A guide to climbing shoes

Climbing relies on good footwork and good footwork relies on good shoes. There is a lot of technology involved in climbing shoe manufacture to aid your climbing experience. The top climbing shoe manufacturers use a variety of quality rubbers, no rubber is better than any other, but the rubbers used have different properties which operate better at different temperatures. The main thing is to keep the rubber soles of your shoes clean, this will keep them sticky.

How long should climbing shoes last?

Some rubbers are soft. This means they will wear quicker, but poor footwork will wear your shoes very quickly. I go through a pair a year using them about 3 times a week, but like anything, the more you use it the more wear it gets. With age, all rubbers will loose their properties, they become hard and inflexible and they won’t stick.

It is not only the sole that wears. Over time the uppers loose their strength and the shoe does not support your foot as well so there is less power generated through your feet.

Do climbing shoes have to hurt?

Your shoes should not be painful to wear, they might be tight, they might pinch, but they should not HURT. There are more than 5 well known brands of climbing shoe distributed throughout the UK, for example Boreal, Scarpa, Evolv, Spotiva and Tenaya. These brands between them probably produce 50 styles of climbing shoe. The game is to find the shoe that fits your foot like a slipper. From all these shoes I have only found 2 styles, which are from 2 different manufacturers, that fit me. If the shoe hurts it is the wrong style for you.

The importance of getting a good fit

Shoe type is dictated by the style of climbing; rock type, steepness, time wearing the shoe, indoor or out, bouldering or routes, but no matter what style of climbing you are doing the main thing with your shoe is that it is comfortable and this is achieved by making sure it fits correctly.

  • Heel – No baggy spots.
  • Arch – Flat or raised arch, it shouldn’t squelch.
  • Toe – Mortons toe (2nd toe longer than big toe)
  • Toe box – No air gaps
  • Foot – Symmetric (big toe bends inwards to other toes) or
  • Asymmetric (big toe is inline with side of foot)

Female fit shoes – not just for girls

If it is called a female specific shoe and it fits – just wear it. Don’t be gender specific about your feet, female specific shoes have a slightly different cut. There are no male specific shoes, the rest are unisex.

Don’t get too bogged down with shoes. There are climbers wearing trainers that climb better than me, but a climbing shoe that is personal to you and not rented, will give you a better experience whilst climbing. Happy Feet, Happy Climbing.

An A-Z of Indoor Climbing Terms

Here’s our A to Z of Indoor Climbing Terms

Do you know your jugs from your crimps, your clip from your crux or your dyno from your static move? If you’re not sure read our glossary of commonly used climbing terms  below, and you’ll soon be an expert in the jargon.

A

Arete – an edge where two walls meet sticking out.

B

Belay – device used to control the rope by the belayer.

Belayer – the person who looks after the climber ensuring they never fall to the ground.

Beta –  specific information about the route, hand & foot placements

Bolt/sport climbing – plates fitted to allow a climber to clip their rope into

Bouldering – climbing to a low level usually above mats (see High Ball Bouldering)

Bridging – where your left foot and hand are on 1 wall of a corner and your right foot and hand are on the other wall of a corner.

C

Climbing – ascending something with a rope.

Clip – extender, the bit you clip the rope into on your way up.

Corner – where there is a change in the wall direction making an internal corner.

Crab – see Karabiner

Crimp – small hold.

Crux – Latin word meaning cross, is the hard bit of a route.

D

Disco knee – when your legs are shaking for no reason when you are trying to stand on holds (also known as Shaking Stevens)

Dyno – a dynamic move meaning that you are jumping for your next hold so you have no point of contact on the holds

E

Edges –  in cut or some what positive footholds that lend themselves to accurate foot placements.

Extreme – an outdoor climbing grade starting at E1

Egyptian – or drop knee twisting action of foot and leg to pull the body into the wall by dropping your inside knee.

F

Flash – To send, or complete, a pitch on your first try with the help of some beta

Free Climbing – placing gear to prevent the climber hitting the ground

G

Guppy – a protruding hold that is squeezed between the palm and the fingers so that the hand forms a cup.

H

Heel/toe hook – using the heel or toe around a hold

High Ball Bouldering – like soloing but not so high, but higher than bouldering, usually above mats.

Holds – the coloured blobs that we hold onto and put our feet on.

I

Inside Edge – the area from your big toe down is the inside edge of your climbing shoe.

Italian Hitch – Knot used to belay or abseil. Also known as a Münter hitch. Recommended when you have dropped your Sticht plate down the crag. Not recommended for multiple abseils as it twists the rope.

J

Jamming – a technique used for climbing a crack where you jam your feet and hands in it

Jug – very large hold.

K

Karabiner – metal loop used for joining bits of climbing equipment, or crab for short.

Knee bar –  is where a leg “hold” is created by camming your knee/lower thigh up under some blocky, cracky, or roofy feature in opposition to your foot.

L

Layback – a technique used for crack climbing by leaning away.

Lower off – the final clip at the top of the route which you put the rope into to be lowered off.

M

Mantel shelf – coming from the piece above the fire place. Having hands on the shelf  then straighten the arms to then bring a foot up and match with the hands and then stand up.

Matching – using a hold with both hands or even a hand and foot

N

No hands rest – when you are balanced on your feet and you can release your hands.

O

Onsight – means to walk up to a route and send it first try, having never seen anyone on it or being told any beta. (Beta – route knowledge, Flash – having beta)

Overhang – climbing surface that leans towards you. (see stepped overhang)

P

Problem – bouldering line

Pumped – when your forearm muscles become solid through the effort of holding on

Q

Quickdraw – Two snap-gate karabiners linked by a short sling equals one quickdraw. Used to connect protection to the rope when leading a traditional route, or to clip bolts when sport climbing.

R

Redpoint – Leading a sport route after inspecting it, and maybe after practising individual moves, or simply any sport lead where moves have been done before (in the event of a fall).

Route – the line which the climb follows

S

Shaking Stevens – see Disco knee

Slab – climbing surfaces that leans away from you.

Sloper – smooth slopping hold

Smear – with hands or feet where the climber pushes against a surface where there is no hold or the hold is very slopey.

Soloing – climbing without ropes

Static move – where you go to your next hold in control while maintaining 3 points of contact.

Stepped overhang – like the underside of a staircase, it overhangs with the occasional step.

Stickies – climbing shoes, boots or EB’s

T

Thumb sprag – usually on an arete where the fingers are on one side and the thumb wrapped around a hold on the other

Traversing – high or low level moving left to right rather than up

U

Under cut – a hold that is good at the bottom and as you move up it is really positive

V

Vertical – climbing surface that is vertical.

Volume – an added section which is temporary and acts as an obstacle to be climbed around or over.

W

Wired – to have a route “wired” means to have its moves completely figured out, usually through practice or by watching someone else on it.

Whipper – taking a long fall

X

Y

Yo-Yo – to climb a route in a style where, if you fall off, you return to the ground, leaving all your protection in place and then start climbing again after a rest. The yo-yo refers to the repeated up and down movement of the climber who falls off more than once on a hard move. A common style of ascent in the 1970s and early 1980s, before the preferred style became redpointing.

Z

Zone – to be “in the zone” is to be in THE perfect mental state for climbing.

We couldn’t think of any climbing terms beginning with x. If you can, please email and we’ll include them in the list.

Thanks to Chris Bate and Charles Arthur for some of the terms, see this article.