How to Break in Rock Climbing Shoes?
A person climbing in rock climbing shoes indoors.

As a beginner rock climber, there’s a good chance you’re in desperate need of some quality advice. Okay, desperate might sound like too tough of a word, but you get the point. As we’re sure you know, beginnings are never easy (what a cliché!). It might be one, but it’s nevertheless the truth.

So, as somebody who’s just starting their adventure in the wonderful world of rock climbing, you’re probably interested in learning a thing or two about basic climbing equipment. Reading up on different kinds of rock climbing shoes and similar info might be a good place to start. Also, it might be good to know how does one break in new rock climbing shoes. That’s what we’re here for!

Obtain climbing shoes that are at least 1/2 size smaller than your casual street shoe size. There are a couple of methods you can utilize: wash your feet while wearing climbing shoes; afterward, let them dry while there’s some newspaper in there. Or: you can heat your climbing shoes while wearing them and wiggle your feet around! 

Of course, that can’t be the whole thing we’ve prepared for you today! Don’t hesitate to keep on scrollin’!

Table of Contents

Rock climbing shoes 101

As always, it’s good we go through some basic rock-climbing-shoes info before we tackle the main subject. In other words: let’s see the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) regarding this fantastic, necessary piece of rock climbing equipment.

What’s the deal with rock climbing shoes?

The thing is: your relationship or even better – your connection to the rock you’re “working with” is made mostly by your hands and your feet. That could mean only one: your shoes are equally important as your soon-to-be-experienced rock climbing hands. Without a solid pair of rock climbing shoes, there’s no talk about being good at this sport. To see a detailed analysis of why mountaineers/climbers need special shoes, follow this link.

There are climbing shoes carefully designed for each of the disciplines and styles within this amazing human activity: bouldering, trad-climbing, top-roping, etc. If you’re wondering which of these is a good starting point for a beginner climber, click right here.

Are climbing shoes supposed to hurt at first?

Well, it’s all about a person’s individual perception of pain, if you ask us. What some might describe as pain, others might call unease. Okay, let’s elaborate. But first, here’s the shortest of the short answer to the question in the title of the paragraph: NO.

Climbing shoes shouldn’t hurt the person that’s wearing them. However, before you finally break in a new pair of climbing shoes, you might feel something you’d most probably describe as pain. That’s because they’re tight enough to make some folks feel a bit uneasy, especially the beginners such as yourself. Just don’t worry, the pain or unease, or however you choose to call the feeling will go away before you even notice.

Do you wear socks when rock climbing?

Good question! By their very “nature”, climbing shoes are carefully designed to be a tight fit, so we can’t say they’re very comfy. As we’ve already said, don’t panic; you’ll get used to the feeling early on. Sometimes, climbing shoes tend to leave you with unpleasant rubbing or even blisters. That’s where a thin pair of socks marches into the picture, saves the day, etc. They’ll provide your feet with some extra protection from your climbing shoe.

All in all: yes, folks (read: beginner rock climbers) should wear thin socks, or even liner socks, to make their feet feel comfier inside a pair of climbing shoes. Additionally, here’s some info about why climbing shoes are downturned.

How do I know my climbing shoe size?

Yeah, this one’s definitely one of the most frequently asked questions concerning the topic of rock climbing shoes. At least that is what the clerks at the mountaineering/climbing equipment shop would gladly tell ya! Anyway, beginners should wear climbing shoes that are one-half of a size to one size smaller than their regular/casual/street/whatever footwear size. Lastly, it doesn’t matter which rock climbing discipline or style are they trying out – the rules of choosing the ideally-fitting climbing shoe are the same.

Oh, and we almost forgot to mention one thing: if you’re buying leather climbing shoes – go for one full-size smaller since that’s exactly how much they’ll “grow” once you break in them.

How many pairs of climbing shoes do I need?

We know you’re quite sick of the “well, it depends” kind of answer, but that’s how things are. However, most experienced climbers would tell you they’re in possession of 3-6 pairs of climbing shoes. If you’ve got the funds, make sure you obtain at least one spare pair of climbing shoes, just in case. You might ask: why do climbers need 3-6 pairs of climbing shoes? Well, it’s important you know what kind of terrain you’d like to climb and dress accordingly (some shoes work better with certain types of terrain, etc.)

Okay, so that’s about it on the FAQs concerning today’s topic. Let’s see those tips on how to break in rock climbing shoes!

A man in climbing shoes, resting alongside his dog.

How to break in rock climbing shoes?

Here we’ll show you some techniques for breaking in your new rock climbing shoes! Some of them you’ll probably find funny, some downright absurd, but the main thing is: they all work!

#1 The shower technique

Now, this technique is the one you’ll probably find a bit absurd.

The ingredients

Here are they are:

  • A pair of climbing shoes. (Duh!)
  • A shower. (If you possess that kind of luxury.)
  • Newspaper or similar fabric for stuffing later on. (Nothing funny to say about that, though.)

Phase one

Needless to say, first you’ll want to put your new climbing shoes on your feet. Next, jump into your shower area and run the faucet over your feet nested inside the climbing shoes. Also, while your feet are under the water “stream”, feel free to move them around; move your toes & ankles, and bend the shoe with your foot. Remain in the water for a couple of minutes untiles your climbing shoes are totally soaked.

A quick warning: this concept or however you want to call it might cause your shoes to “bleed”. In other words: the dye from your shoes will probably leave some stains on the carpet, so, yeah… Might as well avoid that by carefully placing your feet someplace where you can’t stain anything. However, this bleeding won’t do any damage to your shoes, they’ll just change color slightly.

Phase two

Let the shoes dry for a bit. You’ll want them halfway dry; they should be still warm and damp, but that’s it (no waterlogging). Of course, you can dry them like this while they’re still on your feet.

Phase three

Wear them for some time. Repeat the whole move your feet procedure from the shower. Naturally, help the shoes mold to the shape of your foot.

Phase four

Now take off your soon-to-be trusty climbing shoes (here’s how to clean them) and stuff them with the newspaper as that will keep the shape you’ve made with your feet from collapsing while the shoes dry out. It goes without saying, but allow your shoes to fully dry out.

That’s it!

#2 The freezer bag method

Okay, this one’s equally interesting. Also, it’s the fastest way to handle the issue of breaking in your new climbing shoes.

The ingredients

Here they are:

  • A pair of claiming shoes. (Yet again.)
  • Plastic bags. (A surprise.)
  • Some water. (Obviously.)

Phase one

The first thing you’ll want to do is to fill those plastic bags with water. More precisely: enough water to fill your shoes; you want the filled plastic bags to be somewhere about the size of your feet! Lastly, make sure the bags are sealed as tight as possible!

Phase two

This one’s simple: just slip the plastic bags (filled with water) into your climbing shoes.

Phase three

The third phase: put both of your shoes into the freezer. As you already know, water expands as it freezers. Needless to say, the frozen bags are there to stretch out your climbing shoe uppers.

Phase four

The final phase: remove the climbing shoes from your freezer and let those plastic bags thaw. Once the process is done, remove the bags from your shoes.

We forgot to say this about the technique above, but it stands for all three methods we’ll share: if any of the methods don’t work the first time, feel free to repeat the process.

#3 Heating method

Last but not least, we’ll show you the famous heating method.

The ingredients

This is getting pretty absurd, but here are the things you’ll need for this one:

  • A hairdryer.
  • Do we have to say this? A pair of climbing shoes.

Phase one

Utilize your trusty hair dryer to make your shoes all nice & warm. Most folks (at least the ones that have tried this method) like to do this while they’re still wearing the shoes since it helps their footwear align/mold to the shape of their feet.

Phase two

Now do the same thing you were gonna do if you were wearing shower-soaked climbing shoes – wiggle your feet around. If the situation allows it – try climbing while wearing them.

Phase three

As we’ve already implied, repeat this method if necessary!

Final words

Okay, folks, so that’s about all there’s to this little guide on how to break in rock climbing shoes! Hope you’ve enjoyed this one as much as everything else you’ve stumbled upon here!

For more tips on rock climbing and everything that’s even mildly related to it, visit this page on our blog!

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