In recent years Scarpa seem to have hit some sort of magic formula, creating a whole host of rock boots that have swiftly become classics of their genre - the Helix, the Vapour and the Instinct being three particularly notable examples. This formula doesn't actually occur by magic though, it is a result of gettng the right fit, the right design, the right features and then melding them into a single package that feels, well, right.
Due to the sheer number of shoes in Scarpa's lineup we've put all the more technical models together in a single review - the Mago, the Instinct SR, and the Furia S. The more mileage orientated Maestro will be reviewed later in the year...
Scarpa Mago - £125
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but there's no doubt that anyone taking their first look at the Mago will instantly note the colour and go - wow… I'm not sure whether that's an appropriate way to begin a review, but that was certainly my reaction shortly before I put them on. My mind was then drawn, however, to something far more important - far more 'wow' than even the colour - and that was the fit. Here was something that really felt quite different…
As a bit of history, the Mago have previously been a part of the Scarpa range, but for one reason or the next never quite took off. I suspect this has something to do with the radical nature of their design, that 10 years ago may have looked even crazier than it does today. However times change, as do people's preferences. It wasn't so long ago that people looked at down-turned shoes with wide eyed disbelief, and now their use is commonplace. Anyhow, whilst the original wasn't a commercial success it will be interesting to see how the current model performs not just in the shops, but also on my feet.
Over the last few years we've been inundated with a variety of technical, specialist, and extremely soft climbing shoes. Whilst these may excel in certain styles (comp style climbing, volumes, and perhaps certain types of rock) they really are - I am sorry to say - crap for pretty much everything else. Maybe this is why the Mago initially appealed. It is soft, but it's also got substance. This is most noticeable around the forefoot, where the funkily named TPS ('Toe Power Support') platform adds enough support so that if you see an edge, you don't have to shy away from it. Not only can you use it though, you really can press off it.
The Mago is definitely at the wider end of the spectrum, with a relatively high volume toe-box. However, due to the lacing running the whole length of the shoe it is actually quite a versatile shoe when it comes to fit, with volume and width easily being reduced through careful lacing. Laces may not be to everyones tastes, but do offer a precision fit that velcro and slippers simply cannot match.
Due to the X-Tension midsole the one thing I would say is that this could be quite a tricky shoe for those with flat feet or collapsed arches, as it really does hug the inside of the foot very closely. The good news for everyone else is that this fit provides a healthy amount of tension on the foot as a whole, as opposed to a specific area (such as the heel), and as a result it is surprisingly comfortable.
The toe-box of the Mago is really where the magic happens though, as it is the way in which it is formed that gets your big toe/knuckle into place and it's this that provides the shoe's signature power. Much like the earlier comment re: arches, the way the knuckle fits into the toe box may not be to everyone's taste, so it's definitely a case of try before you buy (which I'd recommend doing anyway). Size-wise I went down a single European shoe size, which was perfect, but this may vary a little due to the aforementioned peculiarities of the fit. If it works for you I suspect it'll become a firm favourite.
The Mago will primarily be of interest to boulderers and sport climbers for the reasons outlined above. In terms of angle/gradient I've used it on slabs, walls, overhangs, and roofs and it's performed well throughout. I'd be hard pushed to name a particular discipline I thought it best at, simply because it was such a good all-rounder.
Due to its versatility it is well suited to a variety of different rock types too, having enough sensitivity for sandstone, gritstone and granite, but also enough edging power for limestone and rhyolite.
The Mago really is something of an anomaly, different to anything else out there. It's comfortable, technical, and performs well on a variety of angles, gradients, and rock types. In short: it's a good all-rounder. Were we to offer more nuanced feedback it is simply that the fit isn't for everyone - particularly the flat footed out there.
Instinct SR - £110
Having reviewed the rest of the shoes in the Instinct range back in 2016 (click here to read it) I had high hopes for the latest addition to the range - the Instinct SR. Since the original review was published the Instinct VS and VSR have become my go-to shoes, simply because between the two of them they cover virtually all styles of climbing - trad, sport, and bouldering - extremely well. The Instinct SR was going to have to do something pretty special to get a hallowed place amongst them.
The last of the SR differs a little from that used throughout the rest of the range, which I initially found a little concerning as it was the fit/last that I loved so much about the originals. The differences primarily revolve around the heel and the volume around the forefoot, which is lower than in the rest of the Instinct range. Being the owner of a relatively bulbous heel my foot didn't fit quite as naturally into the SR as it does the others, requiring a little more umph to get on. But once on it fitted perfectly, so much so that the heel never slipped - even whilst heel hooking (always a risk for a slipper).
The SR is also a little stiffer than its cousins, featuring a 3/4 3.5mm XS Grip sole unit as opposed to the 1/2 3mm on the the VS and VSR. This roughly translates to it being better on edges and less sensitive on smears. I actually thought they were a little clunky straight out of the box, hence didn't fall in love with them immediately, but after a few weeks use in Bishop they swiftly became my go-to shoe, providing that balance of stiffness and sensitivity that I've come to love from the Instinct range.
In terms of sizing I went down a single European shoe size, but due to the change in heel/forefoot volume it does feel snugger than the equivalent VS and VSR. Considering it's a slipper it is remarkably resilient to give too, not succumbing to quite the same level of stretch as some, but maturing from more of an edging into more of a smearing shoe.
On the Scarpa website it says that "the Instinct SR was designed with indoor climbing in mind", which I find surprising, not least because the Furia S (reviewed further down) is far better suited as a performance indoor/comp shoe. In fact I think that the SR's stiffness would realistically make them a poor choice for indoors, with edging being its natural environment. As such, the Instinct SR - at least in my eyes - works best for bouldering and sport climbing outdoors, where you're either looking for an edge or a good edge/smear combo (once worn in).
From a performance perspective the one area that the SR truly outstrips the rest of the Instinct range is toe-hooking. Whilst the pattern used on the VS and VSR is good, the rubber used on the top of the SR is softer and more generous. However, most important of all is that its placement has truly been integrated into the shoe's design. This statement sounds odd in isolation, but simply adding rubber to the top of the toe can have an extremely detrimental effect on comfort if it isn't done properly (naming no names), but thankfully Scarpa have done their usual professional job of creating something that is both comfortable and technical.
I've already mentioned the fit of the heel being slightly lower volume, but in performance terms this equates to a narrower heel, which many people will prefer for specific heel placements.
If ever there were a shoe that had some high standards to live up to it's this. Whilst I enjoyed using the SR, the big question is would it replace either the VS or VSR in my bag? A single word answer is difficult, because whilst I think it's unlikely to replace either of them for me, I would add it in alongside them (such is the modern age, where someone cannot leave the house without at least three pairs of shoes in their pack). The stiffness, coupled with the improvements in the toe rubber and heel, mean that the SR has things to offer that the VS and VSR don't.
Furia S - £130
The third and final shoe in this review is something different altogether, being a curious blend of a slipper/single strap velcro shoe…and a rubber sock… It's hardly surprising that the Furia S is a part of Scarpa's Soft Line, which consists of the Drago (reviewed in 2016) and the Chimera. If it's an edge you're after look elsewhere, but if it's sensitivity then look no further.
The Furia S really does fit like a glove - or is that a sock? Scarpa coin the phrase 'barefoot climbing experience' and it's easy to see why. When it comes to last they are a little narrower/lower volume than your average Scarpa shoe, but I'd still say that means they are a fairly regular fit overall (Scarpa are traditionally considered to be quite wide).
The single strap system is something quite cunning, as its criss-cross design means that you don't just get a single point of support, you get it across the whole of the shoe. It is also quite remarkableto think of the effort Scarpa have gone to making this strap lightweight and with no extra bulk. There may be few shoes as light as this out there on the market, which is an interesting thought because it's rare that I would ever mention weight in a climbing shoe review, simply because previously there's never been a great deal of difference to talk about. Still, in the age of marginal gains, maybe these few grams will help.
The Furia's natural environment is undoubtedly indoors. It excels on small holds and volumes, with its sensitive sole being supple enough to wrap itself around virtually anything plastic. Seeing as there's an abundance of beautifully crafted rubber around the toe it excels at toe-hooking, something that is further improved by its soft nature, as your foot isn't constricted into a downturned shape, thus allowing you to really pull with your toes.
Following on from the toe, the heel is similarly beautiful, with the active randing having been extended all the way through in order to provide that bit more support. This is definitely noticeable too, as the shoe feels like a step up from the Drago
Outside the Furia S clearly has its place on smeary rock types such as gritstone and sandstone, where its sensitivity is a boon. On edgy rock types such as limestone or ryholite it is unlikely to be your shoe of choice unless you're on some seriously steep terrain where its ability to smedge (technical term) onto smears underneath roofs is par excellence. That said, because of the shoe's soft nature - both in terms of the sole and the uppers - repeated use scumming, dragging, and hooking against the rock did take its toll (see pics below). As such, I do see these as an indoor shoe you can use outdoors, but be warned that you're likely to trash them if you (like me) wear them hard.
The Furia S is definitely a specialist shoe, and were I to compete it would undoubtedly be me shoe of choice, as its sensitivity combined with the excellent toe and heel make it a superb all-rounder for virtually anything plastic can throw at you. Outdoors it has its place in the more subtle/smeary rock types, but it is let down by its lightweight uppers when it comes to durability. Price-wise it ain't cheap either, but hey - if you're in it to win it whilst competing then surely you can justify the price tag?
What Scarpa say about these shoes:
The Mago is the culmination of all Scarpa's technology and innovation to create one of our most powerful shoes, in a lace-up.
Reinforced with an intricate stitch pattern and TPS midsole, the Mago dominates small footholds like no other shoe. The asymmetrical and downturned shape with a high-angled toe box concentrates power to the big toe and makes it the ultimate tool in precision climbing.
The Instinct SR is designed with indoor climbing in mind. The large rubber cover above the toe area enables powerful toe-hooking. Integral heel cup for sensitive heel-hooking, slightly asymmetrical and downturned shape, with a medium angled toe box.
5 panel microfiber upper, REB reinforced elastic closure with seamless big toe panel and seamless four-toe panel for the best custom moulding fit. Full Ultra-sticky M50 rubber on the top of the toes for top-level hooking.
The 3.5mm ¾ XS Grip 2 sole and M50 rubber heel construction for high friction hooking performance.
Ultra soft and sensitive, the Furia S gives the climber a barefoot-like experience with excellent prehensile grabbing ability. The asymmetrical and downturned shape with
a medium-to-high angled toe box provides maximum toe sensitivity.
The Multi-panel upper has a seamless big toe panel and offset fourth toe stitch for the best custom moulding fit and comfort and the high stretch gusset allows easy entry while the IPR system helps reduce excess material and increase the overall sensitivity, precision and adaptability of the shoes.
The Wave shape strap closure system, spreads the pressure evenly across the upper from the strap and buckles. It gives a glove-like fit with excellent flexibility for the foot during bouldering or climbing.
Apart from the La Sportiva Testarossa which it is pretty much identical to, except the colours... (imo)
Whilst I haven't used the Testarossa, it does have a completely different midsole, so is pretty far from being identical - especially considering it is the midsole (above all else) that makes it so different.
That said, there is common ground in between the two, but that's hardly surprising insofar as they were both designed by the same person - Heinz Mariacher.
How to the Mago's compare the Instinct Laces or Vapour Laces in terms of stiffness? Considering a pair to replace my vapours!
Apologies for the delay, somehow missed this one.
It's hard to compare really, as they're very different shoes. In terms of forefoot they're extremely stiff, maybe stiffer than both the Instinct and the Vapor; however, the midsole is a lot softer, which makes them handle a whole lot differently.
As such, my answer is probably somewhat vague and would all fall down onto what you anticipate using them for. If it's bouldering it'd definitely be worth trying out the Mago, if it's sport climbing it could be worth trying out the Mago, and if it's trad I'd definitely not try out the Mago. On the flipside of that I still think the Instinct VS is one of the best all-rounders, so if you haven't used that before then consider trying that too.
Bit of a rambling non-answer there, but hopefully it's of some help!
No worries Rob! Basically I've already got a Vapour Lace in a 41 for multipitch and a Booster S in a 40 for hard bouldering, after a shoe that fits in between for hard(er) single pitch trad, sport and bouldering on the edging side of things as I climb mainly in the Lakes/Yorkshire.
Tossing up between the Instinct Lace or the Mago, as I tend to prefer Grip rubber but appreciate that thats not what its intended for. Scarpa's website say that the Mago is more suited for trad compared to the Instinct Lace hence my reasoning.
One more thing how do the Mago's size compared to the Instincts?