There are a few features that make climbing shoes more eco-friendly and/or sustainably made. One of the most sustainable efforts you can make is to resole your climbing shoes instead of buying new ones. Otherwise, if you want to start with an eco-minded climbing shoe straight from the store, we’re listing the options available today.

Resole your Climbing Shoes

There are many amazing re-solers around the US. If you’re in Europe, often you can get your shoes re-soled by the manufacturer (an amazing and wonderful service). A few US options are:

Yosemite Bum Resoling before after Photo
An example of a resole from Yosemite Bum.

Some climbing shoes can be resoled over 5 times. We’ve heard multiple athletes mention that their best performing shoes is the 2nd and 3rd resole. This is when the shoe is perfectly molded to the foot and all the features of the shoe are still working properly.

Eco Leather

Eco-leather is the in term for leather that has ben tanned in an eco-friendly way. This means that no heavy metals, like chrome and mercury, are used in the tanning process. Intuitively the lack of metal is better for the feet (and body) and better for the Earth (I don’t have concrete studies to point you to the exact differences).

Both La Sportiva and SCARPA use Idro-Perwanger leather for their eco-leather material. This is made by Perwanger Leather, who is based in northern Italy. Buying materials from Italy also keeps the transportation factor very low for these Italian brands.

Eco-leather is also biodegradable due to the metal-free tanning process. Normal leather is not biodegradable (what?!) because the chrome-based tanning process transforms the leather from an organic material to an inorganic material (read more here).

SCARPA Maestro Mid Eco
SCARPA Maestro Mid Eco, that uses Eco Leather

Currently, the models of shoes we know that have eco-leather are:

While testing, SCARPA found the eco-leather to be weaker than normal leather. To counter this, they made the eco-leather thicker than their normal leather, at 2.5mm instead of 2mm. They also bonded a stretchable laminate to the top pieces of the leather upper. This means that the Maestro models are could go through even more resoles than a normal SCARPA shoe.

Similarly, La Sportiva uses the eco-leather in 2.8 – 3.2mm thicknesses versus their 1 – 2mm thickness for regular leather.

A Midway-Eco-step is buying shoes made with European-made leather.

Although the EU has no leather-specifc standards, they do have 143 standards with relevance to leather products.

Most importantly, the EU has many regulations for chemicals, including a long restricted chemicals list, and restrictions for how [toxic] waste is handled. Other countries do not have such restrictions or have limited enforcement on said restrictions. China, India, and Bangladesh are some of the biggest leather-producing countries in the world. In these cases, it’s possible that the waste is not properly disposed and could be dumped into waterways.

Buying shoes made with leather sourced from Europe will not only ensure the waste is properly disposed, but also ensures that workers are not exposed to harmful chemicals. German and Italian leather makers are well-known for their premium leather products.

Recycled Rubber

Normally, shoe companies stamp out the rubber pieces from huge mats and then the leftovers are discarded. La Sportiva is now taking the scraps, melting them, and re-vulcanizing them, turning the scraps into FriXion® Eco rubber. La Sportiva says that they can make one sheet of Eco-Rubber for every five sheets of Vibram rubber cutouts. This FriXion® Eco rubber is used on the Cobra Eco and Mythos Eco shoes

La Sportiva FriXion Eco Rubber

As for stickiness, the eco-rubber is “comparable” to the original Vibram® options. La Sportiva’s website lists FriXion® Eco as having the same grip/hardwearing numbers as their FriXion® Black rubber that is used on their Tarantula shoes.

Hemp Footbeds

Butora uses 100% organic hemp lining in many of their shoes. They do this to minimize stretch, resist odor, and provide durability. Hemp is a natural antimicrobial so they don’t need to use any chemicals to achieve the same effect.

Butora Endeavor hemp lining
Photo credit to the Clever Trainer.

Hemp is a better material than leather from an energy-efficiency standpoint too. Leather tanneries use a lot of energy and leave a large carbon footprint.

Black Diamond’s Momentum Vegan (men’s and women’s) shoes also have hemp footbeds, and most Climb X shoes also use hemp footbeds.

The only downside of hemp footbeds is that the fibers are not as fine as in synthetic leathers and microfibers. This means that they don’t mold to the foot quite as well and they could have slightly less grip. Although these small differences are unlikely to be noticed by the average climber, it is likely the reason it’s only found in more beginner-oriented shoes.

Recycled Fabrics

Any part of a shoe could include recycled materials. For example, the lacing and webbing on La Sportiva’s Cobra Eco and Mythos Eco are made from recycled fishing nets. The Mythos Eco is actually made out of 95% recycled materials.

La Sportiva Mythos Eco

Water-Based Glues

It is hard to know how prevalent (or not) this feature is as most manufacturers don’t mention it. La Sportiva does specifically mention this as a benefit featured in their Cobra Eco and Mythos Eco shoes.

Butura has informed us that they use water based dyes and glues on all their shoes.

This is definitely a feature that could use your help in publicizing. Ask retailers and brands if their shoes use water-based glues or dyes. This will help show them you’re interested and we help us get better technical specifications and labeling.

Also, we mentioned this in the leather area above, but this is the type of situation where sticking with EU and US based shoes is safer than non-EU/US shoes. There are many toxic shoe resins that are illegal in Europe/USA that are either OK in other countries, or there is less oversight in the regulation.

3-D Molded Rubber Parts

Molded rubber pieces mean significantly less rubber waste, as there are no leftovers/scraps in this process.

Mad Rock has always used the most 3D molded pieces in their shoes. Most of Mad Rock’s climbing shoes have molded heel cups. Mad Rock’s Haywire (seen below) have molded heel cups, molded soles, and a molded toe box.

Sustainable Eco-Friendly Climbing Shoes 1
The molded toe cap also allows Mad Rock to add a unique texture.

Mad Rock has been continuing to increase the amount of molded parts in their shoes for over a decade, and in 2020 they are releasing the Vision, with a 100% molded rubber outsole.

La Sportiva also has molded heal cups, like seen on the La Sportiva SolutionButora and Black Diamond also use molded rubber pieces.

3D molding is an expensive process because of the complicated metal molds needed for each shoe size. Fortunately, these brands are paving the way, and this technology is getting better year after year. Molded pieces are now thinner and more sensitive than previously possible.

On the same vein, Burora makes their our own rubber for Butora shoes and Black Diamond shoes. This means that they take all the little rubber scraps, melt them down, and reuse them so there is literally no rubber waste.

All of these rubber savings is crucial for environmental responsibility because rubber is a petroleum based product.

Social Responsibility

This article is a high-level overview of some of the more overt eco measures. Some of the items, like using recycled parts is a nice to have, but it pales in comparison to the amount of transportation involved in making a shoe – which is data that just isn’t publicly available. Knowing how far each part of the shoe has traveled is huge in knowing the overall ecological footprint. Also, when speaking of sustainability and social responsibility, a living wage is a big factor. It would be interesting to know how many employees that produce the shoes are earning a living wage (or above).

These are some societal questions that retailers in Denmark and Finland are asking brands they work with:

  • Are you constantly improving you labor conditions and policies? How?
  • Are you contributing to the social conditions of the community around your place manufacturing? How?
  • What actions do you take to improve the working environment around your factory? Explain.
  • What pay gaps occur in your company and how are you trying to reduce them?

These are really great questions for us all to incorporate in the questioning of each brand we’re considering.

Vegan Note

In this article we are not diving into vegan shoes as a sustainable option specifically because they’re vegan. Being vegan and being sustainable do not necessarily correlate in the shoe space. This is a much bigger topic that we’d prefer to devote an entire post to instead.

Summary

The best ways to buy/ensure eco-friendly climbing shoes:

  1. Resole your shoes instead of buying a new pair.
  2. If you’re going to buy a new pair, aim for a pair that emphases sustainability practices.
  3. Ask brands and retailers questions about their eco/social/sustainability efforts to show your support for those efforts. If the retailers hear it, they’ll start asking the brands, and that’s when you’ll start seeing more innovations and efforts put forward.

This post is sponsored by REI as part of an Educational / Sustainability Series. This sponsorship means if there are specific products mentioned in the post, we’ll link them to REI’s product pages when possible. Also, if there is a relevant sale period, we'll talk about that too. All words are solely the authors and have in no way been altered because of the sponsored nature of the post.

Other sponsored posts you may find interesting:

  • Sustainable Climbing Ropes
  • Sustainable Climbing Shoes
  • Sustainable Climbing Slings
  • Sustainable Climbing Harnesses


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    Alison Dennis

    Alison Dennis

    Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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