Learn how to Get the Most Out of Your Climbing Sneakers

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It’s inevitable that your favorite pair of rock shoes eventually crumble into perforated, stinking slippers. If your shoes are too far gone, then it’s time to fish out another $150 and start the painful, slow process of breaking in a new pair. But instead of taking the life out of your shoes and throwing them in the trash, there’s another option: Resole them when they’re 80 percent gone and give your shoes a whole new life.

Resoling involves replacing the sole of the shoe, possibly the edge, and restoring the shape of the shoe as much as possible. Climbers can get half a dozen interchangeable soles out of a single pair if they take good care of their shoes. Depending on the number of shoes the climber would otherwise purchase, resoling can save hundreds of dollars over the course of the year.

Climbing met Tony Puppo, co-founder of The Rubber Room with his wife Nan. The Rubber Room, founded in 1999, resoled over 4,000 shoes last year.

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Puppo started resoling shoes in 1981. He met Nan at the shoe repair shop of then-owner Wheeler’s Boot Repair. When the store’s owner later decided that the retail shoe repair space was needed, Puppo and Nan bought the store and moved it across the street.

Not much has changed at The Rubber Room in the past 21 years. Two types of resoling are performed: a half sole and a half sole with edge repair. While the sole, as the name suggests, is the heavier rubber on the bottom of the shoe, the rand is the thinner rubber on the top and sides. Some toe draggers may wear the rim before the sole, but in most cases the sole wears first. However, about two-thirds of resoles require rim repair.

“We wish people wouldn’t wear out their Rands,” says Puppo. “And if they do, they would definitely stop as soon as they see material through the rubber.” You will be amazed at the shoes we see here. You could stick several fingers through that hole I saw in a shoe the other day. Shoes don’t work well if they have holes in them. Rubber climbs much better than leather or toes.”

For a sole and welt repair on both shoes, the price is $60 plus shipping. If edges are intact, $40 per pair.

According to Puppo, some people are really one-legged, so there’s always a shoe that needs fixing. Other people just have really good, precise footwork and don’t need edge repairs for half a dozen resoles. Still others will wear out their Rands in two months.

“The biggest difference between needing a rim repair or not is footwork and possibly climbing style,” says Puppo. “Seems like a lot of gyms are struggling with a lot of toe hooking now. So this wears down the top of the shoe, even though the climber isn’t dragging their toes. We’ve seen a lot more of that in the last two or three years.”

In addition to deciding whether or not to fix the edges, climbers must also decide what type of rubber to use in the midsole. The Rubber Room features Vibram XS EDGE, Vibram XS Grip 2, 5.10 Stealth C4 and 5.10 Stealth Onyx, 5.10 Stealth HF (High Friction). Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Vibram XS Edge: hard rubber, ideal for edging and very durable
  • Vibram XS Grip 2: not as hard as Edge and very sticky. Common in mid to high end shoes
  • 5.10 Stealth ONYXX: comparable to Vibram XS Edge
  • 5.10 Stealth C4: comparable to Vibram XS Grip 2
  • 5.10 Stealth HF: soft, sensitive rubber ideal for overhanging or steep climbs

After all the boxes have been ticked and the shoes have been shipped or dropped off, customers should expect to wait six to eight weeks for their shoes to be returned. It is handy to have at least one other pair of shoes in the rotation so that climbing can continue without interruption.

In addition to the wait, customers should keep in mind that while a resole can do a lot to restore your shoes, your shoes will not feel like they came out of the box. “Once the top of the shoe has been flexed a thousand times, that initial solid feel in the top of the shoe will never come back,” says Puppo. Still, the downswing of the shoe can be recovered.

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Whether climbers decide to resole or wear out their shoes, they should do everything they can to take care of their most important piece of gear.

Puppo’s number one shoe care advice, aside from good footwork, is to remove shoes and let them dry between attempts. “Shoes with very closed toes have no airflow to the toe box. If the climber doesn’t let the shoes dry, the leather on them kind of dissolves,” says Puppo. He added that squeaking the shoes the old-school way, with a toothbrush and some water, might help.

Puppo’s final point: “Your rock shoes are your tools and should be treated as such.”