Climbing shoes on a boulder 5 10 five ten

How to Shrink Climbing Shoes

Are your climbing shoes too big? If you want to learn how to shrink them, you’re in the right place. Whether you’re a new climber and accidentally overestimated your foot size when shoe shopping for climbing shoes, like me or you’ve lost weight and your feet have shrunk in size themselves, it’s good to know how to get that golden fit again.

The good news is you can shrink your climbing shoes back down to size, regardless of how they’ve stretched with one notable exception – synthetic leather shoes. I’ll explain more on that in a bit, but let’s get right down to why you might want to shrink your slightly loose shoes back down to size.

Why shrink climbing shoes?

So there are a few reasons why your shoes have stretched out and why you’ll want to get them to a snug fit again. Obviously, if you’re reading this, your climbing shoes are a wee bit too big and you’d like to resolve that issue.

It’s not just newbies that buy sizes too big by mistake. Climbing shoes stretch over time, with each use. If yours are still in good condition save for the stretching, you might want to keep them around even if you get a new pair just to have another choice for your climbs.

Others simply can’t afford the investment into another pair of climbing shoes so they look to shrink down the ones they’ve got until they can buy a new pair. For all these reasons, knowing how to shrink your climbing shoes to your size will be a wise tool you can use forevermore.

Unfortunately, if you have synthetic shoes that are too big, the methods I discuss below aren’t going to help. You can try wearing socks with them though. If the difference is a half-size too big, wearing socks will correct the issue and give you more comfort and cushioning too.

If you have leather climbing shoes though, you can shrink them by following my advice on how to shrink climbing shoes. Let’s do this!

3 Ways to Shrink Your Climbing Shoes:

Ready to get your climbing shoes to fit snugly again? Here’s what to do!

1. Wash them

Of all the methods I’m presenting for shrinking your climbing shoes, you should try this one first. Washing them tends to solve the problem for me with little to no effort. But there is one very important thing that you must take care to do when washing your leather climbing shoes. Do not, I repeat, do not wear them before they have completely dried.

What could happen? If they’re still wet, they will conform to your feet. And that means they won’t shrink in. If you wash them and leave them be until they are 100% bone-dry, you’ll tend to find great success.

However, not everyone is successful. Some people have shoes that stay shrunken while others find their leather climbing shoes expand back up again as they break them in again. It’s still the best first choice solution you’ve got to getting your shoes back down to size and may be employed again as needed to shrink your climbing shoes.

2. Leave them in the heat

If you live in a hot and sunny climate, you’ll easily be able to shrink your leather climbing shoes by putting them outside. Make sure they are under direct sunlight though. They need to soak up the sun through a natural heating source.

Do not under any circumstances put your climbing shoes in your dryer or your oven. And no, not the microwave either. Gross!

In appliances like your oven or microwave, you can emit noxious fumes from the rubber soles. Not only that, you can cause extreme damage to your climbing shoes and then you’ll be forced to go out and buy a new pair right away or forgo climbing altogether.

And with the dryer, while it might be the place your new shirt shrinks down to a too-tight size much to your chagrin, the dryer gives off too much intensive heat that could melt your soles. Again, that will lead to dangerous fumes. Bottom line… just don’t!

The sunshine can work wonders on making them tighter, but patience pays. Stick them out in the morning in a spot you know gets bright sunlight all day as you head out to work. Then check on them when you return. You may want to leave them out for a couple days in the sun, but each night, take them in. You never know if it may rain while you’re sleeping, dew will settle in, or your own sprinkler system might undo your good deeds. Stray cats did a number on me once… don’t you just hate the smell?

I know I do, as they thought my new climbing shoes were part of their territory and needed to be marked…. Long story short, I threw away my La Sportivas! Still hurts!

3. Just wear socks

And yes, as I said before, if none of these shrinking methods works for you or you have to keep rewashing and reshrinking your climbing shoes again and again, perhaps what you should do is just wear socks. In fact, it’s the easiest solution of all.

It doesn’t look cool, but the comfort will make you forgive the unsightly fashion statement you’re about to make. This is also a great solution when you’re in a time crunch and have no time to try out the other shoe shrinking methods I’ve detailed above. This way, you can go out on your climb and enjoy yourself.

Which climbing shoes expand when broken in?

When it comes to materials, leather shoes are going to expand when broken in. They’ll typically expand one size so when you’re buying climbing shoes, you’ll need to account for this by buying them a little smaller. La Sportiva climbing shoes for example definitely expand once you break them in. I usually buy them one size smaller.

For synthetics though, they won’t expand which means you’ve got to buy them true to your size. Leather does conform to your foot as you break it in and can give you the perfect fit. Miuras were my first leather pair that I broke in. If you’re looking for synthetic climbing shoes, you can choose from Evolv, Five Ten, and Mad Rock. Additionally, La Sportiva also makes some synthetics.

Which one should you choose?

You’ll find my extensive shoe buying guides here so check them out to see which suits you. Environmentalists and vegans always reach for synthetics, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s what you choose, please heed my advice and buy them true to your size or you’re going to be stuck with shoes that are too big. And then, you’ll have to wear socks with them, or buy a new pair.

Don’t just buy a pair of leather or synthetic climbing shoes without trying it on first. This is especially true if you’re a newbie. There are many fantastic brands and styles out there which allows us to truly find our best fit.

Do Climbing Shoes Stay Shrunk?

No matter how you try to shrink your shoes, even if you have success in doing so, they’re not likely to stay that way. Sure, they will shrink up and you’ll get a cozy fit again. But leather will always expand to your feet. So after breaking them in again, you’ll have to repeat the process of shrinking once more.

And again after that. And again…

If they feel too tight now, you can speed up the process by wearing them often for your climbs. The heat of your feet and the moisture that builds up in there from sweating will cause them to stretch. This is the natural process for all shoes, not just climbing shoes.

You might get tired of this vicious cycle, but your only other alternatives are to wear socks or buy a new pair of climbing shoes. If you don’t want any stretching to occur, you’ll need to choose synthetics. If you’re not ready to buy new climbing shoes, socks are a great alternative. They look goofy but they really make the climb much more comfortable.

Some climbers scoff at the idea of socks, but if they can provide you with a better fit and more comfort, why not wear them?

Should I Just Buy a New Pair?

After some time climbing, you’ll likely have several pairs of climbing shoes that you trot out for different types of climbs. But in the beginning, you start with one pair. You feel like you’re really into the sport now because you’re investing in it rather than just renting the climbing shoes from the gym every time.

If you’ve already bought your first pair and they’re too big, if they’re leather, you can try out what I’ve outlined above. If they’re synthetic and too big, you’re going to need to wear socks or go out and buy another pair. If you’ve only worn them a handful of times, you may be able to sell them used to someone who would find them a perfect fit. Then you could take that money and use it to buy a brand new pair that fits you just right.

When shopping for climbing shoes, it’s so important to get that pristine fit. You don’t need to buy the shoes right then and there, but putting them on and getting a feel for them will help you make the right choice.

Don’t just go for your favorite color or pick the most popular style everyone is wearing at the gym. Choose the climbing shoe that fits your foot best.

Always remember though that climbing shoes should never hurt you when you’re wearing them. Yes, they need to be snug but your feet shouldn’t feel like they’re being completely compressed. This is why trying them on is so essential. Check out our guide about how tight climbing shoes should be.

But that’s not all that needs to go into your decision. There are different types of climbing shoes too. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. Some are best for beginners while others are best for advanced climbers. There’s much to know about this so come read it right here before you go out and buy a new pair so you get the right size this time!


Even when you buy your leather climbing shoes a size smaller just like you should, they will expand over time and could become too loose. Other climbers buy the wrong size and are left with big climbing shoes. As long as you have leather climbing shoes, you can shrink them down to size using the methods in this post.

But the methods are merely temporary fixes. When buying leather climbing shoes, it goes with the territory that they will eventually stretch out too much over time and you’ll have to keep shrinking them, start wearing socks, or invest in a pair of synthetic climbing shoes.

For those that have bought shoes far too big, you can resort to selling them to someone with a bigger foot and then buying yourself a new pair of properly-fitted climbing shoes. Socks are a great solution as long as your climbing shoes aren’t too much larger than your feet. If the difference is over a size more, you’re going to need new shoes. Even the thickest socks can’t compensate for that!

My advise is to try out shrinking your shoes and see if it works for you. It will buy you some time before needing to go shoe shopping if you’re on a budget. As you get more into climbing, you’ll definitely want another pair though. It always helps to have backup, plus different climbing shoes are better for different styles of climbing.


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