Slippery Climbing Shoes? 7 Options for a Better Grip


Rock climbing shoes are not supposed to be slippery and if they are, you will need to find solutions to get a better grip.

How do you address slippery climbing shoes? The most obvious option would be to simply replace the shoes with ones that are offering a better grip. However, if the shoes themselves are still in fine condition, you might just need to clean them to restore their condition. You could also employ some simple techniques to improve your shoes’ grip before climbing.

It is incredibly important for you to make sure that your climbing shoes can have a good purchase on the cliff face that you will be climbing and to address stickiness issues for the sake of your safety.

Making Your Climbing Shoes Sticky Again

Climbing shoes are supposed to be sticky since this is what helps you climb cliffs and rocky mountainsides. If they are not sticky, you will obviously need to do something about it. Otherwise, the following could happen:

·         Slip up and fall to your death

·         Slip up and get injured

·         Slip up and injure someone else

·         Slip up right before reaching your goals

Obviously, some of those concerns are more serious than others, but we can all agree that none of them are good. As such, you will want to take a look at the options included in the table below for solving this problem:

SolutionDescription
ReplaceBuying a new pair of climbing shoes
CleanRemoving dirt and debris on the shoes
ResoleHaving the shoes resoled for regaining stickiness
WarmLeaving the shoes somewhere warm
SandRubbing the surface of the shoes with sandpaper
CutSlicing the top surface of the soles
RubRubbing the shoes together before climbing

Now, it’s worth pointing out that when it comes to things like what you can do to regain the stickiness of your shoes, your options can also come down to convenience. That is to say, just how much you are willing to do with the pair that you have. Some people just don’t like putting in the effort to do more than buy a new pair, after all.

What’s more, there is also the issue of making sure that you will actually be able to count on the solution to hold while you are climbing. After all, whether you are rock climbing or mountain climbing, how secure you feel with your own foothold will have a huge impact on your psychological wellbeing. If you are always worried about slipping and getting hurt, the stress builds up.

To that end, it might just be better for many people’s psyche to just get a brand new pair because they don’t want to deal with the anxiety that comes with not being sure. However, you can rest assured that the other solutions presented in the table above have been proven to work.

Replace – Let’s start with the most obvious and likely the most reassuring one, shall we? Replacing shoes that are no longer sticky for rock climbing is appealing for a few reasons. One is the fact that you don’t even need to doubt that it will work because you just got it. Now, it is worth pointing out that this will not always be the case with new shoes, but it hardly matters.

The greatest advantage of getting new rock climbing shoes, apart from the fact that they are sticky again, is the matter of psychology. Basically, climbers can feel reassured and this benefit to their peace of mind is more important to them than the actual benefit of the shoes. It doesn’t even matter if you can get the same results with the other options discussed here.

Clean – Next to buying a new pair of rock climbing shoes, which is likely to be expensive no matter how you cut it, we have the option to simply clean the shoes that you already have. This should be simple enough. You just need to take a brush, soapy water and go to town with the soles of your shoes. You don’t need to wash the whole thing, mind you.

Since the soles are really the only parts of the shoes that need to come in contact with the surface of the mountain or the cliffside, then that’s the only part that you need to clean. Then again, if you have the chance to wash the pair entirely, then you might as well do so. You should be careful about how you dry them, though, since exposing them to the hot sun can damage them.

Resole – Another option that you can take into consideration is to simply resole your shoes. That is to say, you take them to a cobbler or a shoe store where they offer such services. You are unlikely to get exactly the same soles as what the shoes originally had, but you will regain the stickiness that you are after.

There are also specific stores and kiosks that actually specialize in resoling shoes. You can turn to those if you want custom jobs or cheaper prices, but you should be careful. More often than not, these stores just glue the soles on rather than sew them, so the quality might not be as good. You will need to be the judge of that.

Warm – Cold can make the rubber in your soles contract and harden, which can then make them less sticky. To counteract this, you can place your shoes under the sun to warm them up a bit. Make sure that they are not wet when you do this, though, since your shoes might crack.

What’s more, you are only trying to warm them up. So the shoes don’t need to stay being exposed to the searing sun for more than a few minutes. Turning them upside down would help, as well.

Sand – Cleaning and warming are good and all, but sometimes, they are not enough. The next best thing that you can do when those measures don’t work as needed would be to remove some of the surfaces of your shoes’ soles. You can do this by sanding them down.

When you do this, you are basically removing some of the hardened materials on the top surface of the soles, which might have become too petrified by used and exposure to various substances. As such, you need to get rid of that part, much like how you exfoliate the skin.

Cut – Similar to sanding in concept but a bit more radical. Simply put, if sanding is not getting you the results you are looking for, you can take a blade and just start slicing off thin layers from the soles of your shoes. You will need to be very careful when doing this, though, since you will also need to think about comfort and performance.

That is to say, if you slice off chunks every which way you please, the shoes might end up becoming uneven. This will make it very difficult to climb, especially if you need to maintain proper balance. A thin blade that is easy to control would be best for this particular job.

The Alps, She, Snow, Winter, Mountain, Cold, Sms, Phone

Rub – Finally, we have the option of rubbing the soles of the shoes to each other before you wear them for the climb. The friction will remove excess dirt and debris that might have accumulated there. It will also warm the soles up so that they can become sticky again.

This is basically something that you do when you are already at the climbing site, just before you commence with the ascent. It’s just a little added measure that will help increase the stickiness of your shoes.

Why Climbing Shoes Become Less Sticky

So, with all of those options tackled, let’s look into the reasons why climbing shoes become less sticky as time goes on, shall we? First is the matter of contamination, which basically has to do with the fact that the shoes will inevitably come in contact with a wide variety of substances and minerals. These will then form a layer of materials that will act as a barrier between the rubber and the surface.

This is why you are encouraged to clean your climbing shoes the moment you get home instead of just throwing them to the side for later. Of course, even if you do clean your shoes often, there are still going to be factors that can make them less sticky. The cold, for example, is very good at reducing this characteristic of the shoes.

Lower temperatures result in rubber becoming harder and the harder the rubber gets, the less sticky it becomes. This is the reason for propping the shoes upside down where the soles will be facing the sun. It will allow the shoes to warm up, thus regaining the stickiness of the footwear.

On that note, the longer you use the shoes, it’s just natural that there will be a hard surface that builds up. This is just what happens to older shoes with age, especially if you don’t store them somewhere with a controlled temperature. As such, you will need to sand the soles or cut off strips from the surface to get at the sticky bottom.

Finally, there are the reasons that you have simply used the shoes too much and the pair has finally reached the end of its lifespan. Remember that the more you use shoes to climb with, the more the soles will wear down. Eventually, it will just come to a point where the soles have gotten worn down so much that there is hardly any rubber left to be sticky.

When that happens, you can either re-sole the shoes or you can replace the pair with a brand new one. Either way works, but as already mentioned before, some stores who offer to re-sole shoes basically just glue them. Since you will be using the shoes for climbing, it would be best if you chose a cobbler who will sew the sole into the shoes for much higher durability.

To Clean or to Replace?

So, when the matter of the loss of stickiness comes up, you might begin to wonder if it is worth cleaning the shoes or if it would be better to replace them entirely. A lot of this will depend on your financial capacity, of course, but there are also other factors to consider. One of them is the matter of the shoes’ overall condition.

That is to say, you need to check if the shoes have become too worn down to be worth the effort of cleaning up. Even if you do manage to return the stickiness of the soles, it would not be that big of a benefit if you also have to contend with holes, ripped stitches, and general damage. If that is the case, there is no getting around to it and you just have to get a new pair.

On the other hand, if the only real issue are the soles becoming less sticky and the pair is still in top condition, then there should be nothing stopping you from just cleaning them up. If that’s not enough, you can apply the rest of the solutions brought up in the earlier sections. As long as you do it right, you won’t likely experience issues on that front.

Of course, if you really just want to have peace of mind and not have to think about whether or not the shoes will be sticky when you climb, you can go ahead and just buy a new pair. If you have the budget for it and it will make you less anxious while you are climbing, there should be no reason for you not to go this route.

At the end of the day, the decision will be completely up to you. There are benefits to both options and the best way to make the best choice is to just weigh them based on the relevant pros and cons.

Related Questions

Can Climbing Shoes Get Wet?

If you mean if the shoes would absorb the water instead of repelling it, this would depend entirely on the shoes. Most footwear associated with climbing can get wet due to the materials that they are made with. However, some are also made of materials that repel water and stay dry.

Are Climbing Shoes Bad for Your Feet?

Depending on the design and the intent behind the shoes, some can be bad for your feet when worn for long periods of time. Rock climbing shoes, for example, can be quite tight and would force your feet into awkward positions. This makes them good for climbing but bad for walking.

Why Sticky Climbing Shoes Matter?

With climbing shoes becoming less sticky being an issue, why exactly is this the case? Does it really matter if the climbing shoes are no longer as sticky as they used to be? Do the shoes even need to be sticky, to begin with?

Simply put, climbing shoes are sticky because it provides climbers with extra leverage to keep ascending. Just imagine what would happen if the shoes you were wearing kept on slipping and sliding while you are trying to climb a steep slope? How easy would it be for you to fall down and roll off a cliff?

Then there is the matter of the energy and effort that you would have to exert if you don’t have the friction and adhesion that sticky climbing shoes can provide. The stickier the shoes, the less work you will need to put in when walking up or climbing a mountain. This is because the shoes will actually do more of the work for you.

It goes without saying, therefore, that shoes that are less sticky will be less reliable on that front. Speaking of which;

Are Climbing Shoes the Only Option?

Back in the day, when rubber soles were yet to be invented, climbers relied on leather and other less sticky materials to traverse mountains. This did not stop the more experienced and skilled climbers from getting the job done, but it can’t be denied that not everyone was capable of doing what they did. The advent of the rubber soles changed all of this.

Suddenly, you didn’t have to be as skilled at climbing in order to climb. You didn’t even have to be as fit or as resourceful. With that said, do you really need climbing shoes in order to do rock climbing and mountain climbing? The answer would be no, but it would be a lot harder to do without such footwear.

Not only will it involve more effort, but you will also be taking more risks. Risk which you really don’t need to put up with. So, the answer to the question of whether or not you can climb with any kind of footwear, then the answer is that you can. However, you are going to have a right miserable time of it compared to when you are wearing climbing shoes. 

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