I once thought ‘specific’ climbing and bouldering shoes were a load of rubbish, and as my climbing demands increased over the years I learned a lot about the actual difference
Are Climbing and Bouldering Shoes the same? No, climbing shoes are specified for iether lead or bouldering, and even between indoor and outdoor climbing. There are many differences like stiffness and rubber locations that make the differentiation.
In this post i develop on the differences and help you make a decision for what you need in a climbing shoe, join me.
In this post I cover:
- Extra features
- Rubber Formulas
Whats the difference?
Climbing shoes are becomming highly specific and you may have heard people saying there the ‘best bouldering shoes’ or ‘no these arent my bouldering shoes’ and it confused me for a while. is there really a difference between climbing and bouldering shoes?
Whats the difference between the climbing shoes and bouldering shoes?
Climbing shoes and bouldering shoes have a lot of overlap but Boulder specific shoes are generally much softer and aggresive due to the often overhung nature of boulders.
Softness and extra rubber on the toes and heels are generally required for these really overhung boulders.
Route climbing shoes have a more solid ‘midsole’ to support your weight for longer.
due to routes being longer, and holds generally being smaller, so a stiffer shoe is more suited to route climbing.
There is less of a need for toe rubber, and a really aggresive shape on route climbing shoes, so they often lack these features.
so thats the short answer, but theres a few key factors that determine what the shoes were designed for, lets take a look now!
so my two favourite shoes, the La sportiva miuras and the Scarpa VS-Rs are pretty much a perfect example of specialised bouldering and route shoes.
so we know shoes are softer and harder but why are bouldering shoes softer? Bouldering shoes are softer because it allows you to almost ‘squidge’ your foot into the hold. The overhung nature of boulders means your not just pushing down on footholds, you have to hold yourself up on them and if you cant dig your toes right into the hold and pull down its going to be really hard to use your lower half to your full potential.
Why does a softer shoe mean you get in the hold more? Essentially having softer rubber means you can curve your toes around and into the hold to get as much purchase as possible. Bouldering specific shoes also tend to have much less rubber to add to this effect. there almost like a minimal glove that allows you to get the most onto the small hold and maximise its benefit.
Imagine you were on a boulder overhung about thirty degrees. the left foot is a horizontal crack pointing up at you. at this angle a more solid pair of shoes like muiras would be limiting as to how much of your foot you could get on the hold.
Not the greatest example on the right but you can see how a soft shoe would ‘mold’ to the edge and have much better friction.
This is the kind of hold i am talking about!! just found this two days later and had to put it in!
yeah you can see how a soft shoe will be beneficial for these holds.
a much stiffer or route specific pair of shoes wouldnt really bend to the shape of the hold, they would just interact with as much of the hold you can get a pretty much flat edge on. This could be pretty much nothing in a stiffer, more solid pair of shoes.
You can see on the right the shoe is just interacting with the hold on a flat surface, there is limited ‘purchase’ or friction between the hold and shoe because route shoes are designed NOT to absorb the foot hold.
Heres my review of the La Sportiva Miuras
For a route climber like myself the stiffness of the miuras is perfect for feeling confident on small edges and smears.
The density of the shoe is made up of three factors; the midsole, the rubber thickness and the rubber softness itself. Most climbing companies have there own signature rubber formula, like the XS Grip 2 for the Scarpa VS-Rs with there own personal strengths and weaknesses.
The thicker the rubber on the shoe is has a direct correlation with less sensitivity but a more solid edge that wont deform under your body weight.
The Reason i feel so solid in the miuras is because they have a relatively thick piece of rubber on the toe, and its quite a dense rubber in formula. this means I can stand on any wierd little pebble or bumps and i wont feel like my foot is going to slip off.
This is hugely valuable for technical climbing or near vertical with TINY edges and bumps.
The soft rubber shoes are designed to be maluable around a foothold, however on small edges or sharp holds this can be a negative as theres much more chance the shoe will deform on the hold, resulting in a slip, or the very least youll feel insecure on the feet.
You can see on the right the soft shoe is ‘molding’ to the edge, this is likely to slip because your weight will push past the edge almost, the rubber will just reach a certain angle and slip.
some people feel great in soft shoes all around but my experience with the Tenaya Oasis is there much more likely to slip off small holds.
The rubber isnt strong enough to resist bending under your weight and creates a bad angle between your foot and the hold.
Support for your feet
In Route climbing where your expected to be on the wall much longer than a boulder lends Route climbing shoes to be more Stiff in the midsole.
This is to transfer as much of your weight onto the footholds, to firstly relieve your arms but also your legs! Climbing for a long time in soft shoes with no midsole suppourt is actually quite tiring for your toes and calves as the shoes are designed to maximise the holds, without much consideration for the support they provide you with.
Imagine standing on an edge in your trainers, pretty ok… now standing on that same edge barefoot. thats like the difference between a soft shoe and a hard shoe.
How long do you think you could stand on that edge barefoot? I know my feet would get pumped in like a minute, regardless of how small the foot hold is, and climbing a whole route in shoes with a softer midsole and less support in general can be quite tiring or inneficient.
you can see the Scarpa VS-R’s are much softer, suited to overhangs.
So Climbing shoes, or those specialised for longer amounts of climbing generally dont have much extra rubber other than the solid edges on the toe box.
Bouldering specific shoes pretty much always have MUCH more rubber on them, like rubber all over the toe, the sides and the heels are much better on aggresive boulder shoes betweeen you and I.
Why do Bouldering shoes have more rubber/ Features? Bouldering shoes are specialised for heel and toe hooks because there much more common on boulders, especially inside, which has a big influence on climbing shoes right not.
The scarpa VS-Rs are a perfect example. they have an amazing heel, a big pad of toe rubber for hooking and even up the sides of the toe for wierd toe scums and dropknee hook things.
So whats the payoff? Bouldering shoes are generally much less comfortable in my experience. although i can spend extended periods in both shoes, im pretty sure I couldnt walk any significant distance in my bouldering shoes because they have compressed my toes into much more of a point.
Luckily the point isnt to walk anywhere, were trying to send our climb!
So theres obviously a lot of overlap when it comes to shoe models, because there arent really strict catagories for bouldering and route shoes. there just more or less boulder specific in some way.
Most companies do have a shoe specified for bouldering, and they all will fit the description of a more downturned, softer and fully ‘rubberised shoe’.
You may find you climb boulers much better in a stiffer midsole shoe, thats great that you have found a shoe that works for you.
I hope I have given you some insight into some of the differences between the two shoes, so you can make informed choices with your climbing shoe choices!
Alright, we have come to the end of this post! Thans for reading, i hope this brought you some value 🙂