Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had an opening scene many rock climbers would enjoy. Captain James T. Kirk is finally enjoying some vacation time and is spending it with his two best friends camping in Yosemite National Park. Fittingly, Kirk decides he wants to climb El Capitan, solo with no safety equipment.
Dr. Leonard McCoy watches from a distance, fretting like a mother hen. Mr. Spock puts on a pair of levitation boots to follow Kirk and monitor his progress. Spock asks his friend why he’s doing this, reminding him that the record is unlikely to be broken. Kirk responds that he’s doing it because he enjoys it.
He also quotes George Mallory (often misattributed to Sir Edmund Hillary) when asked why he climbs mountains “Because it’s there.” Spock proceeds to tell him that he does not understand the gravity of his situation. Kirk quips that gravity is all he’s thinking about right now. Kirk loses his grip and falls, but luckily, Spock and his futuristic levitation boots come to the rescue.
Unfortunately, levitation boots are firmly in the realm of science fiction. For now. Right now, climbing shoes are close-fitting footwear with minimal padding, a sticky rubber sole, and a rubber rand. They are not very good for climbing or hiking so they are often put on at the base of the climb.
How Climbing Shoes Are Put Together
Modern climbing shoes utilize meticulously manufactured multi-piece patterns to mold very close to the wearer’s feet. The upper is often made of leather but other materials can be used. Synthetic leather and fabric are common alternatives.
The soles are made out of a specialized type of rubber specifically for climbing rocks. The shoes have a downward pointing toe box in order to aid in the ability to stand on small ledges. The fit is so close many climbers forgo socks. Here is a breakdown of the parts of a climbing shoe:
- Sole As with any shoe, this is the bottom part. It touches the surface the most so it takes the most damage.
- Rand This is a layer of rubber wrapped around the foot in front of the toes and on the sides.
- Closure This can be laces or Velcro. It gives an adjustable, custom fit.
- Pull Strap These looped tabs on the back can be used to help you pull the shoe on. They are also convenient for hanging your shoes to dry or air out.
- Tongue As with an ordinary shoe, this is a strip of fabric running down the length of the instep.
- Heel Cup This is where your heel will rest and be supported while climbing.
- Upper This is the main part of the shoe. Synthetic uppers are cool and breathable but are not very stretchy or durable as rubber would be.
It must be remembered that the rand cannot take the same abuse as the sole. Its one and only purpose should be to keep your toes down. Rubber, of course, has a tendency to wear down after a while. Sometimes not that long a while. And climbing shoes are expensive. Can you repair climbing shoes rather than buy new ones? If so, when is the best time to do it?
What is Resoling?
Yes! You can resole those shoes! If holes, tears, and wear spots are forming in your shoes, they can be repaired by replacing the sole. Here are the reasons you should consider resoling.
- It saves money. The price of a resoling job could be as low as a quarter of the price of a new pair.
- Avoid breaking in shoes. Why go through the pain and hassle of breaking in a new pair when you have a pair that is already used to your feet?
- It’s good for the planet. Remember that the three r’s of ecology are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. There should be a fourth r, Repair. (If that’s not too close to Reuse.) A pair of climbing shoes can be resoled three times.
When Should You Resole?
The rubber on a new pair of climbing shoes should be thick and clean. After a while, the rubber will wear down. Remember the adage “A stitch in time saves nine.” You want to get the sole redone before the rand gets damaged. The rand can be repaired as well, but it will cost extra. A resole should be done before the rand is visible. Remember that a shoe cannot be re-randed before it is resoled.
If you resole too early, you waste perfectly good leather. If you wait too long, the shoes may become difficult or impossible to repair. What’s more, you could be putting your life at risk. There is a fine line between the sole and the rand. This seam must stay intact.
Where To Resole?
You can go to the store where you bought the climbing shoes and ask about resoling. Also, be sure to have at least two pairs of climbing shoes. It can take a month or two for a resoling job to get done.
If you don’t want to stay off the rocks for that long, it is a good idea to have a backup pair. If it is not feasible to get a second pair at this time, schedule the resoling for a time when inclement weather makes climbing inadvisable anyway.
Is a Resole Worth It?
You could get an option for a half resoling, from just midsole or the ball of the foot to toe where the most wear starts to show first. In fact, this is the standard. This can roughly run from thirty to forty dollars minus shipping and handling.
Repairing the rand can cost about ten dollars per shoe. Find a trustworthy company and you may be getting shoes that are good as new. Perhaps better than new, as they are already broken in.
If you don’t live near a resoler, the price of shipping and handling has to be factored in. This can be anywhere from seven to thirteen dollars, depending on your preferred method.
Most companies will want you to cover the cost of getting them shipped back to you. Do the math and compare it to the cost of a new pair. New pairs run in the three digits, so it may be worth the cost unless you can find something at an unbeatable discount.
Be Wise, Deodorize
Spare a thought for the person doing the resoling if you please. They have noses and stomachs too. If your shoes are a little ripe from being worn while climbing with no socks, spray them down before you send them in to be resoled.
The person doing the resoling might spray them down because it’s the only way they can handle your shoes without retching. Be nice and do them a favor. Spray your shoes down with a germ-killing deodorizer before you take them in to be resoled.
Ideally, you should clean your shoes after a climb. That way, they won’t be as smelly. While you’re cleaning those shoes, you can look for signs of wear to see if they need a resoling. Cleaning climbing shoes is easy.
First, you wipe down the insoles and linings with a dampened cloth after a day of climbing. Then, you let your shoes air dry. Be careful to avoid direct sunlight as this can damage your shoes. You can spot clean the uppers using a little rubbing alcohol diluted with water.
An old toothbrush can be used for the most stubborn of spots. Be mindful of not soaking them as soaking the leather will eventually cause it to stiffen up and break down. Do not leave them in the pack to mildew. It also helps to make sure your feet are clean before the shoes are put on.
Some Important Things NOT to Do
Your leather climbing shoes cannot be cleaned in the washing machine. Do not do this. Remember that your shoes are for climbing. Do not walk around in the shoes if you are not climbing. Dirt can make your shoes less effective. Some climbers bring a square of tarp or carpet to step on before getting on the rock.
Do not leave your shoes in a hot car. Strong heat can deteriorate the rubber and melt the glue that keeps them on the shoe. Extreme cold can make the rubber brittle. Try to keep them at room temperature as often as you can.
Do not leave your shoes anyplace where they could get damp. When you are not climbing, store them in a dry area. If they get wet, dry them off quickly. Do not use artificial heat to dry them.
What Kind of Rubber to Use
Vibram and Stealth are two of the most popular brands of climbing rubber on the market. They are both high-quality rubbers. Which one you use depends on personal preferences. Many shoes come with four-millimeter soles. Five-millimeter rubber will stiffen the shoe noticeably.
It is not a recommended choice for downturn models or smaller sizes. If you are happy with your shoes’ present performance, you can request that the resoler use the type of rubber it already has. Remember that soft rubbers wear down easily.
You may be asked to choose the thickness of the rubber you want on your shoe. This all depends on your personal preferences. The standard sole thickness is generally somewhere around three and a half millimeters.
However, resolers often will offer a 4.3-millimeter sole or a 5.3-millimeter sole as well. Thick soles do last a long time. However, that alters the toe profile of the shoe. It will make the toe area less sensitive and harder to put in small areas.
How to Make Shoes Last Longer
Many of the things already suggested not only make your shoes cleaner and easier to deal with but will extend their life span. Walking around in shoes can change their shape and reduce the stiffness. it wears the sole out more quickly. Cleanliness can extend the lifespan of the shoes.
Every once in a while, use a little warm water and mild soap to wash away dirt and chalk stains. Alcohol or vinegar (diluted) is best for cleaning the rubber parts. Dirt can damage the rubber and make it slippery. Don’t forget to give your shoes a good airing out after each use. Clip them to the outside of your bag and do not store them where they can be squished.
The Yosemite scene from Final Frontier gave us some great close-ups of Kirk’s shoes. Or, rather, William Shatner’s stunt double’s shoes. They look practically new. Personally, I’d rather have Spock’s levitation boots but science isn’t up to that level yet.
Neither is science up to the level of rubber that never wears down and replaces itself. Take care of your shoes in the way described above and get them resoled before you get down to the rand.
As Spock observed, life is not a dream but it can come pretty close to one if you have well-soled climbing shoes. Remember to air out your shoes after using them but don’t leave them in direct sunlight or too close to the fire as you and your buddies sing “Row Row Row Your Boat.”