How to Break in Climbing Shoes | 5 Useful Tips & Tricks

You’ve just got your new climbing shoes, and you’re getting psyched! However, new climbing shoes can be very painful when you first start using them. If you’re taking them on and off after each route due to searing foot pain, then you need to know how to break in climbing shoes.

Your feet are probably already begging you to find out more. Luckily for you, we’ve got five easy ways you can stretch out your climbing shoes so that you’re no longer in pain when you climb.

We will also break down the importance of purchasing the best climbing shoes that fit you correctly, which will help alleviate a lot of the pain in the first place.


Purchasing Climbing Shoes That Fit Correctly



Everyone has different shaped feet, which can make finding the right shoe a bit tricky. Not only that, but climbing companies vary in their climbing shoes’ shape and fit.

Try to find a brand that is accommodating to the shape of your feet. Even climbing shoes offered under the same brand will differ in shape, so try on a bunch of different brands and models.

These are some things to consider when purchasing climbing shoes so that you minimize foot pain.

  1. Your standard shoe size is the basic starting point but not the only determining factor for which size climbing shoe you should get.
  2. The climbing shoes should feel tight with your feet taking up all available space within the shoes. But they shouldn’t be so tight that you get painful hot-spots that cause red, raw, or blistered areas on your feet.
  3. Your feet will naturally swell throughout the day. By trying on new climbing shoes in the afternoon, you will be able to better gauge which size shoe you should get.
  4. Climbing shoes with synthetic uppers won’t stretch and will have the exact fit in 6 months. Leather uppers on the other hand can stretch, so it’s okay if they’re a little too tight at first.

If you already have climbing shoes, but still need more climbing equipment, feel free to check out our buying guides for the best helmets and best harnesses in 2021/2022.


Further Considerations When Buying Climbing Shoes


If you can, try demo climbing shoes. This will give you time on the wall to see if the shoes are an excellent fit for your feet. If your climbing gym has an on-site store, ask them if they have any demo shoes. You can only gain valuable insights from climbing with different climbing shoes, so try it out.

If you’re new to climbing, it’s essential to know that your feet will take some time to get used to climbing shoes. Over time, your feet will develop calluses and firmer skin, allowing you to wear tighter fitting climbing shoes. When starting, go with climbing shoes that feel right for you and understand that this may change over time.

Please don’t purchase a pair of climbing shoes because a friend or store employee tells you that they’re a great pair. The shoes may be a fantastic model, but you must buy climbing shoes that feel like a good fit for your uniquely shaped feet. You’re going to do your best climbing in shoes that fit you well.


How to Stretch Climbing Shoes – 5 Best Methods


Even climbing shoes that are the correct size and shape for your feet will require some time before they are stretched out. Using the methods below will speed up this process and teach you how to stretch out climbing shoes.

Before we dive in, you should know that these methods won’t stretch out the rubber parts of the shoes but only the leather uppers. This will help give your toes more space within the shoes.


1. Wear them in the Shower


Condensation on glass from hot shower


Remove all the packaging and stickers that may have come with your new climbing shoes and put them on like you’re about to attempt a route. Lace them up so they are snug but not too tight.

Now hop in a hot shower! You must ensure that the shoes get soaked all the way through with hot water. Wiggle your toes to stretch and mold the upper leather parts of the shoes.

With your shoes still on your feet, walk around the house. Keep the climbing shoes on until you can feel that the shoes are drying.

Once you can feel them drying, stuff the shoes with newspaper. This will speed up the drying process. A good tactic is to go for a climb before the shoes are completely dry. This will better mold them to your feet, as you want to mold your climbing shoes when your feet are in climbing positions. After your climbing session, put more newspaper in the shoes to finish the drying process.

If the shoes still feel too tight, you can repeat this process. It may not work the first time, so multiple repetitions of this method may be required before the shoes have the correct fit to your feet.


2. Using an Ice Bag


Once again, remove all the packing from your new climbing shoes. Fill two zip-lock bags with water until they are roughly the size of your foot. Put the water-filled bags into the climbing shoes and loosely lace up each shoe. Put the shoes in the freezer and leave them to freeze overnight.

After a night in the freezer, take the shoes out and let them defrost. Water expands as it freezes, which stretches the shoes in the process. This method will stretch your climbing shoes less than if you wear them in a hot shower. So, if they are still too tight and you want a faster way, then try wearing them in a hot shower instead.

This method may need multiple repetitions to get them stretched to where your foot is snug and comfortable.


3. Using a Blow Dryer


This easy trick uses heat, much like the shower method, to stretch the climbing shoes. Stuff your climbing shoes with socks, then turn your blow dryer on its high setting. Using the blow dryer, warm your shoes for 2 to 3 minutes.

Focus the heat on the leather upper parts of your climbing shoes. After 2 to 3 minutes, stretch and flex the upper sections of the shoes several times. After this, press the socks inside the shoes against the leather uppers of each shoe. It’s best to push the socks into the shoes so that all available space is tightly packed.

Use the blow dryer again for another 2 to 3 minutes. You can repeat the process of alternating between heating and flexing your climbing shoes up to seven times.

Once this is completed, heat the shoes with the blow dryer one last time and take the socks out of each shoe. Put your climbing shoes on your feet and try to climb a route or boulder problem if you can. Otherwise, stand and walk around your house with the climbing shoes on for about a minute.

This process will gradually stretch out your climbing shoes, and you may need to repeat this multiple times until you get the desired fit on your feet.


4. Use a Plastic Liner on Your Feet


Even getting your feet into your new climbing shoes can be painful and challenging due to friction between your feet and the inside of the shoes. This can stop your toes from filling up all the available space in the climbing shoes in certain instances.  To get around this, wrap your feet in a plastic bag or saran wrap.

When you slide your feet into the climbing shoes, you should notice that the shoes go on a bit easier. Wear your climbing shoes like this for a minute or two, and stretch the shoes with your toes as you wear them. You can also climb a route or boulder problem to stretch them out.

A benefit to using your feet to break in climbing shoes is that your foot will stretch the shoes in the right places. This is an excellent method to use if you only need to stretch climbing shoes a small amount.


5. Wear Socks in Your Climbing Shoes


A person wearing black socks that can be used to break in climbing shoes


Generally, climbers don’t wear socks with climbing shoes because your shoes will eventually mold the shape of your feet with socks on and stretch the climbing shoes too much. This will make them too big when you’re climbing without socks on. Wearing socks also reduces your toes’ sensitivity to small holds and can negatively affect your performance.

However, when breaking in new climbing shoes, wearing socks is an effective method. This is by far the easiest method to use when stretching climbing shoes. All you have to do is put some socks on and go climbing.

Thicker socks will be more comfortable, especially during the first few climbing sessions. The socks will stretch the shoes when you’re climbing and also minimize painful hot spots. We recommend testing your shoes without socks during and after each session using socks.

Doing this will ensure that you don’t over-stretch your climbing shoes. Climb a route or boulder problem with no socks on. If they’re still too uncomfortable, put the socks back on and continue your session. If the climbing shoes’ fit feels good, then you’ve successfully broken in your shoes, and you no longer need to wear socks with your climbing shoes.


Summary of Breaking in Your Climbing Shoes


A woman breaking in her climbing shoes at a climbing gym


Gone are the days of suffering in pain when breaking in climbing shoes. If you only need to slightly stretch your shoes, we recommend using ice bags, a blow dryer, or a plastic liner. However, these methods take longer and may require multiple repetitions before you get the desired fit.

For faster and more accurate results we recommend breaking in your climbing shoes by either wearing them in a hot shower or wearing socks with your climbing shoes. Ultimately, the easiest trick to breaking in climbing shoes is wearing socks.

No matter what stretching method you use, remember that climbing shoes are meant to be tighter ( and more uncomfortable) than regular shoes – it’s what makes them so effective. Now that you know how to get your climbing shoes fitting perfectly, you’re ready to hit the walls. Happy climbing!