Climbing shoes are a necessary part of every climber’s gear. No matter what climbing discipline you are doing, you will need climbing shoes to do it. Therefore, it is important to get a good idea as to how long climbing shoes will last and when you will need to replace them.
In general, climbing shoes typically last the average climber between 3 months and 1 year. The shoe’s composition and construction, how often they are used, how long they are used for, how well they are maintained, and the wall’s abrasivity are all factors that determine their lifespan.
Some climbers will go through their shoes much quicker than the timeframe given above while others may have a pair of shoes that lasts them for a decade. This wide range in climbing shoe lifespan depends on a multitude of reasons that are explored in the remainder of this article. Four tips to easily and effortlessly extend the lifespan of your climbing shoes are provided at the end of the article.
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Expected and Maximum Lifespan of Climbing Shoes
As mentioned above, the expected lifespan of climbing shoes depends on a wide variety of different factors. That said, we can look at the numbers and see how long climbers are saying their shoes typically last them based on how often they go climbing. I poured through the reports, compared them with my personal experience, and came up with the following table.
The table below summarizes the expected lifespan of climbing shoes for a typical climber based on the frequency they are used.
|Frequency of Climbing Shoe Use||Expected Shoe Lifespan|
|Daily||1 to 3 months|
|3 to 4 times per week||3 to 6 months|
|Once to twice a week||6 to 12 months|
|Once a month||2 to 4 years|
|A few times each year||3 to 5+ years|
It should be noted that the table above is by no means a set standard and will vary based on the factors we will discuss in detail below.
If you are looking at purchasing your first pair of shoes but are still on the fence, I recommend checking out my article that explores in detail if beginner climbing shoes will be worth it for you.
Like the expected lifespan, the maximum lifespan of climbing shoes is also not clear cut and depends on a multitude of factors. While climbing shoes do not have a specific expiration date like food, their materials do degrade and wear down naturally over time.
According to this article, it typically will take between 50 and 80 years for their rubber soles to decompose and about 25 to 40 years for the leather upper materials. Synthetic upper materials generally take longer to decompose than leather uppers.
So unless you are someone who has recently found a pair of 30 year old climbing shoes, they should not have “expired” yet. These numbers obviously are not exact and depend on how the shoes are stored and the specific chemical composition of the materials they are made of.
Factors That Determine How Long Climbing Shoes Last
Each shoe only has a certain amount of wear and tear it can stand up to before it is no longer able to perform at the level necessary. The main factors that influence this are discussed further below.
Footwork and Climbing Technique
How good or bad your footwork is will directly impact how long your climbing shoes will hold up. They will wear out pretty quick if you have really sloppy footwork and are constantly rearranging your feet on the holds or are constantly rubbing them against the holds/wall.
Beginner climbing shoes are typically constructed with more durable rubber and more of it than advanced shoes. This is to account for the lack of precise foot placement that almost all beginners have. Frequently rearranging their foot placement, turning their feet, and hitting them against the wall wear out their shoes at a rapid pace. More shoe “abuse” = more rubber needed.
Shoe Composition and Construction
Shoes that have been solidly constructed with high quality materials will last you longer and perform much better than lower quality shoes. This may be hard to pick out at first but typically becomes very apparent over time. Lower quality shoes tend to deform and fall apart with frequent use. Higher quality shoes tend to hold their shape and structure but start to get worn and thin out with frequent use.
If you want to ensure that your shoes are high quality, I recommend sticking to the popular name brands such as La Sportiva, Scarpa, and Evolv. This isn’t saying that the other brands make poor shoes, it’s just that these are popular for a reason: they consistently make high quality shoes time and time again.
In addition to the shoe construction, the sole’s type of rubber will impact how long it lasts. Softer shoes will generally wear out quicker than their harder counterparts. This is because soft shoes are designed to conform more and give the climbers a better feel of the foot holds which sacrifices durability.
Climbing Environment And Abrasivity
The climbing environment plays a direct impact on how long your shoes will last before they are no longer serviceable.
Climbing outside on rougher and more abrasive rock will chew through the shoe’s rubber much more quickly than if you were purely climbing in a gym. Although the shoe’s rubber is made to stand up to the coarse and sharp texture of rock, using them on smoother indoor holds will preserve that valuable material.
It should be noted that certain rocks will be more abrasive than others. The list below is in order from the most abrasive rock on climbing shoes to the least.
- Siliceous Sandstone
- Calcareous Sandstone
It should be noted that this order is not correct for every single rock and there is some variability to it. For instance, some sandstones will be less abrasive than some basalts. However, on average, the above order provides a good idea as to which rocks will wear down your shoes faster than others.
Duration and Frequency of Use
This is probably the most important factor that will affect how long your climbing shoes will last. If you are someone who is planning to climb 6 days a week, you will churn through shoes much more quickly than someone who only uses them once a week.
A lot of climbers will only consider how many times they go climbing in a week when evaluating how long their shoes are supposed to last them. This is not the best practice however because the duration they use them for plays a huge factor. For example if two climbers both go climbing once a week but Climber A has a 2 hour long session and Climber B has a 1 hour long session then Climber A will go through their shoes twice as fast as Climber B assuming all other factors are the same.
Shoe Care and Maintenance
How you care for and maintain your climbing shoes is one of the most underrated factors that determine their lifespan. Too many climbers will just throw their climbing shoes wherever and store them in the trunk of their car or forget them drying outside for days. Doing this frequently is a great way to wear out your climbing shoes without even climbing in them.
Because climbing shoes are made of rubber, they will eventually oxidize and deteriorate over time. This deterioration process is sped up when the shoes are subjected to certain conditions.
The following conditions speed up the deterioration process of the rubber on climbing shoes:
- Heavy UV Exposure (i.e. you leave your shoes sitting out in the sun for extended periods of time)
- Excessive Heat (i.e. you left your shoes next to a heater or in the trunk of your car in summer)
- Oxygen (i.e. you don’t store your shoes in any container)
In addition to this, allowing dirty climbing shoes to sit without being cleaned will negatively impact their integrity and shorten their lifespan. This holds especially true for deep water soloing over salt water. If left uncleaned, the salt water will soak into the shoes and cause them to degrade overtime. To see how deep water soloing impacts climbing shoes and which shoes hold up the best, check out my article here.
How To Know When Your Climbing Shoes Are Worn Out
The rubber of climbing shoes is the most commonly worn out part of the shoes. The sole of the shoe is typically the first to go followed closely by the rand because these are in the most contact with the wall and footholds. You will start to notice that the rubber on your shoe’s toe box will start to wear out and become thin. A lot of rubbers will start to become shiny when they are wearing out.
Other typical signs of wear on climbing shoes include:
- The shoe no longer holds its shape
- Tears and holes in the upper material
- Stitching coming loose
- The glue is coming undone and parts are starting to peel away
You know it is time to replace or resole your shoes when the sole has completely worn out and you can see the rand underneath. If you are hoping to get them resoled, then doing this before you can see the rand is ideal. Typically repairing the rand is a much more involved process than a standard resole and is not able to be done frequently.
No matter what, if your shoes are no longer performing to the standard you need them to or are becoming increasingly painful to wear then you need to send them in for repair or replace them.
4 Tips To Extend The Lifespan Of Climbing Shoes
Now that you are an expert on how long climbing shoes typically last and what factors affect that timeframe, you may be wondering how to extend your shoe’s lifespan. Besides climbing less (which is just awful advice) there are a few other things you can do. The remainder of this article will be discussing four easy ways to extend your shoes lifespan.
1. Place Your Feet Carefully On The Holds
As mentioned above, poor footwork will wear out your shoe’s rubber quicker than a hiccup. Improving your footwork not only will preserve your climbing shoe’s rubber and make them last longer but it will make you a better climber. Talk about a win win!
For a lot of beginners, this is as simple as looking at the foot holds and gently placing your feet. I have noticed that many beginner climbers just look at the hand holds and aggressively throw their feet at the foot holds at times. This is especially pronounced when climbers are tired and struggling to stay on the route.
Looking at the foot holds and gently placing your feet in the optimal position from the beginning will help you maintain control and make you a better climber in the long run. For more beginner climbing tips, I recommend checking out my article that details the 19 techniques that every beginner boulderer should know.
2. Take Proper Care of Your Shoes
To take proper care of your shoes, you will want to make sure that you are cleaning them and storing them in the optimal conditions to preserve their rubber.
The following storage conditions are optimal to maximize climbing shoe lifespan:
- Room temperature (68 to 72 °F or about 20–22 °C)
- Dry, not humid
- No UV light exposure
- In an airtight bag/container
If you know that you will not be climbing for an extended period of time, I recommend giving your shoes a quick cleaning before putting them away. This will ensure that they are in the best condition possible before their hibernation.
In addition to cleaning your shoes prior to extended storage periods, you should clean them anytime they get significantly dirty (i.e. after a deep water soloing session).
To clean your shoes properly I recommend checking out climbingshoereview.com’s article. They do a great job of detailing the correct way to go about it. In short, you will want to gently hand wash your climbing shoes in lukewarm water. Avoid machine washing them unless the shoe manufacturer themselves specifically state that they are machine washable.
After you have gotten your shoes thoroughly wet you will need to dry them. To see how to dry those bad boys properly, I recommend checking out my article that details the fastest way to dry climbing shoes step-by-step. Nobody wants to climb in moist shoes.
3. Get Them Resoled
If you love your current pair of climbing shoes and do not want to have to break in new ones, you can get them resoled! If the resoler you send them into is good, you may be able to do this 5 times before needing a completely new pair of shoes. This will basically 5 times the lifespan of your climbing shoes and keep you from having to go shoe shopping. That said if they are worn out beyond repair then you will be out of luck.
Make sure you are being proactive and keeping an eye on your soles to make sure you haven’t gone through them and have started to wear into the rand. Rand repairs will cost you extra and can not be done repeatedly.
Because there are not a lot of climbing shoe resolers out there, the wait times can get pretty long. If you only have one pair of climbing shoes then you may be without them for up to 2 months! For all of the information and details regarding if getting your climbing shoes resoled is worth it, check out my article here.
4. Alternate Shoes
If you have the luxury to have multiple pairs of shoes and alternate using them then I recommend doing so. This will allow you to have specific shoes for what you are doing and will extend the lifespan of all of them. Most professional climbers have over 4 pairs of shoes that they alternate between depending on the type of climbing they are doing and what they are trying to accomplish.
Not everyone will need a whole bunch of different shoe options. In fact I recommend that beginners just start with one pair. But if you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, you could pick up a second pair of shoes. For example, you could have a pair of shoes for training indoor gym sessions and a different pair for when you are giving it a full send outside.
Assuming you spend half your time climbing in each pair, you will essentially have doubled the lifespan of your shoes. Instead of each one lasting say 6 months of continual use, they both will last you about a year when you switch off between them. Also, this will allow you to keep climbing when you send the other pair in to get resoled.
To see which climbing shoes I think are the best, check out my recommended gear page.