Size correctly, climbing shoes are tight, and our feet can take knocks, accumulate bumps and bruises. Or we could pay for a birth accident such as a second toe, aka Morton’s toe, which is longer than the first. Many people size for a performance fit; not me. With various individual issues (the podiatrist shakes her head and says she can’t help), I wear my soft, relatively loose rock shoes. But still, even after my shoes are well broken in, my feet can get hot spots that end a session early.
Years ago, using a utility knife, I cut small windows in the sides of two pairs of climbing shoes because a combination of rock shoes, ski boots, and genetics resulted in sore hammertoes, or thickened bone, on each little toe. Eventually I gave up and bowed to a surgical solution, but in the meantime those weird little squares kept me climbing. Still, if I cut the window too wide, as I did once, the toe might spill out the side; and worse, if I accidentally bumped or touched that inflamed toe now exposed to rock, I froze in pain.
The solution was just OK.
This year, Fabrizio Zangrilli showed me a better lap. Owner of the Monkey House climbing gym in Carbondale, Colorado, he is a lifelong mountaineer and mountain guide with foot injuries “from cold weather and repeated beatings to the boots at high altitudes.”
Zangrilli took an X-acto knife (precision tool with removable blades for crafts or paper) on his rock shoes and cut a series of mostly vertical lines into the rubber, in his case three on each side, to relieve the pressure. (At first glance, this is a DIY effort to “silber” the cutouts in the rand that are a design feature of some rock shoes, for flexibility or sensitivity.) It primarily relieves pressure from the big toe, while two of his training clients have followed suit to ease the discomfort of small bunions on their toes.
Now, he says of his shoes, “I can wear them for days.”
In my case, a scuff mark (which just wouldn’t go away) had formed on the big toe of my slightly larger left foot. I tried a slot, it worked great and haven’t noticed the problem since.
The caveats are that cutting your shoes will void your warranty and will surely make the manufacturer cry – or at least wouldn’t be recommended.
Matt Ginley of Scarpa North America says, “We absolutely do not recommend that you do this, not only because it would void any warranty, but…we have nearly 40 different styles of climbing shoes. Each model has cutouts or slits or material in the rubber, the parts that are under tension, that make it climb the way we want it and fit the way we want it. Before anyone has fun doing this, I would encourage them to try a different style first. He adds that such an action could affect performance, “but it’s a balance.”
When I tell him the problem isn’t looking for a better fit, it’s just having horrible feet, he must be laughing.
“At the end of the day, people will do whatever they want with their shoes,” he says. “We don’t recommend doing that. We have other shoes that would work better. If you do so, it is at your own risk.
If you try this method, yes, proceed at your own risk, and we recommend only venturing into a pair that you are sure you want to continue wearing long enough to take this step.
• Use a sharp cutter.
• Find the pressure point. Zangrilli recommends that you bend and mark the pressure point with several light strokes, being careful not to cut the leather.
• Cut slowly.
• Work in increments, for each cut and adding more cuts. Do as little as possible and test it.
Footloose and painless
Zangrilli has worked this hack on a number of shoes over the years. The lines, he says, work really well for him: they “make my shoes fit perfectly with no pressure points and don’t compromise performance. They probably improve it, because I don’t think about foot pain at all.
Here is. Armed, if you wish, for your feet.