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Question: I am in between sizes and have trouble fitting climbing shoes. The smaller size is too tight, but a half size up is either loose in the heel or my toes don’t go to the end. Help!
Answer: Common problem. I imagine that most climbers literally feel your pain, because feet come in all shapes and sizes, wider, narrower, longer, shorter, longer bit toe, shorter big toe, you get the idea. The varieties among human feet are as infinite as the satellites Elon Musk is launching into orbit for his Starlink project, yet rock shoes come in about 12 sizes and don’t have different widths. Your foot is wide as ping-pong paddles, yet the shoe you want is narrow as a banana? Tough.
Cheer up, there are hundreds of models of rock shoes, and there’s a pair out there that, unless you have feet like satyr, fits your knobs. What follows are my hard-earned pointers for getting a Cinderella fit.
- Go to a climbing shop or got to several if you need to, and find a brand that fits you for width. I’ve found that some brands, such as Acopa err on the wider side, while others such as La Sportiva are more narrow. That’s simplistic, of course, since different models within brands fit differently. Point is, try on shoes until you have a close fit in the type of model—all arounder, sport, gym, crack, etc.—that you desire.
- Keep in mind that your foot size changes throughout the day. Your dogs will be smaller in the morning than they will be mid-day after you’ve been standing or preferably, climbing, on them. Compensate accordingly.
- All shoes will stretch, some more than others. Softer shoes, such as unlined slippers, will stretch more than burly all arounders. If you have a wide foot, you might go softer, fit the shoe for length and let it stretch in width to arrive at the end point you’re hoping for.
- More on stretch:Leather shoes, I’ve found, stretch more and faster than ones with synthetic uppers and tend to mold better to your feet. Rock shoes with slingshot rands and lots of rubber over the heel and toe won’t mold to your feet as well as shoes will less rubber.
- Once you have a pair of shoes that fit reasonably well, wear them around the house to start breaking them in. All rock shoes will soften, and you can save your feet some pain out at the crag by suffering a bit at home. Almost all rock shoes will feel too tight at first, especially if you have wide feet; shoes tend to stretch more in width than they do in length.
- Keep in mind that you can make a shoe that is slightly too small, larger, but you can’t make a shoe that is too large smaller. That said, err on the side of smallness over largeness.
- Sweat and heat will help stretch and shape a shoe to your foot. You can expedite the process by wearing your too-tight shoes in the shower. Don’t laugh, this works. I have very wide feet and no shoe fits me because, like you, I’m in between sizes. A 41.5 is too large and a 41 is too small. So, I get the 41 and hit the shower. The hot water stretches my shoes almost immediately. 15 minutes in the shower and I’ve got a nice fit. Leather uppers succumb to this technique more so than synthetic uppers. If anything here, you have to take care to not stretch your shoes too much. Let your shoes air dry naturally, or go climbing, where the pressure from your feet standing on holds will fine tune the fit even more.
- Last technique: Visit a cobbler and have him put your shoes on a stretcher. This takes just a few minutes and works well for spot stretching where you have a bunion or other malformation, such as a claw.
I’ll add as a parting note that you don’t want to get your shoes too tight. You want snug, but not so tight that the foot pain detracts from your ability to climb. John Bachar said that you can’t climb your best if your feet hurt. Pain is subjective, of course, but tight shoes over time can damage your feet, permanently, and then you’ll have a host of lifelong problems that will compromise your happiness off the rock. Keep that in mind. Gear Guru has spoken!