Climbing shoes are rarely comfortable right out of the box and will need a bit of breaking in before you can wear them with minimal or no discomfort. If you just bought a new pair, you may be wondering how to break in climbing shoes without having to suffer through this sometimes painful rite of passage.
There are many different ways to get your climbing shoes ready to wear. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most popular methods and discuss how to decide which technique is right for you.
Sizing and Materials
Climbing shoes are significantly easier to break in if they fit properly in the first place. No matter how you break in your shoes, they will still feel uncomfortable if you size them too aggressively or purchase shoes that don’t fit the shape of your foot.
You’ll also want to consider what materials your climbing shoes are made of before deciding how to break them in, as certain materials will naturally stretch much more than others. Unlined leather shoes, for example, will stretch out at least a half size to a full size on their own with wear. Using one of the more aggressive methods listed here could cause the shoes to stretch out too much.
Climbing shoes with a lined leather upper will stretch less, while shoes with a fully synthetic upper are unlikely to stretch much at all over their lifetime. It may be possible to stretch lined leather or synthetic shoes with the techniques in this article, but don’t count on them stretching out too much. Keep in mind that no matter what kind of upper a climbing shoe has, the sole will not stretch, but rather will become more flexible with time.
To learn more about climbing shoe sizing and materials, check out our post about the Best Beginner Climbing Shoes.
Methods for Breaking in Climbing Shoes
Climb in Them
Many people argue that the best way to break in new climbing shoes is to just climb in them. It may be uncomfortable at first, so it’s a good idea to bring your old pair of shoes with you or rent a pair at the gym. That way, you can alternate between the two to give your feet a break. Wear your new shoes for around 30 minutes (or longer if you can stand it) and then switch to the older, more comfortable pair.
If they’re sized appropriately, it should only take a few sessions in the gym or a few trips to the crag before the new shoes feel comfortable enough to wear consistently. Some high-quality climbing shoes may even be perfectly comfortable after climbing a single route.
Breaking in your new shoes by climbing in them is easier when it’s warm out since the rubber and other materials are more flexible in higher temperatures. This method works great in a gym or outside on a warm, sunny day. However, you should never expose your climbing shoes to excessive heat or sunlight, especially when wet. Doing so could damage the materials or cause the shoes to shrink.
Wear Them in the Shower
If your shoes feel especially stiff and tight and need to stretch quite a bit, try wearing them in the shower. The warm water will help the fabric in the upper expand and mold to the shape of your foot.
To stretch your shoes using the shower method, follow the steps below:
- After you’ve removed all packaging, tags, and stickers, put on your climbing shoes normally and lace or velcro them up. You can wear socks to increase the stretch. It’s normal for the dye to run on new climbing shoes, so choose a pair of socks that you don’t mind ruining.
- Turn on the water and wait for it to get warm. The warmer the water, the more it will help the shoes stretch.
- Get in the shower with the shoes on. It’s not important if the rest of your body gets wet or not, so you can do whatever works best with your shower set up.
- Let the water run over the shoes for at least a couple of minutes until they are completely wet. You should be able to feel the water on your feet through the shoes.
- Get out of the shower and keep the shoes on. Walk around in them while they’re wet so they adjust to the shape of your foot. Make sure to move your toes around if possible to help the shoes stretch.
- Wear your shoes for as long as you can while wet. If you must take them off, stuff them with newspaper, paper towels, or absorbent rags to help the shoes dry faster and maintain their shape. Letting them dry without anything inside to hold the shape could cause the shoes to shrink.
- Let the climbing shoes air dry. Once they’ve dried, try them on to check the fit. They should feel much better than when you first took them out of the box.
- If necessary, repeat these steps until you’ve achieved the desired fit.
Keep in mind that this method may be too intense for climbing shoes with an unlined leather upper, as these stretch out naturally with wear.
Wear Them at Home
If your shoes just need a bit of stretching, it may not be necessary to use the shower method. Instead, try wearing your climbing shoes while sitting at your desk at work or relaxing on the couch at home. This will help the shoes adjust to the shape of your feet without the intense pressure experienced during climbing.
Once you feel like they’ve started to mold to your feet, you can try climbing in them to see how it feels and decide whether they need more breaking in off the wall.
Use an Ice Bag
Like wearing your new climbing shoes around at home, using an ice bag and freezing your shoes is best for pairs that only require a little bit of stretching.
Follow these steps to break your climbing shoes in with the ice bag method:
- Remove all packaging, tags, and stickers from your climbing shoes.
- Fill two resealable plastic bags with water until they’re filled about to the size of your feet. Make sure there are no holes in the bags and that there is enough space remaining for the water to expand in the freezer.
- Remove any excess air from the bags and then seal them.
- Place the bags inside your climbing shoes and check to ensure the water completely fills your shoes. If it doesn’t, add more water until there is little or no space between the bag of water and the sides of your shoes. You can also add a second bag of water to fill the gaps.
- Place your climbing shoes in the freezer for 8-12 hours. Do not leave them any longer than 12 hours since it could damage the materials.
- Remove the shoes and let them sit for around 30 minutes. The shoes will likely release some moisture as they warm up, so it’s wise to put a plastic bag underneath them or let them thaw in the bathtub or sink.
- Once the ice bags have softened, carefully remove them, dump out the water, and dispose of the bags.
- Let your shoes continue to thaw and dry for at least another 3-4 hours. Once they feel like they’ve warmed up to room temperature, try them on to see how they fit.
- Repeat these steps as needed.
There are many different ways to break in your new climbing shoes. Which method you choose will depend on how much you’d like to stretch your shoes and what materials they’re made of. Ultimately, you can expect leather shoes, especially unlined ones, to stretch significantly more with wear and with the techniques in this article than lined leather or synthetic shoes.