Why Are Climbing Shoes Downturned?
The half of a pair of dowturned climbing shoes on a climber.

There’s no need to argue whether climbing shoes are a piece of equipment without which a lot of things in this sport wouldn’t be possible. Trying to disprove that would be downright absurd, right? However, one can’t help but wonder: why are they so important? Also, while we’re at it, why are climbing shoes downturned?

Is there a need to emphasize that you’re about to find answers to those questions? Probably not. Anyway, in the text that you’re getting ready to read, we’ll tackle the issue of climbing shoes being downturned and other interesting info surrounding this crucial piece of rock climbing equipment!

Some climbing shoe models are downturned since the position they place your foot in, enables your big toe to enjoy extra power and strength. Additionally, the odd shape of the shoe makes hooking onto tiny edges or into rock pockets on overhang climbs a whole lot easier. 

Is there more to this than just the tiny preview? Of course, there is! Keep on scrolling.

Table of Contents

Why do you need special shoes for rock climbing?

As always, here at Go Extreme Sports, we’ll first tackle some of the most frequently asked questions you’re able to find surrounding the topic of the day. That’s why we’ll start by answering the following question: why do you need special shoes for rock climbing? In other words: why can’t folks climb in regular shoes?

Let’s begin this one by saying that climbing shoes are essential. Period. Even though most gyms will allow you to climb in regular shoes, you’re still better off by using footwear that’s cleverly designed for rock climbing adventures. Not only will you feel the difference in performance but you’ll also avoid some foot injuries that might appear as a result of not wearing proper footwear.

Why are rock climbing shoes so helpful?

Some say that you don’t really need climbing shoes once you’re starting out. You only need them once you pass the beginner phase, they add (speaking of phases, click here to see if 6A is a good climbing grade). However, here we’ll point out some of their attributes that will help you right from the beginning:

  • They’ve got rigid soles. They enable climbers to rest their whole body weight on the toe of a single climbing shoe.
  • Also, they’ve got sharp edges around the toe box. Sharp edges enable the climber to handle the tiniest edges and divots in a rock.
  • Additionally, climbing shoes have sticky rubber. This is crucial when it comes to your grip.
  • Lastly, they possess heel cups. Just so you’re able to grip a certain rock with the back of your foot.

Oh, and we almost forgot to mention the thing about safety. Shoes designed for climbing-related purposes have their own way of warning a climbed that they’re about to slip a rock and fall, so they can prepare for it. That’s something you can’t expect from regular shoes.

Here’s some additional info: we’ve published an article on how to clean your climbing shoes without ruining them. 

Why are climbing shoes curved?

Good question! Most beginner climbers are pretty surprised once they see a downturned climbing shoe for the first time. Something about its shape makes them wonder: why do these shoes like that, why are they curved?

First of all, it’s not like all climbing shoes are curved. Curved climbing footwear is meant to serve a certain purpose, and it’s not worn on every occasion. As folks get better at climbing, they tend to prefer curved shoes much more. So, when do you need ’em, and what’s up with the shape anyway?

For instance, this kind of shoes will do you much good while you’re trying out two climbing techniques or styles:

  • Edging. This basically represents putting your foot on a pretty narrow ledge. The curved shape of the shoe will allow your foot to concentrate your whole body weight on one tiny point.
  • Heeling. This represents both toe and heel hooking. The curved shape of the shoe will assist you with this. Once you’re climbing overhangs and roofs, you’ll find this type of shoe quite handy.

Alright, it seems we’ve talked a bit too much in this intro section. Without further ado, let’s discuss the main question: why are climbing shoes downturned?

A climber wearing downturned climbing shoes.

Why are climbing shoes downturned?

We’ve already mentioned the amazement (let’s say that it’s amazement we’re talking about here) when one sees a so-called aggressive climbing shoe (another term that folks use to call downturned climbing shoes). Also, we could also mention so-called moderate climbing shoes, which are slightly more downturned than (non-downturned) regular climbing shoes. You could very well say that they’re the middle ground.

So, why are moderate and aggressive climbing shoes more or less downturned? The main thing is that the curved, downturned shape will provide an individual climber with a great solution for overhanging climbs, bouldering issues, and routes at the gym. It’s because this shape put their feet in a strong position. Not to mention the fact that aggressive shoes also tend to possess stickier rubber and thinner soles than regular (neutral) climbing shoes because it provides the climbers with a better feel and grip.

Here’s something you’d call a standard definition: climbing shoes are downturned because such a foot position enables your big toe to enjoy more power. Also, this shape of the climbing shoe makes hooking your toes onto tiny edges or into rock pockets on overhang climbs a lot easier.

Now that we’ve got the one covered, it’s time we consider some downturned-climbing-shoes trivia. In other words: let’s see how this shape of the climbing shoe came to be!

A glimpse into the history of downturned climbing shoes

By reading some history on a particular object, we’re able to learn more about it. Not to mention the fact that it’s always more interesting to read up on how something came to be than to learn the definition in a word-by-word style. You’ll also have some good trivia knowledge if you ever end up on a TV quiz show. Enough talk, let’s see who and when came up with this design!

The climbing shoe design in question first came to be in the 1990s. It was established by the pro-climber community. The thing is: regular (neutral) design didn’t quite get the job done when it came to tackling overhanging walls and mini-footholds. One of the first shoe producers to manufacture the so-called aggressive, downturned shoes was Five Ten (model: UFO). In Europe, that role was played by La Sportive with their model called Mirage. You’ll find its contemporary successor called Miura by following the link.

Now, don’t think that these shoe models were accepted immediately. Their odd design was a bit controversial at first and many climbers of that time simply wrote them off as a novelty that will pass as quickly as it appeared. Needless to say, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Over time, climbers began to understand the advantages of the aggressive, downturned climbing shoe models. Once the acclaim came, it didn’t take long before Mirage was sold just about everywhere it was available.

Okay, now that you’re equipped with some good ol’ trivia, let’s see if there’s anything else we’d like to mention concerning the topic of (downturned) climbing shoes.

Should my toes be bent in down climbing shoes?

Even if you’re not wearing downturned climbing shoes, if you’re still using beginner models, your toes should still be bent/curled up just a tiny bit. That’s because you want to keep them close to the front edge of your climbing shoes. Let’s stick to beginner shoes: your big toe will need to be at about a 45° angle downwards and that’s also the maximum. If your climbing shoe’s the right fit and you’ve finished the break-in process, this should alleviate the pain most beginner climbers feel while wearing the shoes designed for the sport (just don’t expect that you’ll feel totally comfy).

Should you use socks with climbing shoes?

Here we’ll introduce you to some pros and cons of wearing climbing socks with climbing shoes. Let’s begin with the so-called pros:

  • Your shoes will be less smelly. Your shoe won’t absorb some of your sweat since your shoes will take one for the team instead. 
  • It’s more hygienic. This one’s emphasized when you’re using the shoes you’ve rented. 
  • They’ll help fill out a big shoe. Dead space inside the shoe should be a NO-NO. 
  • They can also help you break your pair of climbing shoes (and here’s how many of them you will need). This one goes explains itself, they help stretch your shoes. 

Okay, and what about the cons:

  • They decrease sensitivity. Your ability to really “feel” the rock will be a bit hurt. However, you can wear ultra-thin socks and everything will be just fine.
  • Your foot will get more slippery. This might be the most objective reason why one should steer clear of wearing socks. Your heel is more prone to slipping inside the climbing shoe than it is without a pair of socks.

The bottom line

Alright, so that’s that on the subject of downturned climbing shoes and why they’re shaped in such a way. Now you’re aware of why climbing shoes look so odd and, sometimes, funny. But, let’s keep things serious. For more tips and useful information on rock climbing and climbing-related stuff, follow this link.

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