How Do Rock Climbing Shoes Work

How do rock climbing shoes work to help keep climbers from falling? The climbers themselves seem to defy gravity, suspended on flat rock with nothing but their outstretched hands and feet. It takes skill, but the right gear for any sport helps to make any challenge easier to face. One of the most important pieces of equipment for rock climbing is the all important shoes.

Rock climbing shoes were invented back in the 1930s, when the sport took hold. Boots with nails in the soles were used then, but as the years went on and the manufacturing of new materials became popular, the boots slowly transformed into the rubber, form-fitting shoes they are now. If you have ever handled these shoes, you would notice the "stickiness" of the rubber, which wraps around the outer edge of the shoes. The texture is a result of vulcanized rubber. Vulcanized rubber is a mix of sulfur, rubber and steam that creates the weatherproofing material now used in many products around the world. And this is what helps the climber sustain his position when climbing; the rubber grabs the rock and helps you stay put until the next move.

Buying your first pair of rock climbing shoes is easy once you know what to look for. Depending on the type of rock climbing you plan on doing, you would either need a flexible shoe or a more rigid shoe. Rock climbing shoes work best under the conditions they were originally designed for, so this has to be taken into account when purchasing your equipment. The more pliable shoes in rock climbing are used for what is called "smearing." This is when a majority of the shoe is used up against flat rock faces so that as much of the surface can be grabbed as possible. A stiffer type of rock climbing shoe is used for "edging," which is a technique used to gain a foothold on a ledge or any jutting rocks on the climb up. Rock climbing shoes need to fit like a glove, should be comfortable and, if you take care of them, should last you a long time.


Mellor, Don. "Rock Climbing: A Trailside Guide." W.W. Norton & Company, February 2003.

Cooper, Kate. "Rock Climbing." Garent Stevens Publishing, January 2008.

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