Red Chili say: "Stylish, sporty and technical, Red Chili's first women's specific shoe looks and feels the business. With a neat, light, trimmed down version of the best-selling Spirit last as its base, but adapted to hug the female foot shape better, it fits incredibly well. The triple velcro upper is great for quick on & offs and adjusts easily for a precision fit - even on slim feet - while the heel is a snug cup that hooks great. Add to this Red Chili's Impact Zone heel for maximum comfort whilst bouldering or walking off the crag and you have a feature packed winner! The Lady Spirit VCR is a precision entry into the women's market that's sharp enough for the hardcore to wear tight and crank, but relaxed enough for those making their crucial first steps."
Two of our gear reviewers put the shoes through their paces - Lou Neill climbing routes and Jenn climbing boulder problems:
Designed to be a female version of the “Spirit,” these are some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. The shoe is incredibly neat and the 3 velcro straps mean that you can tighten it effectively to fit your foot when you need a bit more precision, or easily loosen the shoe for more comfort. I don't know if I have a typically female-shaped foot, but the shoe fit me perfectly from toe to heel.
It's a fairly stiff shoe with a precise edge which works well on small holds. The rubber is reasonably sticky, but not the most sticky I've used. I found that it didn't quite do the business on polished limestone slabs, although what does!
I was intrigued by the “impact-zone” heel, at first it felt like a weird solid mass – but I soon got used to it. It's designed to alleviate pain on a long walk–off, and absorb energy when jumping off bouldering - which it did, although it is never going to be as comfortable as an approach shoe.
Who is it for?
The Spirit Lady is a good general or entry-level shoe, for those who want a combination of comfort and precision. It would also be useful on long routes, where you didn't need your tightest bunion-producing, toe-cramping shoe, but you didn't want to sacrifice too much precision. It also comes in a pretty shade of blue and yellow, which I think most ladies would find complemented their cragging outfits!
In what seems like an entire lifetime ago, the first pair of climbing shoes that I bought was the Red Chili Spirit Lace Ups. Given this, I was very intrigued by the brand new Spirit Lady Velcros which are based on a more streamlined version of the original Red Chili Spirit last. My climbing has certainly come on since days when a Font 4 was a struggle, but have the shoes that I abandoned for a more technical pair progressed as well?
First up is the fit:
I have freakishly small feet and am forced to endure epic battles just to get shoes that come in my size. The climbing world seems to be set up for average size guys, with average size guy feet, not that I am bitter of course. The Spirit Lady VCRs are Red Chili's first offering specifically for women and thus come in smaller sizes, which is of course an advantage for me. In addition, Red Chili suggest that half-sizes can be used to fine tune fit between comfort and performance. I was a bit sceptical when told that you could wear the shoes a bit loose as an all-round shoe and tighter for a more technical one. I initially thought that the company was bailing out on having to offer two different models for women. However, after trying on two different sizes, I can see what they meant. I went with the tighter, more technical fit as I mostly boulder these days and am used to taking my shoes off after 5 minutes of use. I can easily see that if the shoes were a half size bigger they would be quite happy on long mountain trad routes. My only gripe about the tight fitting shoes is there appears to be a bit of dead space near to my arch. I normally wear 5.10 Anasazi Women's VCRs for most stuff or 5.10 Dragons on steep problems. They both seem to hug my high arches better. Clearly for someone else whose feet have a different shape, this aspect of fit could be a drawback, however it is probably only a minor issue. Another positive point about the fit is that the yellow suede uppers didn't bag out at all. The size that you buy is pretty much the size you will end up with even after a few months of wear.
At first I found triple velcro straps to be a bit fiddly, however as time went by I became more endeared to them as I believe the third strap offers a more snug fit. Of course it's not as precise as a lace up model but they don't take anywhere near as long to put on (or more importantly take off if you go for a tighter shoe!). This ability to fine tune is a good addition to what is already a very well fitting shoe.
So did the great fit match the performance?
One area in which the Spirit Lady VCRs are a completely different beast from the Lace Up Spirits is edging. Gone is the floppy last and in its place are a firm yet still flexible mid sole and a sharp front edge that both perform even on the smallest edge. These shoes seem more focussed on razor-like rhyolite rather than smeary grit slabs. I've been using the shoes for about a month now, both indoors and out, and the edge still seems to be going strong. I would have expected my 5.10s to be showing some wear by now, so this is an area in which the Spirits score well.
Another of the features of the Spirit Lady VCRs is the Impact Zone. It's a foam wedge hidden under the sole of the shoe which acts as a cushion for the heel. As the name suggests this is intended to absorb some of the shock when your feet hit the ground. In addition it is meant to make standing around and walking in the shoes more comfortable. My original concern with this concept is that it might get in the way when heel-hooking. This is not the case as the pad is located at the top of the heel, not the back. However, I didn't find that it offered significant shock absorption when falling. After wearing the shoes for a while I felt that I would rather trade any increased comfort for greater sensitivity and less bulk.
Having covered both fit and performance, the crux remains – how is the rubber?
The Spirit Lady VCRs have Red Chili's 4.2mm RX1 rubber. This formula has been tried and tested over the years on the Red Chili X-cubes and is now currently seen on their replacement, the Corona VCR. After using 5.10s for the majority of my climbing career I will admit that I was sceptical about trying anything other than Stealth rubber. After all the sticky 5.10 rubber had won my trust over many years. So did the Spirits slip?
I first tried the shoes indoors and here the answer was “yes”. A few times I came crashing down to the mat when my foot just popped for no specific reason. More worryingly, this was on problems that I had sent before. In fairness to the shoes, the footholds were grimy and were polished as smooth as a marble statue. Given this, maybe the jury was still out, and I had some concerns about how well they would work outdoors.
A break in the weather gave the opportunity for a couple of trips to North Wales and lots of time on my some of my favourite rock types; the rough rhyolites and dolerites of Snowdonia and the water-smoothed mudstones of Cae Du. This is where the shoes really started to shine. I found them to be just as precise as my Anasazis and my foot didn't pop unexpectedly once, even at Cae Du where this is a very normal occurrence on the slippery rock. I would say the strong point of the Red Chili is definitely edging, however, after a few sessions of dolerite bouldering, I can now say the shoes are very happy smearing as well.
I actually found myself preferring the new shoes over my, admittedly slightly worn, 5.10s. These new shoes are nothing like the 'feely' Lace Up Spirits and seemed to be very happy on real rock. I guess, looking back, at it the slippiness I experienced indoors was probably more related to lots of rubber on well used holds.
Who are these shoes for?
If you are in the market for women's fit shoes that excel at precise edging while still holding their own on smears; and if your goal is technical activities such as sport routes or moderate bouldering; then you could do well with these shoes. A slightly looser fit would also be at home on long trad multi-pitch routes. These aren't exactly the most technical shoe on the market (few if any women's specific models exist in that category, hint, hint) but if you're about to make the transition from a beginner to a regular climber and want a pair of shoes that will make that leap with you I suggest giving them a try. Indeed for me one of the biggest step ups in my climbing came from trusting tiny edges. Few women's specific models offer better edging ability and the triple velcro straps provide an accurate fit.
Jenn lives in London and likes pushing her limits: "It's what I enjoy most about climbing." She mainly boulders (up to V6) but is also interested in running, Iyengar yoga and roller-blading. "Currently, I spend most of my time climbing, training for climbing, thinking about climbing, getting upset when I can't go climbing and so on..!"
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