Are Climbing Shoes Necessary? Do They Make a Difference?


There were a few times in the past when I went bouldering with Blundstone shoes. Even my girlfriend, which had done a professional course on rock climbing, never used climbing shoes before. Since they are quite expensive, I started to wonder, are climbing shoes necessary do they make any difference? To answer these two questions, I’ve done some digging and came up with a few surprising results.

Climbing shoes are necessary because they help you gain a proper foothold, and the sole provides you with the right amount of support. Also, they facilitate advanced maneuvers and, along with the cushioning system, prevent you from getting severe injuries. Moreover, their anti-skid bottom stops you from slipping and their ventilation, along with the ergonomic design, delay feet fatigue.

1. Help You Gain a Foothold

Climbing shoes generally are of 3 types (source). These include:

  • Neutral climbing shoes
  • Aggressive climbing shoes
  • Moderate climbing shoes

The classification depends on the downturn, which refers to the position of the toes with respect to heel. For example, in aggressive climbing shoes, the toes are lower than the heels.

You might be thinking, why is it so? The answer is to help you get a foothold into the rocks and crevices (source).

I can already hear you say, but I can move in the regular shoe in the same fashion as well. What is the need to buy the climbing shoe then?

The answer is that the sole and body of the standard shoe does not offer such high flexibility. Even if you use your force to bend it, you will drastically reduce the lifespan of the shoe. While that might still be bearable, but what will you do if the shoe tears amidst the hike?

It can be a risky proposition. On the other hand, the climbing shoes are specifically designed for climbing and provide you with a foothold in the gaps and crevices. So, they can help you not only gain that foothold but also stand the test of time.

Another way in which the shoe can help you is to gain a grip on any surface. It does not matter whether you will encounter rocks and gravel or sand, climbing shoes can provide you with excellent grip over any of the surface. It is one of the reasons why you should go with climbing shoes rather than a normal one.

Here is a video in which the expert Jake Chapman speaks about these kinds of facts about climbing shoes.

2. Proper Support

Have you ever checked the specifications of climbing shoes?

You might be surprised to know that the materials used in the climbing shoe are much thicker (source). I am specifically speaking about the outsole and the insole.

It is done to ensure that throughout the length and breadth of your feet, you get proper support. You might have to move swiftly as well. In some cases, the weight of your body might be on a small part of the feet.

In all these cases, if the shoe does not provide you with proper support, it can result in an injury. With the climbing shoe, you do not have to worry about the same. The thicker materials and sturdy construction can provide you with excellent support.

3. Facilitate Advanced Maneuvers

The professional mountain climbers can precisely control the movements, but not everyone. When moving your feet swiftly or trying to get a foothold, you might bump your feet against the mountain or the rocks.

If you wear a regular shoe, it can result in an injury. Many times, you might not even get that foothold. However, with climbing shoes, you can perform such movements efficiently. It consists of a wide variety of features like:

  • Design with the downturn
  • Toe box
  • Adequately cushioned upper
  • Sturdy rand

These features might seem like a way to market the shoe, but they are pretty useful. All these features ensure that while on a hike, your feet remain entirely protected. That is why they can facilitate advanced maneuvers quite easily.

4. Protects Your Feet

Often, when climbing a mountain, you might face inclement weather. In that case, it is essential to protect your body. While you might have the right attire but without the climbing shoe, you cannot protect your feet (source).

The climbing shoes have features like:

  • Thermal insulation
  • Breathable design
  • Water-resistant construction
  • Moisture-wicking interiors
  • Thick outsoles

Most of the climbing shoes have at least a few of these features. These features ensure that your feet remain protected against any inclement weather. It means that even when the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can continue your trip.

On a climbing trip, it is pretty essential to keep your feet in perfect conditions. Any feet discomfort can distract you. In case your shoe is not proper and does not allow you to get a grip, you might have to abandon your trip as well. It is especially true in wet or snowy conditions.

However, in such situations, the climbing shoe not only protects your feet but ensures that you get the same level of grip as earlier.

Thus, one of the main reasons why you should go for a climbing shoe is so that you can keep your feet protected and also continue in any weather without losing grip.

5. Stabilizes Your Feet

One feature which you will notice while going through the climbing shoe options is the anti-skid bottom. Many of them consist of a spike-based design, which further increases the stability.

When walking on an uneven surface, your stability is dependent on the performance of the climbing shoe. Since most shoes have an anti-skid bottom, you will be free from the fear of slipping. With each step, you will get a proper grip, which will enhance stability.

You might be thinking that it is easy to get high stability in regular shoes as well, but it is quite the opposite.

That is because, on a hike or a trail, you will be carrying a backpack with all the gear. Most likely, your hands will not be free, as well. In that condition, the margin of error is pretty low.

Even a few mm of unintended movement can make you fall or lead to an injury. That is why, on a climb, you should look for a precise shoe. That is what the climbing shoe offers.

The stability of the climbing shoe is unparalleled. The following videos emphasize how essential anti-skid bottom is, with an overshoes supplement.

6. Reduces Feet Fatigue

The construction of the climbing shoe is such that it can help you reduce your feet fatigue. The materials in use in the climbing shoe often facilitate ventilation.

It means that you will not lose excessive water by sweating inside the shoe. Moreover, the moisture-wicking construction means that the air inside will not be damp either. Both these factors can keep your feet at ease.

Once you look at the construction of the top climbing shoes, you will realize that they are ergonomic in design. It means that the shoe will promote:

  • Even distribution of weight
  • A slight movement of toes for comfort
  • Easy securing mechanism

These three features reduce the pressure on your feet. The design of such a shoe takes into the account that you would wear it for hours together. That is why the ergonomic design reduces the pressure on your feet. When that is the case, automatically, the feet fatigue will reduce.

On the climbing trip, whether you should continue or take a break is decided by the condition of your feet. That is why keeping them at ease is a good decision. The right climbing shoe is the best way to do so.

7. Cushions Impacts And Shocks

A climbing shoe consists of various parts like:

  • Upper
  • Rand
  • Outsole
  • Insole
  • Tongue
  • Heel cup
  • Toe box
  • Pull strap
  • Securing mechanism

The aim of all of these parts is to provide your feet with proper cushioning and comfort. While many of these parts are present in regular shoes as well, but their construction quality is not similar to the climbing shoe.

The construction quality of the climbing shoe is much better. That is why the impact absorption capability of a climbing shoe is on the higher side.

If so many layers cover your feet from all sides, you can be sure that the shoe will absorb any shock or impact. In the wilderness, you are already facing uneven terrain, and you have to move swiftly.

That is why shocks and impacts are unavoidable. In such a case, when going with the climbing shoe, you can reduce their effect to a greater extent. It will allow you to have a safe trip without any pain or injury in the feet.

8. High Durability

As I’ve stated above, the construction of a climbing shoe is better as compared to a normal one. It also translates into the fact that the climbing shoe can last for a long time. When heading for a mountain climbing trip, you need a reliable shoe.

In case you’re taking a regular shoe with you, chances are it might rupture or tear during the trip. You will not encounter the same problem with climbing shoes.

All you need to do is to go through the composition of the climbing shoe before buying it. Most of them are quite sturdy and can last for a couple of years, even on regular use. That is why the durability of climbing shoes is another reason that they are a necessity.

9. Secure Fit

The general perception is that when buying the shoe, it is a good idea to buy a size bigger. The same is not valid for climbing shoes. The climbing shoes should provide you with an excellent grip. It means that you cannot buy a size bigger and you should feel a snug fit.

Most of the climbing shoes can provide you with half an inch space beyond your toes. It means that you can wiggle your toes. That, and the construction itself ensure that there is no loss of grip at all.

When you’re on a mountain and climbing by a rope, the grip is everything. Without proper foothold, you cannot navigate the terrain. The secure fit of the climbing shoes can help you make the entire trip easier.

Besides the space inside the shoe, the securing mechanism of the climbing shoe can be lace, Velcro, or a hybrid securing. These ensure you can tighten the shoe with ease.

It also means that you can customize the fit of the shoe, which provides you with even higher control over the shoe and your feet.

Due to these reasons, if you were in two minds regarding buying a climbing shoe, you should get one.

Do Climbing Shoes Make a Difference?

Yes, climbing shoes can make a difference. While they cannot magically make you a better climber but they can provide you with a lot of advantages like:

  • Excellent grip
  • Proper feet protection
  • High flexibility

Even if you are new to climbing (like me), you would probably be able to find climbing shoes that suit you. That is because they come in different shapes and aggressiveness (source), as I’ve already said. 

Will it be a Burden to Clean Them Every Time?

Cleaning your shoes could be a liability, although you don’t have to clean them after each climb. If you are climbing every week, you could clean them up once in a month.

Nevertheless, when you remove the dirt and dust more frequently, you will be able to spots flaws that compromise your footwear. I’ve spoken about it before in an article I’ve written on when should you buy new climbing shoes. In there, I highlighted five warning signs you should pay attention to, that would alarm you to replace your existing pair.

In case you’re wondering whether to expose them to water while cleaning or not, you can certainly do so. Also, the exact method of washing will vary from one shoe to another. Most shoes come with clear washing instructions. You should stick to these instructions to retain their life.

Generally speaking, the only problem which you will face when cleaning them with water is that they may stretch a bit (especially when they have a leather upper).

Apart from that, it will not change in any way. Once the shoe dries out, the upper will also retain its original form factor. Thus, in most cases, it is not wrong to expose climbing shoes to water.

Do I Need Aggressive Climbing Shoes?

Aggressive climbing shoes are a good option if you have some experience in rock climbing. It ensures that you can use the downturn of the climbing shoe to get a foothold.

Nevertheless, if you’re going on your first mountain climbing trip, the downturn can be a bit difficult to get accustomed to. So, it is a good idea to go with moderate climbing shoes.

Only once you have some experience behind you, you can opt for the aggressive climbing shoes. Here is another video by EpicTV Climbing Daily, which discusses why you should get beginners climbing shoes and when you should upgrade to the next level.

Should You Buy Climbing Shoes a Size Bigger?

The best way to choose the right size for the climbing shoe is to select one which has just 0.5 inches space around your toes. When it comes to climbing shoes, you need space to wiggle your toes.

If you buy a size bigger, you will not get a proper grip. In hostile terrain, it can be a big mistake to go with such a shoe. That is why it is not advisable to buy a size bigger when going climbing shoes.

How Much Should I Spend on Climbing Shoes?

In general, climbing shoes would cost you between $30 and $260. The wide range is due to the multiple categories climbing shoes fall into. For example, neutral climbing shoes usually cost less than aggressive, and bouldering climbing shoes typically cost more than leather climbing shoes.

I’ve elaborated on that topic in an article I’ve written about how much do climbing shoes cost. If you are facing that purchase, I highly suggest you take a look at this. I’ve spent more than 8 hours going through real examples so that you get a wise purchase decision.

Conclusions

Are you still on the fence about climbing shoes? If yes, my guide above will undoubtedly help you out. Let me make it amply clear. Climbing shoes are a necessity rather than a luxury. If you want to keep yourself safe and injury-free on the mountain climbing trip, buying the climbing shoes is a must. 

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