Foot-Healthy Climbing Shoes?

I’ve been exclusively wearing “foot healthy”, minimalist footwear since mid 2017, and it has been life-changing. Since 2015, In 2019, I started climbing regularly, after thinking about it for several years. Initially, I looked long and hard for a climbing shoe that fit my definition of “foot healthy”, before eventually concluding that such a beast didn’t exist. I was caught in a catch-22: if all climbing shoes were bad for my feet, how could I enjoy climbing without worrying about foot problems? It turns out that I was overthinking things, but as with everything else, it took awhile before I came to that realization. Here’s what I’ve learned after doing this for a couple of years.

  • Feet are amazingly tough and resilient. After wearing foot-healthy shoes regularly for awhile, your feet will get stronger. Eventually, they’ll get strong enough to tolerate climbing shoes. Keep in mind that climbing shoes aren’t meant to be worn for long periods of time — just while on the wall. That being said, if a shoe is so uncomfortable that your first instinct is to take them off right after you get off the wall, it’s probably time to shop for a different shoe.
  • Many climbing-related foot injuries are due more to poor footwork than bad shoes. Climbing successfully is all about balance, and as a beginner, I often found myself lunging and slamming my feet down onto holds. Uncontrolled foot movements can lead to “hotspots”, metatarsalgia, nerve pain, and any number of other foot ailments. When moving to a foothold, know exactly where you want to place your foot, and make sure every movement is careful, quiet and precise.
  • Not all climbing shoes are uncomfortable. I love my La Sportiva TC Pros. They may not be as wide as my Lems Primals or Altra Escalantes, but I feel like I could wear them all day if I wanted to. My Scarpa Force Vs are not quite as comfy, but are easy to slide off between climbs. When shopping for my first pair, I found it helpful to go with a stiffer rubber and size up a little bit. You don’t need super-aggressive shoes to climb effectively (at the same time, of course, you don’t want your feet swimming in the shoes, either). If the shoe is comfortable and doesn’t hurt your feet when you climb, then chances are, you’re not going to get injured. Try on lots of shoes until you find something that works. And then, focus on footwork, footwork, footwork. Can’t stress this enough!!