Can Climbing Ropes and Shoes Get Wet?


Rock climbing safety depends so much on the proper tools, like ropes and shoes. And this equipment must be in good working order to ensure the best performance and maintain balance during a climb. This includes keeping gear dry.

Can climbing ropes and shoes get wet? Absorbed water can reduce the strength and dynamic performance of rope during a climb. Some ropes are dry treated for this reason. Rock climbing shoes are washable and will maintain their performance once dry. However, for maximum traction, shoes should be dry to maintain friction against the rock.

Climbing ropes and shoes share the common purpose of aiding climbers to move upwards and safely achieve their goals. A lot of equipment is water-proofed with specific materials to prevent stretching or the absorption of water. We’re going to cover different types of climbing, as well as how to care for the equipment needed for safety and best performance.

Rock Climbing and the Need for Dry Shoes and Ropes

Climbing takes different forms. Some rely heavily on shoes, while others need both. Overall, for all forms of climbing, a climber will benefit from tools that are kept dry and well-maintained. A key for climbing is the friction between the rocks and the shoes and the hands and ropes. 

Wet shoes and ropes can be slippery and potentially make it difficult to climb. They may cause serious falls and injuries if wet. Better be safe than sorry when you fancy climbing walls and rocks for sport or challenge.

Climbers’ safety is vital to the enjoyment of the sport. Rock climbers love to push their limits during rainy days, as well. Wet ropes and shoes are no guarantee of safe climbing.

Are Climbing Ropes Waterproof?

Climbing ropes are often dry treated not only to facilitate the seamless climbing experience but to also keep the ropes from absorbing water. This can also increase the rope’s life by making sure other destructive elements, like sand or dirt, don’t bond into the ropes.

Dry-treated ropes can glide over jagged edges and decrease the amount of scuff to the rope – which can keep your rope in better shape longer. Some of the characteristics of dry-treated ropes are as follows:

  • Highly water-resistant, but not completely waterproof 
  • Repel water absorption due to nylon fiber construction
  • Do get wet when exposed
  • More expensive than non-treated ropes
  • Maximum life of 10 years

The dry-treated rope may be pricy when compared to untreated ones. However, many climbers consider it worth the price for the additional safety and lifespan of this gear. 

When you choose to climb, pull up your appropriate gear for safety. The article below gives you an overview of the types of dry treatment so that you can decide what best suits your needs and budget. 

How Waterproof Are Climbing Shoes?

Climbing shoes, on the other hand, are made to be wash-friendly. They can be submerged in water and safely dried out. They generally don’t absorb water. They tend to stretch more when they are wet, but they eventually retain their shape and maintain their performance. 

Climbing shoes are made with synthetic or leather material, both with their pros and cons:

  • Synthetic shoes dry faster and do not stretch too much when wet.
  • Leather shoes begin to contour to the shape of your feet after just a few climbs.
  • The high-quality rubber of climbing shoes adds to their performance even when wet.

Shoe manufacturers are always at work, perfecting shoe materials to make the best climbing gear. This article from Climbing magazine details the nonstop experimentation some gear faces.

How to Clean and Dry Climbing Shoes

Climbing is a sport that accumulates dirt, mud, and debris. Dirt requires cleaning and getting away without exposure to water is inevitable. Here are some important tips on how to wash climbing shoes and keep them clean, dry and long-lasting:

  • Brush off debris from the outside and clean the shoes inside
  • Immerse shoes in a tub of lukewarm water
  • Add mild detergents
  • Rinse shoes completely
  • Dry in a warm area not directly exposed to sunlight

One factor that requires particular attention is to ensure they dry out well between washes and/or between climbs. If not dried properly, mold may form; and this, in turn, causes moisture in shoes and to wear out quickly.

Take care not to dry your shoes in the sun – unless absolutely necessary. Direct sunlight can damage your shoes. (And your ropes, too.)

Equipment Needed for Different Types of Climbing

MountaineeringLiterally scaling a mountain means ascending over rocks, snow, and ice. The handbook of the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) says a wet rope, or one that has frozen, can weaken its performance by more than 40%. Mountaineers choose double (or “half”) dry-treated. As for shoes, a dry shoe means a warmer, more comfortable climb, so most mountaineers wear waterproof footgear.
Trad climbing Short for “traditional” climbing is known for being intensely challenging, both physically and mentally.Traditional climbers carry their gear with them, stowing pieces of it as they go. The carrying of the gear, or “racking,” is an art in itself, as you can see in this REI article. Most trad climbers carry a single. lightweight dynamic rope. Most choose a dry-treated rope, to prevent the rope from losing strength or performance in wet conditions. Dry shoes are a must.
Sport Climbing  Still a physical challenge, but much less demanding or mentally gruelling than trad climbing, sport climbing depends on permanent anchors and bolts fixed to the rocks for protection. Wet hands and shoes can slip you off the rocks or anchors. Sports climbers often need a single-rated rope to hold their weight and don’t rely as much on ropes for their climb. Dry shoes will aid in the climb.
Free Solo climbing  These climbers use ropes, harnesses, and other protective gear to climb. The climb is aided with the maximum support to ensure the safety of the climber. Dry shoes and rope would be useful to support a better climbing experience for this type of climbing. 

Rock Climbing with Wet Ropes – What Do the Experts Say?

Research doesn’t conclusively prove that wet ropes are always likely to fail. But wet ropes are broadly known to cause safety hazards. The AICC concluded, during a conference on ropes:

 “…a wet rope loses much of its dynamic performance. Today it is known that water causes the nylon to plasticize, drastically changing its mechanical and physical properties.”

Wet ropes tend to become stretchy and could cause you to lose your grip or take a fall. While percentages may vary slightly from source to source, most industry experts note that non-treated ropes, when wet, lose over 50% of their strength, while a dry-treated on may still be reduced by roughly 40%.

Sterling Rope says: “Wet or frozen ropes will be seriously weakened and may exhibit higher elongation characteristics. It is best not to use a wet rope.”

Keep Your Climbing Gear Dry

While climbing shoes can get wet – and even be submerged for cleaning – they should be dry again before attempting a climb. Ascending a rock or wall during wet conditions makes for an unsafe situation.

To care for your climbing shoes, make sure they are clean and dry between uses to get the longest life out of them.

Climbing ropes should be kept as dry as possible. Even dry-treated ropes benefit from good care and dry storage conditions. Don’t submerge your rope to clean.

Always look at your manufacturer’s directions, speak to experts at your gear shop and consult reputable resources whenever you have a question about care. Keeping your gear in good working order makes for a safer – and more enjoyable climb.

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