October 14, 2020

How to Break in Climbing Shoes? Step-by-Step Approach

by Brad

When one looks into rock climbing, many various factors are likely considered. Today, we will discuss how to break in climbing shoes without pain.

From one’s physical fitness to their safety equipment to the type of weather one will be climbing in, it is vitally important to be aware of every aspect for maximum safety.

That said, one of the last things most people actually give proper attention or significance to is their shoes. Yet, despite rarely considering them, breaking in a new pair of rock climbing shoes can be one of the worst parts of the experience.

This process can often be incredibly painful, to the point that taking them off during a route can become a virtual requirement.

For many, this can lead to several foot issues later on, such as hammertoes, bunions, and Hallux Rigidus (Stiff Big Toe). This, sadly enough, harkens back to the idea that climbing shoes were the most ideal when tight.

At the time, it was believed that a loose shoe (especially when climbing) was likely going to fall off or lead to a weakened footing. And while there certainly is merit in ensuring your shoes fit, that doesn’t necessarily mean “tight.”

While we are on the “tight” subject of the climbing shoe, read more about how tight should climbing shoes be.

Even a properly sized shoe that has been correctly fitted will initially be quite stiff and require some time to break in. That’s where we come in.

The following instructions will ensure your climbing shoes are correctly stretched out while not damaging their rubbered integrity.

Hopefully, this will give you the extra shoe space to climb as comfortably as possible. These steps will be made in the most ideal of situations of getting a brand new pair.

If you have a used pair that still hasn’t been broken in yet, these steps will undoubtedly help, but the results may vary in their effectiveness level.

Table of Contents
How to make your climbing shoes sticky again
A rock climber is breaking into a pair of climbing shoes.

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How to Break in Climbing Shoes: The Showering Method

While certainly, a bit odd, people have been showering their climbing shoes for years with incredible results.

While other methods similarly work, showering your shoes is one of the best ways to perfectly contour them to your foot’s shape.

This part will explain how to break in climbing shoes by using the “Showering Method.”

Step 1: Fill in your new shoes:

Arguably, the most important of the steps, upon looking for a pair of climbing shoes, ensure they are the right size. As stated earlier, your goal is not to get shoes that are too tight or uncomfortable.

They don’t need to be “slip off” loose, nor do they need to be “vice gripping” tight. The shoes should feel most comfortable when walking around in them.

Remember that rock climbing will cause your feet to swell slightly due to the activity’s nature. So make sure to factor that into your shoe size as well. If you already have a pair of shoes, don’t stress.

While you may not end up with a shoe as comfortable as if you followed this step perfectly, by the end, your climbing shoes will mostly be comfortable enough that you can rock climb without too much issue. Now here comes the fun part.

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Step 2: Take a steamy shower

Next, you’re going to take a hot shower with the shoes on. This process is what will effectively stretch them out, allowing you to move more comfortably.

Ensure to expose the shoes to as much water as possible and stretch your feet in the shoes as much as possible.

Climbing Shoes Advice How to Break in Climbing Shoes

Step 3: Walkaround

After they have gotten thoroughly soaked, walk around the house or yard with them on. Again, this process helps contour the shoe to your specific foot size.

You want to continue walking in the shoes until you feel them beginning to dry. The ideal setting is for them to go from very wet to reasonably damp.

Step 4: Dry them off

After they have been adequately stretched and are mostly dry, you are going to finish the process by drying them off.

While you can use a hairdryer or some other way to dry them off, this is not recommended.

Instead, use paper products such as newspaper pages or paper towels. Blowing intense heat on them while damp may damage the climbing shoe rubber, potentially causing them to crack.

Step 5: Walk them out

Finally, before the shoes have thoroughly dried and are only slightly damp, put them on for one more jaunt before fully drying off.

As with before, this will ensure that they stay set to your size as they finally dry. For the optimal effects, consider actually climbing with them.

This process will actually make the shoes even more personalized and bendable while climbing. After walking (or climbing), finish the drying process with a few more pieces of newspaper.

Break in Climbing Shoes

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How to Break in Climbing Shoes: The Ice Bagging Method

Meant for shoes that mainly fit or need only a moderate amount of breaking in, ice-bagging is excellent for minute stretching or finetuning their flexibility.

Step 1: Remove the shoe packaging

Like the showering method, this process works best for most new shoes that have been rarely used.

As with that process, ensure there is nothing in the shoe and that all of the stickers have been cleared. As this technique will deal with freezing them, this step is even more critical.

Step 2: Freeze the shoe

Next, take two large zip-lock bags and fill them with water. After you have filled them up enough to resemble the general size of your foot, place one bag in either shoe.

As the water will expand outwards once frozen, there must be as little a gap between the bag and your shoes as possible. While we are technically freezing your shoe, the water stretching the shoe is most important.

As such, use your finger to gauge the space between the bag and your shoe. If the bag doesn’t fully fill in the shoe, consider adding more water or a second smaller bag into the shoe. After this, leave them in the freezer overnight.

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Step 3: Thaw your shoes out

The following day, take out your shoes. They should be fully frozen by this point and must be made to thaw out.

You will notice that they will have somewhat expanded and stretched out instead of when you initially put them in. This is from the water expanding outwards, stretching the shoe from its original state.

Keep in mind, again, that this is only for incremental adjustments. If you need much more drastic alterations, consider the Showering Method instead.

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Step 4: Repeat as needed

As this step is much slower with smaller changes, keep in mind that you may have to perform this several times for the optimal effect.

The good news is that because the shifts are innately incremental, you are more capable of finetuning the exact level of comfortability required for you personally.

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Dealing with uncomfortable and painful climbing shoes isn’t something one has to deal with anymore in this day and age.

And while there are certainly other methods outside of the ones listed in this article, these steps are time-tested and incredibly useful.

They won’t lead to shoes completely destroying your feet or causing you insufferable pain.

Happy climbing, and browse all climbing articles on our website.

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About the author 


Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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