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April 2017

Rock Climbing Shoes and Harness: choose your essentials

climbing harness
climbing shoes
rock climbing
trad climbing

Author: Giacomo Edifizi, who works at the Valhalla Pure Outfitters in Courtenay.

The rock is getting warmer and drier as we speak - it’s time to get climbing outside again! There are two essential pieces of equipment that every climber should have before all else; rock climbing shoes, you wouldn’t climb very far without them - and a harness.

Rock Climbing Shoes

Type of climber

Before you even think of buying climbing shoes, there are 5 things to consider:

1. What will you climb? Different types of climbing call for a different shoe choice. Though the differences between climbing styles may be nuanced to the beginner climber, shoe choice is critical for certain types of climbing.

2. Sizing. Everyone has their own preferences here, ranging from slipper sized to doll sized. I have known plenty of climbers who had to brake in their shoes in the bathtub because they couldn’t get them on unless they were wet. In general it’s a good idea to size your shoes a little tight at first (about one size down from

your street shoe, which is usually bigger than your foot anyway). It will feel very tight at first, but within a few climbing session almost every shoe will stretch. When you move up in difficulty you will probably want a tighter shoe, but try something that is bearable right out of the box before getting crazy with tight shoes.

3. Downturn. Shoes come in two basic flavors; flat and downturned. When crack climbing, you’ll want your toes to be flat in the shoe, this will make a huge difference when

you are twisting your feet in a crack. If you plan on sport climbing, a more down turned shoe will be ideal. When your toes are curled and pointing down you will have a much easier time grabbing holds with your toes and performing other moves like toe hooks and heel hooks. For your first pair you probably want to go with a snug fitting, slightly downturned shoe. The 5.10 Rogue, La Sportiva Tarantulace and Scarpa Helix will be a good intro shoe. If you do a lot of overhanging and steep climbs it is definitely worth getting something that is more downturned.

4. Stiffness. A stiff shoe will give you support on ‘edgey’ footholds and is better for standing on very small, positive holds. More flexible shoes have more “feel” to them. It’s a balance, and the choice is yours. Good examples of stiff shoes are the La Sportiva Miura, the 5.10 Anasazi or the Scarpa Vapor V. If you prefer flexibility, the 5.10 (Five Ten) Rogue, the Scarpa Helix and 5.10 Moccasym are a great option.

5. Care. It’s beneficial to remove your shoes as soon as you are done climbing to keep the rubber clean and allow the shoe to maintain it’s original shape. If you trudge around in your nice, downturned shoes they will flatten out. Extended use will wear out the toe area of your shoes, and eventually they will become unusable. If you catch these holes before they blow all the way through the shoe, you can have your shoes resoled by a professional company. Usually my shoes go through two or three resoles before they truly are done. It costs around $50, depending on the amount of wear, and greatly extends the life of your shoes.

Shoe characteristics

There are so many options on the market it can seem overwhelming and trying to pick the right shoe can be tough.

3 types of closure systems. Velcro, lace up and slip on are the main ones; and there are countless variations of each. Picking the right closure system is really important when buying a climbing shoe. Slip on shoe, like the 5.10 Moccasym, is the easiest to take on and off and is very good for multi-pitch climbing and crack climbing where you constantly take them off to belay. Lace up are great for trad climbing or people that are doing longer routes and one routes where they want nice support, nice tight fit to give you good precision. Most people go for a velcro shoe, like the 5.10 Rogue Velcro or the Evolv Defy Velcro, because it’s a compromise between take them on quickly and take them off at the end but also gives you a good support and a nice precise fit.

Softer v.s. Stiffer rubber. If you are a beginner you want a slighter stiffer shoe like the La Sportiva Tarantulace because your foot is not quite as strong but as you get better at climbing it is good to get a shoe that is a little bit softer so you’ve got good precision and good sensitivity on smaller smears.

Leather vs Synthetic. Leather shoes will stretch and mold to your foot so you can buy them super tight and after a few session you will have a nice snug fit. Synthetic or synthetic lined shoes like the 5.10 Anasazi don’t stretch as much so you need to make sure that the fit is perfect when you get them out of the box. There are some shoes that have a good mix of both.

Rubber. Different brands use different rubber and there is no right or wrong answer on which one is best. 5.10 uses very soft rubber on their shoe which is undoubtedly very grippy. However if you’re just starting out you may want to get something that is slightly stiffer (like the La Sportiva Tarantulace because your footwork is not as precise) that would last you a lot longer to the first months of your climbing. The Miura (La Sportiva) and Anasazi (5.10) are good intermediate to advanced climbing shoes and you can get great edging from them. The Anasazi is ideal for crack climbing (softer rubber and fairly flat). They are very comfortable without lacking in performance but less suited for steeper routes. The Miura instead are great for steep and overhanging routes, excellent inside edging but less emphasis on comfort.

[gallery columns="4" ids="|La Sportiva climbing shoes,|5.10 climbing shoes,|Evolv climbing shoes,|Scarpa climbing shoes"]


Harnesses have a waist loop and leg loops. The waist loop is usually adjustable while some types of leg loops are not. Most harnesses have gear loops to store your equipment and gear (these can be different sizes) so a good idea is to know how much equipment you need to bring up the wall. A harness usually needs to be replaced after 3 to 5 years depending on the manufacturers and the condition of the harness; it is good to check your gear to see that is not worn or damaged. When picking a harness there are 5 things you really need to keep in mind:

Harness characteristics

1. Fit. This is the most important thing to keep in mind. You want to be in the middle of your size, meaning the harness isn’t almost too small or maxed out. The harness should sit above your hips and synch down snugly.

2. Padded or Webbing? There are harnesses that are made from just webbing- these are designed for ski descents where you are wearing your harness over many layers of clothes that will act like padding. For rock climbing you’ll want something more comfortable, so a padded harness is your better choice.

3. Gear Loops. If you are just starting out, go with 4 gear loops. As far as gear loops go, it’s rare to find a harness that doesn’t come with the standard 4 loops, however some ultra sporty models save weight by only having 2. If that is what you need, you probably would not be reading this post. Finally, some big wall harnesses feature extra heavy-duty gear loops for holding lots of gear. Unless you are planning on climbs where you need to bring a more than average amount of gear, you probably don’t need a harness like these.

4. The Closure Mechanism. Your harness will be designed in one of these ways: The more modern zip-lock style, or the traditional buckle that will require you to double it back. Failure to double back these older style harnesses can cause them to loosen as you move. No bueno!

5. The Leg Loops. Leg loops on your harness will be either fixed or adjustable. Personally I like the simplicity of fixed leg loops but adjustable will probably be more comfortable for most people. The leg loop closure system will feature the same two types as the closure mechanism, and the same applies for the traditional buckle; always double em back!

Harness types

Now that we have these key points, we’re going to look at the different kinds of harnesses you can find.

All Round Harness. If you’re just starting out you will want an all round harness and if you pick wisely, this could be the only harness you buy. For example the Black Diamond Momentum - or Primrose for women - has lots of nice padding for comfort, it packs small enough and has big enough gear loops for everything. Buying the kit may be the best option as you get a chalk bag, carabiner and belay device with the harness; saving you some extra cash for other gear. If you want something bigger but massively adjustable, the Petzl Corax is another option that is great for all round purposes.

High-end Sport Climbing Harness. For this you want something with less padding and more fixed leg loops (that’s because you wear less layers when you’re sport climbing so you know what size that should be) that is much lighter and more packable. The Mammut Zephir is a perfect example: lightweight and very packable with much thinner leg loops and waist loop (you could possibly use it for trad climbing as well but I find it a bit too minimal for that). Another good option is the Black Diamond Solution Harness: a bit more padding and the gear loops are more durable as they have plastic coating but the harness is still very small and packable.

Trad Harness. Less minimal, the Petzl Adjama is a good choice if you need to carry more gear up a big mountain: very adjustable, big gear loops, lots of padding. (that you want to have if you go for long climbs or big walls).

Alpine Harness. For lightweight mountaineering the Arc’teryx FL-365 has everything you need including ice clipper slots, which is awesome because that means that your ice-screws can be clipped separate from the rest of your gear. Another option would be the Petzl Altitude that is ultra-light and compact and slightly cheaper than the Arc’teryx FL-365.

[gallery columns="4" ids="|Black Diamond Harnesses,|Petzl Harnesses,|Arc'teryx Harnesses,|Mammut Harnesses"]

As mentioned earlier, there is a tremendous amount of choice with harnesses and climbing shoes. Ultimately we strongly encourage that you do a bit of research and determining what kind of climbing you foresee yourself engaging on and consequently choose the product most suited for you. There are countless articles online once you have funneled your options and of course we always welcome you into our retail or online stores to talk to us about them in person.

Find the climbing harnesses, shoes and other climbing gear online at VPO.CA.