You got into climbing recently and invested in your first pair of shoes a few months ago. You climb often and so your shoes have seen quite a bit of use in the first few months of you owning them, but they already feel like they’ve stretched since you bought them. You don’t want to have to buy new shoes, climbing shoes are expensive, but you want them to be tighter to your foot. A friend suggests that you try to shrink them.
This may be a story similar to yours, or you may be trying to bring some new life into some old climbing shoes. Whatever the case may be, in this article we’re going to go through the logistics of shrinking your climbing shoes. Can you even shrink your climbing shoes and is it worth it, will they hold the new size or stretch back out?
If you like this post, you may enjoy our extensive post on 50 rock climbing tips for beginners and intermediates.
If you have the opposite problem and need to stretch your climbing shoes, read our post on that here.
First Things First: Can You Shrink Climbing Shoes?
Yes, well, sort of. Some climbing shoes are capable of shrinking, but only some of the materials used in climbing shoe production can be shrunk. Many are treated to prevent both stretching and shrinking, so treatments are unlikely to work. Overall, synthetic climbing shoes can’t be shrunk, while leather climbing shoes can be shrunk.
What Types of Climbing Shoes Can Be Shrink? What Types Can’t?
The answer is complicated and depends on the type of shoe you have. The rubber base of climbing shoes won’t shrink or stretch, so this likely isn’t your problem. If you think that the rubber base of your shoes is the wrong size for your feet, you should think about investing in some new shoes as this is not likely to change. If your shoes are synthetic material, they also aren’t going to shrink. Synthetic shoes also aren’t going to stretch to the same degree as leather shoes will, so there is much less of a need to shrink synthetic shoes.
That leaves us with leather climbing shoes. Treated leather is a common shoe material used by La Sportiva and other major climbing shoe brands, although almost all brands offer both synthetic and leather options. Leather climbing shoes are likely to stretch with wear, but they are also the most easily shrunk style of climbing shoe.
In general, a new climbing shoe won’t shrink a ton, just because of the treatment of the material and the amount of it present. If you have a leather climbing shoe that’s stretched out with wear though, and is larger than when you first purchased the shoes, shrinking your shoe may be a useful skill to know. Maybe your shoes still have plenty of wear in them, but they just aren’t quite as comfortable as they used to be. Shrinking them may be your best option for continuing to utilize your shoes.
How Can You Shrink Your Climbing Shoes to Fit Better?
The end goal of shrinking your climbing shoes is to achieve a tighter fit with less empty air space surrounding your feet. When you are thinking about which of these methods is best for your shoes, you may want to think about how much empty air space there is around your feet when you are wearing your climbing shoes.
There are multiple ways to shrink the leather of your climbing shoes for a tighter fit. Some methods shrink your shoes more while others may just adjust the way they fit in a less invasive way. Here we are going to list the most common three ways to shrink your climbing shoes.
1. Wash your climbing shoes.
This might sound strange, but washing your climbing shoes and then allowing them to air dry makes the leather more pliable and then shrink down some as they dry. The main challenge with this method is the same as stretching your climbing shoes in general, it is not a permanent fix. Once you shrink your shoes and then climb in them again for a while, you are likely to find that your shoes re-stretch out and you might have to re-shrink them later.
2. Put your climbing shoes in the heat.
Leaving your shoes in the heat can also be a good way to shrink the leather back down. To do this method without harming your shoes, it is best to place them outside in the sun and leave them there throughout the day. Make sure you bring your shoes in at night and if there is any chance of rain, as light moisture that doesn’t dry out fully might cause mold to grow on your shoes.
There are a few things to be aware of when using this method. Do not put your climbing shoes in the dryer, microwave, or oven. All three machines create too much concentrated heat and can damage the rubber of your shoes. Microwaves are also likely to spark off of any metal component of your shoes, such as eyelets. They also all have the potential to release fumes from the rubber soles of your climbing shoes melting that are not good to inhale.
3. Wear socks with your climbing shoes.
This might sound simple, but if your shoes are just a little too big, your best bet may be to just wear socks. Many climbers refuse to wear socks as it is just another layer removing them from the rock and minimizing the feel they have when climbing, but, in this case, socks can actually help that problem. Socks can be a way to take up some of the empty air space within your shoes to make them more comfortable.
Socks also offer the added bonus of being super adjustable throughout a long day or even a few days of climbing. You could start off the day with thick socks on, or wearing multiple pairs of socks, and either take socks off or change to thinner socks as the day goes on and your feet swell. Again, this probably isn’t a long term solution, but it does offer you lots of flexibility in the fit of your climbing shoes. Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?
Will Your Climbing Shoes Stay Shrunk?
Unfortunately, your climbing shoes won’t stay shrunk permanently. They likely stretched through a combination of moisture (sweat) and heat (friction), both produced by your feet while you climb. This means that any shrinking you achieve with these strategies is going to be stretched out again with moisture and heat.
This doesn’t mean that you should give up on shrinking your shoes. If your shoes still have plenty of good climbs left in them and the rubber on the soles is in good condition, shrinking your shoes can be repeated as needed to prolong the life of your shoes. We all know that climbing shoes don’t come cheap so making the ones you have last may be crucial to your ability to fund your climbing.
When Should You Buy a New Pair of Climbing Shoes?
At some point, you will need to break down and buy a new pair of climbing shoes. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve been shrinking your first pair of basic climbing shoes to keep getting more life out of them. As you’ve been climbing you’ve gotten better. You’re ready for more aggressive shoes. This might be the perfect time to invest in some new, more aggressive shoes.
Another big reason to replace climbing shoes is if the rubber on the sole of your shoes starts to fall apart. Depending on how you climb and where you climb, this could be a short time, but your shoes could also last for years, there is no set answer. The sole of your climbing shoes is crucial to your ability to utilize the shoes to their full potential, so when the soles give out, it’s time to replace your shoes. Even if only the edge of your climbing shoe’s rubber is giving out, you should highly consider replacing them.
The other thing you could look into if your climbing shoe soles are falling apart, but the body of the shoes are still in great condition, is getting your shoes resoled. Not all companies will resole shoes, but it is worth looking into as it tends to be cheaper than investing in a new pair of shoes. If the body of your shoes is also falling apart, or the eyelets are worn than resoling might not be worth it. At some point, you will have to replace your climbing shoes.
Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeways on Shrinking Your Climbing Shoes
Overall, shrinking your climbing shoes can be done, but it is not a permanent solution to your problems and will only work on leather climbing shoes. It might be in your best interest to start to think about investing in a new pair of climbing shoes. Shrinking your shoes could be used as a great way to get some more life out of a pair of shoes while you dedicate time and effort to finding the perfect new pair of shoes.