The climbing shoes are one of the most important parts of climbers’ equipment. Technologists and designers in leading companies are constantly developing new concepts for the design of shoes, the materials they use, and last but not least, the look. The world’s best climbers are sending exclusively difficult routes, with precise footsteps, and the latest shoes models have to meet their requirements.
The main features of the climbing shoes are their hardness and shape (how much and how they are curved).
Hardness is determined by the rubber hat is put on the sole and the construction of the shoe itself. In recent years, the most technically advanced shoes have to be made with a sol with two parts. The break of the rubber is in the area of the arch, thus the shoe fits very well on the foot and can flex when the climber use very small footholds. Depending on the rigidity and thickness of the rubber, the climbing shoes can be rigid without losing comfort and sensitivity.
The other main feature is the asymmetry of the shoe. It is measured in two directions – how much the shoe is curved to the thumb and how much is curved like a hook. Following the current trends in development, the top models of the leading brands are asymmetrical in both directions. Thanks to this form, climbers can, with less effort, use the small steps of the overhanging routes.
Considering these features, we should be able to choose the most suitable climbing shoes, depending on what type of rock we most often climb and what type of route we prefer.
It is widely believed that vertical and slightly overhanging routes require rigid shoes, while in the steep overhangs is better to use soft shoes. According to my immodest experience on rocks, this division is far from the topic. With soft shoes, the climber has better filling about the shape of the footsteps. The soft rubber assumes the relief of the step and stands very stable. Whether you’re stepping on a thin crimp or on a very bad smear step, soft shoes will not cheat you. This is achieved on the one hand by the characteristics of the rubber itself, on the other hand, by the construction of the shoe. With precision, soft shoes, you can rely on the footsteps of both steep overhanging routes and technical slabs. If your home crag is dominated by limestone slabs with blade-sharp steps, with soft shoes you will suffer a lot. The problem is that you will feel just how sharp the step is and for such routes it is better to choose a more rigid model. The climbing of vertical and almost vertical routes with soft shoes is hard for the feet, but it has its advantages.
The main difference between rigid and soft climbing shoes comes when there are very long moves of vertical and slightly overhanging routes. Then, with a softer shoe, the heel falls slightly down, as the sole bends, and this may be enough to get two centimeters under the hold. In this case, more suitable would be harder shoes. With them, the bending of the arch and the fall of the whole body down is much less. Another, very specific case where it is good to choose a rigid shoe is when we have a toe hook or a heel hook. If the load is very high and the hook is not stable, the soft shoe bend and the foot goes out of the hole. In this case, harder shoes could help a lot.
Last but not least, the shape of the heel of shoes is very important. The main thing is that it should be such that it sticks tight on the foot. If it does not fit well, in heel hook, the shoes can get off. It is important that the rubber is not too thick to allow the climber to feel exactly where he is steps.
It seems that the choice of climbing shoes is not easy at all. Even some very obsessed climbers sometimes wear different shoes at the same time, according to footholds on the project. Others find fault on their climbing shoes when they “slap” from a bad step. The truth is, the stronger the climber is, the less depends on his shoes!