Generally speaking, yes, your climbing shoes can get wet while not experiencing any significant damage, though I would strongly suggest you try to keep them as dry as possible throughout their lifetime. Water will not destroy your shoes and generally, they are designed to withstand moisture with almost every use as you most likely sweat and contribute a bit of moisture on the inside. This is normal and to be expected. Your shoes won’t be destroyed if they get wet on the outside. However, if you want maximum traction when climbing, water can greatly reduce friction against rock or plastic. It is not always the safest to climb in wet conditions and you should consider your routes and locations wisely.
Protect Your Chalk Bag or get Liquid Chalk
Your chalk bag should be water-resistant since wet, lumpy chalk is useless. Having too much wet chalk inside of your chalk bag can destroy the bag entirely, so be sure to seal your chalk bag tightly before exposure to water. A tip is to avoid traditional chalk and use liquid chalk instead when climbing in wet conditions.
Should I Wash My Climbing Shoes?
You can and should wash your climbing shoes. They will get smelly from all of your sweat, and generally dirty from prolonged use. The main takeaway is to make sure they are completely dried out before use to avoid mold from accumulating and ultimately rendering your shoes useless and unusable.
How Can I Wash these Smelly Things Without Ruining Them?
There will come a time when you really need to wash your climbing shoes. They have a tendency to get offensively smelly, and you don’t want to expose climbing friends to the perils of your shoe odors. First things first: prevention is key to avoiding this level of climbing shoe smell. Most of us will climb in our shoes without socks, which is preferred but can create more odors and sweat. It is crucial to allow your shoes to dry completely after a climbing session. Do not put your shoes inside a backpack or any enclosed space as they are less likely to dry completely. It’s best to hang them to dry; I usually just clip my shoes on the outside of my bag with a carabiner and that works well enough. However, this will not stop you from needing to eventually clean your climbing shoes. It will become unavoidable if you crush hard on the daily.
Hand Wash Your Shoes Please!
You should clean your climbing shoes by hand washing them with warm water and a mild detergent. Use a rag or brush to scrub, focusing a lot on the inside. Wash thoroughly, probably a few times, to really clean the insides. Afterward, allow your shoes plenty of time to dry completely. Place them near a fan or heater, but not directly exposed. You can also fill the shoes with newspaper to absorb moisture, but be sure to change them out regularly. If you don’t allow your shoes to dry completely, mold and mildew can accumulate. This can cause serious odors in your shoes that is very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
Climbing in Wet Conditions – Avoid the Lichens!
Climbing with wet shoes in wet conditions can greatly reduce friction between your foot and the rock! That’s not a good thing! However, there are many variables involved in this which can improve or reduce your climbing experience such as rock type, shoe type, and weather conditions. Certain rock types are worse in wet conditions than others, such as limestone and sandstone. Climbs that require smearing and friction slabs are much more difficult in wet conditions and can be very slippery and unsafe. Lichens can greatly reduce the friction when wet as well and routes that harbor these life forms should be avoided. Some routes can be destroyed and should not be climbed in the rain, such as certain types of sandstone. It is prohibited in certain parts of Utah and Nevada, for example, to climb when it’s wet because it can destroy the rock. Sandstone is porous, like a sponge, and can become softer and weaker when wet, which can cause holds to wear away and even break off. It can also weaken protection, as cams can slip out more easily and bolts can be less secure. In order to be sure if the climb is dry enough before climbing, check for moisture in the soil at the base, noticeable wet spots in the rock, or wet foliage and or sand inside of pockets on the route. (“Wet Sandstone.”)
Do I Just Pack Up and Go Home if it Rains?
However, it is still possible to climb when it’s raining. Overhanging jug hauls shouldn’t be too affected by wet conditions, particularly if it’s just a light rainfall. If it begins to rain when you’re climbing, seek out climbs with overhanging roofs above them, or routes that are overhung as they are less likely to become saturated with water, and are more likely to have larger holds which can still be gripped decently when wet. Consider climbing below your grade and not embarking on a long multi-pitch climb in wet conditions and always make sure you bring proper rain gear and a dry rope.
What about Deep Water Soloing?
Deep water soloing, or psicobloc, is a unique form of rock climbing where one climbs without a rope over a body of water. It is inherently wet, as you rely on the water for protection in case of a fall. Chris Sharma has made this sport immensely popular with his famous overhanging routes in Mallorca and features in climbing films such as Reel Rock. I am willing to bet, however, that since he is sponsored by big names such as Petzl and Evolv, that he has an abundant supply of climbing shoes to cycle through when his get wet from a deep water solo fall. However, it is not a bad idea to bring extra shoes if you have them at your disposal when attempting to deep water solo. In between climbs, try to dry your shoes as much as possible. There are certain aids to assist in quicker drying such stuffing newspapers inside your shoes, and even TV’s most famous ShamWow. Do not place your climbing shoes directly in the sunlight. It is worth noting that your climbing shoes may never be the same again after, for various reasons such as always staying stinky or being stretched beyond repair. If this is of concern, then limit your shoes to an old pair that you don’t care too much about or buy a pair devoted just to deep water soloing. (The BMC.)
Leather VS Synthetic
There are two main materials used for climbing shoes: leather and synthetic. There are pros and cons to both materials but synthetic shoes are better for climbing in wet conditions. Synthetic shoes will dry faster and not stretch too much when wet, allowing you to maintain control more in the shoe. Therefore, synthetic shoes are recommended for deep water soloing. Leather shoes have a higher tendency to stretch with use and will especially stretch more when wet. When they dry, they will shrink and be very stiff and difficult to put on. However, the leather can be stretched back again over time. Also, be wary of getting dyed leather shoes wet, as they have been known to stain your feet for upwards of weeks at a time! (“Shoes for DWS?”)
In conclusion, when you are about to embark on a climbing adventure where your shoes may get wet, please consider the rock type, conditions and the type of shoe you’re wearing in order to maximize safety and fun when climbing.
Where Can I Get a Good Pair?
Our team here at The Climber’s Edge spends many hours each month researching and in some cases testing out our recommended products so you don’t have to go through the agony of time and bandwidth doing it yourself. Of course, it only works if you trust us, so we really hope we have some level of your trust (or at least we’re making headway!). In any case, we do have some excellent recommendations for shoes in our Buying Guide Section you can see right HERE!
“Climb Skills: How to Go Deep-Water Soloing.” The BMC, www.thebmc.co.uk/climb-skills-how-to-go-deep-water-soloing.
“About Chris Sharma.” Chris Sharma, www.chrissharma.com/about-chris/.
“Shoes for DWS?” Mountain Project, www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/111935713/shoes-for-dws.
“Wet Sandstone.” Mountain Project, www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/106632704/wet-sandstone.