Climbing shoes live a tough life. From the moment they first touch your feet, they sign up for a lifetime (well, more like a few seasons) of rigorous abuse. They endure the squeeze of your enthusiasm, the grind against gritty rocks, and the thrill of defying gravity time and again. They’re with you through every sweaty struggle up the crag and every victorious top-out.
Yet, like all good things, the serious-sending potential of your shoes begins to fade and before you know it, your big toe’s playing peek-a-boo through a hole that wasn’t there before.
The snug fit of climbing shoes puts immense pressure on their construction, causing our shoes to stretch before they have even broken in. During every climbing session, we balance our body weight on the smallest of edges, then we top it off by jamming and scraping our feet across the rock and gym walls for good measure.
That said, regardless of how well you store your climbing shoes or how often you religiously clean them, eventually, that crisp edge will wear away leaving you with a smoothed-down toe and a slippy rubber sole to match. Worse still, you might even wear your way down to the toe rand, resulting in a gaping hole that leaves your big toe sticking out.
Given that we climbers tend to be an environmentally conscious bunch, the question often arises: is there anything we can do to prevent having to throw our old climbing shoes into the trash? Thankfully, the answer to that question is yes, although be warned, we are fairly limited in our options. Below are a few of our favorite methods that you can employ if your performance starts to decrease, and options for recycling and donating those old climbing shoes.
Resole Your Shoes
For any eco-conscious climber, having your shoes resoled should be a top consideration. Did you know you can extend the life of your climbing shoes up to five times by having them resoled? There is a saving, both for your wallet and the environment! Through the resoling process, a skilled technician will replace the rubber sole of your shoe, as well as the rand and the uppers of the shoe, depending on how worn they are.
Resoling climbing shoes is a difficult and very specialized skill, so make sure you ask around for suggestions before sending off your shoes. If there is no one locally who offers resoles, consider mailing them to a reputable climbing shoe resoler. Some companies even offer free postage if you send in a big enough order.
Keep As A Backup Pair
It is the fate of all climbing shoes that they will eventually lose their edge and slowly start to slip in performance, but that’s no reason to toss them! The blood, sweat, and tears that went into breaking in those bad boys still make your shoes great for warming up or training days. Save your brand new, expensive pair of bouldering shoes for when it counts by leaving the mileage to your older pair.
You may also want to consider reserving your older, comfortable climbing shoes for long days of trad climbing or deep water soloing. Nothing ruins a long day on the wall like foot pain you can’t get off your mind. Trust us; your feet will thank you for it.
Sell Them On
If your shoes still have life left to them, consider selling them. Try online forums, local Facebook groups, or even your gym’s community board if they have one. Just because they no longer fit your needs, or aren’t your go-to pair anymore, doesn’t mean someone else won’t find a use for them!
If the shoes have some lingering smell to them make sure to air them out, stick some Boot Bananas in, or give them a scrub before handing them off.
Your local gym or guiding service may also take in old climbing shoes for climbers in need. Make sure your shoes are in good enough condition to climb in, with some rubber left to the toe. Some resole companies will also accept donations to be used for up-cycling. They’ll give your shoes a second life by fixing any damage to the laces, giving them a new sole, and making them look like new. The best part is, by giving them a second life, they’ll be saved from the landfill!
As with selling make sure to give them a good cleaning. No one wants a pair of old smelly shoes!
Get Crafty And Upcycle
If you’re the crafty type, try getting creative with your old shoes! The velcro tabs on La Sportiva Solutions or Futuras make for fun keychains. Consider keeping old laces as replacements, especially if you have a penchant for battling them out on off-widths and crack climbs.
What Will You Do With Your Shoes?
While there’s nothing quite like the precision of a newly broken-in pair of climbing shoes, there are still plenty of uses for older trusty pairs.
By extending their life through resoles and keeping them as a backup pair, you’ll be putting money in your pocket and reducing the stress on your poor feet. Once that’s no longer an option, or if they simply never fit quite right, you should be able to find someone else to love them. One person’s ill-fitting shoe can be another person’s perfect fit!
Though it may require some creativity and resourcefulness at times, it’s slowly becoming easier to find a second use and/or life for our discarded shoes. More resole companies are popping up, and more and more people are being introduced to the sport, creating a demand for used shoes.
Until the invention of rubber which never breaks down comes around, we hope you consider reducing your purchases, reusing your old shoes and recycling them when retirement is warranted.
Once you have been climbing for a while, you are inevitably going to end up with a small fortune worth of unused climbing shoes.
As soon as your shoes touch the rock, each smear or slip is one move closer to the impending demise of your shoe’s life. A depressing thought, I know.
There are plenty of tips and tricks on how to make your climbing shoes sticky again, but once the sole is too worn (or even worse and it’s worn through to the rand) the writing is on the wall.
Of course, you should always resole your old shoes when possible, but if that’s simply not possible, then it’s probably the right time to treat yourself to some shiny new shoes.