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Gear Guy

Are My Old Climbing Shoes Fixable or a Lost Cause?

How can I recondition my old shoes to get more pitches out of them?

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QUESTION: I always laugh when someone tells me that I better not get my shoes wet or, “You’ll ruin them!”

Ha! I like getting my shoes wet and have used the technique of water stretching many times, mostly at the crag, where you just wear your shoes into the river and then climb in them.

Very effective, yet to deal with my Barney-Rubble feet and to get into my old shrunken boots I have refined my technique, to wit: I get the expandable wood fake feet you put in fine shoes to keep them from shrinking. Then I cram these into my rock shoes. I then pour very hot tap water over the leather on my shoes, but also any area where you want the shoes to stretch. I let the shoes air dry and the results are significant.

Enough of my wisdom. My question is how can I recondition my old shoes to get more pitches out of them? The rand is not original, and before the water stretching it was already peeling a bit, and the super-stretch exaggerated it. What kind of glue or bonding element can I use to seal back up the rand? Should I just get my shoes resoled and can I even get these old shoes resoled? And yes, I could just go buy a pair of TC big wallers, but my shoes and I have a relationship and, of course, they now fit perfectly. Speak to me!

—Eric Swartling

I, too, use water stretching, but my technique is to wear the shoes in the shower (I offered to snap an illustrative photo, but, alas, the editors said they “got the picture.”)

Now, some people may wonder: “Why not just buy shoes that fit?”

Because for me a shoe that “fits” is a 41.5. Problem is, I have wide, high-volume feet. A 41.5 fits in width and interior room, but shoes this size are
too long heel-to-toe and climb like swim fins. I fit my shoes to length, which is a size 40, and then I water stretch them to get the width and volume I need. I get my shoes wet as I noted, and climb in them, and they stretch almost instantly and as perfectly as if fitted by a master cibattino.

Your vintage shoes (not shown), which, judging by their fetching solid magenta color I think are from the late 1980s, are indeed “boots.” High-topped and stiff. Not unlike the TC Pros you mention you could buy. While the TC’s are fantastic and would be a notch up from what you have, you seem so weepy about your old footwear that I feel obligated to help you keep them on life support.

Use Barge Cement to glue down that delamination. Barge Cement is available from Amazon for about $4 a tube. Reranding and resoling are options, and the price will vary depending on whether you do toe caps only on the rand, and half or full soles. Expect to shell out between $60 and $100 to get those boots in mint condition.

Per longevity, boots from that era were built like battleships, and last a lifetime or 20 to 30 years, whichever ends first. Next!

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 244 (August 2017).