Unbearable rock-shoe pressure? Try this “slice-and-dice” hack

Years ago I cut squares, small windows, into the rands of my climbing shoes to ease pain on the small toe. This year I found a better fix.

Sized correctly, climbing shoes are tight, and our feet can take a beating, accumulating bumps and bruises. Or we might pay for an accident of birth such as a second toe, aka Morton’s toe, that is longer than the first. Many people size for a performance fit; not I. With various individual problems (the podiatrist shakes her head and says she can’t help), I wear my rock shoes soft and relatively loose. But still, even after my shoes are well broken in, my feet can get hot spots that end a session early.

Years ago, using a jackknife, I cut small windows into the sides of two pairs of climbing shoes because a combination of rock shoes, ski boots, and genetics had resulted in painful hammertoes, or thickened bone, on each pinky toe. Eventually I gave up and bowed to a surgical fix, but meanwhile those odd little squares allowed me to climb. Yet if I cut the window too wide, as I did once, the toe could verge out the side; and worse, if I accidentally bumped or touched that now-exposed inflamed toe to rock, I froze in pain.

climbing shoe hack
An X-acto knife/box cutter.

The solution was just OK.

This year, Fabrizio Zangrilli showed me a better trick. Owner of the Monkey House climbing gym in Carbondale, Colorado, he is a longtime alpinist and mountain guide with damage to his feet “from cold and repeated banging in boots at high altitude.”

Zangrilli took an X-acto knife (precision tool with removable blades for crafts or paper) to his rock shoes and cut a series of mostly vertical lines in the rubber, in his case three per side, to relieve pressure. (On the face of it, this is a DIY effort at “siping” the cutaways in the rand that are a design feature of some rock shoes, for flexibility or sensitivity.) He is mainly relieving big-toe pressure, while two of his training clients have followed suit to ease discomfort from small bunions on their toes.

Now, he says of his shoes, “I can wear ’em for days.”

A slit cut over a hot spot/pressure point in the rock-shoe rand.

In my case a chafe mark (that just wouldn’t quit) had formed on the big toe of my slightly bigger left foot. I tried one slit, it worked great, and I haven’t noticed the problem since.

The caveats are that cutting your shoes is bound to void your warranty and would surely bring the manufacturer to tears—or at least not be recommended.

Matt Ginley of Scarpa North America says, “We absolutely would not recommend that you do that, not only because it would void any warranty but … we have almost 40 different styles of climbing shoes. Each model has cutaways or slits or material in the rubber, the parts that are under tension, that make it climb the way we want it to climb and fit the way we want it to fit. Before anyone would entertain doing that, I would encourage them to try on a different style first.” He adds that such an action could affect performance, “but it’s a balance.”

When I tell him the problem is not seeking better fit, but simply having awful feet, he has to laugh.

“At the end of the day, people will do what they want with their shoes,” he says. “We don’t recommend doing that. We have other shoes that would work better. If you do, it’s an at-your-own-risk thing.”

If you try this method, yes, proceed at your own risk, and we recommend only venturing it on a pair you are sure you want to keep wearing long enough to take this step.

How-To Tips

• Use a sharp box cutter.
• Find the pressure point. Zangrilli recommends that you fold and score the pressure point with several light passes, being careful not to cut the leather.
• Cut slowly.
• Work in increments, per each cut and in adding any other cuts. Do as little as possible, and test it.

Footloose and Pain Free

Zangrilli has worked this hack on a number of shoes over the years. The lines, he says, work great for him: They “make my shoes fit perfectly without pressure points, and don’t compromise performance. They probably enhance it, as I don’t think about foot pain at all.”

There you go. Armed, if you so choose, for your feet.