Breaking into a new pair of climbing shoes can be a painful event. Often, you have to remove them right after climbing and deal with the excruciating pain. This is because many people believe that climbing shoes should be a very tight fit.
However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Climbing shoes that fit correctly will eliminate much of the unnecessary pain. Your climbing shoe should fit snug, not tight so that they can perform well and you can be comfortable. Once you know how to buy the right climbing shoes, you’ll have no trouble stretching them out.
When buying climbing shoes, remember that the size is just a starting point. You should check to make sure there’s no dead space, but it shouldn’t be too tight either. Remember, synthetic uppers won’t stretch, so you need them to fit well when you’re up on your toes. Your feet also swell during the day, so it’s best to go shopping in the afternoon for shoes.
Now that you know how to shop for the best climbing shoes, it’s time to tell you how to break in climbing shoes.
How to Stretch Climbing Shoes
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For the best results, try these easy-to-follow methods.
The Hot Water Method
To try the hot water method, you need to jump into the shower with your brand-new climbing shoes. As weird as it sounds, this method is one of the fastest and most effective ways to stretch your climbing shoes.
Start by taking your shoe out of the box and removing all packaging and stickers. Next, slip the shoes on and lace or Velcro them snugly but not overly tight. Hop into the shower and turn the hot water on. Wait until the shoes are thoroughly soaked which may take around 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, you can wiggle your toes periodically and extend or flex your feet to stretch and mold the shoe.
After the time has elapsed, get out of the shower with the shoes still on your feet and walk around the house for 15 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind that the hot water may cause the dye to bleed onto your feet and stain them. This is in no way harmful to you but may stain carpet and clothing.
When you feel like the shoes are starting to dry, stuff them with newspaper and leave them for a couple of hours to continue the drying process. Before they dry completely, you should go climbing for a short period to further break them in. This way the shoes will mold to your feet specifically in the position they will be when you’re climbing.
After climbing, re-stuff the shoes with newspaper so that they dry completely. A key point to note is that you may need to repeat the process a few times before the shoes are broken in.
Freezing your climbing shoe is yet another unconventional method but it works. Start by filling two zip lock bags with water until each of them is roughly the size of your foot. Place the bags into the shoes and lace or Velcro them loosely. Put them in the freezer and leave them overnight. As the water in the bag freezes, it expands and stretches your climbing shoes.
The next morning, take your shoes out of the freezer and let them thaw. This process is a lot slower than the hot water in the shower method, so you’ll have to repeat this process until you get it right.
If neither of the above methods works for you, you can try applying heat to loosen and stretch the shoe. Use socks or any other type of fabric to stuff your shoes tight. Grab your blow dryer and switch it on to the highest and warmest setting. Warm up the shoe for two to three minutes then flex and bend the shoe several times.
After this, the shoe should have some more room. Push some extra socks or fabric into the shoe and repeat the process. Keep heating, stuffing, and flexing until you are satisfied. When finished, heat the shoes up and take all the stuffing out. Slip the shoes onto your feet and go for a short walk to further stretch out your climbing shoes.
Wear a Plastic Liner
Friction between your foot and shoe is responsible for much of the pain you feel when trying on new climbing shoes. It may also prevent your feet from filling the shoes properly. To fix this issue, wrap your feet with saran wrap or place them in plastic bags then slide them into your shoes. You’ll find that the shoes go on easier and instantly feel more comfortable.
You can wear the shoes like this for a few minutes; however, it’s even better if you can go climbing for a short period. This way the upper part of the shoe can stretch out and you can ensure that it stretches in all the right places. This method only works if your shoes need a small amount of stretching. If your shoes need a lot of stretching, try the other methods first before this one.
While some frown upon doing this, it’s a tried-and-true method. It’s the easiest way to break in your climbing shoe. All you need to do is wear a pair of socks during your first few climbing sessions with the new shoes. Try to go for thicker socks as the extra volume will stretch out the shoe more.
Breaking into climbing shoes should not be a painful process. Remember your climbing shoes should fit snug, not tight. If they need a bit of stretching, try the methods mentioned and you should be able to stretch your shoes out and enjoy climbing without pain.
Alternatively, if your shoes are too big, you can read this article on how to make big shoes smaller.