Should You Size Up in Climbing Shoes? (Should They Be Tight?)

Climbing shoes are uncomfortable. I know, that’s big news, right? Don’t worry, it could always be worse… but no matter which pair of shoes you choose, climbing shoes are going to feel tight at the beginning. If you’re looking for your first pair then you should know that no matter which pair size you get, they’re going to hurt when you first wear them.

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Climbing shoes tend to be snug just to make them easier to handle, and to help with precision. The right size climbing shoe should feel comfortable when your toes are relaxed, but you don’t want them so tight that they cramp your feet.

Shoes should fit like a glove, but your hands shouldn’t swell up too much or turn red. Likewise, you don’t want them so big that your feet slide around in them.

Should You Size Up in Climbing Shoes?

Climbing shoes are meant to be tight. Unlike street shoes, climbing shoes are designed for precision and comfort in a variety of situations. One common misconception about climbing shoes is that they need to fit snugly like a glove to provide support. In reality, climbing shoes should feel tight on your feet but not restrictive.

No, you should not size up your climbing shoes. This is because climbing shoes work best when they fit tightly around the feet (not so tight that it is painful, but the fit should leave your toes at the end of the shoe).

For example, if you climb with oversized shoes, it is possible you will lose grip on a rock because your toes do not reach the end of the shoe where it permits the toes to curl inward, and thus maintain a grip upon the surface. The right size climbing shoe will help you climb more effectively and safely.

We want our shoes to really be grabbing hold of our feet. We don’t want them slipping around and putting our feet in positions that are unnatural or uncomfortable. If your foot is moving around too much inside of your shoe, then this could lead to injury.

How Much Smaller Should Climbing Shoes Be?

If you have never worn climbing shoes before, do not jump straight into the smallest size you can find. Climbing shoe sizing is typically a full half-size smaller than your street shoe size. Trying on a few different sizes helps ensure you get the right fit for your foot and climbing style.

If your toes feel like they are being pinched, you likely need a slightly larger size. If there is extra room in the forefoot or heel, try a smaller size. When trying on new climbing shoes, wear thin socks or no socks at all if possible. This will allow you to feel how the shoe’s shape fits against your foot rather than being distracted by sock seams, which some people will notice if they wear thicker socks.

Climbing shoes should fit tightly without being painful or uncomfortable. Some climbers wear half a size down from their normal shoe size, whereas others might not.

 

La Sportiva Men's Tarantulace Rock Climbing Shoes, Black/Poppy, 46.5

 

The best way to find out your climbing shoe size is to try some on prior to purchase. You want the shoe to fit snug all around, and for your feet to reach the ends of the shoe. Your toes need to reach the end of the shoe in order to curl in and best grip rocks during climbs.

If this happens to be a lower size than what you are used to wearing for non-climbing shoes, that’s fine. It is also fine if you happen to wear the same size. The point is to get a good fit.

How Do I Know If My Climbing Shoes Are Too Tight?

If you experience any pain or significant discomfort while wearing climbing shoes due to how they fit, they are too tight. If you have to cram your foot into the shoe and it doesn’t feel comfortable, they’re too tight.

Ensure your toes meet the end of the shoe, but not to the extent that you’re having to excessively curl your toes inward just to get them fit.

You want a snug-fitting shoe to climb as best as you can and as safely as you can, ensuring you can fully use your toes to grip rocks. However, a climbing shoe is meant to be a tight fit, not a constricting fit.

Tight shoes are painful for the first 1-3 hours of climbing and uncomfortable for the first few days.

  • The first sign that your shoes are too tight is a pain in your toes — you’ll feel like you’re standing on a knife-edge. If you don’t adjust the fit, blisters will form around the tips of your toes.
  • The next sign is a pain in the arch of your foot, which can also lead to blisters. This feeling can be more subtle than the pain in your toes, so listen to your body and take note if anything feels wrong on a climb.

It seems like most climbing shoes do require some break-in time, though, so don’t be discouraged if they’re uncomfortable at first.

They should begin to feel better after a few sessions. If they don’t improve, try on another pair of your preferred brand in a larger size. You want your climbing shoes to feel like you’ve barely got them on. 

Should Your Toes Be Curled in Climbing Shoes?

Your toes should be curled in all climbing shoes. They shouldn’t be jammed straight ahead or pointed too far outward, but a little curl will help you with edging on small holds and pushing off from small edges. Many climbers use the analogy of a cat clawing their way up a tree, then spreading their toes to get purchase on the next branch.

Even climbing shoes made for beginners will cause your toes to curl some. As a rule, the more advanced the shoe, the more curled your toes will be while wearing them.

Not all advanced climbing shoes have the intense curling effect, though. Climbing shoes will vary in style, just like running shoes, from a more neutral shape to an extreme toe curl. Experiment with what climbing shoes are most comfortable for you, but always expect a bit of toe-curling to help with your climbing.

How Much Can Climbing Shoes Stretch?

There can be a lot of factors that affect the stretch of your climbing shoes. The first thing to remember is that climbing shoes are going to stretch over time no matter what you do. Even if you get a pair that says “zero-stretch” on the box, they will still stretch.

When you take them out of the box, your climbing shoes may feel a bit snug. They’re meant to fit this way! As you wear them and break them in, however, your climbing shoes will stretch and mold to the shape of your feet.

Tightness and sizing are also major factors in shoe stretch. Shoes that are too narrow and/or tight will cause more stretching than normal.

A lot of people are worried about buying climbing shoes that are too small, but how many of them worry about buying shoes that are too big?

Climbing shoe manufacturers have made great strides in manufacturing shoes that stretch over time, so it is no longer something to worry about. However, the amount of stretch a shoe can take depends on the shoe’s brand and material.

For example:

  • La Sportiva is a high-quality brand that specializes in producing comfortable, durable shoes for all sorts of climbing. They make shoes primarily from leather and synthetic materials, but there have been reports of their shoes stretching almost an entire size within their lifetime. So if your La Sportiva climbing shoes feel a little tight at first, don’t be worried. You’ll get used to them quickly.
  • Five Ten is another high-quality brand known for its durability and comfort – although they are best known for their rubber-soled athletic shoes. Like La Sportiva, Five Ten produces its climbing shoes using mostly leather and synthetic materials. So they stretch also.

While it’s not uncommon for climbing shoes to stretch a full size some brands have been known to stretch a lot more over the lifetime of the shoe.


In summary, climbing shoes want to be tight, but they should also be comfortable. Rock climbing shoes are designed to fit your feet like a glove, and stretch is an essential part of that equation. Tightness is crucial because when you’re gripping small holds on a climb, the last thing you want is for your feet to slip.

To get the tightness that you need, climbing shoes are made from stiff leather or synthetic materials that won’t stretch too much. Still, climbing shoes do stretch over time, and it’s important to know how much they can change as you wear them.

You may also be interested in… Can Climbing Shoes Be Used for Walking? (What About Approach Shoes?) and Do Climbing Shoes Have Insoles?