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Rock shoes are one of the most important pieces of climbing equipment you will ever buy. The right pair of shoes can directly improve your climbing and conversely the wrong pair of shoes can directly impede your climbing. Entry and mid-range rock shoes aimed at a comfort level have a trade off: less performance on small holds vs. more comfort.
If you prefer comfort above performance (remember, if your feet are in agonising pain, then your climbing performance will drop significantly, or you may not even be able to continue climbing at all) then the shoes covered in this review are worth considering since all of them are designed to be worn for long periods of time. They also tend to have the added bonus of being cheaper than their more highly-speced compatriots.
So How Did We Test Them?
We passed these boots around between several reviewers including Alan James, Mark Reeves and Mark Glaister, who have worn them on various types of rock, from limestone and gritstone in Yorkshire and the Peak District to the sea cliffs and mountain crags of North Wales. We have also enrolled willing (and appropriately foot sized) climbing partners to give them a test-run when possible.
We have looked at the boots through the eyes of those choosing comfort over performance, but of course everyone needs to stand on a small hold occasionally, so we checked that out too.
The categories we have focused on have been Comfort, Precision, Edging, Smearing and Durability. We have had all of these shoes for several months now, and they have all been put through their paces.
Each shoe is reviewed individually below, including some action photos, but for those who want a quicker reference point, we are now introducing handy star rating tables to all of our comparison reviews, and there is a star table just below.
Interested in buying a new pair of rock shoes?
UKC Article: Ten Top Tips for Buying Rock Shoes
"Tip 9. How to tell if they fit?
Aim to have a good snug fit all around the shoe. You shouldn't have baggy bits or pockets of air in the shoe.
You shouldn't need to pull the laces completely tight (or the velcro) because if the shoes stretch you will have no extra adjustment. If you have very slim feet try and find a 'low volume' shoe. Often men with slim feet can go for a model of shoe designed for women, as women specific models are often lower volume.
Be careful that the fit around your ankle bone is comfortable. Some shoes are too high on some ankles and can dig in under your bone.
Make sure your Achilles tendon is comfortable and the shoe doesn't press too hard against it."
The table below gives performance of the different shoes over various criteria. It is worth bearing in mind that the overall assessment is based on the criteria that this comparison review is for - comfortable all-day rock shoes. For example a score of four in the precision category here would not equate to a score of four if we were reviewing high performance shoes.
Five Ten Stonelands VCS
The Five Ten Stonelands is designed for comfort, with a new last that is 'thinner and wider' than the old Five Ten shoe lasts. It has an unlined leather upper, and a midsole stiffener. The sole is Stealth C4 rubber. These VCS shoes have two velcro fasteners that hold the shoe in place, however they don't tighten up the toe box. They are available in UK sizes 4-13.
Speaking of the toe box, although the shoe is reportedly low volume, we found the toe box to be a good ample size, and if the boots did stretch out (they haven't so far) then that could lead to a bit of excess room, so make sure you get a snug toe box fit with these boots.
The boot seemed very similar to the Five Ten V-Mile which one of the reviewers has used previously and found very comfortable. The Stoneland offered very good performance on both edges and smears, the rubber was extremely grippy in all conditions, and for a comfort oriented shoe, we found that it could be used on fairly difficult terrain.
Summary - A great all round, all day shoe that offers a reasonably high comfort level whilst still operating on some fairly technical ground.
MORE INFO: Five Ten Website
Climb X – Rock Master
The Climb X Rock Master shoes at Tremadog
© UKC Gear, Jul 2013
The Climb X Rock Master is available in sizes 3-15, has a padded ankle cuff, a leather upper and a moulded heel with 'descent tread' offering more grip on descents. Like the La Sportiva Mythos, we found this shoe to be fitted for the slimmer foot and long toes.
Despite being a narrow fit the external toe has the largest radius of all the boots making the boot difficult to fit in to small incut features.
The heel unit is moulded on this boot and is reportedly designed for both heel-hooking and descents. We found it to be unsuited to heel-hooking due to a loose feeling fit, but the plus side of the moulded heel was walking down grass slopes as the grooves did help with traction on the descent.
Summary - Perhaps the least performance oriented boots in the test, the Rock Master are however the least expensive and offer enough performance for lower grade routes and in the four months we have had them they seem very durable, showing little sign of wear. For those interested in long easy climbs, who want some extra grip on grassy descents, but don't want to use the smallest foothold, these could be a good choice.
MORE INFO: Climb X Website
La Sportiva Mythos
The La Sportva Mythos is a well known and classic shoe, it has a 'toes flat fit', an unlined leather upper, a patented lacing system that includes a lace around the heel, and the rand is perforated with small holes allowing extra stretch during the day if your feet swell. It is available in sizes UK 1 - 13.
Like the Climb X Rock Master we found these shoes to be more suited to a slender foot with long toes. The heel is not a tight 'heel-hook' fit, but can be tightened up with the lacing system and works well. We found the shoes to give confidence both indoors and out.
The mid sole is one of the softest of all the boots tested and meant that there was more feedback when smearing, but less support when edging. Although it was harder to edge than with some of the other boots is was still perfectly feasible. We felt this shoe would be an excellent choice for long alpine granite slab routes as it was extremely comfortable and performed very well when smearing.
Summary - A great and comfortable shoe that has been a classic for La Sportiva and is well known and popular. A great choice for long slab routes. A very comfortable shoe, especially for those with long slim feet, howver the price tag might put some people off.
MORE INFO: La Sportiva Website
The Edelrid Blizzard is a straight lasted rock shoe available in sizes UK 3-13. It is said to be the most comfortable rock shoe Edelrid have ever made and it features a reinforced midsole to provide increased support for edging or small footholds. It has an unlined leather upper, which was reasonably comfortable, but the lack of a liner means this is slightly more performance oriented than some of the other boots on test.
These were one of the stiffest of the boots tested here, meaning if you are used to softer midsoles they might take some getting used to. Despite this they also performed well when smearing. When worn all day or on a very long route it was necessary to loosen off the velcro to remain comfortable. One of our reviewers likes to wear socks with his comfy shoes, which he pointed out helped with the stitching on of the heel loops that could possibly rub, so it is worth checking this out for fit before buying.
Summary - A good and fairly technical shoe for this test, not lined, but for someone wanting a certain level of edging performance as well as some comfort, these could be a great option.
MORE INFO: Edelrid Website
The Boreal Silex is a popular entry-to-mid level lace-up rock shoe specifically aimed at comfort and long days out. It comes in a Men's and, slightly narrower, Women's version, in the size range 2 to 12 (UK). The upper is made of leather and it has a PU Air Net lining inside on the shoe and the tounge designed for comfort and ventilation. The shoe is slip-lasted, has a half stiff midsole with Boreal FS-QUATTRO rubber and features the Boreal padded heel.
The first thing you notice about the shoe is how comfortable the lining makes the shoe feel. This isn't the normal rock shoe 'cramming toes' experience, being a lot closer to a padded trainer or even carpet slipper! Be wary though that this level of comfort can make you think you have a good fit when, in reality, it is likely to be slightly too baggy when in use. Best get the snuggest fit you can even if you are buying them specifically for comfort and long days.
The fit tends to be quite broad in the men's version we tried so those with narrow feet may prefer the women's. The lacing is extended right down to the toe enabling you to cinch it up precisely where required. This also gives you the option to selectively loosen the laces through the day as your feet warm-up and swell. As with many modern shoes it has two pull loops at the back to help with fitting but these aren't as necessary as with more technical shoes since they tend to slip on relatively easily.
The shoe is said to be a stiffer version of the Boreal Joker however this might give the wrong impression. It certainly felt like quite a soft shoe and better for smearing then for edging than was expected. The toe construction was such that it didn't perform well on small sharp edge holds, less well than the Boreal Joker in our opinion, hence it felt more like a soft and comfortable alternative but not one you would want to test on tiny edges.
The Silex's real strength was in its comfort level. It was extremely easy to forget about the shoe, like you would a pair of trainers, and basically keep going all day without the need to release your feet periodically. Our testing period included some periods of very hot weather resulting in the classic swollen feet but the shoes were still comfortable enough.
Summary - A good all-round rock shoe and one of the most comfortable that we tested. It has a versatile if slightly wide fit. It performs better as a smearing shoe than on edges and isn't as stiff as you might expect considering it has a half-stiff midsole.
MORE INFO: Boreal Website
Scarpa Force X
The Scarpa Force X has been around for a while although the latest model is relatively new and has a few refinements from its predecessors. It comes in sizes 3 to 15 with a narrower women's version also available. The fastening is a dual opposing velcro tabs for closing. It has a suede upper with vellutina lining including a padded tongue. The sole is Vibram XS Edge.
Scarpa Force X
UKC Gear, Jul 2013
The fit is slightly deceptive to start with. A tight fitting Force X can feel uncomfortable and inflexible at first but persevere since they loosen up quickly and then the extra comfort features come into play; so the advice it to go quite tight with this one. The velcro fastening has the benefit of being quick and easy (although that is not a major benefit for an all-day shoe), however it also has the downside of being significantly less versatile especially in the toe region. For those with narrow feet you may find that your toes a little baggy and roomy with no laces to pull the upper back together.
What it lacks in fit versatility, it makes up for in performance giving both reasonable edging and smearing in most situations. This may be the result of the V-Tension active randing system for increased power towards the front of the shoe - normally a feature associated with a more performance shoe. The soft mid-sole means that it is more aimed at smearing, and it does perform better in this respect, but the loss of edging ability isn't too marked.
For long-day comfort the Force X performs exceptionally well. The softer lining reduces pressure points and hence blisters, and the general shoe shape feels more like soft trainers than a technical rock shoe.
Summary - A very comfortable shoe that you can leave on all day. It performs well on smearing but is too soft for sustained edging. The lack of versatility in the velcro fastening may mean it doesn't fit every foot shape.
MORE INFO: Scarpa Website
Red Chili Spirit Speed
The Red Chili Spirit Speed is described as a performance rock shoe. It comes in sizes 3 to 12 but there is no women's version. The upper is synthetic, the fastening is speed-lacing and it has a Red Chili RX1 rubber.
The spec for this shoe is perhaps a little high for this review and as a consequence it performed well but was not as comfortable as many of the others, it was the shoe that Red Chili requested to include in this comparison though. The fit is quite narrow, which suited our reviewer, but could mean that it is too tight for those with wide feet. The lacing system is quick and easy, however it doesn't go right down to the end of the shoe leaving potential for a baggy pocket above your toes.
Performance wise you get a good level of both edging and smearing. The sole isn't stiffened but it is more asymetric than most of the other shoes in this review, channeling the power over your big toe. This gives it reasonable edging although those used to high performance shoes will still find it lacking.
The comfort level on this shoe was not great. It is better than a performance shoe but the lack of padded lining means that you will probably develop blisters if you leave it cinched up all day. In our reviews this shoe tended to get treated as a performance shoe and removed after ascents, or loosened between pitches. It was okay for walk downs though so better than an aggressive down-pointing toe shoe.
Summary - A good mid-level shoe that offers good performance but looses out in comfort level. The narrow fit may not suit everyone and the lacing system isn't as versatile as it could be, but it offered good smearing and better edging than many of the other shoes in this review.
MORE INFO: Red Chili Website
The Tenaya Masai is a eye-catching all-round rock shoe that has a yellow cotton lined microfiber upper with interchangeable lace colours and comes in UK sizes from 3 to 13. The lace-up closure is fiddly (but you don’t need to take them off very much) but gives an excellent snug fit over the lightly padded single tongue. The rubber is Vibram XS and performed extremely well when smearing or edging. The boot is soundly constructed and shows little sign of wear after four months of fairly heavy use outside. The toe profile is asymmetrical and the mid sole stiff enough to give plenty of support for the foot when using small holds. We used these shoes on a number of long mountain routes in warm weather and never had to remove them either on the ascent or descent. On more technical ground the Masai’s also performed to a high standard, the front of the boot being sensitive on small holds.
Summary – The Masai’s would make an excellent choice for those looking for a very comfortable boot that can also perform well on more technical ground. The rubber, construction and design are all top-notch and as a bonus it looks great.
MORE INFO: Tenaya Website
The Evolv Valor is designed as an all-round rock shoe that comes in a striking red coloured synthetic upper and is available in UK sizes 2 to 15. The Valor’s are comfortable and were snug on the foot as well as confidence inspiring when deployed brand new straight out on the crag – no need to break them in. The closure is by two velcro straps over a well padded double tongue that performed quickly and easily and secured the shoe on the foot firmly. We found the shoes fitted narrow feet well. The sole rubber is TRAX and worked superbly both when smearing and edging whilst the VTR system on the rand allows for enough rubber to protect the foot when jamming wide cracks. The Valor has a stiff mid-sole and an asymmetric toe profile, which combine to give plenty of support to the foot when using small footholds. As for comfort we quite happily spent a number of hours on sustained multi-pitch routes without having to remove the shoe and they were equally comfortable on harder more technical ground. The price of the Evolv Valor’s is very competitive and as a bonus they seem to be robustly constructed.
Summary – The Valor has plenty to recommend it as a good value all-round rock shoe that is reasonably comfortable, offers good performance and comes in a competitive price. The stiff mid sole will suit those after good edging performance, but the shoe also offers reasonable smearing. The velcro fastening may mean it doesn't fit all foot shapes.
MORE INFO: UKC Product News