The Joker is a longstanding (and best selling) shoe in Boreal's range. The reason for its success over the previous two generations is that it has a broad appeal, from beginners to more experienced climbers - in fact anyone who is looking for a blend of comfort and support. Now in its third iteration, the shoe has been modernised, and feature a significantly improved rubber compoud, yet still comes in at quite a competitive price, making it arguably more appealing than ever.
In this review we'll be looking at the Joker and Joker Lace. There's a lot of common ground in between the two, as they essentially share the same construction and features, but they do have a slightly different feel and focus as a result of their differing methods of closure. Where appropriate, we'll explore these details side by side to compare and contrast.
Since a forgiving fit is high on their list of attributes, this is a logical place to begin the review. I've found the Jokers comfortable 'out of the box', requiring very little (if any) wearing in.
That said, the last is actually quite asymmetrical, so it packs a bit more oomph under the bonnet than you might at first assume. Though best suited towards low-mid grade routes and boulder problems, it does have the ability to go beyond - although exactly what that means will depend what you climb. For me this means mult-pitch VDiffs in the mountains, Gritstone VSs, Limestone 6s on sport, and Font 5+6s indoors. If it got any harder than that, then I'd tend to favour something that little bit more technical, such as the Boreal Crux (which I reviewed earlier in the year and is a fantastic performance all-rounder).
When it comes to the Joker vs Joker Lace, the differences aren't all that significant and largely fall down to personal taste. For bouldering, I infinitely prefer the strap for ease of getting them on and off; however, given that they're so comfortable on - and therefore don't need to be removed all that frequently - this hasn't been the problem it often is with tighter and more aggressive shoes. For trad and sport, either works, but obviously the laces do give you that bit better adjustability in terms of their fit, which some users will find preferable. As always, if you can try before you buy I suspect you'll find the answer out for yourself once they're on your feet.
The Joker are at the broader end of the spectrum, so accommodate wider feet nicely. Volume-wise they sit somewhere in the middle, which is a blessing given that this then allows them to fit quite a range of feet, as the volume can easily be adjusted from high to low courtesy of either the lacing or the velcro closure. If you're after something a little narrower and lower volume then Boreal produce a women's model, which would potentially provide a solution - irrespective of whether or not you're actually a woman.
The Joker's flat last, relaxed heel, and semi-asymmetric toe profile are another key to its success, because this is an extremely forgiving combination. There's no trying to force your foot into something radically bent or downturned, with a heel that aggressively digs into your achilles. The Joker are a supremely comfortable and adaptable pair of shoes that are capable of fitting a wide array of foot shapes and sizes.
To get the right fit you'll realistically want to go down half a size for something quite comfortable. If you're after something a little more technical a whole size is possible, although expect a little less comfort. Don't expect the Joker or Joker Lace to stretch much with use. Due to their lining, coupled with the leather/microfibre uppers, they'll adapt around the shape of your foot, but not much, so don't buy too tight.
Boreal have used their Zenith Quattro 2.0 compound. I used its predecessor, Zenith Quattro, on the Beta/Beta Eco (which I reviewed earlier in the year) and whilst I found this was extremely durable, it wasn't overly grippy, and that - at least for me - let it down.
Good news is that Zenith Quattro 2 is a completely new compound and seems to provide a better balance, with much better grip. Whilst I'm sure there's been a trade off, I would happily have traded just a bit of durability for a bit of extra grip, so it's an exchange well made.
Inside the uppers the Joker feature a mesh lining, which feels nice against the skin, helps to dissipate sweat, and further adds to their comfort. On the outside, the uppers of both the Joker and the Joker Lace feature a blend of leather and microfibre, although its location is reversed on each. On the Joker the microfibre is at the front, as the microfibre doesn't stretch - hence it prevents the front from bagging out. On the Lace the microfibre is featured throughout top end of the lacing, where you need that extra rigidity in order to make the lacing more precise.
On either model the heel is extremely forgiving, which is great for those concerned about aggravating their achilles. It features a recycled rubber compound, which isn't quite as grippy whilst heel hooking, but with a relaxed heel such as this, heel hooking was never going to be high on the menu anyway.
At the base of the shoe Boreal have included a shock absorbing EVA puck, which makes walking around at the crag that little bit more comfortable. Whilst it may seem a subtle feature to add, it's definitely noticeable when you're doing long descents down rocky gullies.
To describe the Joker as a beginners model would massively undersell a shoe that has the ability to appeal to a much larger audience - that being anyone whose first priority is comfort. For low-mid grade routes and bouldering they're impressively versatile, with just enough stiffness to give a reassuring amount of support, but not too much to strip out the sensitivity. The fact they're made in the EU, and still manage to come in at an affordable price, makes them even more attractive. Unless you're looking for something to push your grade in, we'd suggest giving them some serious consideration.