I have two pairs of rock shoes that are getting very slick soles. I only occasionally climb, so they are still in great shape and I can’t justify buying a new pair. What can I do to get another season or two out of them?
The process that causes rubber bands, condoms and wetsuits to lose their elasticity—oxidation—also causes climbing rubber to harden and get slick as it ages. This is why factory-fresh shoes feel so sticky, while older shoes feel slippery. Oxidation is as unavoidable as the piles, but is usually offset by the simple fact that when you climb, you grind off rubber, removing the oxidation, continuously exposing a fresh layer of sticky rubber. In your case, you are in a cycle as vicious and predictable as a nuclear reaction: the less you climb the more your shoe rubber oxidizes, the slicker it gets, the less enjoyable your climbing experience, the less often you’ll go climbing.
Break the cycle, Jerry! Freshen up your shoes by using a sheet of coarse sandpaper to scrub off that oxidized rubber. Depending on the depth of the oxidation, this could be an easy to difficult task. Stay at it until you are down to the good, sticky meat. You’ll know when. Worst case, the rubber is oxidized all the way through. If that’s so, you still don’t require new shoes—send those suckers to a good resoler such as the Rubber Room and let the pros reshoe them with new sticky rubber.
Whether you sand your soles or get your shoes resoled, you can slow oxidation by storing your shoes in a Ziploc bag. Put the shoes in there, press out the air, and zip the bag shut. If you have funky toe fungus, dust the insides of your shoes with foot powder before bagging them up. Alternately, you can just go climbing more often and avoid all of the above. Next!