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Are downturned shoes necessary?


Original Post
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

http://bouldersuk.com/2013/11/downturned-climbing-shoes/

So although the above article is mainly directed at beginners, I found it very interesting, as I've been debating the above question and the article brought up some interesting points. If you look around any gym or crag, the answer appears to be: "obviously, yes!", but I think that this stems from a notion that if you want to climb harder, what you need is "an aggressive shoe." In reality, however, it's a bit more complicated than that IMO.

While the downturn can help in some situations, it can also hurt, in particular if the shoe is also stiff. I've tried doing routes before in different shoes and been surprised when I actually felt more solid in a flatter shoe, even on overhanging/steep terrain where downturned shoes are supposedly better. I've also talked to climbers who climb hard in flat shoes (Moccs, Mythos, Anasazis, etc), who reason that shoes are not their limiting factor and that they prefer shoes with better sensitivity and feel.

The article raises some interesting points in regards to that issue. While the "hooking" effect is a fairly common reasoning for using downturn, I found the claim that downturned shoes allow the climber to take more weight off their arms rather interesting. While I rarely find myself falling directly because of my feet, it made me wonder: am I getting pumped quicker by using less aggressive shoes? This would be a difficult phenomena to study, as we normally strive to have 4 points of contact and it's difficult to judge how much weight is being applied to each individual limb (or sets of limbs). I've often wondered what the point of having a downturned stiff edging shoe (Katana Lace, Miura) was, as the downturn tends to make a lot of vertical stuff (smearing, outside edging) harder, yet the shoes tend to lack the sensitivity needed for steep climbing.

So what are your thoughts? Do downturned shoes actually help, or is it just in our heads? Is there a place for the downturn on vertical routes, or should it be confined to the steeps? Should we just grow a pair and get stronger instead of trying to use technology to climb harder? ;)

JK- · · SLC · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 58

Personal opinion: sensitivity vs stiffness is largely preference... Very very hard stuff has been climbed in both stiff and in sensitive. Ondra crushes in katana laces. Very stiff. The evolve Ashima is rather soft, and Ashima climbs super hard in those. To each their own.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 290

A beginner buying into the idea climbing shoes are supposed to hurt it really doing themselves a disservice.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Totally agree Healyje, but that's more a function of downsizing and shoes that are too tight, rather than wearing downturned shoes.

JK - good point, although IMO that's more a quiver factor than anything, as he's usually in Pythons nowadays but the Dawn Wall obviously demands stiffer shoes. That does bring up a good point, though: Tommy basically designed the TC Pro for the Dawn Wall, yet Adam chose to use Katana Laces. Why?

Sam: in my experience, that has more to do with asymmetry/pointy toes than downturn. Although the two tend to go together, they don't have to.

Long Ranger · · Boulder, Colorado · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 75
greg 24 wrote:Based on the bold type at the end of the article it looks like an attempt to sell more shoes. I firmly believe the climber is the most critical component. Down turned/flat/stiff/soft is all personal preference.
The shoes they list under there aren't even all aggressive downturned shoes. The article even talks about the Shaman's "relatively comfortable and flat package". The Vapor (Vapour? Silly UK site...) is also not very aggressive.
bridge · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined May 2016 · Points: 0

I broke a toe and got used to wearing Mythos (very soft, flat shoe).

After 6 months of healing, I went back to Miuras (hard, aggressive shoe) and found I had a lot less trust in my foot placements, even though they objectively grip the rock/holds better. Something about the discomfort and aggressive angle made it so that I think I climb worse in them.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah, I've noticed that when I switched between Moccs/Pinks and Katana Laces/HiAngles. You get used to feeling the holds and that proprioceptive response.

matvey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 55

I don't climb all that hard by any stretch of imagination, but Evolv Shamans just happened to fit my foot super well for whatever reason, and they are very comfy despite their down-turned shape! They're also one of the few pairs that went all the way up to size 13.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

I prefer flat, sensitive shoes (Moccs). Mildly aggressive or stiff ones are great too (MIruas/Katanas), depending on the rock, angle of the climb, and so on.

I used to go for too-tight and downturned shoes, and managed to climb fairly well in them -- but over time, I realized that the only factors that made a difference for me were stiffness vs sensitivity and a well-fitting heel cup. To each their own, which seems to be the takeaway from most shoe threads.

At the New, I go for stiff edged shoes, generally regardless of the angle due to the blank or thinly-edged billboards that tend to punctuate even the steepest lines there. For the Red, it doesn;t matter for the majority of the steeper stuff I've been on due to the heavily featured and textured stone.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

It's pretty rare to actually need super aggressive shoes. Theyre really nice on true roofs and super steep terrain where catching a small foot is critical to the send. Otherwise, any shoe that fits your foot well will do the job just fine.

Trevor. · · Boise, ID · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 834
Ted Pinson wrote:... That does bring up a good point, though: Tommy basically designed the TC Pro for the Dawn Wall, yet Adam chose to use Katana Laces. Why? ...
I ran into Adam when he was gearing up to climb Generator Crack. We got to chatting a bit and he said he doesn't like the fit on TCs and that he'd probably wear his Katanas for the dawn wall.
edanner · · Fort Collins, Colorado · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0

No

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
Trevor. wrote: I ran into Adam when he was gearing up to climb Generator Crack. We got to chatting a bit and he said he doesn't like the fit on TCs and that he'd probably wear his Katanas for the dawn wall.
Aaah, makes sense. They do fit very differently.
mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 120
edanner wrote:No
This...

"Necessary"? No.

In some circumstances, downturn aids pulling with the toe. In other circumstances; smearing, smedging, cracks, the downturn can impede footwork.

Then there's the concern whether a downturn works at all with your feet. I have bought and tried Scarpa Instincts, Boostics, Sportiva Katana lace, Murias and Testarossas, and a pair of Climb X slippers with minimal downturn. All I get is ripping tearing pain. I can't wear them at all. My big toe anatomy is such that the toes don't tolerate such a position under load of body weight. May as well rip the extensor tendons apart and throw away my feet.

YMMV. Lots of people love them.
Ralph Swansen · · Denver CO · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 335
JK- wrote:Personal opinion: sensitivity vs stiffness is largely preference... Very very hard stuff has been climbed in both stiff and in sensitive. Ondra crushes in katana laces. Very stiff. The evolve Ashima is rather soft, and Ashima climbs super hard in those. To each their own.
I agree with this.

I love my Moccasyms for true crack, Muiras for long trad (face, crack, slab) and my Testarossas for vertical, slabby or edgy sport and overhanging stuff.
Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

I find my footwork is more precise when climbing with a down turned shoe. I managed to get a few pitches outside in some new Skwamas that I purchased for the gym, found that I could still stand comfortably on quite small edges. I think that's where downturn can really be nice, get a softer shoe that is more sensitive while the downnturn helps give more support to your big toe. I'd need a much stiffer flat shoe to stand on the same holds.

sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60
Ted Pinson wrote: So what are your thoughts? Do downturned shoes actually help, or is it just in our heads? Is there a place for the downturn on vertical routes, or should it be confined to the steeps? Should we just grow a pair and get stronger instead of trying to use technology to climb harder? ;)
I feel like you know the answer to this question by trying out different shoes, and shoe reviews.

My opinion is, it's not in your head. Shoes (and possibly chalk) are the only climbing equipment that "help" you climb harder. Climbing shoes & rubber made a huge difference in climbers' grades when they came out. The rest is safety equipment, although lighter and more reliable safety equipment allows you to climb harder by not weighting you down, and reducing risk for more boldness (eg being okay to try and fall vs leader must not fall).

Maybe the difference between downturn & flat isn't as dramatic as the difference between a flat climbing shoe & tennis shoes, but every shoe feature (shape/downturn, fit, rubber) makes a difference by some fraction of a grade. Those elements added together may add two letter grades or more (as grades get higher) to your climbs. Climb in tennis shoes to feel a dramatic difference.

You ask, why not get stronger instead?

By maximizing every small difference, it adds up, as an illustration: 1 letter grade for getting stronger, 1 letter grade for better shoes, 1 letter grade for losing 10 lbs, 1 letter grade for better technique. Now you climb a whole number grade harder.

There is no reason to climb even slightly worse or tire more easily when each element can help you by a small fraction. I suppose for some people their feet don't fit downturned shoes, so they shouldn't use it. But for many, as shown by shoe reviews of people's personal feel/experiences (unless everyone is hallucinating) it helps with standing on small edges even on mostly vertical terrain (less exertion for toe to be vertical instead of horizontal, focused downward on a smaller area), possibly an inch of extra height (I notice it) on vertical terrain, and of course hooking so they don't peel off overhangs. From a physics point of view it makes sense also, even on vertical terrain.

Shape makes a big difference in the physical world we live in, eg pointed ballet shoes for spins, and the shape of airplane wings for lift.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

That's true, although the drawback is you'll fatigue a lot faster, as you're not actually getting that extra support from wearing a stiff sole. Good for single pitch sport, but I wouldn't want to tiptoe my way up a multipitch.

JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95
Ana Tine wrote: By maximizing every small difference, it adds up, as an illustration: 1 letter grade for getting stronger, 1 letter grade for better shoes, 1 letter grade for losing 10 lbs, 1 letter grade for better technique. Now you climb a whole number grade harder. There is no reason to climb even slightly worse or tire more easily when each element can help you by a small fraction.
This. Especially for those of us hitting the flatter parts of the improvement curve, every little bit counts. I've found that on a hard technical route, for me, the difference between wearing a decent pair of shoes and exactly the right pair of shoes can be a letter grade. This might mean wearing TC Pros instead of Miuras, or vice versa, on a granite route. Or Miura Velcros versus Testarossas when sport climbing. It can even come down to a fresh, sharp edge on new shoes, versus a rounded edge on an older pair of the same model. And the difference between exactly the right pair and an unsuitable pair of shoes (i.e. wearing TC Pros on overhanging limestone, or Testarossas for a sandstone splitter) can be several grades.

Sure, you can get up all sorts of stuff with a mediocre pair of shoes. But once you are really at your limit that letter grade difference starts to become a big deal. That letter grade might mean the difference between another year of training before you send, versus sending it this season. Having the right shoes is worth it.

Downturn vs flat. Stiff vs. soft. Tight vs. loose. New vs. old. Soft rubber vs. hard. All of these attributes are advantageous sometimes and a disadvantage at other times. It really depends on what you are climbing. And this is why we end up with a quiver of shoes...

The only shoe attribute that is always a good thing is that it fit your foot well. The wrong brand, the wrong fit, will never be a good thing. Go in the shop and try on all the shoes.

But anyway, back to the original topic. If you are really pushing your limits on overhanging terrain, then downturned shoes help. A lot. Whether this means that they are "necessary" depends on how you feel about sending.
sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

^^yup, which also provides a good segway to:

Ted Pinson wrote:That's true, although the drawback is you'll fatigue a lot faster, as you're not actually getting that extra support from wearing a stiff sole. Good for single pitch sport, but I wouldn't want to tiptoe my way up a multipitch.
Gotta have the right tool for the job.

I use flatter shoes for multipitch for comfort. I don't push grades on multipitch because that would be tiring and take forever. Not sure about downturned b/c I don't try, but tight shoes would hobble me at the end of a multipitch due to foot swelling and thus not being able to even put pressure on my feet.

More downturned shoes for single pitch, edge of my grade limit, or gym. Medium stiff for everything. I guess you just have to find what maximizes your abilities.
JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95
Ana Tine wrote: I use flatter shoes for multipitch for comfort. I don't push grades on multipitch because that would be tiring and take forever. Not sure about downturned b/c I don't try, but tight shoes would hobble me at the end of a multipitch due to foot swelling and thus not being able to even put pressure on my feet.
On hard multipitch a tag line, haul pack, and several pairs of shoes is the way to go. So you wear your comfy TC Pros on the moderate pitches, but for the crux roof you pull the Testarossas out of the haul pack. They aren't comfortable, but they help you send, and you only wear them for one pitch anyway.

But that's a specialized scenario. Generally, I agree that a stiff, flat, comfortable shoe is the way to go on most multipitch.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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