There are no items in your cart


GT: How to buy your first rock climbing shoes 

If you’ve taken a liking to rock climbing, let us be among the first to welcome you to this wonderful (vertical) world. Of course, we want you to love and enjoy climbing as much as we do, and having the right shoes is a big part of that. All climbing gear is important, but we’d argue few gear choices affect the quality of your day—and your climbing—as much as your shoes do!

Choosing climbing shoes can be a dizzying undertaking, though. But don’t get cold feet. (Har har, forgive us.) We’re here to help.

Comfort is everything, especially for beginners. 

If you’re a beginner, your needs are likely simple—an all-around shoe that will let you comfortably test the waters of various types of climbing. Your skills probably aren’t high enough to warrant a specialized or performance-oriented shoe yet. (When you’re ready, trust us, climbing shoes get super specialized and intricate. It’s fun to geek out on.)

Prioritize finding a shoe that doesn’t make your feet yelp in pain. You’ll want a snug fit, which lets the shoe do its job without your foot swimming around inside. But you need the right fit that accommodates your unique foot shape in order for the outing to be comfortable.

You don’t need to buy new, but you do need to do your research. 

Obviously, we’re huge fans of buying and selling used gear, so we encourage you to get a great deal on UnNew gear here on Geartrade. But you’ll be able to make a better informed decision if you research first, online and ideally in person.

Gather opinions from friends and online publications/forums on the best beginner climbing shoes, or climbing shoes that will fit your unique type of foot (if, say, you have a high arch, a wide forefoot, a small ankle, etc.). A few models continually rise to the top of the charts when it comes to comfort and beginner-friendliness: the La Sportiva Mythos, La Sportiva Finale, Evolv Defy, and NIAD Moccasym.

If you’re able to, try on shoes in person at a local store before deciding which model to buy. Try on multiple different sizes, as each brand sizes a little differently. Stand up, walk around, spend a little time on your feet. You’ll quickly get a sense of which brands and models might work better for you.

What different features and constructions mean: 

There are a million variables when it comes to rock shoes, but we’ll risk oversimplifying to give you some general ideas of what to watch for.

Shoe shape:

You may have already noticed that some rock shoes have a natural “flat” foot shape while others have more of a curved banana shape. That banana shape puts your toes in a pointed, down-turned position that gives you a powerful position on difficult climbs. You’ll probably want a more aggressive shoe like this down the road when you’re crushing overhung routes, tricky boulder problems, and routes with near-microscopic holds. But … you probably don’t need that as a beginner. A “flatter,” neutral shaped shoe will let you stand and step more comfortably as a beginner, so it’s what we tend to recommend.


Climbing shoes are all made with a nice, sticky rubber that grips rock (and gym holds) quite magnificently. The higher performance shoes have extra sticky rubber and thinner soles that let the “feel” of the rock come through. As a beginner, you may not yet have a sense for this technical difference, and a thicker-soled shoe may make sense (and last longer, too).


You can go with either a leather or a synthetic material shoe. Some leather shoes are lined, while others aren’t. There are pros and cons to both leather and synthetics. Vegetarians and vegans are likely to prefer a synthetic material, while those who favor a material that will stretch over time (and adapt to their foot) might prefer leather. Many high-performance shoes are a synthetic material that won’t stretch or change, and while synthetic shoes can get stinky, some have perforation or other materials that help with breathability.

Slip-on vs lace:

We find that lace-up shoes are wonderfully adaptable. You can customize the fit across the different parts of your foot, loosening here and tightening there. Your feet may swell over the course of a hot day, and on-the-fly adjustments can help a lot. You can tighten up to maximize performance, or relax the fit when you’re hanging out between pitches. Alternatively, some shoes come with closure straps or no straps at all (elastic slip-ons) and those are easy to take on and off quickly.

Fit considerations to keep in mind:

Other than “Do these hurt to stand in for more than 30 seconds?” you should pay attention to a few aspects of fit.

The shoe should be snug without any dead-air spaces that will flatten, flop, rub, or otherwise cause mayhem.

The heel should fit your foot closely without pressing uncomfortably on any tendons

The shoe shouldn’t be hard to get on—if you’re cursing and tugging, it’s probably not right

It’s ok if your toes curve a little but if your toe knuckles are slammed against the top of the shoe, that’s gonna hurt pretty bad later on

Consider trying on both men’s and women’s models, as they’re equally high performance and simply fit different foot volumes and shapes

And before trying any shoes on, give your toenails a good clipping, or the only thing you’ll notice is your toenail discomfort.

As you get more serious about climbing (and we hope you do—it’s such fun), you’ll branch out into additional types of shoes, and maybe even multiple pairs of shoes depending on what type of day or route you’re going for. New features will matter, new questions will come up, and new things to internet-research will arise. But now you have a basic primer of key aspects to consider. Be sure to share your adventures and pics once you’re outside (or in the gym) sporting your new climbing kicks.

Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.

Follow us on Instagram + Facebook: Tag us @geartrade with the hashtag #unnewoutdoor #wearitout on your post or story for a chance to be featured on our page.

Have Summer gear to sell? Get cracking. 

It is now easier than ever to sell your gear on Geartrade. With our new Consignment Selling option you can finally reclaim your gear closet. Send it in. We take care of the rest.


Geartrade is Climate Neutral Certified