How to Stretch Climbing Shoes

Traditional wisdom says that your climbing shoes should be tight.

However, if you’ve ever purchased a pair of climbing shoes that was too small, you know that sometimes, tight can be a bit too tight.

Sometimes, this occurs after it’s too late to return the shoes for another pair. What can be done in these situations?

Stretch the shoe.

Below, we’ll take a look at how to safely stretch your climbing shoes for the best-possible results.

how to stretch your climbing shoes tips
When you can’t keep your shoes on for longer than 10 minutes, they’re probably too tight.

Why Do People Stretch Their Climbing Shoes?

It should be easy finding a shoe size that fits, right? And if they don’t, people can always exchange their shoes for another pair … can’t they?

The answer to both questions is no. Setting aside the fact that it is possible to buy the wrong size shoe—and not be able to return it—other situations that may force one to stretch their shoes exist.

For instance, some people find after buying their shoes that one foot is bigger than the other. This common problem often leads to one shoe fitting very well—and the other fitting miserably.

If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Below, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about stretching your shoe for a better fit.

Should I Stretch My Climbing Shoes?

First, however, let’s answer this important question. Should you stretch your climbing shoe?

The answer is: it depends.

If you do plan to stretch your shoe, make sure that you do so in a way that’s safe. Additionally, keep in mind that some methods of shoe stretching may damage the integrity of your shoes over time, making it more likely that you’ll have to buy a new pair sooner.

How Should I Stretch My Climbing Shoes?

So what are some of the best ways to start stretching your climbing shoes? What methods can you start taking if you find that your shoes fit just a bit too tight?

Join me as I walk through some of the most common and effective ways to stretch climbing shoes. Additionally, keep in mind that the methods here generally work best on leather climbing shoes—not synthetic ones.

1. Wear Them in the Shower

Though it may sound silly, one of the most common ways to stretch climbing shoes is to wear them in a hot shower.

Make sure that you’re not simply placing them under the hot water. You want to make sure that the shoes expand and conform to the size of your feet—and this won’t happen unless your feet are in them.

Yes, this means that you’re going to have to shower in nothing but your climbing shoes. But don’t worry—no one else will ever know.

Some people have found similar results by letting their shoes soak a little in hot water and then immediately putting them on. You may wish to consider both options to find which one is right for you.

2. Place Them in the Freezer

If taking a shower in nothing but your climbing shoes doesn’t suit you, you may want to try placing them in the freezer instead.

Unlike the former method, however, this provides only gradual stretches to your shoe and may need to be done several times in order to get the desired fit.

Fortunately, the process proves simple enough—just make sure that you have the time to dedicate to it.

In order to do this method, you’ll need to fill two plastic Ziploc bags with water. After doing so, stuff them down into your shoes as if you were wearing them. Try to make sure that the plastic bag ends up being a size similar to your foot.

Next, place them in the freezer and let them freeze overnight—or for at least twelve hours. After doing this, you may find that you need to repeat it several times.

3. Wear Thick Socks and Use a Hair Dryer

If you don’t have the patience to put your shoes in the freezer but still don’t want to shower in them, consider using a hair dryer.

Keep in mind that when you do this method, you’ll need to wear several pairs of thick socks. This will help keep you protected from the heat of the hair dryer.

Once you’ve put your socks and shoes on, place a hair dryer above the tight parts for at least two minutes. Be sure to hold the hair dyer pretty close to let the heat loosen the leather.

4. Grin and Bear It—While Hitting the Rocks

If none of those options sound good for you, you only have two choices left: either buy new shoes, or wear them on the rocks. Breaking in climbing shoes through long routes is another popular method, but keep in mind that it might be highly uncomfortable?

Should I Stretch My Climbing Shoes in the Oven?

No, never put your climbing shoes—or any other type of shoes or clothing—in the oven for any reason. Not only will it not work, it could prove dangerous instead.

Do Climbing Shoe Stretchers Work?

It depends on the one you buy. As with many products, quality stretchers can be found—just be sure that you take the time to read the instructions to avoid causing damage to your shoe.

Final Thoughts

Breaking in climbing shoes doesn’t have to be difficult.

By following the methods above, you can start to get the perfect fit for your shoes every time. Just remember that you want to take caution when doing any of these methods. Because extra heat can cause damage to your shoes, make sure that you’re not overdoing any of the processes while trying to stretch your shoes.

And remember—never try to place your shoes in the oven. Instead, attempt to shower in them or use a hair dryer. If your budget allows, you can also consider investing in a quality climbing shoe stretcher.

Whatever method you choose, be sure to be careful and work at it until you get the fit you need.

Climbing Blogger

Zealous boulderer, gear geek and editor. Typically has more flappers than fingers on his hands. Occasionally enjoys the feeling of being scared of heights. Mostly prevents looking down too much, though, and cheers at the invention of climbing chalk.

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