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Do you wear socks with climbing shoes?

A man tying the laces on his rock climbing shoes
Is it necessary to go without socks once you become a climber? Required, even? (Image credit: Cavan images)

If you’ve recently got into rock climbing and picked yourself out a pair of tightly fitting shoes that rather resemble a rubber ballet shoe, you may be asking yourself a very fair question: do you wear socks with climbing shoes?

With the advent of specialised climbing shoes – early climbers just wore their hiking boots on the crag – sockless climbers have become an increasingly common sight. But while it’s true that most climbing shoes today are designed with the assumption that you won’t be wearing them with socks, is it necessary to go without socks once you become a climber? Required, even? We set out to settle this debate for once and for all. 

A woman tying her laces at the climbing wall

One big argument for wearing socks with climbing shoes is for comfort (Image credit: Santypan)

Comfort on the crag

One big argument for wearing socks with climbing shoes is for comfort. By nature, climbing shoes are designed to fit snugly and aren’t very comfortable, often leaving you with uncomfortable rubbing or even blisters. A thin pair of socks, or even liner socks, will definitely help in this regard, providing a little protection from your shoe. 

Sensitivity improves skill

A common argument against wearing socks with climbing shoes is that doing so affects the sensitivity of your feet, which you need to feel the toe holds. While it’s true that a thick pair of socks will interfere with your ability to feel the rock, a thin pair of socks won’t make much difference, especially when you’re just starting out and not climbing on particularly advanced routes.

Where socks can negatively impact your climbing technique, however, is performing moves like heel hooks, where your foot is more likely to slip with a sock than it is without, and that’s just frustrating.

Anna Taylor climbs Cioch Nose on Skye in wet weather

In addition to protecting you from shoe rub, socks could protect your ankles when you’re crack climbing outdoors and jamming your foot into a narrow crevasse. (Image credit: Neil Gresham)

Protection from cracks and cold

In addition to protecting you from shoe rub, socks could protect your ankles when you’re crack climbing outdoors and jamming your foot into a narrow crevasse. If you slip, wearing socks might save you a few layers of skin which is always helpful. 

Also, climbing shoes don’t provide a lot of warmth, so socks when you’re climbing in cooler temps (or have poor circulation) might provide a little welcome insulation – climbing with numb toes won’t get you very far after all.

Needless to say, if you’re indoor climbing, none of this applies.

The stink factor 

A big argument for wearing socks with climbing shoes is to keep your shoes from getting so stinky. Climbing shoes are known for being stinky, but only because most people wear them without socks. You can solve this problem by letting your socks soak up your sweat and keeping your shoes more tolerable. This will make them last longer, which is better for the environment as well as whoever you live with. 

A close up of a climber's shoe on a rock

(Image credit: David Madison)

Easy on, easy off

Climbing shoes are notoriously difficult to get on and off, and if your feet swell in the heat or get very sweaty, this only becomes more challenging. Wearing a thin pair of socks will help you slip your shoes on and off more easily, which – if you plan to do it a lot – makes a good case for wearing them. 

Do you wear socks with climbing shoes? Verdict

Ultimately, you don’t need to wear socks with climbing shoes, but if you’d feel more comfortable doing so, there are lots of compelling reasons to support your choice. And besides, climbers aren’t exactly known for their conventionality, so best to just do what works for you.  

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.