Can Rock Climbing Shoes Get Wet?


Climbing gear is tested in a variety of different extreme environments and conditions. Not every day at the crag will be sunny and warm, and rock climbing is a sport that requires a lot of sweat, dirt, and guts. Your climbing shoes are probably one of the most expensive pieces of equipment that you own, and you need to take good care of them. If you want to know the best way to clean your shoes, or if you are considering trying Deep Water Soloing, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into

Rock climbing shoes are safe to wash and even submerge in water. If they have a leather upper then they will stretch a little bit more while wet, but they can safely dry out and maintain their shape and performance. The most important thing is to make sure that they dry out all the way and don’t grow any mold or mildew.

In fact, a lot of climbers stretch out their shoes by wearing them in the shower and walking around in them. Keep on reading to see how water will affect the grip of your climbing shoes, as well as more information on Psicobloc and cleaning climbing shoes.

Can I Wash My Climbing Shoes?

Climbing shoes aren’t cheap, and there’s not much you can do if yours get damaged while you’re on a trip. The most common way for rock climbing shoes to get ruined is just regular wear and tear. Smearing and edging on rough rock slowly wear through the tough rubber on the sole and rands.

That abrasive damage, along with the contribution of several gallons of sweat and dirt, contribute to a pretty powerful smell over time. Most climbers don’t wear socks, which adds to the overall stench. How can you clean your climbing shoes?

First, prevention is key. As they say, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Sweat and dirt will slowly rub into the insides of the shoes over time and will bind to the materials. Take care to wipe your feet off before stepping into your shoes, and wear close-toed shoes around the crag to keep your feet clean. Taking them off between routes will help reduce sweating by allow your feet to breathe more.

Second, let them air out between uses. Mildew and mold love dark, moist, confined spaces. Just as with a regular gym bag, if you stuff your sweaty clothes and shoes into it and throw them in the trunk of your car you will probably just have to throw out the lot.

Let the shoes air out and completely dry between uses. Avoid leaving them in direct sunlight for a very long time, as this may cause the rubber to crack. Using a fan or other airflow instead of heat will help keep the leather from shrinking as well.

Third, apply an odor neutralizer. Make sure to use one without a warning for use on skin; however most deodorizers are safe to use. Foot powders specifically designed to kill bacteria in shoes also work, but they don’t do as well without socks. Additionally, killing the harmful and stinky bacteria with shoe sprays or foot powders will help reduce the risk of contracting athlete’s foot.

Lastly, if you get dirt or mud on them when you are climbing outdoors, wipe them down both inside and out with water or rubbing alcohol when you finish. If necessary, use a mild soap to scrub them down. You usually don’t have to soak them in order to get them clean.

Stuff the shoes with newspaper or toilet paper, which will draw out additional water. Once you spot clean them, put them in a place out of the reach of UV rays and allow them to completely dry out before storing them again.

As with regular shoes, climbing shoes can last several years if you go infrequently, or you can wear through a pair in a few months with constant use. The leather or synthetic uppers usually last a lot longer than the soles, so you can get new soles and rands (the rubber on the sides). If you find a pair you love, consider having them resoled instead of just buying a new pair. This is often a cheaper option than buying new, and is great when you really bond with a good pair of shoes.

For more information on caring for climbing shoes, read this article: How Can I Make my Climbing Shoes Last Longer?

Do You Wear Climbing Shoes When Deep Water Soloing?

Psicobloc, also known as Deep Water Soloing or DWS, is a growing sport in the climbing world. It has been popularized by the likes of Chris Sharma and legitimized by the psicobloc championships in Park City, Utah. The basic idea is to climb without a harness or rope, using only water as your protection. Climbing up and jumping into the water is a lot of fun, and is a great activity for warm days. There are varying levels of difficulty, just as in regular climbing.

For the DWS that I do, generally just for fun on a hot day, I don’t wear climbing shoes. You’ll be surprised at how well you can climb with bare feet, as compared to climbing in regular shoes or water shoes.

If I want to try harder routes though, I bring climbing shoes. For your first time, or if you are going somewhere like Mallorca to try it out on vacation, bring an old pair of climbing shoes. You will need to wear climbing shoes and use liquid chalk in order to maximize your ability.

Thanks to the high-quality rubber on the soles of climbing shoes, they still do really well when wet. The problem usually occurs when the rocks you’re climbing are also wet or mossy. Keep an eye out for slick spots and always be prepared to fall. Shoes have a bit harder time when conditions are really cold, but you probably won’t deal with that doing DWS.

The best way to start a route is to start from a boat. Towel off the rubber on your shoes and give it a go. Some climbers use a shamwow to get everything completely dry. If this isn’t an option, you can start from the water. This is a lot more difficult because the rock below the waterline is usually pretty slimy and you can’t look for footholds or shelves.

It’s okay to get your climbing shoes wet, but you’ll need to take special care of them afterwards to keep them from being ruined.

Climbing Shoes for Deep Water Solo Climbing

When selecting shoes for Deep Water Soloing, I recommend synthetic uppers instead of leather because it dries quicker and won’t stretch when wet (or shrink when dried). Make sure to let them dry completely in between uses, but keep them out of the sun. UV rays can completely dry out rubber and cause cracking. If you do use leather shoes, rub some oils into the leather to keep it from splitting and cracking as it dries out.

If you are climbing in the ocean, you need to spray off the saltwater after you’re done, just as you would do with a wetsuit. The newest craze in the DWS world is to build climbing walls leaning out over swimming pools. The same advice applied to chlorinated water as applies to salt water. Hose off the salt and chemicals and allow the shoes to completely dry out of the sun.

If you fail to let them dry out all the way before putting them away, the shoes will grow mold. This not only stinks and makes a mess, but weakens the structure of the shoes. A bad smell often indicates some sort of mold in the fibers of the shoe.

Heads up- when your shoes get wet for the first time they will probably bleed dyes into the water and into your feet. This can happen just from sweat, but is especially prevalent with DWS. My wife ended up with green feet for a few days when her climbing shoes got wet.

You can really climb pretty well barefoot. I like being able to feel the smallest little ledges and impressions with my toes. It’s a cool deviation from regular climbing. DWS tends to be a lot more upper body than regular climbing because the routes usually lean out over the water.

Barefoot climbing is only so good though- you do need shoes to attempt anything really difficult. It’s totally fine for your climbing shoes to take a swim, but make sure they dry out completely before you put them away.

Can a chalk bag get wet?

For many climbers, going without chalk is a mental kryptonite. Even though it really only adds a little bit of additional grip, it contributes to the mental fortitude required to send the hardest projects. The main reason for chalk is to keep your hands from getting sweaty and slippery against the rock as the climb heats up. For deep water soloing, sweat isn’t as much of a concern. The most difficult thing is coming out of the water with wet hands.

Pretty much all chalk bags can get wet. You can usually even wash them in a washing machine, though you should read the tag first to verify. Some climbers make bags out of duct tape or bring bottles they’ve cut in half and added straps to. You lose a bit of chalk each fall, but can wipe it out each time with a shamwow or towel.

The problem is the chalk itself. If you use a chalk ball, as is recommended and required in most gyms, getting it wet turns it into a nasty paste that doesn’t dry well. Loose chalk turns into the same paste.

Some climbers doing psicobloc bring multiple chalk bags or bottles with a little bit of loose chalk in each. This won’t work for a swimming start, but does work when starting from the ground or a boat. Every time they fall, they switch out to a new bag. This works, though it still does make a mess.

The best option is to buy liquid chalk for gymnasts and weight lifters. Put some on your thighs or the back of your forearms, and it’ll stay on while you’re swimming. The biggest perk is probably that you look really cool like a pro.

How to Stretch Out your Climbing Shoes

In the past, it was considered a badge of courage to fit your feet into the smallest shoe possible. Over the last couple of years however, the mentality has shifted and climbers go for comfort instead of sheer performance.

That being said, I can never decide whether it feels better to take of my climbing shoes or my ski boots at the end of a long day! If your shoes are a little bit too snug, there are some good ways to stretch them out just a little bit until the size and fit are perfect.

Synthetic shoes are usually made from materials that don’t stretch or shrink when they get wet. It’s pretty difficult to get any stretch out of them, though they do offer a little bit more play with sustained use over time. It is easier to stretch out leather climbing shoes.

To stretch out climbing shoes with a leather upper section, shower in warm water with them on. Towel off the rubber sole, then wear them around the house flexing your toes for a while as they start to dry. If possible, you can get them wet and then climb in them for a day.

When you’re done, dry them off and stuff the insides with newspaper to absorb any additional moisture. As they dry out over the next few hours, periodically put them on and walk around a bit to keep the shape.

It’s best to just buy a pair of shoes in the right size, but you can stretch out leather shoes if you need to.

Can climbing rope get wet?

Dynamic climbing ropes, unlike static ropes used in rappelling and canyoneering, should not be used when wet. A little bit of rain or a splash of water shouldn’t cause any problems, as the sheath will wick away a lot of the moisture.

The main concern would be if you drop your rope in a stream or pool or water or in a torrential downpour. Fortunately, climbing ropes don’t completely lose their static strength when they get wet, just their dynamic strength.

The dynamic strength is the ability of the rope to absorb a fall taken when lead climbing. A wet climbing rope loses up to 70% of its dynamic strength, meaning that a whipper could easily end in a ground fall on a wet rope.

Wet ropes are still okay to rappel on, so if you are caught in a rainstorm when doing a multi-pitch or mountaineering route you can safely bail. Take care not to jerk on the rope though, as this can separate the internal fiber core. A regular climbing rope is designed to be able to withstand around 5 falls before it need to be retired, but just one fall on a wet rope could compromise its strength.

One way around this, if you climb in areas that tend to get a lot of rainfall like the Pacific Northwest in the United States, is to buy a climbing rope with dry treatment. The dry treatment process coats each of the fibers of the internal core with a coating that keeps them from absorbing very much water.

It isn’t foolproof, but will help maintain the rope strength in case it gets wet. Even with the dry treatment, the rope can still lose up to 40% of its strength when it gets wet.

If your rope does get wet, make sure to allow it to dry out completely (again, out of the reach of harmful UV rays) before putting it away. Heat can cause problems with the rope, as can letting them freeze while wet. It’s best to hang them up inside and let them dry out. As long as you don’t take any falls on rope while it’s wet, allowing it to dry will return the rope to its original strength.

Take a look at our Recommended Gear Page for Ropes to see which ropes we use and why.

Related Questions:

Can You Use Water Shoes For Rock Climbing? Water shoes are terrible for rock climbing because they are minimalist shoes that don’t provide much support. They don’t have a rigid sole, and don’t have grippy rubber.

Rock climbing shoes, on the other hand, help support your foot so you can balance your weight on your toes and on the edges. Climbing shoes are made of special rubber that is designed to be soft enough to grip tiny ledges of rock. Although they look somewhat similar, they both are very different and serve different purposes.

See Also:

The Complete History of Rock Climbing

How Can I Make my Climbing Shoes Last Longer?

Indoor Climbing Attire

Jake Harmer

Husband, Father, Wild Animal. If I could explore canyons and cliffs every day, I would. For now, I dream about it during the week and go hard on the weekends. Living in the St. George area with my wife and kids.

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