Gym Climbing

The climbing shoes you wear are the single most important piece of equipment affecting performance on the wall. How do you find the right fit? Here are some tips from Matt Burbach, instructor and author of Gym Climbing: Maximizing Your Indoor Experience.

  • For indoor climbing, look for a slip-lasted shoe. Shoes will vary in sensitivity depending on the thickness of the material in the midsole and the thickness of the shoe rubber.
  • A new climber will want to try a straight last (inner sole), which creates minimum torque on the foot and provides the most comfort. A curved last is good for high-performance climbing on steep and technical terrain.
  • Try on shoes made by a variety of manufacturers; some companies have reputations for fitting certain types of feet. Also, the majority of climbing shoes are handmade; different pairs of shoes of the same size and model might fit slightly differently.
  • Climbing shoes should fit snugly but not tight or painful. Your toes should reach the end of the shoe with little wiggle room. A climbing slipper that’s too loose, or a lace-up that’s too tight will limit the shoe’s functionality.
  • Avoid pressure points, loose spots, and excessive bunching of the upper material. Your heel should be cradled by the shoe with limited dead space.
  • Find out how much the shoe will stretch. If your shoe is very tight, the pressure created on the uppers increases stretch potential. Stretch potential is also dependent on the upper material, lining, and shoe size.
  • You can wear socks if your shoes stretch a bit, but keep in mind that wearing socks only creates another barrier between your feet and the wall.
  • Test shoes out in the store. If the retailer doesn’t provide holds for you to step on, stand up and down on the edge of a bench or step to imitate climbing footwork and placement. Hook your heel on a hold or an edge; your heel should not come off.
Once you have selected the shoe model right for you, ensure the fit by trying the next sizes up and down. Better safe than sorry!


- Adapted from Gym Climbing: Maximizing Your Indoor Experienceby Matthew Burbach (The Mountaineers Books, $19.95 paperback).


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the chapter from Gym Climbing on "Lead Climbing"

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