Our Climbing Shoe Care advice should offers some tried and tested ideas to keep your precious shoes performing well. We really hope you find it useful.
Climbing shoes have a hard life. Squidged into cracks, sweated into, scraped on tricky loose descents and, in between sessions, stuffed into the bottom of your rucksack. Given everything we throw at them, it is amazing how resilient they are.
But, they will definitely benefit from some love and care. Who knows, this might improve your climbing too. Even if it doesn’t, it should definitely improve your climbing experience. Here are some useful climbing shoe care ideas to keep your shoes performing at their best.
*Just to say, this is advice about general maintenance rather than getting your shoes to fit well.
Let’s get this one out of the way first.When you open up your rucksack and are greeted by a wave of hideous odour, you’ll know climbing shoes are prone to getting smelly.You’ll certainly get the message when your climbing partners move away from you as you peel your shoes off.
The reality is that climbing shoes get smelly. The reason for the smell is simple enough. The odour comes from the bacteria on the skin breaking down protein molecules within sweat. It happens.
This will be exacerbated by the fact most climbers wear their climbing shoes without socks. You also often wear them for significant periods and when exercising hard. You may even be lucky enough to wear them in hot weather when you sweat more. It all adds up.
It’s also worth remembering that some climbing shoe types will retain smell more than others. Leather climbing shoes are usually more breathable and better at regulating foot temperature than synthetics.
Prevention Rather Than Cure
Avoid The Pong
The best way to keep your shoes smelling sweet is to avoid them getting pongy in the first place. Keeping your feet generally clean is obviously of benefit. Clean feet going into your boots has to be better than the opposite! If you are on a multi-day trip in the mountains giving your feet a wash in the evening will help. Alternatively, at least a scrub down with wet wipes if you away from a water source.
Your feet might also benefit from drying with a foot care powder if you feel inclined. Alternatively, some climbers use a light dusting of chalk. But, that aside, what else can you do?
Give Your Shoes A Break
Taking them off between climbs really helps. This gives your feet and shoes a chance to air. In warmer or/and breezy weather they can also start to dry out. Airing your shoes when you get home rather than leaving them in the bottom of your pack is also key.
Odour Reducing Products
Another option is to use some type of odour reducing product. There are a number of options on the market but one we have lots of personal experience with are Smell Well freshener inserts. These small smelly bags help fragrance your shoes, but there is certainly more to them than that.
The bags are made from recycled materials containing micro porous activated moso bamboo charcoal and natural dessicants. They are designed to prevent bacteria growth by effectively absorbing moisture. We really like the simplicity of these and they work really well. Other options we’ve heard of, but not used personally, are tumble dryer sheets or a sprinkle of baking soda.
While it is possible to wash climbing shoes (we’ll cover that soon), you’ll want to keep this to a minimum and only resort to water when times are desperate. Having said that, some brands like La Sportiva suggest cleaning the inside of your shoes helps prolong their life and will also reduce any smells. Their guidance is here.
Cleaning Climbing Shoes
It is important to consider whether your climbing shoes should be cleaned at all. You should follow any guidance given by individual manufacturers. For example, Evolv state clearly that ‘we do not recommend washing your climbing shoes.’ Their guidance is here. On the other hand, Scarpa say ‘do not be afraid to wash your shoes.’ Infact, they say cleaning them is important to remove the salts that come from sweating in the shoes. Their full guidance is here. As a final example, La Sportiva suggest using a damp cloth and rubbing alcohol. Their guidance is here. We can offer ideas that have worked for us, but do always advise following your manufacturers advice.
Taking a piece of carpet or a tarp to stand on at the bottom of climbs can help. It also pays to avoid scrambling down muddy descents in them (sometimes taking a separate pair of shoes for the descent is worth the hassle). Again, removing your shoes in between climbs can also help. But, if you do need or decide to wash your shoes, what is the best way?
For full disclosure, there was a time many years ago when we used to wash our climbing shoes by throwing them in the washing machine. They certainly came out clean, but this method can’t be recommended. You run the risk of shrinking them or the glue becoming unstuck. We certainly advise that they should be cleaned more sensitively.
Whatever you decide is best for your shoes, the same principle of keeping your shoes clean will at least avoid the need to clean them often. The uppers of rock shoes will generally stay fairly clean but the soles take quite a lot of abuse.
If your shoes do get caked with mud or dust, you can often simply use a damp cloth to wipe off any debris or gunk. For a more thorough clean of the uppers we use a soft microfibre cloth and a gentle cleaner like Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. This is a gentle and sustainable cleaner that works really well. We dampen the upper fabric and then liberally apply the Nikwax cleaner. Then, we rub gently before giving a rinse with tepid water. On the other hand, Scarpa do recommend just using water with no cleaning products.
Cleaning Your Soles
For the soles the same technique works just as well. However, we use a small brush for this as this area gets dirtier and a stiff brush removes stubborn dirt better. An old toothbrush also works really well. It certainly pays to keep the soles clean. Clean rubber will stick better and gives you the added confidence that they are offering the best performance.
There is also the possibility that clean rubber lasts better. Maybe, because bits of rubber stuck to the sole won’t cause excessive wear. We don’t know of any evidence for this, but it does seem to make sense.
Drying Your Shoes
After washing the next key thing about climbing shoe care is to dry your shoes carefully. We firstly remove any excess moisture with a clean microfibre cloth. Then, we use very gentle heat to avoid any shrinkage or distortion. La Sportiva also suggest the age old method of pushing some balled up newspaper inside them to absorb moisture. We find a fresh microfibre cloth also works well as an absorber.
An alternative is a blown air boot dryer. We use these all the time for drying boots and the gentle circulation of air is very efficient at reducing drying time. They are certainly worthy of consideration if you dry footwear regularly. We use a Thermic model like this.
We hope these Climbing Shoe Care ideas are useful. Despite their resilience under extreme use, it will certainly pay you back to look after your treasured shoes. Its also means you don’t have to put up with the pong every time you open your rucksack. Happy climbing.
We regularly add new advice articles to the blog. For example, we have one about Gripper Clippers here and a useful article about Caring For Your Cams here. Also, our article about Choosing Climbing Shoes here might also be of interest. We hope they are of use.