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Resole Your Expensive Rock Shoes Before It’s Too Late

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Rock That Resole

We demand more from our climbing shoes than from any other piece of gear. Rock shoes are safety gear—good footwork coupled with faith in reliable shoes is what keeps us attached to the rock. Sadly, many climbers neglect and disrespect their shoes. Protect yourself by caring for your rock shoes and understanding when it’s appropriate to have them resoled.

When It’s Best to Resole—an FAQ

Only a few climbers (most sponsored) retire shoes after they burn through the factory sole. The rest of us have our shoes resoled, which at $42 to $66 a pop is much cheaper than buying a new pair. There are, however, a few things to know both about resoling and extending your shoes’ life span such that they remain good candidates for repeated resoles. Eric Pauwels opened the Boulder, Colorado, resoling outfit Rock & Resole in 1989 and has since slapped new soles on untold thousands of shoes. He and fellow cobbler Colby Rickard, who with his partner, Sally Gilman, took over the business after Pauwels retired, have gleaned tips from the “bootload” of footwear that’s passed through their shop, presented here as an FAQ:

When do I need resoles?

Pauwels says that 90 percent of sole wear takes place in the big-toe area, so that should be where you evaluate rubber thickness when deciding to resole. “Keep in mind that you start with a four-millimeter sole there, and it will gradually decrease to the point where it’s paper thin,” says Pauwels. “At that point you want to resole.” Climbers often make the mistake of looking at general sole condition or the outside of the shoe, but the big toe (our foot’s power point) invariably wears thin first.

Do I need toe caps?

Toe caps are patches of sticky rubber used to repair holes in the rand, the thinner (two-millimeter) band of rubber that wraps laterally around a shoe’s upper. Your resoler might replace the full rand or just cut away a small crescent-shaped swatch and glue on new rand rubber. If your rand has a visible hole in it, you need a toe cap, but you might also need a toe cap absent a hole, as a rand can develop weaknesses around the toe box, depending on wear patterns. (Maybe you are a “toe dragger” or do lots of gym climbing where you stab at sharp little jibs.)

To inspect a rand that’s not visibly holey:

• Start by the pinkie toe, which generally has the least amount of rand wear, and pinch the rand with your thumb, working toward the big toe.

• With this perspective of a full-thickness rand, inspect for areas of reduced resistance; they can be focused like a pinhead or as large as a pencil eraser.

• Pay particular attention to rand wear on shoes that have stiff (plastic) midsoles, as these tend to spread your feet outward and create pressure against the outside of the shoe.

• Point out any trouble spots to your resoler, and ask about a toe cap. Note that getting a toe cap will also mean getting a new half-sole: You have to remove the old sole to put on the toe cap because rand rubber wraps a quarter inch around beneath the outsole. In a perfect world, you’ll time needing a toe cap with needing a new sole.

What if I’ve punched through the suede or synthetic upper?

Are your shoes kaput? Not necessarily. Cobblers can layer a netting or mesh fabric to repair these sorts of holes and firm up the upper, including in high-impact areas like the toe box. Even if you’ve punched a hole through your rand and upper, your shoes might be salvageable. A cobbler can mend smaller holes with a leather patch and then overlay new rubber.

How many times can I resole my shoes?

Pauwels says that a looked-after pair of performance shoes, without any rotting or deterioration in the footbed and midsole, and with the uppers and closure system still intact, should stand up well to resoling three or four times. After that, the shoes generally won’t hold their shape. “If you’re climbing moderate slabs up the Flatirons, you might get a dozen,” says Pauwels. “But if you’re crack climbing, you might get two.”

What do I do with old shoes I can’t use anymore?

If your shoes are so beat up that you can’t use them, chances are no one else wants them either. Pauwels says it’s best to just throw them away—there is limited demand for recycled rubber, and the rubber from climbing shoes represents such a small fraction of this that the shoes usually end up in the landfill anyway.

© 2013. Reprinted with permission of the publisher from Crag Survival Handbook by Matt Samet, Mountaineers Books, Seattle.