What’s in a Climbing Shoe?

I recently traveled out of town to visit family and forgot my climbing bag. Since I was going to be there for a week and there was a climbing gym, I needed to use rental shoes. This was where I learned what a new climber’s first gym experience consists of and how an entry level climber felt.

  1. First off, rental shoes are very comfortable. That is a good thing when introducing someone to a sport that has the potential for uncomfortable shoes.
  2. Rental shoes are lined and can stink. Stinky shoes are not cool, anytime.
  3. Rental shoes are lined and can be moist from the previous user. Someone else’s sweat on your body (even just your feet) is also NOT cool.
  4. Rental shoes Velcro doesn’t stay sticky for long. A shoe that is nearly falling off is not worth wearing.
  5. The rental shoe rubber is very stiff and not sticky like a real climbing shoe. Interesting that climbing shoe companies would design a shoe that is nothing like one of their thoroughbred models.
  6. Rental shoes do not allow for heel hooking. New climbers do the most incredible things when they have no idea what to do and heel hooking is one of those things.
  7. Rental shoes do not allow for edging on small footholds. I will repeat that new climbers use every hold on the wall and small feet are included on that list.
  8. Rental shoes are sizes are not always easily seen by the staff or the renter making it a challenge for the staff to find the shoe and for you the user to know what size you actually have on.
  9. Rental shoes are flat lasted meaning that they are basically useless on overhung terrain. New climbers try every angle at the gym whether they will have success on them or not, with shoes like this they can be assured that their feet will slip right on off the biggest jug in the steep section.

So while using rental shoes, I experienced all of the above conditions while using the rental shoe while on vacation. This is how it impacted my climbing.

  • The comfort of the shoe was fine and I could wear it throughout my whole climbing session.
  • The pair I was wearing were stinky and wet. Not cool.
  • The rubber might as well have been plastic. It did not stay on any type of foot hold even if it was large and flat.
  • The shoe fell off my foot for two reasons, first the Velcro was not sticky and secondly I was heel hooking.
  • I was unable to edge on a single small foothold and I would say that I excellent footwork and toe placement while climbing.
  • I did the same on the overhanging routes with my street shoes on as I did with my climbing shoes. This is disheartening.

My experience leads me to believe that any climbing shoe company that produces a price point shoe as a rental that meets the above criteria is damaging their name for future purchases. The first time user gets to experience a crap product that actually makes them worse in most cases.

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