If you’re just getting into climbing, or even if you’ve been at it for a while, chances are you’ve seen someone wearing socks with rock climbing shoes. Some climbers point and laugh at this scene. It’s akin to seeing someone wearing socks with sandals as far as stylishness goes.
But many seasoned climbers swear by wearing socks with their rock climbing shoes. I’m here to tell you why that is. It’s intriguing stuff, believe me, so keep reading to find out why climbers get so bent out of shape over a little sock.
Partly, it has to do with the impression it leaves. I mean, it looks dorky, like something a newbie would do their first time on the climbing wall. But if you look at some of the old timers, you’ll see them wearing socks.
Interestingly, if you go to try on rock climbing shoes and wear socks, you might be told you shouldn’t wear them. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t really know what to make of it. Sure, I was new to climbing at the time and I had a lot to learn. But don’t socks help your feet from getting all grungy and making your shoes smell bad?
When I was younger and living at home, my mom would nag to no end about my sneakers. I’d wear them everywhere, usually without socks. Part of it was my own laziness. Mom made me do my own laundry and I would let it go until I ran out of socks. I’d just slap my shoes on my feet and go running or out with friends.
She wouldn’t ever let me bring those shoes into the house. She made me keep them on our porch. It wasn’t until I had romantic interests to impress before I changed my ways.
Ever since, I’ve been an avid fan of socks. So it seemed crazy to me that for every sport out there that requires shoes, all of those athlete wear socks, but not in rock climbing? I had to get to the bottom of this so I began asking around. Here is what I found out.
Can I wear socks with rock climbing shoes?
Yes, of course! But you will notice just as I have that nobody really wears them. In fact, climbers that wear socks seem to be in the vast minority these days. I’ve found some peace in wearing them though, quite honestly.
Sure, I draw some snickers from others, for I have seen myself in the mirror and I know I look like a total tool. But let me just tell you, it’s much more comfortable this way. Rock climbing shoes can be very uncomfortable. When I started adding socks to them, I felt more comfortable. They give you more cushion and it’s more hygienic.
The thing is, back in the old days of climbing, if you look at those photos, you’ll see EVERYONE is wearing socks with their rock climbing shoes. EVERYONE. That’s because wearing socks protects the feet from the stitching, seam tape, and sharp stuff inside the shoe.
I know what you’re going to ask next…doesn’t it affect your sensitivity with socks on your feet? As you might be aware, your performance on the crag really depends on a tight fit with your rock climbing shoes. You’d think going without socks would allow you to have more feel when it comes to those holds. But if you buy your rock climbing shoes just a half-size larger, that sock fits perfectly, your shoe fits perfectly, you have all the comfort in the world, and you still get that grip you need to rock on the rock.
There are a few exceptions like the La Sportiva Finale which fit to the skin like a rubber glove which makes it a bit difficult to add socks, but in all other cases, socks in your rock climbing shoes rock.
Why you should wear socks in your climbing shoes
Like I said, every climber is torn on this issue. Some people will openly gawk at you. “Look! Socks! Ahahahahaha! Dork!” Others will roll their eyes and mutter, “Newbie.” Everyone makes their own case for it but I’ve gotta be fair and present both sides, so here we go.
Some say that socks will make your feet slip around in your climbing shoes or cause your perfect fit to become too tight. They automatically change their mind though when they’ve forgotten their climbing shoes when they arrive at the climbing wall and have to rent them.
Incidentally, even if you think you’re too cool to wear socks in your rock climbing shoes, you should always wear socks when you’re renting those shoes at the gym. ALWAYS. You do not want to wind up with gross foot fungus from whoever wore them last. Yuck!
To me, there is only one major drawback of wearing socks with your climbing shoes…they look beyond dorky. If you can get over not being fashionable, here’s why I’m all for wearing them.
– Socks provide extra cushioning
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been climbing or how good you are at it. We’ve all been at that point where our dogs are barking way too loud to keep on going. Rock climbing shoes don’t really have much cushioning to allow you to have foot sensitivity so you can feel those rocks, cracks, edges, pockets, and all that good stuff we live to get up there for.
That being said though, wearing socks will give just a teensy bit more cushioning and believe me, it makes all the difference. You can still feel the rock. You still have that flexibility you want. And now, you have it all with extra comfort. That means you can keep going longer and focus on the climb. When something hurts on you while you’re climbing, it’s so hard to shut that out and regain your focus.
I think adding socks to your climbing shoes is wise to remove that possibility of foot pain. Plus, look at the guys who were climbing decades ago, before we were born. They all wore socks with their rock climbing shoes.
– Your feet and climbing shoes will stink less
Just as I mentioned earlier about my mom not allowing my sneakers I always wore without socks into our home, you probably are well-aware of the stink that comes from your rock climbing shoes (and your feet!) when you take them off. You can avoid stinking like a wild animal that rolled around in rotten eggs and cheese simply by wearing socks.
That stench is hard to get out of rock climbing shoes, or any shoe really. Sure, you can add deodorizer but it still has that subtle stink that never truly departs. As you know, sweat stinks because of the bacteria breaking down the sweat. So when you sweat in your shoes, it’s what’s causing that smell.
When you keep putting your sockless feet into those rock climbing shoes, you’re putting your toes right into nastiness. Understanding this was the biggest motivator to wear socks in my climbing shoes.
– Socks provide added comfort
As I said, that extra cushioning provided by socks is much more comfortable. Try it and you’ll see why I ignore everyone that laughs or teases me about it. I’m the one who has to live with my feet and I choose not to suffer halfway through a multi-pitch because my feet hurt.
Instead, I wear socks for that extra cushioning and comfort. I don’t feel that nagging burn from my rock climbing shoes when I’m wearing socks. My feet are guarded from the inside stitching, that evil seam tape, and those other pokey pieces that gradually irritate your feet all day as they sweat and rub along them.
Once you wear socks in your climbing shoes, you’re not going to go back. They’re so much more comfortable than slipping into your shoes without socks. You’ll notice your feet won’t stink (especially if you use an odor-absorbing type of sock) and you’ll be able to go on and on without thinking of how much your feet hurt with every move you make.
– It feels different
One thing I will say though is that for those that wear rock boots, they may find the slippage too great. I’ve heard stories from other climbers way more experienced than me. I’ve never tried them myself but from what I’ve been told, they’re quite a bit more rigid than the ones beginners use.
Some say that it really depends on where you’re climbing too. If you’re edging, no socks seems to be favored by some of the most prominent climbers. On cracks though, socks tend to be extremely helpful in keeping your feet from aching. And stinking!
There is a solution for those of you that don’t want to wear socks with your rock climbing shoes no matter how much I make a case for it. You can throw some climbing chalk in there to help with the smell. It won’t take it all away but it will reduce the sweat and resulting rub on your feet. Still, socks would save you that kind of trouble.
– Size up for a better fit
Climbing with socks on is a much better way to experience it. Though if your climbing shoes are so snug you couldn’t possibly fit anything else in there, you might want to get a second pair that you’d only wear with socks.
The key is to choose it a half size larger than usual. You can also try them on with socks to ensure the fit is just right. If you always wear socks with this pair of climbing shoes, the fit will be sublime. Save your current pair of climbing shoes for going sockless.
I don’t know about you, but I have 5 different pairs of climbing shoes to suit for different types of climbs and conditions. I choose which one to wear based on which adventure I’m taking.
But there’s one thing I don’t care about when I’m climbing, whether I’m on the climbing wall or on the crag. That thing is fashion. I honestly don’t care what other climbers or onlookers have to say when I’m wearing socks. I’m not trying to impress anyone with the way I’m dressed as long as I feel comfortable.
My focus is on outperforming myself with every climb and challenging myself in the sport. My focus is centered on that enjoyment and thrill of getting up there, the one we all live for as climbers. You shouldn’t be concerned with how you look up there, fashion-wise. It really doesn’t matter in the end, especially when you crush it and earn the admiration of other climbers.
And even if no one notices your skills, fashion is still a moot point while climbing. What matters is your comfort and safety so go with that.
In the early days of rock climbing, climbers always wore socks. Somewhere along the line, that shifted, the perception being that wearing socks with your rock climbing shoes was a rookie move. However, socks can add a level of cushioning and comfort to your climbs without taking away sensitivity. This makes it easier to endure and focus on what you need to do rather than shoving those thoughts about how much your feet hurt out of your head while you try to make it through your climb.
Climbing is something we do because we enjoy the sport. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s hard to love it. If you find your feet are always hurting on the cracks, try wearing socks with your rock climbing shoes and feel the cushiony love for your feet!