A quest for wide climbing shoes

As someone with wide, flat, and square feet I’ve always found challenges finding shoes that fit. Lately I’ve been shifting to wide barefoot-style shoes for daily wear to help prevent too-narrow shoes from pressing my big toe joint into an even more exaggerated bunion. When it comes to rock climbing shoes however, one needs for a tight fit in order to stand on small chips and dimples in the rock surface and having extra space around the foot isn’t really an option.

When I started climbing two years ago I bought the only shoes in the store that I could get my feet into: the Black Diamond Momentum in US 12.5.

The old Black Diamond Momentum. A soft, natural-curve beginner shoe.

My Feet

Feet: 11.25″ (28.6cm) long and 4.5″ (11.43cm) wide.

Street shoe size is usually US 11.5-12 EEE[E] (3E/4E). EU 45. Right foot is 1/2 size bigger than left.

Naturally placed on the floor, my foot is pretty square:

With toes slightly curled for climbing, it becomes a bit more pointed, but is still very wide and high volume at the first toe joint/bunion:

Placing my foot trace on the old shoes you can see that they aren’t a perfect match, but these are so soft and stretchy that they were quite comfy even for long periods.

Finding an upgrade

Over two years of climbing I’ve appreciated the comfort of my beginner shoes, but have started finding them to be the limiting factor on some climbs, with the soft shoe rotating around my foot as I try to edge on smaller and smaller chips. As well, the soft and flexibly sole doesn’t give me enough support to actually stand on the point of my toes on small edges or pockets. Instead I’ve developed a technique of edging on my bunion to compensate, which works, but forces my hips open in a way that is sometimes maladaptive to the movements I need to make.

I mostly climb easier trad routes and slabby non-vertical sport routes, so I don’t need crazy aggressive shoes, just something that will fit my feet and allow for better edging than the Momentums. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than I was expecting…


Before doing much in-person shopping I spent hours reading about likely candidates so that I could go into stores with a list of likely candidates to try on. These were a few of the sites and discussions I found useful:


Additionally, two of the big manufacturers have some charts that help place their various models on a few different fit and performance axes:

The winner: La Sportiva TC Pro

After trying on dozens of shoes from 4 retailers, the La Sportiva TC Pro was the only one I could find in a size that fit my feet that had a stiff sole good for edging. In order to get enough width I had to size up to EU 46, which made the shoes just a bit too long for my feet.

The EU 45.5 was surprisingly comfortable. Laces allow expansion around the bunion, but my foot is simply wider than the shoe. Blowing out the sides pulls my big toe to center, aggravating my bunion.
In contrast, the EU 46 feels much better in width and toe pressure, but there is a bit of slack fore/aft.
The EU 46 feel pretty comfy!

Tracing my foot onto the outline of the TC Pro highlights how the fit feels: pretty comfy in the forefoot with the laces quite loose around my bunion, but also a bit too long when my feet are tucked tight to the front.

Padding out the heel

Given that these were the only option that fit me I decided to just pad out the heel with molefoam to take up some of the extra length. I’ll need to stitch in a cover to prevent it from rolling when I put on the shoes, but this seems a lot less drastic than the cutting apart some other folks have to do to get shoes to fit.

Adding a few layers of sticky-backed molefoam to the heel helps keep my feet snug to the toe and doesn’t seem to add any issue to the fit in the heel-cup.

After a few days climbing with the molefoam I found the top edge was starting to roll and tear when I was pulling them on. To address this I sewed in a small swatch of denim from some old jeans so that my heel can slide right in without pulling on the molefoam. The stitching is almost invisible on the outside and I can still lift up the swatch to add/remove molefoam over time to customize the fit further as the shoes stretch, the foam compresses, or my desired fit changes.

Other contenders

My big take-away is that most climbing shoes are simply too narrow for my feet if the length is correct. Until I find a unicorn of a wider shoe, I’ll either have shoes that are the right length (~ my street shoe size) and are too narrow (ouch!) or will size up and deal with the extra length somehow. Unfortunately EU 46 seems to be the largest size commonly available, so even finding larger/wider shoes to try on is difficult. Many models don’t even seem to be manufactured larger than EU 46.

Scarpa – Instinct VS

These have the Vibram® XS Edge rubber and from the charts seem like they would be an okay option for me.

I tried a 45 and could barely get my right foot in. Left foot was a little better and toes were bunched, but not screaming.

EU 46 fits better yet, but still pushes my big toe to the center and squeezes the first toe joints all across the foot. This was tolerable for a few minutes, but left my foot aching. When testing they felt incredibly secure on rock with great stickiness and feel, just too tight to wear more than a few minutes. It is possible that an EU 47 or 48 would be wide enough and remove the big toe pressure, but I haven’t found them available in these sizes.

La Sportiva – Miura VS

I really wanted to like these shoes. On paper they sounded exactly like what I was looking for, an “edging machine”.

Tried in 45, could barely get it on my right foot. Left foot went on a little easier, but toes were still painfully crunched.

46 still crushed the little toes. My smallest tow was fully curled under, and the pressure on the outer metatarsal was excruciating.

Miura on right compared to TC Pro sole shape. The Miura just isn’t the right shape for my feet.

La Sportiva – Skwama

Vibram XS Grip sole

Tried a 45 in vegan and could just barely get my feet in. Toes weren’t as pinched as the 45 Miura VS, but still tight.

45.5 still too tight all around the foot. Digs into Achilles.

Tenaya – Mastia

Vibram XS Grip sole

Tried a 12, fits my left foot perfectly, but the right is too tight at my bunion (though maybe tolerable). Definitely a narrower shape than ideal, but I can climb in them and briefly stand on toes. Really close, but could use more width on the bunion.

Butora – Gomi

Butora’s own NEO Fuse Sticky Rubber (4mm Outsole)

Even the EU 47 (13) was too tight for my right foot.

Scarpa Testarossa

Wasn’t able to try on.

Scarpa Arpia V

Vibram® XS Grip2 sole

45.5 is painful

46 is pretty comfortable, feels like the right size. Doesn’t feel super supportive on the toe and I worry that the amount of support wouldn’t be enough for edging on small chips.

La Sportiva Finale

5 mm Vibram XS EDGE rubber

Apparently “supportive”

46: probably a little too long. Comfy, but can’t stand on the toe

45.5 feels good with just a bit of toe cupping. Probably not quite stiff enough for edging.

Scarpa Quantic

45.5 painful to edge on.

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