One of the worst parts of rock climbing can be breaking in a new pair of shoes. Often, climbing shoes can be so painful that taking them off after each route or boulder problem becomes a requirement. Part of this stems from the old-school mentality that climbing shoes have to fit tighter than a crab’s ass. This really isn’t true, and finding a shoe that fits your foot correctly can solve a lot of unnecessary pain when you’re out at the crag.
Still, even a correctly fitted shoe will be stiff out of the box and require break-in time. Now read carefully: The following methods will not stretch any of the rubber parts of the shoe. However, they will work to stretch a leather upper and give your toes extra room where they need it most.
Yes it’s weird, but it works.
If your shoes need a decent amount of stretching, use this method. It works faster and in larger increments than the ice-bag method.
Lace up your new shoes. Take your new rock-climbing shoes out of the box. Make sure you remove all packaging and stickers that might be in the shoe or on the sole. Put your foot into the shoe and lace it snuggly, but not too tight.
Get into a hot shower. That’s right. With your new rock climbing shoes on, get into a hot shower. Make sure that the shoes get thoroughly soaked through with hot water while they are on your foot. It also helps to wiggle your toes to begin to stretch and mold the leather.
Walk around with the shoes on your feet. With the shoes still wet, walk around your house. Keep them on until they start to feel like they are drying.
Stuff the shoes with newspaper. Stuff the shoes with newspaper to continue the drying process. Before the shoes are completely dry, go climb in them. This will help to further mold them to your foot, specifically in the position that your foot will be in while climbing. After climbing, put more newspaper in to dry them the rest of the way.
Repeat as needed. It may take a few repetitions of the process to get your shoes to the point where they are fully molded to your foot.
The Ice Bag
Slow and steady wins the race.
If your shoes only need a small amount of stretching, the ice bag is the way to go. It is also easier to fine tune the amount you stretch your shoes with the ice-bag method.
Remove all of the packaging from your new shoes. Take your new rock-climbing shoes out of the box. Make sure you remove all packaging and stickers that might be in the shoe or on the sole.
Freeze your shoes. Take two zip-lock bags (one for each shoe) and fill them with water until they are roughly the size of your foot. Put the bags filled with water into your climbing shoes and lace them loosely around the bags. Put your shoes into the freezer and leave them overnight.
Let your shoes thaw. Take the shoes out of the freezer and let them thaw. The water will have expanded as it froze, stretching the shoe in the process. This process works in smaller increments than the shower method, so if your shoes need more stretching faster, opt for the shower.
Repeat as needed. It may take a few repetitions of the process to get your shoes to the point where the upper is stretched to the point where it is comfortable on your foot.