Shoe volume refers to the overall space that your foot can take up inside the shoe. This volume is determined by the the last (the mold the shoe is made on) and varies greatly from brand to brand and also often differs from shoe model to shoe model.

Unfortunately the most tightly held secret of a shoe is the last design. This is frustrating as the details of the last contain key information to determine how the shoe will fit from a nuanced volume perspective.

Finding Volume Information

Finding volume information via the last shape is virtually impossible since this data is not public. Last information, when occasionally provided, typically references the amount of downturn and/or asymmetry, but not volume.

The important part to know about lasts here is: a climbing shoe is made on a single last shape, which is then scaled up and down to create many sizes, all of them with relatively the same fit. If your foot doesn’t happen to fit the volume of that last in one place or another, sizing up or down is unlikely to help. On the upside, if, you find a great fitting shoe, other models build on this same last could also fit well.

Although WeighMyRack adds last information to each shoe page (when available), because of the gap in concrete volume data, there is no simple way to compare volume across models or brands. 🙁

Instead we must rely on volume information from reviews, the brand’s description of the shoe, and/or through the shoe model name.

Fitting Shoe Volume 1
Knowing the differences between Low Volume (LV and High Volume(HV) shoes can be helpful in understanding why certain parts of our shoes are too loose or too tight. This is especially good info to have when trying on a new shoe.

Low Volume (LV), High Volume (HV), and Gender

In addition to no last volume data, there is no official naming convention or measuring standard for comparing climbing shoe volume. The country culture where the shoe designer grew up (or resides), and their personal foot shape also seems to play a role in what a brand considers high or low volume.

This is why it’s a good idea to try on every shoe you can get your foot into (and take notes on your phone for future reference).

Since many men prefer the fit of “women’s” models and vice versa, climbing companies are starting to shift away from “men” and “women” labeling to using more descriptive titles such as low volume and high volume or narrow vs wide.

Low volume (LV) / women’s / narrow shoes scale for feet with thinner or smaller attributes and could have a narrower forefoot, lower instep, thinner ankle or narrower heel. These shoes will have a smaller size run when the company hasn’t fully embodied the fact that length of foot + gender does not dictate volume.

High volume (HV) / men’s / wide shoes can have more width in the forefoot, a taller instep, or wider or taller heels.

Unisex (or unmarked in volume) shoe models can be naturally high or low or “middle of the road” volume. Again, there is no standard.

Whatever the naming convention, since most companies aren’t explicit in where the volume differences are found in their product descriptions, we can only give general advice that: if you find a low volume shoe fits too tight (especially in the heel and instep) try on the high volume version. Or if your heel, or foot in general is able to slip (even slightly) side to side, try on the lower volume version of the shoe.

One More Note

Some companies will make the the high/low version of a model on the same last (and use different construction methods to reduce volume) while other companies create a completely different last for each of the two models. You will usually find more fit differences/nuances with a company that uses two different lasts.

Bottom line: The shoe that fits your foot best has no bearing on your gender, and is solely about the shape of your forefoot, instep, and heel.

Fitting for Volume

There are two main ways that volume affects our climbing: comfort and performance. A properly fit shoe has the least amount of gaps around the foot (the foot should be hugged snugly by the shoe), and also isn’t too tight (no pressure points). A great fitting shoe is hard to find. It’s easier if you know what to look for and with volume that starts by understanding that there are three main area’s to match your foot shape to the shoes shape.

Climbing Shoe Volume
The three main areas of volume when comparing climbing shoes are the Heel, the Instep, and the Forefoot.


The forefoot of a shoe is also commonly referred to as the toe or toebox. This area covers the tip of the toes to just behind the ball of the foot and is the part of the shoe largely responsible for transmitting the power of our foot muscles to the wall.

The width of the forefoot plays a key role in the overall comfort of our shoe, whether we’re standing flat, on an angled slab, or on the tiniest hold. Climbing shoes are designed to gather our toes together and away from their natural standing position, and the narrower the forefoot, the more pulled together they are. The intention of this is to concentrate our strength toward our stronger big toes for climbing on edges and small features, but it comes at the cost of comfort, especially while standing in our shoes.

The height of the forefoot is also a key component to volume, more specifically affecting the comfort of the tops of our toes. Shoes with a low amount of downturn and asymmetry tend to have more vertical room in the forefoot, while more aggressively shaped toeboxes tend to taper more, causing pressure across the tops of the toe knuckles or even toenails.

To fit the forefoot it is important to pay attention to how much you can spread and wiggle your toes. Though we want a snug to tight fit in climbing shoes, there is a limit. A forefoot that is too narrow can start to push our toes under each other, rolling our bones and muscles into some particularly painful positions. This also can greatly increase shoe wear and blowouts from our weight pushing outward on parts of the shoe that aren’t built to take the pressure. Conversely, a forefoot with too much volume creates space for the foot to slide around creating potential for hotspots and blisters, as well as allowing the shoe to bend and deform around our toes which greatly reduces its performance.

Any time a shoe is pushed to deformation from its intended design, the angles and tension of all that sweet shoe tech is either underutilized or stressed beyond being effective.


Traditionally, the instep refers to the top of the shoe between the forefoot and the ankle. When talking about instep volume, this extends around the sides of the shoe and under the arch of the midfoot. The volume of the instep is most responsible for how much our shoe hugs and holds the arch of the foot and is where we notice the most adjustability using the closure of the shoe. Because of its direct connection to the closure, instep can be thought of as the part that holds the shoe on our foot. It is also the part that keeps your foot bones and muscles in place and connected to the midsole of the shoe where we derive most of the support from our climbing shoes.

Instep volume controls how connected our skeletal structure is to the sole of the shoe, and when there is too much extra space, our shoes can rotate around our feet and make them feel like they are floating in the shoe rather than connected to it. If you’ve ever tried climbing with your shoes untied or unstrapped, you’ve experienced what having too much volume can do to your shoe tension and ability to climb. When our instep is too tight however, the muscles that create all the force in our feet become bound and have a more difficult time moving freely. Blood flow can also be restricted, causing premature pump, fatigue, and cramping in our feet and in severe cases can cause numbness and pain.


When it comes to volume, the heel describes the area from the rear of our foot to just in front of the ankle bone. In climbing shoes the volume of a heel also usually includes reference up the back of the achilles tendon and slightly forward. This area of a climbing shoe is not only used for hooking around corners and tops of holds and features, it also ensures our foot stays all the way forward in the toebox by providing a place for rubber randing to wrap around and back towards the toe of the shoe. The volume of a heel also helps control the amount of twisting through the midfoot to the forefoot by acting as an anchor for the rest of the shoe to pivot around. When the heel is close fitting this twist is resisted more, allowing the shoe randing to apply more force in toe hooks and on precise foot holds.

Overly tight heelcups can cause blisters surprisingly fast, especially in the case where they cut too high up the achilles tendon on the back of the ankle. Tight heels also will wear a shoe out more quickly, since the bulk of our weight goes to our heels when we stand, which will overstretch and cause materials to fail. A loose heel means your foot has space to move around, and can sometimes result in your foot popping out of the shoe. It also means the tensioning in the randing cannot function as designed because it is unable to act as an anchor for the fancy randing that creates all the performance in a climbing shoe.

Volume Tips

  • Dial your sizing first, then move to volume and you will be more likely to find a fit that is good for you.
  • Most people know if their foot is typically above/below average. BUT since there are no standards to high/low volume (between brands or even between models of a brand), be open to trying on all shoes to fit the key zones of toebox, instep, and heel.
  • If you like the fit of a shoe model’s toe shape and size but you find the shoe still feels baggy and moves around on your foot, chances are for that particular model and brand, that you need a lower volume shoe; check for a low volume / women’s version.
  • If everything else about the shoe seems to fit great but you feel a ton of pressure at specific spots on the sides or across the top of your foot, you might look for high volume / men’s alternative. Or you could try looking for a lace version to relieve the pressure.

The Most Important Part of Volume

Think of volume as a way to increase and decrease the room in the shoe; too much room can mean blisters and deformation resulting in poor performance. Not enough room leads to cramping, hotspots, and early blowouts. If there is more than one model (no matter the naming convention) and you aren’t absolutely sure of a super fit, always try on the alternative volume shoe, you may be surprised.

Really, the more shoes you can try on, the more you’ll feel the nuances of fit in the forefoot, instep, and heel, and better chance you’ll have at finding a great fitting shoe.

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%.

Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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