Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
There’s nothing like a fresh pair of rock shoes. Growing up climbing on the youth team in Estes Park, I remember each time I got to walk into the gym for practice holding a brand-new pair of Testarossas. It was like Christmas in March, or whatever time of year my feet decided to expand out of my old worn-down pair of shoes, to my parents’ dismay. I treated those shoes like gold. Perhaps my desire to keep my shoes in pristine condition, along with the tutelage of many dedicated coaches, is what led me to develop precision footwork. I didn’t want to waste a single micrometer of precious edge rubber. At the end of practice, I would carefully wrap the laces around my shoes and gently place them in my bag, but not too close to the chalk. Heaven forbid they lose their stick.
Climbing shoes are precious to each and every climber. They’re expensive and a literal pain to break in. It’s tough to say goodbye to a blown-out pair that’s so perfectly molded to our feet. So how do we prolong the life of our greatest performance enhancing tool?
It begins with the very first time you step onto the wall. Use your feet as if they were precision surgical tools. Each misplaced foot that has to slide into position is rounding your sharp new edge. For this reason, La Sportiva’s No Edge technology, in the Genius and Futura shoes, is a great option for gym climbers as no edge means you don’t have an edge to wear out. Regardless of the shoe you choose, using your feet accurately is the number one action you can take to prolong the life of your shoes. Set your feet gently, engaging your core to slowly lower your foot to a hold, rather than letting gravity pull your foot towards the hold. When you take the time to place your feet slowly and mindfully, they won’t make a sound. While quiet feet require increased effort at the outset, precise foot placements will feel second nature.
Next, consider how often and where you wear your shoes when you aren’t on the wall. Do you take them off immediately when you lower to the ground or hop off a boulder? Great! Do you walk around the gym in your shoes to look for routes? How about to the bathroom or the grocery store? These are no gos. When you wear your shoes around the gym, your sticky rubber picks up all the chalk dust and grime from the gym floor. The coarse gym carpet can also buff your shoes over time, wearing that fine friction texture into a glossy sheen. And how about those folks who tromp around the gym with their heels out of their shoes? I’m guilty of this one though it’s a hard no! This nasty habit deforms the shape of your shoe’s heel and stretches the sides of your shoes into a “baggy” fit. The same applies when climbing outside. Don’t walk around the base of the crag or belay in your climbing shoes, it’s not worth the wear and tear they will rapidly accumulate. Bottom line, when you’re not on the wall, your shoes shouldn’t be on your feet.
Next, let’s consider unavoidable wear and tear. Imagine you’re climbing outside on sharp granite. You’ve tried a move over and over, and lower down to find that the sharp crystal you were pressing all your weight into has worn a small hole in the base of your shoe. First off, congratulations on trusting your feet and weighting them so well, this is a good sign! The bad news is that hole could expand. Think of the hole as a wound in your shoe that you need to heal. A steady hand, a pair of cuticle scissors, and a file or sandpaper will solve your problem. Conservatively snip away any bits of rubber hanging loose, before gently sanding the area. While this won’t diminish a deep hole but it will prevent the edges from snagging on another crystal and spreading.
Alright, so you’ve had a nice, long, exhausting session and it’s time to pack up and head home. How do you put your gear away? One of my pet peeves is to see climbers throw their Velcro shoes into their pack without closing the Velcro straps. Closing the Velcro before putting your shoes in your pack keeps the Velcro strong and sticky. Many (wise) climbers keep their shoes in a small bag within their pack. This prevents the dirt and chalk that inevitably lives in your bag from coating your sticky rubber. And where do you store your pack once you’ve left the crag? The wrong answer is in your car, subject to extreme temperature fluctuations. Leaving your shoes in a hot car for extended periods of time will melt the adhesive that attaches the sole, toe hooking rubber, and the strip of rubber on the back of your heel. If you find your shoes peeling, particularly at the seam on your toe’s edge, consider where you store your shoes. Perhaps you can find a more accommodating option, such as your house, office, or the locker room at the gym.
By now you’ve treated your rock shoes with tender loving care, but after many long pitches and projects sent, they’re showing some wear. The first signs of old age will likely be in the toe of the shoe, when the sole begins to peel away from the rand. Now is the time to resole! A reliable resoler, such as Rock and Resole in Boulder, Colorado, will have your shoes back in your hands within two weeks. Better yet, they’ll be better than a brand-new pair! A freshly resoled pair of shoes offers the benefit of fresh-off-the-production-line sticky rubber, with the comfort and conformity of a nicely broken in pair. But don’t wait too long. If your shoe develops a hole deep enough to see the inner fabric of the shoe, most resolers will turn down the job. Resole early, and you could double to life of your shoes.
Save your bank account. Save the pain in your toes from an unnecessary break-in phase. Save the environment from a product that still has life to live. Place your feet carefully, don’t use your rock shoes as walking shoes, store them with care, and resole before it’s too late. You’ll log more ascents in one pair of shoes than you ever thought possible.
If you’re serious about climbing harder grades with reduced fatigue, then improving your footwork will help you accomplish your goals—and send your projects. Climbing Magazine and pro climber Paige Claassen have teamed up to create Precision Footwork, a 7-week online course which focuses solely on footwork, one of the most crucial—but all too often overlooked—aspects of rock climbing. Learn more and sign up here.