Like any other shoe, a climbing shoe will not be the same after the first, second or third time you use it. All shoes have a breaking in period and sometimes this can be painful to your feet, however selecting the right shoe and getting them “broken in” as quickly as possible will avoid painful break-in periods.

How to Break in Climbing Shoes?

Breaking in your climbing shoes does not have to entail a lot of pain and suffering. You can easily break them in without even climbing in them first. In order to do this, you will freeze your shoes. I know that sounds odd but it works. Using two zip-lock bags, full the bags with water until they are about the size of your own foot. Once you have done that you will put the bags in your shoes, filling the shoe out as your foot would.

Ensure you lace the shoe loosely around the bag. You will then place both shoes with their water-filled bag feet into the freezer overnight. Fit your shoes after you have removed them from the freezer and see how they feel, repeat if necessary.

How should Climbing Shoes Fit?

Climber wearing Climbing shoesThe fit of your shoe needs to be very snug, they should fit tightly, but not so tight as to be painful. Depending on the style of climbing you are going to be doing, the shape of your shoe will be different as will the fit. Bouldering is a unique way of climbing and these shoes are designed for you to bend your toes to grab the surface while also giving you extra strength, especially in the toe area. They are tight shoes that fit your feet like a glove.

Crack climbing, on the other hand, are designed with a much more relaxed fit. Your toes in these shoes will lie flat and have some wiggle room. The reason for this is you need to get your foot into thin cracks, wiggling them into place. Most climbing shoes will feel a little tighter than your average athletic shoe, this is because they need to be to help you maintain your balance when hanging onto the side of the rock wall by your toes or feet.

The shoes will help you to keep yourself balanced when climbing and to do this they need to have a glove-like fit. Trying on your shoe is imperative before you buy. You need to take the time to lace them up, walk a bit with them, make sure you are perfectly happy with the type of fit and feel they have. Remember it will take some time for your shoe to properly mold to your foot.

Also, remember that some unlined leather shoes might stretch a size or two, so if you are looking at purchasing one of these you need to consider buying a little tighter than you would any other shoe. The closure system of the shoe is also important, no matter if it is Velcro, elastic or closed with laces, they have to hold your foot securely in the shoe at all times.

What to look for in your first pair?

For your first pair getting the size, right is important. You need one that is the right length, just tight enough to fit snugly and be ultra-comfortable. When you are just starting out in this sport you need to ensure that you can concentrate on learning the techniques you need to know rather than concentrating on sore, pinched feet.

So for your first shoe comfort is the most important aspect. Remember not all shoes will stretch after a few climbs, in fact, a lot of the shoes will not stretch at all, especially the lined or synthetic leather ones.

What to look for in your second pair?

So now you have been climbing for a while and feel ready to move on to the next stage, tackling harder routes and climbing for longer periods. When your climbing ability progresses, so does the need for a shoe that can help you take your climbing to that next level. You should look for a shoe that fits your foot like a glove, molding with it.

The shoe should become an extension of your foot helping you to get the best purchase on the rock that you can. Getting a shoe that is too small, can not only cause injury to your toes and toenails, and can result in you developing some nasty foot issues such as bone spurs or hammer toes.


Once you are on your third pair of climbing shoes you are no doubt a seasoned climber who knows what they want from a shoe. You also will most likely be wearing the correctly sized shoe and are ready for your next challenge. Just remember that in order for your shoe to last and to take care of you as you climb, you need to give them the care they need.

Can Women wear Men’s Climbing Shoes?

A lot of climbing shoe is not at all gender specific. However in saying that, the shoes that are perfect for men might not be for women due mainly to sizing. Men tend to have larger and wider feet than women and need a shoe that will cater to those needs. Most brands do however make gender neutral shoes that are designed for either men or women, it all comes down to the fit.

How Tight Should Rock Climbing Shoes Be?

For the beginner climber, the climbing shoe should be a little less tight than your high-performance shoes. The name of the game when starting out, and when getting your new climbing shoes is the comfort. They should fit snugly but not tightly and should also you to enjoy your climb without the pain associated with tightfitting shoes.

Once you are past the beginning stages and are ready to tackle more challenging routes with overhangs or you want to start bouldering, then you need to move onto a more tightly fitting shoe.


Climbing shoes are not all about looks, they are about functionality. Your shoe can be the difference between making it to the top, or finding yourself hanging loose on the rock face. The best quality and the perfect fit are what you are looking for in a climbing shoe, whether you are just starting out in the sport or a pro, the shoe is one of your most important assets as a climber.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Lilly Harvey. If there's two things I'm passionate about in life, it's shoes and writing!

Combining both my passions with my Fashion Design degree, I've helped create Shoe Adviser to help readers choose the best shoes for them, enjoy!

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