The gender tag on climbing shoes is generally a statement of the foot width, foot volume, heel size and support a shoe offers.
The female tagged versions of the shoes often have a slimmer cut for their statistically narrower feet with lower volume. Meaning that lighter climbers with a small foot profile may find their pick in the women's version and climbers with a bigger foot profile in the men's version respectively. Climbing shoes for kids are usually less technical, more durable and available in smaller sizes.
The upper material of a climbing shoe is either synthetic, leather or a mixture of both and usually a decision about the stretch of the shoe.
- Synthetic materials tend to not stretch at all keeping the shoe in its shape for longer time and eases the sizing of your shoe. If it fits, it sits! These materials are also preferred by many vegetarians and vegans. A downside is the lower breathability and therefore higher hygienic care.
- Leather uppers made from unlined suede stretch around a full size (+- half a size). Though they might feel a little uneasy in the beginning the advantage is a higher comfort after the break in period due to conforming better to your unique foot shape. Naturally they come with higher breathability that helps preventing aggressive smells and keeping your feet cooler in hot weather.
- Nowadays also a mixture of synthetic and leather uppers is used on a single shoe. The different parts can be easily spotted so that you know where the shoe might still stretch.
Which closing you should pick depends on the fit of the shoe, what type of climbing and also the level of comfort you want to have.
- Lacing provides you with the best personal fit if you struggle with finding comfort with most shoes. Since they provide more comfort these shoes are good for a long day when you don't want to frequently take them off as they need their time to put back on. The laces might compensate excessive stretch and the shoe might feel more secure on microholds by restricting the movement of material. But be careful with toe hooks! With the usually small or missing rubber pad they are hard to place and wear down your laces or outer quicker.
- Slippers are very easy to put on, but they might come off just as quick when you don't place the hook perfectly. After all these shoes are usually more supple and less stiff so they require a higher level of technique to work with. These qualities make them a good choice for training shoes since they are good for gaining feet strength and clean foot placement. With nothing to adjust slippers can only adapt to your foot via the used materials making them harder to fit but also less expensive in production.
- The single velcro strap keeps the foot in the shoe fixing the issue of slipping hooks while still providing a versatile freedom in the front. However a good fitting in the toe box is still harder and more dependent on your foot shape.
- Velcro lacing systems aim to combine the customized fit of a lacer with the ability to gear up quickly like a slipper. In comparison to multi velcros they provide a more flexible solution with adjustable pressure points, but tend to wear down quicker.
- Double velcro closures can adapt also fine to your foot and are more rigid as well as a little more supportive with a steadier fit over the whole shoe compared to velcro lacings.
The toe pad is the added rubber on top of the shoe creating more friction and protecting your foot while toe hooking.
- Climbing shoes without a toe pad give your foot more space and comfort since the outer material can stretch better and adjust to your foot. If the intended climbing style or the skill level simply does not require toe hooking a lot, a toe pad becomes unnecessary but also the shoe more affordable.
- Small toe pads offer some protection to the forefoot. This makes climbing and toe jamming in cracks a lot more comfortable and increases the durability of the shoe. This also comes in handy when getting more into climbs where toe hooking or jamming is needed.
- Good toe hooking is offered by climbing shoes with medium sized toe pads. These higher performance shoes protect the forefoot well while still being able toe stretch in the sides to a certain extend.
- Large toe pads covering the whole forefoot are really useful in bouldering and especially gym bouldering where problems consist of huge volumes. These help to create a good amount of friction at any given angle of the foot while smearing or toe hooking to hold yourself onto the wall. These specialized bouldering shoes need to be fitted well without pain before they can really excel since the rubber itself does not stretch at all.
Asymmetry is the bend of the climbing shoe to the inner side contributing to a higher precision and pressure on footholds.
- A straight shape distributes the load from the front to the whole shoe. This results in a higher support of your foot and preventing the muscles to tire quickly. This is beneficial for a long day at the crag and climbers who do not have developed strong foot muscles yet.
- The higher the level of asymmetry the more pressure is generated towards the tip of the shoe but at the same time forces your foot into a more bend position. This design sacrifices comfort and support for more precision on small footholds.
- Highly asymmetrical shoes create a maximum of pressure towards the tip making them real weapons for boulder problems with micro chrystals! However these type of shoes are a little harder to smear with and can make crack climbing to an unpleasant experience.
The more a shoe is turned downwards the more it forces the foot into an arched position, which is beneficial for climbing on overhanging incut foot holds.
- A flat profile grants most comfort by keeping the foot in its natural shape. This is an advantage for less steep routes, multi pitches and beginner climbers. Having straight toes lets the shoe slide easier into cracks for better foot jams. These shoes can also provide the highest amount of rubber to create friction on positive featureless rock i.e. smearing on slabs.
- Moderately downturned shoes are the best choice when looking for an allrounder combining both comfort and performance. The slightly arched profile generates more force into the toe section as well as the heel supporting better edging and heel hooking. These shoes are best worn for climbs ranging from a vertical face to slightly overhanging routes.
- The claw-like shape of an aggressive downturn allows you to more efficiently cling onto steep and distant footholds. Since the foot is not in its natural position this shape might cause discomfort over time especially for untrained feet. These shoes excel in very steep terrain and provide the highest hooking capabilities making them the best choice for your project with overhangs and roofs.
The rubber type refers to stiffness and stickiness of the material of the outer sole.
- Stiff rubber is generally more rigid and offers higher durability. These characteristics improve the edging capability to stand better on small features in mostly vertical routes. It also increases the support for the foot for longer sessions. On the contrary the reduced flexibility makes smearing on the walls harder. Hard rubbers are also commonly used to create high horizontal tension to be able to jam the shoe in crack climbing.
- A good mixture between flexibility and support are medium hard rubbers. These compounds offer good edging capabilities as well as enough adaptability to place a bigger area of the soles on the rock for smearing. The hardness and thickness of the rubber also plays a role for the sensitivity. The thinner and softer the rubber, the easier you can feel small footholds.
- The big advantage of soft rubbers are the overall flexibility and generally the increased stickiness yet offer a moderate edging ability. This is best for overhanging routes to reach and stick onto far away footholds. Shoes equipped with these rubbers also allow for very good smearing especially in indoor bouldering, but can fatigue the muscles of your foot quicker due to the lack of support.
- Supersoft rubbers offers immense friction to the shoe. These excel on volumes and big holds, which can be often found indoors. They completely lack support, but will provide you with good comfort and adaptability to your foot.
Lining is an inside layer of additional fabric for leather shoes influencing the stretch and comfort.
Lined suede will stretch only around half a size, depending on the sizing even a little more. While the lining adds to keeping the shape of the shoe and providing a tiny bit more comfort, it also adds material between your foot and the rock. This leads to slightly less precision and potentially the development of an odor over time.
Some shoes also come with partial lining e.g. in the toe box only to reduce the stretch selectively. The advantage compared to fully lined suede might be costs and still better breathability and comfort in the rest of the shoe.
The midsole itself is an added layer of fabric inside the shoe contributing to the overall stability and support.
If and where the midsole is placed plays a major role in the support and sturdiness of the climbing shoe. It creates a platform where you can place your foot on and distribute the pressure from the point of contact to a bigger surface.
Most commonly the midsole starts in the toe box and might be as small as just an insert to support the toes up to a layer of fabric for the whole length of the shoe. Whereas it increases support it also logically lowers the flexibility at the same time making it harder to bend the shoe for smearing. This additional fabric also adds a thin layer between your foot and the rock reducing the ability to feel smaller features.
Pre-tension is the force from the heelband with which the foot is pushed forward into the toe box.
The more tension is provided the more stability you have within the shoe. This increases the ability to put more pressure onto smaller footholds and keeps your foot in place while toe and heel hooking. A shoe with less pre-tension offers more comfort throughout the day and feels more natural for beginner climbers.
How much pre-tension a shoe offers can often be seen at the angle of the heelband towards the sole. Higher tension can also be created with the use of a stronger rubber. This might be indicated e.g. with dots at the back of the shoe.
The toe angle describes how the toes are positioned within the toe box.
You can easily compare this to the different grips you are using for climbing holds: the lower the angle the more surface area you can connect and the more friction you can create. Think of gripping a sloper with the full hand, compared to smearing a big part of the sole onto the wall.
This also holds true for smaller features where you crimp up your fingers with a higher angle to create more stability in the grip. Now think of high angled toes within the shoe giving you the ability to stand on really small footholds.