The Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Climbing Shoes

Although men’s and women’s climbing shoes share many similarities, there are notable differences between the two kinds. Women’s climbing shoes will fit different foot shapes better than others as they are specifically designed with a typical woman’s foot shape in mind. This article details the main differences between the two and I hope it will help you determine which kind may be right for you.

As a general rule, women’s climbing shoes have less volume than men’s shoes and provide a superior fit for narrow feet. On average, women’s shoes will be low cut around the ankle and will have a lower profile, longer toe box, smaller heel cup, and a higher arch than men’s climbing shoes.

There are many factors that go into determining which shoe will fit you the best and it is not as straight forward as it appears. Climbing shoes may be put into categories of “men’s” and “women’s” but they are not gender specific. Read on to figure out which type of climbing shoe may be right for you.

If you are interested in seeing what the current prices are for the most popular rock climbing shoes, you can find them on Amazon by clicking here. Using the Amazon affiliate link above and/or other links in the article helps support this website.

Men’s vs Women’s Climbing Shoes

As I mentioned above, climbing shoes are not gender specific. That means you don’t have to be a woman to wear women’s climbing shoes and you don’t have to be a man to wear men’s climbing shoes.

Picking out the right pair of shoes for you depends entirely on your foot shape and size, not your gender.

The distinction between the two shoe types arose due to the large variability in the foot shapes of humans. The National Library of Medicine published a scientific study that analyzed the shape of adult feet relative to the foot length of the subjects.

The study found that 85% of the time men have longer and broader feet than women when standardized to foot length. If interested, you can check out the study at linked here.

“This study demonstrates that female feet and legs are not simply scaled-down versions of male feet but rather differ in a number of shape characteristics, particularly at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe, and the ball of the foot. These differences should be taken into account in the design and manufacture of women’s sport shoes.”

R E Wunderlich, P R Cavanagh, “Gender differences in adult foot shape: implications for shoe design”, April 2001

Generally, women’s climbing shoes provide a more snug fit throughout the foot for those with smaller heels and fore-foots. This leads to women’s climbing shoes being a better fit for narrower feet. The picture and discussion below highlight the different features of women’s climbing shoes.

Decreased Shoe Width

On average, men’s climbing shoes are wider than women’s climbing shoes. Due to this, people with more narrow feet will have extra “dead” space along the sides of the climbing shoe.

This dead space leads to an improper fit and prevents the climber from climbing at their full ability. This effect is especially evident when the climber is attempting to edge on small foot holds.

Longer Toe Box

Generally, women’s climbing shoes will have a longer and more narrow toe box relative to men’s climbing shoes. This helps accommodate more narrow fore foots and provides climbers with narrow feet a tighter fit.

Smaller Heel Cup

Women’s climbing shoes have a smaller and narrower heel cup than most unisex and men’s shoes. The tighter design allows for a more secure fit and eliminates open space in the heel. This prevents the climbing shoe from rubbing up against the back of the foot. In turn, this helps reduce the chance of blisters from forming on the back of the climber’s heel.

Higher Arch

In general, women’s climbing shoes will have a higher arch than unisex/men’s shoes. This provides the necessary support for high arching feet that you generally don’t see from unisex and men’s climbing shoes.

Lower Profile

The lower profile of women’s climbing shoes can come in handy for crack climbing. A low profile allows climbers to fit their feet into smaller cracks than possible with a higher profile shoe.

Low Ankle Cut

Women’s climbing shoes are commonly cut lower around the ankle than men’s shoes. This allows for greater flexibility in the ankle but it sacrifices some of the support.

In addition to these features, women’s climbing shoes are available in smaller sizes than men’s. Kids and people with small feet may not find a listing available for their specific shoe size in men’s climbing shoes unless they special order them. Instead of going through the extra cost and trouble to special order them, it may be worth looking into women’s or unisex shoes instead.

If you are in the market for new climbing shoes, I highly recommend checking out my recommended gear page. It goes into great detail explaining what to look for in your next pair of shoes and will help you find the best option for yourself. We have all wasted money on a pair of shoes that we didn’t like, hopefully it will prevent that from happening again.

The features identified in the discussion above are not present in every women’s climbing shoe. Most women’s climbing shoes will have a majority of these features but likely not all of them. These features are commonly associated with women’s climbing shoes but not all of them are present in every shoe.

Similarities Between Men’s and Women’s Climbing Shoes

Both men’s and women’s climbing shoes are designed to provide optimal performance in the sport. Despite the naming convention, neither men’s nor women’s climbing shoes are gender specific.

In fact, some climbing companies have started to manufacture “low volume” climbing shoes instead. Low volume shoes share the majority of characteristics identified as women’s climbing shoes stated above.

In addition to not being gender specific, both types are composed of relatively the same materials. This similar material composition causes them to have similar lifespans.

There are many different types and specialties of climbing out there i.e. bouldering, sport climbing, and crack climbing to name a few. All of these different types of climbing have specific climbing shoes tailored to them. Today, these highly specialized shoes come in both men’s and women’s climbing shoe designs due to the widespread and rapidly growing climbing community.

This was not always the case as in its early days climbing was primarily a male dominated sport and the majority of climbing shoes were created in a men’s/unisex design.

The bottom line? Women’s climbing shoes are tailored for narrow feet with a higher arch. Not all women’s climbing shows are made equally and different shoes may have slightly different characteristics. Keep in mind that climbing shoes are not gender specific and you should pick a pair that fit you feet the best.


Hi, I'm Rex! I have been into everything outdoors for as long as I can remember. Climbing became a huge part of my life in college and I hope to share everything I have learned on this website to help fellow passionate climbers.

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