7 Reasons to Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes and 4 Reasons Why Not

You may be wondering what to wear bouldering, and the topic of wearing socks with your climbing shoes may come to mind.

I used to think that wearing socks with climbing shoes was unusual, but as I talked to more and more climbers, I’ve learned that many climbers wear socks with climbing shoes. Though, you may not know it by just looking at them on the wall. Many climbers that wear socks, wear short athletic socks that aren’t visible while their shoes are on and they are climbing.

7 Reasons to Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes

It is commonly explained that climbing shoes are built to be worn with your bare feet and that socks would cause slippage and thus damage your performance. However, with a good-fitting climbing shoe, that isn’t the case. 

I didn’t believe it at first but after hours of research and trying it myself, I’ve realized that there are some benefits of wearing socks while climbing and the cons are minimized when your shoes fit well. Here are the top seven reasons you should wear socks with your climbing shoes.

1. Socks Make Climbing Shoes More Comfortable

Probably the most popular reason to wear socks with your climbing shoes is that socks make your shoes more comfortable. The slight padding between the seams of the shoe and your foot can make it so that you are able to climb longer, due to added comfort.

There was half a decade or so that climbers believed ‘comfort’ and climbing shoes didn’t go well together. Unless you were in pain from wearing your climbing shoes, your shoes weren’t tight enough and your performance suffered because of it.

Since then, many studies suggest that painfully tight climbing shoes did not improve performance and thus, the perspective of climbers started to change. 

Comfort still isn’t a common word used to describe climbing shoes but if you are more comfortable while climbing, you can climb longer and the more you climb, the better you will get.

2. Socks Prevent Shoe Odor

Many climbers that despise sock-wearing climbers think that the only benefit of wearing socks with climbing shoes is that it prevents odor. That benefit is not to be understated, however. 

Besides rubber being overworn or rands coming unglued, shoe odor is one of the most common reasons why climbers replace their climbing shoes.

Some climbers have even reported that they replace their shoes up to three times per year because the smell is unmanageable. 

There are many ways to prevent shoe odor and many of them work (here are 11 cheap ways to deodorize your shoes) but the most common way is to wear socks with your climbing shoes. Not only is it inexpensive because you can wash socks with the rest of your clothes, but it also prevents the most common cause of shoe odor, moisture in your shoes.

Many climbers, myself included sweat in their feet while climbing. The socks absorb that sweat making it more difficult for odor-causing bacteria to grow.

3. Socks Cause a Tighter Fit

Many climbers that don’t wear socks while climbing think that socks would cause slippage while climbing. However, socks do the opposite of that, they make shoes fit tighter. 

This is most important if your shoes have stretched out and no longer fit as tight as they used to. Instead of buying a new pair of shoes, you can wear socks to make the shoes fit tighter.

Depending on the thickness of socks, the tighter the shoe will fit. Most climbers that wear socks will use a thin pair of socks. If you want to wear thick socks (for alpine climbing, for example) it may be worth considering that when you are trying on shoes for purchase.

Keep in mind that your feet swell while climbing so if you try shoes on at the store without socks and then wear socks while climbing, it may be too tight. The same is for vice-versa; if you wear thick socks while trying on your shoes and then wear thin socks while climbing, the fit will be looser.

4. Socks Prevent Blisters

Blisters can ruin your climbing experience and may make it so you have to stop climbing before you are ready to be done. Blisters on your toes are commonly caused by sweating and shoes being too loose. However, depending on where blisters are forming (like on top of your toes), a smaller shoe may not prevent those blisters. 

You can tape where you frequently blister but that can prohibit the movement of where you blister or cause pain when you remove the tape.

Socks, on the other hand, can minimize the friction between your toes and the shoes as well as minimize the moisture that makes blisters easier to form without the downside of movement restriction or pain when you take your socks off.

You don’t need thick socks to benefit from minimizing friction. In fact, if a thin pair of socks is still to thick for you to use, consider a nylon sock. 

The woman’s original fix to blisters while wearing heels is wearing nylons. Nylons also work perfect for athletic shoes, including climbing shoes and can be purchased for cheap.

5. Socks Keep Your Feet Warm

The most common reason why climbers wear socks while climbing is to keep their feet warm, especially when they climb outdoor or don’t have good circulation in their toes. This is also one of the “socially acceptable” reasons to wear socks. 

If anyone ever asks you why you wear socks while climbing you can tell them it is to keep your toes warm and they are likely to understand and agree that socks are a good choice for you.

If you’ve ever climbed in the snow, then you may know exactly what happens when your toes get cold while climbing. Even when you are climbing indoors, you may find yourself with cold toes due to lack of circulation or if the gym keeps everything cool inside. 

Not only does it hurt to touch anything with your toes but it is also difficult to put any weight on your toes, which is necessary for climbing. In addition, cold toes will make it so you are less sensitive to each part of the rock and may make it difficult to balance or engage your feet while climbing. 

Because of this, it is important to keep your toes warm if you want to be able to climb your best. Socks were created to keep your toes warm and they are the best option for climbing.

6. Socks Make Taking Shoes On and Off Easier

One of the most uncomfortable parts of climbing is taking your shoes on and off. While you climb, your feet swell and sweat, causing it difficult to take your shoes off, and then if you want to put them back on, they are still swollen and it takes additional effort to put them back in the shoe.

A pair of socks has been known to make getting climbing shoes on and off easier. This is likely because the sock is super flexible and can either stick to the shoe, providing an easier means for your foot to slip out, or it can stick to your foot, adding a surface that is easier for your foot to disconnect from the shoe.

If you are like me and don’t like how the sock moves up your ankle when you put your socked foot in the shoe, try putting the sock in the shoe before putting your foot in the sock/shoe so that doesn’t happen as severely.

7. Socks Prevent Foot Slippage from Sweat 

Most climbers sweat through their feet while they climb and sometimes the sweat creates a slipping in the shoe. This is most common if the shoe doesn’t fit your heel perfectly. 

Almost every climbing shoe make and model has a slightly different heel fit and unless you fit their mold perfectly, you may find heel hooks more difficult to do when your feet get sweaty and slippery.

Some climbers recognize this issue and they have a few options, buy a new pair of shoes that may fit better, use an antiperspirant to prevent sweat but still have the same issue with the heel fit, or wear a thin pair of socks.

The socks will absorb the sweat so you don’t have anything slippery in your shoe and it will make it so that your shoe fits tighter around the heel.

4 Reasons You Should NOT Wear Socks With Rock Climbing Shoes

With the development of going barefoot in climbing shoes in the last 30-40 years, climbing shoe producers have been creating shoes that are built for the barefoot so you don’t have to wear socks. This includes the texture of fabric inside the shoe and some shoes even have additional cushion around the heel so that you can be more comfortable when heel hooking without wearing socks. However, if that doesn’t convince you not to wear socks, then here are four more reasons.

1. Socks Add Space Between Your Feet and the Wall

One of the biggest reasons you should not wear socks with rock climbing shoes is because climbing shoes are made to decrease the space between your foot and the climbing wall so you can have enhanced sensitivity to rock and footholds. Socks add additional space between your foot and the climbing shoe and may decrease your foot sensitivity.

2. Socks Decrease Friction Between Your Foot and Shoe

Socks have also been known to decrease friction between your foot and shoe so they may increase the risk of slipping inside the shoe and make climbing more difficult. However, as I mentioned earlier, I tested my shoes that fit well without socks and the socks just made it a tighter fit. I didn’t feel a significant difference while climbing in regard to slipping. This may have been because I had good footholds for the routes that I tested, so additional testing on more difficult footholds is needed for more technical climbs.

3. Socks Change The Fit of Your Shoe

When I tested the socks, my feet fit tighter into the shoes, which proves that socks make your shoes fit differently. If I had used thicker socks, my feet wouldn’t have fit in the shoe. The concern with this is that your shoes may fit differently every time you climb if you don’t use the same thickness of the socks each time. This would make it more difficult to learn how the rock and different footholds feel in your shoes and may eventually impede your progress in climbing.

What About Wearing Socks With Rental Climbing Shoes?

Just like when you rent shoes from a bowling alley, most people prefer wearing socks with climbing shoes. Though climbing gyms do disinfect climbing shoes after each use, you may still be concerned about sanitation, at which point I’d recommend wearing socks.

If you are renting climbing shoes from a gym and are worried about socks decreasing your performance, then it is likely you should probably get your own pair of climbing shoes. Your climbing performance will be more affected by the rubber on the sole of the rental shoe than if you are wearing socks. Rental climbing shoes at the gym usually have the cheapest rubber soles, and that makes it so you can’t grip the wall as well as a personal pair of shoes.

So should you wear socks with climbing shoes? It all depends on your preference, whatever you do, you could probably get used to it and it may not make a big difference in your performance. I’m a climber that doesn’t wear socks with my climbing shoes and after trying it for the first time and even though I had a decent experience, I don’t think I will be wearing socks with my shoes again any time soon. 

However, a pair of thin socks didn’t make me slip like I thought it would. My shoes were so tight that the socks just made them tighter. Yes, there was more space between me and the wall because of the thin socks, but it didn’t heavily affect my climbing performance. Wearing socks may even make it easier to get my feet in and out of my shoes so if I am doing some bouldering at the gym and need to take my shoes on and off frequently, it might be helpful so I can spend more time climbing and less time taking my shoes on and off.

Do you have experience with climbing with socks and without them? Share your opinion in the comments below and share this article with your friend who may need guidance.

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