breathable  

Cons: 

  • Harder to size due to stretch
  • More painful break-in period
  • Can lose shape over time

Leather and suede stretch substantially more than synthetic materials. If you purchase unlined leather climbing shoes, you can expect them to stretch a half size to a full size. 

This means that the shoes will feel quite tight when you purchase them and may require a somewhat uncomfortable break-in period. Check out our article about how to break in climbing shoes to learn more about pain-free ways to get your climbing shoes ready to wear. 

While the stretch factor allows leather shoes to mold to the shape of your foot for a more custom fit, it also means that the shoes may lose their shape over time. This can be problematic on aggressive shoes since the downturned shape drives power through the big toe for better performance. To combat this issue, many downturned leather shoes include a rand system, such as La Sportiva’s P3 (Permanent Power Platform) rand that helps the shoe retain its shape and performance even after many wears.

Some leather and suede shoes come with a full or partial lining to minimize stretch while still allowing the shoe to mold slightly to the foot. These types of climbing shoes will likely stretch up a quarter size to a half size and provide a nice balance between the benefits offered by synthetic and unlined leather uppers. However, a lining in the toe box can decrease the shoe’s sensitivity, so keep this in mind if you’ll be doing a lot of smearing. 

Lastly, natural materials like suede and leather tend to be more breathable and prevent odors better than synthetic materials. If you have sweaty, smelly feet, leather shoes may stay fresher for longer. 

Synthetic Uppers

Pros: 

  • Easier to size since they don’t stretch
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Less painful break-in period
  • Durable and retain their shape over time   

Cons:

  • Less resistant to odors
  • Less breathable
  • May not mold to the shape of your foot as well as leather uppers 

Climbing shoes with synthetic uppers will become more flexible and broken in with time, but they will not stretch. As a result, they may feel more comfortable out of the box and have a shorter, less painful break-in period than climbing shoes with leather uppers. 

This also makes synthetic shoes slightly easier to size since how they fit out of the box is essentially the same as how they’ll fit several months later. 

The lack of stretch means that synthetic climbing shoes will not mold to the shape of your foot as well as shoes with leather uppers, but they will retain their shape throughout their lifetime for consistent performance. 

As we mentioned, synthetic materials are less breathable and odor-resistant than natural materials, so synthetic climbing shoes may begin to smell sooner than their leather counterparts. Some climbing shoe brands, including Evolv, add an antimicrobial treatment to their synthetic shoes to prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria, allowing them to remain stink-free for at least as long as most leather shoes. 

Another advantage of synthetic shoes is they are vegan-friendly. Vegetarians and vegans who choose to avoid wearing products made from animals may prefer synthetic climbing shoes. 

Midsole

Midsoles are added to climbing shoes to increase stability, provide better support, and reduce fatigue in the foot and lower leg. This makes stiffer midsoles especially beneficial for vertical terrain and multi-pitch routes, as well as for new climbers who need extra support. 

Despite their advantages, midsoles also make climbing shoes less flexible and reduce sensitivity and precision, which can negatively impact performance on certain rock types and terrain, such as overhanging routes and slabs. 

To achieve the desired level of support and sensitivity, climbing shoe midsoles vary substantially in thickness, shape, and overall flexibility. Each style comes with benefits and downsides. 

Rigid midsoles are best for climbers looking for extra support and stability. Shoes with this type of midsole improve comfort and support on long vertical routes and multi-pitch climbs and support new climbers while they slowly build up more strength in the soft tissues in their feet and legs. 

However, the rigid design makes it harder to smear, toe hook, and heel hook. Because there is more rubber between your foot and the rock, stiff, supportive shoes are less sensitive than those with softer midsoles and may lack the flexibility and precision required for technical boulder problems and steep sport routes. 

Medium-stiff midsoles are the most versatile and offer the best all-around performance in a climbing shoe. Midsoles with medium stiffness offer enough support for edging without sacrificing the flexibility needed for technical moves and smears.  

Soft midsoles are best suited to slabs, rock types requiring a lot of sensitivity, volumes, bouldering, and steep or technical climbing. The flexible materials allow you smear, toe hook, and heel hook, but may result in foot fatigue on longer routes, especially vertical terrain. 

Switching to a softer shoe can be beneficial for climbers seeking to improve their foot strength and progress through the grades. 

Sole Rubber

The black rubber on climbing shoes may look the same at first, but there are many subtle differences that make some shoes better for certain climbing styles than others. 

Like the midsole, the sole rubber on a climbing shoe contributes to the shoe’s stiffness. Sole rubbers range in thickness from around 3mm to 5mm. Thinner rubbers will provide more flexibility, while thicker rubbers will offer more support.  

Besides its thickness, each rubber also has different characteristics, such as softness and durability. Soft rubber, like the Stealth Mi6 found on the Five Ten Anasazi Pro, easily deforms to provide better sensitivity. This type of rubber is therefore good for smearing, volume climbing, and smooth, slippery rock types like limestone, but may not be durable enough for abrasive granite. 

On the other hand, hard rubber, like the Vibram XS Edge, tends to keep its shape and provides better support. As a result, this type of rubber is excellent for edging on micro holds often found on challenging vertical routes. 

Sole rubbers also vary in shape. They can be split between the toe and heel with no sole rubber in the arch, partially split with some rubber in the arch, or full-length with rubber extending the entire way from the toe to the heel. 

Below are some common sole rubbers found on climbing shoes and more details about their characteristics and best uses. 

Vibram XS Grip 2

This incredibly sticky rubber is used on many of the most sought-after aggressive climbing shoes. The Vibram XS Grip 2 provides consistent performance in a range of temperatures and offers a good balance between edging ability and precision on overhanging routes. 

Some shoes that use this rubber: La Sportiva Solution, Scarpa Drago 

Vibram XS Edge 

Designed for maximum support while sport climbing and bouldering, the Vibram XS Edge is stiffer than the Grip 2 rubber and provides a balance of grip, durability, and edging performance. The rubber maintains its shape even after hours of wear in both hot and cold temperatures and is well-suited to vertical climbs requiring additional support. 

Some shoes that use this rubber: Scarpa Vapor V, La Sportiva Katana Laces 

Stealth C4 

Five Ten’s Stealth C4 rubber is the main competitor of Vibram’s Grip 2. Many say the Stealth C4 is stickier than the Grip 2, but less durable. The rubber offers excellent edging and smearing and will stick to sandstone and granite amazingly well. 

Some shoes that use this rubber: Five Ten Anasazi Guide, Five Ten Rogue 

Trax SAS 

The Trax SAS rubber from Evolv is one of the most durable sole materials out there. Although it’s less sticky than Vibram’s Grip 2 and Five Ten’s Stealth C4, you’ll save money on resoling with shoes that use Trax SAS. Some say this rubber works better indoors than out, but others have noted its excellent performance on varied rock types and terrain outdoors as well as in the gym. 

Some shoes that use this rubber: Evolv Shaman, Evolv Oracle

Tensioning System

Each climbing shoe model is designed with a specific degree of heel tension in mind. This is achieved using specialized rand systems that often work in conjunction with the midsole to deliver the desired level of tension through the foot. 

A high degree of tension will take power from the entire foot and centralize it in the big toe for ultimate performance. Shoes with high tension also lock the heel in place to avoid slipping on heel hooks. 

For example, the Scarpa Mago uses the brand’s X-Tension System to support the forefoot and lock the heel in place, thereby driving maximum power through the big toe.  

In contrast, the Scarpa Vapor V uses the Bi-Tension rand, which connects to the heel rand and prevents the toes from scrunching up in the shoe. By pulling the toes back towards the heel, it decreases tension and toe pain without sacrificing precision and sensitivity. 

Now that we’ve covered the key components of climbing shoes in depth, let’s move on to several other features that are important to consider when choosing and fitting your climbing shoes. These include last, asymmetry, downturn, softness, and support. 

Last and Asymmetry 

The term “last” refers to the foot-shaped mold around which a climbing shoe is built. The last determines various characteristics of the shoe, including volume, asymmetry, width, overall shape, and stiffness.   

Climbing shoes are made in two main ways: 

  1. Board-lasted: The upper is attached to the bottom of a flexible, full-length board (usually made of paper fiber) that has been glued to the footbed. These shoes tend to be stiff, flat, and comfortable. As a result, they are good for all-day wear, beginners, and crack climbing. This method is not used very often by climbing shoe manufacturers.  
  2. Slip-lasted: The upper is wrapped under the foot without using any kind of board. Slip-lasted shoes tend to be softer and more sensitive than board-lasted shoes and are often designed for sport climbing and bouldering. This is the most common method of making climbing shoes because it offers significantly more versatility than board-lasting. 

The last also determines a climbing shoe’s asymmetry, a term referring to the level of alignment between the toe and heel. The more asymmetry a shoe has, the more it will concentrate power under the big toe for better precision and stability on small footholds. 

 There are three main categories that you’ll see referred to by manufacturers and reviewers:

  1. Low asymmetry: This type of climbing shoe spreads out pressure across the foot and is usually the most comfortable. 
  2. Moderate asymmetry: Shoes with moderate asymmetry begin to drive more power from the foot to the big toe and offer a balance between comfort and performance. 
  3. Aggressive or high asymmetry: This type of shoe is usually the least comfortable since the foot is in an unnatural position. Aggressive asymmetry concentrates power in the big toe so the climber can push and pull on tiny holds. Shoes with high asymmetry are usually well-suited to overhanging routes that require toe and heel hooking. 

Downturn 

Also determined by the last, the shape or downturn is an important factor to consider when choosing climbing shoes. There are three main shapes of climbing shoes:

  1. Flat/neutral: The flat shape and relaxed fit of neutral climbing shoes provide the wearer with all-day comfort. Neutral shoes are mostly symmetrical or mildly asymmetrical. While they tend to be stiffer and have good support in the midsole, some flat climbing shoes are soft and flexible. Flat shoes are made to fit with a flat toe profile and are best for beginners and for more experienced climbers who want a comfortable shoe for trad climbing, crack climbing, and multi-pitch or big wall routes.
  2. Arched/moderate: Moderate climbing shoes have a slightly downturned and asymmetrical shape and offer a good balance between comfort and performance. This type of shoe generally provides greater sensitivity and precision than neutral shoes while remaining more versatile than those with an aggressive downturn. These are designed to fit with slightly curved toes and are an excellent choice for intermediate climbers. 
  3. Downturned/aggressive:  Aggressive shoes have an asymmetrical and significantly downturned shape that positions the foot to consolidate power in the big toe. These are the least comfortable type of climbing shoes and are designed to fit tightly with the toes curled inside the shoe. Aggressive shoes are best for hard single-pitch sport routes and challenging boulder problems. 

Softness and Support 

Each climbing shoe is designed with a certain level of flexibility in mind. You’ll often see this referred to as softness, stiffness, or support.  

Soft shoes tend to have thinner sole rubber and smaller, more flexible midsoles. Because there’s less of a barrier between your foot and the rock, soft shoes are known for being more precise and sensitive, meaning they allow you to feel what’s happening on the rock surface beneath your feet. 

Stiff shoes usually have thicker sole rubber and larger, more rigid midsoles. As a result, they offer more support and help reduce fatigue in the foot and lower leg, especially on vertical routes where a lot of weight is placed on the feet. 

Generally speaking, stiff, supportive shoes are good for: 

  • Beginners
  • Trad climbing
  • Crack climbing
  • Multi-pitch routes
  • All-day wear
  • Vertical terrain
  • Edging  

Soft, sensitive shoes are typically good for: 

  • Slabs
  • Steep terrain
  • Bouldering
  • Smearing 
  • Toe and heel hooking

To determine how soft or stiff a particular model is, check the manufacturer’s product descriptions, as well as detailed climbing reviews discussing the shoe’s features. Many brands have a chart with all of their climbing shoe models that shows which are the softest and which are the most supportive. 

You can also test the stiffness of a shoe in person using your hands and feet. Soft shoes will bend relatively easily in your hands and under the pressure of your foot while climbing in them, while stiffer, more supportive shoes will not give much. 

Climbing Shoe Fitting Guide: How to Fit Your Climbing Shoes 

Finding the perfect climbing shoe fit can be a tricky task. Choosing a size that’s too small will cause pain, increase your risk of injury, and make it difficult to climb for longer periods. On the other hand, choosing a size that’s too big will affect your grip and sensitivity, making it more likely that your feet will slip.  

There are three main ways you can fit your shoes: (1) relaxed fit, (2) standard fit, and (3) performance fit. The best fit for you will depend on your climbing experience and style, as well as the type of shoe. 

  1. Relaxed fit: Toes should be tight against the front of the shoe with no dead space, but should not curl. This fit is recommended for beginners, crack climbers, and anyone wearing neutral shoes with low asymmetry. 
  2. Standard fit: Toes should be slightly curled against the front of the shoe. The shoes should feel snug but not overly tight. This fit is recommended for intermediate climbers or anyone wearing a moderate, all-around climbing shoe. 
  3. Performance fit: Toes should be curled with a very tight fit. Some discomfort is to be expected with a performance fit, but it should not be painful. This fit is recommended for advanced sport climbers and boulderers or anyone wearing a softer, aggressive or high-performance shoe. 

Finding the Right Fit 

Now that you’ve found the ideal climbing shoes for your climbing style, experience, and personal preferences, how do you figure out which size will provide the best fit? 

Follow the tips below to find the best size and fit for you. 

  • Try the shoes on in person. Testing climbing shoes in person will allow you to try a range of sizes and consult a salesperson for advice. Many outdoor retailers have a small climbing wall in the store so that you can see how the shoes feel on the wall before you decide to purchase them. If you decide to buy your climbing shoes online, make sure to carefully check the shop’s return policy since it can take a few tries to find the right size. 
  • Try your shoes on in the afternoon or evening. Since feet swell up to a full size during the day, trying climbing shoes on later in the afternoon will give you a more accurate fit. 
  • Check the manufacturer’s sizing recommendations and try on a range of sizes to see which suits you best. There is significant variation in sizing and fit between different climbing shoe brands and models within a single brand. Checking the manufacturer’s sizing recommendations is a great place to begin when figuring out what size you need. 
  • Tighter is not necessarily better. You’ll get much better performance out of a comfortable, well-fit shoe than an extremely tight shoe that doesn’t fit your foot properly. 
  • Consider the upper material. As we discussed, unlined leather will stretch significantly more than a shoe made with synthetic uppers.  
  • Listen to your body. While it’s good to get advice from others, ultimately you’ll need to listen to your body when deciding what size and type of shoe to purchase. Your friend may go three sizes down from his or her street shoe size, but that doesn’t mean you have to size your shoes so aggressively. 
  • Determine your foot shape, width, and volume. Some shoes work better for certain foot shapes. Figuring out whether you have high-volume, low-volume, wide, or narrow feet (instructions provided below) will help you determine which models are likely to work well for you and whether you’d be happier with a men’s or women’s version. 

Different Foot Shapes 

The shape of your foot will impact which models of climbing shoes are right for you. Many climbing shoe manufacturers and reviewers recommend certain shoes for certain types and shapes of feet, such as wide feet, Egyptian feet, or Morton’s toe. But how do you determine which type of feet you have? 

Wide vs. Narrow 

While there is no standardized width system among shoe manufacturers, you can measure your feet and compare them to a general shoe width chart to determine whether you have wide, medium, or narrow feet. 

Follow the steps below to figure out your foot width:

  1. Get a pen or pencil, a blank piece of paper larger than your foot, and a tape measure or large ruler. 
  2. Place the piece of paper down on a flat, even surface. 
  3. Step on the paper with bare feet and use the pen or pencil to trace an outline of your foot.
  4. Measure the length of the foot outline from the tip of the big toe to the back of the heel and write it down. 
  5. Measure the width of the foot outline at the widest point and write it down. Typically this is just below the pinky toe to just below the big toe, but it varies from person to person. 
  6. Compare your measurements to a shoe width chart to see what kind of feet you have. 

You’ll also want to follow these tips to get the most accurate measurement: 

  • Since your feet swell during the day, it’s best to do this at night for better accuracy. 
  • Most people prefer to wear climbing shoes with no socks; However, if you wear socks while climbing, you should take the above measurements with the socks on. 

Once you’ve determined your foot width, you can check the manufacturer’s or retailer’s size chart as well as climbing shoe reviews for any specific guidelines regarding width. 

Foot Shape 

It’s also common to see climbing shoes recommended for certain shapes of feet, such as Egyptian or Greek. To figure out which shape your feet are, look at the shape and length of your toes and refer to the guide below. 

  • Egyptian: Toes increase in length from the pinky toe to the big toe.  
  • Greek: Also known as Morton’s toe. The second toe is longer than the big toe, with the remaining three toes decreasing in length toward the pinky toe. 
  • German: The big toe is the largest, with the other four toes being approximately the same length. 
  • Roman: The first three toes are about the same length, while the last two are shorter. 
  • Celtic: The big toe and third toe are shorter and around the same length. The second toe is the longest. The fourth and pinky toes are the shortest and usually the same length. 

Foot Volume 

The volume of your feet determines how much space they need inside of a closed shoe. Low-volume feet tend to be narrow with low arches and shallow insteps. High-volume feet usually are wider with high arches and tall insteps. 

If you have wide feet, there’s a good chance your feet are high-volume. If you have narrow feet and often feel like there’s dead space or extra room in your shoes, you likely have low-volume feet. 

Men’s vs. Women’s Climbing Shoes: What’s the Difference? 

Many climbing shoes come in men’s and women’s versions of the same model. Besides the obvious color differences, several other characteristics distinguish the men’s and women’s versions. 

While there is some variation between brands and models, women’s climbing shoes tend to have:

  • Narrower heel and smaller heel cup: Some women’s climbing shoes are made with a smaller heel cup and overall narrower fit in the heel. If you have had problems with extra space in the heel cup in climbing shoes or have felt like the shoes slip on heel hooks, you may want to try a women’s shoe regardless of your gender. 
  • Slimmer forefoot or smaller toe box: Many women’s shoes are narrower in the toe than the men’s version. If you have wide feet, a large big toe, or a wide toe box, you may want to try a unisex, men’s, or wider version rather than a women’s version. 
  • Lower collar height: If you feel the collar on men’s or unisex shoes is too high or has irritated your Achilles or ankle, try a women’s version to see if the fit is better. 
  • Thinner or more flexible sole and midsole: This varies from one model to the next, but many women’s climbing shoes are designed for lower weight climbers and therefore have a thinner and more flexible sole and midsole. If you are a lightweight male or are looking for a softer, more sensitive shoe, you may want to consider getting the women’s version. 
  • Smaller sizes: Many brands have different sizes available in their men’s versions compared to their women’s versions. Women’s shoes are often available starting from a smaller size, with men’s shoes being available in larger sizes that the manufacturer doesn’t offer in women’s. 
  • Different colors: While unrelated to fit and performance, it’s worth noting that men’s and women’s versions of the same climbing shoe come in different colors.  

Ultimately, the differences between men’s and women’s climbing shoes have little to do with gender and are more concerned with the climber’s weight and their foot width, size, and shape. You can therefore ignore the gender label on climbing shoes and go with whatever version works best for your foot shape, body type, and personal preferences. 

More and more, brands are beginning to factor this into their marketing. Companies like Mad Rock. SoiLL, and Butora, for example, have begun to differentiate some of their shoes by calling them narrow, wide, low-volume, or high-volume instead of assigning them a gender label. 

Conclusion 

As you can see, there are countless differences between various brands and models of climbing shoes that affect their fit, feel, and performance. While this variation is excellent for climbers, it can be challenging to choose a specific model and find the right size. 

Now that you’ve read our comprehensive climbing shoe fitting guide and understand the anatomy of climbing shoes, you should feel prepared to navigate the complex task of choosing your next pair. 

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