Just in case you were wondering things weren’t always this way.
Look at perhaps any activity which requires footwear and you’ll see they all wear socks (except perhaps ballet where they use tights!).
So, why oh why, do the majority of climbers not wear socks with climbing shoes?
In this article we have a quick look at some of the reasons that you would, or wouldn’t, want to rock a nice pair of thick tennis sock in your prized climbing shoes.
But at the end of the day, it’s all down to fashion! And as they say fashion fades, style endures!
A (Very Very) Brief History
In the early dirtbag days of the 20th century, climbers simply used hiking boots to climb in. And you would always therefore wear socks with these.
No questions. Nothing else existed…
This carried on all the way to the 70’s and 80’s and even with the arrival of the first EB’s or PA’s, people used to rock socks.
The first real modern(ish) climbing shoes such as the Boreal Fire and the La Sportiva Mariacher were still worn with socks by the big guns of the day.
As the design, build and perfection of making precise climbing shoes evolved in the late 80’s and early 90’s, people slowly started to go commando.
The finish of inners and seams became smoother, allowing for a more comfortable shoe, plus the fitting of the shoes became much more precise and tight. Shoe manufacturers also started to consider that people would be wearing the barefoot.
Since then most climbers have continued to rock ‘dem boys bareback and if you’re wearing socks at the local gym you’re likely to stick out. Remember ladies, it’s all about style and fitting in!
Other than that however, there are definitely pros and cons of smashing socks in your climbing shoes. There’s times when it’s a good idea to wear a thin sock and sometimes less so…
Let’s have a looksie at some of the pros and cons.
Wearing Socks with Climbing Shoes: The Pros
Wearing climbing shoes can sometimes be uncomfortable. You can get blisters from areas where your feet rub and hot spot areas from contact friction against the inner lining.
Also, if you’re going to be wearing your shoes for a long period such as when climbing outdoors on multi-pitches or crack-climbing, then adding a thin pair of socks can add a bit of padding and comfort between your precious little toes and the inside of your shoe.
Many climbers have a battered old pair of shoes which have been resoled countless times which they use for training.
There’s isn’t much point wearing your brand new $200 kicks to do laps in.
Wearing a pair of socks in these old stretched bad boys can help you get a bit of a tighter fit and correct sizing. In addition to providing a bit more comfort!
Aaaaah, a valuable point! Your warm sweaty feet will be working away while you climb and dripping nicely onto the inners of your shoes.
This will lead to your shoes getting damp and smelly, even more so if you have synthetic uppers which aren’t as smell resistant as leather. This warm humid environment can be a hot-bed for bacteria and fungus so wearing a pair of socks can create a nice little barrier between the two.
Also, very simply, a pair of socks will absorb the sweat from your feet, meaning your precious pumps will stay cleaner longer.
Talking of sweating, the humid environment of the insides of your climbing shoes will start to smell after a while. Especially if you haven’t been airing them out after a long training session.
If you wear socks during those long climbing endurance sessions, where your feet will be sweating bucket loads, then the socks will absorb most of the sweat leaving you with a less smelly shoe over the months 👃!
You can thank us later!
Heading outdoors for some crack-climbing? Then having a long pair of socks can help protect your ankles from all the rubbing and jamming against the rock.
If you have blisters or sensitive spots on your precious pinkies then socks will add a small layer of valuable protection.
Breaking in period
The breaking-in period can be one of the worst things about getting a new pair of climbing shoes.
Wearing a thin pair of socks initially can help break in the rubber by providing a bit more stretch, but also provides a handful of warmth to heat the rubber. A warmer rubber will stretch easier so helping the shoe to mould to your feet quicker.
Bear in mind that if you’re looking for a very precise shoe you don’t want to over-do this, so best to stick to a thin pair of sockies.
In line with what we said about hygiene and smell, wearing socks will simply absorb the sweat from your feet.
If you plan on doing endurance training or laps at the gym, your shoes will thank you later if you wear a thin antibacterial sock. Your can even wear the invisible ones to keep your street ‘cred!
It’s easy to forget that our feet sweat, but having a wiff of an old pair of synthetic, badly aired out climbing shoes will quickly remind you of this. All that sweat leads to terrible smells and even leads some climbers to change their shoes 3 times a year (statistics carried out at our local gym!).
Temperatures dropping a bit and your little toe pinky is feeling a bit on ice?! Look no further than to rock a pair of socks in your climbing shoes…
You might be happy to have them during those long winter months.
Wearing Socks with Climbing Shoes: The Cons
Whilst there seem to be quite a few possible advantages to wearing socks, what are the drawbacks?
Nowadays climbing shoe manufacturers develop shoes bearing in mind that most climbers wear them barefoot. The shape is therefore developed to fit precisely to your foot shape.
Inner seams and stitchings are perfected so that your feet should feel right without any socks on. If you need a pair of socks for your shoe to fit correctly, you’ve chosen the wrong size or model shoe.
Having an additional layer or sock on your feet can therefore lead to a less comfortable or precise fit.
This is one of the factors you hear most often when discussing socks with climbing shoes.
One of the advantages of modern sensitive climbing shoe rubbers is that it gives the possibility of feeling, or at least having a sense of feeling, the footholds on which you place your feet.
Knowing or feeling precisely how your feet are placed provides confidence to push hard on small footholds and can therefore help with your climbing.
Equally it helps with the precision of your foot placements.
Adding an additional barrier between your foot and shoe can reduce this, depending of course on the thickness of your sock.
Along with sensitivity this is perhaps equally important in the confidence it can give to climbers in their feet.
Generally you don’t want your feet to be moving around in your climbing shoes. This leads to slips, falls, injuries, climbing downtime, the end of the world basically! 😱💥
When to Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes
This would fall under the smelly, unhygienic category. Plus that lukewarm moisture isn’t your own! Popping on some socks won’t do any harm in this situation.
Using old shoes
Tighten up that that fit of your old dogs and provide a bit more comfort by wearing some socks.
Breaking in period
Wearing socks during this period will help generate some heat which will warm the rubber and provide a little extra pressure to break it in quicker.
Don’t over-do it though!
If you’re going to be doing laps and sweating a lot, wearing a pair of socks will help absorb the excess moisture and sweat from your feet, meaning your shoes wont get as smelly.
Always remember to air them out and dry them after. Plus don’t leave them at the bottom of your bag/wardrobe/garage in their humid state!
Crack climbing, multi-pitches or slab
When you’re going to be outdoors for a while and keeping your shoes on for long periods of time it’s best to forego the aggressive, asymmetric bouldering shoe and go for something a bit more comfort.
Crack climbing, trad or multi-pitches would definitely fall under this category.
Here you can definitely add a luxurious pair of socks, to keep your little piggies warm, comfy and pain-free.
If you have sweaty feet
For a similar reason as with rentals, you want to keep your climbing shoes high and dry for as long as possible.
This will keep them in good condition, climbing worthy and smell free for as long as possible.
Wearing a thin pair of socks will help absorb the sweatiness and keep your shoes emitting the gentle smell of warm summer breeze!
When Not to Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes?
Working on your proj’
Going hardcode and trying to send your latest project?
Do you need to push hard on a super steep wall with razor thin footholds?
Then having a tight secure fit with good sensitivity is a must here. You don’t want your foot slipping or having too much cushion.
Good fitting shoe
If your shoe has a good fit then wearing socks can ruin the fit by stretching them out more.
Given the pain some climbers go through to get that perfect shoe fit, it would be a pity to put all that to waste by stretching the shoes out too much.
The socks; which ones to wear!
Which socks should I wear? I hear you scream.
Given the possible loss in sensitivity, slippage and reduce fit, definitely air on the side of a thin pair. Leave the thick sports socks for tennis season.
Anti-bacterial is even better if you’re wearing rentals.
If you don’t want to cramp your style you can also wear invisible socks – no one needs to know!
Like many things in life it all comes down to personal taste!
There are times when wearing a sock can decrease your performance due to reduced sensitivity, possible slippage or changing the fit of your shoe slightly. But are you really always climbing at a level where that will make a difference?
Looking to send your latest project, then yes the socks probably wont help.
But otherwise, if you’re looking for a bit more comfort, warmth or additional hygiene in those rentals, rockin’ a pair of socks probably won’t do any harm.
Remember, it’s all about the style though!
Do you rock socks with your climber shoes or go commando?
Let us know below!