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Do Shoes Really make a difference?

Is there an Ideal shoe for Women Climbing in Fontainebleau?

A bad workman blames his tools

Does it really make a difference what shoes you have on your feet? If you are a good enough climber you should be able to climb in anything. After all one of the strongest climbers in Fontainebleau Forest at the moment is Charles Albert, who climbs bare-foot. Climbers in the 70s and 80s were climbing seriously hard problems in shoes that no-one would wear today. Why are we so obsessed with what we have on our feet? I think the answer is that we all want to optimize our own performance, regardless of what other people can do, or have done. Even the best workman will do his best job with his favourite tools.

This video from Adam Ondra explains the basics behind shoe shape and fit. I like the explanation he gives for when to use certain types of shoe, and it’s great to have the insight of someone who is so passionate about his shoes and who climbs so incredibly hard. There was also a really good article written about shoe anatomy and performance by Climbing magazine in 2012 (https://www.climbing.com/gear/2012-gear-guide-how-to-buy-rock-shoes/). This piece by Chris Weidner succinctly describes the parts of the shoe, what they are for, and how they should fit for best performance. In fact, the science behind climbing shoes has been discussed in many different areas, but here in Font, we have all aspects of climbing, from roofs to slabs, lots of toe and heel hooking for compression problems, and even the occasional crack. So which of these aspects of climbing shoes are the most important for us here on the sandstone?

I am very passionate about my current shoes. I think they work extremely well, but I wanted to find out what everyone else thought. I contacted 8 climbing shoe brands and asked for their recommendations for girls climbing in Fontainebleau, and I put the question out on social media, to find out what our community thought about shoes for Font sandstone. The response was great, with 45 suggestions, but a little hard to assimilate. Everyone seems equally as passionate about their shoes as me, but everyone wears different shoes, so coming up with the ideal recommendation for girls in Font is a bit of a long-shot.

original here

(Note, price is taken from the website of local climbing shop S’cape, Fontainebleau. If you need advice in English while you’re here, speak to David)

In summary it seems that softer rubber is the way forwards for Fontainebleau. The winners of my little survey are the Scarpa - Furia/Dragos, closely followed by the La Sportiva - Swarma which are essentially the same style of shoes from two different brands. The Furias and the Dragos are so similar that even the distributors recommend them in the same bracket, they differ only on closure system, and a little coloured rubber. Amongst the responses I had on social media, everyone who wears the Swarmas or Furia/Dragos absolutely swear by them as the best thing ever. It seems that the preference lies simply with the Scarpa vs Sportiva fit, with the Sportiva being a little narrower, and more aggressive on the heel. The downside of this super-soft, perfect Font-style shoe is that the abrasive sandstone is not gentle on the rubber, and they wear out really quickly.

This super-soft rubber and edge-less technology is a more recent fad. Technologies come and go, and styles fade in and out of fashion. Climbing shoe brands are constantly looking for the best performance for their users, and no brand has the answer. In truth, everyone’s foot is different, and everyone’s styles and technique is different too. Here is an interesting insight into the development of climbing shoes, and the passion involved in the designs.

So what shoe is for you?

Firstly you need to look at the style of climbing that you are going to do. Here in Font the styles are so varied that you probably need more than one pair of shoes if you’re going to maximise performance on every climb.

  • Tiny edges need stiffer shoes with precise edges
  • Roofs and overhanging prows need lots of soft rubber, especially on toes and heels
  • Friction slabs have a divided following – edging shoes vs softer rubber. Where there are tiny holds edges help, but on pure friction the more rubber you can get in contact with the rock the better.
  • Long circuit days need shoes that can stay on your feet for long periods of time without causing too much pain, but you don’t want super-sort rubber or they won’t last long
  • Projecting hard routes it helps to have an easy on-off closure system that allows a good tight fit – like Velcro, so you can take your shoes off every 5 or 10 minutes to rest between tries.
  • Closure systems are not just important for easy shoe-change, they are also points of weakness, so shoes with straps that go through metal eye-lets will wear quickly if you do lots of toe-hooking. Laces can be replaced, but I have found the Solutions and the Vapour Vs both failed in the Velcro closure system long before the shoe itself had worn out.
  • Shoes are expensive, so it’s often a good idea to buy a cheap pair, or use old shoes, for warming up and easier terrain, so that you can keep your ‘send-day’ shoes performing for longer.
  • Looks – don’t laugh, manufacturers think it matters to some of us ☺! Pretty coloured rubber is not usually as sticky as black rubber, so watch out for this in crucial places like heels and toes

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to find the right fit for you. I personally have a Scarpa-shaped foot. I don’t know whether that is how I was born, or whether it’s because I’ve worn Scarpa for so long that it’s moulded my feet?? Each brand will produce different fits within their range, but often the basic shoe last of a brand will be more or less suited to your foot. It seems that people with narrower feet tend towards a La Sportiva fit, but often, if the shoe you really like doesn’t fit you because your foot is too narrow, it’s worth asking if the style comes in a LV version. This is the Low Volume version, and isn’t always stocked by the shop, but can be ordered if you can guess your size.

If you watched the Adam Ondra video above, you might be inclined to try squeezing your feet into the tinyest shoes possible. He wears shoes that are four sizes smaller than his regular shoe size. As girls, with generally smaller feet, this percentage downsize is nigh-on impossible. In addition, the increased benefits of making your feet that much smaller than they already are, is not as relevant. I love the response to the shoe-sizing question given by Neely Quinn in her article on wwwtrainingbeta.com (https://www.trainingbeta.com/how-painful-should-my-climbing-shoes-be/). She addresses the myth about needing to have painful feet when you climb, and recommends a snug but comfortable fit, with no dead space and no painful pressure-points. She loves her La Sportiva women’s Solutions, and has worn the same shoe for years.

I spoke to local legend Caroline Sinno about her choice of shoe size. She wears the Scarpa Dragos and Furias, and has sizes ranging from 36.5 to 38. She actually finds the larger sizes are often favourable, as the fit on the heel varies between sizes. She finds that a larger size holds her heel better for certain types of heel hook, and is way more comfortable for extremes of temperature. In the depths of winter, a tight shoe will numb your toes where a larger shoe may take a sock. In hot weather, the larger shoe will accommodate the increase in foot volume. Caroline doesn’t believe you need to be in pain in order to climb hard.

On a personal note, I wear Scarpa Dragos, and sometimes Chimeras if I need a slightly stiffer shoe. I wear half a size smaller than my regular street size, and I love them. They work for everything, straight out of the box. The toe wrap of the rubber is amazing, with no seams to peel-up, no ridges to catch, no closures to wear-through, and awesomely intuitive. The only fault I have found with them is that they are not very durable on our abrasive sandstone. However, I have heard plenty of other women saying similar things about their shoes from different brands, and it appears that there is much more personality in a shoe than I originally thought. You may like the character of a shoe, or you may not, depending more or less how it fits with the character of your climbing.

I don’t feel like I have come to a helpful solution for people out there looking for a shoe to bring with them on a climbing trip to Fontainebleau, but I hope I have found some food for thought, and a little direction. Ultimately what we need is a shoe that suits our own style, maximises our weaknesses, and fits our own foot.


Caroline Coolen, January 24, 2020

Just saw the video of Le Denmat in La Super Prestat, I guess for him the answer is that it doesn't matter at all haha. (Link : https://vimeo.com/162671061)

Helen Dudley

Mum of Sebastian, 11, and Theo 8. Living in Arbonne-la-Forêt.

After making transitions from trad, to sport, to motherhood, Helen now lives in the Fontainebleau area dedicating as much time as possible to bouldering and playing in the forest with her two boys.