How Climbing Shoes Should Fit – A Guide to Choose Climbing Shoes

When you decide to take on a rock climbing adventure, the first question that generally pops in your mind, what size climbing shoes should you buy?

And that’s not all! The concern brings other queries like, how tight should climbing shoes be? Or should climbing shoes be a size smaller? How well should climbing shoes fit?

The worry is reasonable since the fitting of rock climbing shoes plays a great role in either making or breaking your climbing venture.

Every climbing enthusiast agrees to the fact that rock climbing shoes play as an interface between the climber and the rock. With that, the wrong type of shoe or fit can obstruct the climbing gist.

Let us tell you something: climbing shoes will likely never be entirely comfortable. But does that mean they have to be the toe-crunching nightmare for the climbers?

Absolutely not!

If you want to get the best performance out of the climbing shoes, they should fit snug but not painfully. A right fit helps you climb harder and longer.

In this article, we will talk about how climbing shoes should really fit. As you go through the article, you can learn the fitting tips and the factors that impact the fitting of your rock climbing shoes.

Let’s dig into the details!

Factors Affecting the Fit of Climbing Shoes

There are a few factors that affect the fitting of your climbing shoes. These include materials, types, and your toe forms.


It is essential to consider a shoe’s material when selecting your climbing shoes because certain types of materials offer different fits than others.

Unlined Leather

The shoes designed with unlined leather can stretch up to a full size. With time, the shoes can get bigger, making them unfit for your feet. In such cases, consider buying the ones with smaller sizes so that they can stretch over time and give your feet the best fit.

While sizing the unlined leather shoes, make sure your toes just touch the end of the shoes so that you feel your toe knuckles pushing against the leather.

Lined Leather

Lined leather materials stretch to half size or even less. The reduced stretch is a good thing about this material. Therefore, you won’t have to worry much about your shoes stretching bigger over time and becoming unfit to your feet.


Since synthetic materials are not stretchable, buying smaller sizes won’t stretch to the perfect fit. However, the material starts forming to your feet over time, offering you a better feel while you are on the rocks.


Finding the perfect fit for climbing shoes depends on the types you buy. There are three types of climbing shoes that you can choose from.


Neutral climbing shoes provide a relaxed fit for all-day comfort. They allow your toes to lie flat, making them a great fit for the novice climbers.

However, since these boots can’t offer full-functionality for sustaining climbers on steep, hard climbs, these shoes are not ideal for advanced climbers.


The moderate climbing shoes boast a tighter-fitting design. They include a curved, pointed camber that assists in positioning the foot correctly while climbing. The slightly-downturned shape offers a perfect fit for technical climbing.

These types may prove highly uncomfortable at first for beginners. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s better to wait for your feet to adapt.


Designed keeping expert climbers in mind, these types of climbing shoes offer superior fit and ultimate functionality. They have extremely downturned toes and lots of heel tension to put your feet in a powerful position for challenging overhanging climbs.

Due to the snug fit, these types are most popular for single-pitch sport climbs.

Top Forms

Along with the information about climbing shoes, you should know that your toes play a significant role in the fitting of shoes. There are mainly five toe-forms:

1. Egyptian: In this form, the big toe is longest, and all toes after that are longer than the next one.

2. Roman: Here, the big toe and the next two toes are of equal length.

3. Greek: In this form, the second toe is the longest of them all.

4. Germanic: The Germanic form means all the toes after the big toe are about the same length.

5. Celtic: Celtic feet have the complex shape, with a short first toe, an exceptionally long second toe, and the remaining toes tapering to a small pinky.

Climbing Shoes Fitting Tips

Since you know that fit is a crucial factor in finding a good pair of rock climbing shoes, it is important to know the basic tips for perfect sizing. Here are the few of them:

Shop During Afternoon

Your feet swell up to a full size during the day. Hence, if you go shopping for a pair of climbing shoes during this time, you may not be able to find the right fit. It is recommended that you go for a walk or run before you go hunting for the right footwear.

The best time to shop for climbing shoes is in the afternoon since, at this time, your feet come back to normal size. Note that you will most likely be sockless as the inside of the climbing shoes is engineered to work with the skin for reducing slippage. In case you need a sock, buy a pair that is about a half-size too big.

Try Them On

Don’t be lazy! If you are seeking a pair of climbing shoes for yourself, you should shop in person. With that, it will be easy to try on multiple sizes to find the best fit. In case you are shopping online, order at least two or more sizes and return the ones that don’t fit.

We recommend you try on footwear at home to make sure there are no hotspots.

Be Flexible

You need to be as flexible as you can when it comes to size. There is no climbing shoe sizing standard. They come in the US, Europe, and the UK sizes. Keep in mind to check the shoe charts for size translations to find your perfect fit.

Note that a size 42 from one manufacturer will fit differently than a size 42 from another brand.

Know Your Fit

It is very vital to know your best fit because you wouldn’t want to end up hurting your foot while putting the shoes on. A poorly fit shoe can make your foot vulnerable to blisters, bunions, and calluses.

General Fitting Rules

Here are some general fitting rules that assist you further with the sizing:

  • Don’t wear shoes that have dead space between your toes and the inside of the shoe because the shoes won’t stay rigid when you place your toes on a foothold.
  • Make sure that your toes are perfectly curved and flat. Also, your toe knuckles shouldn’t be bunched painfully against the top of the shoes.
  • Your heel should have a snug fit. When you stand on your toe, ensure that the back of the shoe doesn’t pinch the bottom of the Achilles tendon.
  • Though everyone’s feet bend differently, you must check how easy it is to slip the shoe on. If it’s tough, it is probably too tight for your feet.
  • Always remember this fact: the higher performance the shoe, the tighter the fit.

Should Climbing Shoes Hurt?

Well, to a certain degree, yes!

The fact is that rock climbing shoes are not really engineered for your comfort. The manufacturers always value getting the proper fit over comfort. And by proper fit, it means having your toes die a slow death by being strangled as the blood slowly drains from the tightly-compressed feet.

Don’t worry! It’s not that bad as it sounds—more or less for the intermediate and advanced climbers. However, if you are a beginner, you may feel the discomfort when you are first breaking in a pair of climbing shoes.

You want your shoes to be form-fitting. But this doesn’t mean that they should jam your feet. Instead, they should fit snugly. If you experience problems with your feet, you can be sure that the shoes are simply too tight.

How to Know When Climbing Shoes Size is Right?

Typically, you know that you have the right shoe size when there are no air pockets between your toes. This allows you to get a crimp while securing you from having dangerous levels of compression.

You would never want your toes to have any wiggle room. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean they should be compressed either. You can maximize the utility and comfort of your climbing shoes by balancing between these two key factors.

How Should Climbing Shoes Fit at the Heel?

If you are a novice climber, the fit at the heel doesn’t matter much. However, it is recommended to make sure that they do not pinch the Achilles heel. However, if you seek a pair of special climbing shoes for bouldering, you need to make sure that your heel has a tight fit.

The tight-fitting climbing shoe in the heel is required for an advanced technique in bouldering, that refers to hook. Hooking involves clinging the heel of your foot onto the wall.

Climbing Shoes Fitting Guide Video:

Check out these video tutorials to know the basics of fitting your climbing shoes:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Generally speaking, no!

If it’s for rock climbing, you would want to buy a pair of shoes that fit snugly without having to wear any socks. Besides, when bouldering at an indoor climbing wall, most of the climbers prefer not to wear socks with their bouldering shoes, as this provides a tighter and perfect fit with less foot slippage. However, the downside of this move is that this can make your shoes all sweaty and stinky.

If you want to be a touch more comfortable, it’s fair to wear thin socks during the regular training session.

Rock climbing shoes most likely won’t fit your feet properly. However, you will get a quick idea of how much you require to size up or down.

First things first, make sure the climbing shoes you wear are snug on your feet— be it lace-ups, Velcro, or slippers—and stand in them for some time. While doing the test, your toes should be in contact with the front of the shoe, but it shouldn’t be curled.

Having to wear an improperly fitting climbing shoe can create a lot of issues. If you have a pair that fits tightly with your feet, you may have to encounter several painful or uncomfortable conditions and foot deformities such as:

Claw, hammer or cross-over toes
Bleeding under the toenails
Fungal infections
Bruised feet
Nerve compression disorders

Here are the tips on how your bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing shoes should fit:

Bouldering Shoes

Snugly and almost uncomfortable.
The heel of the shoes should not slip at any cost, especially if you are looking to heel-hook.

Sport Climbing Shoes

Snug fit, but not as tight and uncomfortable as bouldering shoes.
They should be comfortable enough to wear on multiple pitches.

Traditional Climbing Shoes

They should fit comfortably enough to be worn all day long.
They shouldn’t be as tight as both bouldering and sport climbing shoes.


The best way to choose a fitting pair of climbing shoes for your adventure is by making sure they won’t hurt your feet when you put them on. But they shouldn’t be too comfortable or too wide. Else, you won’t get the most thrills and chills out of your climb.