Rock Boots: Fitting Tips & Buying Guide

It’s that time of year again.

The light is on our side in the evening, the weather will hopefully be kind to us over the coming months and getting out to the local crag is becoming a much more viable alternative to the indoor wall.

A beautiful march morning at Bosigran in Cornwall with Commando Ridge, an 8 pitch, 200m long, 3 star VDiff in the background.
Climbing an amazing route called Lunakhod at Sharpnose in North Devon on a bright spring morning.
Bouldering on Hound Tor in shorts and t-shirt in April. That’s right, it does get sunny up on the moor sometimes.

This combination of factors and having wrecked the edges on most of my rock boots in the indoor wall over the winter means a shopping trip for new boots is on the agenda.
On the right is a selection of the boots I have tested to destruction over the last year or so, most of which we stock in the Exeter shop (Scarpa Vapour lace is the only one we don’t)

Climbing outdoors differs fundamentally from indoors when it comes to footwork. A high percentage of the time you will be standing on and using slightly poorer holds than you would expect to find in an indoor wall, where the routes are set to use the handholds as footholds.

A wider choice of footholds to use, with many intermediate footholds that you might use just for balance, not necessarily upwards motion, means that having a rock boot that fits really well and is confidence inspiring is more important for outdoor than indoor.

The general idea behind a rock boot is that it is an extension of your foot. It provides support, friction and if you fit for performance, it should feel like your foot will stay on any foothold – even the worst of smears.

With this in mind lets talk about how to select the right rock boot for you.

There are two key things to consider when buying a rock boot, the first being the FIT and the second being the PERFORMANCE.

Other things to consider may be build quality, aesthetics and price, but these are an aside to attaining the perfect fit.

Performance and Fit are closely linked as in general a badly fitting boot will also perform badly, however technical it is. Conversely, a well fitting boot will probably feel like it climbs well even if it is billed as a beginner/intermediate boot.

Getting the right fit for you requires that you try on at least three pairs of rock boots to find the one that best fits your foot shape.

The manufacturers of rock boots that we keep in store (Scarpa, La Sportiva, Evolv, Tenaya, Five.10, Boreal and Edelrid) all manufacture their shoes on a different foot shape and therefore a size 8 in any boot on our boot wall will feel significantly different than any other. Your street shoe size is a good place to start.

My foot flat measuring a 10.5 uk

When people fit for comfort it is usual that their foot is flat in the boot and possibly not even quite touching the end of the boot. This is fine but it means that there will be a lot of space for your foot to move inside the boot.

When you stand on an edge that is small, lets say 10 mm wide, there is a good chance that the boot will deform more than 10 mm and your foot will pop off.

After this has happened a couple of times you might be less inclined to fit your boots for comfort, especially if you have any aspirations involving trad climbing.

My foot now measuring a 8.5 uk

So to fit your boot for performance you need to fit it tight so that there is no space for your foot to move around inside the boot. This means the boot is unlikely to move around on the poor foothold you are standing on and you are less likely to slip and fall.

It is possible to have a very tight boot that is still reasonably comfy, this means that you have found a really well fitting boot.

Two of my different rock boots both fitted for performance, notice how prominent my toe knuckles are.
  • To start with, try half a size smaller than you would fit for comfort. Most boots will stretch half a size and possibly more, so if you remember what the comfy boot felt like, this is what a boot that is a half a size smaller will probably feel like after 5 or 6 uses.
  • Try half a size smaller again and you might feel it’s a little too tight and causing discomfort.
  • This is the time to ask the staff about the stretch of the particular boot you are trying. Does it stretch a lot? How does my foot look in this smaller size? etc
  • Try the boots in a couple of sizes on our test wall for a minute or two.

I have worn this for only 30 minutes whilst watching TV at home. Notice how much shape the leather in the toe box area has now!

Boots with lots of rubber over the toe area and /or high rubber rands around the edges tend to stretch less as well (Tenaya Ra, Evolv Geshido, 5.10 Blackwing)

Notice that the toe box area is quite flat. The left boot is a new boot also (my new boot, a Geshido lace).

With regard to the problem of most people having different sized feet (normally half a size) I always go with getting the correct fit, allowing for stretch etc, on my smaller foot as in my experience the bigger foot will normally just stretch the boot more (eventually). This means that after a few weeks of use you don’t end up with one disappointingly loose and less positive boot.

Now that we have gone over some fitting tips, we can get into the specifics of the rock boots that we keep in store.

We have over 20 pairs of rock boots in store. It might be easier to place them into some categories.

Beginner, Intermediate and Performance.

Within these categories we also have Mens and Womens specific boots.

BEGINNER ROCK BOOTS

In this category we have the rock boots that are ideal as a first pair of boots. They will also be well suited to being used as comfort fit boots.

The main differences between these and intermediate or performance boots are;

  • The sole will be flat or curved slightly upwards towards the toe.
  • The shoe will be relatively straight from heel to toe.
  • The shoe will have more volume or room inside.
  • It may be lined or padded inside.

All these things are designed to provide a comfortable easy going fit.

BOREAL JOKER AND JOKER PLUS:

The Boreal Joker

These shoes are probably one of our best sellers as a starter or all out comfort shoe. Due to the super soft feel of the shoe it quite often conforms to a lot of people’s foot shape. Both shoes have a comfortable lined inner, padded tongue and a very soft calf skin leather upper.

The main difference between the Joker and Joker Plus is a lace versus velcro closure and also the joker plus has a very padded heel cup.

Due to the soft leather upper these boots are prone to stretching, sometimes up to a whole shoe size so this should be taken in to consideration when purchasing.

Scarpa Men’s Helix


SCARPA HELIX . MENS AND WOMENS VERSIONS:

The Helix is Scarpa’s entry level shoe. With a soft leather upper and a wide comfortable toe box, this shoe is really comfy for the person with the wider forefoot.

Using their new SSR1.0 rubber it gives good feeling through the sole unit whilst offering excellent under foot support and durability.

Ideal as an indoor wall shoe or easy trad and sport climbing outdoors this is a great first shoe.

EVOLV DEFY:

The Defy is one of Evolv’s most popular rock boots and it is particularly good for beginner’s and indoor wall users. The boot is designed around a really soft platform with the sole and upper allowing a lot of flexibility, comfort and feel.

Evolv Defy

A low stretch synthetic upper and narrow toe box is good for people with a slightly slimmer foot.

The trax eco rubber performs well and is reasonably durable , overall a really nice comfy boot as a first pair.

INTERMEDIATE ROCK BOOTS

This category of boots is probably more difficult to define than a beginner or performance category but in general you are looking at a rock boot with:

  • A flat or very slightly down turned sole
  • An asymetric last shape
  • Low or no stretch upper
  • A lower volume toe box to reduce movement
  • High performance rubber

BOREAL DIABOLO AND DIABOLA (womens)

The Diabolo and Diabola are classed as all rounders, so if it fits well it should serve you well for bouldering, sport or trad.

Boreal Diabola

The mid sole if very soft so they are an excellent smearing shoe offering a lot of feel although this will compromise the edging performance so if you climb on the slate a lot it’s probably not the boot to buy.

The upper is a soft split leather and will conform nicely to your foot offering excellent initial comfort although it will stretch a little more than the synthetic boots so probably best to buy it on the snug side.

The FS-Quattro rubber performs well and wears well so it’s a good all round package.

Five Ten SIREN (womens)

The siren is an excellent women’s specific all rounder. It has a low stretch perforated synthetic upper and the whole boot inner is lined. A padded tongue  provides excellent comfort.

Five Ten Siren

The sole is fairly stiff and shod with the 5.10 stealth onyx rubber which has a good mix of grip and durability.

It’s been a popular boot in store and will continue for 2013

SCARPA FORCE X MENS & WOMENS

The Scarpa ForceX are a competent all round shoe for the mid-grade climber. They have a reasonably supportive midsole meaning plenty of support for edging.

The flat sole design makes the Force a comfortable shoe, much better for longer routes or all day climbing.

Scarpa Men’s Force X

I have been using a pair for indoor and easier trad climbing and they have performed admirably and the overall quality of manufacture of the shoe is excellent.

This boot now has padding around the heel cup and instep area to provide even more comfort whilst appearing to not compromise performance.

Vibram XSedge rubber provides the performance and a synthetic and leather upper provides excellent comfort without too much stretch.

TENAYA MASAI

The Masai is a great little boot, it has a narrow width and reasonably low volume toe box so if you have a flat or narrow foot this might be the boot for you.

Tenaya Masai

The sole unit is quite stiff and supportive so it delivers good edging performance and together with the fairly pointed toe profile it feels a really precise boot. It also benefits from a low volume heel cup.

This is another boot I have been using over the last year and I have been really impressed with it. I have used it for virtually everything apart from the steep sport climbing and it has performed well to the point where I can’t really find fault with it.

Expect around half a UK size in stretch over the life of the boot. HERE is a blog I did on the Masai earlier in the year.

TENAYA RA

The RA is the velcro equivalent of the Masai and as such is similar in fit and manufacture.

Tenaya Ra

The main differences other than the Velcro closure are:

  • It has an even closer fitting heel cup.
  • It has a band of rubber across the toe box which reduces the amount of stretch and generally makes it a lower volume shoe.
  • It has a slightly more down turned sole so overall it should perform slightly better on steeper ground.

Since we have stocked this shoe it has been extremely popular and several of my friends that have purchased a pair have only good things to say about them.

FIVE TEN ANASAZI VERDE

Many people might like to argue about including this boot in the intermediate boot section but I think that it fits well here because it does everything so well.

Five Ten Anasazi Verde

It edges, smears, jams in cracks and heel hooks with the best of them.

When you look at the list of pro climbers that use and love this boot and the routes that they climb in them, E8,8C etc, you can see that it performs exceptionally, but it is equally at home climbing HVS on your local crag.

With the flat sole profile this boot is at home on all angles of rock up to the very overhanging.

If you haven’t used a 5.10 boot before the heel can feel a little weird at first but once you get used to it the extra room is not a problem.

A no stretch upper means the fit will not change much from when first purchased and the stealth onyx rubber performs well and seems to last exceptionally well.

A brilliant all rounder that also fits a wide variety of foot shapes.

FIVE TEN STONELANDS

Here we have a new comer to our range and I think it could turn out to be a great boot.

Having tried it on in the shop it fits my foot quite nicely. It has a wide fit in the toe box, so if you have a long second toe like me, it should provide extra room and more comfort.

This boot has been designed for a more comfortable fit which 5.10 can sometimes be criticised for not achieving with their other models.

It also has a “Western heel cup” which in normal english means one that fits your heel with no baggyness; “low volume” is what we would call it in the UK and I personally like it. The rest of the boot is also low volume in the toe box area to reduce any chance of movement.

The leather upper feels good and very comfy and the “C4” rubber is a brilliant performer whether you boulder or lead routes.

Start with your street shoe size and you might not be far off a good fit.

PERFORMANCE ROCK BOOTS

Performance rock boots are easier to spot when you walk into the shop as they are generally the nicest looking boots with the biggest price tag.

These are the boots that we all aspire to own, and perceive will make us climb like the sponsored rock stars we see using them on the hardest routes and boulders out there.

This is only partly true.

A performance rock boot can inspire confidence in the climber to stand on and use poor footholds well, which will definitely help you get up your latest project, but quite often at the expense of comfort; especially at first; so the purchase of a boot in this category is probably the hardest to judge in terms of usage and fit.

Things to look out for in a performance boot are:

  • Extremely down turned sole
  • Very high performance rubber
  • Large areas of rubber on the upper for toe hooking / crack jamming
  • Tension fit systems to eliminate all dead space in the boot

EDELRID TYPHOON

The Typhoon is our lowest priced performance boot so it could be a good entry into the down turned shoe market.

Edelrid Typhoon

Edelrid use their own E-Grip rubber which gets favourable reviews for performance and wear and this combined with the down turned and asymmetric last means it will perform well on steep sport and overhanging boulder problems.

The fit is excellent, as long as you are prepared to have your toes drawn back to fill out the toe box and there is very little dead space around the heel and instep.

Overall this a very comfortable shoe and a good first step into the performance shoe market.

SCARPA VAPOUR V & WOMENS VAPOUR V

The Scarpa Vapour V is our most popular performance shoe and a personal favourite of mine. The fit of this boot seems to be excellent on many people’s feet and is especially good for anyone with a wider foot.

Scarpa Women’s Vapor V

The suede and lorica mix upper gives a really good combination of initial stretch for comfort even when fitting very tight while keeping its shape over time so they do not become baggy even when they are worn through.(I have had my first pair resoled and they still feel very similar to a new pair i have)

They are gently down turned so work well on slab, vertical or overhanging territory and with the new vibram xs edge rubber they have really good performance combined with excellent durability.

I would say it’s the best rubber I have ever used on a rock boot.

Equally at home bouldering as it is trad or sport climbing this shoe is definitely one for those of you that are looking to push the grades and improve your climbing performance.

FIVE TEN ANASAZI VCS & WOMENS ANASAZI LV

What can you say about this shoe that hasn’t already been said?

Not much as it is one of the worlds best selling boots and over the last 5-6 years has been seen on the feet of many of the worlds best climbers as they have made first ascents of the hardest sport routes or boulder problems around the globe.

Five Ten Anasazi

It is another high performance all rounder which tends to be favoured for bouldering as it has excellent feel and sensitivity through the sole unit.

The boot feels narrow in width but higher in volume which means you can fit it with the toes drawn back without too much discomfort.

The upper is synthetic “cowdura” and as such will stretch very little in use.

An updated heel cup means some of the dead space or volume has been removed and this means it is a bit more sensitive but with improved comfort and performance.

If it fits you this boot is definitely one to look at.

LA SPORTIVA PYTHON

The python was designed with indoor climbing and competitions in mind but in practice it will climb just as well outdoors as a hard bouldering or high level sport climbing boot.

The rubber is thinner than a normal rock boot which is to aid sensitivity xs grip 2 .You really can feel every little ridge under your feet and this really pays off when using very poor footholds as the feed back you get from the boot is amazing.

La Sportiva Python

This sensitivity comes at the cost of the boot providing little or no support for your foot so it has to do all the work which can leave your feet feeling like they have had more of a workout than usual.

The forefoot and heel have ultra sticky rubber over them so the boots can be used in a variety of ways that a standard boot might work so well (toe hook/scums etc)

This boot needs to be fitted very snug as it is a slipper and only has one stretchy velcro closure which doesn’t seem to do a lot. If you want it to stay on your foot whilst heel hooking you need to rely on the fact that it is a tight fit.

Expect a bit of stretch from these boots , mine have stretched about half a UK size.

If you want a boot that will stay on the worst foot holds or for use with weird compression moves and toe hooks this is the one.

FIVE TEN ANASAZI V2 

The Anasazi V2 is the replacement for the old anasazi pink which was the boot to have in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Built on a narrow foot shape with lace adjustment this is the boot for you if you have a narrow foot as you can really crank it in on the laces.

The V2 is fairly stiff out of the box and focused towards edging performance , the double thickness heel rand that wraps around your Achilles guarantees that your foot is forced forward in the boot and resists stretch as the boot softens with use thus maintaining performance.

Synthetic “cowdura” upper and the classic C4 rubber on the sole  make this high performance boot a real winner.

EVOLV GESHIDO SC

The Evolve Geshido is part of the Chris Sharma signature range and as such is touted as a high performance rock boot and I couldn’t agree more.

Evolv Geshido

This boot is down turned but not to the extent that it will only be suitable for really steep stuff, it will conform to most angles and the pair I have been using for a few months have done a bit of everything from bouldering to sport climbing.

The boot is fairly narrow and very low volume in the toe box. Add to this the “love bump” technology which gets rid of any space under your toes and you have a very close fitting boot which I think feels ultra precise on small edgy foot holds and in cracks although a little less sensitive on smears.

With a mix of synthetic and pre-stretched leather on the upper they don’t stretch a lot although mine have finally given the half UK size that I wanted them to.

They are finished off with Trax rubber on the soles which I would say performs really well on all rock types.

LA SPORTIVA KATANA LACE

The katana lace is a really focused performance shoe, with a down turned toe profile and stiff midsole this shoe really means business on small holds on steep ground.

As with all down turned shoes your toes naturally take up a bunched profile but due to the innovative lining in these shoes they still provide a lot of comfort when fitted tight for performance.

They have a fantastic snug low volume heel and the P3 fit system means the shape of the shoe just sucks itself into your instep to reduce any dead space and movement.

With Vibram XS edge rubber on the sole these are a top top performer.

I hope that this rock boot blog has been of some use to you all and that it is a good year for climbing.

With the weather and all the other factors that make it easy to get outside and climb being on our side I may well see you out at the crag.

Cheers,
Nick B
Exeter Shop Manager

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