Rock climbing is a sport where your gear can make all the difference in the world for your performance. The world of climbing shoes has evolved enormously over the past decades, with innovations and technology constantly emerging. Some of the developments made within the world of climbing shoes have elevated the sport to another level.
If you’re new to climbing, you might wonder why shoes use velcro straps and laces. You may also be wondering what kind of shoe is best for you. This article breaks down the key differences between velcro and laced shoes. We discuss foot shapes, climbing styles, shoe profiles, and fit.
Why Some Climbers Prefer Velcro Climbing Shoes
Velcro straps are one of the two major options when it comes to closure systems for climbing shoes. Often, models with straps have a more aggressive, downturned profile. Such type of model tends to be a softer shoe than laced models. This makes most shoes with straps a better choice for routes heavy on toe hooking, heel hooking, edging, smearing, and so on.
You may have seen other climbers downsize two or even three sizes in climbing shoes from their street shoe size. This is common among advanced climbers, in particular, especially those who take on highly technical routes. A tighter fit, especially in sensitive climbing shoes, can help you ‘feel’ the rock.
This can make a significant difference on technical routes or small holds.
While aggressive downsizing can help you send those extra technical, high-performance routes, your feet can take a beating. This is where rock climbing shoes with a strap system come in handy.
As you can probably imagine, wearing shoes smaller than your actual size can put a lot of pressure on the foot. It can cause the shoe to pinch or rub in places where it shouldn’t. Also, the shoe’s tightness can cause the feet to fatigue more quickly.
This is where velcros come in. These climbing shoes utilize a one-strap system, pulling them off and putting them on quickly and effortlessly. This is a massive help if you’re doing high-intensity climbing where you need to give your feet frequent breaks.
Another area where velcro climbing shoes excel is if you are switching between climbing and belaying. Generally, climbers switch to an approach shoe or similar when belaying (or just a sturdier shoe). So, if you need to change your shoes frequently, a shoe with straps that makes this as quick as possible will be the far more appealing option. Because who wants to stand around tying and untying their shoes all day?
Another reason you might want to choose velcro shoes over lace ones is if you are looking into getting kid-friendly climbing shoes. Climbing shoe laces can be somewhat soft and finicky.
This can make them tricky for kids to tie up, especially when compared to straps. If we were looking for a climbing shoe for a younger climber, we probably would only consider velcro shoes due to ease of use alone.
Why Some Climbers Prefer Shoes with Laces
If climbing shoes with straps are so convenient and offer such excellent performance, why even consider laces? While lace-ups might seem old-fashioned, they certainly have their strengths as well. One of the greatest selling points of lace climbing shoes is that they are usually made to be as comfortable as possible. This goes for their overall design and the materials they use.
Another great advantage of shoelaces is that you can replace them when worn out. This extends the life span of rock shoes with laces pretty considerably. On the other hand, a velcro strap is usually tough, if not impossible, to replace.
Not only that, but velcro loses its effectiveness if it gets too dirty or dusty. This makes it very important to store velcro shoes carefully and maintain them well. We’d argue this makes them a little more high-maintenance than lace shoes.
Greater Flexibility and a Better Fit
As mentioned above, if you want maximum comfort or more support from your climbing shoe, a pair of lace-ups might be your best bet. This is primarily due to the fact that lace-ups usually afford you a far more customizable fit than velcro models. Shoes with laces generally have eyelets all the way to the toe box. This means you can experiment with how you tie your shoes to get the most comfortable, accurate fit.
This is why climbers with especially wide or narrow feet may have an easier time finding a lace-up model that fits them well. You might want to look into lace shoes if you have an unusual foot shape. They should allow you a closer, more secure fit.
When multi-pitching or out on longer routes, in particular, having a shoe that fits as well as possible is crucial. A shoe that is too tight around the toes or the heel can cause discomfort or even injury.
Essentially, with laces, you can make tiny adjustments to the fit of your shoe even as you climb. This level of customizability can be a lifesaver when you’re wearing a new shoe, especially if it’s starting to pinch or rub at the wrong place. Velcro shoe loyalists may argue that lace shoes take too long to remove. However, if you’re climbing all day, you won’t likely need to get your shoes on or off as quickly as possible.
While not directly related to their use of laces, we’d argue that lace climbing shoes are usually harder than velcro models. This is probably because lace models are typically favored for crack and trad climbing, where a more durable shoe is usually what you’d be looking for.
Laces vs. Velcro for Your Climbing Style
As we’ve established, velcro or laced shoes are more suitable for certain styles of climbing than others. Still, weighing up whether a laced or velcro shoe would be best for you? You should think first and foremost about what makes up most of your climbing.
For maximum performance on shorter routes, climbing shoes with nylon hooks and loop fasteners are the way to go. Bouldering, sport climbing, anything with extra-techy footwork is the kind of climbing where velcro climbing shoes are usually the better option. Shoes with a velcro closure system typically offer the best performance. They’re much quicker to put on and take off than laced models. In the climbing gym and want to give your feet a break between bursts of bouldering? That’s much easier to do with a velcro shoe that you can slip on and off in a second.
However, if you do a lot of trad climbing, crack climbing, or climb all-day routes? In that case, you’ll probably want to look into laced shoes. Lace-up shoes protect your feet better and give them greater support. Not only are they designed with maximum comfort in mind, but they also tend to be more durable.
Cracks are another area where laces tend to perform better than velcro closures. Laced shoes protect the foot better, and velcro closures can easily come undone in cracks. For this reason, you’ll find that almost all crack climbers prefer shoes with laces.
The fact that velcro and lace shoes are better suited to certain climbing styles affects their designs, too. For example, your average velcro shoe is likely to be a far more aggressive shoe than a lace shoe. This makes them less versatile than a laced model with a more neutral profile.
Both velcro rock climbing shoes and laced climbing shoes have their advantages. Many climbers prefer velcro models thanks to how easy they are to put on and remove, for example. This makes them especially popular for climbing styles where downsizing is the norm.
However, lace climbing shoes might be your best bet if you’re looking for a more supportive shoe with a snug fit. We’d also recommend them for anyone looking for more flexibility in their fit.
It’s impossible to say which of either lace or velcro shoes are inherently better. Ultimately, your best shoe type will come mainly down to personal preference. What’s most important is finding a comfortable shoe that fits well.
You may want to downsize your climbing shoes if you enjoy bouldering, sport climbing, or shorter, more explosive routes. However, downsizing may not be necessary if you’re a climber who mostly climbs trad or crack. In some instances, it may hinder your progress and probably cause you discomfort.
On the back of most climbing shoes, you’ll find a set of loops. These are heel loops; you can use these to pull the shoe onto your foot more easily.
Absolutely! You’ll find that many experienced and professional climbers use both kinds of shoes depending on what they are climbing.
Judging by the many photos of his accomplishments and the shoe models he promotes, it’s safe to say that Chris Sharma prefers velcro rock climbing shoes overall.