When starting to look for a pair of rock climbing shoes for the first time, it can get quite overwhelming. This sensation is due to the fact that unlike many other sport designed shoes, these have many different characteristics depending on your style, experience, or comfort in a climbing shoe. I will run down what to look for in a rock climbing shoe.
Lace or velcro?
For most people, this is just a preference. This is one of the few things that does not affect your climbing ability, what so ever. Most people looking for a shoe for the first time may think, "Oh I shoes with laces," or "I can't think of the last time I used velcro on my shoes." And while this is relative to a lot of people, the most common type for a rock climbing shoe is definitely velcro. But why is that? Velcro is incredibly easy and quick to put on, and if you get more experienced and are used to chalky hands or sweaty feet, this is definitely a go-to. I myself love to use the velcro straps for these reasons. Now I am not saying that you have to use velcro (I have many friends that still go with laces), I am just implying to keep your options open.
This is where the shoe buying becomes trickier. Downturn refers to how curved the main sole or entire shoe is angled away from your feet. These are usually displayed as neutral, moderate, or aggressive. Neutral shoes have the most comfort, but may not perform as well as a moderate of aggressive shoe at those hard footholds and foot chips. A word of caution however; aggressive can become incredibly painful if new and worn for long periods of time. If this is your first pair, I would suggest getting a neutral shoe. Comfort will be your friend here, and you will should be able to do everything with ease at your level.
Leather or Synthetic shoes?
This may not seem like a very large deal, but many rock climbers look into this deeply. The biggest difference here refers to the stretch of the material. Leather is more flexible than synthetic material. By doing this, leather can have an incredible, glove-like fit for increased performance. The drawback of this comes when they can become baggy or lose their shape over a long period of time. Synthetic material may be stiffer overall, but can be a little more reliable.
This topic is very distinct in the world of climbing. Symmetry revolves around the inward curve a shoe can have. Most shoes are symmetric or mildly symmetric. These shoes are more comfortable and can be worn for long periods of time. An asymmetric shoe is completely different. This little angle of difference can make a shoe unstoppable at standing on the smallest footholds, but cannot be worn for hours at a time without experiencing excruciating pain.
Hopefully this rundown on the basic components of rock climbing shoes helps in your search for shoes. For more on a specific shoe, look into my reviews. This can help if you already have an idea on what you are looking for.