I’m a sucker for gear, no matter what sport, and one of the things I love about bouldering is the shoes. However, as someone who has small but wide feet, finding climbing shoes has proven fairly difficult.
Street size I’m a UK 3, and I know that there are plenty of female climbing shoes out there in stores and cyberspace readily available. However, the women’s version of a climbing shoe always tend to be low volume, which makes it difficult to fit my cube-like feet into them. So why not try the male versions? Trying to find my street size in the men’s version can be difficult regardless of brand. Yet the most frustrating thing is when you are required to downsize. My feet cease to exist in some boots! I have no issue with downsizing to get a snug fitting shoe, I understand that. What I don’t understands is how a UK 6 in one brand measures exactly the same as a UK 4 in another, yet due to having to downsize the size options and availablity become very limited.
I’m sorry for the rant vibe, climbing shoes and their sizes are a quirk of the climbing world. Of course finding shoes that fit your feet is not an impossible task, sometimes it just feels that way. Evolv, Mad Rock, Scarpa and Five Ten are all brands that I have tried and found good for wide feet, and would recommend for anyone in a similar situation. In all of these brands I have size matched or gone up half a size, you can read some reviews here.
Ultimately I know that there are plenty of amazing companies who can source and order shoes in the size you require. Equally there are so many climbing shoes and brands that I have not even tried yet. It’s highly possible I’m simply jealous of everyone with average feet who get to try any shoe their heart desires!
I’ve had my Anasazi LV boots for about four to five months, and they have been the shoes I unconsciously reach for every time I hit the climbing gym. I literally put them on and get on with my climbs, and for this reason I guess I didn’t appreciate how good they were until I actually realised I wasn’t thinking about them. Also If they’re good enough for notable professional climber Shauna Coxey, then I think it’s fair to say they’re a damn good shoe.
Fit – Internet research told me that for a bouldering fit I should downsize by half or a whole size. After making a trip into my local Cotswolds and trying them on, I discovered I couldn’t get my foot in the 2.0 (UK), and the 2.5 (UK) were far too tight to the point where I couldn’t even fasten the Velcro straps. I think this is due to my feet being wide for their size, and more mid-volume than low. However the 3 (UK) fits perfect with the right amount of toe pressure and heel tightness, so I ended up matching my street shoe size. Getting them on and off is easy enough and they seemed to break in quickly, generally they’re a particularly comfortable climbing shoe.
Specifications – For a long time I was under the impression that if it wasn’t down turned, severely asymmetric with a split sole, then it wasn’t a technical shoe. How wrong I was! The asymmetric toe box and slingshot heel give the power, whilst the stiff last offers support as it is one solid piece. The fact that they are comfortable too just adds to their quality, I can wear these shoes for long stretches without having to take them off. The only small nag I have is that I wish there was a little more toe rubber, just to make a toe hook feel more secure and painless.
Performance – Slab, roof or arête, I don’t think there is a problem within my ability range that I couldn’t conquer in these boots. For me, that is what a performance shoe should offer. The Stealth C4 rubber is so hard wearing and yet so sticky. They make short work of tiny edges, rounded volumes and smearing in these babies is a dream. I found that because I trust the rubber on the Anasazi LV boots, I’m more likely to flag and use the edges of the shoes, which has helped me progress my climbing skills.
Aesthetic –I like how understated they are visually, and how powerful they feel to climb in. They are a lovely teal colour which I think is fairly gender neutral, plus I do like the cool, little cross-hair design on the toes too.
The Five Ten Anasazi LV are currently my favourite shoe, they have taken over and become the only climbing boots I reach for, no matter the problem. These shoes offer solid power and confident climbing, all with the added benefit of comfort. When I eventually hit the outdoors, this will be in my bag for sure.
You’ve most likely seen these bad boys on Jan Hojer or Juliane Wurm, they seem to be the shoe of choice for smashing both competitions and outdoor projects. It’s easy to see why they favour them, they are an excellent technical shoe for the more advanced climber. My pair were an Ebay bargain to replace my Evolv Shaman LV (RIP), but now I mostly keep these shoes for when I’m trying something I find really hard because the split sole hurts my feet, as they aren’t strong enough just yet. I hope to do them justice one day soon! They come in at the £70 – £75 mark which I feel makes them a bargain.
Fit –I’m a street size 3 UK and I size matched in the Shark boots which gives me a very, very snug bouldering fit. However I think if I had up-sized by half I could wear them for longer periods of time, but it’s debatable if that is necessary. It was definitely an experience trying to get them on and off! As you can see in the pictures these shoes are pretty much all rubber so there isn’t a lot of give. I ended up stuffing the shoes with a bunch of fluffy socks so they were completely packed, and then heating them up with a hair dryer. While they were still warm I removed the other socks from inside the shoes before putting them on, and then let them cool down on my feet. It was pretty painful to break them in but they did stretch and mould to my feet. They have a fairly wide toe box but it still creates the right pressure in the right places. When you eventually get them on there is a satisfying poof of air that exits the shoe, giving it a vacuum/sock feel. To take them off I would advise pulling away from the heel with the tabs to get a little space, and then roll the heel down.
Specifications –They look pretty aggressive with a split sole, down turn, and they also feature the asymmetrical shape like most technical shoes. As I mentioned before they are pretty much a whole rubber slipper which is great for roof climbs, but they also have a special heel detail. They have an extra moulded strip that runs down the center of the heel, which allows heel hooking on small holds. This is a ‘Marmite’ feature as far as I have experience when talking to other Shark owners. I’ve tried it a few times and it felt safe to pull down on it, but I am someone who will forever flat foot instead of heel hook. That being said I never feel like there is any chance these shoes will come off during a climb, they feel extremely secure for a slipper with a single Velcro strap. I recently noticed that they have possibly been redesigned again, with a fastening system more reminiscent of the Mad Rock Lotus.
Performance – Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the Mad Rock rubber name ‘Science Friction’! Not only is it an awesome name but the performance of the R2 rubber is pretty much unrivaled for me. Once the first layer is worn off they are so sticky it’s unreal, which gives me a lot of confidence. I find these a very sensitive shoe that makes small work of edges.
Aesthetic – You’ve got to admit they look pretty cool and understated compared to other shoes on the market. I really like the minimal use of colour, however if you’re looking for something more feminine then I would suggest the Mad Rock Lotus which is the female version of the Shark.
Currently one of the best shoes I’ve worn in terms of performance, but not the most comfortable. If you’re a more advanced climber in the market for new climbing shoes, I would urge you to consider the Mad Rock Shark 2.0. With all the specifications they can conquer any crux on the correct feet and they look pretty darn cool too, what more could you ask for?
When you’ve got the climbing bug and become tired of paying for rental shoes, it’s time to go purchase your very own boots! Exciting. I’m sure you’ve done your research and know what you want, but it can be overwhelming. Downturn or flat, lace or hook and loop, Evolv or Boreal? Overall, your first pair of shoes will take a beating as you learn, so cheap and cheerful with a good fit is the best place to start. Here are a few points to consider to try to make the shoe shopping stress free…
– Try them on. The Internet may have the better variety and prices, but I can’t stress how important it is to go out to the shops and try a bunch of different shoes on. Your foot shape can make or break a pair of climbing boots. Personally I have small, wide feet so I find it harder to fit into brands with slimmer designs, or even female specific shoes.
– This leads nicely into sizing. Bouldering particularly seems to be a contest of who can downsize the most (depending on the brand). Downsizing isn’t always necessary, but sometimes a shoe can hurt more if it’s too big. There’s not really a set rule for sizing in each brand, as every shoe is as different as every foot. Bare in mind that climbing shoes will be uncomfortable, because they make your foot into a little claw, but they should not be painful. For bouldering you want a tight, glove like fit so you can get feedback off the holds.
– Another way to check if the shoe is a good fit, is to physically measure it against your foot. A rough guide for the length of the shoe can be tested, by holding the sole of the shoe against the bottom of your opposite foot. Make sure the shoe heel is level with your own. From this position you can see where the toe of the shoe lines up with your big toe. A good guide is to have the tip of the shoe toe, come halfway up your big toe. This will give you a tight performance fit, perfect for bouldering.
– Also check what material the shoes are made from. If the shoes you are buying are leather, they will stretch by 0.5 to 1 full size once worn in, where as synthetic shoes will hardly stretch (if at all). Remember that the first few climbs will break in your new boots, so they will get more comfortable!
– For a beginners first pair of shoes an all-rounder with a flatter shape is probably the best, so long as they have a tight fit. As for fastening systems, lace ups are good for adjusting the fit of the shoe, where as velcro/hook and loop are easier to take on and off. I’d suggest getting whatever you’re more comfortable with as they both have pros and cons, plus most shoes come in both options.
So, that ended up a longer list than I anticipated, but I just wanted to try and touch on everything! Hopefully this has helped, but if not and you were just looking for a list of shoes, here are a few starter recommendations:
Boreal Joker, Evolv Defy or Elektra, Red Chilli Lady Spirit or Durango, and of course the excellent Five Ten Anasazi, if the heel fits and you have some extra cash.
– A Girl Who Climbs
* Cotswolds will price match a website in store, if you can show that your size is in stock online.
* Banana fingers have amazing customer service, and will post you out more than one pair of shoes to try for sizing, and sending the shoes back is easy enough.
* Epic TV shop is extremely well priced, and have free shipping to the EU.
* Check out EBay, you can get brand new boots for a fraction of the price once you know your size.