I was top-rope climbing with some of my friends earlier today and was wondering should I wear socks with climbing shoes so I did some research and tried it out.
Most professional climbers don’t wear socks with climbing shoes. However, there are plenty of great climbers that wear socks with their climbing shoes and it usually depends on personal preference and how your shoes fit.
When I first started looking into wearing socks with my climbing shoes, I was overwhelmed by the strong opinions about wearing socks or not wearing socks with rock climbing shoes. I thought that socks would decrease the friction between my feet and the shoes, thus creating possible slipping so I’ve always climbed without socks. Even with the thousands of people on Reddit saying that they wear socks with climbing, I still thought socks would make climbing more difficult so I hadn’t tried it, until today, with a thin pair of socks.
I was surprised to find that because my shoes were already tight that the socks made the shoes fit even tighter and I didn’t slip. The routes I tested socks with had good footholds and it may not be a good representation of the effects of climbing with socks overall but it made me think that maybe the pro-sock-wearing climbers are onto something. With that being the case, I did some research for more information.
4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Wear Socks With Rock Climbing Shoes
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
4 Reasons You Should Wear Socks With Rock Climbing Shoes
- Some climbers feel that rock climbing shoes fit better when wearing socks with their climbing shoes. This is usually only the case if you get your climbing shoes fitted while wearing socks instead of barefoot. Otherwise, your shoes should fit fine without socks on, if not better. Some people say that the socks help prevent hot-spots, and hot-spots suggests that either the shoes don’t fit right, or they haven’t been properly broken into.
- One thing that all climbers deal with is the smell of rock climbing shoes. There are plenty of ways to maintain the smell of climbing shoes, but socks usually make it easier to maintain because the sock is the layer that picks up most of your sweat. However, wearing socks doesn’t eliminate the smell completely and you should still care for your shoes and treat them for odor and sanitization to help maintain good-smelling shoes. (Here are 11 Cheap Ways To Make Your Shoes Smell Better)
- Socks may aid with taking shoes on and off. This is usually only useful if you are in a bouldering gym and are doing multiple climbs so you take the shoes on and off frequently to move to another climb. If you are wearing your shoes for the entirety of the climb, however, like in a multi-pitch climb, then being able to take your shoes on and off easily isn’t usually a concern.
- I tried on new bouldering shoes yesterday and my feet got stuck in a pair of climbing shoes for over a minute (it was pretty unnerving). At the moment, I thought that socks would have helped get my feet out easier but in retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get my heel into the shoe at all if I was wearing socks so socks may not always aid with taking shoes on and off.
- Socks are good for ice climbing and when it is super cold. I’ve gone climbing in the snow and when my toes went numb, I wasn’t able to continue because I couldn’t feel the footholds or comfortably put weight on my feet. In that instance, socks would have been preferable and may have allowed me to continue climbing.
Do You Wear Socks With Rental Climbing Shoes?
For many, myself included, the thought of putting your bare feet where someone else’s bare feet were earlier that day makes a lot of people cringe. However, climbing gyms are supposed to deodorize and sanitize their shoes after every wear, which decreases the chance of getting athletes foot from rental climbing shoes. Some of my friends that rent their shoes when we go to a gym always complain about the smell, so some gyms may be better at this than others.
If you are renting climbing shoes from a gym and are worried about socks decreasing your performance, then it is likely you should get your own pair of climbing shoes. Your performance will be more affected by the rubber on the sole of the 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.