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When to replace climbing shoes (and what to do with your old ones)

La Sportiva Solution Comp women’s
We walk you through when to replace climbing shoes, how to prolong their shelf life and what to do with your old pair when you’ve upgraded (Image credit: La Sportiva)

Climbing shoes certainly aren’t the most comfortable item in your kit, and once you finally get them softened up and stretched out a bit, it can be tempting to hold on to them forever rather than endure the pain of a new pair. But at some point, you’ll want to retire them in favor of a new, grippier pair otherwise they’ll start to impact your performance. There are differing opinions, however, on when to replace climbing shoes, with some climbers keeping their old ones around for months or years as training shoes while others upgrade every few months.

As with any outdoor pursuit, you want to make sure you’re balancing your performance goals with environmental sustainability and not just burning through a new pair of shoes every six months and tossing your old pair in the landfill, so we walk you through what to expect from your climbing shoes, when you might want to replace them and what to do with your old climbing shoes.

Adidas Five Ten NIAD Lace Women’s climbing shoes

There are differing opinions on when to replace climbing shoes, with some climbers keeping their old ones around for months or years as training shoes (Image credit: Jessie Leong)

How long do climbing shoes last?

Naturally, the answer to this question really depends on what you’re doing in them, and how much you’re using them, as well as the quality and type of the shoes to begin with. Climbing outdoors on abrasive rock will wear out your shoes faster than on a smooth indoor climbing wall. Using tiny foot holds and smearing on more advanced roots will put more pressure on the toe box of your shoes and wear them out faster, while mellower routes with big ledges and jugs will allow you to rely more on the soles of your feet and increase the lifespan of your shoes. Further, picking out the right type of climbing shoes for your climbing style will help prolong their life, since neutral shoes won’t hold up so well against aggressive climbing.

It also kind of depends on what you’re willing to put up with. If you climb once a week during the summer months, you might wear the same pair of shoes for years and not worry about them losing a bit of traction until a toe pokes through, whereas if you’re climbing aggressively year-round and quite regularly, you might need a new pair at least every year and possibly every three months.

In truth, the better way to frame it is to understand how wear and tear affects your shoes’ performance, what to look out for and how to prolong the shelf life of your shoes, so let’s look at that next.

Best women’s climbing shoes

Mellower routes with big ledges and jugs will allow you to rely more on the soles of your feet and increase the lifespan of your shoes (Image credit: Getty Images)

When to replace climbing shoes 

When to replace climbing shoes is obviously a bit of a personal decision, based in part on what your own performance goals are. However, generally speaking you want to be looking for the following signs of wear and tear:

  • Smoothing and thinning of the rubber on the sole and toe box
  • Loss of stretch
  • Loss of shape
  • Broken fastenings

Once these signs start showing, you can expect some loss of grip on smaller footholds and potentially some loss of power or precision on certain moves. Perhaps conversely, some climbers continue to train in older, worn-out shoes because they feel that it forces them to rely more on their own strength, so all of this isn’t to say that you have to replace them as soon as you notice any of these signs.

What’s arguably the best tactic is to take good care of your climbing shoes, by learning not to drag them across the rock, how to clean them properly and making sure you let them dry out after use and stow them somewhere dry and away from direct sunlight. Inspect them regularly and when you start to see signs of the sole and toe box smoothing and thinning, look into having them resoled. If they are otherwise in good shape and you haven’t already worn through the rand (the layer of rubber that wraps around the front of the toes and the side of the shoe) you may be able to send yours off for a resole which will breathe new life into your climbing shoes. Some climbing shoes may be able to withstand several resoles, meaning you can continue to wear them for years.

rock climbing

Consider hanging on to your shoes as a backup option or for training purposes (Image credit: Getty)

What to do with old climbing shoes

If you’ve decided it’s time to move on and get yourself some new climbing shoes, it’s ideal if you can keep your old ones out of the landfill, especially since it’s not possible to recycle climbing shoes, yet. If they’re still usable, a favorite option amongst climbers is to keep them for deep water soloing, so you don’t have to worry about the salty water damaging your new shoes. There aren’t too many other scenarios where climbing shoes are appropriate, unfortunately, though if you have a more neutral pair they might be OK for some canyoneering.

If deep water soloing isn’t your thing, consider hanging on to your shoes anyway as a backup option or for training purposes, or donating them or selling them on to a beginner climber. You can also drop by your local climbing wall to see if they have any ideas.

Barring that, you can poke some holes in the soles, fill them with soil and use them as cute planters in your garden.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.