how to shrink climbing shoes

How to Shrink Climbing Shoes: Learn 6 Different Methods

One of the queries that you will often find on the trail is “How to shrink a pair of climbing shoes?” 

Last year, on a hiking tour, I found that my climbing shoes were not well-fitted. They were slightly loose. I tried wearing an extra pair of socks to fill the gap, and a few instant fixes simply worked. However, I knew these weren’t the ultimate solutions.

I had to know how to shrink climbing shoes. At that point, it was extremely necessary. 

After a few experiments and expert opinions, I got some fixes and tried them on the following tours. I’m sure that many of you face a similar problem like me and that’s why I thought I should share these methods with you. 

So, let’s see how to shrink climbing shoes.

Why Would You Care to Shrink Climbing Shoes? (4 Reasons)

The problem is most of the backpackers will only figure out that they need to shrink their climbing shoes while they are climbing! 

You need to shrink climbing shoes for numerous reasons. Mostly, you will find a solution for achieving a better fit and enhancing your climbing performance.

Here are the four key reasons why people choose to shrink their climbing shoes:

  1. Improved Fit

Climbing shoes are specifically designed to fit snugly around the foot. A tighter fit is essential for climbers, as it provides better control and sensitivity when scaling rocks or indoor climbing walls.

A snug fit minimizes any extra space inside the shoe, ensuring that the climber’s foot stays in close contact with the shoe’s surface. As a result, it improves grip and precision while climbing.

  1. Restore Original Tightness

Over time and with frequent use, climbing shoes can stretch and lose their initial snugness. This stretching occurs due to the natural flexibility of the shoe’s materials and the pressure exerted on them during climbing.

When climbing shoes become too loose, they may not provide the necessary support and responsiveness required for challenging climbs. Shrinking the shoes can help restore the original tightness, making them more effective.

  1. Enhanced Performance

Climbing is a physically demanding sport that requires precise footwork and control. Ill-fitting or loose shoes can hinder a climber’s performance, leading to discomfort and potential safety risks.

By shrinking their shoes, climbers can ensure a secure fit, enabling them to execute precise movements with confidence, particularly during technical and demanding climbing.

  1. Temporary Solution

Even though some methods can temporarily shrink climbing shoes, none of them provide a long-term solution.

Climbing shoes may expand again with use, especially if they are repeatedly exposed to heat or moisture. As a result, climbers may need to periodically employ shoe-shrinking techniques to maintain the desired fit.

So, people shrink climbing shoes primarily to enhance their fit and performance while climbing. That means that when your shoes don’t fit well because they are big, you will need to shrink them to fit them well.

Is Shrinking the Shoes a Permanent Solution?

Simply put, no. Shrinking climbing shoes is not a permanent solution. Climbing shoes are designed to fit snugly but can stretch and lose their tightness over time.

While some methods, like washing them in hot water or exposing them to cold temperatures, may temporarily restore a tighter fit, they do not offer a lasting solution.

These shoes often revert to their stretched state after being used a few times. It’s because the stretching is often caused by the inherent flexibility of the shoe materials and the stress endured during climbing.

Still, there are some methods that can provide a permanent solution, like using shoe cushions. However, I always recommend choosing the right shoe and changing the shoes if they need excessive shrinkage.

Different Methods to Shrink Climbing Shoes

As I’ve said before, there are different ways you can actually shrink your climbing shoes. I’m going to share all these methods because who knows which one will be effective for you?

Well, climbing shoes can be of different types and materials. So, you can’t expect that just any method will work on your shoe. You need to choose the right method to fix your shoes.

However, here are the methods that can really help shrink climbing shoes.

Method 1: Washing Your Shoes

The easiest, yet effective way to shrink climbing shoes is by washing them. When you wash the shoes, water will simply soften the shoe’s material. And then when the shoes are dry, it will promote shrinkage.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First, collect your essential equipment which are the mild detergent, lukewarm water, a soft brush or cloth, etc.
  • Now, fill your basin or sink with lukewarm water. You can take a bowl instead of using the basin.
  • Add a small amount of mild detergent to the water and mix it gently to create a soapy solution.
  • Soak the soft brush or cloth into the soapy water. Soak your shoes as well.
  • Now, clean the shoes inside and out using a brush or cloth.
  • After cleaning, rinse the shoes thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap residue. Squeeze out excess water, but don’t wring them.
  • Put your climbing shoes on your feet or stuff them with newspaper or shoe inserts to maintain their shape.
  • Leave them in a cool, dry place to air dry naturally. As they dry, the leather or synthetic material will shrink, conforming more closely to your foot shape.
  • Once they’re completely dry, try them on to assess the fit. If they’re still too loose, you can repeat the process.

Method 2: Heating Your Shoes

If you are living in hot and sunny climates, this method will be helpful for you. You can simply shrink your climbing shoes on a warm, sunny day with natural sunlight.

  • First, find a safe spot to place them outdoors. Ensure your climbing shoes are clean and free from dirt or debris. 
  • Find a spot that receives indirect sunlight.
  • Avoid placing your shoes directly under the harsh sun, as this can damage them. Instead, look for a shaded area that still gets plenty of sunlight.
  • Place your climbing shoes in this shaded but sunny area. Make sure they are not touching each other. 
  • Let them bask in the natural heat for several hours.
  • You should determine the time based on the intensity of the sun and how much you want to shrink your shoes. Check them periodically to gauge the progress.
  • Keep an eye on your climbing shoes to ensure they don’t over-shrink. You want to achieve the desired fit without damaging them. 
  • After a few hours, try on your shoes to see if they’ve shrunk to the desired size.
  • When they have cooled, try again to ensure they fit perfectly. Repeat the process if you need them to shrink more.

Method 3: Shrink Your Shoes by Wearing Socks

When dealing with climbing shoes that are too big, one effective trick I’ve tried is using socks to achieve a snug fit, especially during traditional climbing adventures.

I was actually on my way and didn’t find any way to change my bigger shoes. So, my fellow team member suggests wearing some socks to fill the gaps. Believe me, this simple hack worked. To fill the extra space, slip on some thicker socks.

You can also layer up with multiple pairs if you don’t have thicker ones on hand. These socks work like a filler, to make your shoes more comfortable.

As you climb, your feet naturally swell, which is where the magic happens. After a few hours on the rock, you can remove the socks, and voilà, your climbing shoes should fit like a glove, ensuring a secure and enjoyable climb.

Method 4: Freezing the Shoes

Even though it is a completely opposite method to the second one, it works too. In this process, you just need to freeze and thaw the shoes to shrink them.

Here is the simple process you should follow to shrink your climbing shoes using the freezing method:

  • Ensure your climbing shoes are clean and dry before starting.
  • Now, pack each shoe into a separate plastic bag and seal tightly to prevent moisture from entering.
  • Place the sealed bags with your climbing shoes in the freezer for at least 12 hours. The cold temperature will cause the shoe materials to contract.
  • Remove the shoes from the freezer and let them thaw at room temperature.
  • Once they are completely thawed, try them on to assess the fit. The shrinking effect should be noticeable, and the shoes should fit snugger.

If the fit is still not tight enough, you can repeat the process, but be cautious not to overdo it, as extreme temperature changes can damage the materials.

Method 5: Use Shoe Cushions

This is the best method for me to deal with big-sized climbing shoes. Shoe cushions are very effective in filling up the hollow space in your shoes.

You can purchase shoe cushions or inserts designed specifically for shrinking shoes. You will find them at shoe stores or online.

When you buy the right cushions, just place them into your climbing shoes. Make sure they are positioned in areas where you want the shoes to shrink, like the toe box or heel.

Finally, put on the climbing shoes with the inserted cushions and lace or strap them up tightly. You may need to apply pressure by flexing your feet, walking, or even climbing if possible.

Method 6: Stuff Your Shoes with Absorbent Materials

Finally, it’s another effective hack. You can simply use newspaper or other absorbent materials to shrink climbing shoes.

For this process, you will need old newspapers or other absorbent materials like rice, kitty litter, or packing foam. The process will go like this:

  • Stuff the climbing shoes with the chosen material until they are tightly packed. 
  • Ensure that every inch of the shoe is filled.
  • Let the shoes sit overnight with the stuffing inside. This gives the materials time to absorb moisture and reshape the shoes. 
  • Take out the newspaper or absorbent material from the shoes in the morning.
  • Finally, test the fit of the shoes. They should be tighter due to the moisture absorption and reshaping.

5 Things to Consider While Shrinking Climbing Shoes

Finally, I want to consider some facts before you try to shrink your climbing shoes. The following factors are essential, especially to maintain the quality of the shoes:

  1. Material and Construction

Different climbing shoe materials and construction methods may react differently to shrinking techniques. Consider the type of material your shoes are made of and their construction before proceeding with any shrinking method.

  1. Shoe Size

Be mindful of how much you want to shrink the shoes. Shrinking them too much can lead to discomfort or damage. So, you should start with a small adjustment and gradually work your way up if necessary.

  1. Shrinking Methods

You’ve already met different methods to shrink climbing shoes. Now, research and choose a method that suits your shoes’ materials and your comfort level with the process.

  1. Timing and Patience

Shrinking takes time and patience. So, follow the recommended instructions for specific methods and avoid rushing the process. Overexposure to heat or cold can damage the shoes.

  1. Post-Shrinking Care

After shrinking, let the shoes dry and return to room temperature naturally. Try to avoid wearing them immediately, as the materials may need time to settle.

Remember that shrinking climbing shoes may not provide a permanent solution, and you may need to repeat the process periodically as the shoes stretch with use.

Wrapping Up

I’m pretty sure that if you checked all the methods already, you now know what to do with your bigger-size climbing shoes. So, you no longer need to ask people about how to shrink climbing shoes.

Please be careful of the material and size of the shoes; that means how much you want them to be shrunk while following the process. If you have leather shoes, be careful while freezing and washing them.

Any process is good for climbing shoes with other materials. But don’t use the dryer or the oven, as they are risky methods.

Frequently Asked Questions


Should I shrink my climbing shoes using a dryer?

You shouldn’t use a dryer to shrink climbing shoes. High heat can damage the shoes and affect their performance. Safer methods like hot water soaking or freezing, are preferable.

Do climbing shoes stay shrunk?

Climbing shoes may temporarily stay shrunk after shrinking methods, but they can stretch again with use. Periodic re-shrinking may be necessary to maintain the desired fit and performance.

Should I shrink my climbing shoes using an oven?

Shrinking climbing shoes in an oven can be effective, but it’s risky if not done correctly. It’s crucial to follow precise guidelines and consider the shoe’s materials and construction before attempting this method.

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Behind Best Darn Product is Kevin Pena, a passionate blogger and e-commerce enthusiast based in Atlanta, Georgia. With his finger on the pulse of the ever-growing online marketplace, Kevin is dedicated to sharing his extensive knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for the products and services that shape our modern lives.

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