Advice for finding your first pair of climbing shoes

In Climbing, Gear by college@dmin1 Comment

My first exposure to rock climbing came when I was eight years old in my Uncle’s garage. He had spent part of his twenties as the romanticized rock climber, living out of the back of his truck and climbing in Yosemite whenever he could get away. So, when he came back to suburbia Ohio to become a firefighter, he did his best to bring the rocks to him by creating a climbing wall in his garage.

While my uncle said I showed promise on his garage wall, climbing still didn’t stick.  My next experience with rock climbing didn’t come until 16 years later, still living in Ohio, when I talked my then boyfriend into getting a Groupon deal with me for belaying lessons at a nearby rock gym. Despite the lesson, rock climbing slipped out of my life for another 3 years.

Now I’m attending grad school in Boulder, Colorado, AKA rock climbing mecca of the U.S. Not only am I living in a city full of rock climbers and three rock gyms, but I’m also required for my grad program to rock climb next year.

In other words, it’s time to get a crimper* on rock climbing.


  • *Crimper- These tiny holds are both sour and sweet, terrible to hold on to yet they allow you to climb the most seemingly impossible of faces
  • Pumped- The feeling you get in your forearms on a particularly long or overhung route, when your muscles feel like lead and the battle to stick to rock is on.
  • (For more climbing jargon, check out “A Muggle’s Guide to Climbing Jargon”)


Once I decided I was committed to start climbing, the next question was “where do I begin?” Mainly, I started by asking my friends a lot of questions. Then, the next step was the gear. I was lucky enough to find a hand-me-down harness, so the next major piece was shoes. That’s where luck kicked in. I went to the best source of climbing information I could possibly think of: College Outside. They got me into contact with Mad Rock, who gave me a ton of useful information on the best shoes for a beginner and sent me a pair to try out.


Finding the Right Shoe

While I lucked out with the new shoes, figuring out the fit and sizing of climbing shoes proved to be a bit more complicated than trying on my normal running shoes.

With running shoes, your feet are supposed to feel comfortable as soon as you put them on. Your toes should have room to wiggle, typically with a thumb fingernail space between your toes and the top of the shoe. This is NOT the case in climbing shoes.  

After talking to a few friends and trying on a ridiculous amount of shoes at an awesome local hole-in-the wall climbing shop, I realized my feet were SUPPOSED to be squeezed inside of a shoe that left my foot no room to breathe. While the shoe is not supposed to be painful, it IS supposed to be uncomfortable. Here is what Mad Rock has to say about shoe fit on their website:


General Rule of Thumb for beginners

– Comfortable is too large

– Painful is too tight

– Uncomfortable is perfect


Mad Rock has a large selection of shoes to choose from. I of course, wanted some style and was first drawn to the Lyra. However, my toes were not quite ready to be crunched into a downward point, so one of their reps recommended the Pulse Negative, a much better choice for a beginning climber. After dealing with some brief “uncomfortability” issues at the beginning, I quickly realized the purpose of these tiny shoes, and how well they helped me work my toes into tiny crevices and wedge my foot right next to the wall. In other words, they kept me on the rock wall instead of dangling in mid-air or falling on my butt.

It’s also important to note that most rock climbing shoes are labeled with European sizing. While Mad Rock uses U.S. sizing, their climbing shoes still probably won’t be the equivalent of your normal street shoe. In the Pulse Negative, a unisex shoe, I wore a size 10, what I normally wear in women’s shoes. For the Lyra, a women’s shoe, I went up 2 whole shoe sizes to a size 12. So regardless of the shoe you choose, I suggest trying them on first.

Finally, I also consider myself a conscious shopper. I like to consider how my purchases were made, taking into account the sustainability of the materials used and the treatment of the workers who made the product. Not only are Mad Rocks made in the USA, but the Lyra and Pulse are vegan friendly.

After a month of wear, the shoes and I have become BFFs. Next step, finding a gym and absolutely sending it.

Comments 1

  1. Pingback: College Outside / All the gear you’ll need for climbing pre-orientation trips

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