Sunday, June 10, 2012

Climbing Footwear for Big Feet

This post is also published here.

All my life I've had “large” feet. Mine are long but narrow size 15's. When I started rock climbing in 1996 I didn't feel like there were too many good rock shoe options. Yes, I could choose from a few different models of entry-level FiveTen shoes, but on the whole I didn't feel like there were many choices.

For years I crammed my feet into any too-small shoe, thinking that a tight fit would help my climbing. Some tight-fitting shoes actually fit my long feet and helped me climb better. Others made me focus solely on the pain associated with edging and smearing, and I wanted nothing more than to throw those shoes away and go back to flopping my way up routes.

When I began ice climbing in 1998 I immediately hit a brick wall with boots. There was one option I knew about – the Lowa Civetta. They make the Civetta up to size 16. Whew. I was good to go. The Civettas carried me up many a route, albeit sloppily. They weren't the best boots for using you feet, even with good crampons. I suppose some of the slop was due to my lack of experience. The Civetta, however just didn't compare favorably to today's high-tech single and double boots.

I've been climbing for sixteen years now and my footwear situation doesn't seem quite so grim any longer. Over the years I've discovered what shoes come in large sizes, and what models fit best. In order to make other big-footed individual's lives easier I've compiled a list of the best footwear available. The quest to accommodate your Sasquatch-sized feet doesn't have to be as difficult as mine was.

Below I'm going to outline good footwear options for people who's feet are larger than size 13. If you have size 13 feet or smaller nearly all climbing footwear is readily available. If you have size 14 feet there are still many options. If you're feet are size 16 or larger you may just want to try barefoot waterskiing or basketball. Climbing footwear may be hard to find.

As someone who has big feet, there are several keys to finding the right footwear and keeping it in good shape. A good climbing shop will have some larger sizes in stock. An even better shop will have stock and be willing to order products too. Try on everything that's even remotely close to your size. You'll be surprised by what fits and what doesn't. Once you've found the right footwear take care of it. I resole nearly all my climbing shoes twice and my approach shoes once before retirement. It's important to resole shoes before they're in need of real T.L.C. If you blow a hole in the rand it might be too late. When the rubber gets thin send them in to be resoled.

Rock Shoes

Nearly all shoe manufacturers make some shoes to size 15. Most now make multiple models. After repeatedly trying FiveTen shoes I've given up. The Italians make damn fine footwear, and their rock climbing shoes are no exception. If you're trying to fit shoes, most American climbing shoe manufacturers run a bit truer to size. I wear a 14 in most Five Ten, Mad Rock and Evolv shoes. I wear anywhere from a 12-14 in Scarpa and La Sportiva shoes (meaning many models fit me).

Here are the top picks from the current 2012 offerings:

La Sportiva Nago – My very long size 15.5 feet fit tightly into size 46 Nago's. Sized more comfortably, I would wear size 47. They're made to size 48. Made in Italy. I'm not interested in any of the shoes produced by Sportiva outside of Europe. These entry level shoes still climb reasonably well when sized properly.

La Sportiva Cobra, Miura, Katana, TC Pro – Believe it or not, size 46 (the largest size offered) in all of these shoes fit my feet and climb unbelievably well. The TC Pro's don't quite fit the way they're meant to fit, but they're still the most amazing edging shoes I've worn and they last a while. The others listed fit tightly, as they should, but not uncomfortably tightly.

La Sportiva Mythos – These stretch a ton and are made to size 48. I wear a 46 in these too.

Scarpa Techno – Scarpa might discontinue these. I like them and wear a size 47. These have been good trad shoes

Scarpa Helix, Reflex – One is a laceup, the other a slipper. These entry level shoes are nice as all-around shoes for moderate climbing and will stretch over time. I wear size 46 and they're tight. I guess someone with 17's could wear the 50 in the Helix and be comfy.

Scarpa Force – Another velcro offering from Scarpa, made to size 47. I tried these on and felt like a 47 would be adequate.

Mad Rock Flash – I've had three pairs of these cheap shoes and they climb really well. Once they stretch out they are comfortable enough. For gym climbing I like them. I wear size 14 and they are tight at first.

Evolv Defy – Another decent, cheap gym shoe. I wear a size 14 in these too. They're a bit softer than the Mad Rock Flash.

Approach Shoes

Lots of options here to size 48. Again, La Sportiva and Scarpa seem to take the cake for quality design and durable construction. Five Ten has a few models in large sizes too if you're into their products. Here are my choices from the 2012 offerings from these companies:

La Sportiva Boulder X – Size 48 fits my feet tightly at first. Some slight initial discomfort leads to a good fit for climbing and approaching without any foot slop inside the shoe. These shoes are durable and climb reasonably well.

Scarpa Geko Guide – Size 47 fits like a climbing shoe and eventually becomes comfortable for extended approaches. The Geko's are aggressive “climbing” style approach shoes. When sized tightly they'll actually climb as well as most entry-level climbing shoes. During a guided ascent of the 900' Community Pillar (III 5.9) in Red Rocks last fall I wore them the whole time and my feet thanked me later in the day.

Scarpa Zen, Mystic, Dharma Pro – All of these shoes are built on a similar last and should fit similarly. They're all built to size 48. These stiff shoes require a bit of breaking in but outlast most others. They won't climb the same way that the Geko or Boulder X will.

Scarpa Crux – Also made to size 48, I've worn several older versions of this shoe, and despite a lining that accumulates an awful stench (a theme I've noticed across many Scarpa shoes), these shoes climb well, hike reasonably and are affordable. They'll probably hold a resole just fine too.

Mountain Boots

Well, options abound for rock shoes. Approach shoes to a lesser degree. Large-footed individuals have far fewer options when it comes to mountain boots. Most boots are made to size 13 or 14. My feet hate me. I spent too many years in size 48 Nepal Extreme and Nepal EVO. Just this past year I did a complete upgrade to size 49 Nepal Extreme and size 49 Baruntse mountain boots.

When searching for boots in large sizes it's best to search a company's full website. Many internet search engines will redirect you to a company's North America site, but to find the most accurate sizing information you'll have to look on the European websites. In addition, most boots larger than size 48 are going to come from Europe and may take a long time to order and ship.

Scarpa Phantom 6000 – These boots are made up to size 49 in Europe but only offered to size 48 in the U.S. I haven't used them but I'm curious about them - they're a lightweight double boot with a built in gaiter.

La Sportiva Nepal Extreme - Most of us haven't seen a Nepal Extreme on a store shelf in several years. They're still made in Europe but the more popular Nepal EVO GTX is the only Nepal offering in the states. These incredibly well made boots come in sizes up to 50 and need to be special ordered from Europe. The build quality actually seems better than that of EVO GTX.

La Sportiva Baruntse - These boots are made to size 50 and stocked in the United States, meaning you can order them and have them delivered in less than a week. These boots climb well and are very warm. They're going to work for just about any mountain region below 8000m and are suitable for cold weather winter use. They're like a double boot version of the Nepal, meaning they're durable and functional.

Lowa Civetta - These boots have traditionally been made to U.S. size 16. They're warm and have stood the test of time in the greater ranges of the world. The addition of an Intuition liner makes these boots warmer and easier to maintain. However, in my opinion they won't compare favorably to newer models double boot models like the Baruntse and Phantom 6000, which have flexible outer shells and come with a stock thermoform liner.

Do you have suggestions or other good large footwear options for climbers? Post a comment below and I'll be sure to add the information to this post, which will also become a page on my site so that it's easier to find.


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