Whether you climb weekly or every once in a while, your rock climbing shoes will likely take a good beating. After consistent use, it’s common for your soles to get thin, tear, or even rip. Once the damage has reached the point of no return, you will need to replace your shoes, which may happen sooner than you think!
Knowing when to replace climbing shoes is essential. Shoes wear down at various rates depending on activity intensity and type. Following a good care plan, like keeping your new shoes clean and dry, and repairing them when needed, can make your climbing shoes last longer.
So when do you confidently know that the best solution for your favorite pair of worn-out climbing shoes is to replace them? Let’s identify some of the critical signs.
Types of Climbing Shoe Wear
Climbing shoes wear down for numerous reasons. This can result from the type of climbing done or the type of rock the climbing shoes come into contact with. Impact with sharp rock quickly wears away at the rubber sole, which is the part that experiences the most overall wear and tear. As the rubber sole begins to thin, it weakens and compromises the shoe’s structural integrity. If you are climbing consistently enough on rugged terrain, you might need to buy a new pair of shoes after only a few months of consistent use.
The type of shoe you’re climbing in makes a difference as well. A neutral shoe with a flat profile is great for all-day comfort and standard crack climbing, but cracks put specific friction on the big toe. This causes wearing down of the rubber sole quickly in the toe box area. Aggressive shoes, with their downturned shape, give you increased sensitivity while climbing and more friction on the toe end, which is perfect for bouldering or overhang routes. Aggressive models come with softer rubber and a thinner sole. Because of this, an aggressive pair won’t last long without the proper care.
Let’s look at the different types of climbing shoe wear climbers often experience.
The rubber section of a climbing shoe often receives the most damage. It’s naturally a softer material that helps the shoe stick better on rock. Because this soft material encounters abrasive matter, it erodes quickly. Remember that resoling is always a great option to consider before replacement. This can also have the benefit of making your climbing shoes last through extended use.
The sole of a brand new pair of shoes will be very firm and have a sharp edge. As you climb in them, the edges wear and become round. Aware of this knowledge, many climbers rotate their shoes out as warm-up shoes, conserving the rubber of several shoes over a more extended period of time.
The upper part of the climbing shoe uses synthetic or leather material. It connects and holds everything together. The upper is usually fastened to the foot using closure systems, like velcro straps, laces, or elastic bands. Generally, the upper doesn’t withstand much damage while climbing unless you’ve completely worn through the rand and continue climbing in them.
Although damage to this part of the shoe is uncommon, the rubber can separate from the fabric upper over time. This is called delamination. When this happens, the upper may be able to be repaired, but you’re likely losing overall structural fit. At this point, it’s time to replace your climbing shoes with new shoes rather than repairing them.
The rand is the thin rubber layer that wraps around the toe of a climbing shoe. You can find it between the sole and the upper. As the rubber of the rand wears down from use, a hole will form and begin to wear through the inner parts of the shoe if use continues.
The rand is thinner and softer than the hard rubber found in the sole of the shoe. Once a hole appears in the rand, the shoe is at risk of destruction. If the gap is small, you can use a toe cap made of thin, sticky rubber to repair the problem. It’s good to note that although rand repairs are an easy fix, they can alter the shoe’s structure and reduce the amount of future resoles your climbing shoes can withstand. Usually, only one rand repair is possible in a shoe’s lifetime.
It’s also possible to repair a fully blown rand can, but this risks losing the original shoe shape and may not be worth it. A complete rand repair usually costs more than a standard resole. Warning: don’t wait until your rand is completely worn through to repair or replace climbing shoes!
Every climber knows it’s best to find the right shoe that fits your feet well for your type of climbing. You often need more than one pair of shoes if you participate in several climbing styles. For example, bouldering and crack climbing require completely different shoes if you want to do it right.
Aggressive shoes are for challenging overhangs, single-pitch sport climbs, and bouldering because the downturned shape puts the force on the toe and increases foot flexibility. These shoes commonly have more wear near the big toe. The stickier rubber and thinner soles have better grip and sensitivity but cause more friction on the toe rubber. This may result in getting your shoes resoled or replaced more often.
The quality of the shoe also impacts the wear and how often you will need to replace them. Lower quality shoes use outer rubber, which loses its shape faster. A combination of low-quality rubber and stitching can cause rubbing, blisters, and hot spots on the user’s feet which is very undesirable.
A higher-quality brand shoe, like La Sportiva, Scarpa, or Evolv, naturally lasts longer. High-quality, more expensive shoes are the best climbing shoes to buy. This is especially true if you plan to climb regularly several times per week. There’s a reason these brands are highly respected in the climbing community.
Choosing the right quality shoe for your foot shape and climbing style is imperative to prevent excessive wear and ensure your shoes last.
How Long Do Climbing Shoes Last?
It’s unavoidable that a pair of climbing shoes gets softer and eventually loses their intended shape over time. Even so, some climbers like to keep around an older pair of shoes to practice in.
Depending on how often and intensely you’re climbing, climbing shoes last, on average, three to nine months. At this point, the rubber and rand begin to wear thin and holes form. Once this happens, it’s best to stop wearing them and determine if it’s best to repair or replace them.
Climbing indoors is unique compared to outdoor activities. The rough walls meant to replicate real rock wears down climbing shoes quickly. An indoor shoe also contains softer rubber for better friction on overhangs and easier smearing. Unfortunately, softer rubber means quicker wear and tear.
Even with a quality pair of shoes, a repair or replacement will be necessary at some point. A broken closure, ripped seam or delamination can happen unexpectedly and at any time.
Please keep in mind: Taking care of your climbing shoes properly involves keeping them clean and dry and getting them resoled at the right time. This is key to keeping them in the best shape possible. With great care, you may be able to wear your shoes for years.
Caring for Your Rock Climbing Shoes
Caring for your rock climbing slippers is an integral part of ensuring your favorite old pair lasts for an extended period. Here are a few simple tips for keeping your shoes well cared for:
- Keep your shoes clean! Dirt-covered shoes will have less overall grip on rock. Clean off the dirt by giving them a quick wash or wipe down and ensure that your worn shoes are ready to take on the next crag.
- After a day of climbing, you may find your shoes soaked with sweat. A dry shoe is less likely to hold onto bacteria and nasty odors. It’s best to let your shoes air out and dry thoroughly after every climbing session. Be sure to keep them out of direct sunlight for extended periods as the heat will destroy the shoe’s structure and melt the glue that holds them together.
- It’s not encouraged to wear socks with your climbing shoes. They are for bare feet, so they adequately mold to your feet. You’ll also have better sensitivity in the toes without socks. Socks will cause your foot to slip around and can add an extra layer of stench.
- Clean footwork makes a difference. The less dragging and rubbing the shoe experiences, the less repairing and replacing they need. Being a skilled climber has its perks! Good footwork includes putting your weight on your big toe and only using the edge of the shoe well. Focus on body position and balance, and trust your strength and footwork.
- Only wear your shoes for climbing. Walking around in climbing shoes will destroy their structure, especially for an aggressive shoe. Keeping your shoes in a shoe bag will keep them clean and ready for your next session. Your goal should be to wear the same climbing shoe for the longest possible amount of time before needing to replace them.
Resoling climbing shoes is cost-friendly and will extend the life of your shoes. When you notice the climbing rubber wearing thin or torn, resoling is an excellent option. When the time comes, it’s also wise to start putting aside money for a new pair. You’ll likely need a new pair within the year if they are used consistently.
Resole climbing shoes when you notice the climbing rubber has begun to wear thin on the sole before any large holes appear. Climbing with large holes may cause irreversible damage.
A standard resole will cost you between $30 to $50 and extend the shoe life from four to ten months, depending on how often you climb. Always do your research and choose a trusted resoler.
How Many Times Can I Resole Climbing Shoes?
Climbing shoes can withstand about three resoles and one rand repair before losing their structural integrity. If you take excellent care of your shoes, you may even be able to get up to five or six resoles out of them.
Inspecting your shoes before and after each session is essential. Take note of any wear, tears, or thinning. This will keep you aware of the progression of damage. As noted by La Sportiva, most professional resolers will tell you if your shoes are irreparable and when to replace your climbing shoes.
5 Signs Your Shoes are Beyond Repair
A good, quality pair of climbing shoes will keep you safe and practicing at your very best. Keeping them in immaculate shape is important, but you also cannot prevent the inevitable. How do you know when it’s time to replace your old pair of shoes?
Take a look at these five signs to know when to replace climbing shoes:
Sign 1: Damaged Rubber
The rubber on climbing shoes is soft and likely to wear down and create holes. A hole in the rubber can quickly begin to cause damage to the rand.
Always check the rubber of your shoes before and after climbing. If 80% of the rubber is worn down, it’s time to repair or replace it. If your shoes have been through several resoles already, replacing them with a new shoe will be your best option.
Sign 2: The Rand is Irreparable
Is the rubber of your shoes not in good shape, and the rand showing or completely worn through? That’s a sign that they’ve hit the end of their lifespan. A climbing shoe rand is a thick layer that protects the shoe’s upper. A destroyed rand can result in further damage or even a hole in the upper part of the shoes.
If it’s the first or second time this damage appears, a repair is likely possible. After that, you’ll need to replace the shoes.
Sign 3: A Damaged Sole
The sole of your shoes will be completely worn out at some point in their lifetime. Resoling will allow you to extend the time you can get out of your well-loved shoes before you need new ones. You can repair a damaged sole, but you’re out of luck once the rand is severely torn.
Sign 4: A Damaged or Worn Out Toe Box
The area around your toes at the edges of your climbing shoes will show the quickest and most wear. Keep a close eye on your shoes’ rubber edges and toe area. If this part of the shoe is destroyed, you will need a brand new pair of shoes soon.
Sign 5: Falling Apart at the Seams
The glue and shoe’s seams hold all shoe parts together, including the toes, sole, rand, and upper. You’ll not want to deal with climbing shoes falling apart at the seams while actively climbing. If this happens, shoes can be laminated, which will repair this issue, but any more than two laminations and your shoes will need to be replaced.
The sad truth is all climbing shoes wear out eventually. When your shoes start looking a little rough and become damaged, it’s best to consider a repair before it’s too late. By giving your shoes the proper care and knowing when to replace climbing shoes, you can be a well-prepared and conscientious climber.
A native of Indiana, Carolyn has been traveling and climbing around the US since 2012. She has worked at high ropes courses, climbing gyms and spent several seasons in Southeast Alaska working as a Tour Manager for a remote zipline. While traveling, she likes to climb at both indoor gyms and outdoor crags. She now runs her own business, Avanelle Co., and writes about her experiences.