How to break in climbing shoes

How to break in climbing shoes

So you’ve bought your climbing shoes, and hopefully you’ve spent some time making sure they are the best fit for you. However, getting that snug and secure fit, might require some manual adjustments to break them in for that first climb. Always remember, climbing shoes should never be so tight that they actually cause pain, after all, you might be wearing them for hours at a time!

The following methods in this short guide are some popular techniques for breaking in climbing shoes to avoid those horrendous blisters on your first climb. The techniques are focused on stretching the upper of the climbing shoe as the rubber will not stretch. For reference, an unlined leather upper with very little rubber will stretch up to a full size, while lined leather uppers may only stretch a half size, and synthetic uppers won’t stretch much at all. Make sure to take this into consideration before embarking on some of the methods.

As a disclaimer, using any of these breaking in methods will invalidate your purchase warranty so make sure you are confident that you have the right shoe and size! 

We have ordered the methods in decreasing ‘severity’. Starting with methods that will adjust size most significantly, down to minute size adjustments at the end. 

1. The hot shower method

climbing shoes in shower

Yes honestly! One of the fastest ways to stretch out climbing shoes. Make sure to remove all packaging and then lace or velcro the shoes snugly to your feet. Step into a hot shower and wiggle your toes whilst also flexing your foot in all directions. Do this for 5-10 minutes and don’t be alarmed if your feet are discoloured when you get out! This is just the dye bleeding from the shoe so be careful about what surface you step on to. 

Keep wearing the shoes after you get out the shower for a further 15 to 30 minutes, walking around as much as you can. 

When this is all done, take the shoes off and stuff them with something absorbent - newspaper works great. For most impact, take them for a short climbing session before they dry completely before finally re-stuffing them with newspaper and allowing them to dry fully. 

You may need to repeat this process to fully break in the shoes. 

2. The freezing method

3 Ways to Stretch Rock Climbing Shoes - wikiHow

Bear with us on this one, but it can be another pretty effective method. Get two sealable sandwich bags and fill with water until they roughly resemble the size of your feet. Put the water-filled bags, one into each climbing shoe and fasten loosely. Place the shoes into your freezer and leave them overnight. The water in the bags will expand during the freezing process, stretching your shoes in the process.  Allow at least 10-12 hours before taking the shoes out and let them thaw completely. 

This method is less ‘powerful’ than the shower method so it may take a few goes before the desired fit is achieved. The advantage of this method however is that it can make for a more precise fit. 

3. The blow dry method

How to Stretch Climbing Shoes | Rock Climbing Guide | Outdoor Inquirer

Another method that uses the power of heat. Begin by packing your shoes tightly with socks or any other fabric. Then, focussing on the leather upper, warm each shoe for about 2-3 minutes using the high setting on a blow dryer. At the same time, flex and bend the shoe several times. 

Push whatever you packed the shoes with, right to the edges of the shoe, packing it as tightly as possible. And repeat with the blow dryer for another 2-3 minutes. 

After doing a few rounds, put your climbing shoes on your feet and walk around for a minute - repeat the cycle until desired fit is attained. This method is very gradual so again, is very good at attaining a precise fit. 

4. The plastic bag method

The Learning Curve: The Fix for Painful Climbing Shoes

One of the easiest ways to break in your shoes is to actually wear them. However the friction caused when trying to force your foot into the shoe is the root cause of a lot of pain. To get round this, try wrapping your foot in cling film or a plastic bag, it will help your foot slide into your shoe fully. 

With your shoes now on and elegantly showing off your plastic socks, wear them around whilst relaxing or even a short climb. With the shoes now properly ‘filled’ by your feet, the upper will stretch out a small amount. 

If you only need to stretch out your shoes a small amount, this is a great method to use. In combination with another method, it helps to obtain a very precise fit. 

5. The sock method

Do you wear socks with climbing shoes? | The Adrenaline Buff

A debate almost as old as time - to wear socks or not under your climbing shoes? Well we’re not here to settle that debate, but wearing socks can certainly help to break in climbing shoes. 

As the quickest and simplest method, it’s great for getting you on the wall as quickly as possible. On the first few climbs in your new shoes, just wear socks under your shoes - as thick as you can! The slight increase in volume will stretch out the shoes and the fabric will ease any pain from friction. 

With the climbing walls opening next month, now is a great time to treat yourself to some new shoes and make sure they have that perfect fit!

Check out our range of climbing shoes.

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