How to Choose Rappelling Shoes


One of the most important pieces of equipment you can buy are rappelling shoes. In many rappels, there may be a fair amount of climbing involved, so consider the climb when you choose which shoes to purchase. I am not going to tell you to spend $150 or more on shoes. You can get a great shoe for all levels of climbing at a reasonable price.

My Recommendation For Best Climbing and Rappelling Shoes

The best pair of shoes that I’ve found is the La Sportiva TarantuLace Performance Rock Climbing Shoe  (Available on Amazon). La Sportiva makes a women’s model of this shoe too.  There are so many reasons I love the TarantuLace shoes, including that these won’t break the bank when it comes to climbing shoes. These shoes were designed for an intermediate climber, but work great for beginners and more aggressive, advanced climbers as well who want their feet to stay comfortable on a long climb.

Women’s La Sportiva TarantuLace

The TarantuLace has a rubber heel and rubber soles with tons of grip. These shoes also have sensitivity, you can feel out those edges and find your grip unlike any other shoes I’ve experienced. Plus, the asymmetrical design really lets you wedge your toes into those small cracks. Not only do they preform great, they are COMFORTABLE! Climbing and rappelling shoes have a reputation for being uncomfortable, but they do not have to be. You can climb and rappel all day and your feet will still feel great. As a bonus, the Tarantulace are lined with leather, which will help to prevent the stinky feet. These will be tight at first the materials will stretch. One of my favorite features of the shoe is the quick pull laces. Who ever came up with this is genius. So much easier to get just the right fit with out messing with your laces for too long. Its kind of like a bunji-cord shoe lace. You pull on the shoe lace until you get the nice snug fit and your ready to go. No tightening the laces, only to go back and loosen them again. Seriously a game changer, guys.

That being said, if you are unhappy with your shoes, La Sportiva has a great return policy and are very quick to replace your shoe with a different size.

Sizing

Most rappelling shoes will feel a bit snug when you first try them on. Take them for a couple short climbs and rappels and wear them in before going on longer outings. The materials in some shoes, especially the leather lined shoes, will stretch almost a whole size. That being said, it is always very important to check the sizing chart before you buy your regular shoe size as climbing and rappelling shoes have a different sizing guide. Also, be really flexible with shoe sizes. A lot of climbing and rappelling shoes come in European sizes, so again be sure to check the sizing charts carefully. In general, the shoes should not be difficult to slip on. If you are having difficulty slipping your shoe on, try a larger size.

Here is a funny tip for picking out your shoes, but since it is so important to get sizing right for your climbing and rappelling shoes, you should consider this. Feet tend to swell in the afternoons or with exercise, so go for a run or get your blood pumping in some way before measuring your feet.

Like I said, climbing and rappelling shoes should not be painful. Painful shoes can actually cause blisters and other foot problems. Imagine getting excited for a long afternoon of rappelling and climbing only to have it ruined by a blister and aching feet.  If you are in pain, don’t torture yourself and continue to use those shoes.

The shoes should, however, fit snug. A snug shoe will help you feel and grip the wall and get those toes into tight places. To get the best performance, the shoes should fit tight around the heel and your toes should be slightly bent, but again, not in pain.

Shape

When looking at different climbing and rappelling shoes, you’ll notice different shapes. Some shoes are flatter and some shoes have a downward curve with a prominent point at the big toe. The more aggressive the shoe, the more curved it will be. The curve creates a powerful position and enables you to climb more technical routes.

Materials

As you may have noticed in your hunt for good climbing shoes, there are three main types of materials to choose from. Unlined leather, lined leather, and synthetic leather. There are pros and cons to each, but it is mostly a matter of preference.

Unlined Leather is the most breathable type of material, so your feet won’t completely reek when you are done climbing. They are also the easiest to deodorize, which will need to happen, regardless of how breathable the material is. A precaution to take with unlined leather shoes is that that the material tends to dye your foot during the first couple of climbs, so be prepared for colorful feet after your climb. Also, as mentioned before, these shoes stretch the most and will stretch to about a size larger. Be sure to break unlined leather shoes in before going on a long climb.

Lined leather shoes are pretty much the happy medium between the unlined leather and the synthetic. They are the softest on the inside, but they aren’t as breathable as the unlined leather. They will also stretch about a half size as you break them in, not as much as unlined leather shoes, but they will need sometime to break in as well.

And now, the synthetic. There are a couple pros for the synthetic shoe, but I personally would not buy a synthetic shoe. A pro that I do like though is that the synthetic shoe does not stretch. You know how it will fit straight out of the box. They are the most durable as well, but I’ve found that if you buy a well-made shoe, it’ll last just as long as any synthetic. Also, synthetic shoes are of course, animal friendly if you are vegan or animal cautious. Here’s my big draw back. Breathability. You guys, your feet are going to stink and be hot and sweaty in there. I don’t know about you, but I get uncomfortable on a long climb with sweaty feet.

Men’s vs. Women’s Climbing Shoes

I’ve seen some unisex shoes out on the market, and I’ve got to say, I’m just not entirely sold on the idea. The shoes I am suggesting here do come with a man and woman version of the shoes. They look about the same, really, but men and women are just built differently. Men’s feet tend to be wider, all around. Bigger toes, bigger heals, the overall volume of a man’s foot is just bigger than a woman’s. That being said, I would stray from the unisex shoes. Shoes specifically for women have a small toe box and a narrower heel and they are cut lower around the ankle. This would greatly benefit a woman while she’s climbing to ensure the nice snug fit we need while climbing. And for the men, we want to be snug, but not tight. Staying with the gender specific shoes will ensure a comfortable climb. However, if you are a man with a narrower, low volume, foot, I would encourage you to try out a women’s pair. It might just be the right fit. And since the designs and colors come pretty gender neutral, no one will even notice if you don’t want to admit your wearing a woman’s shoe.

Rappelling shoes for Kids

So your child has caught the climbing and rappelling bug and you’ve spent so much money renting shoes that they might as well have their own pair now. “But they’re just going to grow out of them!” you say. I get it. I am right there with you. Their shoe size will inevitably increase with their strength and skill level. My advice is to fit them about a size larger than their normal shoe size. Since they probably aren’t out on aggressive and overly technical courses, they will be okay if their shoe is slightly larger than a rock climbing and rappelling shoe should normally fit. In my experience, children prefer a relaxed beginner shoe anyways. It also helps to have the fast lacing system, or any shoe without laces for that matter if they are unable to tie their own laces. My recommendation for children’s shoes is the Mad Rock Climbing shoes (available on Amazon). They have a Velcro system that is easy to adjust to find just the right level of comfort for kids. These shoes won’t break the bank as your child grows.

Conclusion

It’s important to find the right shoe for your needs and there are a lot of variation to climbing shoes depending on skill level and personal preferences. The La Sportiva TaratuLace for men and women is a great shoe for any level. They’re great for beginners and the more aggressive climbs. The rubber provides great grip and they’re soft and breathable, keeping you comfortable while you’re out all day climbing and rappelling.

Jacob

I love the great outdoors. I've tried to write the go-to info for all the Rappelling enthusiasts out there. Whether you finished your climb or hiked and rappelled down you will find tips, tutorials, and additional resources to help you. I live in Idaho with my wife and three kids and the great outdoors is our playground.

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