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Shoes, the biggest mystery in the universe to me.

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 Gendo 15 Aug 2019

Warning: Long and detailed post!

Hi all!

Been gym bouldering for about 4 months and doing V4-V5 on slabs (highest slab grades at my gym), took good care of my second pair of shoes (BD Momentum) with the sole not having a scratch after 2 months of 4 times a week sessions and wanted to push the grades on cave/overhangs so was looking for a more flexible and sticky shoe with a solid heel and toe box so I don't feel like I'm ruining the fabric or thin heel construction especially when trying catches. Apparently these features equal downturned shoes so I went for one.

I live in London and there aren't many shops that sell above beginner shoes, literally 2 attached to climbing gyms, thinking it was wise to take advice from climbers who also happen to sell gear I headed down to one. Phoned in asking for Skwama, not in stock but I was offered other models like Otaki and Scarpa's Instinct so went down there and tried a few.

I'm a size 9-10 depending on shoe style (Momentum's size 10 and still took 6 weeks to feel "comfy") after looking at my feet and hearing about my level/usage the employee gave me a VSR sized 7, he was impressed my foot managed to fill the toe box to the brim without pain but when I put my foot down not so much, felt like the foot turned into a brick and was very painful so went to a 7 1/2 with same result. Then he started offering me other models without features I was looking for but the Otaki caught my eye and after trying them on a brick wall (tiny features) without feeling any pain I bought them, sized 7 1/2.

Straight to the gym and on plastic holds it got very painful very quickly, big toes bent pretty much 90 degrees (more so my bigger left foot) and couldn't walk nor place them on two consecutive holds without feeling excruciating pain, to the point I would have rather snapped my shin in 3 places than feel that again, so I focused on the smaller holds I could find either a traverse or overhanging circuit board and worked on it for about 10 days. Right foot felt bearable and also lost most of the downturn which is amusing after not wearing them much at all, but my left one still lacked plenty of space for the toe to be bent at a reasonable angle so after not much in terms of climbing and trying every wear-in trick in the internet books I decided to buy another pair. To be noted the shoes look like they are worn in by now, baggier toe box and rubber giving way to my foot shape.

Went down to the same shop due to lack of alternatives but this time I've done my research on the models they have and I want so wasn't going to listen to much advice and asked to try a VSR sized 9 instead of 7, still painful on my left big toe so went 9 1/2, this one was even more painful but on my smaller foot (go figure) and also started to have pockets all around so the employee suggested the laced version in the same 9 1/2, felt great on all sort of features/edges/flat surfaces without dead spaces, didn't want another Vibram Edge sole as I thought if I manage to put more blood and tears into the Otakis I'd use them for outdoors next season. But hey, they fit well and that's all that matters so I bought them.

So went straight to the gym again and I was really happy, could actually climb and they felt good on larger holds, like my toes where flattening over them instead of being overly bent, sure wasn't that comfortable but I can take that especially knowing they're straight out of the box.

Not so easy...after about 3 easy warm up problems I took them off, grabbed some water and next time I put them on they felt tighter than the Otakis but on both feet. They didn't look that aggressive in the box but now they gained in downturn and the toebox was already stretched out and looked massive, they already look like the most aggressive shoes I've ever seen (arrow shaped). So big toes felt overly bent again and extremely painful. How in the bloody hell is that even possible, they got a lot tighter within a few minutes?

Once home I compared the Otakis size to the VS and one Otaki is the same length and the other one is longer with similar downturn, how does that work? One is size 7 1/2 and the other one 9 1/2.

To put it briefly: How does an experienced climber/shop keeper recommends at least 2 sizes down on a synthetic shoe when even the leather ones seems a bit extreme and how they get you to try them on tiny features when I say I only do indoors bouldering. What about shoes changing pressure points left to right with different sizes and ultimately how in the hell do they shrink?

Little background: Been in a mountaineering army regiment for years (in my hometown where La Sportiva and Scarpa are made), done skiing, bare foot full contacts martial arts and any other out there sports at least for fun, so my feet are strong but doesn't mean they are deformed...nor my toes happily bend 90 degrees so when someone says "avoid aggressive shoes as your feet ain't strong enough" I wonder to what are they referring. I can single footed (tip of the toe) push off the tiniest of holds starting with heel on gluts all the way up and i don't think years of climbing would do any good to the joints and cartilage...



Post edited at 00:20
 Andy Hardy 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

The last part of your post sounds like your feet swelled up a bit, rather than the shoes shrinking.

Can't really help with your choice of shoes though, cos I'm a total punter who only ever wears flat soled shoes (with socks, the horror!). 

GoneFishing111 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

The difference in sizes is due to the different brands, there is no comparison between la sportiva and scarpa at all.

My approach shoes are la sportiva and they are 47, my trad shoes are instinct lace in 46 and my bouldering shoes, skwama are 42.5 - go figure. 

Sounds like your feet swelled up to me.

For what its worth i never buy shoes in a climbing shop, i buy multiple pairs of shoes i fancy online from Alpinetrek, and after a week or so of deliberating i keep the ones i want and send the rest back. Trying to decide in a shop, within 10 minutes when they don't have the shoe you fancy anyway just annoys the life out of me.

In reply to GoneFishing111:

> For what its worth i never buy shoes in a climbing shop, i buy multiple pairs of shoes i fancy online from Alpinetrek, and after a week or so of deliberating i keep the ones i want and send the rest back.

OK - so now I know where not to buy shoes from if I don't want your added sweat and foot cheese! ;-)

Gendo - Denzel is spot on about different brands sizing quite differently. I've got EU sized shoes ranging from 39 to 42.5 IIRC. Even with one brand, over the years and between different models, you can find the sizes change quite a lot.

You might find certain brands just don't work for you feet too. I've tried different 5.10s and Boreals on over the last 25 years when looking for new shoes, but have never found a model from those makes that fit my foot. I don't know but maybe Sportiva or Scarpa aren't that good for your feet?

 belayatron 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

Again, I can't answer your question, but I'm a big fan of the climbing shoe shop in the Bloc climbing centre in Bristol (may not be practical as a Londoner). It's the store that operates the banana fingers website so decent prices + they do a BMC discount instore if you ask.

They have a vast array of shoes and keep a version of each on display so you can look at them before asking for your size. From memory it seemed at least 60 different types. They also let you try them briefly on the wall before buying. It can get busy weekend mornings but otherwise always seemed an unpressured place to try them on.

As above, the styles vary massively (la sportivas tend to be thin, 5:10s wider etc) so sizing is a proper science and I think trying them on is the only way. Again the Bloc shop has a small sign beside each one saying what foot type it tends to suit and how much they estimate each one will stretch.

Post edited at 10:15
 whenry 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

Personally, I find that shoe demos at climbing walls are most useful for trying different models - you get to try a number of different shoes in different sizes, and use them for a while on the wall. And you get to talk to someone who knows the shoes well and can give you good advice on stretch and what might work best for you.

There are also some differences within brands - I find Scarpa Boostics more comfortable than Scarpa Instinct VSs - the heel is fractionally higher on the Boostic which fits my feet better, and so it's worth trying different models of the same brand.

As Andy said, it sound like your feet swelled up - the best time to try shoes on is at the end of a hot day, when they will have swollen.

> how they get you to try them on tiny features when I say I only do indoors bouldering.

Just because you only boulder indoors doesn't mean that you won't use tiny features. Any shoe will work on a huge hold - you won't feel how a shoe performs at its limit if they got you to try them on huge volumes.

 Gendo 16 Aug 2019
In reply to whenry:

Thanks for the replies, I initially dismissed swollen feet as it happened within a 5 minutes window and never happened before, maybe in the otakis but since they start incredibly painful would be hard to notice I guess. But in the end it's the only explanation, maybe laced them up too tight at the beginning. 

I bought both pairs after standing up all day which is also when I usually climb apart from the weekend, and tried them both at the gym straight after. 

I get it about hold sizes and when trying to break in the otakis I was always looking for the very edge of the tiniest holds, little dual text 3mm things or even whatever sharp edge I could find but still undoable pain wise.

I just hope was all about swelling because the instinct felt perfect to start with flexibility adds a lot on larger/comp holds. 

 tehmarks 16 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

Unfortunately London used to have a brilliant shop for shoes and shoe-fitting knowledge - Cold Mountain Kit - but they recently closed. By far the best advice and help I've ever been given when buying shoes.

 Gendo 17 Aug 2019
In reply to tehmarks:

I wish there was a decent shop to this day, not all advice was bad at the shop I've been to. When I went back questioning the fit of what I've bought there was another guy who knew what I was talking about regarding knuckle pain and such but still sold me a too tight of a shoe, no bad blood but it cost me £125 I cant afford, even less the replacement...Shoes I wear for work cost £10 and riddled with holes, and still won't replace them.

Bought the climbing shoes out of passion and having to buy another pair on top of that means I'd be walking around barefoot soon enough : 

 Gendo 17 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:


Yes my feet were swollen by quite a bit, had a session today and it was back to normal, painful but manageable with toes conforming to small and large holds instead of staying at an unbearable angle.

Very happy with the shoes and fit now, even thought they have the Vibram Edge rubber they are the stickiest I've tried and the flexibility of the sole feels great as i can move/bend my foot around a lot more and feel shapes under my feet. Love the barefoot like mobility!

Thanks for the feedback guys.

Post edited at 22:15
 timparkin 18 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

> Update:

> Yes my feet were swollen by quite a bit, had a session today and it was back to normal, painful but manageable with toes conforming to small and large holds instead of staying at an unbearable angle.

If you need to stretch them a bit, you can buy one of these


I have a pair of Scarpa Instinct Lace in 45 (I'm 46 in Scarpa approach shoes) and they were quite painful to begin with (couldn't walk) but after a while they got better but one shoes was tighter. I kept it on one of these for a while and it stretched nicely. I actually managed to get them ok'ish by wearing them over a weekend before climbing and stretching on the stretcher a bit too.

Both shoes are pretty close to each other now and I can walk and climb OK (for a pitch at least).


 Offwidth 18 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

You need to read the link below. Overtight shoes will lead to nasty foot problems which will blight your old age. Stick to snug painless shoes... also worth remembering that Ron Fawcett climbed UK 7a wearing old style non technical shoes with socks.


 Gendo 18 Aug 2019
In reply to timparkin:

I was considering that as a last resort on the Otakis but since they are still pristine and smell of leather will try and sell them.

The Instinct aren't that bad to require voodoo stretching, they hurt a little (big toes knuckles only) when warming up and after 3-4 problems but in between those moments they feel great and comfy. I probably have some residual pain from the previous shoes too, now I won't be able to climb for 5 days so hopefully will "reset" before next weekend.

In reply to Gendo:

> To put it briefly: How does an experienced climber/shop keeper recommends at least 2 sizes down

To put it bluntly: They don't know what they are talking about! Climbing shoes vary wildly in sizes between brands, some shoes yield over time some don't, some are meant to be comfortable for all day comfort, some are meant for 2 minute burns, feet swell on a hot ledge and shrink in an air-conditioned store etc. I think those shopkeepers should understand these matters and try and understand the customers needs. New climbers don't stand a chance when they are given wrong information and it is not uncommon at all.

 Wanderlust 18 Aug 2019
In reply to Stefan Jacobsen:

Yes, a bit blunt, but this struck a chord. I've been sold more than one pair of painful shoes before I worked out for myself what worked for me.

 krikoman 19 Aug 2019
In reply to Stefan Jacobsen:

Agreed, when I started climbing, the first thing the bloke in the shop said, "What size are you street shoes?"


"you need a size 8 then"

Total bollocks I've never had a pair of shoes less than one size BIGGER than my street shoes.

If you can't climb for being in pain, you're not climbing, what's the point of that?

 Gendo 20 Aug 2019
In reply to krikoman:

Hopefully now I know better but the scenario being "come over we'll find something that suits you" didn't give me time for research and to think about it, you tend to trust their opinion.

The guy gave me a Scarpa VSR sized 7 on a synthetic shoe when my street size is 9-10, my foot was like a brick claw and he thought it was right, I was more understanding about the Otaki since they're leather and will stretch but still, on anything other than their demo brick wall it became an 11/10 pain which I don't want to experience ever again. Had broken bones including fingers being smashed to bits, plenty shots to the liver and pneumonia, still not as bad.

Happy about the Instinct Lace suggestion thought, VSR in 9 1/2 were a little loose in places and stiff in others, the Laces felt better even before tighten them up and when lacing up the level of "customization" it's pretty interesting. Quite happy.

One thing I still don't understand is how are you supposed to stretch leather shoes when they're supposed to end up very snug after a period, what level of pain you start with to go through that?

In reply to Gendo:

> what level of pain you start with to go through that?

I'd say pain level 3 on the following 1-10 pain scale


 krikoman 20 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

I feel your pain, actually I don't because I buy comfortable shoes

I've never really had any shoes that stretched noticeably at all and have used synthetic and natural materials.

I started out with 5.10 ascents, when they stopped making those Mad Dog Frenzy, when they stopped making those Red Chilli Spirit VCR impact Zone.

I've had a number of resoles on the Frezies, because they are the most comfortable boots I've owned, sometimes they come back a little tighter than before I sent them.

The Chillis are quite sweaty so looked for some replacements last week, to be comfortable I needed to go to a size 12 in some Boreal Joker Velcro things, which were like someone had wrapped my feet in a pizza, really baggy around my foot, so they're a non-starter.

I'm not the best of climbers, so my advice might be bollocks, but I like long days out and I'd prefer to being comfortable rather than not being able to climb, even indoors we try to get around 5 hours in. Just not possible if you feet are in agony.

Good luck

 Gendo 25 Aug 2019
In reply to Gendo:

After 3-4 "break-in" sessions the shoe stopped hurting at the big toe knuckle and they now feel epic and immediately sent some big cave V3-V4 projects, no pain toe hooking just lots of grip

Managed a 2 hours session with little more than soreness after wearing them for a while, I've learned that I'll probably stick to synthetic for now if not the same shoe, or at least same brand. They've got rubber where needed, sticky and flexible sole and the laces are quite good now that I don't have to take them off every 2 minutes.

Thanks a lot for the feedback! 

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