How Climbing Gear Works

Climbing Shoes

This climbing shoe is taking on the Matterhorn.
This climbing shoe is taking on the Matterhorn.
Angelo Cavalli/Getty Images

Rock climbing shoes come in a variety of colors, designs and materials, but the most important characteristic is fit and comfort. Expect to pay between $75 and $150 for a quality pair.

When you're choosing a climbing shoe, consider your climbing plans. Will you be doing most of your climbing in the gym, across boulders or on sheer mountain faces? The first shoe most climbers choose is in the all-day comfort category. You'll want to choose one that fits like a running shoe, but the tip of your longest toe should touch the end of the shoe. A snug fit helps make your feet more powerful when you're climbing cracks, crystals or overhanging rock.

Climbing shoe uppers, the part that surrounds your foot and sits atop the sole, are constructed of either leather or synthetic material. Leather is easiest to care for. Unlined leather shoes can stretch, so be sure you can feel your toe knuckles pushing against the leather. Lined leather reduces stretch. Synthetic uppers don't stretch as much. New synthetic materials breathe and whisk away sweat.

You'll also notice several different types of closure systems. A lace up is the traditional, versatile style. Hook-and-loop closures offer easier on/off conveniences and work best for bouldering and gym climbing. Slippers simply slip on your feet; they have thinner soles and allow you to "feel" the rock much more than lace up shoes will. They're the easiest to wear and pack, and slippers are often the choice of more experienced climbers. Since they usually don't have a stiff sole and midsole, wearing them for training helps your feet gain strength.

The most important factor is fit. Be sure to try on a variety of styles to find the pair that best fits your foot and your climbing style. Climbing experts suggest trying on shoes in the afternoon since your feet swell during the day: you'll get an even better fit after an active day that includes a walk, run or climb.