It’s this simple: sore feet and neglected shoes lead to poor performance. Climbing your best means paying attention to footwork before the rubber touches rock. Revive your footwork in three steps: get the right rock shoes, treat those shoes like your firstborn, and give your feet some TLC along the way. See? Your edging is looking better already.
Find the Right Shoes
Choosing rock shoes is about as easy as getting up 5.14. Every company uses different lasts (the molds used to give rock shoes their fi nal shape), as well as different sizing. Some shoes will stretch and conform to your foot over time, while others won’t. Add to that the array of fi ts for the various types of climbing, and you have quite a puzzle on your hands… er, feet. Before shopping, first decide what type of climbing you plan to do most in the shoes. Then, get a good night’s sleep, hydrate thoroughly, and prepare to spend an afternoon trying on numerous pairs and brands of shoes, while asking the store rep many questions. For crack climbing or all-day routes, fit on the comfy side and pick a shoe designed to let your toes lie relatively flat. For hard face climbing on short routes, go for a tighter fit and a shoe that coaxes your toes into a crunched position, which will give you more power to push off small edges and pockets. Color sometimes matters, too: If you climb long routes in the hot sun, think twice before buying a dark-colored shoe. And “cut your damn toenails before you try on rock shoes,” says Winston Voigt of Neptune Mountaineering. In fact, carefully trimmed toenails always make climbing feet happier.
Clean Up to Stick On
Once you’ve picked the perfect rock shoes, don’t stand around in the dirt in them. Dirty rubber soles lose their stickiness and wear fast, so, at the very least, give your shoes a wipe between burns. Tote a hand towel or carpet scrap in your pack to lay out like a doormat below routes. At home, wipe down the soles with rubbing alcohol on a rag to revive the rubber’s grip.
Get Some Air
“A rotten, nasty smell can be an indication that the leather is actually decaying,” says Eric Pauwels, owner of Rock & Resole in Boulder, explaining that this often happens when moisture builds up under the rand. Don’t stow sweaty shoes in your pack when you get home. At the crag, take off your shoes between climbs to let feet and shoes dry. You can even take off shoes at belays on multi-pitch climbs (clip them in!). If it’s hot, don’t leave shoes out in the sun, and keep your feet shaded while belaying. Cool feet are comfortable feet.
Before your next crack attack, Pauwels suggests painting a bit of “rubber putty” onto worn spots of your shoes. Made of liquid urethane and rubber particles, the putty (such as Five Ten Stealth Paint) helps shoes weather the shredding that crack climbing unleashes. The same product can be used on the shoe’s upper; keep some putty in your pack to doctor impromptu blowouts.
Cool the Hot Spots
Despite your best efforts, the repeated act of forcing your feet into tight shoes may take its toll. “The biggest foot problems climbers have are associated with compression and friction,” says Dr. Thomas Shonka, attending podiatrist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Spot-stretching can help climbers with these and other issues (such as swollen nerves caused by repetitive movement) made worse by restrictive shoes. Any shoe-repair or ski-boot shop should be able to make the modifi cations. Dr. Shonka also recommends silicone pads to alleviate pain caused by hot spots. “You want to be sure to put more pressure around a pressure point than over it,” he says. In other words, encircle problem spots in little doughnuts of relief.
Kill the Stink
It’s only natural that hot feet stuffed into airtight rubber tombs will start to smell like dead animals, but having your $150 rock shoes turn into a potential health hazard is no fun. Rock & Resole, which deals with stinky rock shoes on a daily basis, uses an odorcide spray to make less-than-pleasant shoes bearable. Anne-Worley Moelter, owner of Movement Climbing + Fitness, relies on an antifungal powder spray to keep the rock gym’s rental shoes sanitary. For shoes with really bad odor problems, Moelter runs them through the washing machine. Moelter’s final tip is to stick dryer sheets in your shoes to keep them smelling Downy fresh. Your friends will thank you, and maybe they’ll start climbing with you again.
Kate Nelson, a Boulder-based freelance writer, used to have a foot fetish until she started hanging out with climbers.