October 14, 2020

How to Break in Climbing Shoes and How to Stretch Climbing Shoes?

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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.”

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 Break in Climbing Shoes and Stretch Climbing Shoes
How to Break in Climbing Shoes and How to Stretch Climbing Shoes?

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.”

Here are the steps you need to take to easily break in climbing shoes.

  • Step 1: Fill in your new shoes
  • Step 2: Take a steamy shower
  • Step 3: Walkaround
  • Step 4: Dry them off
  • Step 5: Walk them out

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to Stretch Climbing Shoes?

If you have ever bought a new pair of climbing shoes that turned out to be too small or you didn’t like how tight the shoes are, you have a great chance to wonder how to stretch them.

This part will teach you how to stretch climbing shoes, especially climbing shoes for wide feet, to feel comfortable wearing them.

Method 1. To stretch climbing shoes, wear them while showering

It may sound a bit silly, but if you wear your climbing shoes in a hot shower, you can actually stretch them.

For this method to work, ensure that the shoes expand and conform to your feet’ size, which can’t possibly happen unless your feet are actually in them.

Yes, you got it right; you will need to shower in your climbing shoes.

Don’t worry, though, because you will be the only one knowing about it.

Some people had also found very similar results when they decided to let their own shoes soak just a little in hot water, immediately putting them on afterward.

Try considering both of the options mentioned above to find the right one for you.

Method 2. To stretch climbing shoes, place them in the freezer

If taking a shower in your climbing shoes is not something you’d like to do, then try to place them in a freezer instead.

Unlike the first method, this method can provide gradual stretches to the shoes and may also require a few times to get the result you wish.

Fortunately for you, the process is straightforward; all you have to do is ensure that you’ve got enough time to dedicate to this process.

You will have to fill two plastic Ziploc bags with water to try this method.

Then stuff them down into the shoes as if you were actually wearing them. 

Ensure that those plastic bags will end up being the size similar to your own foot.

Finally, please place them in a freezer, letting them freeze overnight or for twelve hours at the very least.

After doing so, you may have to repeat the process several times until you get the desired result.

Method 3. To stretch climbing shoes, use a hairdryer and wear thick socks

If you lack the patience the two above-mentioned solutions require, consider using a hairdryer.

But remember that you will have to wear a few pairs of thick socks; it will help protect you from a hair dryer’s heat.

After putting socks and your climbing shoes on, try placing the hairdryer right above the tight parts for two minutes.

Ensure you are holding a hair dryer very close to allow the heat to loosen the leather.

This method will allow you to break into your climbing shoes easily.

Method 4. To stretch climbing shoes, grin and bear them as you are hitting the rocks

If none of the already mentioned solutions sound good enough for you, then there are only two choices left for you: either wear your shoes on the rocks or buy a new pair.

You can also try to break your climbing shoes through a few long multi-pitch routes.

This can be highly uncomfortable, though.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Stretch Climbing Shoes

We will answer the most frequently asked questions about how to stretch climbing shoes.

1. How much will your climbing shoe stretch?

The amount of stretch that your climbing shoe will have depends on the type of materials it is made from.

The more stretchy the material, the more your shoe will stretch.

If you are looking for a climbing shoe that won’t stretch, then you should look at shoes made from leather.

Different shoe models have different levels of stretch.

Climbing shoes with a lower level of stretch will be more suitable for people who have narrow feet and climb steep routes.

2. How to make your climbing shoes sticky again

By far, the easiest method to make shoes sticky again is to warm them up.

Another excellent method to warm them up is to try rubbing your shoes’ soles together for a few minutes.

You will even feel the significant difference in heat while doing so.

3. What are the benefits of stretching climbing shoes?

Stretching climbing shoes is an important step in the process of preparing your shoes for use.

It is also a good way to maintain your shoe’s performance over time.

There are different ways to stretch climbing shoes, and it is up to you to decide which method you prefer.

You can either do it by hand or with a shoe stretcher.

The stretching process should be done before the first use of the shoe and every few months thereafter.

It will ensure that the shoe remains elastic and will not lose its shape or performance over time.

4. How many times should one stretch a climbing shoe?

It is important to stretch your climbing shoe before you put it on.

You should do this at least three times.

The length of time you should stretch your shoe depends on the type of shoe you have.

If your shoe is made out of leather, then you should hold the stretch for 10 seconds each time.

If it is made out of synthetic materials, then you should hold the stretch for 5 seconds each time.

5. How do I know when to stop stretching a climbing shoe?

The best way to tell if you should stop stretching the shoe is by checking how tight the heel feels.

If you can’t fit your thumb between the heel and your Achilles tendon, then you should stop stretching.

6. What are good stretches for climbing shoes?

A good stretch for climbing shoes should be able to stretch the shoe to around two inches in length.

This is so that when you put your foot into the shoe, it will not cause any discomfort or pain.

The best way to test a stretch is by taking the end of the stretcher and putting it inside the shoe where your toes would be.

You should then pull on both ends of the stretcher until you can feel it stretching out the length of your foot.

How Much Do Climbing Shoes Stretch?

If your climbing shoes are very tight and painful, they can easily lead to a smorgasbord of maladies like a bunion, hammertoes, or Hallux Rigidus.

To avoid all these irreversible conditions, you are advised to look for some ways of stretching your climbing shoes so that they can comfortably hold your feet. 

How much will climbing shoes stretch?

Apart from the materials making your climbing shoes, the stretching method also matters.

Here are different methods on how you can easily stretch your climbing shoes. 

1) Using a Shoe Stretcher?

If you are to get the best result from your climbing shoe process, go for the shoe stretcher.

It might be an expensive option, but the results justify it all.

It will help you to stretch your shoes to you’re desired size.

More importantly, the device is very easy to use as you insert it in the shoe, leave it overnight, and get the results in the morning.

2) Hair Drier Method

Roll some socks into tight balls and stuff them into your climbing shoes.

Maintain the pressure as you continue inserting more and more socks until the shoe is full.

To help the shoe to stretch maximally, push the socks’ balls down as possible. 

Set the dryer to medium. Then heat your shoe for a minute.

Move the dryer up and down to ensure all parts of the shoes are heated up.

Turn off the dryer to check if the shoes have gotten warm.

If they are yet to get warm, give them another minute shot and check them again.

To avoid damage to your shoe, avoid using high heat levels.

While the shoes are still warm, add more balls of socks. Push as many socks as possible to the expanded space. Park the socks as tight as they can be to gain maximum expansion. 

Leave the shoes to cool down with the stuff inside.

The tight sock balls will help your shoes to stretch.

After it’s cool enough, you can try to fit it to determine if the climbing shoes feel comfortable

3) The Shower Method

This is another common method to help you stretch out your shoes.

Bump into your bathroom with your climbing shoes on.

Switch on the hot shower and get wet while you are in them.

Allow the hot water to heat the rubber of your shoes.

When you get out, bundle some pairs of socks or towels in your climbing shoes and keep them as tight as you can.

Leave them overnight to maintain the stretch.

If you feel that your shoes are super tight and they need more stretch, wear a pair of socks with your rock climbing shoes in the bathroom to expand them a little more.

Do Climbing Shoes Stretch?

This question, “do climbing shoes stretch?” is a common question that many climbers ask.

To best grip a rock with your feet, climbing shoes are kept small.

But if your shoes are too small, too tight, or painful, it might be hard to do rock climbing successfully in them. 

Even though it’s hard to stretch the rubber part of the shoe, you can still stretch the leather upper part for more comfort.

Remember to remove any sticker or tag before you begin any stretching process—they can be hazardous. 

How Much Do Climbing Shoes Stretch?

If you are wondering about the extent to which climbing shoes stretch, then you might be asking yourself, “how much will climbing shoes stretch?”

Climbing shoes do stretch, but the extent depends on the shoe type.

For instance, shoes made from softer materials like leather will stretch more than the ones made from synthetic materials.

Softer leathers like Anasazi Lace or Mythos can stretch up to four times over their lifetime.

Materials like Katana Lace can stretch to a full size.

Anything synthetic with lots of rubber might not stretch at all.

Latest Thoughts on How to Break into Climbing Shoes and How to Stretch Climbing Shoes

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

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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