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UKC Gear, Jul 2011
© Toby Archer It's a shame that 'middle of the road' has become a term of derision – suburban semis, Ford Mondeos, vegetable patches and all that – because the Scarpa Force is a very middle of the road rock shoe. Perhaps it reflects the ever closer onset of my middle age that I like them all the more for their middle-of-roadness. 'All rounder' might be a better description, but to me that always conjures images of Ian Botham. The Scarpa Force is a talented all-rounder then, but you don't need a mullet to wear them and I wouldn't walk from Land's End to John O'Groats in them. Sorry Beefy.
To sum up the Force, it's more shoe than slipper, despite its Velcro closure. It has a reasonably supportive midsole meaning plenty of support for edging. Nevertheless it doesn't have a thick sole and overall retains a slim toe profile meaning they slide in and out of thin cracks. Perhaps what is most noticeable about the Force's design overall is its flat profile. Compare its sole to the much more curved sole of Scarpa models such as the Booster and the Instinct and the difference is clear. The flat design makes the Force a comfortable shoe, much better for longer routes or all day climbing, something that I have been doing happily in mine, even in the summer heat.
Of course if you wear rock shoes with room for your toes to lie flat rather than curled, it does limit your ability to 'grab' smaller footholds with your toes, hence not optimal for steeply overhanging sport climbing on rock such as limestone. You could fit the Forces with your toes slightly curled. If you do buy them tight like this, then the Velcro is great for letting you slip your heels out easily. If you fit them with your toes flat, the shoes will be more comfy for long routes but obviously won't perform quite as well.
I had to choose between sizes 41 and 41.5, both of which could be said to fit me. Reflecting that the Force was designed as a mid-grade all-rounder rather than a high performance shoe, I decided to go for the slightly larger size. As it turned out I might well have got away with the 41s; with the 41.5 there is a little space around my heel but on the other hand I can happily wear and climb in the shoes for hours on end without any discomfort. Nevertheless, despite the feeling I could have worn them slightly tighter, I've been impressed with the performance the Forces have shown across a variety of styles of climbing.
I've always been a bit sceptical about those who claim they find major differences in the performance of different brands of rubber, at least amongst those of us who mostly climb in the low to mid grades. My pair of Forces came with XS Grip rubber, this year's shoes are soled with the updated XS Grip 2, which is the same as you'll find on top end shoes like the Scarpa Instinct.
To begin with I had a feeling the Forces were less sticky than other shoes. In retrospect I suspect that this was more a reflection of the rubber needing a little time to 'wear in'. I did manage to take a somewhat comedic flier off The Sod (a highly polished F5+/6a at Portland's Cuttings) when my feet simply slid off a shiny slabby foothold, but I think this was more to do with the very polished start of this route rather than the shoes. On non-polished granite slabs the Forces seems to stick now as well as any of my other shoes. Despite their decent smearing capabilities, the lateral support of the shoes' midsole also means they edge well. This might not be the pair of shoes to select for some long multipitch route with huge amounts of micro-edging, but for the vast majority of routes they offer plenty of support on matchstick-and-bigger sized edging footholds.
In 2009's Climbing Magazine the Scarpa Force was given the 'editors choice' award over a couple of dozen other new shoe models for being above average at everything. The review notes that one of their testers now uses his pair for all his Indian Creek climbing – the world's crack climbing Mecca.
Granite cracks - "Friends will be friends" (HVS 5a), Pärkänvuori, SW Finland.
TobyA, Aug 2010
© Toby Archer
Scarpa have given the Force one more clever design tweak to make them a good crack shoe; they have simply reversed the direction of the lower Velcro closure strap...
While I haven't had the chance to see if my pair of Forces will help me on my expected future onsight of Bellyful of Bad Berries, I can say they are a good crack shoe as now tested on numerous Finnish granite cracks but also on slippery limestone cracks of Portland and Symonds Yat, and the mighty sandstone of Nesscliffe (indeed if you can't afford the air ticket to test yourself against Indian Creek's Supercrack of the Desert, get yourself to Shropshire and plug those hands and feet into the wonderful Red Square).
Along with the above noted slim toe and flat profile, Scarpa have given the Force one more clever design tweak to make them a good crack shoe; they have simply reversed the direction of the lower Velcro closure strap. On not all but many Velcro shoes the straps both close towards the outer edge of the shoe.
As my old Mammut Velpros, otherwise a great shoe, proved on many occasions that this meant as you cammed your foot into hands to thin fist-sized cracks, the camming action would often rip open the lower Velcro stap – an alarming feeling when in extremis. With the Forces, the natural crack climbing foot motion actually keeps the lower strap closed. Scarpa have also added a slightly rubbery outer layer to that strap which will give the shoe a bit more protection when crack climbing and seems to make the shoe slightly more grippy when cammed.
Despite doing lots of climbing in them over the last year, the shoes have worn very well. The rubber is peeling away slightly on the tab that bulges up protecting the outer edge of shoe at its widest point – but it's nothing that a dab of glue won't fix. The rubbery bit on the lower strap on one shoe has worn through from crack climbing, but the leather below remains fine, showing what a good idea this is. The amount of climbing I've done in these shoes over the last 12 months shoes the quality of their construction and makes them excellent value for money. The Scarpa Force are a comfortable and competent all round shoe for the mid-grade climber. Mullets and charity walks are optional.
About Toby ArcherToby Archer is based in Finland.
He describes himself as: "a writer and researcher specialising in international security politics; finally no longer a PhD student; hopeless but enthusiastic climber; part-time gear reviewer; keen multi-role cyclist; idealist and cynic"
Climbing keeps him from getting too depressed about politics. He blogs about both at:
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by TobyA: