Choosing your rental shoe fleet is an important decision, driven by more factors than just pure cost. After all, for most new climbers the rental shoe is their first interaction with the actual sport. They’ve completed their waiver, paid for their pass, and now need to fit this foreign footwear on before they can begin climbing. First impressions matter.
Your choice is not only a big purchase for the gym, but also a long-lasting one. A consistent choice of rental shoes over the years helps your staff be efficient when sizing, and can even lead to a cohesive brand identity.
Rental Shoe Sizing
Considering the users of rental shoes―often new or beginner climbers who may be less familiar with the nuances here―it’s a service to help them connect performance with shoe sizing. But that doesn’t mean prioritizing edging on dimes (yes, we have heard of gyms with dimes glued to the wall to demo tight fits). In fact, routesetting trends around easier climbs favor a looser shoe than what was previously popular. To help provide a consistent customer experience, establish a sizing strategy and train all staff to be well-versed in it.
Every climbing gym wants to encourage an enjoyable experience for the first-timer. When it comes to shoe fit, that means a looser fit when compared to shoe sizing for the typical experienced climber. Wearing socks is generally encouraged. “Tight but not painful” is a common line, which translates to minimal extra room in the toe box. Some gyms go one step further to recommend a fit that is “uncomfortable but not painful”. Still other gyms tone it down entirely, emphasizing “make sure they’re comfortable”. No gyms we heard from push a tight performance fit to new climbers.
Storing Your Rental Shoe Fleet
In any gym, the rental shoe fleet will take up a considerable amount of space. Decisions about where they are stored, distributed, and sorted after use all affect your front desk staff. Shoes should be handy, while not getting in the way of the day-to-day tasks of the staff. There can also be odors to deal with (more on that next). Some gyms locate their rental fleets in a separate area, with seats for customers to try them on.
Rental shoe fleets are stored in two general ways: in cubbies or baskets, or hanging on hooks (maybe use bolts for a chic look). Many rental shoe brands include a heel snap, allowing for the pair of shoes to snap together for easier storage and sorting. Some gyms have enclosed spaces or dedicated closets for their rental shoes, in order to avoid clutter and stink wafting to the front desk.
What To Do With Stinky and Dirty Shoes?
Rental climbing shoes typically need a “breather” after being used. They’re warm and soggy and not ready for another person. Before setting them aside to dry, many gyms will spray a deodorizer/sanitizer such as Lysol, Stryker, Odo-ban, or even DIY solutions including rubbing alcohol, water, tea tree oil, essential oils, and/or cheap vodka. Some gyms also use a combination of antibacterial and antifungal products. Finally, if your shoes are machine-washable, schedule periodic cleanings and be sure to allow adequate time for them to air-dry properly.
For more ideas about cleaning and sanitizing, see this prior Rental Shoe Love article.
What To Do With Old Shoes?
The sad fact is that resoling well-worn rental shoes is typically not worth it. When compared to the cost of buying new shoes at wholesale prices, the cost of resoling can be prohibitive. In addition, often rental shoes are too worn to resole properly. When your toe shows through a hole, the shoe is beyond repair. If you do plan to resole, be sure to retire the shoes before they are past the point of no return.
On the bright side, there are options other than resoling and tossing the shoes. Perhaps they can be sold cheaply for $5-$25, which college students and parents of new climbers alike may appreciate. Many gyms donate old rental shoes to nonprofits who don’t have a budget and can squeeze more service out of the shoes for their camp or school club. Second-hand gear stores are another option. A less-known solution we heard about is to cut off metal parts and donate the rubber to Nike to create playground paths, tracks and turf. Other organizations such as TerraCycle and SOEX collect worn out shoes to be recycled and, in SOEX’s case, disassembled to derive “secondary raw materials.” Maybe you can find a local artist that can repurpose them into something beautiful.
What Differentiates Rental Shoe Brands?
Here are some factors when choosing rental shoes for your gym:
- MARKLESS RUBBER. Will the rubber leave marks on your walls?
- WASHABLILITY. Some shoes are designed to be cold machine washable. No shoes are made for warm/hot washing, and always air/hang dry after washing.
- HEEL SNAPS. This makes pairing and storing easier.
- UPPER/OUTER MATERIAL. Fabric can stretch more and add comfort, whereas leather doesn’t stretch much which can add performance.
- SUSTAINABILITY. Are the shoes vegan, or are materials recycled? This may be important to you and can help build an eco-friendly brand identity.
- CLOSURE SYSTEM. The majority of rental shoes use hook/loop closure (like Velcro®), but Boreal and Evolv make a lace-up model. Hook/loop is convenient, while laces can add security and a tighter fit.
- CUSTOM BRANDING. Can you put your logo on the shoes? Butora does this, and Mad Rock takes it a step further.
Rental Shoe Brand Options in 2022
Note: This list focuses on climbing shoe brands available in North America. All of these brands print sizes on the exterior of the shoe.
|BRAND & MODEL||SIZE RANGE||MARKLESS||MACHINE WASHABLE||HEEL SNAP||UPPER|
|Boreal Just4Rent||EU 35-49|
|Boreal Just4Rent Bloc||EU 35-49|
|no||yes||yes||vegan recycled fabric|
|Boreal Just4Rent Lace||EU 35-49|
|Boreal Just4Rent Vent||EU 35-49|
|no||yes||yes||vegan recycled fabric|
|Butora Brava Markless (kids)||US kids 11-5||yes||yes||yes||fabric||https://climb.butorausa.com/climbing-gym-rental-shoes-1/|
|Butora Enoki||US 3.5-17.0||yes||yes||yes||fabric||https://climb.butorausa.com/climbing-gym-rental-shoes-1/|
|Butora Habara DoubleToe||US 3.5-17.0||yes||no||yes||suede leather||https://climb.butorausa.com/climbing-gym-rental-shoes-1/|
|Butora Habara Knit||US 3.5-17.0||no||no||yes||fabric||https://climb.butorausa.com/climbing-gym-rental-shoes-1/|
|Butora Sparrow (kids)||US kids 11-5||yes||yes||yes||fabric||https://climb.butorausa.com/climbing-gym-rental-shoes-1/|
|Cenca Gym Fly||US 3.0-15.0||option yes||no||no||fabric||http://cenca.acopaoutdoors.com|
|Climb X Icon||US 6.0-13.0||yes||yes||no||fabric||https://climbx.us/product/icon-x-rental-2020/|
|Evolv Docon||US 2.0-4.5||no||no||no||leather||https://www.evolvsports.com/en-us/docon-66-0000000155?c=1517937|
|Evolv Titan||US 2.0-15.0||no||no||no||leather||https://www.evolvsports.com/en-us/titan-66-0000000145?c=1517937|
|Evolv Titan Jr (kids)||US kids 10-1||yes||no||no||leather||https://www.evolvsports.com/en-us/titan-jr-66-0000004125?number=66-0000004125_0000000004&c=1517937|
|Evolv Titan Non Marking||US 2.0-15.0||yes||no||no||leather||https://www.evolvsports.com/en-us/titan-non-marking-66-0000002885?c=1517937|
|La Sportiva TaRENTula||EU 34.0-50.0 excl some sizes|
|La Sportiva TaRENTula Jr (kids)||EU 26-36|
(US kids ~9-4)
|Mad Rock Badger||US 3.0-16.0||yes||yes||yes||leather, vegan option||https://madrock.com/pages/gym-rentals|
|Mad Rock Mad Badger (kids)||US kids 8-5||yes||yes||yes||leather, vegan option||https://madrock.com/pages/gym-rentals|
|Mad Rock Rhino||US: 3.0-15.0||yes||yes||yes||leather, vegan option||https://madrock.com/pages/gym-rentals|
|Ocun Rental||US: 3.0-15.0||no||no||yes||vegan fabric||https://www.ocun.com/product/rental|
|Red Chili Session 4||US 2.0-17.0||no||no||yes||leather||https://www.redchiliclimbing.com/us/rental/session-4.html|
|Red Chili Session 4 Kids||US kids 7 -13||no||no||yes||leather||https://www.redchiliclimbing.com/us/rental/session-4-kids.html|
|Red Chili Session Air||US 2.0-17.0||yes||no||yes||vegan fabric||https://www.redchiliclimbing.com/us/rental/session-air.html|
Boreal offers four varied rental shoes, with vegan-friendly and lace-up models. All of their rentals have their Cushioned Heel System (CHS) with heel padding, and all models are available in sizes 35-49 EU (approx 4-14 US). They also all feature their Integral Rand System (IRS), which consists of the full rand being made in one piece and with thicker rubber in high-wear zones. Boreal is based in Spain, where their shoes are also manufactured.
- Pricing: $50/pair; no minimum, quantity discounts available.
- Ordering: email@example.com
Butora offers five varied rental shoes, including two models for kids and four that feature markless rubber. All models have optional custom logo imprinting and have heel snaps for easy pairing and storage. The Habara DoubleToe technology provides true double rubber thickness at the toe box to increase the lifespan of your fleet, and both US and EU sizes are molded into the heel so that these last longer too. Butora is based in South Korea, where their shoes are also manufactured, with US distribution out of Lander, WY.
- Pricing: Youth models $30/pair; adult models $43-47/pair; no minimums, quantity discounts based on individual basis.
- Ordering: firstname.lastname@example.org or check their website
- Read more: Butora’s Best Move: Rental Climbing Shoes That Last
- Read more: Building Your Rental Shoe Fleet With Butora
Cenca is the rental brand of manufacturer Acopa. They offer one model, with optional non-marking rubber. They also have a unique rental program that will swap out your worn shoes with refurbished shoes. Cenca and Acopa are based in Mexico, where their shoes are also manufactured.
- Pricing: $71.40/pair with minimum 50, this includes replacement program (contact them for details), discounts available for quantity and length of replacement program
- Ordering: email@example.com
ClimbX offers one rental shoe model, with injection molded and non-marking rubber. ClimbX is based in China, where their shoes are also manufactured, with US distribution out of California.
- Pricing: $59.97/pair, discounted to $35.95 for minimum 10 pairs
- Ordering: firstname.lastname@example.org
Evolv offers four varied rental shoes, with one for kids and a lace-up model. All of their adult-sized shoes feature their Variable Thickness Rand (VTR), which puts thicker rubber in zones that get more wear, and the heel sizes are molded into the rubber for longevity and marked in both US and EU. Evolv is based in the US and their rental shoes are manufactured in South Korea.
- Pricing: Youth model $36/pair, adult models $49/pair; no minimums and bulk orders are handled case by case.
- Ordering: (303) 444-0446 or email@example.com
La Sportiva offers two rental shoe models: one for adults and one for kids. Both shoes have double thickness rand rubber at the toe, and US and EU sizes molded into the heel, so that they last longer. Non-marking rubber is expected to be an option in late 2022. La Sportiva is based in Italy, their rental shoes are manufactured in Asia, and US distribution is out of Boulder, CO.
- Pricing: $40/pair, no minimums with retail relationship
- Ordering: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mad Rock offers three rental shoe models, with one for kids. All models feature markless rubber, a fully molded toe cap, and heel snaps for easy pairing and storage. They all come with a 6-month guarantee as well that excludes the heel snap. Mad Rock also offers a unique service which entails customizing the color of the shoe materials to match your branding, including imprinted logo. Vegan options are available but not stocked. Mad Rock is based in the US and their rental shoes are manufactured in Vietnam.
- Pricing: $29.40/pair Mad Badger, $42/pair Badger, $45/pair Rhino; no minimums, quantity discounts on case by case basis.
- Ordering: email@example.com or 562-944-8081 x2
Ocun offers one rental shoe model that is 100% vegan and includes a heel snap for easy pairing and storage. Ocun is based in the Czech Republic where the shoes are manufactured, with US distribution out of Park City, UT.
- Pricing: €79.95/pair, no minimum
- Ordering: firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Chili offers three varied rental shoes, with models for kids and vegan-friendly climbers. All of their shoes feature a heel snap for easy pairing and storage. Red Chili is based in Germany and their rental shoes are manufactured in China.
- Pricing: youth model $44.39/pair, adult models $44.94/pair; 10% discount available for qualifying customers.
- Ordering: email@example.com or 844.594.0201
Editor’s Note: Butora is a financial supporter of CBJ.
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