Shopping for Climbing Shoes? Read This Expert Take First

Quick and handy tips from a Brooklyn Boulders pro.

mid section of female boulderer holding climbing shoes, lombardy, italy
Eugenio MarongiuGetty Images

As any climber knows, climbing shoes are a very different beast from just about any other footwear out there. They can also be a bit pricey. No surprise, then, that buying a new pair is not something one should take lightly.

To help you get better, ahem, grip on the situation, we reached out to Matt Ratajczak, Head of Route Setting at BKB Eckington, the new 31,000-square-foot Brooklyn Boulders location that recently opened in Washington, D.C. Check out this quick Q&A, and you're sure to come away with insights that will serve you well when it's time to pony up.

What's the number one thing people should keep in mind when buying climbing shoes?

Shoes will feel different after they break in. Leather shoes will stretch more than synthetic shoes. You’ll want to fit your shoes as tight as possible without feeling painful. After about a week or two of climbing (or wearing them at home while you are relaxing before bed) your shoes should feel less stiff and more snug.

climbing shoes buying advice
Matt Ratajczak of Brooklyn Boulders

What's the biggest mistake people tend to make?

The biggest mistake I typically see people make at the gym is wearing a high-end performance shoe for the entirety of their gym session. There is nothing wrong with owning a pair of the most expensive shoes on the market. However, you should save that fancy thin rubber for your one percent projects! I would recommend warming up, working out and training in a less expensive, longer lasting shoe. In less aggressive shoes, you will be more comfortable, save some money and learn to use your feet more effectively.

A general rule is to shop in the afternoon because your feet expand throughout the day. Does this reasoning apply to climbing shoes?

I personally don’t think this reasoning applies to sizing climbing shoes. If a climbing shoe is sized correctly, it should feel very snug regardless of the time of day. If your feet do expand slightly later in the day, you might find that it’s slightly more difficult to get your shoes on and off. In my experience, my foot has never slipped out (AM climbing) or experienced pain (PM climbing) due to foot expansion.

Anything else to add?

When you are just getting into climbing, start with a comfortable entry level shoe and gradually try out more aggressive shoes. Every company sizes differently. When trying on new shoes — even if it’s a different shoe from the same company — try on multiple sizes to find your preferred fit!

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