How To Break In Climbing Shoes

The tricks to getting the perfect fitting climbing shoe.

How to break in climbing shoes

Toes getting crushed in your way too tight climbing shoes? Do you go through a whole fiasco, tugging, pulling and fighting, just to get them on your feet?

Whether it was an ill informed buy, a steal of a deal only available in a half size down, an online purchase you can’t return or simply a pair of shoes that leave you wincing due to hot spots, most climbers are well acquainted with the often painful process of breaking a fresh set of climbing kicks.

While it’s normal to go through a break in period with a new pair of climbing shoes, at what point are they just too small? We’ll walk you through the factors that affect the extent to which a shoe will stretch, how to recognize that a pair of shoes is just to small, and some tricks on how to stretch them out.

Do Climbing Shoe stretch?

Most climbing shoes, if not all,  fall into two distinct categories when it comes to the material of their upper: synthetic or leather.

This becomes important in the break-in period as it will greatly determine the extent to which your shoe will stretch.

Leather, being a natural material, is prone to stretching anywhere from a half size to two full sizes. Synthetics on the other hand tend to be mostly unchanging, and usually don’t budge beyond a half size.

Additionally, you’ll also want to look at the interior construction of the shoe to check whether it is lined. For example, in a leather shoe, if lined, it’s stretch will be greatly limited to about a half size of stretch.

 All that said, keep in mind that your shoe will not stretch lengthwise, it will only expand in width. Rather, as they break-in, the hope is to reduce hot spots and have the material mold to your foot.

How To Stretch Climbing Shoes

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If wearing your climbing in your shoes just isn’t cutting it or you are struggling just to get them on your foot, don’t despair. You still have a couple of options.


 1) The plastic bag method

Shoes barely large enough to get your foot in? If you are really struggling to cram into your shoes, try putting your foot in a plastic bag to ease the process. This will reduce some of the friction and allow you to slide your foot in more readily.

Once on, wearing them around the climbing wall for as long as you can tolerate, before giving your feet a break. Alternatively, to avoid the judgment of friends, wear them around the house until they feel ready to climb in.


2) Utilize heat

The material of your shoes, whether they are leather or synthetic, will have an easier time molding and stretching when they are warm. Utilize this trick by sticking them by a heat source, such as a radiator, a heater, or using a hair dryer. Once warm, put them on your feet and allow them to cool down while being worn.

Warning: they should not be so hot as to burn your feet! We’re aiming for toasty here.


3) The Hot Water Method

Run hot water in the bathtub until you have enough depth to soak your feet. Put on your climbing shoes and dip your feet into the water. Give them a good soak (about 5 minutes). Still following?

Keep the shoes on and wear them around the house. Once they feel like they’ve started to dry, take them off and stuff them with socks. Keep the socks in the shoe until you go to climb in them. 

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that a shoe that is too small can not be made larger, so don’t shy away from test driving a full range of sizes. That being said, you can usually expect the initial pains to ease as they start to stretch. For more adjustability, and to maintain a secure fit throughout the shoe’s life, consider the adjustability of the shoe’s fastener. A lace shoe for example allows you to fine-tune your fit every single time.

 If all else fails consider one of our methods above to help break in your climbing shoes. As silly as it might seem, sticking your feet into a hot tub, nothing beats the performance of a perfect fitting shoe. So slip them on, heat them up and get that glove-like fit a shoe straight out of the box could never provide.


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