I grew up in a gym. I learned my first curse words on a chalky, sweat-stained gym mat. I got my first tattoo with the friends I did four-by-fours with. First boyfriend, even.
If there’s one thing that has held true over my years of cramming my feet into tiny, downturned rock shoes for the sake of performance, it’s that breaking in shoes sucks. Every time, no getting around it, a horrible experience. During one gym session, a friend said she’d pay to have someone break in her shoes for her. We were the same size, and I was pretty desperate for money at the time—but still, some things just aren’t worth it. And when you not only have to break in the shoes, but have a double training session ahead of you while your feet are screaming with pain? I’m sure that I cried once over it.
When the pandemic hit a year ago, suddenly I wasn’t going to the gym anymore. And because—at least at the beginning—nobody was sure about transmission via holds outside, I refrained from climbing rock as well. During that turbulent time, a funny thing happened: Either my feet flattened out or my tolerance for tiny shoes decreased. Because when gyms reopened and I tried to push myself through the break-in process again, suddenly it felt a lot more hateful.
As I complained loudly (and probably all while looking desperate) at Monkey House Carbondale in December 2020, a local friend, the pro climber Dan Mirsky, overheard me.
“Try putting ‘em in the oven,” he said.
“No way. They’ll delaminate!” I protested.
“No, seriously. Just for a few minutes on the lowest setting. Game-changer.”
I took his tip, which I later learned he had originally gotten from another pro climber, Jonathan Siegrist, to heart. That night, I set up my station: oven, on the lowest setting (170 degrees), timer, and area on the carpet where I would dance around like a circus monkey. In the shoes went, for two minutes. I would then wear them for five to ten minutes—pacing, with some good ol’ fashioned calf raises mixed in—and then they’d go back in the oven, for another cycle or two. (Note: This only works with a standard oven, not a microwave—do not microwave your rock shoes or it will severely damage/deform them!)
I couldn’t believe the results. Those brand-new puppies felt more akin to the pair you sweated in all summer and have yet to send to a resoler (God bless the person who has to touch that pair). It was one of those moments when you realize your life has changed forever.
And a fun fact for you, which I learned with more research: Leather stretches when wet (duh!). So try the oven thing, plus adding a sprinkling of water when they shoes are still hot, prior to donning them. And voilà! Your warm, wet shoes will slide right on and stretch even more.
Curious for his take, I reached out to Siegrist. “Yes, I do that sometimes!” he wrote. “Not as much any more, because I think I just simply get bigger shoes. Ha!”
And that, actually, might just be the best tip of all.
Note: While the author has successfully applied this tip on multiple occasions, as has Siegrist and Mirsky, not all shoemakers recommend. Scarpa, for example, has noted that this method of breaking in shoes will reduce glue strength and void shoe warranty.