Choosing footwear

Choosing footwear

Early on, I realised that visits to the climbing wall were cheap compared to going to the cinema.  However, not cheap enough!  if I could only 'buy' a pair of climbing 'shoes', then I would save up to Three Quid every time I went.

Logically, the cheaper my initial pair were, the less time it would take to recoup the cost.  I didn't want rubbish though.  Obviously, the best way to get the best ratio between quality and price was to investigate secondhand shoes from the internet...

So began an poorly thought out adventure, a true epic of one novice out of his depth.

I already knew I liked Scarpa, as I had a pair of their SL M3 mountain boots, and I was also aware that they were a fairly decent brand, because I had seen their adverts and also their logo plastered over magazines and climbing walls.  So as I trawled through e-bay's postings I found just the pair: size 45 Scarpa Helix, won at auction for less than £20.

Deal!  And as they had laces, then surely this meant I didn't need to try them on as I could simply cinch the laces tighter.  I had literally out-thought thirty years of developmental design, in one afternoon!

They arrived.   The rubber was in pretty good nick although a bit cracked: they had obviously been in  a wardrobe for a couple of years.  My street size is a 10, they were a 10 , so no problem.  And in fairness, I didn't know any better.  I thought they were tight.  Even too tight.

I spoke to my sister.

'Don't mess about, get a bigger pair.  I've got a bunyon from  tight shoes and it hurts.  You don't want to put yourself out because you're limping like a kicked puppy.'

I had another quick hunt on the internet.  Aha!  Lost Arrow!  I'd worn them before as a hire shoe.  I got them, I wore them, and even I realised that they were just too  .... beginner.  My ego wouldn't handle it.

So back to the Scarpa Helix.  They were leather and had never been worn so stretched out and became comfortable.  Scarpa Helix were the hire shoe at the local wall so no one noticed, they were fine, especially as I was getting that unbelievably rapid improvement from being a new climber.  
Imagine what I could do if these fitted...

Then I spent money on some basic instruction and got gains related to technique rather than strength.  The need for something better was masked, and no one gave me much advice: probably realising I wouldn't take it.  Instead, I got praise like 'You'll do even better when you actually get a decent pair of shoes'.  Of course I didn't act on that, but it was like a layer of paint on the wall of my consciousness, with a few more layers of paint you might actually see a colour.

In love with climbing, I bought Nine Out of Ten Climbers Make the Same Mistakes by Dave MacLeod.  I wanted to keep the momentum of my rapid improvement going.  If you haven't read this, don't mess about, just get it.  There were many striking ideas: the need to embrace failure, the need to practice falling - and the need to sort your shoes out, NOW!  In the book Dave makes the point that people start with floppy non-technical shoes and slip off footholds.  This creates a neurological link  saying 'don't trust your foothold'.  So on you go, pulling like the struggling gorilla on the front cover.

I took advice in a book written by a man I'd never met and went shopping.

Mid-range! that should do it.  After all, I was still just learning, I didn't want to get pretentious.

Actually trying shoes on was a revelation.  There is a great deal of variation between the lasts that different shoe manufacturers build their foot-gloves around, and people's feet are highly individual:  you only have to see a particularly weird foot to know this is true.  So, obviouusly some manufacturer's shoes will just never suit you.

I have a really wide foot, and my trusty Scarpas are - built on a narrow foot last!  this perfectly explained how they had been simultaneously too tight and too floppy!.  It might have worked for my mountain boots, probably because it gave me loads of toe room, ideal for not smashing your nails as you descend, absolutely rubbish for the needs of the precision footwork-centric climber, which I wasn't.

Hard climbing friends nudged me towards a more technical Scarpa.  No way on God's Green Earth could I have got those Boosters onto my foot.  I like a challenge, but for me it should start when I step off the ground, not when I pop my elbow tendons trying to haul them over my toe knuckles.  My glycogen store - the sugar store in my muscles and liver which fuels anaerobic work done by muscles - was too depleted to actually climb after getting those shoes on.

Eventually I found the perfect shoe for £70: a 5:10 Rogue.  I loved the fit, it really suited my foot shape.  I even tried a few sizes smaller than my street size: 9 I could have worn, but 9.5 was actually pretty comfortable.
And they've streeetttccchheeedd.

Within two weeks I had found the true implications of what was written on the shoe box about leather stretching, and I was back to floppy shoes, although- they were better than the Scarpas.

Not that I necessarily realised they had stretched so much.  Once again it was a combination of direct advice and subtle, subtle layers of paint.

'Pete's doing exactly the right thing for grit.  Those floppy ones will be great for jamming into cracks, they've got so much spare material to scrunch up, they'll really mould to the grit ....'

So Christmas loomed and I told everyone I didn't want presents.  This was taken note of by my family as I have the mentality of an excitable eight-year old (human not dog) at Christmas.  I want presents, I sulk if they aren't the right ones, I make a list, and I will beg with Tanya to be allowed to open them on Christmas Eve.  Her long suffering replies of 'For God's sake you're a thirty-seven year old man' go as unheeded as advice about shoes.

So this time I REALLY went shopping. I trawled around stores, compared makes and styles.  I researched what I actually wanted - edgers for slate, that being my main focus.  I read reviews online, and really thought about it. 

Which led to the bloke in Newcastle Cotswold looking at me like I'd walked in with a gun.  Disbelief, contempt and fear.
That's better.

'You want to order NINE pairs of shoes?'  The bloke was not a climber.

I adopted my best Colonial manner.

'Yes.  Have them sent to Bury St. Edmunds.  And do something about the window displays, they look frightful.'

Luckily, the guy at Bury St. Edmunds WAS a climber.

'Great, NINE pairs of shoes.  Try them on!'  He understood that of course you needed three different styles and three different sizes of each style - its so obvious.

Between the 5:10 Anasazi Lace (pinkies) , 5:10 Anasazi Velcro and La Sportiva Miura.  A crucial decision.  How best to start?

'Now.  Have you ever actually measured your feet?'

I had not. I was a 9 after all.

One year on the author is happy with his choice of footwear: he went for the pinkies in the end.