Climbing shoes are incredibly good at what they do - sticking to walls. But it does come as a surprise, especially to newer climbers that they don’t last forever. Bummer I know, but there is hope. We often get asked about how long climbing shoes last and that can be a tricky question to answer as it has some to do with what shoes you buy and a lot to do with how you use them. The answer could be anywhere from two months to twenty years. So let’s discuss a little bit about shoes, a little bit about how you use them, and a little be about resoling.
About the Shoes
This may seem surprising to some, but the more expensive shoes don’t always last longer. Well, the rubber at least. While it is true that the uppers of more high performance and expensive shoes are incredibly well constructed in features and quality, the rubber chosen is designed to help you send; not pass down to your grandchildren. Think of car tyres - I can go down to the local tyre guy and buy some cheap, ‘hard-as’ compound tyres for my 1.4L VW Polo and they won’t set me back more than $60 a pop (no puns here). Hell… he’ll even throw one in for free if I buy three, apparently. They’ll go and go and last longer than most. Meanwhile, the next guy with the custom paint job that says “Born to Drift” needs to go to a specialist high-performance tyre dealer and fork out more for one tyre than I did for four, and get no special deals. And he’ll be back buying more before I’ve even worn those little “new tyre nipple things” (whatever they are) off mine. Did the other guy get a good deal? Well his new track PB’s and the kudos he gets from his mates about how late he can brake into every corner would say - “yes!”
High performance climbing shoes are usually softer, more sensitive and have softer, stickier rubber. Everything about the shoe is designed to stick to the smallest of holds. The rubber, though, does tend to wear out quicker than harder compound cheap shoes. But don’t fret, this is not the end! The great thing about good quality shoes is that the uppers are made well enough to withstand a number of resoles.
About the Climber
If there is variation with the style of climbing shoe as to how long it will last, then there is even more with the style of climber who uses them. Before I had ‘mini-me’s’ running around and had the time to climb four times a week at my limit I could easily wear through some new tread in two months. Now, on the other hand, I might get two years. Now there’s two things at play here - frequency and climbing style. Obviously the more you go climbing the quicker things wear out. I know I’m being “Captain Obvious” but it’s true. One person who climbs four times a week will go through four pairs of shoes (or resoles) in the same amount of time as the person who climbs once a week.
The other factor, which I’ll call “climbing style”, refers to a lot of things but is basically how you use your feet. When a climber with good style places their foot on a hold, they “place” their foot on a hold. None of this dragging, scraping, thrutching business. It hasn’t got as much to do with how much you push your grade (although that does come into it) as it does how you use your feet. If you drag your toe, try to focus on core and balance and move your foot in steps up the wall, not one continuous dragging motion. Boulderers can also be notorious for wearing through climbing soles quickly as they are often doing the same more over and over again, which can focus the wear area and not spread it around with more varied climbing moves.
When To Get A Resole
Getting a resole at the right time is not only better for prolonging the uppers of the shoes, but is also better on the hip pocket. The idea is to catch the shoes before you break through the toe rubber, before you can see the inner leather or fabric of the shoe, and definitely before you start ripping into the uppers. It is recommended that you start thinking of a resole when the thickness of the sole at the point of heaviest wear is down to 20% of the original. I can almost guarantee that this will be quicker than you expect, but if you have the self-discipline to stop climbing with your shoes and send them off when this time comes, the resoler will easily be able to cut off the bottom slab of rubber and replace it with a new one. Often restoring your shoes to near new performance.
Once you start tearing into the leather or synthetic fabric (usually on the big toe) then the resoler has to do a lot more work to bring your shoes back, and the most important part of your shoes - the toe box, has been damaged. That’s not to say nothing can be done, a toe rand replacement is possible, where they not only replace the rubber on the bottom of the foot, but also the rubber that extends up over the toe box. This is much more involved, will usually cost more and is more likely to alter the fit of your shoes, but a good craftsman can do amazing things. So, the earlier you send your shoes off, the cheaper it will be, the better job will be done, and the resoler will (possibly) love you more. It also can mean that you will be able to get more resoles out of a pair of climbing shoes, if this is your goal.
About The Resole
For a simple resole involving replacing the bottom slab of rubber at the toe box, expect to pay around $50-$60. If you’ve started to wear into the toe rand and the uppers (inners) then add around $20 to that. Usually there is freight involved but different resolers will do different rates. Some have deals with the climbing gyms where you can drop them off to the gym and get freight free.
Almost all Australian climbing shoe resolers will have all the rubber options from all the big climbing shoe players. You can stipulate what rubber you want which means you could go softer and grippier than before or a harder, longer lasting compound.
The turnaround time on a pair of shoes is usually no more than two weeks but do ring ahead and check what their work load is like if it’s important to get the shoes back by a certain date. Sometimes a little backlog can delay the process.
There are a number of climbing shoe resolers in Australia. The ones that I and the Mountain Equipment staff have used extensively are:
Arapiles Resole - (03) 5387 1529, 67 Main St, Natimuk VIC 3409, https://www.facebook.com/ArapilesResoles/
Big John Resoles - (02) 4787 6550 6/134 Station St, Blackheath NSW 2785, http://www.bigjohn.com.au/retread/
There are a few other people around the country but we haven’t used them personally.