Climbing shoes are the only piece of gear that can actually improve a climber’s performance. Impressive claims of improved stickiness, edging, comfort, smearing and sensitivity make climbers eagerly anticipate the spring release of new shoes. But before rushing off and buying this season’s latest gravity defying footwear, consider the following points:
Stiffer shoes offer support for standing on small edges while softer, more flexible shoes are better for grabbing holds on steep walls. Most climbers eventually end up with a few pairs of shoes for different climbing situations.
While there was a time when climbers believed that excessive downsizing improved any shoe’s performance, most climbers today believe that a shoe should fit according to its intended purpose. Soft, highly cambered sportclimbing shoes require a tighter fit compared to flat-lasted and less tensioned all-arounders. On smaller holds, loose-fitting shoes allow the foot to roll, causing the climbers to slip while too tight a fit with multi-pitch shoes ensures unnecessary pain and blackened toenails.
Lacing vs Velcro vs Slippers
Shoes with laces provide the most locked-in fit and precision but are less convenient for bouldering and its frequent shoe changes. Slippers offer the ultimate in convenience but at the cost of high-end edging. Velcro straddles the middle ground with some models providing almost as much control as full lace-up shoes.
Newton – $110
With its stiff midsole and thick Onyx rubber sole the Newton eats up dime-thin edges and vertical terrain. This is a shoe perfectly suited for long technical granite face climbing where the ability to stand on non-existent edges determines redpoint and onsight success. These strengths are also the shoe’s weakness; the Newton is not a first choice for steep gymnastic sportclimbing. If climbers can avoid cave- like bouldering and tufa-tugging sport routes, they’ll be content with the Newton’s performance.
Grandstone – $129
This flat-lasted high-top shoe is a perfect choice for long easy trad climbing or for climbers spending serious time struggling up wide cracks. The generous rand coverage is welcome during offwidth adventures while the low-profile toe and full-coverage toe rand improve security in narrower cracks. A supportive forefoot midsole protects the foot when jamming and offers secure edging when face climbing. Five Ten eliminated the midsole at the center shoe creating a flexible hinge appreciated during the constant torquing encountered on long crack climbs. This is a specialized shoe that makes perfect sense for its intended application.
Katana Lace – $151
Climbers who like the original Katana but wanted the locked down feel of a lace-up shoe will love the new Katana Lace. Sportiva employs their P3 system ensuring the shoe retains its downturned shape and uses the new Vibram XS Edge rubber sole for precision on small edges. The lacing system provides easy adjustment and more control than is found on the Velcro version making the Katana Lace a great option for climbers seeking a low-volume fitting shoe for precise edging and on vertical and steep terrain.
Vapor – $159
As Scarpa’s new edging-oriented climbing shoe the Vapor is built for uncompromising control on small edges. Starting with the closure, Scarpa achieves a locked-down fit by using traditional laces while the new Vibram XS Edge rubber delivers optimized grip and shear resistance for standing on small holds. On the upper, Scarpa blends leather for all day foot-conforming comfort with a synthetic Lorica panel over the toes for a consistent fit. Finally, the moderate camber, thin midsole and active rand construction add power and control when dancing on small holds without compromising sensitivity.
Vapor V – $159
While almost identical in construction to the Vapor, the Vapor V delivers greater convenience thanks to its Velcro closure and improved steep rock performance because of its softer Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber. For climbers spending time on steeper rock these subtle differences produce surprising performance gains. But unlike some hyper-specialized steep rock shoes, the Vapor V is still versatile enough for face climbing thanks to its thin supportive midsole and powerful compression-generating active rand construction. Scarpa uses a leather upper for a conformable, foot-hugging fit while the Lorica panel over the toes provides consistent performance and controlled stretch. This is a beautifully made and versatile Velcro shoe.
Vapor S – $119
Bouldering and steep routes are the best terrain for this addition to the Vapor line. While it uses a similar last, midsole and rubber as the Vapor V, the new Vapour S differs from its brother with all leather construction and simple slipper fit. The result is a more foot-confirming fit and greater on-and-off convenience. And yet this slipper is surprisingly precise during more vertical climbing primarily because of its active rand construction which provides power and control to the forefoot.
Predator G2 – $125
The heavily-cambered Predator is a great option for steep bouldering and sport climbing. This season the Predator also receives a new deeper and slightly more structured heel that provides a more secure fit and better heel hooking. The soft midsole offers just enough support for edging and toeing into pockets while remaining sensitive enough for smearing and pulling on steeper ground. While perhaps not the best choice for extended vertical or slabby routes, the Predator G2 is a solid performer when the angle increases.
Talon G2 – $125
The Predator G2 is awesome, but this shoe offers more control and improved toe hooking. Essentially this is a Predator with laces and as such it delivers greater forefoot control when edging and improved security when heel hooking. The generous slab of toe-cap rubber also makes this shoe better at toe hooking – a necessity on steep routes and boulder problems. The one trade-off climbers should consider is the decreased on-and-off convenience when compared to the Predator’s Velcro closure – a small sacrifice
Tribal – $169
Thanks to its mildly cambered shape and thin midsole the Tribal is a remarkably versatile slipper. Performance on small edges is exceptional without comprising the sensitivity necessary for steeper touchy-feely type routes. Sized correctly, the Tribals are the perfect do-it-all slipper and can be worn on for technical sport climbs, longer trad routes or powerful bouldering. Construction quality, as with all Boreal shoes, is exceptional.
Storm – $139
The Storm’s innovative closure requires some initial fiddling but when properly adjusted, the single Velcro strap and cord provides a level of security only possible with multiple straps. The closure also avoids the bulk of extra Velcro, straps and sewing. On the rock, a supple midsole gives the Storm an almost perfect level of stiffness and sensitivity allowing for solid performance on a variety of terrain. Boreal’s moulded heel-cup ribs improves security during technical heel hooking.
Samurai – $151
Mammut’s top-end climbing shoe combines an aggressive camber, a highly asymmetric shape and sophisticated tensioning for outstanding performance of steep terrain. A thin midsole improves edging without restricting sensitivity and the mix of leather and synthetic materials ensures the Samurai maintains its performance for the life of the shoe. The shoes’ high-performance construction limits its usefulness to steeper and more technical routes but climbers considering the Samurai will not dissuaded by this compromise.
Spirit – $110
This year Red Chili has reworked this comfortable and versatile shoe with a lower profile toe, slimmer-fitting heel and a slightly softer midsole. The result is a shoe that fits better and offers greater control on smaller holds. And while this is not the ideal shoe for difficult and steep bouldering, beginners and intermediate climbers will enjoy the comfortable fit and balanced performance. -GA