Climbing shoes are an essential tool in your climbing arsenal. Without them, edges become almost impossible to stand on, and overhangs…well, good luck.
It’s necessary to figure out what type of shoe you need, as it can vary depending on what you’re climbing. However, just as important as purchasing the right kind of shoe, properly maintaining them will ensure that you don’t have to make frequent visits to your local climbing outfitter. So let’s dive into some techniques you can use to get the most life out of your climbing shoes.
Only Wear Them While You Climb
This might seem obvious to many of you. Climbing shoes can be incredibly uncomfortable, so who would wear them more than they have to? Unfortunately, plenty of folks find it easier to keep them on between routes instead of switching to a pair of sandals or other type of shoe. You’re not as likely to damage your shoes while walking around inside a gym, but when you’re outside, all of the rocks and dirt can do a number on them. In general, it’s good practice to only wear your shoes while climbing a route. Over the course of time, you’ll be glad you did.
Keep Them Out of Extreme Temperatures
Your shoes are more sensitive than you might think. Because they can be expensive, and tend to wear down quickly depending on your technique and how frequently you climb, it’s good to take as many precautions as you can.
In hot weather, the adhesive can separate from the leather if you aren’t careful. If you get cold winters like I do in Minnesota, the leather can crack if it stays outside in the car for too long. Keep your shoes in a climate controlled environment to help them stay looking like new for as long as possible.
Have Clean Footwork
And by clean, I mean accurate. If you want to get the most life out of your shoes, it’s important to limit your use of their surface area. Be accurate with your foot placement, so you’re not constantly readjusting where your shoe touches the rock.
Engage your core when you’re setting your foot down. Not only will this allow you to be more accurate in your placement, but it also minimizes impact. This was something I failed to do when I first started climbing, and I wore through my toe box in about 3 months! Learn from my mistakes and try not to smash your foot into the wall every time you move to a new foothold.
Carry Them in a Separate Bag
It can be tempting to throw your shoes in your backpack with all of your other gear. I know some people who just clip them to their harness using a carabiner, or toss them loosely in the trunk of their car. While this can be nice for convenience, it can harm the health of your shoes over time.
Having a separate bag for your shoes and storing them there will prevent dirt and chalk from building up on the soles. Keeping the bottom of your shoes clean is important for maintaining the stickiness and friction generated by the rubber.
Get the Right Size
As much as we don’t enjoy it, climbing shoes are meant to be tight. If you’re buying a new pair of shoes, it’s easy to put some on and think, “No way are these my size. They’re almost painful!” Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, climbing shoes are supposed to be “almost” painful. Getting a size that’s comfortable like your street shoes leaves a lot of wiggle room for your feet, harming your overall performance. Not only will you find your foot placement feels less secure, but your shoes will also shift around on the rock, wearing them out.
Keep in mind that you’ll want different shoes depending on the type of climbing you’re doing. If you’re slab climbing, you’ll want a nice flat bottom to get the most surface area for smearing. If you’re climbing overhangs, you’ll want a more aggressive pair of shoes with a nice curve to help you hook into the rock.
No matter how careful you are, wear and tear is unavoidable. It’s the nature of the sport, and most serious climbers will go through a pair of shoes every year or two, if not faster. Instead of spending more than $100 for a new set, you can often get them resoled for a fraction of the cost.
The leather part of your shoe can be divided into the sole and the rand. The sole is the flat bottom of your shoe, and is the thickest and hardest surface. The rand covers the top part of your toes, and is generally a thinner type of leather that’s not meant to be climbed on. You’ll want to resole your shoes when the sole is worn out, but the rand is still intact.