Spanish Company Launches World’s First 3D-Printed Climbing Shoes

This article originally appeared on Climbing

Despite knowing better, most climbers wear shoes two sizes too small. Athos, a Barcelona-based company, is hoping to change that with the world's first 3D-printed climbing shoes, promising a bespoke fit with the help of digital scans.

Over the course of two years, what began as a Master's project for the Elisava School of Design and Engineering has turned into a startup. Four students--Emili S. Taixes, Romina Milesi, Carla Barrientos, and Mar Amengual--had all dabbled in climbing, but their idea to create 3D-printed shoes came to a head when the group took a look at a more experienced friend's feet and saw that the effects of wearing climbing shoes for years weren't pretty.

"We saw that his feet were deformed, and we were like, 'What is that?'" Amengual told Climbing over a video chat. The students said they realized how problematic down-sizing can be. They found a study, published in 2013 in the World Journal of Orthopedics, stating that 80 to 90 percent of climbers reported pain while wearing climbing shoes. The paper discussed how too small of shoes leads to nail-bed infections, overstrain injuries, and "the development of a hallux valgus deformity"--a.k.a bunions.

"We were like, 'Well, we like to climb, but we don’t want our feet to be hurting!'"

Recent advances in technology have both improved the standard of climbing shoes and decreased the need for downsizing. That said, most climbers still size down so for better fit and for performance benefits. While a little foot pain feels to some like a worthy price to pay, Athos asks an admirable question: Is there a better way to make shoes?

How it Works

Athos, currently only operating locally, begins by taking digital scans of the customer's feet. They apply those dimensions to their standard pattern, which has evolved over many iterations to optimize end-feel and to decrease manufacturing processes. Each shoe is designed to be next-to-skin--no downsizing.

Athos uses vegan materials: thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU; polyester (for the laces); and Vibram rubber. TPU is known to be abrasion resistant and is 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable. According to Amengual, it won't stretch, either. Overall, Athos's 3D printing process reduces the standard manufacturing procedures for shoe-making by 70 percent.

The TPU varies in thickness across the shoe to create tension where traditional shoes might have slingshot rands. They appear to be fairly soft, with a slight downturn, and perhaps ideal for beginner-level climbers. While climbers can't make alterations to the shoe pattern or stiffness, they can pick the design shown on the outside of the shoe, and even get their name inscribed.

<span class="article__caption">Athos uses 100 percent vegan and recyclable materials. (Photo: Courtesy of Athos)</span>
Athos uses 100 percent vegan and recyclable materials. (Photo: Courtesy of Athos)

Athos is still currently in a beta phase of testing; Barcelona climbers should receive the first round of publicly released shoes soon. Prices, says Amengual, are TBD. Eventually, the startup hopes to be international, and we at Climbing hope to test a pair when the day arrives.

Ultimately, Athos aims to change the way climbers think about their feet. "Every foot is unique," says Amengual. "Our purpose is to give every climber the perfect climbing shoe so they can enjoy the climbing experience a little more."

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