Do You Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?

by | Apr 6, 2023 | Climbing

There’s an ongoing debate within the climbing community about whether or not it’s appropriate to wear socks with climbing shoes, but that isn’t necessarily the best question to ask. A better question is, when should I wear socks with climbing shoes? Let’s explore the history of climbing shoes, the importance of feel and sensitivity, and the pros and cons of wearing socks with climbing shoes. We’ll also provide guidance on choosing the right socks for different climbing scenarios and answer frequently asked questions.

Climbing Shoes History

The evolution of rock climbing shoes has seen many changes over the years, starting from thick boots fitted with nails to enhance grip on rocky surfaces. Before the rock climbing boom in the 1970s, climbers relied on canvas athletic shoes, known as pumps or plimsolls, which featured thick rubber soles for better traction.

As the sport gained popularity in the 1980s, a shift towards climbing without socks emerged. Advancements in climbing shoe technology fueled this change as manufacturers began designing models specifically intended for bare feet use. The focus on shoes that catered to bare skin allowed climbers to experience increased sensitivity, precision, and control during their climbs.

This transformation in climbing shoe design revolutionized the sport, enabling climbers to push the limits of what was possible and illustrating the continuous pursuit of innovation and adaptation to meet the ever-evolving needs of climbers.

For a cool visual representation of this journey, watch this YouTube video.

Feel & Sensitivity

Feel and sensitivity play crucial roles in climbers’ performance, dictating how well they can navigate and grip surfaces during a climb. As a result, the relationship between a climber’s foot and their climbing shoes becomes an essential factor in determining success on the rock.

Specialized climbing shoes are designed to maximize grip and provide climbers with the tactile feedback necessary for precise movements. The close contact between the shoe’s rubber and the climber’s foot allows for a better perception of subtle changes in rock surfaces, resulting in improved footing and overall balance.

One of the primary reasons climbers may choose not to wear socks with their climbing shoes is the potential reduction in feel and sensitivity. Socks can create a barrier between the climber’s foot and the shoe, dampening the tactile feedback received from the rock. This can make finding suitable footholds challenging, as well as maintaining balance and executing precise moves during a climb.

Moreover, diminished sensitivity can affect a climber’s confidence in navigating challenging routes. It may also increase the risk of slipping and other accidents due to less accurate foot placements. In essence, choosing to forgo socks when wearing climbing shoes enables climbers to maximize their connection to the rock, enhancing their ability to make delicate and precise movements essential for successful ascents.

Fit & Comfort

Achieving the right balance between fit and comfort in climbing shoes is essential for performance and enjoyment. A well-fitting shoe should be snug, hugging the foot closely without causing pain or discomfort. This secure fit allows climbers to maintain control and precision during their ascent, ultimately enhancing their climbing experience.

Many climbers prefer to wear their shoes without socks to achieve this optimal fit. Going sockless can improve the shoe’s adherence to the foot, providing a more seamless connection between the climber and the rock. This close fit offers better control and allows for greater sensitivity and tactile feedback, which are all critical for successful climbing.

However, it is essential to note that individual preferences and foot shapes can vary, and what works for one climber may not work for another. The key is to find the right combination of fit and comfort that allows for optimal performance while ensuring the climber’s well-being during their time on the rock.

Get The Right Shoes As A Beginner

For beginners venturing into the world of climbing, finding the right pair of shoes can significantly impact their overall experience and progress. Striking a balance between comfort and performance is vital for those new to the sport, as it helps them build confidence and develop their skills.

Try on multiple pairs and brands of climbing shoes to find the best fit for your foot shape and climbing style. Each brand has its unique sizing, shape, and design, so exploring different options will increase your chances of finding the perfect pair for your needs.

Consulting a professional at a local climbing gym or gear shop can be incredibly helpful in finding your first pair of climbing shoes. These experts can provide valuable guidance on proper sizing, fit, and shoe recommendations based on your climbing preferences and goals. By investing time and effort in finding the right shoes as a beginner, you’ll set yourself up for a more enjoyable and successful climbing journey.

The Pros & Cons of Wearing Socks With Climbing Shoes

There are various reasons climbers may wear socks with their climbing shoes. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this decision.


Your Shoes are Too Big:

If you’ve accidentally purchased climbing shoes that are too big, a thin pair of socks can be a temporary solution to fill in the extra space and improve the fit. However, if your shoes are more than a size too big, socks may not be enough to compensate for the size discrepancy, and it’s better to invest in a properly fitting pair. But remember, the best solution is always well-fitting shoes from the beginning.

Breaking in a New Pair of Shoes

The break-in period for new climbing shoes can sometimes be uncomfortable as the materials stretch and mold to the shape of your feet. A thin pair of socks during this time can offer additional cushioning and protection, helping to minimize discomfort and prevent blisters. The extra layer provided by the socks can ease the initial tightness of the shoes and reduce friction between your feet and the shoe’s interior. However, it’s essential to monitor the fit closely and eventually transition to sockless climbing if that’s your goal, ensuring optimal performance and sensitivity once the shoes are broken in.

Old, Stretched-Out Shoes

Climbing shoes stretch out over time, affecting their fit and support. In such cases, a thin pair of socks can improve the fit by filling in the extra space and providing additional support. Old, stretched-out shoes may still have value for training purposes, such as warm-ups or practicing routes with less complex footwork, where comfort is a priority.

While these well-worn shoes can be incredibly comfortable, their structural integrity may be compromised, leading to reduced performance. Using socks can help bridge the gap, providing a temporary solution until you invest in a new pair of climbing shoes.

Wearing Rental Shoes

When using rental climbing shoes from a local gym, wearing thin socks is a good idea for several reasons. Firstly, rental shoes are often stretched out and not molded to your specific foot shape, so wearing socks can help fill the gap and improve the fit. Secondly, multiple users frequently wear rental shoes, exposing you to a higher risk of contracting germs and bacteria. Wearing socks can act as a barrier, providing extra protection and hygiene. Overall, they enhance the fit and comfort of rental shoes and promote a cleaner climbing experience.

It’s a great time to wear socks if you’re using rental shoes.


For some climbers, wearing socks can significantly enhance overall comfort, particularly during extended climbing sessions. Socks can provide additional cushioning, reduce friction between the foot and shoe, and help prevent blisters or hot spots. This added layer of protection can make a noticeable difference in comfort levels, allowing climbers to focus more on their technique and performance. Furthermore, socks can help maintain a more consistent temperature inside the shoe, providing warmth on colder days or wicking away moisture on hot days. Ultimately, choosing socks for comfort depends on personal preference and individual needs.


Climbers with sweaty feet may benefit from wearing socks with their climbing shoes. Socks, especially those made from moisture-wicking materials like Merino wool or synthetic fibers, can help absorb sweat and keep the feet dry. This reduces the chance of slipping inside the shoe, improving overall stability and control during a climb. Additionally, dry feet can help prevent the development of blisters, hot spots, or other discomforts associated with excessive moisture. By wearing socks, climbers with sweaty feet can enjoy a more secure and comfortable climbing experience.

To Prevent Odors

Socks are a barrier between your feet and the shoes, absorbing sweat and reducing direct contact between your skin and the shoe’s interior. This helps minimize bacteria buildup that can cause foul smells over time. By keeping your feet dry and reducing bacterial growth, socks can prolong the freshness of your climbing shoes and make them more enjoyable to wear, ultimately contributing to a more pleasant climbing experience.


In colder conditions or during outdoor climbing sessions in chilly weather, wearing socks with your climbing shoes can offer an added layer of insulation to help prevent cold toes. Socks made from materials like merino wool or other thermal fabrics can help retain heat and maintain a comfortable temperature inside the shoe.

This extra warmth contributes to overall comfort and helps maintain flexibility and circulation in the feet, which is essential for optimal performance during a climb.

Heel Slip

If you experience heel slip in your climbing shoes, wearing socks might help improve the fit and prevent your heel from lifting out of the shoe. The additional layer provided by the socks can create a snugger fit, filling any gaps between your heel and the shoe’s heel cup.

This results in better support and a more secure connection to the shoe, allowing you to focus on your climbing technique and performance without worrying about heel slip.


Foot Sensitivity

One of the potential drawbacks of wearing socks with climbing shoes is reduced foot sensitivity and tactile feedback. Socks create a barrier between your feet and the shoe’s rubber sole, which can dampen the sensations transmitted from the rock.

This reduced sensitivity can make it more challenging to feel the rock’s subtleties and find precise footholds, ultimately affecting your overall climbing performance.

Slip & Slide

Wearing socks with climbing shoes can sometimes lead to the undesirable consequence of your feet sliding around inside the shoe. This slippage can reduce stability and control during a climb, making it more challenging to maintain secure footing and execute precise movements.

A Tight Fit

For climbers who already have a snug-fitting pair of shoes, adding socks to the equation might make them uncomfortably tight. The extra layer of material from the socks can create pressure points, pinch the skin, and restrict circulation, leading to discomfort, numbness, or even pain during a climb. In such cases, wearing socks may hinder performance and negatively impact the overall climbing experience.

Adapt to the Situation

Ultimately, the decision to wear socks with climbing shoes depends on personal preferences and specific situations. Assess your comfort, the fit of your shoes, and the climbing you’ll be doing to make the best decision.

When to Wear Socks

Rental Shoes

As a beginner or when gym climbing without your shoes, rental shoes are a convenient option. These shoes are cleaned and sanitized after each use but remember that multiple climbers have worn them. Wearing socks adds a layer of hygiene for your comfort. Renting shoes also lets you test different models before investing in your own pair. Most gyms offer rentals for a small daily fee, and thin socks are recommended for the best fit and comfort while using rental climbing shoes.

Crack Climbing & Big Walls

Crack climbing often involves wearing socks with shoes, even for experienced climbers. Since cracks vary in size and shape, wearing socks can protect skin from scrapes when placing feet or calves into larger cracks.

Big wall climbs involve multiple pitches and can experience colder weather. In such situations, comfort becomes more important than pure performance. Climbers tackling big walls frequently opt for more oversized shoes and a thick pair of socks to keep their toes warm and comfortable throughout the climb.

Overly Sweaty

If you have overly sweaty feet, wearing socks can help wick away moisture and reduce the chances of slipping in your climbing shoes. Specialized socks made from moisture-wicking materials can also help prevent odors and improve comfort on hot, sweaty climbing days.

When NOT to Wear Socks?

When Socks Decrease Friction and Add Space Between Your Foot and the Wall

Wearing socks can decrease friction and add space between your foot and the wall, reducing the sensitivity you need to feel holds on the climbing wall. Climbing shoes are already equipped with texture and cushioning for added comfort, including support for heel hooks. Therefore, many climbers opt to forgo socks in favor of a more direct and sensitive connection to the rock.

When Socks Change How Your Shoes Fit

If socks are worn too often during every climbing session, the shoes will never mold to your actual foot shape. This can affect sensitivity and performance over time, and it’s essential to find a balance between comfort and a close fit that allows for optimal control and precision while climbing.

When Your Shoes Are Already Too Tight

When your shoes are too tight, adding socks can make them even more uncomfortable. Climbing in shoes that are too snug is not recommended.

What Socks Should I Wear With Rock Climbing Shoes?

Choosing the right socks is crucial if you decide to wear socks with your climbing shoes. Here are some recommendations for various climbing scenarios:

Socks for Crack Climbing

Wear thin socks made from durable materials to help protect your feet from abrasion and discomfort while crack climbing.

Climbing Socks

Some companies manufacture socks specifically designed for climbing. These socks tend to be thin, moisture-wicking, and have a low profile to minimize bulk inside the shoe.

Multisport Ultralight

Ultralight multisport socks made from moisture-wicking materials like merino wool can be a good option for climbers who prefer socks. These thin, breathable socks provide a minimal barrier between your foot and the shoe.


Do elite climbers wear socks?

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and comfort. Some elite climbers wear socks with their climbing shoes, while others do not. Elite climbers may prioritize sensitivity and precision, choosing not to wear socks, but others might prefer the comfort and protection that socks can provide.


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