If you’ve ever slipped your feet into a pair of climbing shoes, you might have wondered: are rock climbing shoes supposed to hurt? And the simple answer is maybe, but let’s unravel this question a little more and explore the balance between comfort and performance when it comes to wearing rock climbing shoes.

The Initial Squeeze

When you first slip your feet into a pair of climbing shoes, it’s natural to feel a snug fit. In fact, climbing shoes are designed to fit like a glove, molding to the shape of your foot for optimal precision and control. This snugness ensures that your foot doesn’t move around inside the shoe, minimizing slippage and maximizing power transfer from your toes to the climbing holds and surfaces.

Finding the Sweet Spot

While a snug fit is essential for performance, discomfort doesn’t always have to be part of the equation. Climbing shoes should feel tight but not painfully so. The goal is to find the sweet spot where the shoes provide a secure fit without causing undue pressure points or pinching. Keep in mind that climbing shoe sizing can vary between brands and models, so it’s essential to try on multiple pairs and experiment with different sizes to find the perfect fit for your feet.

Pro tip: Clip the toe nails! If you’re feeling sharp pains, it’s most likely from your toe nails.

Breaking In

Like a well-loved pair of jeans, climbing shoes often improve with time and use. As you break them in, the materials will stretch and conform to your foot’s shape, becoming more comfortable without sacrificing performance. During the break-in period, you may experience some initial discomfort as the shoes adjust to your feet, but this should subside with continued wear.

Pain vs. Performance

While some discomfort is to be expected, persistent pain is a red flag that something isn’t right. Sharp or intense pain, especially in specific areas of the foot, could indicate that the shoes are too small or that they’re not the right shape for your foot type. Ignoring pain and pushing through can lead to foot injuries and detract from your climbing experience. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to reassess your shoe choice if discomfort persists.

If you’re climbing in an indoor gym and renting shoes, you can always trade for a different size!

Tips for Comfort

If you’re struggling to find comfort in your climbing shoes, here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Try Different Brands and Models: Every climber’s foot is unique, so what works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with different brands, models, and sizes until you find the perfect fit.
  2. Consider Shoe Features: Every climbing shoe is designed for a specific type of climbing. Some for bouldering, some for trad climbing, and others for sport climbing. Climbing shoes are also categorized by “aggressiveness”. More comfortable shoes are “less aggressive” and flat.  Technical shoes are “aggressive” and tend to have a very curved arch and toes. Pay attention to the shoe’s features and intended use to ensure it aligns with your climbing style and preferences
  3. Consult with Experts: Don’t hesitate to seek advice from knowledgeable climbers or gear specialists at your local climbing gym or outdoor retailer. They can offer valuable insights and recommendations based on their experience and expertise.


In the world of rock climbing, finding the right balance between comfort and performance is key. Climbing shoes are meant to provide a snug fit, but they shouldn’t cause unnecessary pain or discomfort. By experimenting with different brands, models, and sizes, you can find climbing shoes that feel like an extension of your feet. In return, they will enable you to climb with confidence and enjoy your climbing journey. So lace up those shoes, hit the rock wall, and let the adventure begin!