The average active climber can wear out two pairs of rock shoes in a year. Some, especially those who climb indoors, tend to eat them up at an even faster rate.

Climbing style can affect rock shoes' durability. The cleaner your footwork, the less you'll wear out the rubber by dragging your shoes across rough surfaces. In this article we offer a few basic tips to help you extend the life of your favorite pair.

Rock Shoes Are for Climbing

First things first. Wear your rock shoes on the rock, for climbing. Don't wear them on the trail or the approach—even if it doesn't hurt your feet to do so! Walking in climbing shoes allows dirt and gravel to grind into the rubber and wear down its surface prematurely. Dirty soles also have less grip when you get on the rock.

Some tight-fitting shoes and slippers can be painful to wear. Some climbers use them for one sport route, then off they come. Resist the temptation to walk around with only your toes slipped inside—you'll crush the heel cups and quickly wear out the shoes.

Keep Them Clean and Odor-Free

A little prevention can help keep your shoes clean:

  • On the approach, keep your feet clean by wearing closed shoes rather than sandals, and don't walk around barefoot while you're waiting to try the next route.
  • Wearing thin liner socks can keep your shoes feeling and smelling fresh longer.
  • Take your shoes out of your pack when you get home; this helps prevent mildew and odors.

Dirt and sweat will probably eventually take over. Here are some remedies:

  • Wipe the insoles and linings with a damp cloth, especially if they are noticeably dirty.
  • Leave shoes out to dry afterwards, preferably out of direct sunlight.
  • If your shoes start to get ripe, you can wash the uppers by hand with soap and water.
  • Deodorizing foot powders or sprays are also an option for controlling the smell.

Care for the Soles and Rands

Your rock shoes' soles and rands (the rubber rims from toe to heel) are made of sticky rubber to give you that secure feeling on the rock. This sticky surface also collects dirt and gravel, which compromises your shoes' ability to grip.

Besides wearing your rock shoes only for climbing, you can preserve the rubber by cleaning grit and dust off the soles and restoring the stickiness as follows:

  • Rub the soles and rands lightly with a wet rag, removing as much dirt as possible, then wipe them dry.
  • Brush the bottoms with coarse sandpaper or gently use a wire brush from toe to heel, brushing just enough to restore the black color. Try not to remove any rubber.

Other common sense ways to protect your shoes:

  • Don't leave them in a hot car. This can deform the rubber or melt the glue.
  • Use a boot bag to keep them clean and protect them from direct sunlight.

When to Resole Your Rock Shoes

You want to wear your beloved rock shoes for as long as possible, and you probably don't want to give them up for a week or two to be resoled. Make sure you don't wait too long before shipping them to the repair shop, though. Keep an eye on the high-wear areas of your shoes and take care of them before holes appear.

Areas to watch for include:

  • where the sole meets the rand (the strip of rubber that runs around the side of the shoe)
  • the ball of the foot (especially if you're a frequent gym climber)
  • the toe area, which gets the most wear

What to look for:

  • separation or thin spots
  • rough, ragged or loose edges
  • an extreme rounded look to the edges
  • a pocked or pitted appearance to the rubber

If you wait long enough for holes to appear in the rubber, or for the rands to wear through, resoling is more difficult and more expensive. Plus, your resoled shoes may not perform up to their old standards.

Resoling

If you're somewhat handy with tools, you can resole your rock shoes yourself. You need some rock shoe rubber and glue, which are sold as resole kits, plus a hammer, an electric drill with a 3 inch grinding wheel, a utility knife, pliers and a heat lamp.

An easier, though longer, option is to send your shoes to a cobbler specializing in climbing shoe repair. They usually know that you want to be climbing again as soon as possible, so turn around times are fairly quick. You can request a half-sole replacement, done by removing the front half of the sole and replacing it with new rubber. It's less expensive than a full resole and saves the broken-in fit.

Types of Rubber

You can usually request the type of rubber or the sole to match your brand of rock shoe. The types of rock shoe rubber available are (from harder to softer, more or less): Boreal Fusion, Vibram XSV, Vibram Megabyte, Stealth C4 and Stealth 2. Softer, stickier rubber usually performs better on friction routes, while the harder rubber tends to wear longer, edge better and hold up better for gym climbing.