How Tight Should Rock Climbing Shoes Be?

Rock climber maintaining good footwork in properly sized shoes.
Photo by Elahe Motamedi

It’s the question as old as Friction Labs Unicorn Dust, how tight should rock climbing shoes be? When I first started climbing, I didn’t think a climbing shoe would be part of the climbing equipment I needed.

Eventually, I rented climbing shoes at the gym and I could barely squeeze into them. I was embarrassed to go back and forth to the front desk to get a new pair of shoes, whispering to the employee each time, “how tight are rock climbing shoes supposed to be??”

Adam Ondra sizes his shoe so tight that he can only put the shoe on while covering his foot in plastic wrap. A tighter shoe must mean better performance!

Not quite. Footwork is the most critical part of the climbing technique. And there may come a time in our career when we need to tightly compress our feet into a super talon of sending power. Professional climbers are hanging upside down while pressing off a dime’s edge and dyno into a mono pocket.

Newer climbers are looking at routes that resemble a ladder. These routes help us practice keeping our weight on our feet and teach us how to use our feet. But don’t worry, we’ll be dynoing into mono pockets soon enough!

How Tight Should Rock Climbing Shoes Be?

Answer: snug, not painful

As a general rule, climbing shoes should be a snug fit. The climbing shoe brings our toes together into a precise beacon of force. We can stand on the tiniest of tiny nubs thanks to climbing shoes. Next time you try a shoe on, aim for your toes to be gently pressing up against the end of the shoe. A slight bend in your toes is a great indicator that you found the right fit. You will climb better with a more comfortable fit.

But climbers will have different shoes depending on the style of climbing and the amount of time climbing. Imagine cramming your piggies into your aggressive sport climbing shoes and then going for an all-day multipitch!

Keep it simple: if you’re going to be climbing all day wear some comfortable shoes! And if you want to climb that steep overhanging sport route, take your shoes off between burns.

The author's shoe quiver. Did they know how tight climbing shoes should be before trying them on?

The Ultimate Crack Climbing Shoe Fit

La Sportiva TC ProLa Sportiva TC ProWill stretch 1/4 to 1/2 size
Five Ten MoccasymFive Ten MoccasymStretch at least one size, many people size down two sizes for performance.

As climbing styles get specialized, the shoes do as well. Shoes for specialized climbing have different profiles and features. Crack climbing shoes have a neutral profile, they will lie flat on the ground and are not dramatically curved. This profile helps the shoe slide into cracks without catching onto the sides of the wall.

Size your crack climbing shoes comfortably. Try on shoes around your street shoe size and find a size where your toes are gently curled.

The Perfect Fit Sport Climbing Shoe

La Sportiva KatanaLa Sportiva KatanaWill stretch 1/4 to 1/2 size
Evolv ShamanEvolv ShamanMinimal stretch (due to synthetic material)

Sport routes require our best footwork possible from us. A loosely fit shoe can make us slip off the climb just before we reach the chains.

Size down a half size to a full size from your street shoe when first trying them on. The climbing shoe is going to be uncomfortable and snug, but it should not be painful. If you are developing hot spots, your toes are going numb, or your feet feel like they’re about to explode — these shoes are going to hinder your climbing performance more than they will help.

Can a Climbing Shoe be too loose?

Try stepping on a tiny dime edge with a loose shoe. It’s going to be near impossible to edge with a shoe flopping over your floppers. But a looser shoe can have some advantages when slab climbing.

Friction is the name of the game in slab climbing. A shoe’s rubber needs to make as much contact as possible with the rock. This contact prevents us from cheese grating our way down the wall. A looser shoe will allow more rubber to touch the rock and keep us sending.

How to Stretch out Rock Climbing Shoes

If you need to stretch out your shoes here are a few ways to stretch them out!

  • Put on a pair of thick wool socks and then put your shoes on. Then kick back and watch some Climbing videos! Wear them for 15-20 minutes and then give your feet a break. Repeat this process a few times.
  • Stuff as many socks as you can into your shoes. Then get a blow dryer and heat up the shoe for about a minute. Once the shoe is warm to the touch, use your hand to force the socks around in the shoe. Pushing the socks will stretch your rock climbing shoe.
  • Lace up your climbing shoes and hop in the shower! Keep your shoes on a for a few hours after wearing them in the shower. Your rock climbing shoes will stretch and mold to the contours of your foot.


Keep adding shoes to the shoe quiver! And if you’re worried about how tight should my rock climbing shoes be, prioritize the comfort of your feet! We love to repost #shoequivers from our community. Give our Instagram a follow and send us photos of your shoe quiver!

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