Can Climbing Shoes Shrink? (Can You Make Climbing Shoes Smaller?)

Much like socks, shoes can shrink when washed. But this is less of a problem than it sounds as most shoe manufacturers today use heat bonding construction, meaning that the shoe upper is sewn to the midsole with an adhesive. This also means that climbing shoes are much more likely to outgrow the foot than shrink.

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Older shoes, however, were sewn rather than glued which means they are much more likely to shrink when washed in hot water and dried in the dryer. These shoes will also stretch out over time as you wear them.

To prevent shrinking, never wash your climbing shoes in hot water or put them in a dryer as this will almost guarantee that your shoes will shrink! Instead, wash them by hand or with cold water and then air dry or tumble dry on low heat.

Can Climbing Shoes Shrink?

Climbing shoes can shrink, but only if they are a certain kind. Climbing shoes constructed from synthetic materials cannot be shrunk. They are designed to prevent both stretching and shrinking.

If you have leather climbing shoes, you can shrink them. This is something you have to actively attempt to do, however. They will not shrink over time on their own, but they will stretch with use.

Climbing shoes can shrink by about 1/4″ to 1/2″ in width. This is caused by two factors, the first being that the shoe breaks in, and the second being your foot shape. As the shoe breaks in, it becomes more pliable and conforms to your foot shape.

 

La Sportiva Men's Tarantulace Rock Climbing Shoes, Black/Poppy, 45.5

 

Taller people will experience less shrinkage because they have longer feet and narrow climbing shoes, while shorter people will notice more shrinkage because they have a low hanging heel and wide climbing shoes.

Do Climbing Shoes Shrink in Heat?

Yes, climbing shoes can shrink in heat, unless they are a synthetic leather climbing shoe. If you are looking to shrink your climbing shoes, do not put them in your oven, a dryer, or microwave! This will destroy the soles and might even cause some fumes to emerge that are unhealthy to breathe in!

Tight fitting shoes and rubber products in general will heat up when exposed to sunlight or heat. Heating up rubber products is done in order to remove any stress or strain created while producing the footwear.

Heating up the shoes allows the rubber products to be molded into the correct shape and size for the intended use of the shoe. This heating up process allows for a more comfortable fit for the wearer of the shoe.

Climbing shoes will stretch over time, but this is due to softening of the leather upper that typically occurs with time and wear rather than due to actual shrinking of the shoe itself.

Do climbing shoes shrink in heat? Yes, but only slightly (less than a half size). Climbing shoes get their stiffness from the oil tanning process, which makes them very durable and reduces the amount of stretching that occurs over time.

Heat causes all leather products to expand, so leaving your climbing shoes in the hot car or on a hot day will make them slightly bigger.

How Can I Make My Climbing Shoes Smaller?

Climbing shoes that are leather-based can be left in the heat in order to let the leather de-hydrate and constrict, providing a tighter fit. Shoes can also be washed and left to air-dry, but this is only a temporary fix, as wearing the shoes will eventually cause them to stretch back out.

Individuals who have are still having a difficult time can try to put on a pair of socks (or an extra pair if they already like to climb in socks). While this might reduce the feel for the rock, it might be a better solution than having extra room in one’s climbing shoes.

Here are some tips to help you shrink your climbing shoes by a half size or less.

  1. Tighten up the laces. These will make the shoe fit tighter and will also create tension around the foot. The tension will make it feel smaller.
  2. Use thick socks. Wearing thick socks will add material between your feet and the shoe. This will make the shoe fit smaller, but make sure you wear the thick socks when you attempt to put on the shoes.
  3. If you have had them for a while, heat them up. Put your climbing shoes in a hot place like near a heater or in front of a fire for a while, then try to put them on. This will make them stretch out and be more flexible, making them easier to get on and off.

Of course, if you manage to shrink your climbing shoes with heat or by washing (two good methods to do this), then continue to wear them, they will eventually stretch again and need the shrinking process repeated.

Can You Put Rock Climbing Shoes in the Dryer?

No, you cannot put rock climbing shoes in the dryer because of the high heat involved. The heat from the dryer will destroy the rubber of the soles, and as rock climbers know, the soles have the sticky rubber that enables their feet to remain in the spot they want them to.

In order to avoid this fate, just air dry your climbing shoes after washing. If the soles are destroyed, the shoes won’t be able to be used as climbing shoes anymore as they will be missing a key feature.

You might succeed in shrinking your shoes but they will be extremely weakened and damaged as a result.


In summary, if your shoes are too big, you won’t be able to feel the holds that you’re trying to grab. You may also injure yourself from slipping or just poor footwork.

So many people have this problem and competition climbers have the worst time because of the times that routes require a high level of precision which must be brought out with a well-fitting climbing shoe.

You may also be interested in… Should You Size Up in Climbing Shoes? (Should They Be Tight?) and How Often Do You Resole Climbing Shoes?