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How to break in new rock climbing shoes

So you’ve bought some new rock climbing shoes. They’re beautiful. Everything you ever wanted and needed to master bouldering. You rush to your local bouldering gym, put them on and start climbing. You’ve noticed they feel really tight, you’re certain they were the right size. The problem is you need to break in new rock climbing shoes.

How to break in new rock climbing shoes

Get them wet

Getting your brand new rock climbing shoes soaking wet may not sound like a great idea but it can help with breaking them in. What you need to do is put on your shoes, securing it so they’re snug and then put your feet into a bowl of warm to hot water. Ideally, the water should be as hot as you can comfortably stand. Let the shoes soak through thoroughly, making sure to wiggle your toes around as much as possible.

After 5 minutes you can take your feet out of the water but don’t take the shoes off yet. Let as much of the water drain away as possible and then try walking around in the shoes until they feel like they are starting to dry out. This will force the leather to stretch to how your feet move when you’re walking.

When the shoes have started to dry then take them off, filling the shoes with newspaper to try and dry them out properly. You will hopefully notice when you next try them on that they feel considerably more comfortable. If in doubt, you can repeat this a couple more times until you’re totally happy.

Freeze them

If you have a little more time to try and break in your new bouldering shoes then you can try to freeze them. What you need to do is put a zip lock bag of water inside of your shoes, fastening them to about the point you would normally. By placing them in the freezer the water will expand, stretching the shoes slightly.

Freezing your shoes like this will stretch the shoes less than if you soak them. You, therefore, may need to do this multiple times to get a comfortable fit.

Go climbing

Nothing is going to break in new rock climbing shoes like actually getting them on and using them. Start off with using them for a short period of time. You want to break them in but without killing your feet. It’s worth taking your old pair with you and alternating between the two. This will give you a chance to break in the new pair while still being able to climb like you normally do.


A few tips that can help you break in your new rock climbing shoes:

  • Use a plastic bag – Putting a plastic bag around your feet can help you get your feet into new rock climbing shoes. You shouldn’t climb with a plastic bag on your feet but it can help for when you’re breaking them in.
  • Spray some water – Spraying some warm water inside of your shoes before you put them on to climb can help to make getting your feet in a little easier.
  • Look for demos – Occasionally your local bouldering gym might host a demo event, this is a chance for people to try on rock climbing shoes and get to see what they are like. These can be invaluable for getting an idea of how well they might fit. Sizes vary from brand to brand, a 5.10 size 8 may not be the same as a La Sportiva size 8. Just be warned demos are there to make sales, don’t let yourself be rushed into buying a pair if you don’t want them.

Things to remember

There are several things to bear in mind when you’re looking at new rock climbing shoes:

  1. Your feet swell during the day – Over the day your feet can swell by up to half a shoe size. This can leave rock climbing shoes that are snug in the morning uncomfortably tight by the evening. This can be even worse when you have wide feet.
  2. Synthetic uppers DO NOT stretch – If you’re picking a pair of rock climbing shoes where the uppers are a synthetic material then you can’t break these in. The synthetic material will not stretch fit your feet.
  3. Watch out for blisters – When you try to break in new rock climbing shoes you’re likely to find them rubbing more than you would normally experience. While you might be all macho and want to brave it out so they break in sooner, don’t. If you overdo it you’re likely to end up with some nasty blisters, like those in the picture below, or worse!

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