Sarah Flint tests out five pairs of rock shoes from classic manufacturers that claim to be 'all rounders': the Edelrid Tornado II, Evolv Elektra, Red Chilli Spirit, La Sportiva Jeckyl and Scarpa Thunder.
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Five new pairs of rock shoes. A girl can never have too many shoes can she - but how on earth would I review them all effectively? Taking them out pair by pair would mean the review would be a long time coming. So I settled on taking them all out together in a sort of shoe orgy. I became an Imelda Marcos figure at the local crag wearing a succession of different shoes – by which I mean different shoes on each foot (as well as the normal way of course). And what did I find? Same, same but different.
These five colourful pairs of shoes from five classic manufacturers are sold as 'all rounders': go anywhere, do anything. Ideally they should fit like gloves, instill confidence on minute edges, overhangs and cracks, and give comfort on multi-pitches. We're talking neither soft nor stiff but something in between; we're not talking 'banana-shaped curled up toes hideous discomfort' but 'slightly curled-up tensioned comfort'. Performance is all about the fit and what these five pairs showed me is that makes and models are as individual as our feet are. And if a shoe doesn't fit like a glove on first fitting then it must be adjustable enough to make up for the deficiency.
"...I settled on taking them all out together in a sort of shoe orgy. I became an Imelda Marcos figure at the local crag..."
A note on sizing: shoe sizes are a moveable thing - I know I'll take a size 6 in some brands and a size 5 ½ in others (that's without socks). I generally work in UK sizing not European, but it seems the conversion from one into the other by the manufacturers is not an exact science. Spot the anomalies in the sizing below - they are as found on the shoe labels. The best approach is to try on a lot of pairs to get the right size.
More advice on buying rock shoes can be found in Jack Geldard's article:
Evolv Elektra VTR (Size 39 / 5 ½ RRP £75)
The cheapest pair here. I was really impressed after a previous not-so-comfortable encounter with this brand. Like all of the shoes reviewed here they're built on a slightly asymmetrical last, but unlike the rest they are entirely made of synthetic materials - so don't expect much stretch. A good fit with nicely curled toes (rather than flat or scrunched) is achievable with the two straps. The heel box is snug too with no roll. However the toe box is surprisingly high volume for a women's shoe and its bagginess means a bit of roll here. The nylon lining and padded tongue makes them comfortable, but being entirely synthetic they're sweaty despite the perforated tongue and uppers. Be prepared for smelly shoes.
The Elektra features new 'Variable Thickness Rand' technology, which essentially means the tip of the toe is noticeably thicker. This is designed to prevent toe bulge, maintain the toe box shape and make it more durable. Although I found I lost some sensitivity due to the somewhat clunky 'ballet shoe point' type structure it proved great for toe jamming and has a really solid edging platform. I was happy with the 4.2mm proprietary rubber sole for smearing, but on the polished limestone (hereinafter referred to as 'LP') of the Avon Gorge it didn't fill me with confidence.
Its half length mid sole makes it the softest shoe here ... which reduces its claim as an all rounder – it's not ideal for long multi pitch days but great for bouldering and sports stuff.
Summary: This is a good value shoe and a particularly good choice if you're vegan and don't mind smelly feet.
Scarpa Thunder (Size 38 ½ / 5 ½ RRP £79.99)
Disappointingly the laces on this seven eyelet shoe don't extend all the way to the toe, making a perfect fit not possible for everyone. This shoe is available in men's and women's designs. The low toe volume of the women's model conformed to the gender expectations so fortunately they made a glove-like fit over my toes ... unfortunately the heel box wasn't as accommodating and there was a slight gap, but not enough to create any roll when heel hooking. Being unlined and with a high cut ankle I thought they might not be the most comfy of shoes but the thick perforated synthetic tongue and soft suede upper made them fine for extended use. The fit was initially a bit tight but there's sufficient stretch in them to ensure future comfort.
The Vibram Edge soles are amongst the thinnest here – coming in at 4mm. This suits me fine, as they're light and flexible, giving the sensitivity I enjoy. This may be at the expense of durability but as Vibram Edge is proclaimed to be very hard wearing this may not be a problem. Only time will tell. It may not provide as good and firm an edging platform as the others but I certainly didn't find it a problem: it came good on very small stuff. Friction is good but they weren't wonderful on LP.
A fairly stiff mid sole provides a good balance between support and sensitivity. Something also provided by its rand - which doesn't smother the shoe. In fact it has the least coverage of all these five, which is fine by me as I prefer more overall flexibility. Fine for all day use as well as the more tricky stuff.
Summary: Generally a good all rounder at a reasonable price.
Red Chili Spirit VCR IZ (Size 39 / 6 RRP £79.99)
Described as an 'advanced all rounder' you'd expect great things from this Velcro shoe. The 3 straps give it excellent adjustability so it's possible to get a good fit even though it's not made on a female specific last. The low toe box volume also assists in achieving the 'glove' effect. My feet are held in place by the heel cup well enough for effective heel hooks. A good enough fit is achievable for there to be no noticeable roll anywhere, and even though a firm mid-sole makes it quite a stiff shoe, surprisingly it still manages to feel like a glove when it's on.
The 4.5mm proprietary rubber sole is as it says on the box: 'super sticky' and was one of the two pairs here that coped with LP. A sharp toe profile is perfect for edging without being clunky and along with the high rand makes toe jamming possible without wincing. 'IZ' stands for 'Impact Zone' which refers to the shock absorbing EVA heels – designed to make a walk off or bouldering drop offs less agonising. It works but it does feel like you're wearing high heels – not a problem just a bit weird.
Comfort and precision work together here - with a beautifully soft suede unlined upper and a padded two piece synthetic tongue there's no problem wearing them for extended periods.
Summary: A durable adjustable all rounder.
Firm but flexible Red Chili Spirit
fishinwater, Jun 2011
© Sarah Flint
La Sportiva Jeckyl (Size 39 / 6 RRP £79.99)
This lace up is described as entry level but it performs as well as the others here. It's certainly the most foot-friendly pair here. The low ankle cut allows for a good range of movement while the stiff mid-sole gives good support. Despite the uppers being made of unlined suede (except for the tongue which is lined and perforated) they're comfortable enough on a long day, and not too sweaty. Although they aren't gender specific the 8 eyelet laces allowed me to get a fairly good fit but as the laces don't extend to the toe, adjustability is limited. The toe volume is low but wide so no curled toes here. My heel wasn't held well by the heel cup so there's some roll. The sole is a thick 5mm Vibram Edge which isn't that LP friendly but good enough. Its thickness provides a very good edging platform but I found the toes clunky. Annoyingly they only have one tab to pull the shoe on – all the others have two, which is always easier for a quick on and off.
Summary: Although more tailored for comfort than performance these would be great in most climbing environments but are not really right for bouldering, and E numbers may be stretching it a bit.
Edelrid Tornado II (Size 39.5 / 6 RRP £89.95)
The most expensive pair here and the coolest looking. They're also the stickiest soled pair (4mm Vibram XS) - they are definitely stickier than the Scarpas and the La Sportivas, which use the new Vibram 'Edge'. There are only two Velcro straps but adjustability has been carefully thought out - they have a clever 'rail' that allows for lengthways movement of the straps, catering for individual adjustment needs, and a wide Velcro patch so they can be secured wherever its needed.
For me these are a bit of a conundrum when it comes to fit. I'm usually a size 5 ½ but I had to go for a size 6 – which proved to be vice-like rather than glove-like. I can't need a whole size larger can I? They were so excruciatingly tight I asked my size 5 friend to try them - and she swore when she put them on. (Interestingly I stumbled upon a male Edelrid 'Reptile' wearer who said that he too was experiencing 'big toe pain' with a shoe size larger than usual).
They have a high rand and full tensioned rubber heel cap that leaves little of the suede upper visible and that clamps toes like a boa constrictor. Oddly enough the size 5 friend found the heel baggy and the ankle cuff too wide: 'It's for people with fat ankles and no toes' she observed. Discomfort is further compounded by the more than 'slightly' asymmetrical last. The manufacturers refer to the shoe as 'cambered' – 'banana' to you and me. Although sold as an all rounder they are at the high performance end and I couldn't imagine how they'd be comfortable for more than short periods. The possibility of future stretch is reduced by copious rubber rand coverage. Pain is offset a bit by the nice padded and perforated synthetic tongue and some nice thick and soft suede uppers.
That said they do the job – I gritted my teeth and forgot the discomfort as I enjoyed their supreme stickiness. The aggressively green heel cup increases precision; they don't roll; they're great for smearing, and although they have the most rounded toe of all five, they're good for edging too . I found a F6a boulder problem suddenly possible. And with the protection of the high rand toe, jamming couldn't be easier.
Summary: Get the sizing right and this would be an excellent performance shoe – but not a perfect all rounder.
About Sarah Flint (aka fishinwater)
Sarah writes a bit, climbs a lot and prefers to be outside rather than in some office staring at a computer. She got bored with her previous obsession, gardening, a few years ago, and found the strength and fitness developed in the 13 years she had been head gardener, suited climbing perfectly. Since then she's been greedy to cram as much climbing experience into her life as possible.
Where before she wrote about vegetables, she now likes to write about all things climbing and is keen to share the learning curve of her new addiction. She's based in the south west which is ideal for popping out to a crag before lunch and whenever the addiction calls.
She has a blog on climber.co.uk called 'Off the Wall', which is mostly about how not to climb.
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