People new to climbing often wonder why some climbing shoes are a funny shape and curve downwards at the toe. There’s a number of benefits to a downturned shoe, but also some drawbacks. In this article we’re going to outline some of the main ideas behind “aggressive” climbing shoes to help you decide if you’d benefit from strapping your feet into a pair.
This picture highlights the difference in shape between two shoes that are both highly technical in separate ways. The 5.10 Anasazi is great for edging and gives great support on vertical or slabby routes, whereas the Evolv Prime is ideal for overhanging steep territory, where the aggressive downturn will help you hook onto the tiniest edges.
The first and most obvious benefit to a downturned shoe is that they essentially allow you to ‘hook’ holds with your toes, either on overhanging routes or when stepping high to rock up onto a hold on a less steep route. The shape of the shoe really holds your foot into a ‘pointed’ position, and when you’re on an overhanging wall this means you can hook the hold with much better power and accuracy than with a flatter shoe. The hooked shape is also really useful for pulling yourself close into the wall using the power in your legs therefore helping to take some the weight off your arms. Climbing shoes come with different levels of downturn, often referred to as how ‘aggressive’ the shoe is, and a basic rule would be that the steeper (most of) your climbing is then the more you’ll benefit from a more aggressive shoe.
The shape of the Evolv Bandit means you need really strong core muscles to keep your foot on a hold when climbing a steep overhang….
…whereas the hooked profile of the 5.10 Blackwing makes hooking holds a doddle.
The downturned shape also enables you to deliver more power to your inside edge, by holding your foot in a more powerful position. Underground tunnels are built in an oval because the curved shape is naturally stronger than a flat sided structure. It stands to reason that your foot is stronger when in a curved position. When I say ‘stronger’, I mean your foot will hold its shape when you push on a hold, rather than your toes bending upwards. If your push hard on a hold and all that happens is your toes bend upwards then very little of the power in your legs is being transferred to the wall and therefore your feet will not be carrying much of your weight.
The difference between pushing hard in a flat shoe and a downturned shoe
Modern shoe technology is beginning to allow some of the precision and power that used to be reserved for the most hardcore of downturned shoes to come into a climbing shoe with (almost) all-day comfort. The Evolv Shaman, for example, features what Evolv call ‘Love Bump’ technology, which fills the dead space under the toes in order to create the powerful downturned foot profile in a relatively comfortable and flat package.
Here’s a great diagram from Evolv showing how ‘Love Bump’ technology creates a powerful foot profile in a relatively flat climbing shoe like the Evolv Shaman.
Downturned shoes with a soft midsole (the bit in between the sticky rubber and the part of the shoe that your foot sits on) are great for steep bouldering and hardcore overhanging routes, where they give you amazing sensitivity. Climbing shoes like these will help you press off tiny holds that you might not have even been able to feel in a stiff shoe. However, avoid really soft shoes if you mainly climb slabby or vertical routes, as they don’t offer any support for your foot and your toes will start to feel the burn pretty quickly. If you mostly climb indoors then a pair of shoes with a slight downturn will probably be a safe bet for you, as the majority of indoor routes are on the pumpy side of vertical. The Evolv Geshido and Scarpa Vapour V fit this bill perfectly.
If you’re primarily climbing slabby and vertical routes, a downturned shoe might not be for you. It’s more difficult to feel the benefits on terrain that isn’t overhanging and smearing, while still totally possible, is more difficult in aggressive climbing shoes.
If you’re interested in getting a set of downturned shoes on your feet, here’s a list of our staff favourites.
The Evolv Prime
The Evolv Shaman
The Evolv Talon
The Five Ten Blackwing
The Scarpa Vapour V