Climbing shoes are nothing like your regular every day shoes. These are a special type of footwear designed for rock climbing and made with the peculiar conditions of climbing in mind.
They typically have a tight fit, little or no padding and sticky rubber sole. Soles are made as such in order to increase friction while climbing.
Climbing shoes are not appropriate for walking, running or any other use. Climbers often carry them and put them on at the base of a climb and take them off immediately after.
Parts of a Climbing Shoe
To better understand exactly how a climbing shoe works, let’s look at 2 main parts of the shoe.
- Sole: This is the section which covers the bottom. It comes into contact with the foothold when you are climbing. It is made of soft rubber so it easily takes the shape of the foothold and also provides friction to prevent slipping.
- Rand: This is a layer of rubber wrapping at the toes or front of the shoe. It also extends to the side of the foot. Its function is to hold your toes down while climbing. Keep in mind that the rand is not designed to withstand the same kind of beating the sole can take. You should never climb on the rand. If you do, the rubber wears out much faster and the shoe generally doesn’t function as it should because it can no longer hold your toes down.
How to Make Climbing Shoes Sticky Again
Even if you invested in the best climbing shoes, they will eventually start to wear out. Although dashing out to the store for new pair would be ideal, the pace at which climbing shoes soles lose their grip is quite fast. It would be expensive to buy a new pair every time.
There is need to find solutions to restore the effect without spending more. There are a few methods you could use. Some have no effect on the overall durability of the shoes while others do.
The first step in staying safe while climbing is getting the right shoes.
Warm up the shoes:
This is by far the easiest way to restore grip. The rubber compound used to make the soles becomes stickier when temperature increases.
If you are out on a sunny day, it is enough to leave the shoes out in the sun for a couple of minutes before starting a climb.
Be careful not to leave them out for too long because this could start to melt the adhesive used to bind the sole to the upper.
Another way to heat up the rubber is to hold the shoes with the 2 soles facing each other and rub them together. The heat produced warms the rubber and makes it sticky again.
Clean the shoes:
Whether your climbing shoes have only been used once or have served you for the last 5 years, they could always do with a wash. Cleaning does no damage the shoe so it is probably the best way to restore stickiness.
Why is dirt so bad for soles? Rubber is relatively porous so dirt and dust particles easily settle in its surface. When this happens, the shoe loses its grip. Even one use can get a whole lot of dirt caught in the sole.
How to clean: Use a scrubbing brush dipped in a bucket of warm water to scrub off dirt on the soles. Don’t use hot water because excessive heat could start to destroy glue on the shoe.
You will be surprised to see how much dirt the sole can hide. Try to keep the sole of the shoe facing down to allow excess water to run off easily. Dry them in the sun or using a clean, dry towel.
To remove large amounts of stubborn dirt, consider using alcohol. Pour a small amount of the solvent on a clean cloth and wipe dirt off the sole.
The two methods discussed above are preferred because they have no effect on the lifespan of the shoe. The following two methods work by increasing friction and are quite effective.
They should, however be preserved for shoes which are on the last days of use as they wear down the rubber. If done continuously they eventually wear through the rubber.
Sand paper the soles:
Rub a fresh piece of sand paper on the surface of the sole to remove the top rubber layer. This helps to restore the grip in an old pair of climbing shoes. An alternative to sand paper is a metal brush.
Rub the bristles gently on the surface of the sole. Try not to dig the brush deep into the rubber to avoid wearing through the sole too fast.
Cut the soles:
Another way to restore grip is to cut new tread into the sole. It can be done using a sharp knife or a razor blade.
Cut a neat cross pattern on each sole. Again try not to cut too deep into the rubber and be careful not to accidentally cut right through the mid-sole.
Resoling Climbing Shoes
Resoling is another way to make climbing shoes sticky again.
The biggest challenge when it comes to durability of climbing shoes is that the rubber wears off much faster than regular shoes.
They are like the tires of your car, a little rubber is left on the road every time you drive. In the same way, a little rubber from the sole of your shoe is left on every rock you step on.
For this reason the soles of these shoes tend to wear out when the rest of the shoe is in relatively good condition. This is why resoling makes sense.
Several years ago, there were few people in the business of resoling climbing shoes and it was a logistical headache to get a pair of shoes to them. Nowadays, there are plenty of options.
Even if you cannot find a resoler near you, you can always ship your shoes to them. It may take a couple of weeks, but it will get done.
There are also many new types of rubber with varying thicknesses and a variety of repair possibilities to choose from.
What do you get from a resole?
The most basic work a resoler will do is called a ‘half resole.’ With this the resoler only replaces the sole from the midsole forward.
Some shoes need more extensive repair work such as addition of toecaps. The rest of the shoe is left largely in the same condition it came in. At the end of the day, you get yourself a pair of climbing shoes with a brand new sole and edge.
Is resoling worth it?
The truth is that resoling can be expensive. You pay a good amount for the job especially if you are dealing with reputable resolers.
Let’s not forget that chances are that you do not live near one of these resolers so the cost of shipping them to and from the resoler is also on you. Is it really worth the cost and effort?
Is it cheaper to buy a new pair of climbing shoes?
Here is a quick calculation. Assuming your climbing shoes are not in bad condition and only require a half resoling job it will cost you between $30 and $40. The industry standard is $38.
Making another assumption that you are not among the fortunate few who live near a reputable resloer, the shipping cost comes to between $7 and $13 one way.
Taking an average of $10 it will cost you an extra $20 to ship the shoes to and from the resoler. This gives you a total of $58. Another assumption is that you are not going to all this trouble for an average or low quality pair of climbing shoes.
We are talking about a pair of high quality climbing shoes.
Buying a brand new pair will set you back about $200. $58 for a fresh sole against $200 for a brand new pair is a good deal. So we can conclude that resoling is in fact worth it if you are doing it on a high quality pair of shoes and only a moderate amount of work needs to be done on them.
Learning how to make climbing shoes sticky again takes a good understanding of what makes them sticky in the first place. These shoes have soles made out of soft, sticky rubber.
It is soft enough to form around divots or rocks thus creating sufficient grip for the climber. This softness also means that it wears out much faster than the rest of the shoe.
If you don’t want to buy a new pair of climbing shoes every time the rubber sole begins to lose grip, keeping it clean and warming up the rubber before a climb both work well for relatively new shoes. For shoes on the further end of their lifespan, it helps to sand paper the rubber surface or cut fresh treads into it.
Resoling is a slightly more expensive option though it proves to be worth the cost when dealing with high-quality climbing shoes.