How to choose climbing shoes – tips for new climbers

How to choose your first pair of climbing shoes - The Stone Mind

I went to REI to help a friend find some new climbing shoes the other day. His previous experience with sticky rubber footwear had been a Goldilocks story: pair number one was too big and kept him from trusting his feet on small holds. His second pair, relatively new, were too small and pained him to wear for any length of time. I wanted to help him find shoes that would be comfortable yet supportive and precise, so he could climb better and have more fun. (He ended up with La Sportiva Mythos and seems to be stoked.)

The goal of this post, with its five simple steps and warning signs for ill-fitting shoes, is likewise to save the new climber time and needless suffering by explaining how to choose climbing shoes that feel good and climb well. The basic principles of fit apply to all climbing shoes, but for the new climber, I recommend a flat, all-around design that can swing from the gym to the crag to all-day moderate multi-pitch routes. (As always, feel free to post up questions or add anything you think I’ve missed in the comments.)

1. Go to the shop

The most important thing about buying a pair of rock shoes is fit, so skip the deals on Amazon and head to your local brick and mortar store. Even if the shop doesn’t have particularly knowledgable staff, you’ll be able to try on several kinds and sizes of shoe there, which is a necessity.

Bonus tip: Make some calls to local gyms and outdoor stores to ask about their shoe selection. Some places have only one or two brands and a handful of models. The more options, the better.

2. Grab an assortment

Try to find at least three different shoe models within your price range, preferably from two or three manufacturers, as every make and model of shoe will fit slightly differently. If you just pick the one pair off the shelf that looks cool, even if you get the right size, you might well be missing out on a shoe that more naturally contours to the shape of your foot. For new climbers, shoes with a flat profile are probably best, as they allow the foot to remain in a relatively natural, and therefore comfortable, position; to find these place the shoe sole-down on a table or floor—if there’s more than a half-inch of space under that arch, it probably a more aggressively downturned shoe than a new climber needs.

Bonus tip: Opt for shoes with laces or velcro straps, as these will allow for more customization of fit than elasticized slipper style shoes.

3. Try ’em on

I’d recommend starting with your street shoe size when trying on shoes. From there, you’ll want to move up or down the sizing scale until you find the right fit. The ideal shoe is snuggly glove-like from heel to toe and everywhere in-between. Your toes should be pressed all the way up against the front of the shoe, as this is the point where you’ll make contact with the holds, and looseness here will lead to sloppy footwork. Despite what those sand-bagging old school climbers might tell you, however, acute pain does not have to be par for the course. Climbing shoes should to be tight enough to offer support, but sharp pain from overly tight shoes will only make you less likely to put weight on your feet, which is the most important part of climbing technique. Try on both the left and the right shoes, as most of us have one foot that’s larger than the other.

Bonus tip: Skip the socks when you try on climbing shoes, unless you plan to wear them while climbing. Few people do this, however, as it reduces your ability to feel and control what’s going on between your toes and the holds.

4. Climb around

Most outdoor shops and all climbing gyms offer some sort of surface on which to demo shoes. Without this, it’s hard to get a real sense of fit. If you experience any hotspots (see “Climbing shoe warning signs,” below) or areas of sharp pain, the shoes are too small or just don’t fit your foot.

Bonus tip: While giving a pair of climbing shoes a spin, stand via your toe tips on a small edge, preferably shallower than an inch, and try to let the edge support your full weight. The climbing shoes, by nature of their snug fit, should offer a feeling of support and not just fold back. If your feet slide significantly inside the shoes, or if your heel lifts up out of the heel cup, you probably need to size down.

5. Make your pick… or don’t

After trying on three or more different shoes, and moving up in down in size until you get the right fit, you’ll probably have noticed which pairs stand above the others in comfort and fit. If that’s the case, pick whichever one looks coolest or best fits your budget. If none of them feel very good, don’t be afraid to hold out until you can try on a few more options. A poor-fitting pair of climbing shoes can hold you back and make climbing less enjoyable.

Bonus tip: saving money is always nice, but don’t get a pair of shoes that doesn’t feel right just to save 30 bucks. If you plan to climb with any regularity, pony up for the right shoes; in the end you’ll get more use and enjoyment out of them.

Climbing shoe warning signs

When trying on your shoes, be sure to watch out for the following common bad-fit warning signs:

Hotspots – Rubbing or sharp pain in the ares of the toes or toe nails, heels, or sides of the foot can lead to raw skin and blisters and make climbing an unhappy exercise. Typically, these don’t go away as the shoe breaks in. A properly fit pair of shoes should have no hotspots. Most shoes today, particularly the ones made from synthetic materials, won’t stretch much over time, so try to get the right fit out of the box.

Baggy heel – While wearing the shoes, pinch the sides of your heels and push up on the bottom of the heel. There should be little no dead space. You shouldn’t be able to easily move your heel within the shoe’s heel cup. If the heel cup looks or feels baggy, you either need to size down or try a different model.

Shallow heel – Your heel might also slip out if the heel cup is too small. The cup should rise above the bony point on the back of your heel and fit closely all around without causing discomfort on the Achilles tendon.

Sloppy toe – You shouldn’t be able to easily move or wiggle your toes inside the shoe. When standing, expect to feel pressure (but not pain) on the tops of your toes where they are bent at the knuckle, due to the snugness in the toe box.

Smashed toe – If your toes are so knuckled under they scream in pain, your shoes are too damned tight. Loosen up.

Folds – If the leather or fabric sides and top of the shoe are folded and full of dead air space, the shoes are probably too loose to be supportive.

Arch cramps – If you pull the shoe on and feel the muscles on the underside of your foot immediately clench up, your shoes are too tight. This is more common in downturned shoes designed for steep climbing.

Forefoot squeeze – A shoe that’s too narrow can cause uncomfortable pressure in the front of the foot, squeezing the bones together and making it hard to wear the shoes for extended periods of time.

 

Six Steps for that Sexy Climber Hair

That climber hair. SHRN. Photo courtesy of Arthur Debowski
That climber hair. So hot right now. Photo courtesy of Arthur Debowski.

In the world of fashion, hair that looks artfully “mussed” is so hot right now. Consider the many “sexy bed hair” tutorials uncovered with a simple Google search, or the popular line of Bed Head haircare products available at pharmacies near you. The sort of windswept, salt-sprayed hairdos one finds perched atop the têtes of surfers and other beachgoers is also very much á la mode, enough to warrant a write-up in the New York Times.

But for those committed to the cutting edge, few groups sport wilder coiffures than road tripping climbers, confined as they are to tents or vans for months at a time with infrequent access to soap, combs, or running water. Luckily, there’s no need to be a dirtbag to have hair like one. Follow these six easy steps for a hairstyle equally at home at the crags or on the runway:

1. Stop showering – A key component to climber hair is the accumulation of sebum, a natural fatty acid produced in the scalp’s sebaceous glands. Washing hair regularly strips away sebum and leaves hair dry and boring. Therefore, the first step to cultivating that dirtbag climber look is to stop washing your hair with soap. Rinsing in the shower is OK, but if you want to go the authentic route (and I know you do), squeeze your head under the faucet of a gas station bathroom and then dry off with the provided paper towels. Your hair might feel a little too greasy at first, but give it some time. As my friend Nate used to say, “It’s like your hair starts cleaning itself after a while.”

2. Chalk up – The chalk we climbers use on our hands to increase friction ultimately ends up clinging to our oily, unwashed hair and providing texture and body. If you’re not planning on getting out on the rock any time soon, you can still buy a bag of powdered chalk at your local outdoor outfitter and sprinkle it over your head once or twice a day. As tempting as it may seem, avoid using liquid chalk in your hair—this alcohol and calcium carbonate blend, sometimes spiked with powdered pine resin, is smelly, overly drying, and probably flammable.

3. Sweat it out – A key component of beach hair is sea salt. Luckily, salt is also readily available in a substance that your body produces for you: sweat! For climbers, it’s easy to get sweaty. Just slog up a steep mountainside with a pack full of ropes and biners, then climb a few pitches of steep rock in the direct sun. A few hours of this, and your hair (and face and clothes) will be coated with a fine, salty film. If you’re not a climber, don’t worry: you can still sweat. Probably the easiest way would be to stand in your living room, put on all of your jackets at once, and turn on Braveheart. Every time someone gets killed, do one burpee.

4. Get some sun – The bleaching and drying effects of the sun are a perfect finisher for climber hair. If for some reason you don’t have regular access to the rays thrown off by this massive sphere of fusing hydrogen, consider picking up a sun lamp at your nearest health and beauty supplier. After getting good and sweaty, as mentioned above, pop your head under the lamp for an hour or two. Tanning salons are another alternative for this step (don’t forget your little goggle things!).

5. Wrap it up – For unknown reasons, many climbers wear knit beanies all the time, even if it’s not cold out. This turns that sebum, chalk, and sweat salt into a pungent hair tonic. Probably the most important time to wear your beanie is when you’re sleeping. As you roll around in your bed or back of your van or whatever, the hat will twist and shift, creating just the right amount of Derelicte messiness.

6. Let it loose – When you’re ready to go out, whip off your beanie and give your hair a good tousle. Run your fingers through it, shuffle it around, pull it down into goth spikes or up for that finger-in-a-light socket look—whatever. Just be sure to wash your hands and face to remove all the loose hairs, dirt, chalk, and oils that have accumulated. You’re good to go.

[Video] How to Make Iced Coffee that Doesn’t Suck With the Toddy System

Among the many things I’m snobby about, coffee is pretty high up on the list, right next to booze, food, and writing. Coffee, though, is special. I can enjoy a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a meal at White Castle, or a page-turning schlocky sci-fi novel, but I will not stand for bad coffee. What do I mean by bad coffee? I mean Folgers, flavored coffees, coffee brewed (read: burned) in a cheap coffee maker and then left to turn lukewarm and acrid. I mean coffee that’s been watered down, polluted with non-dairy creamers, posioned with carcinogenic sweeteners… the list goes on. But today, I’m going to show you one way to make iced coffee that doesn’t suck: the Toddy Cold Brew System.

A lot of people make iced coffee by first boiling water, then hot-brewing coffee, and then pouring that over ice. This can be done properly (i.e., you must brew the coffee at double strength, as it will be watered down instantly when you add ice), but even then, it leaves the coffee tasting a bit acidic and sour. To make a tastier cup of iced coffee, I learned from my friend JD, founder of the Brooklyn-based Oslo Coffee, one needs to cold brew it. A misnomer, in that it actually takes place at room temperature, cold brewing is basically a long steeping of coarsely ground coffee in water. This method reduces bitterness and and acidity greatly, to the extent that the coffee becomes so mild in taste you can easily drink it without sugar or milk. Cold-brewed iced coffee is very tasty, but also dangerous — you might drink yourself into a state of uncontrolled vibration if given too much of the stuff. I know this from experience, dude.

The method JD used to make iced coffee in the shop was scaled for commercial purposes, but the Toddy is basically a consumer-grade version. The system is stupid-simple. You really could make one yourself were you so inclined to dig up the individual components. Then again, you can spend the extra twenty bucks and save hours of your life if you just buy the Toddy  System straight from the toddycafe.com. It’s also available on Amazon and other online retailers. The full instructions for using the system are here; I’ve based the times and measurements in the video, above, on these. They work well enough, though I haven’t experimented.

When you cold brew a batch of coffee in the Toddy system, it makes a large carafe of concentrated liquid. Unless you’re a hardcore addict, you must water it down before you drink it. The concentrate can be stashed in the fridge for a week or two. You can also heat it up in the microwave with respectable results — it’s certainly not as rich or complex as a hot-brewed coffee, but if you’re sensitive to acid, it’s much easier on the stomach. When it’s hot, I’ve noticed Toddy coffee tends to have a more herbal, tea like flavor profile, which might turn off some coffee drinkers, especially those used to dark roasts. According to the packaging, you can also make iced tea with the system, but I have not tried this, as tea is not my thang.

The video is both a way for me to communicate the use of the Toddy system, which I dig, and to practice the complex arts of shooting and editing video. Like most things on this blog (or in my life, for that matter), it’s an experiment. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below. I <3 your feedback.