One of the most common questions asked by rock climbers is how tight the shoes should fit. This is a good question and the answer needs to address several issues about fit. The quick response is that they should be well fitting in all areas of the foot. For safety and comfort, your climbing shoes should be snug in some areas with a little play in others.
High quality shoes
Start with a pair of high quality climbing shoes that are well constructed and fit the size and shape of your foot to perfection. Some will tell you that the shoes should be tight everywhere and you should put up with the discomfort because they will stretch out over time.
This isn’t the case at all. You can have snug fitting shoes without suffering the agony of pinching and rubbing against your feet and certain pressure points and here is how.
Your first fitting
When you try on a pair of climbing shoes for the first time, if they’re strangling your feet, they don’t fit. They should feel snug against every part of the foot, but not tight or uncomfortable.
There’s no good reason to cause damage to your feet because of tight shoes. When they’re tight, you gain the advantage of better dexterity, fell and grip on the rock, but a little less tension can prevent damage that costs you the health of your feet.
Fit for the heel
The shoes should fit snugly at the heel. There should be no dead space in this area, but it should not be so tight that it hurts. If your foot has enough room to move around in the heel when you’re walking, it’s too loose and it could give you a lack of control when climbing and cause blistering and bruising. If it’s too tight, it could stress your Achilles tendon.
Go for very snug with no dead air spaces. Your heel should never move around in the shoe.
Fit for the toes
Finding the ideal shoe fit for the toes can be tricky. If there is any dead air space between the shoe and your toes, you’ll have less grip when you’re climbing. There should be no play in this area and your toes can develop corns and blisters from movement when walking and climbing. You need to have the fit in this area very snug, but not so tight that your toes are bunched up. Shoes that are too tight at the toe can cause injuries and difficulty when climbing because you may not be able to feel the terrain as well if your toes are hurting or numb from a lack of circulation.
There is a happy medium and it may mean switching to a different shoe type of style to get the perfect fit. If going up a size solves the problem, that’s great, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t cause a problem in other areas.
If it makes dead air space anywhere in the shoe, keep looking until you find a pair that fits your foot snugly, but not tightly everywhere.
Some climbers go through a lot of pain with climbing shoes that do not fit properly at the arches. This is an important consideration to be made.
If your arches are high, you’ll need to find a style of climbing shoe that provides arch support, but also one that does not rub the top of your foot raw when you’re climbing.
Padding in the tongue can help to alleviate this kind of problem. Some shoe types may not be a good fit regardless of which size you try, so you may need to find a different model of shoe that is designed specifically for the unique shape of your foot.
Take your time to get it right
Don’t settle for a pair of climbing shoes that are not a perfect fit for your foot. Keep looking and trying them on until you find the ideal match. It will give you the ultimate control of your feet when you need it the most. You can still be in control and be comfortable at the same time.
Common issues from shoes that are too tight
Wearing climbing shoes that are too tight can cause serious podiatric (foot) issues. You may develop bruised toes, corns, claw or hammer toes, bunions, nerve compression and fungal infections.
When these conditions become severe, you’ll need to seek medical treatment or suffer for the rest of your life with them. This is why we say snug but not tight.
Helpful Sizing Chart of Different Climbing Shoes