On Rock Climbing Shoes

I was talking to an online buddy the other day about rock climbing shoes. Coincidentally, I found this little piece I wrote way back in 2004 on the various rock climbing shoes I’ve tried and worn. A lot of the shoes listed here are probably obsolete by now.

No offense intended to the rock climbing shops here, but the people selling shoes don’t really give much advice on what’s a good pair for my feet. They just give me what I ask for and usually I ask for whatever they have that’s in my size.

My most recent pair of shoes is the Katana and I bought it by default – it was the only model in the shop at the time that was available in a UK size 2 and the next shipment of shoes weren’t arriving until ???

What else have I worn?

Rock Pillar Fox (first pair)
Rock Pillar Wall
Boreal Zen
Five Ten X-Ray
Boreal Matrix
La Sportiva Cobra

For the first three, I can’t say much because I didn’t know enough about climbing and what I was doing to have any real appreciation for my shoes. The shoe with the best fit would have to be the Matrix, but therubber feels really slippery. Can’t do resoles here unless I send them overseas and by then it costs about as much as a new pair anyway (maybe even more).

The first shoe I really noticed a difference with was the Five Ten X-Ray.Although it hurtreal bad when I first got it, it stretched out really nicely. The rubber was really sticky and it helped me learn how to use my feet. The only problem with this shoe was that it continued to stretch and I had to pull the velcro flaps tighter until the side ripped (or perhaps it ripped from too many foot jams).

I had been eyeing the Boreal Matrix ever since we tried to get it for the Thin Man for his birthday but since the shoe couldn’t fit and they didn’t have his size, he had to swopfor another shoe. The Boreal Matrix rubber is very soft and not recommended for a beginner climber who has a tendency to wear down the rubber quickly from too many incorrect foot placements. For that reason, I held off buying this shoe until I felt I was ready for it.

Aside from the nice snug fit of the shoe, I’m afraid I didn’t think too highly of the rubber. It was fine while it was still new but after a while, the rubber lost all stickiness. Smearing on the wall was like ice skating. I recall a mention that the Boreal’s rubber formulation had changed and it was no longer considered very good by this time. I do believe they’ve since changed the formulation and have heard it is much better now, although I never tried another Boreal shoe again after this experience.

When I was using the Cobra, I thought there was air in the heel because at the time I bought it, the smallest size they had in the shop was UK 2.5 and I really needed a new pair. The Cobra was overall a good shoe and I don’t really have much complaints except for the air in the heel (which seems to be a problem I have with a lot of shoes). It was a slipper and the problem with slippers is that after they stretch, there’s a tendency for them to slip off your heel.

I thought the problem would be fixed when I bought the Katana in a size 2, but that, too developed a bit of air in the heel after some wear. I liked the Katana because the sole was stiff. It was good for edging, but while it was new, I couldn’t smear to save my life.

Generally I find that even if the shoe fits nicely in the shop, it always seems to stretch after a bit of climbing. Even those that I bought that were really tight to the point of causing me pain will also stretch. At least that’s the problem with the all leather shoes.

I’ve been told that the synthetic shoes don’t stretch, but I find that they still do to a limited extent. I tried the Five Ten Anasazi (velcro) and V10 when I was shoe shopping in Singapore and felt like Cinderella’s ugly sister trying to wear the glass slipper. I wanted to cry from the pain and I couldn’t even stand up in them!

To update since I wrote that, I currently have in my cupboard:

Five TenAnasazi Slipper (UK size 2 which I doubt I can wear now that my feet have swollen to the size of elephant trunks)
La Sportiva Katana (UK size 2, but it feels bigger than the Anasazzi Slipper size 2)
Saltic Mamba (slipper – courtesy of BlocX)
SalticVampire (velcros- courtesy of BlocX)

I was using the Anasazi for indoor for a while, but I couldn’t get over the pain it caused to my heel so I stopped wearing it after a while. I can’t really say much about it because I don’t think I really wore the shoe enough to get a feel for it.

I like using the Mamba for indoors and I found the Vampir great for edging. After the increase in my foot size due to all the swelling, I think I may need to buy a new pair of climbing shoes if I want to get back into it again after the pregnancy.

Even though my feet are supposed to return to its prepregnancy size after delivery, my friend PLsays her shoe size now is still bigger now than they were before her pregnancy (her daughter is now about 15 months). I guess it’s wishful thinking to hope I’ll be able to wear my old shoes…

Check out this link for fitting rock climbing shoes.

3 thoughts on “On Rock Climbing Shoes

  1. Hello,

    I’m wondering how I can order a pair of Saltic Falco shoes to the US. I went to their website, but it seems like I can’t order from them. Do you know of any stores, online or otherwise, where I can buy them?

    Thanks so much,



  2. Veronica wrote:

    “Thank you so much for responding. Unfortunately, I cannot find them online to order. Can you recommend any good shoes other than falcos? Actually, the shoes are for my boyfriend. Rather odd fact, but I wouldn’t be bothering you otherwise. We live in Seattle and have only tried indoor climbing and bouldering. If you could share any great carriers of beginner/intermediate shoes, I would be greatly indebted. Thanks so much.”

    Sorry for the late reply, Veronica. I have stopped blogging on figur8.blogdrive.com so I don’t usually check for comments over there.

    As a beginner, I used Rock Pillar. I didn’t really know much about climbing shoes back then so I can’t really comment intelligently about what I thought about them back then except that they were the cheapest climbing shoes I could find.

    As I got better, I started to use Boreal and FiveTen. At that time Boreal rubber was on the decline and their shoes weren’t very good. Since then I’ve heard that they have improved their rubber, although I haven’t bought a pair since so I can’t comment whether I think it really has improved.

    What I really liked was the FiveTen X-rays (though I don’t know if they still make them any more). I also liked the La Sportiva Katana. It’s been a while since I used that shoe as well, but last I checked, you could still buy them.

    Seriously, though, I really think you should bring your boyfriend to a rock climbing shop and get him to try out all the shoes they have. Rock climbing shoes need to be a really good fit and the best way to check is to get your foot into it.

    Ideally, lace-ups are the best because you can tighten them to fit your feet, I was always too lazy to bother with them. When you’re climbing outdoors, you don’t really want to wear your climbing shoes on the ground because dirt gets onto the rubber. Well, technically, you don’t really want to walk around in your climbing shoes any where because it wears down the rubber so that means having to take them off and put them on a lot, so if you get laces, it can get a bit tedious.

    When I buy shoes, I usually prefer velcros or slippers. My only gripe with slippers is that when the shoe stretches, it can start to slip on your heel. Velcro is probably a nice compromise between the convenience of a slipper and the fit of laces.

    One of the main reasons why you should bring your boyfriend to the shop to try on the shoe is because you need to make sure the fit is really good and different models of shoes and different brands will fit each person differently. As you get better at climbing, certain shoe styles will also be preferred by different people because the individual’s preferred climbing style.

    There are all sorts of recommendations on how to find the right climbing shoe size. Here are some I have heard along the way:

    – take your regular shoe size and take off two sizes. That will be the rock climbing shoe size you should be aiming for. Personally, I found this didn’t really work for me – I was wearing a UK 5 in normal shoes and my rock climbing shoe size would range between UK 2 and 3.

    – take the smallest size you can squeeze your foot into. I thought this worked pretty well for me, except that when you’re new to the climbing scene, this can be an excruciating. Besides, when you’re new to climbing, you probably won’t notice the difference in your climbing ability so much based on the slight difference in fit of the shoe.

    – when you wear your climbing shoe, your toes should be curled. The tighter fit of the shoe helps give your toes more support when you’re standing on really small edges.

    The other thing is, when you get your boyfriend to try on shoes at the shop, see if they’ll let him climb a few moves with them. It’s always good if you can test it out on the wall first.


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