Why Do Rock Climbing Shoes Hurt?

Rock climbing is an exhilarating sport that challenges your physical and mental limits. It requires immense strength, endurance, and flexibility. However, one aspect of climbing that can be uncomfortable for beginners is the footwear.

Climbing shoes are designed to provide the grip and precision necessary for climbing, but they often come at a cost: discomfort. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the reasons why rock climbing shoes can be painful and how to mitigate discomfort.

The Basics of Rock Climbing Shoes

Before delving into the reasons why rock climbing shoes can hurt, it’s important to understand what makes them different from regular athletic shoes. Climbing shoes are designed specifically for the demands of climbing, providing maximum sensitivity and support.

They have a sticky rubber sole that allows you to grip onto even the tiniest edges and features on the rock. Additionally, climbing shoes have a downturned shape that helps you to push your toes into the rock, enabling you to climb at a higher level.

Climbing shoes are typically made from synthetic materials, such as rubber or leather, which provide durability and performance benefits. However, these materials tend to be stiffer and less breathable than natural materials, which can cause discomfort during longer climbs.

The Importance of Proper Fit

One of the most important factors in preventing discomfort while wearing climbing shoes is finding the right fit. Climbing shoes should fit snugly, but not so tightly that they cause pain or discomfort. A good rule of thumb is that your toes should be touching the end of the shoe, but not crunched or curled up. The heel should fit securely, and there should be no gaps or spaces between the shoe and your foot.

It’s important to note that different brands and models of climbing shoes may fit differently, so it’s important to try on multiple pairs before making a purchase. When trying on shoes, be sure to wear the same socks you would wear while climbing to get an accurate fit.

Breaking in Your Climbing Shoes

Even with a good fit, climbing shoes can still be uncomfortable when they are brand new. Like any footwear, climbing shoes need to be worn and broken in before they become comfortable. When you first start wearing your new climbing shoes, they may feel tight and uncomfortable. However, with time, they will conform to your foot shape and become more comfortable.

To break in your climbing shoes, start by wearing them for short periods of time, such as during indoor climbing sessions. Gradually increase the amount of time you wear them as they start to feel more comfortable. Some climbers also recommend soaking the shoes in warm water to help them conform to your foot shape more quickly.

The Role of Material

The material of your climbing shoes can also impact their comfort. Most climbing shoes are made of synthetic materials, such as rubber or leather. Synthetic materials tend to be stiffer and less breathable than natural materials, which can cause discomfort during longer climbs. However, synthetic materials are more durable and offer better performance than natural materials, so it’s a tradeoff between comfort and performance.

If you’re looking for a more breathable shoe, consider shoes made from mesh or other perforated materials. These shoes will provide better ventilation and reduce the likelihood of sweat and moisture buildup, which can contribute to discomfort and even odor.

Choosing the Right Type of Climbing Shoe

The type of climbing shoe you choose can also impact their comfort level. There are three main types of climbing shoes: neutral, moderate, and aggressive. Neutral shoes are flat and provide a comfortable fit for all-day climbing. Moderate shoes have a slight downturn and offer a balance between comfort and performance. Aggressive shoes have a pronounced downturn and are designed for high-performance climbing.

If you’re a beginner, it’s recommended to start with a neutral or moderate shoe before progressing to an aggressive shoe. This will help you get used to the feel of climbing shoes and allow you to focus on building your technique and strength before worrying about the more aggressive fit of high-performance shoes.

The Impact of Foot Shape

The shape of your foot can also impact the comfort of your climbing shoes. Climbing shoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different foot shapes. Some shoes are designed for wider feet, while others are designed for narrower feet. Additionally, some shoes have a higher or lower volume to accommodate different foot shapes.

If you have particularly wide or narrow feet, it may be more difficult to find a comfortable climbing shoe. However, many brands offer shoes in different widths and volumes to help you find a good fit. It’s important to take the time to try on different shoes and find a pair that feels comfortable and supportive.

The Impact of Climbing Style

The style of climbing you do can also impact the comfort of your climbing shoes. Different styles of climbing require different types of shoe features. For example, bouldering often requires shoes with a more aggressive downturn and a stickier rubber sole, while sport climbing may require shoes with a flatter profile and a stiffer sole for edging on small holds.

If you primarily climb one style, it may be worth investing in a shoe that is specifically designed for that style. However, if you enjoy a variety of climbing styles, a moderate shoe may be a good all-around option.

How to Reduce Discomfort

Even with a good fit and properly broken-in shoes, climbing shoes can still cause discomfort during long climbs. Here are some tips to help reduce discomfort:

  • Take breaks: If you’re experiencing discomfort, take a break and remove your shoes for a few minutes. This can help relieve pressure and allow your feet to rest.
  • Adjust your laces: Tightening or loosening your laces can help adjust the fit of your shoes and alleviate pressure points.
  • Use chalk: Applying chalk to your feet and inside your shoes can help reduce friction and discomfort.
  • Stretch your feet: Stretching your feet before and after climbing can help relieve tension and reduce the likelihood of cramping.
  • Use insoles: Some climbers find that using insoles can help provide additional support and cushioning for their feet.
  • Wear thicker socks: If you’re experiencing discomfort, try wearing thicker socks to provide additional padding and support.

Related: How Does Rock Climbing Equipment Work?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Do climbing shoes always have to hurt?

No, climbing shoes do not always have to hurt. With a proper fit and adequate break-in time, climbing shoes can be comfortable and supportive.

Q: Can I wear socks with my climbing shoes?

Yes, you can wear socks with your climbing shoes. However, it’s important to note that wearing socks may impact the fit and sensitivity of your shoes.

Q: How long does it take to break in climbing shoes?

The amount of time it takes to break in climbing shoes can vary depending on the shoe and the individual. Some climbers may find that their shoes are comfortable after just a few sessions, while others may take several weeks or even months.

Q: Should I size up or down in climbing shoes?

Climbing shoes should fit snugly, but not so tightly that they cause pain or discomfort. It’s generally recommended to size down slightly from your regular shoe size, but it’s important to try on multiple sizes and find a shoe that fits well.

Q: Can I resole my climbing shoes?

Yes, many climbing shoes can be resoled to extend their lifespan. However, it’s important to consider the cost and the overall condition of the shoes before investing in a resole.

Q: How often should I replace my climbing shoes?

The lifespan of climbing shoes can vary depending on factors such as frequency of use and climbing style. Generally, climbing shoes should be replaced when the rubber sole has worn down or the shoes are no longer providing adequate support or comfort.


In conclusion, climbing shoes can be uncomfortable due to a variety of factors including fit, stiffness, and break-in time. However, with proper attention to these factors and some patience, you can find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and supportive for your climbing needs.

Remember to try on multiple sizes and styles, take the time to break them in, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure a good fit. And don’t forget to take breaks and stretch your feet during long climbing sessions to reduce discomfort. With the right approach, you can enjoy the benefits of a well-designed climbing shoe without the pain and discomfort.

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