During your days at the climbing gym or local crag, you may have noticed that many climbers don’t wear socks with their shoes. This can seem odd at first glance, especially since we grow up being told to wear socks with our shoes, but there can be some benefits to ditching the socks when climbing.
Going sockless when climbing is a relatively new concept that has come out of the advances in climbing shoe design. In the ’70s and ’80s, climbing shoes were bulky and designed to be worn with socks, just like any other shoe. As climbing shoe design got more and more streamlined and fitted, people began to climb without socks, and that trend just sort of stuck.
Should You Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes?
This isn’t a cut and dry answer. It depends on personal preference, as well as the situation and the climbing shoe that you’re wearing. Generally, many climbers will tell you that you have to wear barefoot climbing shoes, that is to say, shoes without socks because it will make the climbing shoes fit better.
There is some truth to this. Rock climbing shoes should fit snugly, similar to how a pair of socks fit. They should hug all parts of your foot and not have an excess space around either the heel or toe. Your toes should be touching the end when you are standing, but not curled at all. Since these shoes are designed to fit so snuggly, if you try on your shoes with socks, you should climb with socks, but if you tried on your shoes without socks, you should climb without socks.
Many climbers will tell you that you shouldn’t wear socks with your rock climbing shoes, but if wearing socks is more comfortable for you, than go ahead and wear them. Some climbers say that socks create an extra layer of protection for their feet, which they like. Other climbers say that socks add an extra layer of distance between their feet and the rock and say that it prevents them from feeling the rock well enough. Both are totally valid and personal preferences.
Barefoot Climbing Shoes or Socks: Which is Better?
Neither option is inherently better all the time, but both barefoot climbing shoes and socks have their time and place. Generally, going sockless will allow you to get a tighter fit with your climbing shoes, which can be helpful for utilizing every tiny little hold on the rock. Adding socks to your climbing shoes as they stretch out can be a really good way of extending the life of your shoes. Just add thin socks at first, so you don’t force your shoes to overstretch.
One challenge with wearing socks with your climbing shoes is the stretch. If you start wearing socks with your climbing shoes, your shoes will likely stretch to the size of your feet with socks, meaning that it can be really challenging to go back to climbing without socks. Overall, leather rock climbing shoes will stretch more than synthetic climbing shoes, so this might not be a big deal for you if you are climbing in synthetic shoes.
Why Do Some Climbers Wear Socks?
There are some climbers who prefer socks in general, but there are also some times when climbing in socks has some pretty serious benefits. In general, choosing to wear socks or not wear socks is a totally personal choice that each climber makes for themselves, so don’t feel like you have to do what your friend does. Make a choice that works for you.
Many climbers choose to size up their shoes when crack climbing and wear a pair of socks that will give their calves slightly more protection from the rock. Overall, any time when a climber may want slightly larger shoes is a good time to size up your shoes and wear some socks.
Another time that many climbers like to wear socks is on long, multi-day routes. If you are going to be spending days on end climbing and living on the wall, investing in a pair of comfortable climbing shoes that fit well with socks might be a good idea. This gives you more comfort during really long days of climbing.
The most likely place that you might see climbers wearing socks with their climbing shoes is in the gym, especially if they are renting shoes. Many climbers like to have a short, ankle height sock to wear under rental shoes just to help keep their feet and the shoes a little cleaner. Some climbers in gyms like to wear socks under their own shoes so they can take their shoes off between climbs and not have to be barefoot in a gym.
What are Good Climbing Shoes?
There are so many good climbing shoes out there on the market today that you would be hard-pressed to find a bad shoe. Most shoes now are made out of amazing quality rubber and either a leather or synthetic upper shoe body. The shoes are either closed with velcro, laces, or slide on like a slipper.
Choosing a good climbing shoe for you is all about you. It’s all about the shape of your foot and what style of climbing you would like to do. You should always try on climbing shoes when you go to buy new climbing shoes because climbing shoes should fit snuggly, almost like a pair of socks. In general, your feet should be filling up the whole shoe, but your toes shouldn’t be curled.
If you want to climb in socks, make sure you take the style of socks that you will be climbing in and try on the shoes with those socks. Lace-up shoes are also more likely to fit with a variety of widths of socks, so if you don’t know what sock you’ll climb in, a lace-up option might be best for you. Synthetic climbing shoes will also stretch less than leather climbing shoes, so just keep that in mind when trying on shoes.
If you tend to climb predominantly in a gym, then you may want a velcro closure shoe or a slip-on climbing shoe, just for the ease of it. If you think that you will be climbing outdoors, any shoe will be great. Lace-up climbing shoes are the best option if you don’t know if you will only be climbing with socks or without socks since the laces offer more room to adjust the shoes. Overall, the fit of the shoe and general comfort is more important than how the shoes close, so just choose something that works for you.
Brands like La Sportiva, Evolv, 5.10, Scarpa, and Black Diamond, just to name a few, all make great starter climbing shoes as well as a good selection of more aggressive shoes. Shoes like the La Sportiva Tarantulace and Tarantula are well known for being good quality, cost-effective climbing shoes for someone looking to get a good pair of all-around shoes, especially if this is their first pair.
Black Diamond is one of the newer companies to enter the climbing shoe game and have mostly velcro closure shoes. Their Momentum shoe is one of their most popular and is a great starter shoe. They also make a vegan option that features no leather, so if that interests you, this might be the right shoe for you.
Scarpa has been around for a long time, and they make some great shoes. They have some good lace-up options and some good velcro options. Shoes like the Scarpa Origin are a great velcro option, but if you’re looking for a lace-up shoe, they make the Helix, which is amazing as well.
These are by no means the only climbing shoe brands on the market, and new brands and makers are popping up all the time. As climbing becomes more and more popular, there is a growing selection of shoes available. Take the time to try on new climbing shoes before buying them and make sure they fit well. The fit is more important than what brand your climbing shoes are.
Wrapping Things Up: Do You Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes?
While many climbers don’t wear socks so their shoes can fit as tight as possible, it’s a completely personal choice if you want to wear socks with your climbing shoes or not. Just make sure that if you plan on wearing socks, you try the shoes on with socks when you first go to buy them. This will help give you the best fit, since having a well-fitting climbing shoe is much more important than if you wear socks with them or not.
Did you enjoy this article? You might also be interested in our other climbing tips here.