When it comes to footwear, socks are an absolute necessity. Could you imagine wearing your hiking boots, ski boots, or running shoes sans socks? You’d definitely have more blisters on your feet than toes in a matter of hours. That said, one of the most common questions among mountaineers is whether you should wear socks with climbing shoes.
Gone are the days when wearing socks with rock climbing shoes was the norm. Today, most climbers, especially the more experienced, usually prefer not to wear socks while climbing. Before specialized footgear, mountaineers wore boots with nails in the toes and paired them with thick socks.
Eventually, shoes with rubber high up the sides become more popular for technical rock climbing. In fact, the first rock climbing shoes with sticky rubber were introduced in the 1970s. Before then, people used to wear socks in climbing shoes.
Can you Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?
Well, the answer is yes. You can wear socks with rock climbing shoes if you want to. Indeed we’ve interacted with a sheer number of mountaineers who have been climbing for almost two decades now. Full disclosure, they often wear a thin ankle sock while climbing.
Rock Climbing Sock Timeline
Up until the last couple of decades, climbers used to wear socks while climbing. They would scale their projects in hiking boots throughout the early 20th-century, which were later swapped for tennis shoes alongside a thick pair of socks to help achieve a tighter fit in their boots.
The trend carried on up to the emergence of performance-based climbing shoes in the 70s and 80s, which marked a great step forward in the climbing footgear evolution. However, these shoes still didn’t provide the much-needed skin-tight fit like modern climbing shoes deliver.
Climbers began losing socks and going bareback in the 80s. Today, rock climbing shoes are designed for bare feet and almost all climbers don’t wear socks with their shoes. Below are the reasons why most climbers choose not to wear socks with climbing shoes:
Feel and Sensitivity
Shoes for mountaineers are meant to be worn tight. Not necessarily painful or uncomfortable, but still tight. Keeping your toes closer to the rock brings more feel as there’s less material in between. This feel and sensitivity are generally associated with a little more discomfort. Meanwhile, wearing socks can also mean your feet are more likely to slip around in the shoe, particularly when you start sweating.
Some would possibly argue that you don’t get more feel without socks- but that’s not entirely true. Provided you have a well-fitted pair of climbing shoes in the appropriate size, your forefoot will be in the right place and you’ll get the most feel.
Fit and Comfort
While comfort is probably the most important aspect, most people tend to wear socks either because they’re used to, or because the shoes at hand don’t feel so comfortable without socks. If your climbing shoes are fitted then you don’t need to wear socks.
Another thing to note is that feet are all shaped differently. This brings about the need to try several different models in different sizes to determine what works best for you. If you simply prefer to wear socks with your climbing shoes, maybe for comfort, it’s totally fine. Some shoes can rub too hard especially in areas where bumps or stitching isn’t hidden. Not to mention that some might force your feet into a weird position. So on the bright side, socks can provide that extra bit of space.
Rental Climbing Shoes
In case you don’t have your own climbing shoes, you can hire a pair from the gym. While rental shoes are mostly sprayed with disinfectant sprays after every use, we still wouldn’t recommend going barefoot. You might want to bring a pair of antimicrobial ankle socks, at least for hygiene’s sake. Such socks may give a little bit of comfort without losing much feel.
If you have an older pair that have stretched out, or you simply bought them too big, you can consider wearing socks in them. The socks will occupy the extra space and add comfort. It’s all common to have an old pair of shoes for gym sessions and workouts where footwear doesn’t have to be as precise as outdoors. Just keep in mind that socks can make shoes smell a tad worse, be sure to learn how to keep your shoe odor-free.
Pros of Wearing Socks With Rock Climbing Shoes
First off, socks are good at filling out big shoes. Having loose movements or dead spaces inside the shoes should be the priority. Avoid them like a plague. If the shoes are too big, they can make your feet slip and cause uncomfortable rubbing, and eventually lead to the development of blisters. Since smaller shoes aren’t an option, a good pair of socks might just help deal with some of that extra space.
Socks are more hygienic. This is especially important if you’re planning to use rental shoes. Feet are naturally warm, especially during performances. That means they can turn out to be sweaty breeding grounds for microbes and fungus. For instance, if one of the anonymous folks who have worn the rental shoes had a fungal infection or a dermatological condition, there is certainly a chance that it could be passed on if the shoes haven’t been properly cleaned between uses.
Socks will keep your shoes from smelling and may even help if your feet are prone to over sweating. Good socks will wick some of that sweat foot and save your rock climbing footgear from bearing the brunt of your sweaty trotters.
A good pair of socks can help reduce chafing. If the shoes are causing you pain, for instance, in some high-rubbing areas, a thin pair of socks will add a layer of protection and make the socks agreeable for wearing all day long.
Cons of Wearing Socks with Rock Climbing Shoes
As we all know, socks generally reduce the feel/sensitivity and your ability to experience the rock. Perhaps this is the main reason why most gym enthusiasts ditch out the socks. The more layers you wear, the harder it becomes to feel what’s beneath you. But with lightweight socks, then there’ll be little to no effect on your shoe climbing ability.
Another gripe most climbers have with socks is that the feet become more prone to slipping, especially on a chunky heel hook. When working a boulder problem that involves a gnarly heel hook, most climbers find that heel is more prone to slip inside the shoe than it is without socks.