Is it OK to go Bouldering in Sneakers (do I need Climbing Shoes?)

If you’re new to bouldering, or planning your first trip to a bouldering gym, you might wonder if you really need a pair of climbing shoes.

After all, can’t you just climb the boulders in your sneakers? Do you need to shell out extra cash on rental climbing shoes?

No, you don’t need climbing shoes for bouldering but you should still get rental shoes during your first visits. It is entirely possible to boulder with your street shoes but many gyms don’t allow it for obvious reasons and even if they do, you might still want to avoid it.

Climbers take their sport seriously and their local bouldering wall is like their second home. Do you really want to be that person and climbs in their outdoor shoes, spreading germs all over the handholds?

Climbers aren’t very confrontational but this might get you some judge looks and side eyes. Boulderers take extra care not to wear their climbing shoes into filthy areas such as the bathroom for this exact reason.

Besides, many gyms don’t even allow climbing in outdoor shoes or climbing barefoot for germ-spreading reasons.

You don’t have to buy a pair of climbing shoes, every bouldering gym has rental shoes in your size.

📚 Learn more about bouldering in our Bouldering Beginners Guide

Can I Boulder in my Sneakers?

While most indoor bouldering gyms won’t allow you to climb without climbing shoes, it is perfectly possible to boulder with your outdoor shoes. Many of the beginner problems at a climbing gym have big enough footholds that you will have no problem standing on them.

However, if you plan to progress towards intermediate grades in bouldering, you will need a pair of climbing shoes. The footholds on intermediate bouldering problems are so small, that you will need climbing shoes to properly edge on them.

Is it Okay to go Bouldering in my Street Shoes?

At first sight, bouldering in your outdoor shoes might seem like a good way to save some money. After all, rental shoes will usually add an extra $3 to $5 to your climbing session. So if it’s just for a fun session, by all means, use your street shoes (if the gym allows it!!)

But if you are serious about bouldering, you shouldn’t use your outdoor shoes for a number of reasons.

You won’t be able to progress much

you need climbing shoes for bouldering so you can edge on small footholds, this is not possible in your sneakers
Climbing Shoes will help you edge on those small footholds

Your street shoes aren’t made for bouldering. They don’t have sticky rubber soles designed to put as little between your foot and the foothold. So yes you can climb in outdoor shoes, but you won’t be able to climb hard.

Not only will street shoes make it near impossible to progress past the easy grades, but you also won’t have the required footwork to get to the intermediate grades.

When you are using outdoor shoes for bouldering, you are essentially forcing yourself to use your arms only and your feet become an afterthought. This is terrible for your growth as a climber.

If you don’t use your feet from the very beginning, it will be difficult to get into the mindset of using them later on. This means you are likely to plateau much faster than someone who climbed in climbing shoes and thought about their footwork from the very start.

You will spread germs all over the handholds

During bouldering, you are constantly using stepping on foot and handholds alike. This is fine in climbing shoes because climbing shoes are only used inside climbing gyms and thus don’t have nearly as many germs as regular street shoes.

Street shoes, on the other hand, have lots of germs from walking around on the street, going inside bathrooms, and so on. Do you really want these germs to get on the holds and eventually on your hands?

Even if your gym allows bouldering in street shoes, do you really want to be that person that is rubbing germs all over the handholds? Please get rental shoes.

p.s. did you know bouldering gyms have rules such as you can’t enter the bathroom in climbing shoes? This is to prevent germs from getting on the handholds.

You might damage your shoes

Your outdoor shoes weren’t designed for bouldering. Bouldering walls and volumes are pretty rough in texture and could definitely damage your shoes.

So unless your shoes are worth less than $5, rent climbing shoes.

You might hurt yourself

Climbing shoes are designed to edge on small footholds making it easy to trust your feet when bouldering. Regular shoes, however, are not made with this purpose in mind. This makes it much easier to slip off a foothold and potentially hurt yourself in street shoes than in proper climbing shoes.

You will draw unnecessary attention

Nobody wants to look like a noob on their first climbing session. But climbing in your outdoor shoes will absolutely put all eyes on you at the bouldering wall. If you don’t like people staring, wearing your sneakers to climb boulders is about the worst thing you can do.

⚠️ Wear your sneakers to the bathroom

While you should wear your (rental) climbing shoes on the mats and to send boulders, you should always put your street shoes back on whenever you go to the bathroom.

Wearing your climbing shoes in the bathroom is a major faux-pas. Bathroom floors are filthy and full of germs. If you take your climbing shoes into the bathroom, you will get those germs all over the handholds.

Will Climbing Shoes give me a Benefit in bouldering?

If you are used to climbing with outdoor shoes, the difference when wearing climbing shoes is night and day. Climbing shoes are designed for smearing on the wall and volumes, edging on small footholds, and they come with extra rubber on the toes and heel to allow for toe and heel hooking.

Climbing shoes are also meant to be worn tight meaning you won’t slip around in your shoe while bouldering, this is often the case with street shoes and can be dangerous.

How to get Rental Shoes at the Bouldering Gym

girl putting on her rental shoes at the climbing gym

So I’ve finally convinced you to wear rental shoes instead of outdoor shoes, here’s how you will get the most out of it.

Use your street shoe size

While you might have heard that climbing shoes should be sized down to get the best fit, this isn’t exactly the case for rental shoes. Rental shoes are often from manufacturers that don’t require a lot of downsizing in the first place (e.g. Mad Rock and Evolv) plus, you will need to make room for your socks anyway.

So when the staff asks you for your size, just use your street shoe size.

Wear socks inside the rental shoes

While wearing socks in climbing shoes is usually not done, you should still wear socks inside rental shoes. Rentals have been on many different feet (some smellier than others) so you better keep those socks on!

Bring an extra pair of socks

You should always bring an extra pair of socks when going bouldering. This way, you have a pair of socks for the icky rental shoes and a pair of socks for your sneakers.

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