How to Break in Climbing Shoes – 5 Quick & Easy Ways

When you take any climbing gear, you expect the optimum performance in the sports, and climbing shoes shouldn’t be any different. As they are designed for max performance, they are typically too stiff when new and so require breaking them in as soon as possible. So, learning how to break in climbing shoes successfully is a must as they cause cramped and pinched feet, blisters and pain if taken to climbing as they come from the store.

It is essential to break them in before putting them on for climbing so that they fit snugly around your foot without hurting you. To your utter amazement, they conform to your feet and become more comfortable after a few tricks to break them in.

The break-in period for climbing shoes is vital for a snug fit while preventing discomforts like pain, sore and pinched feet. Here we have focused on 5 efficient methods that you can consider your best bet to have your newly purchased rock-climbing shoes properly broken in. And the methods will also serve the purpose if you wonder how to stretch climbing shoes.

How Should Your Climbing Shoes Fit?

A common question among climbers is how your climbing shoe should fit. Every climber has their personal preference, but a pair of perfect climbing shoes should be comfortable with a snug heel. They should provide stiffness near the toes and flexibility in the arch.

It is a no-denying fact that climbers should know how to size the climbing shoes correctly. Indeed, the better the climbing shoes fit, the more effortless the sport gets. A tighter shoe will increase your ability to climb up with your toes on small placements. On the contrary, a loose shoe will be helpful on bigger holds where you are using your whole foot to grip the rock.

So, determining the right size is the precondition to fit your preferred climbing shoes effectively. That is a tricky process, and you will get it covered in a while when relevant.

How and Why Do the Materials Matter?

Conforming your climbing shoes to the shape, size, and style of your feet is essential, and to do it successfully without risking any harm to your most crucial climbing gears, you must be aware of two sensitive factors – materials the shoes are made of and the construction of the shoes.

Because every material will not break in, stretch out, or bear with the pressure at the same amount and increment. And different types of climbing will not require the same adjusting or conforming.

The popular or common materials for climbing shoes are leather and synthetic fiber. The former, a natural fiber, is prone to break in more when pressurized or heated, and the breaking in extent may reach 2-3 sizes up. But the synthetic shoes being stiffer tend to expand less than leather, and the expansion range, in this case, is half-size to one size up.

Whatever the expansion amount, it will happen only in two directions – upward and breadth. Climbing shoes’ soles are rubber and will not expand in length and breadth.

How to Break in Climbing Shoes – 5 Easy and Quick Methods

Climbing enthusiasts and aspirant climbers ask how to break in climbing shoes reddit and other forums. But here is the composite guide equipped with the rapid and efficient breaking-in process of your climbing shoes.

Rest assured, whether it is how to break in la sportiva solutions or how to break in black diamond climbing shoes, the techniques and methods remain same. With the following methods implemented properly, the fruit is a snug and smart fit.

Get The Right Size

Finding the right size is the first step. The right size will shave much of your pain, labor, and time required for the breaking-in period.

Climbing shoe sizes are typically based on your street shoe size, but some people find their feet are oddly shaped or have very different measurements between the right and left foot. However, if you’re still unsure, you can always go to a local climbing shop or mall sporting goods store and ask for help picking out the perfect pair of shoes.

To get your foot size, you should measure from the tip of your longest toe to the end of your heel with a tape measure. Once you have determined this measurement, you have learned the right size of your approach shoes and climbing shoe.

But go for 1.5/2 size down as any new shoe will stretch and break in overtime to conform to your feet size and shape. If you go for the exact size of your feet, the snug-fitting will not remain for long as several sessions of climbing will break in and stretch out the shoes, and you will find them loose. That may result in buying a fresh pair of shoes much earlier because you cannot risk climbing with your shoes fitting loose.

Not wise, but you also can try on shoes and find the right pair that feels comfortable and snug fit without knowing the exact measurement of your feet. In this case, it is best to try on more than one size to find your intended size. Climbing shoes are unique in their design with their toe boxes to fit the individual sizing of different toes.

Plastic Bag Method

This is the smartest way to break into your fresh and stiff climbing shoes. It is quite natural that there would be high friction between your sticky foot and dry shoes. Here this intermediary –slipper plastic bag- between your foot and the shoes will work magic. Thus, you can slip your feet into the shoes without the usual hassle of friction.

For this to accomplish, you need a plastic bag to wrap your leg with, and then you will slide in your fet inside the shoes with the plastic bag cloaking around your foot.

You can cut the plastic bag to your foot size and shape, and thus you avoid the hassle caused by plastic sticking out.

Pre-break In

There has been a lot of talk about wearing new climbing shoes before taking them outside. It is advised to wear them inside for a while to break them in (or pre-break in). Many people say that the longer you wear the shoes, the better they will fit your feet and provide more support. Several factors have to be considered when deciding what to do.

If you don’t want to spend time, pre-breaking in your new pair can help you feel better and wear more evenly. Climbing shoes need to be flexible and durable for all the different moves and positions climbers use them for. For that reason, the best way to break in a climbing shoe is by wearing them around indoors, preferably while sitting or sitting on a couch.

Make your feet feel comfortable in the shoe when it’s just sitting there before you put the pressure of climbing on them. Breaking in climbing shoes shower method can also be included in the pre-break in period that you will have covered among the ways on how to stretch climbing shoes.

But you must avoid walking too much and too long as some climbing shoe soles, designed down-curved for better grip on rock, can be affected by long stretches of walk on plain.

Get to Climbing

Some say the best way to break in your climbing shoes is to start climbing. Put them on, and go for it. It’s an experience and will make you an expert on what makes your shoe comfortable. Check out the rock gym – it’s usually free if you ask for help with gear or shoes or feel like doing some bouldering (a less intense form of climbing).

How to Break in Climbing Shoes

Most climbers put much more time in their climbing shoes than in their running shoes. Getting to climb means putting them on. The best way to break in your climbing shoes is to get to climbing by putting them on. The first time you put them on, they may feel a little stiff and uncomfortable, but a few maiden sessions will have the shoes naturally broken in and stretched out. Thus, they will eventually mold to your foot as a few sessions of climbing pass by.

Wearing Socks and Others

When putting on climbing shoes, wearing socks will help break them in more quickly along with saving your skin from sore.

Whereas the break-in process can take anywhere from 2-6 months, wearing socks while putting on climbing shoes could help speed up this process by applying more outward pressure to every direction.

So, the process on how to put on climbing shoes should include wearing socks and the follow up includes unlacing the shoe and pulling the tongue back to the point that allows a finger to fit underneath it.

Then put your feet in and lace-up – threading the laces from the bottom of each shoe, across the top, and tying them on top of both shoes. Foot placement can be adjusted by wearing more or fewer socks, which is the first step that many climbers take.


How long does it take to get used to climbing shoes?

Let me rephrase the question as to how long to break in climbing shoes.  The breaking-in period should not take more than 3-4 climbing sessions spanning over 3-4 weeks. However, depending on the shoes’ material, the breaking in duration may vary.

Whereas the leather shoes may conform to your feet size and shape within the mentioned duration, the synthetic shoes, being stiffer, will take 1-2 sessions more to become way more comfortable in 5-8 weeks.

Are climbing shoes supposed to hurt?

The answer is both yes and no. Climbing shoes are designed to be tight-fitting and abrasive to grip the surface of the wall. However, there is a fine balance between how tight your shoes should be and how much pain you are willing to endure. Some people say that their feet feel uncomfortable or cramped in climbing shoes, while others say that they don’t bother them at all.

Some climbers prefer shoes made of leather, while others prefer synthetic materials like hemp or nylon. Irrespective of the material, climbing shoes will certainly cause discomfort in the breaking-in period. Once properly broken in or stretched out, it will never hurt while climbing.

How tight are climbing shoes supposed to feel?

When a shoe is too tight, it can cause various issues such as uncomfortable foot cramps and rasping shoe rubber against the skin. The next time you climb in your new shoes, pay attention to how you feel.

If they start hurting after a few minutes or you notice that your feet are numb, the shoes may be too tight. That means it should not be too tight to become painful, but it should not be too loose to bar a snug fit. There must be an in-between grip, not the extreme at any end.

How much do climbing shoes stretch?

Climbing shoes stretch but not that much. As for stretching extent, only the upper part will stretch in every direction except in length because the rubber sole will never stretch.

Specifically, a pair of leather shoes will stretch up to 1 size/2size up, and the synthetic type would stretch half-size/1 size up at best. When the toe of the shoe does not have enough room to slide forward or back, it can cause pain and discomfort for the climber. Then, you should apply stretching methods.

Should your toes be curled in climbing shoes?

The toes in a climbing shoe are a key component in a climber’s performance. The toes can either be straight or curled in the toe box, depending on the type of climbing being done.

A climber, who uses their toes for balance and support in a vertical climb, such as with an overhang, may want to curl their toes to get more surface area. If you’re trying to warm up before starting your ascent, you probably don’t need them curled.

Should you be able to walk in climbing shoes?

Climbing shoes can make your feet and limbs more agile and nimble while also giving you a better grip. Climbing shoes come in different styles and can be made of different materials. They are specially designed to help you climb rock faces more easily than without them.

If the question is: should you be walking in climbing shoes? The answer depends on your end goal. You should do that if you walk for a short while as a pre-break in technique. But walking for a long duration can tell upon the shoes as they are designed downturn required for tight grip in climbing.

How do you break in climbing shoes fast?

Do you have a pair of climbing shoes that are too tight, but you want to wear them for the next few days? Follow five simple steps to help you break in your climbing shoes fast.

  • The first step is putting your climbing shoe on with an old sock for cushioning between your foot and the shoe.
  • The second step is flexing your toes around to distribute wear uniformly across the top of the shoe.
  • The third step is wearing them all day until they feel comfortable.
  • The fourth step is taking off your socks when you go home at night so that there is no pressure from the new material rubbing against your skin.
  • And finally, the fifth step is washing your feet thoroughly after each time you put your shoes back on.

Should climbing shoes be a size smaller?

Climbing shoes tend to be tight on the toes and bunched up around your heel. This is because it doesn’t have enough room for your feet to swell while climbing.

So, when they go through pressure as you climb them on, they will stretch to 1-2 size up depending on the material. That is why it is wise to go for 1/2 size smaller so that they do not become too loose after the loosening up after a few initial climbing sessions.

Why are climbing shoes arched?

It is known that steep rock walls can be difficult to climb, but what’s not often discussed is how much a climber’s footwear can affect their experience.

Climbing shoes are designed with a curved shape so that the shoe can grip a variety of different surfaces. The arched design enables a climber to have the best chance of making it up a difficult section of rock without slipping or falling.

Do climbing shoes loosen up?

Climbing Shoes are the most important purchase you will make as a climber. You want to be sure that your new shoes fit and suit your needs before you ever start climbing with them.

Once they’ve been broken in, the problem is that they loosen up. If you go for an expensive pair of high-end climbing shoes, then yes, these may become loose after some time to conform to your feet’ shape and size, but if you get something cheap, then no, they won’t.

Wrap Up

After going through the methods and tricks shared above, you have certainly developed an impression that climbing shoe breaking in is a two-way and simultaneous process. On your part, it is nothing but getting used to your new footwear, while on the part of the shoes, they are conforming to your foot shape and size.

Many novice climbers believe that a climbing shoe is a “one size fits all” purchase. However, after just a few sessions, they quickly realize that different shoes have different levels of comfort and different styles for the foot. Therefore, climbers will often need to try on several pairs of shoes to find one that is one/two size smaller.

Once you have purchased the new shoes, it’s time for them to tour through the breaking-in process, and you better know how to break in climbing shoes successfully by now.

Afzall Rahman

Afzall Rahman is a college teacher by profession and is a rock-climbing enthusiast from his early childhood. So, anything on climbing keeps him glued to for hours - be it a movie on or related to climbing, book on or by climbers, article or podcast on climbing destinations, skills, gears, or the likes.

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