Wide Rock Climbing Shoe Solution

There are no wide rock climbing shoes, period. You can make your own wide climbing shoes by following these instructions.

Buy the shoe you want, in the brand you want, but buy it long, to get your width, and cut off the heel. See the finished, customized shoes here. Expect to spend a full weekend on this project. The tools you will need are:

here is my size 7EEEEEE foot against the size 15 rock shoe

I've been very frustrated finding a rock shoe that fits my super wide 7 EEEEEE foot. Rock Shoe makers have abandoned climbers with wide feet. I went to REI recently to try on climbing shoes, and nothing even came close to fitting my wide foot. On a whim, I started trying longer rock shoes to try to get the width my wide foot needed. I'm a 7, 6E so I tried on a size 9...still too narrow. Finally I tried on a size 15 and the width was perfect, comfortable even. The only trouble was that there was an extra inch of shoe sticking out the back of my heel as shown in this picture. I bought the 5.10 brand because it had the least amount of reinforcing on the heel and looked easier to cut.

I called Dave Page Cobbler in Seattle to ask him if he would like to help me shorten the heel. Dave said that it would be a waste of his time because he'd have to have one of his guys spend half a day on the modifications, and it would only have a 50% chance of working. He basically told me to forget it and recommended mekanboot.com, who I'd already researched and tried unsuccessfully to contact (via email). In fact, 3 different shoe repair shops and cobblers either totally ignored me, or told me it was impossible.

I made some marks on the shoe sole with some white artist pastel chalk (conte crayon) indicating approximately where I thought the heel should start. I very carefully cut down both sides of the back spine of the shoe to the point where I thought the sole should begin to bend upward to form the heel cup. I wrapped (and overlapped) the sides around the back of my heel, then pulled the spine over that to sort of make the back of the shoe "closed". I found that I had to trim down the sides as there was more leather than I needed. I also found that the rubber reinforcing wear panels on the sides of the shoe were too thick, and not needed at all since the spine (the former bottom of the size 15 shoe) was going to cover up the overlapping sides behind my heel.

Here I'm getting ready to tape up the heel to see if I've cut deep enough. You may want to have a friend step in the shoe so you can experiment with how to fold up the wings and spine. Wings (sides) go inside, spine (back of shoe) goes outside. The curve that you cut in the wings controls how the heel cup is formed. I ended up cutting about three quarters of an inch deeper before I finally got them short enough, but was glad I'd done it incrementally or I could have ruined them.

I tried to sand off the rubber heel side panel strips, but they were bulletproof. I got out a $30 torch from home depot and heated up the unneeded rubber to the point where it started to crackle and smoke (Don't try this indoors!). When the rubber is hot, you can peel it back from the leather like a banana.

I found that I got more control if I masked off the rubber I didn't want to remove with either aluminum foil(not too good), or brass shim material (great stuff, [3'x6"x0.005"]), which you can buy at Tacoma Screw Products. Machinists use it to shim machinery when the parts don't fit as tight as they should.

Here I've removed (heated and peeled off) the extra rubber, leaving the trimmed "wings", which are folded under the heel spine.

I've folded the "wings" under the heel spine, pinched it together and secured the heel for a test wearing, using Gorilla duct tape. It turned out to be too long so I pulled off the tape, which left a messy residue (remove with WD40) and cut everything shorter by a quarter of an inch. Still too short so I cut it all down again by another quarter inch and wore it around the house.


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You really don't need all that much gorilla tape to test the fit, it makes a mess but fortunately comes off with WD40.

Here I am using my leather punch. The first time I sewed these, I kept the gorilla tape on and punched and sewed at the same time. After I'd finished and realized the shoes were still too long anyway, I got smarter. I cut the stitches out with a sharp razor blade, cut the sole and side shorter again, and carefully marked out new (shorter) hole locations on the wings that matched the existing holes along the heel spine. You can see this in the next photo.

This is the second shoe, and I was beginning to understand the process. I cut this shoe a quarter inch shorter than the first to make it fit tight. I pre-punched the spine at quarter inch intervals. I tucked the heel together, held it tightly and carefully marked the spots on the wings with a pen where I'd need matching holes to align with the spine holes, then I punched the wings. It's much easier to punch these holes when the heel isn't taped together with Gorilla tape. Three layers of leather, plus the sole of the shoe make for hard punching. I intentionally left extra leather on the "wings" (sides) so I could use it to lengthen or "let out" the shoe, if I'd accidentally cut it too short. I figured the wings would overlap, and form more padding behind my heel on the spine.

Here I'm stitching the heel together through the pre-punched holes. You can buy these blunt hand sewing needles in any drug store, though Tandy Leather has them cheaper. I got my first thread from a shoe repair shop. She gave me 10 yards for free, saying that as long as she didn't have to do the hand sewing, I was welcome to it. On the second shoe, I went to Tandy and bought a $4 roll of 1.5 millimeter x 25 yard waxed synthetic (not cotton!) thread and it was much better, awesome actually.

Sometimes the needle is hard to pull through if you miss the pre-punched hole by a bit, so pliers or vice grips work great. To make the first knot, I sewed a complete closed loop through the first two holes, and then simply tucked the loose end of the thread twice under the loop. As I sewed away up the spine from those first two holes, I pulled on the thread, which pulled the loop tighter and grabbed the loose end. It works very much like a clove hitch knot on a carabineer. To finish the seam, I simply repeated the clove hitch process, then ran the bitter end through a few more holes to keep the knot from unraveling.

This is the first shoe, carefully hand double stitched, shortly before I decided the size was too long and had to rip out all the stitching. Note, to make them shorter at this point, I had to guesstimate how much more sole to split (one quarter inch), and re-burn off the extra one quarter inch of rubber on the side panel.

This is the finished first shoe, size 7 - EEEEEE, sitting beside the untouched left shoe, size 15.

Here I'm holding up a piece of paper I traced off the first shoe. I used it as sort of a pattern jig to help me estimate where and how to cut the heel so it would form a tight heel cup. This isn't nearly as complicated as it sounds. I'd never done it before, hell, I'm a web designer, not a cobbler. I had some confusing moments, and had to walk away from the job for a day to think on it, but in the end, it really just seemed like common sense. I must admit that I practiced on an old pair of beater rock shoes to get a sense of how hard it was to cut leather and rubber, and experiment with ideas, before I bought these new ones on sale and began cutting. The masking tape is to protect the pretty blue leather from the dirty black ash that comes off the rubber when you melt it.

These are the finished shoes. Note the heel on the left has a more aggressive curve inward at the top. Both heel shapes work, but the more relaxed heel on the right shoe allowed my heel to slip upward a tad, so I changed the curve on the second shoe. Because I have those long wings inside, I can always let them out if the heel starts to rub.

The shoes on the left are my old shoes, notice how much narrower they are than my new modified shoes.

I've climbed on them at the gym, and they work great, though like any shoe, they need some breaking in on a toe jam crack. The only down side I can see is that they seem a little sloppy. Because I've interrupted the natural lasted arch position by cutting the heel off, the shoe does not hug my arch tightly. I'm not sure yet if this is a deal breaker as I was climbing fine during my test at the gym, and most of you won't have my super high arch problem. I may need to sew in an arch support to get some pressure in the slack area and keep my foot from rolling. Nevertheless, I'm quite pleased with my new "handmade" rock shoes. It's very, very cool to have a sole that is as wide as my foot, instead of the usual scenario, where my wide flipper feet overhang the sole by half an inch on each side.

Once I'm sure they fit, I'll probably take them to a shoe repair shop and have the heels stitched by a machine to make them permanent. Then I might put some seam sealer glue on the stitches to prevent wear. Home depot also sells some liquid rubber used for coating plier handles that might protect the threads.

For those of you with desperately wide feet, I hope this little story helps. See ya on the rocks. I'll be the one with the funny shoes.

My modified size 7 - EEEEEE rock climbing shoe.

return to my climbing page.

update 7-2-2010:

I'm on my 4th pair of modified wide rock climbing shoes. With this new update, I've got the time down to 5 hours from buying the shoes new, to wearable. The break through was buying a $70 belt sander. Instead of burning off the rubber, which made a mess, and often scorched the leather underneath, I sand the heel rubber down gradually with the belt sander clamped in the vice. I take the rubber down incrementally over about 3 hours until I am left with just a thin layer of rubber....about a millimeter or less. They start out with up to 6 millimeters over the heel.

Once you have the rubber off, put the shoes on and mark on the sole with a white pastel or conte chalk crayon where the heel should start. Make a white line up both sides of the shoes from there to the top of the existing heel on the size 15 shoe. Make the line about one inch apart to give you sort of a tongue in the heel area, just like there is a tongue in the front of the shoe.

With a sharp Stanly replaceable blade knife (exacto knife on steroids), cut down each white line to the point on the sole where the heel needs to begin. That will give you what you see above on the right.

Put the shoes on and tape them closed with gorilla tape. Lace them up normally and walk around. You could actually climb with them like this...in the gym perhaps. Gorilla tape is strong! Cut them shorter if you need agressive shoes. When you know they fit, punch out lace holes as shown above and lace them up. Go climbing!

I am at that point right now. I've got 10 pitches on them and realize the fit is perfect. I'm going to buy some tooldip at home depot and simply saturate the heel area: tongue and laces with tooldip. This will lock the back of the shoe down permanently, and I won't need to bother with lacing them, or handsewing them, which is better, but tedious.

I ended up sewing these shut after finding the size was right.

These are size 14 mythos that I have shortened down to size 8, which works out to about a Mythos size 8 EEEEE.

These are size 14 mythos that I have shortened down to size 8, which works out to about a Mythos size 8 EEEEE.

My new technique is to fold the wings over and fix them in place with temporary Gorilla tape. I wear them around to see if they fit. Then I sew just one wing in place, the left seam in this photo. I leave the right side of the wing loose, my finger is touching it in this photo. The looseness helps the shoe stay soft on the heel area. Then I cut the other wing short and tuck it underneath the long wing that is sewn. I put the shoe on. I tape the shorter (unsewn) wing down with tape and wear the shoe again. If it feels good, I mark the seam line with white conte crayon (pastel).

I cut the extra rubber off where the stitching will go using a long razor knife, pictured above.

I also trim all the extra sole rubber down almost to leather with the razor knife. It's like whittling a stick, quite easy. I think I like it better than a belt sander. It's important to get the heel area as free of rubber as possible to make it easier to bend, form and sew.

If all these instructions seem too hard, I was recently contacted by a cobbler who can make your rock climbing shoes from scratch. I checked out his website, and exchanged a couple emails with him. I think he is the real deal. If he had been around 3 years ago when I started modifying my own, I would have gladly paid for a custom built pair of rock climbing shoes, no matter what the cost.

Here is his website: http://www.knclimbing.com/