Your shoes stink!

Care and feeding of your climbing shoes. Part 1

The first in a series on 'how to best care for climbing equipment';
this time we look at
storage of shoes.

  "Hey man, those shoes STINK!!!" And before you ask; No, it has nothing to do with the price! It's simply that I can tell by the "aroma" who's causing the "problem".

If this sounds a little too familiar or you would like to learn the basics of climbing shoe care, read on.

One of the main reasons for smelly shoes, is that they do not completely dry-out between uses. Your shoes become micro-environments for millions of new climbing partners! Here's the cause of some of those new partners, and the antidote to most of them!

 "  Cotton liners in leather shoes take many hours to dry; especially when both layers have been soaked through from a hard climbing or bouldering session. Midsoles and heel counters (stiffeners) vary in absorbency: many of which are made from pressed paper and take almost forever to dry!

    Store the shoes only after they have completely dried out, or a huge variety of bacteria will remain and multiply. Not only will your shoes stink, but the bacteria weaken fibers and the shoes will not perform as well or last as long as they would otherwise.

    Air-dry your shoes. When you are done climbing, leave the shoes where ventilation can do it's work.

    Hiking out? Put your shoes on top of the pack instead of inside it.

    I set mine in front of a fan when I get home. Never use a heater or blow dryer as this will damage the leather and may liquify the glue that holds (bonds) the shoe together. Melting the glue don't do shoes, bonded under tension, any good! Some of us climb so often that the shoes are moist more often than they are dry. They'll get populated regardless. The solution is two or three pairs of shoes. This will ensure proper drying, and for the bacteria friendly, warm and moist envronment to be interrupted long enough to prevent the stink.

 "  After the shoes are dry, and that can take days, it is time to put them somewhere.

    But where?

    Away from heat. By storing the shoes away from heat, you can minimize leather and adhesive damage; preserving both fit and durability. Do not leave your climbing shoes in the trunk of your car or in a room near a water heater!

    Away from direct sun or flourescent lights. UV destroys the uppers and dries out what "used to be sticky" rubber.

    Away from Ozone. Ozone in the air destroys the sticky nature of the rubber; making it stiffer and less sensitive. Once dry, shoes can be wrapped in plastic or put into a coated stuff bag. (One fanatic, I know, uses Tupperware!)

 "  Do not store your shoes at the bottom of your pack, with your rack, or other heavy items on top of them. I ruined a pair of shoes by leaving a heavy item on them. The heel counters in both shoes wrinkled and they became unwearable. The worst was: I did not know that it had happened until I arrived at the crags with only that pair of shoes! And, of course, I was guiding that day! In a pair of running shoes!!

 "  Do your shoes have cotton liners or a cotton upper? (You aren't still climbing in EBs are you?) If so they may have a tendency to "curl" or have the uppers shrink and shorten after getting really damp.

    Dry the shoes on shoe trees, extended to the length of your shoes, and you will still be able to fit your foot inside, next time you use them. (You could climb in a cotton-lined pair of shoes for years, and not have a problem. Then you do that off-width on a blistering hot day and really soak your shoes... Next time your wife's feet justfit in them!)

 "  Dirty uppers will cause your shoes to wear out faster.

    Always store your shoes clean. Use a vacuum and a brush on the uppers and a damp cloth on the soles. Tiny sand or rock crystals, embedded in the material, will cut the fibers and reduce their lifespan.

 "  Take off your climbing shoes when you are done climbing.

Incredible to think that this point needs mentioning, but listen to this: I'm standing in the newly repaved parking lot of my climbing shop, when one of our "locals" arrive. (Bear in mind that this is a newly repaved area - sticky black oil covering a sea of little rocks!) Smiles from ear to ear, Mr "local" springs out of his car, shouting, 'Hey Ed! Man, you can't believe how much better I'm climbing in these new shoes!!!' The very pair of shoes that he was wearing right then, right there! His "new" shoes now thoroughly impregnated with rock-shards and wet, slippery, black oil, mr "local" suddenly had two pairs of old, non-sticky shoes!! (The moral of the story? If you want your shoes to retain their stickyness, don't use them as parking lot slippers!!!)

 "  All of this is good and fine for new shoes, but my shoes already STINK!

    Don't despair, there is a cure! Dry them out; give them a good and wet dose of Lysol and then dry them again. Take heart, they can't smell worse than some of my old customer's shoes did, before I discovered Lysol! WHEW!

Bob Horan would say 'you do not need to bother with shoes; chalk up those feet, and go!' If only we were fitted with rubber soles...

©  Ed, 26 May 96.
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