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Comparative Review of Climbing Shoes for Spring 2000
By John Walter

I love the spring. The weather gets warmer, the days longer, and gear manufacturers parade out their new lines of equipment. A new year means new gear, and the climbing shoe industry is no exception.

Climbing shoes are one of the essential pieces of equipment for rock climbing. Of all the different types of equipment manufactured for free climbing, climbing shoes are virtually the only items used to help the wearer ascend rock (aid climbing is a different story). Harnesses, ropes, carabiners, protection, bouldering pads--you name it--are all safety items used only when gravity gets the best of you. Climbing shoes, however, actually assist the climber to get up the rock.

So will the latest pair of climbing shoes make you, or your customer better climbers. Do they really make that much of a difference. Perhaps surprisingly, climbing shoes don't add a great deal to your climbing capabilities. As one very astute observer put it, it’s more likely that the shoes don’t impede the climbing abilities of the climber, rather than making her a better climber.

Why then are there over seventy models of shoes on the market (and growing)? Because when it comes to climbing, like it or not, it’s about the numbers. Climbing is a personal challenge, and using the rating system is the way to measure that challenge. And to move through the ratings climbers will do anything, short of grabbing anchored quickdraws, to give them a hand up--or in this case, a foot up. For the beginner, climbing shoes may add confidence--it’s a mental thing. For experienced climbers, great shoes may give that extra 1% needed to stick that otherwise problem redpoint.

This year there is a plethora of new shoes on the market, with new designs and unique features to entice the buyer. The shoes sport stickier rubber, synthetic materials, zippers, aggressive shapes, and unique midsoles. We tested many of the new 2000 models, and have included our initial results here. There are more new shoes that weren’t yet available, but once they are, you can count on the Field Test crew to lace 'em up and pull hard. Once we do, we will include our findings here on our website as they become available. Also on the GearReview.com website is an introduction to climbing shoe terminology and how to fit climbing shoes.

We reviewed the following shoes:


Boreal Matrix
Boreal Equinox
Boreal Spirit
Scarpa Paranoia
FiveTen Zlipper
FiveTen Ascent
FiveTen X-ray
La Sportiva Cliff
La Sportiva Focus
La Sportiva Mega
Red Chili Habenero
EB Synthese

Boreal Matrix

Boreal MatrixAll of the testers that wore the Boreal's Matrix agree that this is the most comfortable shoe in the review. Boreal has nicknamed this shoe "The Glove," and for good reason. The Matrix just feels like it is supposed to be on your feet. The Lorica upper, combined with the Lycra under the laces, makes this tongue-less shoe easy to get on and extremely comfortable.

The Matrix is made with a multi-pieced, tensioned rand. It has virtually no midsole and no lining. The rand pulls the heel in well and the shoe never felt baggy on my heel. Combined with a thin rubber sole, the shoe has great sensitivity, but possibly at the price of a short sole life. You can expect to be replacing the sole more quickly than with thicker soled--albeit less sensitive--climbing shoes.

The Matrix is targeted at the sport/bouldering/gym market and should do well there. While bouldering in the gym with a different pair of shoes, I was having trouble with one of the problems. However when I put the Matrix on, I stuck the move the first try. A drawback with these shoes is that they don’t edge very well.

A pair of Matrix will set you back $128. Size these shoes as tight as you can possibly stand. They will stretch when you begin to apply force to them. Look for the Matrix to migrate to the Boreal Integrated Rand System (IRS) next year. The IRS will make it easier and cheaper to resole the Matrix.

Contact Boreal USA at 949-498-1011 or on the internet at www.borealusa.com.

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Boreal Equinox

Boreal EquinoxWith the Equinox, Boreal intended to create the most comfortable board lasted shoe available, and I have to admit, they’ve done a pretty good job. The Equinox sports a last similar to their Zephyr shoe, but with a roomier toe box that is unlined and seamless (read--no seams to push down on your toes). The laces on the Equinox don’t extend over the toes, either, ensuring painless comfort.

This shoe is aimed at the beginner to intermediate climber, especially one who is looking for a shoe for long routes. The medium-stiff midsole provides good edging and support while still allowing for mobility and comfort on long routes.

This shoe should be able to handle what you throw at it. Being a board lasted shoe and wrapped so well in rubber, Boreal has created a comfortable and durable all day/all around shoe.

The Equinox retails for $129.50.

Contact Boreal USA at 949-498-1011 or on the internet at www.borealusa.com.

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Boreal Spirit

Boreal SpiritThe Spirit from Boreal is their latest offering in the IRS (Integrated Rand System) line, following their initial models of the Quantum and the Quetzal. The benefit of the injection molded sole/rand greater durability and more sensitivity, while being easier to resole.

Although I am not a fan of the IRS System (call me old-fashioned), the Spirit climbs well. It is built on a last similar to the classic Boreal Laser. The Fusion S-3 rubber is definitely more durable. After climbing for two months on them, they still looked new. The Spirit has other Laser-like characteristics as well. When I first tried them on they were really snug, but as I climbed in them they stretched out quite a bit and began to feel too big, so size them small.

While most people that you talk to about the Spirit will tell you that they are a good all around shoe, they actually climb well on steep pocket climbs and boulders. Yuji Hirayama onsighted a 8b (5.13d) in these shoes. While these shoes weren't the reason for the onsight, they apparently didn't hinder him either.

The Equinox retails for $139.50.

Contact Boreal USA at 949-498-1011 or on the internet at www.borealusa.com.

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Scarpa Paranoia

Scarpa ParanoiaNew from Scarpa this year is the Paranoia, another shoe aimed at the bouldering/sport climbing/gym market. The Paranoia is one of the most unique shoes in this review. It is also the only shoe that was built on doubled cambered last, the result of a multi-year study of climbers and scientists at a Norwegian university. The benefit of this last is that it places the foot in a flexed position, which allows more pulling in with the toes on overhung routes by generating more body tension. It also has a sling shot heel and a multi-piece, tensioned rand. This is one of the most aggressive shoes that I’ve ever worn--or seen.

I had a hard time liking the Paranoia. I never seemed to get the right fit, even after trying 3 different sizes. Supposedly it fits wide feet well, but I have a hard time seeing this. The shoe never felt comfortable to me. Most of the testers who tried it came to the same conclusion.

At first I hated these shoes, but tolerated them to give them equal time. That is when I began to notice their benefits. If I didn’t lace them up tightly, I found that I could climb in them. Although never comfortable, they did perform well on plastic and the steep stuff, edging well under the toe and outside of the shoe, and smearing well under the forefoot.
The Paranoia retails for $144.50

Scarpa shoes are distributed by Black Diamond Equipment and can be contacted at 801-248-5552 or on the internet at www.blackdiamondequipment.com.

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FiveTen Zlipper

FiveTen ZlipperThe Zlipper has several features that set it apart from other climbing slippers. The obvious thing is the zipper that is used to secure the shoe onto your foot. The Zlipper uses a locking zipper—a zipper with a tab/slot combination to ensure the zipper won’t creep open. Another feature of the Zlipper is a midsole in the shape of a question mark that follows along the outside of the foot, under the toes, ending up at the base of the big toe. This midsole allows for excellent edging of the shoe on the toe, while allowing for great sensitivity under the forefoot.

The Zlipper is another shoe that is made with synthetic materials. The lined upper is made from Cowdura, FiveTen’s version of Lorica, and keeps the stretch down while "remembering" the shape of the users foot. Sporting a thin profile, the Zlipper will fit narrow feet very well.

The only bad thing I have to say about this shoe is that after about 2 weeks of climbing in them, the seam that holds the elastic on the mouth of the one of the shoes started to blow out. It still holds nicely in the toe, but, if you’re going to plunk down $118, you want them to last a bit longer.

FiveTen has a womens' version of the Zlipper made with a leather upper that retails for $110.

Contact FiveTen at 909-798-4222 or on the internet at www.fiveten.com.

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FiveTen Ascent

FiveTen AscentThe Ascent is one of the most intriguing shoes that I have ever seen, and so it goes with most people. I got some of the strangest looks while wearing this shoe.

The first unique thing about the Ascent is the EVA midsole under the heel. The EVA midsole makes it look similar to the first generation running shoes from the early 70’s. The heel also has Five Ten's Stealth Dotted tread on the bottom, which looks like the suction cups on octopus tentacles, instead of the normal smooth climbing shoe rubber. Both of these features should make the shoe popular with climbers who are looking at a highball bouldering problem or a long descent from an all day route.

There are two ways to size this shoe. If you want to wear it for climbing hard sport routes or boulder problems, then size it tight. If you are looking for a shoe that you can wear on long routes, size it about a half size to a size smaller than your street shoe. A slip lasted shoe, the Ascent feels extremely stiff at first, but it breaks in very nicely.

This is one of my favorite shoes of this review. If there is anything bad about this shoe, it is the fact that this shoe doesn’t know what it wants to be. With the EVA cushioning and dotted sole on the heel, it is good for long routes, but the Velcro closures aren’t the most secure in the world and could cause problems on some sick offwidth, high above your last piece of pro. However, sized tight enough, these shoes perform well on the steep stuff.

The Ascent sells for $143.

Contact FiveTen at 909-798-4222 or on the internet at www.fiveten.com.

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FiveTen X-ray

FiveTen AscentFor those of us who like leather more than synthetic uppers, FiveTen has answered the call with the X-Ray. Built on the same last as the popular fully lined, synthetic upper Anasazi Velcro, the X-ray is an unlined leather upper. This gives better breathability and a more customized fit because of slight stretching in the leather.

Where the Anasazi Vecro performs well in the sport/bouldering/gym market, the X-ray follows suit. The X-ray also improves over the Anasazi. The X-ray has a pointier toe, making it easier to get into small pockets. It performs well on the steep and provides good friction as well. After climbing for 6 weeks in them, I haven't found a situation in that I dislike them. The X-ray is just another great offering from FiveTen.

The X-ray sells for $125.

Contact FiveTen at 909-798-4222 or on the internet at www.fiveten.com.

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La Sportiva Cliff

La Sportiva CliffThe Cliff, La Sportiva's beginner all around shoe, has been totally redesigned for this year, from the last to the toe box to the heel. The toe box is roomier, the heel narrower and the arch is a bit higher than last year’s model. Targeted to the beginner to intermediate climber, the Cliff is a comfortable all around shoe. It is constructed with an unlined leather upper and is slip lasted with a moderately stiff midsole.

One of the new features of the Cliff is the comfort window at the fifth metatarsal. By removing a piece of the rand in this location, it makes the Cliff very comfortable while still providing a fit that allows for variety of climbing styles. The Cliff is a great option for long day routes for those of us who prefer a slip lasted shoe to the traditional board lasted shoes.

The Cliff should fit on a wide range of foot shapes, while being best for those climbers who have medium to wide feet. The only price point shoe in this review, the Cliff is an exceptional value at $99.

La Sportiva USA can be contacted at 303-443-8710 or on the internet at www.sportiva.com.

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La Sportiva Focus

La Sportiva FocusAnother all around shoe, the Focus is aimed more at the intermediate to advanced climber. The Focus is the new performance climbing shoe from La Sportiva. With a full canvas lining and leather upper, the Focus is a very durable shoe. It has is constructed with a slip last that has a much pointier toe than the Cliff.

I found that the Focus performed well on moderate sport climbs and very well in crack situations. The profile of the shoe is narrower than the Cliff and gives a little more performance as well. La Sportiva recommends these shoes for steeper sport climbs if sized tighter, but I didn’t try this shoe in these situations. One thing that I did notice is that I was having trouble sticking a move on a couple of boulder problems in the gym with the Focus. Once I switched to a more aggressive shoe, I could stick the problems easily. However, the Focus is a good in all around situations.

The Focus retails for $124.95

La Sportiva USA can be contacted at 303-443-8710 or on the internet at www.sportiva.com.

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La Sportiva Mega

La Sportiva FocusLa Sportiva has reincarnated the Mega this year to replace their Kaukulator line. A high top, board lasted shoe the Mega is extremely durable. The shoe is fully lined and constructed from leather. It sports a 5 mm rubber sole, a 3 mm leather insole, and a 2 mm midsole, making this shoe one of the stiffest shoes that you'll put on your foot. The Mega is made on the same last as the Cliff, also from La Sportiva, so the Mega is a very comfortable shoe as well.

The Mega is targeted at the trad climber. Long cracks, small edges, long routes and long days were all in mind when the Mega was designed. This shoe would be great on routes in Yosemite Valley. The toebox is very roomy, ensuring comfort at those all day belays. The Mega performs well in the trad environment. The high top design protects the ankle from the skin on the ankle being ground away by granite cracks. The stiff midsole/sole eases the calf burning on lower angle routes. The last design provides all day comfort.

La Sportiva also version of the Mega called the Mega Dru. The Mega Dru is constructed the same as the Mega with a lug sole. The Mega Dru is targeted at climbers who are interested in alpine faces that have the potential of water running down them, or an option on big walls.

TThe Mega retails for $142 and the Mega Dru $149.

La Sportiva USA can be contacted at 303-443-8710 or on the internet at www.sportiva.com.

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Red Chili Habenero

Red Chili HabeneroThe Habenero from Red Chili isn’t new this year, but since both the shoe and the company are lesser known, we included them in this review to give you more exposure to the product.

Built on the same last as the Dos Equis, a slipper from Red Chili, the Habenero is basically a slipper with laces. The quick pull lacing system is as fast as Velcro closures but much more secure, and much more of a customized fit. Like all the shoes from Red Chili, the Habenero is made with pre-stretched leather. This keeps the additional stretching to a minimum. The Habenero will probably fit best on a medium to wide foot.

Although billed as an all around shoe, if sized tight enough, I feel it fits best in the sport/boulder/gym category. I wore these shoes for several forays to Ibex this winter and found that they performed well on the steep boulder problems there. The only thing that I didn’t like about them was that they gave me blisters on the tops of my toes.

The Habenero sells for $135.00

Red Chili shoes are distributed by Charlet Moser/Wild Country and can be contacted at 603-356-5590

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EB Synthese

EB SyntheseEB's new shoe for this year is the Synthese. Constructed with a Lorica upper on a slip last, this shoe is the result of a study by a podiatrist and the EB climbing team. The design supposedly compensates for muscular losses due to the changes in the foot during climbing. The profile is the pointiest shoe that I have ever seen and curves slightly inward. However, there is plenty of room in the toe box. There is a funky midsole behind the ball of the foot that feels mildly annoying when the shoe is first put on, but gives fairly good support while climbing, yet leaves the toes and the forefoot free for good sensitivity. Where most climbing shoes have no sole in the arch, the Synthese intentionally leaves a large portion of the sole there. This gives more arch support while climbing.

Only one tester wore these shoes and found them to perform well on his 45-degree home wall. He was able to toe in on the smallest footholds with substantial holding power. Cranking down on the laces allowed him to get a great deal of weight on the big toe. Tight but comfortable, they allowed him to push his limits.

One of the more aggressive shoes from EB, the Synthese sells for $149.95.
EB shoes are distributed by Advanced Basecamp and can be contacted at 801-954-0741.

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Walt is the climbing editor of GearReview.com and spends most of his time recovering from tendon injuries in his fingers.


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