When to Replace Climbing Shoes
How long do climbing shoes last and when is it the right time to say goodbye to your favorite kicks?
It can be hard to let go of a good thing, especially when it comes to your favorite pair of climbing shoes. But the sad truth is all shoes will wear out eventually, so how do you know when it’s time to replace your favorite climbing kicks?
How long do climbing shoes last?
A quality pair of shoes should last until the rubber runs thin. This is entirely based on how much climbing you are doing, how good your footwork is and how soft your shoes are.
If you are climbing over three a week with a pair of soft shoes like the Scarpa Drago, you will be lucky if you reach your 6 month anniversary before your whirlwind romance is over. If you are climbing less than twice a week with a pair of durable climbing shoes, then expect to see your shoes to make it to their 1st birthday, or even longer, depending on how often you are wrestling with rocks.
Of course, if you are a gumby scraping your feet on every hold (no judgment – we have all been there) then you will certainly wear through your rubber faster than a laser-precision pro.
IMPORTANT: When your shoes reach this stage, its time for a resole (we will get to that later). Just because the outsole of your shoes have lost its stickiness, certainly doesn’t mean you should throw them out!
That said, even with a quality pair of shoes, early retirements can happen due to other issues like broken closure system, rips in the upper, or delamination of the outsole.
Whatever the reason, in this article we will share with you a few tips on how to get the most out of your shoes, and what to watch out for as your climbing shoes start to age.
The wear of rubber
Typically, the limiting factor on the lifespan of a climbing shoe is the rubber. Unless you’ve got a pair of no edge climbing shoes (we’ll get to those later), straight out of the box, climbing kicks will have a nice sharp edge on the toe.
Over time the sharp edges will start to round out and the bottom of the shoe will start to lose friction. This is perfectly normal, just like your car tyres, rubber will naturally wear down after repeated use.
If left unattended long enough though, you will eventually wear through to the rand, which is essential for the tension, shape and the structural integrity of your shoe.
Here’s the trick; many dedicated climbers will have a rotating cast when it comes to their climbing shoe quiver. They’ll keep a pair for their hard attempts and projecting, while they might also have a pair of beater gym shoes they do their endurance laps in. The peek window for optimal performance with a shoe will typically be right after the break-in period.
The shoe has had time to mold to your foot, but is still nice and precise. Once these shoes start to break down, they then become the training or warm-up shoe. This maximizes your use by conserving the rubber on the high-end pair and putting in the real mileage with the older ones. This way, you’ll always have a set of fresh sharp shoes.
At this point, it’ll be up to you as to how long you hold onto an old pair. There are some ways you can improve their grip, but eventually, a hole will wear through completely if not resoled. You’ll probably want to avoid having to smear with your bare feet.
How to take care of climbing shoes
Practice better footwork
How clean your footwork is will massively impact the lifespan of your shoes. If you are dragging your feet along the gym wall like an industrial sander, then expect to be disappointed when the inevitable damage starts to show.
Here are a few pointers that your shoes will thank you for:
- Work on the precision and quality of your first foot placement. Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, repositioning and adjusting your feet grind away at your precious rubber.
- Avoid dragging your feet along the wall as you traverse. Dragging your feet – or even more commonly ‘bouncing up’ moves – are easy traps to fall into but ones that will leave you with sloppy technique and trashed shoes.
If you think your footwork needs some work, then this video of Tom Randell from the Wide Boyz might teach you a thing or two.
Proper Shoe Care
Honestly, we are all a little guilty of not looking after our climbing shoes properly. By far the easiest way to destroy the performance of your expensive handmade shoes is walking around excessively in them – especially with aggressive climbing shoes.
Think about it, intricate slip-lasted climbing shoes and clever design technology; La Sportiva’s P3 Platform, Scarpa’s Power Connection Band or any other tension system you can think of, is relentlessly being stretched out as you stroll care-free around the gym.
Aside from only wearing your shoes whilst you climb, there’s plenty of other tips and tricks you can use to squeeze some extra life out of your shoes. Here’s a few of our favorite:
- Never leave them sitting in direct sunlight or in hot environments for extended periods of time. Apart from the inevitable melting of the glue that’s holding your shoes together, exposing the rubber to excessive sunlight can warp the shape and reduce its stickiness. Always store your climbing shoes properly.
- After use, make sure to let them dry out. This helps keep the bacteria at bay. Brownie points if you use Boot Bananas.
- Clean your climbing shoes. This will keep them smelling fresh, free of bacteria and climbing at their best for longer. On a similar note, if your feet look worse than Frodo’s after three Lord of the Ring movies, then you should probably give those dogs a wash too.
- Wear socks. Yep, you heard me. It might look a bit rookie but it’s going to keep those shoes looking, and smelling, fresh.
With a Resole
Resoling climbing shoes is the best way to extend the lifespan of your favorite climbing shoes! Resoling is when the worn-down outsole is replaced with a new layer of rubber. This has many benefits; from reducing waste, saving money, and avoiding the break-in period a pair of brand-new shoes require.
For the best result, you’ll want to get your shoes resoled before the rand is exposed. While most places do offer rand replacement, it will cost you more and will reduce the number of times you can resole the shoe.
No edge shoes will function similarly, though the design of the rubber is a bit different. The sole will wrap all the way around the toe and the rand will be hidden well beneath. The drill is the same, however, try to get it redone before the under-layer peaks through.
How many times can I resole my climbing shoes?
If resoled early enough, a shoe can be resoled up to five or six times. Realistically though, you are more likely to resolve once or twice before retiring them for good.
Why’s this? Well, like our friends at La Sportiva said, the process of resoling is a pretty invasive process (it does involve sanding off the old rubber and glue after all). On the first resole you will find the shoe will still work great but after a few more times, performance is going to start to dip and the upper materials will stretch and ware as they age.
How much does it cost to resole climbing shoes?
The average cost to resole climbing shoes is around $40. This price increases depending how extensive the damage is, with additional services like toe cap, rand repairs and closure straps could push the final bill towards the $70 mark.
Other Pressure points
Closure systems: Beyond rubber wear, occasionally climbing shoes do breakdown elsewhere. A common point of failure is the closure system. The La Sportiva Solution for example, famously suffer from snapped straps. Luckily, your local resoler should be able to fix minor stitching issues.
Delamination: Another common defect found in climbing shoes is rubber delamination, especially cheaper climbing shoes. If after minimal use, you notice the sole is splitting and peeling away from the rand, you’ll want to consider returning them back to the retailer.
A good retailer should recognize this as a defect and offer a warranty return.
Time to level up: A lot of climbers aren’t beginners for long. Once you’ve established your basic technique and start to venture into thinner and/or steeper terrain, you’ll quickly start to notice the lack of performance your beginner shoes offer.
Beginner bouldering shoes often have a rounded toe box, so it can be tricky to stand on smaller holds. They also tend not to very stiff and insensitive. At this point, consider shopping around for something a bit more aggressive and keeping the older pair as a warm-up shoe.
A pair of new shoes can be a pricey purchase, especially for us stingy climbers.
That said, knowing when to resole or replace climbing shoes is an important skill that will ensure you continue to climb at your highest ability.
So, treat your shoes kindly to maximize their life; and just because your favorite pair may not be the high performing beats they once were, that doesn’t mean you have to chuck them out!
Give them a second life by having them resoled, or reserve them for those easier warms. You’ll be climbing in comfort in those perfectly broken-in babies.
If you think it’s time to retire your beloved climbing shoes and treat yourself to a new pair, make sure to take a look at some of our awesome shoe reviews as well as our favorite places to buy climbing shoes.