One thing we talk about a lot at WeighMyRack is just how complicated shoes are. When we research a piece of gear, we go deep, and still, we constantly feel like there is more to learn and share about climbing shoes. While there are certainly preferential things that are easy to compare like the type of closure, what materials shoes are made of, or whether or not they are vegan friendly, the topic of ‘which shoe is best for me?’ is sticky.

In previous posts, we shared that two of the biggest design aspects of shoes that drive performance are asymmetry and downturn and explain what that means in detail. In this post we dive into how these two components work together to define what a shoe is capable of, and what to look for as you mix and match these aspects.

Downturn vs Asymmetry Primer

It’s all over the board how brands talk about downturn and asymmetry. High asymmetry or high downturn is often summed up as: aggressive, cambered, downturned, etc. Low asymmetry or minimal downturn is often: flat, beginner, comfort, etc. Although this marketing is mostly true, it glosses over the nuance and performance differences.

At WeighMyRack we talk about asymmetry and downturn separately, so we can actually compare how they affect a shoes expected performance and comfort.

Downturn – affects pulling into the wall vs. standing on the wall

Asymmetry – affects power distribution across the toes vs. toe comfort

Asymmetry is the shoe changing the position of your toes and where the shoe is directing power while downturn is about changing the shape of the shoe to help you stay connected to the wall.

Climbing Shoe Flatness

Average human feet are naturally pretty flat, and most shoes we wear are made to mimic that shape to keep us comfortable while standing and walking. Climbing shoes however are designed to reduce the amount of flatness a shoe has, changing the shape of our feet to take advantage of our muscles and bones and be more effective at climbing-specific standing and toeing.

As a basic rule, when optimizing for low angle terrain and/or comfort a flat shoe is best. When looking for a shoe for technical footwork (read:small holds) and/or overhanging performance, it’s good to look for a less flat shoe. The trick is dialing just how much downturn or asymmetry you need, and of course knowing the nuances of each one.

Climbing Low Angle / Unfeatured Terrain (slabs, volumes, and cracks)

Shoes built for this terrain will typically be the most flat. Asymmetry isn’t particularly useful here, because there usually aren’t many details to target with our toes in these scenarios. A good way to think of this type of climbing is that rather than pointing our toes on small features and holds, we are smearing our whole foot on bigger ones, like large indoor volumes, or entire cliff faces and walls. To maximize friction, we need as much shoe in contact with the wall as possible, so keeping the toebox symmetric allows all of our toes to share and spread the load of our bodies on the wall.

Slab climbing in flat lasted shoes
Climbing in low angle terrain requires a lot of friction and contact between the shoe and the wall. Flat, symmetric shoes offer support and weight distribution across all the toes to maximize grip. Jackie smiling on a sunny slab of the Monument - 5.9, So. Illinois (Ancestral lands of Quapaw, Osage, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and Myaamia peoples)

That isn’t to say you have to stay as flat as possible. Some folks who really love slabby climbing still prefer a little bit of downturn in their shoes, because a bit of downturn means a bit of extra tension from the heel to the toe, giving a little support through the midfoot and helping to reduce arch fatigue when you’re standing on your tippy toes. Shoes in this realm are typically quite thin-soled and soft to allow for deformation and friction, and are often slipper or lace closure.

These “flat-ish, downturned-ish” shoes climb quite well in a wide range of scenarios, and are often a nice choice for a ‘single shoe solution’ type of vibe.

Climbing Shoe Performance Chart
A flat-lasted climbing shoe with minimal downturn and asymmetry is a great all day comfort choice that can also perform well on slabs and in basic jamming.

For crack jamming, the same basics apply for providing maximum rock contact and a fairly flat profile to allow as much foot to fit in the crack as possible. There is an added need for stiffness in the midsole, depending on your foot strength and how solid your jamming technique is. Wider cracks require stronger feet or stiffer shoes to help fight the fatigue, so new crack climbers do better here with a very flat last, while seasoned crack nerds may prefer a shoe on the softer, more sensitive side.

Because they aren’t at odds with our anatomy, most shoes built on flat lasts with minimal asymmetry are also quite comfortable for standing around on ledges, the base of climbs, and keeping on all day outdoors or in the gym.

Climbing Vertical Terrain (medium features, pockets, and thin cracks)

As climbs start to pitch toward the 80-90º realm, it becomes more difficult to simply stand up on climbing holds and features, so we need to ask more from our shoes. Downturn plays a very big role in helping us apply our body weight through our toes and onto the holds. As we stand with our bodies close to vertical surfaces, our toes are actually forward of our center of gravity, causing our body weight to be ‘pushed’ away from the wall and requiring a bit of a downturned ‘hook’ to help us pull ourselves back inward.

Climbing vertical terrain in downturned shoes
Vertical terrain requires a lot of shoe tension to support our body weight as we actually stand on our toes. Slightly downturned and highly asymmetric shoes are the key here for Jeff on the thin plates and edges of Hidden Treasures - 5.12a, So. Illinois (Ancestral lands of Quapaw, Osage, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and Myaamia peoples)

The name of the game is still friction, but because we’re aiming at smaller surfaces, our shoes need to be pointier and more supportive to apply the most power where we want it: to slightly pull us in, and transmit our weight from our heels through the foot to the toes. This is the type of climbing where you are actually standing on your tippy toes a lot. Due to this pressure on the toes we find newer climbers like a thicker, stiffer midsole for the added support along with a moderate downturn to pull themselves into the wall.

Climbing Shoe Performance Chart
A shoe with more downturn can become more precise and capable in vertical scenarios than a similarly asymmetric one.

Highly experienced vertical climbers often have a range of 2-3 shoes that they pick and choose from depending on the specific features of the climb. This collection of shoes is likely honed over years of experimenting with different shoe styles and fits. They might have one shoe with moderate downturn and another with higher downturn. Or they might even have the same model of shoe, but in two different sizes – one fit for comfort and one less comfortable downsized shoe for more precision and power.

Shoes that perform well in the vertical world have moderate to high downturn depending on the rock/hold type. If you climb in Red Rocks, NV for example where the vertical climbing has a ton of huge sandstone features and huecos to stand in, the amount of downturn needed is minimal compared to the steep, finger-sized pockets in the limestone of Wild Iris in WY.

Vertical climbing can also benefit from some low to mid asymmetry in a shoe, again depending on the sizes and shapes of features you expect to encounter. Remember a lot of asymmetry makes for a strong profile, but the more curved your toe profile, the smaller your target for where that toebox can be effective. Usually asymmetry is best sprinkled in a case-by-case basis for vertical climbs, keeping in mind that stiffer shoes (with typically less asymmetry) are often more beneficial for standing and reaching than softer, highly asymmetrical ones which we’ll get to next.

Climbing Overhanging Terrain (big pockets, thin crimps, high compression)

Overhanging terrain is anything more than vertical (95°+) including all the way to hanging from a ceiling, or sending long, sustained pumpfests at the high end of modern climbing difficulty. This area of climbing is home to some of the most cutting edge shoe technologies like compression molded toe boxes and heel cups, and precision laser cut midsoles and grip patches. These precision molded parts allow for highly asymmetric shoes to help climbers focus power to extremely small and specific areas of the toes and heels. Intense sport and boulder cruxes alike can often only provide a few tiny holds, often in poor positioning that make a shoe with this narrow power a near requirement.

Climbing overhanging terrain
Intense overhanging routes require some of the most specific shoe features to keep climbers connected to the route. Highly downturned, highly asymmetric shoes allow for extreme tension from our toes and heels to translate into upward (and in this case horizontal) motion. Here Adam uses a hooked toe and a tightly hooked heel to hold on to Here Come the Snakes - 5.12c, So. Illinois (Ancestral lands of Quapaw, Osage, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and Myaamia peoples)

Overhanging climbing also requires a ton of tension driven from the heel to the toe, making highly downturned shape a must for pulling in to stay on holds. Shoes with extreme downturn not only have a toebox that is shaped like a claw for hooking, but also often a heel cup that is so deep and downturned that the shoe resembles a banana shape. This cup can be molded, randed, reinforced, and tensioned to give climbers extreme gripping power and even a bit of edging capability with the heel of their foot, which can be particularly handy when performing squeezy compression moves and intense heel hooks around features and corners.

Climbing Shoe Performance Chart
Highly asymmetric and downturned shoes drive all the performance out of toeing in highly steep terrain, though they aren't often very comfortable for long periods of time.

For burly bouldering, a lot of folks prefer the very soft and flexible side of things for absolute grip and feedback, especially in gyms where comp-style setting and large flowy holds are common. Steep route climbers in places like Rifle, CO or Siurana, Spain where there are sharp features and pockets might opt to bring along a slightly stiffer midsole to help absorb some pain and provide extra support, while the milder mega sandstone overhangs of the Red River Gorge, KY might swing somewhere in between.

Often these shoes are only worn when on the climb itself because they fit tightly to maximize power. They are not comfortable to walk in due to the way the foot is contorted to be the opposite of a flat walking shoe.

Mix and Match

Depending on your foot shape and strength, you can mix and match the amount of downturn and asymmetry to find a shoe or a set of shoes for your unique climbing situation.

Unlike what the glossed over marketing descriptions imply, not everything with downturn is asymmetric, and not everything asymmetric is super downturned.

For example it is entirely possible to have a shoe with high asymmetry (built to drive big toe power), that also has lower to moderate downturn (for more support across the forefoot). A shoe like this would excel at intense edging or liebacking on super thin cracks, standing on very small features like crystals (toe power) and holding shape through static rockovers (stiffer midsole) on intense boulders and sport cruxes. In contrast, a similarly asymmetric shoe with high downturn wouldn’t likely provide enough support to make these moves very efficient.

Bouldering in downturned shoes
Steep bouldering on slopey, smooth holds requires a lot of compression and downturn to stay on the wall, but less asymmetry because the holds are large and not as precise. Mixing and matching the amount of flatness and softness can make for a much more dialed experience. (Jeff McCallister on Jungle Book - V8, Holy Boulders, So. Illinois) (Ancestral lands of the Quapaw, Osage, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Kiikaapoi, Kaskaskia, Myaamia peoples)

On the other end of the spectrum, a shoe can have a lot of downturn (pulling power) and moderate asymmetry (even toe pressure). Shoes with this mix are superb at providing a greater range of motion across multiple climbing styles, and often end up as a ‘main’ or ‘go-to’ for climbs where the climbing styles vary. Climbs with mixed terrain that goes from slab to vert are a great place to use a moderately asymmetric shoe, and if you add a handful of roofs and some technical pockets, having a high amount of downturn can feel like a secret weapon. Conversely, if you’ve ever left a huge pockety overhanging section on a route and found yourself spooked standing on a huge sandy slab or greasy volume, you now know why that shoe is not going to be helpful.

Point is, you don’t always have to have one if you want the other. Knowing the differences between what each of these words does for your capabilities gives you a solid base for the next step of finding and comparing shoes based on your needs.


Ultimately, the dialing of ‘the amount of downturn and asymmetry you need’ is often a compromise of comfort, price, and performance for most people who only own one or two pairs of shoes. The average person these days spends the bulk of their daily climbing in a gym, where having a single shoe dialed to something hyper specific is not super common. A shoe with moderate downturn and moderate asymmetry makes a lot of sense here, and we think that this is one of the big reasons that most shoes available today fit this description.

When we look at highly experienced climbers (not just folks who climb hard) we often see a moderate shoe as their ‘main’ in a string of 2-4 models that have been whittled, dialed, tried, and tested in the types of climbing they are stoked on. They might have shoes that excel in particular type of route, style, rock, or climbing area


  • Those into compy, muscle-y, dynamic and powerful boulders are usually adding a pair of soft, moderately asymmetric, highly downturned shoes that will flex and flow with the varied range of movement that style requires.
  • Crack jammers will have their mostly flat, slightly asymmetric shoe with their preferred amount of stiffness and support.
  • Technical slab-ists have their flat, soft shoe with minimal asymmetry to keep all their piggies in touch with the wall for maximum friction.
  • Steep, crimpy, knuckle-busting face climbers grab those highly downturned foot-talons and tweak higher asymmetry to suit smaller holds and hooks.
  • Folks out for that friendly multi-pitch in the alpine might grab a slightly downturned, low asymmetry shoe to fit all climbing styles.

And for those who like to do all of these things? A big bag of shoes, curated over years of testing and learning is often not far away.

Our Best Advice for Climbing Shoes

Go to shoe demos (at the gym or climbing festivals) and try on ALL THE SHOES. Including the high and low volume versions of the same model. Ideally, try climbing the same routes in each pair so you can get a sense of how they fit and perform differently. Note how they fit: are there pressure points or any gaps between your foot and the sides / top / bottom of the shoe? Pick what fits snugly and feels right to you.

If there’s a spot on a shoe that’s nagging you or any part of your foot slips in the shoe, keep trying on shoes. After trying on a ton of shoes, at one point you may wonder, “is this shoe perfect?!” because you can’t find anything wrong with the fit – at this point trust your intuition. And, for future reference, write all this info down on your phone: whether the shoe model fit or not, and what sizes are good/bad.

Want to See All The Climbing Shoes (over 400)?

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