Do We Really Need Gender-Specific Climbing shoes?

You might have read our article last week on how women’s specific harnesses differ from men’s and why, if you’re a woman, you might like to wear one. So this week we thought we’d do the same for climbing shoes. Like harnesses, women’s specific climbing shoes are a relatively new introduction to the world of climbing gear, but they’ve actually opened up more options for male, as well as female, climbers. And it's just this that makes them so interesting...

So what makes a women’s climbing shoe different from a men’s shoe in a day and age where feet come in all shapes and sizes? Well, women’s shoes come in smaller sizes, for starters, and they’re usually slightly differently shaped to a men’s shoe. Depending on what kind of last they’re built on, women’s shoes can generally have a lower volume, narrower profile, narrower heel, lower instep, higher arch and longer toe box (but not necessarily all these things at once!).



A good selection of men's, women's and unisex climbing shoes - we'll leave it up to you to work out which is which.

If you’ve ever had problems with loose heels or dead space inside your shoes, a women’s shoe may well be for you. But it’s important to note that being a woman doesn’t limit you to just women’s shoes; we all have weird and wonderfully shaped feet, so chances are, if you’re a woman, a female-specific shoe might not be right for you and you’d feel more comfortable in a men’s or unisex model.

And the same goes for men. A lot of men find women’s shoes more comfortable because because of their lower volume. After all, men often have quite narrow feet so using a women’s shoe can provide a better and more performance orientated fit.

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The Mad Rock Pulse Negative and Pulse Positive - can you spot the difference in volume?

This begs the big question: do we even need gender specific shoes? While climbing shoes aren’t renowned for being that girly-looking, if we’re seeing guys walking around in shiny pink Wild Climb Bat Ladies and girls climbing in TC Pros maybe we need to change the way we look at gender-specific climbing shoes. Because out of all the parts on our bodies, feet are arguably some of the most gender neutral – we all have gross feet, doubly so because we’re climbers - is there really any point categorising shoes based on size alone? 

Maybe we’re being a bit rash – obviously there are loads of unisex shoes out there which are great for both men’s and women’s feet, the Five Ten Anasazi Lace-Up is even a very metrosexual shade of pink! – but do we need to label them? While it’s pretty handy to be able to assume that if a shoe is labelled for women it’s probably going to accommodate lower volume feet, this isn’t a value that applies strictly to women.

Mad Rock, for example, have moved away from making gender specific models of the same shoe and have instead made a high-volume and a low-volume version of the same shoe instead: the Pulse Negative and the Pulse Positive, for all the performance without the gender labels. Five Ten and Evolv do a similar thing with the Anasazi LV (low volume) and the Shaman LV, and although these are still marketed as women’s-specific shoes, they feature very gender-neutral designs.

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The Five Ten Anasazi VCS and Anasazi LV - a high volume and low volume version of the same shoe.

So it looks like Mad Rock are leading the charge to eliminate gender stereotyping in climbing, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing how it plays out. From our point of view, it seems like a good thing to have less labels and more variety for everyone, without having to fit yourself into the men’s or women’s category. But could this kind of thing also be off-putting for people just getting into climbing? Would there be too much choice? Can there even be too much choice when it comes to climbing shoes?

We honestly don’t know, but we’re looking forward to seeing if more brands start to do the same thing and how it will be received by the climbing public.

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