I know. It’s been a while. I apologize for that. I got off track. No better time than the present to get back on track, though! Shanatomy No. 2 talked about the “last” of the shoe – the structure around which the climbing shoe is built. In Shanatomy No. 3, I’d like to talk about the sole of the climbing shoe, and more specifically, the shape of the sole. We’ll talk about rubber in another Shanatomy post, I promise. This time, though, we’re going to stick with the shape of the sole. The sole can even be in two pieces! It doesn’t have to be just one solid sole from heel to toe. So let’s get started.
The sole of the shoe has a lot to do with foot shape as far as how it’s going to fit your foot. Some soles are cut more asymmetrically, meaning that the edge of the sole running along the outside of your foot takes a hard turn around your pinky toe toward your big toe, and ends up with your big toe sitting where your second toe would be if you were standing in a natural position without shoes on. This asymmetry directs the power and focus of the weight onto your big toe, and is found to a greater extent in more aggressive shoes. More symmetric sole shapes don’t take such a hard turn at the pinky toe and are less aggressive. Beginner shoes with flat lasts are very symmetric, for example. These allow for more flexibility in the toes and not such a “cramped” feel, but they also compromise the power to the big toe, which is what more advanced climbers use to get them up the steep rock walls.
That’s not to say that only beginners should wear “beginner” shoes! I don’t even like the term “beginner shoe”, because it suggests that they are somehow inferior. They’re NOT! I know a lot of higher-level climbers who prefer a pair of “beginner shoes”, like the La Sportiva Tarantulaces or similar shoes, just to have a nice all-around shoe for a light session or having some fun when things aren’t all serious (which, as you age, is more and more of the time for most of us). These “beginner shoes” are also very forgiving on the misshapen toes we’ve given ourselves after a lifetime of forcing and cramming them into shapes they were never meant to be in for long periods of time while climbing with more asymmetric shoes. I like the La Sportiva Tarantulaces when it comes to a pair climbing shoes that I can just “kick around in”. An advantage of more symmetric shoes (these “beginner shoes”) is that they force you to use technique instead of just power. I’m really big on technique, so this is a great thing! If you want to improve your foot technique, which you do, get a pair of more symmetric shoes and go to town with them because that’s what will force technique with your feet! “Beginner shoes” also offer a lot of support, which is important for building good foot strength and avoiding injuries early on.
So let’s stick with the term “beginner” shoes for a moment. “Beginner” shoes are more symmetric and force some better foot technique. “Beginner” shoes are also so much less expensive!!!. You can buy two pairs of “beginner” shoes for the price of one pair of “performance” shoes and still not have it be as expensive as the one pair of “performance” shoes in a lot of cases! Now, here’s the kicker. You can buy an expensive, “performance” shoe that is fairly symmetric. I own a pair of La Sportiva TC Pros, which are designed for all-day wear and big-wall climbing, or trad climbing. The cost for one pair of TC Pros? $185. The price for one pair of Tarantulaces? $80. Remember that thing I just said about being able to buy two pairs of “beginner” shoes for the price of one pair of “performance” shoes? There you go. You even saved $25. So why would I buy the TC Pros, then? Ankle protection and a few other nice features, but basically ankle protection. The TC Pros are, hands-down, my favorite if we’re comparing them to the Tarantulaces, but the TC Pros get saved for serious outdoor climbing, whereas the Tarantulaces get the workout in the climbing gym because climbing gyms are hard on climbing shoes and I can burn through two pairs for less than the price of one that way. The TC Pros are necessary sometimes even in the gym, though, because I have an ankle that gets tweaked occasionally and the extra ankle support of the TC Pros keeps me climbing instead of me being sidelined with an injury. So think about getting a pair of “beginner” shoes for your quiver!!!
The asymmetric shape of the “performance” shoes has more to do with power to the big toe, as we’ve already discussed. The soles of some of these shoes are in two pieces, too, though. There’s the forefoot piece and the heel cup. This allows more flexibility in the midsole region and, for me, is pretty essential because of my foot shape. If I’m going to cram my feet into an unnatural position for power, then I need some flex room somewhere, and the midsole is where I get it because I generally stick with the split-soled “performance shoes” like the La Sportiva Skwama and the La Sportiva Solution (although I haven’t tried the new ones out yet). The La Sportiva Skwamas are the ideal bouldering shoe for my feet, I’d say, because they just fit. They’re just right. They fit. They feel good. For a “performance shoe”, they’re comfortable. And I’ll give you a piece of advice here – if you find a pair of shoes that just naturally fits your feet, stick with that shoe!!! Sure, you can try others, but you’re going to find yourself going back to that shoe time and time again. Experiment! But always have a pair of those shoes handy. I suggest a back-up pair for when you’re getting your primary pair resoled, too.