Climbing shoes are the only piece of gear that will make you better at climbing. However, it’s important to know the different kinds of shoes so that you can pick the right one for your needs. For the most part, there are three styles of climbing shoes and from there are different components that change the feel of each shoe and how they fit.
The three types of shoes are neutral, moderate, and aggressive shoes. Neutral shoes are by far the best choice for someone getting into climbing. These shoes are made with a flat profile, designed with all-day comfort in mind. Moderate and aggressive shoes are made with a downturned sole. This downturn focuses all your power into your big toe, this means that these shoes assist you in climbing more challenging routes on steep and overhung rock.
Within these three categories, there are several different things that will change how the shoes fit and how they perform. These differences are; the rubber the shoe has, the closure system of the shoe, and the lining of the shoe.
The rubber on a climbing shoe changes with each brand, many use their own brand of rubber. What doesn’t change as much is the softness or stiffness of the rubber. A stiffer rubber means more power, on some climbs footholds are small so having a stiff rubber with a hard edge makes it easier to precisely place your foot on small holds without your foot popping off. With a softer rubber, while you won’t be as set to have as precise foot placement on small holds, you will be able to smear better up the wall - smearing is using the wall as a foot when there is no foothold there. Along with that, with a softer rubber, you will be more able to feel out what you are putting your feet on to find the best foot placement. However, it is a known fact that softer rubber will break down faster than a stiff rubber, so if you are a new climber I would pick a stiff rubber while you learn the basics of climbing.
There are three kinds of closure lace-up, velcro, and slip-on. Laces ups offer an almost custom fit because you can adjust the tightness of the shoe throughout the entire shoe with the laces. The only drawback is the time that it takes to put the shoe on and take it off. Slip-on shoes provide that technical feel but are super easy to put on and take off. However, the most popular closure system is the velcro system, they provide a good middle ground between slip-ons and lace-ups. Velcro closure system offer the benefit of having a good technical fit while having the ease of a slip-on.
Lastly is the lining of the shoe. The lining of the shoes will affect the shape and fit of the shoe as you wear it over time. First is unlined leather, with this lack of lining the shoe can stretch up to one full size over time. Which means that if you are picking an unlined shoe pick a tighter fit so that when they do start to stretch out they will still fit. Next is lined leather, with this lining the shoe will still stretch over time, but it will be limited to about half a size. There is also synthetic lining, which has little to no stretch over time. Also, many synthetic linings have no leather in them making them vegan and let your foot breath and wick away sweat.
The best thing to do when picking out a climbing shoe is to take your time and try on multiple styles from multiple brands. Also, talk to the people in the gym you see wearing these shoes and they’ll tell you what they like and don’t like about the shoe. You want to make sure that the shoe you get is the right fit because a good-fitting shoe can make all the difference in the world while you’re on the wall.