Care instructions: How to care for your climbing shoes

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Proper care increases their lifespan. Photo: Red Chili
Proper care increases their lifespan. Photo: Red Chili

A good pair of climbing shoes is essential for both gym and rock climbing. Even though they only contribute indirectly to your overall safety when climbing, they can have a major impact on whether your climb was a success or a failure. Seeing as there are so many different types of shoes, philosophies and individual preferences, no one can tell you which shoe is the right one – only you can find the right shoe for you. And once you’ve found your dream shoe, you should do everything in your power to make sure that it lasts for a very long time as well. Obviously, there’s very little you can do against regular wear and tear, as it just comes with the territory of climbing. However, there are a few helpful and simple methods to prevent a shoe from aging prematurely.

Preseving the sticky rubber

If you’ve ever climbed on a slick surface before, you know how important the rubber is. If a shoe doesn’t provide you with enough grip, it doesn’t matter how daring or strong you are – you won’t get very far. You need the proper shoe with the proper degree of stickiness. Seeing as there are so many different kinds of climbing shoes, all of which differ in terms of their soles and construction, they all have different degrees of stickiness as well.

But, as a general rule, all shoes will eventually lose their grip. It’s inevitable! This is something that obviously happens even quicker if you climb outdoors. Why? Well, the deterioration of the grip can usually be traced back to an ever-increasing amount of dirt on the sole. Even though you may not really be able to tell by looking at them, the soles of your precious climbing shoes will be covered in a layer of dirt, dust and worn-out rubber. Fortunately, this is not a problem without a solution. In fact, it’s relatively easy to take care of. All you have to do is gently clean the shoes in lukewarm water using a wire brush and the soles will have the same grippiness they did on the first day you wore them!

Fine dirt will affect the stickiness. Photo: Red Chili
Fine dirt will affect the stickiness. Photo: Red Chili

Depending on your technique and where you climb, the front of the soles around the big toe can show increased signs of wear. These mini-tears primarily result from rubbing against the wall and turning on one foot. Interestingly, this structure in the rubber generally leads to better traction. However, if and when this starts to get out of hand, you’ll need to act fast, because if you don’t, the shoes will wear out extremely quickly. There is a bright side, though: you’ll hardly need anything to rectify the problem! All you have to do is use some coarse sandpaper on the areas that have lost grippiness to rid the sole of any excess material. If you do this thoroughly, your sole will look as good as new! Plus, you’ll add some life to the shoe!

Another extremely important aspect to consider is your technique and footwork. If you use your feet with precision and don’t jump down at the end to save yourself a few seconds of climbing, you can preserve the rubber on your soles. After all, the most common reason to get new shoes is because the tip of the sole is worn out, so if you save this, you’ll save your shoes!

Preventing and combatting odours

Climbing shoes stink – it’s just that simple. Not only does the way climbing shoes are made not really allow for any ventilation, but climbers usually go sockless as well, which allows all that foot sweat to accumulate within the shoe’s interior. Then, bacteria starts to grow inside your nice and sweaty climbing shoes, causing them to stink. Shoes made from sythetic materials generally deteriate faster than leather shoes.

After long periods of use, you should always dry your shoes well - but not in the sun! Photo: Red Chili
After long periods of use, you should always dry your shoes well – but not in the sun! Photo: Red Chili

Simply put: you should never give bacteria a chance to form in the first place. How? Well, the easiest method is to air dry the shoes after climbing. If you keep them exposed to the fresh air, even the sweatiest of climbing shoes can dry pretty quickly. Plus, the breeding ground for bacteria will be eliminated in the process. Stuffing the shoes with newspaper can help to speed up the process as well. You should never put your sweaty climbing shoes in a shoe bag or backpack immediately after climbing. It can also help to wear them for shorter periods by taking them off after every route to air them out.

But, sometimes, even if you’re really careful, the shoes will start to stink anyway. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to take care of this problem. The earlier you start tending to the problem, the easier it’ll be to get rid of. The easiest way to do so is to clean the shoes in lukewarm water with a brush and regular soap.

If the smell just gets worse, it’s time to resort to some household remedies. The name of this little wonder is baking soda. This powder changes the acidity in the shoe and makes it less appealing to bacteria. All you have to do is evenly distribute the powder in your shoe.

You should never wash your climbing shoes in the washing machine. Laundry detergent can do a lot of damage to the rubber outsole, the leather upper, as well as the laces. Even the shape, its heel tension and the fit of the shoe can be affected by washing it. Plus, it could ruin the adhesives and hook and loop fasteners as well.

Obviously, some people will have smellier shoes than others. It may even be enough for some to air dry their shoes, whilst others might have to take more drastic measures. Those of you who belong to the latter group might want to think about not wearing synthetic shoes. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to start wearing socks with your climbing shoes.

Promoting longevity

Slip out of your shoes more often instead of standing on your heels. Photo: Red Chili
Slip out of your shoes more often instead of standing on your heels. Photo: Red Chili

Obviously, the lifespan of your climbing shoes greatly depends on how you treat them. You should never expose them to high temperatures or excessive amounts of sunlight. Even though drying your climbing shoes quickly can prevent the growth of odour-inducing bacteria, it should never be done in the blazing sun. Constant exposure to the sun’s rays can make the rubber sole of your shoes extremely brittle. Plus, the adhesives will lose their stickiness more quickly, which can cause the shoe to become deformed. The same thing can result from exposure to heat. Therefore, you should refrain from storing your climbing shoes in hot places, such as your car.

Another thing that can be incredibly harmful to your shoes is slipping your heels out and standing on the heels of the shoes after a climb. Although this may be a very common practice in climbing gyms and at sport climbing crags around the world, it’s a form of torture for your precious climbing shoes! You may be giving your feet and toes some much-needed relief, but you’re killing your shoes! Models with a high heel tension are particularly sensitive to this, so it would be a good idea to refrain from doing it!


It’s good to give your climbing shoes a little “makeover” every now and again. This will not only allow them to perform for longer but will also come as a relief to your climbing partners. Besides, proper care doesn’t have to be hard, nor does it have to be expensive. In most cases, household remedies and a few of grandma’s little tricks will get the job done. If you care for your shoes and store them properly, you’ll be able to enjoy them for many climbs to come.

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Alpinetrek-Expert Lisa

Alpinetrek-Expert Lisa

I didn’t choose mountain sports, mountain sports chose me. In the late 80s, my parents taught me how to ski and in the late 90s I joined a climbing club to learn how to climb. Since my youth, skiing and mountaineering are the mountain sports I regularly practise.

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