You can only rent climbing shoes for so long. Gym rentals are bulky, don’t fit well, and have seen tons of gross feet. One thing that may keep new climbers from buying shoes though is the high price.
Climbing shoes are so expensive for three reasons: there are poor economies of scale, they are handmade, and manufacturers use high quality proprietary materials. Climbing and bouldering shoes range in price between $50 and $200 USD, with more aggressive shoes being more expensive.
Other types of shoes, even special-interest shoes, have really come down in price over the last few decades thanks to modern manufacturing techniques and bulk orders. Climbing shoes have come down as well, but there are some factors that will likely keep them priced high.
What Makes Climbing Shoes So Expensive?
The cost of climbing shoes has really come down over the last decade as lots of new manufacturers have entered the market. You can realistically get set up with a full set of sport climbing gear for well under $500 USD. These are the three factors that really contribute to the cost of climbing shoes.
Economies of Scale
We’ve all gotten used to buying regular shoes for between $20 and $50. If you’re like me (hopefully you aren’t…) you have a closet of 20+ pairs of them. I think the most I’ve ever paid for a pair of regular shoes is about $50.
The reason high-performance shoes are so cheap these days is because of economies of scale. A factory somewhere in the world can make shoes nonstop all day every day. As they make more and more shoes, they come up with better manufacturing processes.
These processes lead to investments in new technologies like robots, that make it even easier to mass-produce products. The demand for shoes is pretty much infinite (pretty much everyone on earth needs shoes).
As climbing becomes more and more popular, manufacturers will be able to capitalize on these techniques and slowly lower their costs. For now, climbing is still relatively obscure, which keeps equipment expensive.
Additionally, big manufacturers are able to leverage their size to buy materials in bulk and design tons of the same style of shoe without changing production lines. This economic principle is called Economies of Scale.
Climbing shoes were first made by cobblers in Italy who made shoes for mountaineers. They were highly skilled, and worked directly with the climbers who would eventually wear the shoes. Many of these manufacturers are family-owned, and are still making climbing shoes today.
Climbing shoes are made by hand (for now at least). The process involves molding pieces of rubber and sewing and gluing the different pieces together so that they meet perfectly.
Unlike most shoes with thick padding, climbing shoes have no margin for error. If they’re too big or too small, they just won’t fit. Velcro shoes especially don’t mold around climber’s feet as well as laced shoes do.
Highly-skilled cobblers and craftsmen who make climbing shoes are more expensive than low-skilled laborers and robots. The increased quality inherent in the handmade makes them more expensive.
In addition to being handmade, climbing shoes usually have to be sold at gear shops rather than online. This is because they have a unique fit and offer special performance requirements.
Gear shops can’t just pay some random high school kid to sell the shoes; they need to find someone who knows what they’re doing and can answer questions and make recommendations.
Climbing shoes have to be able to take a beating. It’s not like your harness, that occasionally grinds into the rock wall- your shoes are down in the trenches on every single move.
Running shoes, even high-quality running shoes, will usually only last up to around 300 miles. Climbing shoes don’t even get near that (imagine climbing 300 vertical miles though…!).
The abrasiveness of the rock, along with the dirt and small pebbles you pick up, can grind through your shoes in a few months of consistent use. You can have your shoes resoled as they wear out, but there’s not much you can do when the uppers wear out due to crack climbing.
Learn how to take care of your Climbing Shoes here- How Can I Make my Climbing Shoes Last Longer?
Modern climbing shoes are either made out of leather or synthetic materials. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages, including fit, stretch, smell, and durability.
While the leather or synthetic uppers are made of somewhat expensive materials, the rubber heel cup, sole, and rand are really what can drive up the cost. Each brand uses its own proprietary mixes of rubber, and most use different mixes for different parts of the shoes.
Comparison to Other Sports and Activities
Rock Climbing shoes seem expensive compared to regular shoes, but how do they compare to shoes for other sports and activities? Here’s a quick breakdown-
- Hiking Boots: You can get a decent pair of hiking boots for $30, but nice pairs cost upwards of $80.
- Ski Boots: Ski boots cost upwards of $150.
- Basketball Shoes: There’s a big range for basketball shoes, but you’re usually looking at $50 to $150.
- Running Shoes: You can find a cheap pair of running shoes for around $40, but expensive pairs run up at around $100.
- Trail Running Shoes: A good pair of trail running shoes starts at about $75.
- Cycling Shoes: Shoes with clips for road or mountain biking cost between $40 and $150.
Climbing shoes, which cost between $50 and $150 on average, fit squarely in with these specialty shoes. They’re definitely more expensive than regular shoes, but that’s because they’re special shoes.
Are Expensive Climbing Shoes Worth It?
Expensive climbing shoes are no substitution for good technique and strength. Expensive shoes above about $100-$150 are designed for very specific types of climbing like crack climbing, overhung routes, and difficult bouldering problems.
For most of the climbing that the average climber does, a pair of $80 shoes is adequate. When you’re starting out, you can even go with a $50 pair as you learn what you’re doing.
Novice climbers tend to have poor footwork, scraping their toes on the wall and wearing through their shoes prematurely. As you get better, you learn to stick your footholds instead of dragging them. This helps your shoes to last a lot longer.
For most of us, the shoes are not the limiting factor. Take basketball for example- if you take the average person and put them in a pair of LeBron shoes, they won’t play any better than if they’re in a pair of $30 discount Reeboks.
For advanced athletes though, nice shoes can become a limiting factor. Work on getting your body in shape, and developing excellent technique before committing to expensive shoes. They are worth the price tag for athletes that are performing at the highest level.
Is it Worth Resoling Climbing Shoes? It is only worth resoling climbing shoes if the value of the shoes is more than the cost to resole- usually around $50. Shoes can only be resoled 3-4 times normally, as wear to the upper and rand is more difficult to repair.
How Long Does Climbing Shoe Rubber Last? Climbing Shoe rubber lasts 3-6 months if climbing multiple times a week, or up to 10 years if climbing infrequently. The rubbers starts to oxidize after a few years and becomes harder and less responsive, so even if you don’t wear them out they may need to be replaced.
Do Climbing Shoes Stretch Out? Unlined climbing shoes stretch out by as much as a full size. Lined climbing shoes do not really stretch out; however they do mold to your feet throughout your climbing session.
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