When you’re looking for climbing shoes, there is a ton of information available to help you understand the differences between shoe shapes (the amount of asymmetry and amount of downturn) to the materials used and what style of climbing you’re doing. But that information is nearly moot, until you find a pair with a perfect fit.

In this post we’ve broken down our recommended method for finding the best fit, and that starts with understanding the individual length and shape of your feet.

The main things to know before you start trying on shoes:

  • Your ‘street shoe size’
  • The shape of your toes
  • Your foot volume

Using Your Street Shoe Size

The first place to start understanding the shape of your foot is finding a good point of reference. Depending on the country you are from you likely have seen US, EU, or UK sizing systems for shoes. That pair of sneakers sitting by the door likely has a lot of different sizes associated with it, and those numbers may or may match up with the pair of sandals or boots sitting next to them. There are reasons for this, and they are complex and varied but unfortunately there really is no definitive solution for the fact that not every 10.5 is the same size across all shoes.

The good news is that most of us have worn more than a one pair of shoes in our lives, and have a decent idea for what is widely referred to as our ‘street shoe size’, or the general size of foot we have. This gives us a decent idea of where we stand when we start looking for a new climbing shoe. We recommend using street shoe as a place to begin, not as something to get hung up on. If you “know” your size in a particular shoe model, keep an open mind that this might change from shoe to shoe or brand to brand, and expect to fluctuate as many as 2 sizes when it’s time to change models.

Translating your street shoe size

Now that you have a solid place to start, take a look at the brand’s sizing chart for the shoe you’re looking to try on. There are a couple of quick things to note about sizing systems before you go trying on shoes. Most shoe brands make their lasts using only one sizing method then convert their sizes to the other systems, rather than making lasts for every size in every system (which would be extremely expensive). Like any systems involving measuring and cataloging humans, shoe sizing is a flawed one, but there are a couple of tips that are helpful to know as you convert from measurement to a size.

  • There are MANY systems of shoe sizing in the world including US, UK, and EU, as well as several other mm/cm measurement systems used in Mexico and many Asian countries (sometimes called Mondopoint).
  • US and UK sizing are both based on the imperial inch and have the same spacing in sizes, with half sizes differing in length about .2 inches (about 4.8mm).
  • The EU system is based in mm, so unfortunately full sizes in EU don’t align perfectly with US/UK, with half sizes spaced closer to .25 inches (about 6.6mm).
  • Be aware as you choose to go up or down half sizes that these distances are not always the same between sizing methods. EU half sizes are smaller than UK/US half sizes.

Because every brand measures and communicates their sizing differently, you will often run into a situation where a brand may only show one or two sizing systems and might not include the one you are familiar with. When this happens there is a need to do a bit of conversion using their sizing table. Keep in mind that your street shoe is already an approximation of your foot length, and by doing a conversion to another system you are potentially moving towards a number that looks less and less like the size you’re familiar with.

As mentioned before, there is no universally agreed upon sizing conversion table, and any method you use must be taken as an approximation.

If you take a close look at a sizing chart, you might also notice a lot of overlaps where US/UK sizing can span 2 or even sometimes 3 sizes in EU. If your street size happens to lay near one of these overlaps, take special care to try shoes on all sides that might line up with your street shoe to make sure you end up on the correct side of the split.

Remember that the ultimate goal of a properly sized shoe is to fit snugly from heel to tip, as this measurement is primarily about your foot length. If the fit is too long, your foot will slide front to back, creating blisters or hotspots while you climb. An oversized shoe will also struggle to support your foot completely because every bit of rubber that is not in contact with your foot has less support behind it. When you bear your weight onto a loose toe, the shoe will deform more and not be able perform the way it was designed. A loosely sized shoe will also struggle to support you in a heel hook maneuver and is even more likely to come off your foot.

Undersizing almost always translates to some amount of foot pain, usually in the toes. While there is much to be debated about the benefits of purposefully downsizing, we find that to be a more useful topic later in the fitting process. For now, a well-sized fit should be the goal, which we can modify later.

A well-sized shoe: 

  • Fits snugly against the tips of the longest toes, with no room to slide forward and backward
  • Does its job by contacting as much of the foot as possible; from the tips of the toes, around the sides, and around the entire heel
  • Is pain free
  • Isn’t always going to match your street shoe size

Determining Toe Shape

It’s still not time to try on shoes yet! There is one more key piece of data that most climbers miss: toe shape.

One of the least talked about and most important aspects of fitting a climbing shoe is knowing the shape of our toes. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, and our feet are the most complex structures on our bodies with hundreds of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones all working to keep us upright. The variations in this immense system means that there are TONS of different toe shapes out there. Fortunately, there are many shapes to climbing shoes so you can likely find one that fits your foot!

Below we describe the 3 most common toe shape profiles, acknowledging that these images won’t describe everyone perfectly. Although there are other noted shapes they have conflicting names and/or no real definitive standard in any sources we could find. The take home is not to know the name of your foot shape but to know how to match your foot shape with a shoe shape (also true for running shoes).

Climbing shoe lasts are often made with different toe shapes in mind, and if a shoe doesn’t fit you well, a foot shape to climbing shoe shape mismatch is very possibly the issue.

Climbing Toe Shape
Understanding the shape and profile of your toes helps immensely in finding a climbing shoe that fits comfortably and performs well.

Good steps for determining toe shape

  • Put a piece of paper on a hard floor.
  • Stand in a sock with your toes on the paper.
  • Using a wide marker, loosely trace the shape of your toes.
  • Start and end about midfoot to get a complete picture.

Using a large marker is helpful to get a more generalized shape. This isn’t a precise measurement like your shoe size, but rather an interpretation of the shape of toebox you are most likely to be comfortable in. The toeboxes of climbing shoes are not shaped like individual toes, so getting exact tracings of toes on this picture isn’t all that necessary.

Climbing Shoe Toe Shape
Here we see several areas where our example toe shapes fall outside of the the shape of certain models of shoes, creating potential pain points for certain toe types.

Once you get a better idea of the shape of your toes, it can become easy to tell at a glance if a shoe is going to be right for you or not. At the very least it is much easier to avoid the models that very obviously aren’t compatible with your foot. From here, the process of narrowing your options is more straightforward, allowing you to focus on the models made to perform the way you need while being more confident that your comfort levels will be as good as possible.

When the shape of a shoe’s toe doesn’t match well with the shape of your foot, you will at best suffer a bit in performance, and at worst have a terribly painful experience. We can’t overstate how few climbers pay attention to this detail, and how often we see and hear negative reviews on shoes because folks have found a particular shoe uncomfortable due to incompatible toe shape.

The main takeaway with finding and matching your toe shape to a shoe is that you are looking to reduce the amount of empty space in your shoe while simultaneously maximizing your comfort. Similarly to how an oversized shoe struggles to support your foot while climbing, a mismatched toe shape allows for empty space over your entire toebox, compounding the deformation and loss of support in your shoe. This can be especially noticeable when standing on small features like edges or when jamming in cracks where we put the most amount of force towards the edges of our shoes. When your shoe shape closely matches your toes, climbing shoes can be extremely comfortable and effective. With minimal gaps and dead space, your shoe is able to utilize all that fancy technology and interact directly with your body, all without needing to roll your toes into uncomfortable positions.

A well matched toe shape:

  • Matches your natural foot more closely
  • Has minimal empty space over your entire foot
  • Allows a climbing shoe to do its best work
  • Is the most comfortable, even in aggressively downturned and asymmetric shoes

Putting it All Together

Armed with a good idea of size and toe shape, we recommend you start with your street shoe size, then going up or down depending on a few key factors.

  • It is important to choose a shoe that is built for the type of climbing that you want to do. Newer climbers often make the mistake of buying a shoe that they’ve seen someone else recommend without really digging into what the shoe is designed to do. Often climbers find themselves downsizing in a poorly performing shoe assuming that ‘tighter shoes climb harder’, which is not necessarily the case. This can be frustrating when you realize you’ve been uncomfortable and less effective for the sake of simply using the wrong tool for the job.
  • When fitting a shoe with higher downturn and more aggressive asymmetry keep in mind that correct fit will often feel considerably more snug than a flatter shoe built for balance and comfort. Toe shape really starts to matter here as your piggies are feeling more and more squeeze from the techy randing and purposeful reshaping of the natural position of your toes. If you’re oversizing a great deal just to get your toes comfy, its a sign of mismatched toes creating empty space where the shoe can deform, basically undoing its ability to perform as it was designed.
  • Shoes made with natural materials like leather will stretch over time more than synthetic suedes and meshes. The more leather in your upper, the more you can expect the shoe to ‘break in’ over time. Because they stretch less, it is even more important that synthetic shoes fit correctly out of the box. Brands will recommend finding a perfect fit first and THEN sizing 1 to 2 sizes down for fully leather uppers, though it is most common to go down a half size to 1 at the most.
  • Though the closure of the shoe can play a role in how tightly you want to size your shoe, it is good to note that a tighter or looser upper can’t make your shoe shorter or longer. Your closure system largely affects how your shoe goes on/off, and how adjustable the tension across the top of your foot can be as you wear the shoe throughout your climbing day. Being able to quickly tighten or loosen will affect comfort far more than performance if your shoe is already correctly sized. If you’re still seeking a mega tight, downsized shoe, (which can absolutely be helpful on a strong, experienced foot) we recommend velcro or slipper closures for the easy on/off.
  • Many shoe brands make models in High and Low volume versions. If you find that a correctly sized and shaped shoe is still fitting too snugly, especially across the top and sides of your foot, it is a good idea to check for a higher volume version of that same shoe. Conversely, a lower volume foot may notice bagginess in the heel of the shoe, or find themselves with extra space around the midfoot, even after tightening their upper all the way. If a brand doesn’t offer a HV or LV model, trying on a differently gendered shoe can also work great. Historically women-gendered shoes are lower in volume, while men’s tend higher. Because there is no standard for how volume is measured, it’s best to get size and shape dialed first, and treat volume as a final tweak.

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)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every climbing shoe and give you filters for volume, closure, material, last shape (downturn / asymmetry), and more. You can also filter by on sale items with discounts > 20%.