With so much choice it's hard to choose these days, says Paul Lewis. So what about models like the Evolv Bandit that are designed to be an all rounder? Are there any boots that can really do it all?
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The first commercially available rock boots that I remember were the EB. These blue and grey creations looked a bit like an offshoot of a baseball boot with high sides and chunky rubber soles. The only resemblance they had to modern rock shoes was the smooth rubber sole and high, smooth rand. My friends and I shared a pair for years and, although we felt like pros, they were terrible to climb in.
Then, in the early eighties Boreal created the Fire. This was a bland grey colour with flashy red bits. It was still high-sided and a sloppy fit but the Fire had a secret weapon... sticky rubber soles. The first time I remember seeing them in action was in the iconic photos of Jerry Moffat high on Cloggy's Masters Wall.
...They were soon THE boots to have and gradually became more widely seen around the crags of Britain...
They were soon THE boots to have and gradually became more widely seen around the crags of Britain. Despite my best efforts I never saved up enough money to buy some but, when I did get the odd chance to climb in them, that sticky rubber sole was a revelation.
Things have moved on a lot since then and we now a world away from the Fire. A visit to my local climbing shop last week and there were 35 types of shoe on offer. Gender specific models, Velcro, lace up or slip on, stiff or flexible soles, edging or smearing models and every colour under the sun.
But, with so much choice, it's hard to choose. So what about models like the Evolv Bandit that are designed to be an all rounder? Are there any boots that can really do it all?
Evolv is a US brand that is very well established in the UK. All their footwear is assembled in the US. Men's and women's specific boots are available. Evolv are proud of the environmentally sustainable aspects of their footwear manufacture. While they recognise that footwear production is always going to damage the environment to some degree, they have models that are constructed using synthetic leather and their Eco Trax rubber soles currently use a 30% post consumer recycled rubber content (a percentage they hope to increase in the future).
I've been climbing in these shoes for the last four months. This has included time on Peak Gritstone, Pembroke Limestone, Skye Gabbro, Welsh Rhyolite and Gogarth Quartzite. They have also spent a fair bit of time at local walls. I have tried, whenever possible, to make direct comparisons by taking several types of rockshoes to the crag which I can swap during the session.
Evolv describe the Bandit as being designed for sport, trad and wall use – all around versatility with a comfortable fit. It has a black and red Synthratek synthetic leather upper with an extra red layer designed to provide a stronger, more durable shoe. The sole is made from 4.2mm Ecotrax XT-5 rubber and the rand is constructed from 2.2mm duro-rand rubber sole. The fastening method is a 5 hole lacing system and at the back are 2 decent sized finger loops to pull the slippers on. The shoe is lined with a soft microfibre and the tongue is well padded. The Bandit has a full length1.3mm midsole. The Evolv website says the uppers are perforated for ventilation but the only place this was evident to me was on the tongue.
My first impressions of the Bandit were very good. I wasn't initially over enthusiastic about the red and black colour scheme but then I am known for choosing drab colour schemes – I decided to view this as part of my therapy! The construction quality is superb - neat even stitching which is reinforced in high stress areas, careful glueing and attention to detail in every respect.
I take a size 8(42) approach shoe in just about every type and model and in my recent rock shoes I have tended to take a 7(41) or 7.5(41.5) depending on the manufacturer and model. I found the size 7.5(41) Bandit gave the best fit. I had tried the 7(41) but felt the fit was a little tight for me given the general purpose nature of the shoe. In the long run the 7.5 (41.5) has been just right.
The fit of the shoe around my foot is very good and it feels snug and precise across the toe area with plenty of support from the full length midsole. The only part of my foot that feels a little loose is my heel. This certainly isn't the kind of baggy heel fit that I have experienced in some other shoes like the 5.10 Anasazi but it is still a little looser than the rest of the shoe. Of course fit is a very personal thing but please check this when you try the shoes on.
The microfibre lining is very comfy. In fact it feels almost too luxurious for a climbing shoe! But the shoe has now moulded to my feet really well and they feel very comfortable. I had heard reports that some people have found this liner makes the boot very smelly but I have had no problems with this – well it's no worse than the smell of most of my rock shoes anyway! Over the four months I have been using this shoe there has been minimal stretch and I estimate they have only stretched about a quarter of a size. Now the fit is perfect and I can wear these shoes comfortably for hours yet they are still tight enough to perform well.
Over the last few years I have favoured Velcro adjustment models and I was a little unsure how the lace system would work for me. I have generally found that Velcro adjusters are precise and they make it so easy to get the boots off. In the end I needn't have worried. The Bandit's lace system is well thought out and you can make precise adjustment of the fit. The lace system also extends near to the toe which helps get a good toe tightness. The laces also run easily over the leather tongue. A great design.
...The shoe excels on steep, edgy rock like Pembroke Limestone and also smears well on slabby gritstone...
The Eco Trax XT-5 rubber performs really well and is comparable to other rubber I've used recently such as 5.10's Stealth. It grips well on all the rock types I've used it on and is just the right balance between grip and durability. As this is a reasonably stiff shoe I have been keen to try it on as many rock types as possible. The shoe excels on steep, edgy rock like Pembroke Limestone and also smears well on slabby gritstone. The shoe works well in cracks and there is enough support to protect the foot. The pointed toe profile also works well in pockets. Over time the stiffness in the midsole has relaxed a bit (or maybe I've just got used to them?) but the shoe remains supportive and copes well with small edges.
So far the Bandit has had 4 months use yet shows minimal signs of wear. The only noticeable wear areas are around the front edge of the rand and rounding of the sole edge at the front – but that is simply the wear and tear you get with any shoe. There is loads of use left in them. The uppers are wearing really well and hardly show any signs of wear.
The Evolv Bandit retails for about £75. This represents exceptionally good value in a market where similar shoes are costing £80 to £85. For that money you are getting a well constructed, carefully designed and great performing shoe from an environmentally responsible manufacturer.
The Bandit is certainly the jack-of-all-trades that Evolv claim. It has performed superbly on limestone, rhyolite and quartzite and held it's own on gritstone. Due to its performance, durability and fit it will particularly suit new climbers right through to upper middle grade climbers who are looking for a one shoe does all option. Another great shoe from Evolv.
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