Resoling Climbing Shoes: What You Need to Know for Your First Time
Climbing shoes do an insanely good job of sticking to rock. To do so, they have to leave a little bit of rubber behind, just like your tires do on the road.
Every time you push off a foothold, you leave a little bit of your shoe behind. This is why, on certain rock types (I’m looking at you, Rifle), well-traveled footholds start to feel pretty polished.
It’s also why climbing shoes wear out far more frequently than we would like. When the rubber starts to wear out on a shoe, most of the shoe is still good — often, it’s only the most used portion of the toe that gives out.
To fix the problem, climbers started resoling their shoes by taking off (part of) the original sole and replacing it with a fresh layer of rubber.
Nowadays, options abound for how to get this done — different resolers, new types of rubber of varying thicknesses, and a variety of repair possibilities. You can even resole approach shoes.
There are also plenty of questions first timers will likely ask themselves about this process:
Are resoles worth it? Can you do them yourself? When should you get your shoes resoled? Is it worth shipping to a far-away company? How many times can you get shoes resoled?
To help get the answers, I got in touch with Colby Rickard, co-owner of one of the most reputable resolers around: Rock and Resole in Boulder, CO.
Anatomy of a Climbing Shoe
First things first — in order to understand what happens during a resole, we need to understand how climbing shoes fit together.
There are two important pieces of your shoe to identify.
- Sole. The part that covers the bottom. You use it whenever you step on a foothold. The sole usually wears the most, and it’s what you’re using for most of your climbing.
- Rand. A layer of rubber wrapping around the front of the toes and the side of the foot
As an important note, the rand is not designed to take the same abuse as the sole. “The rands are not intended to be climbed on, they’re intended to hold your toes down,” says Rickard.
Once your sole is worn through and you start climbing on the rand, your shoe won’t be functioning as it’s supposed to anymore.
In between the sole and the rand is a visible line where the sole was added. Keep an eye on this line — it’s what determines how worn your shoes are and whether you’re due for a resole.
When Should I Resole My Climbing Shoes?
Resole too early, and you’re wasting perfectly good rubber. Resole too late, and you risk paying (much) more for your resole, or even damaging your shoes beyond repair.
The key for good resoles is to climb only on the sole of your shoe. When the amount of rubber below the visible line separating the rand and sole starts to get thin, you’ll see that the sole starts to recede.
If you continue climbing on your shoes after there’s no sole left, your shoes will start to lose performance, and the rubber contacting the rock will be from the rand (the part above the line). At that point, you’re damaging structural elements of the shoe.
Remember the line between the sole and the rand?
“As a general thing that I will tell people, the seam needs to be intact,” says Rickard. “You can generally look around the pinkie toe or around the ball of the foot and you’ll get an idea of what the original thickness of the sole is. And as you travel around to the toe, if you see an edge [even if it’s only a millimeter or two], then that gives you an idea. If it’s rounded and you can’t see an edge, then the rubber’s paper thin and it’s about to wear down.”
If you spend too long climbing on your rand, it will thin and eventually wear through. If the rand is damaged, you’ll need toecaps or rand repair (at minimum).
Instead, if you want to get a resole, stop climbing on your shoes as soon as you see that the sole has receded to the point where you’d start climbing on the rand. That way, you can stick to a standard half resole and avoid damaging your shoes.
What Does a Resole Get You?
When you send in your shoes to be resoled, the most basic option is a half resole. This means that all the resoler will do is replace the sole from the midsole forward.
A half resole usually costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-$40 (before shipping, but we’ll get to that). $38 seems to be a new industry standard, but you can still find places that do a half resole for as cheap as $30.
If your shoe needs more extensive repairs, the resoler may need to add toecaps or do more custom work. Generally, rand repair adds around $10 per shoe, although extreme cases may take more time or cost more.
In either case, what you get at the end is a shoe with a fresh sole and a new edge to climb on.
The rest of the shoe will come back in largely the same condition you left it. In some cases, a resole will alter the shape or fit of the shoe. “It is our intent not to,” says Rickard. When necessary, however, he errs on the smaller side: “My theory is, I would rather make it slightly tighter than how it came in, so that you can stretch into it.”
If you climb in a downturned shoe, resolers can restore some of the original shape as well.
Still, Rickard stresses that shoe care is the real key: “We can sculpt the shoe and make it look really good on a shelf, but how the person treats the shoe will greatly affect the longevity of how the shoe is sculpted. If someone is belaying in a downturn shoe, climbing cracks in a downturn shoe, getting them extremely impregnated with sweat, all those things will affect the sculpture of the shoe”
In my experience, these factors also depend on the resoler — some will consistently send the shoe back tighter than it was before, and some won’t.
I don’t know if there are methodological differences, but depending on your preferences, this is one more reason why (if you choose to resole) it’s worth finding a company you trust.
The Importance of Shoe Care
Rickard is quick to stress that how well you care for your shoes is one of the most important factors in getting your money’s worth. “I think of it as a car that you’re redoing the engine. The rust isn’t going away, or the squeaks in the suspension, but we’re getting it running again. And if that person continues to run it without oil, then you’re not going to get as much out of your car.”
To preserve your shoes, don’t wear them when you’re not climbing. Don’t walk around in them. Don’t belay in them. Give them space to air out after uses so that they don’t become caked with sweat.
And try not to use them for purposes that stretch their design — climbing a crack might mangle your brand new pair of Dragons.
Is Resoling Worth It?
Let’s say you pick one of the big, established resolers, and they do a really nice job. Let’s also (optimistically) say that you send in your shoes before they needed any rand repair or extensive work, so a half resole is all you need.
That means that your starting costs are going to be around $38.
If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of a resoler like this, that’s your total. You get a brand new sole’s worth of climbing for just under $40.
If, like many, you don’t live near a reputable resoler, you would need to ship your shoes. Shipping to the resoler is on you — depending on method, it usually costs $7-$13.
Companies are happy to ship your shoes back to you, but they’ll add another charge of $7-$10 to cover the cost. That means that you’re looking at an extra $20 or so if you have to ship your shoes.
This obviously gets more efficient if you resole multiple pairs at the same time. You can send them all in the same box or bag, and companies don’t charge as much for shipping on additional pairs.
Still, if you have to ship your shoes, that puts you at a grand total of somewhere around $58.
Are these prices worth it?
As usual, it depends on the climber and the shoes. If you have a pair of La Sportiva Solutions in great condition, $58 is a steal for getting them with a brand new sole (given that a new pair will set you back a cool $180). If what you’re resoling are some smelly ancient gym beaters that weren’t even that nice to begin with, then the choice is a little more difficult.
Rock and Resole also sells new shoes, so I asked if there was a point where Rickard might generally recommend buying a new pair over getting a resole. “Depending on shoe value, when we start getting into the $80 mark of repairs,” he says.
Past that, he often recommends buying a new shoe (and learning the best practices for getting the most out of them).
As an alternative, you can sometimes find new or lightly-used shoes on sale for less than $100, and in some rare cases it might actually be a better deal to hunt for a fresh pair.
By and large, however, resoling is still a cost-effective way to get new rubber. It has the added advantage of being more eco-friendly: the more you resole, the fewer pairs of shoes you have to throw away.
Plus, you get to hang onto that sentimental pair that helped you send your first 5.10.
Which Resoler Should I Use?
Note: This is another big question, and it’s one that we are determined to find the answer to. If you’ve had experience (good or bad) getting your shoes resoled, head over to our poll and let us know who your favorites (or least favorites) are.
There are only two factors to weigh here. One is the quality of the resole, and the other is the proximity of the resoler.
If you just want a high-quality resole, stick to the well-known companies. There are lots of recommendations in forums and climbing communities, and most will do a fairly good job.
If it’s going to save you a bunch of money on shipping, it may be worth looking at your local option (check our directory of resolers to see who’s nearby). If you’re lucky, they might do a good enough job to get you by. If they do an atrocious job, it might be worth shipping your shoes out anyway.
What Type of Rubber Should I Choose? What Thickness?
When you do get your shoes resoled, you’ll have to choose what you’d like the sole to look like. Most resolers offer a couple different thicknesses and several different types of rubber.
With regard to thickness, 4 mm is the industry standard. You might get a slight durability increase with a 5 mm sole, but usually it will alter the feel and performance of your shoes (most of which are designed for a 4 mm sole).
Rickard says he generally only recommends a 5 mm sole for a pair of beater, intro-level shoes that you want to turn into your gym pair. For best performance, stick to 4 mm.
The two most common types of rubber are Vibram XS Edge and Stealth C4, although a host of high-performance varieties are now available. Both are thoroughly excellent all-around performers.
Are there differences?
“With the premium rubbers, there are nuances but they are not game changers,” says Rickard. “I feel like you have to get into easily ten to twenty shoes of different models to start understanding the differences.”
In practice, I’ve had both varieties hold up just fine, and both perform well. What type of rubber you get is down to personal preference, climbing style, and shoe type. When in doubt, go with the rubber that’s closest to the one your manufacturer used (or just the one that your resoler recommends).
How Should I Ship My Shoes to the Resoler?
Unless you have a discount with a certain company, USPS is usually your best option.
For single pairs, the Priority Mail Flat Rate Padded Envelopes work well.
For double pairs, a small box works well, or you can reportedly fit two pairs in a Tyvek envelope.
Don’t worry about damaging your shoes in the mail. “As much as we abuse our shoes, [mailing] doesn’t have an affect on them,” says Rickard. Rock and Resole prefers envelopes because they help cut down on waste and shipping costs for both customer and resoler.
If you do use a box, you can fill excess space with newspaper. Don’t send any carabiners or extra pieces with your shoes — they may not come back. Many resolers require that you put your order number on your box or on a slip inside, so make sure you follow their instructions.
Shoe Management Beta
Most resolers (especially the more popular ones) will have a substantial turnaround time, usually somewhere from 2-8 weeks. Turnaround times are getting longer: “Climbing’s just a popular sport and all. Everybody’s seen that increase,” says Rickard.
If you only have one pair of shoes, a month or two is a long time to depend on rentals or friends. Instead, it’s best to have at least one backup pair that you can climb in while yours are being resoled. Resolers do their best (hopefully), but they can’t always control how many orders they get or how long repairs might take, so you never quite know when you’ll get your shoes back.
This is one of the big downsides of resoling. If you buy a new pair, you get to start climbing right away. If you have multiple pairs in your rotation, waiting isn’t as big an issue. Many climbers will have different shoes for different disciplines, so you’ll have to come up with a system that works for you.
How Many Times Can I Resole a Pair of Climbing Shoes?
This depends entirely on your shoes and usage, as well as how diligent you are about resoling them at the right time. “For customers, I push for them to get three resoles,” says Rickard. “People who have learned about that, and if they’ve done really well, and if they’ve taken care of their shoes, then we can get five.”
Resolers are generally pretty creative about finding ways to repair shoes, so the real question becomes: how many resoles can a shoe take before it’s worth getting a new pair?
That depends entirely on you, your budget, and what you want out of your shoes.
Rickard told me about a pair of his own shoes that he resoled a record thirteen times — and apparently they’re still being climbed on.
Can I Resole My Climbing Shoes Myself?
If you’re a little handy, yes. Five Ten sells ready-to-go resole kits with Stealth C4 rubber, although they’re out of stock at the time of writing.
You need some tools (knife, sandpaper, and pliers at minimum), plus a little time to spend on the project. Theoretically, that’s slightly cheaper than a dedicated resoler, but there are some qualifications.
First, to do a good job, you’ll probably need to spend a little extra on things like rubber paint, extra tools, etc.
And secondly, most report that even with time and care, DIY resoles don’t hold up quite as well. “Depending on what you want to get out of your resole, I more often than not will have people send them to me after they have attempted it,” says Rickard.
Kits can be a great way to learn more about shoes and the process of resoling, but they’ll seldom beat a resoler in terms of value.
Resoling Approach Shoes & Custom Builds
Many resolers will resole approach shoes with dot rubber for around $50. If you have to ship your shoes, that’s around $70 for a fresh sole.
That’s still less than most approach shoes on the market, but by a much slimmer margin. If you really love your approachers or you’re regularly wearing through soles, it could be a good option.
Rock and Resole (along with most resolers) is also very willing to customize shoes (approach or otherwise) for specific needs. “I’ve had customers who have had injuries where they cannot wear a performance climbing shoe, and we start with an approach shoe for them to climb in, and we get a couple resoles out of that,” says Rickard.
He’s customized shoes for uniquely shaped feet, restored a pair of Dean Potter’s old shoes, and even customized shoes for dancers. Most modifications come at a price, but if it’s the only option, the investment can can still be worthwhile.
Special thanks to Colby Rickard for taking the time to help us out. He and Sally Gilman own and run Rock and Resole, my personal favorite resoler and a standard in the industry. You can find them online or at 2500 47th St Suite 1, Boulder, CO.