Can you use socks with climbing shoes? Yes! But should you use them? That’s the question.
There’s a lot more to it than you think, and we’ll be covering why, what types of socks to use, and when they’re a good idea.
Can You Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?
When someone starts climbing, experienced climbers tend to spray recommendations about many things, and one of the most common ones is that you should wear your shoes without socks and as tight as possible.
But here’s the thing: most of these climbers do this just based on belief, preference, or cultural inertia, rather than based on facts.
The truth is you certainly can use socks while climbing – sometimes it’s even preferred to do so, but make sure you continue reading to learn why and when it normally applies.
Should You Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?
Feel and Sensitivity
One of the main reasons one would like to avoid wearing socks is to maximize the “feel” of the feet and its sensitivity on the holds.
When using your hands, you can feel the holds directly with your skin, making it easier to evaluate the friction, orientation, size, and how best to grab it.
But when using your feet, you have additional material between your skin and the rock, so this feeling can be diminished, affecting your sensing capabilities for precise placing.
Some would argue that wearing socks reduces your feel, but others would argue that as long as the fit is right, the sensitivity should be the same.
So, this means that for a given shoe size, either wearing socks or not wearing them could provide the optimal sensitivity – whichever makes the fit and tightness optimal.
If the fit with a particular shoe was already on-point without socks, wearing socks will make it sub-optimal. And on the same lines, if the fit with a given shoe was spot-on with socks, removing the socks would make it a bit off and affect sensitivity.
One of the main arguments in favor of socks is comfort.
You see, climbing shoes can be very tight, and many times this tightness can even bring discomfort if the shoe is in direct contact with the foot.
Often, shoes can rub on the skin in areas that are not entirely smooth or flat, such as around stitches or edges, and that can be painful. That’s why wearing socks can help reduce this issue, as it provides an extra layer between the feet and these elements.
What’s more, feet can get very sweaty due to poor ventilation, and wearing the proper type of socks can aid in the freshening and oxygenation of these lower extremities.
When climbing in cold weather, socks can help a lot by bringing a small yet much needed warmth to your feet. This is because cold feet can bring pain, and climbing in pain can hinder performance.
Cold feet also affect sensitivity, due to bad blood flow, so wearing socks can also aid in that regard.
Why Don’t Most People Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?
The reason most people don’t wear socks with climbing shoes is because most people don’t wear socks with climbing shoes.
There’s a strong bandwagon effect in place, where most climbers don’t do it just because others also avoid it, and tell them not to as well.
More often than not, these climbers have never tried climbing with socks on, and do not have factual or supporting evidence for their claims that socks reduce performance.
Having said this, wearing or not wearing socks while climbing is completely a matter of preference, so they are in their right not to do so, and to recommend others as well.
What Kind of Socks Should You Wear with Rock Climbing Shoes?
Caption: La sportiva climbing socks, available on Amazon.co.uk.
If you choose to wear socks with climbing shoes, we would recommend you to wear woolen socks and avoid cotton ones – since they’re too thick – or to wear socks specifically made for climbing, such as La Sportiva Climbing Socks.
Aim for socks that are thin and allow for air to flow, so they can freshen your feet and bring comfort without affecting your sensitivity.
Also, you should pick socks which are tight enough to avoid sagginess, allowing for the fit to slip inside the shoe, but not so tight that they affect blood flow to your feet when combined with the shoe’s tightness.
Also very important: avoid very low-cut socks, as they can slip into the shoe or bring slight pain in the ankle due to the protruding edges inside the shoe.
When Is It a Good Idea to Use Socks While Climbing?
So, wearing socks is completely up to preference and optional, but when would we encourage you to use them?
Socks With Rental Climbing Shoes
One of the main scenarios where you probably should be wearing socks when climbing or bouldering is when using rental climbing shoes.
Even though most climbing gyms that offer shoe rental services should be properly sanitizing and cleaning their shoes, feet get very sweaty and stinky when climbing, so you can never be too sure.
You never know if shoes are being properly cleaned, how many other people have worn them before, and how their feet hygiene was.
So, in order to prevent acquiring anything contagious or simply anti-hygienic, you should probably wear socks to add an extra layer of protection between your feet and the shoes.
Besides this, you also become part of the solution instead of part of the problem when wearing socks, as you also stop from passing any foot hygiene conditions you could have to other climbers.
Similar to rental shoes, when you borrow personal shoes from a friend, you should consider wearing socks out of respect and appreciation.
If they share their shoes with you, you should at least try to return them in the best conditions possible, and this includes trying to reduce passing any potential smell, sweat, or foot condition by wearing socks.
Trad Climbing and Multi-Pitching
When trad climbing or crack climbing, you constantly bring your feet into the rock in very tight and uncomfortable positions.
This type of climbing makes the feet very prone to many types of injuries, such as cuts and bruises due to scratches and lots of pressure in jams.
And so, wearing socks can reduce this stress, just as wearing gloves, long sleeves and pants is also recommended for this style of climbing where the climber is just sticking everything into the cracks.
Also, when big-wall climbing or multi-pitching, you usually do it for the experience more than for the technical challenge.
That’s why it can be a good idea to bring slightly looser shoes with a pair of thin socks just to make the experience more enjoyable.
Alternatively, instead of wearing a pair of socks for a slightly tighter fit, you can wear your super-tight shoes and go sockless during the 15 pitches of easy climbing and suffer just for the sake of suffering even if you don’t need that maximum feeling or sensitivity.
Finally, shoes tend to get looser and looser over time.
So if the tightness was just on-point when you bought them, they could become loose enough that they start affecting your performance.
If this is the case, one way to make the shoes tighter without having to buy a new pair is simply wearing socks that fit just right to fill in any gaps created by the stretch induced by usage over time.
Socks are a cheap way to save money by extending your shoes’ life – either to postpone getting a new pair of climbing shoes, or to give your old shoes a second life as your secondary, comfortable pair, after buying a brand new one as your primary shoes.
If it is your first time buying climbing shoes, or if you’re not quite sure how to pick a pair of shoes that would meet your needs, take a look at some of our related articles. We cover topics such as the Best Bouldering Shoes for Beginners, Best Intermediate Climbing Shoes, and How Should Climbing Shoes Fit? to guide you on your journey as you buy shoes that fit you perfectly and will last you long.
Alex is a computer scientist from Mexico currently studying a PhD on cancer genomics. He is a full-time researcher, a regular weekend warrior, and someone who enjoys sharing his thoughts through writing. He first started climbing at uni, where he fell in love with the beautiful places it took him. So, he promised himself he would someday experience the beauty of climbing and nature in every continent. Nowadays, after several years with this motivation in mind, school and work have taken Alex to 4 different continents already. This has given him the opportunity to make friends all over the world, experience different cultures and their communities, as well as the chance to listen all the stories these people have to share. Alex hopes these adventures will continue for many years, and is eager to share his experiences as a wandering climber.