UKC

Boreal Ace Review

In an age when we are faced with an endless stream of soft shoes it is nice to see something supportive come around that is actually suitable for UK Trad climbing. Whilst I'm sure that soft shoes are spot on in the confines of a Catalonian cave, they're not going to be much use when you're crimping your way up the Cromlech. The vast majority of climbers never venture onto such steep ground either, as most - myself included - tend to operate in the angles between slab and wall. It is for these people that the Ace is designed, those who are looking for comfort and support over long and/or multi pitches, cramming their foot in cracks and standing around on edges for prolonged periods of time.

Functionality

The Ace has been designed with mid-grade trad climbers in mind, whether that be single pitch or multi-pitch. It features a stiff, extended midsole which provides a high level of support. A rubber patch across the toe means that the Ace is especially good as a crack specialist, not least because its flat shape means that you can slip your feet into thinner cracks.

The Ace excel on cracks, where the supportive midsole and rubber toe patch come into their own   © UKC Gear
The Ace excel on cracks, where the supportive midsole and rubber toe patch come into their own
© UKC Gear

Featuring a slightly asymmetrical, flat last, they're geared to provide a good level of comfort alongside performance and are a pair of shoes that are designed to be worn all day, without your feet feeling like they're going to fall off.

Overall the Ace is a shoe that performs best on slabs and walls, but will also keep going once things get a little steeper; however, once things get much steep the stiffness can become quite detrimental, so this isn't a go-to shoe for bouldering and/or climbing indoors (where there are other more suitable shoes available within the Boreal range).

Forefoot

There's a lot going on at the forefoot of the Ace, hence this has developed into a remarkably long section; however, bear with me as there's crucial information about the shoe's shape, whether or not it's likely to fit, and how it effects the shoe's performance.

The first thing we noticed about the forefoot of the Ace was its shape, insofar as it has a very distinct and central point to it. On the one hand this makes it amazing for fitting onto pockets and precise edges, but on the other it does mean that it requires a similarly precise foot shape to fit it comfortably, as it tends to draw your big toe into the middle. It would be the perfect fit for anyone with a particularly long second toe, so some people will get on with this, while others really won't. One of our wider-footed reviewers had to give up before starting! The moral of the story is the same as always - go into a shop and try them on to make sure.

When it comes to width the Ace are realistically medium to narrow. If you've got wide feet there's a chance you'll have to go up a few too many sizes in order to make them fit, which will leave your toes too far from the end to be of use. If you've got narrow feet it is easy to adjust the volume owing to the lacing system.

The lacing gives the Ace a precision of fit, hence it's easy to adjust volume  © UKC Gear
The lacing gives the Ace a precision of fit, hence it's easy to adjust volume
© UKC Gear

Plenty of rubber around the toe, ideal for jamming cracks and toe hooks  © UKC Gear
Plenty of rubber around the toe, ideal for jamming cracks and toe hooks
© UKC Gear

Moving on from shape and last, the Ace features a concave shape within the sole of its forefoot, which helps keep your foot poised and ready for those small edges, and does so without causing undue bunching. In spite of this, we don't feel the Ace provides quite as much support in use as we were expecting, which has confused us somewhat, as - at least on paper - all the constituent parts seem to be there. I suspect the reason might come down to foot shape and fit, because I have a high set of arches which perfectly fit shoes with a downturned shape, but fail to get the power out of something of a more flat nature such as this. As such, it could well be more of a problem with the reviewer than the product we're reviewing, but it's worth being aware of it you happen to fit a similar spec.

Finally, the rubber patch over the toe. This was initially a feature I was a little concerned about, as from previous experience they're great for bouldering, but for traddier shoes tend to present a problem whereby they make long term use quite uncomfortable. That said, I experienced no such problems with the Ace. This could be because it is quite a soft/thin layer of rubber, or because my toes aren't bunched up, but either way it hasn't presented a problem.

Midsole/Uppers/Heel

The Ace features an extended 2/3rd length midsole, which also happens to be Boreal's stiffest. As a result the Ace provide a high degree of support, but this - perhaps unsurprisingly - does have an impact on their sensitivity, and they're not the ideal smearing shoe until thoroughly worn in.

The Ace features quite a generous heel, which isn't overly aggressive on the achilles  © UKC Gear
The Ace features quite a generous heel, which isn't overly aggressive on the achilles
© UKC Gear

Whilst Boreal claim the Ace to be 'slightly downturned', they look pretty flat to us  © UKC Gear
Whilst Boreal claim the Ace to be 'slightly downturned', they look pretty flat to us
© UKC Gear

The uppers are a little higher cut than some of the more technical shoes in the Boreal range and feature a pre-stretched leather, who's colour is set - hence doesn't run (much though I love weirdly coloured feet). Overall they have given a little, but not much, partly due to the rubber over the toe which provides further stability to the construction. The lacing goes down to the start of the toe patch, which allows a high degree of adjustment. The laces themselves are also of a flat design and whilst this may sound ridiculous, are extremely good at staying done up (unlike some, which seem to undo after each and every pitch).

Whilst Boreal have decreased the volume at the heel, it still feels quite wide. For some (like me) this won't be a problem, but for those with narrow heels it could be an issue (cue second reminder to try before you buy).

Sizing

I went down a single size from my street shoe size (i.e. 8.5 to 7.5) and this seemed about right. Boreal are producing sizes from 4-12, including half sizes, so unless your feet are particularly small or particularly large there should be something for you to try. There is no specific men's or women's model available.

photo
Their flat last means that the knuckles of your toes aren't too far raised, hence can fit into smaller cracks

The concave shape of the forefoot also means that you get a bit of extra power whilst standing on edges  © UKC Gear
The concave shape of the forefoot also means that you get a bit of extra power whilst standing on edges
© UKC Gear

Rubber

Depending on the size the Ace have between 4-4.5mm (smaller size = 4mm, larger size = 4.5mm) Zenith Pro rubber. Zenith is Boreal's slickest rubber, providing a good balance between edging and smearing, stickiness and durability. Though the Ace's heart is firmly in the jamming/edging camp it's nice to know that the rubber is adequately sticky to smear onto the more rounded of edges. So far they're wearing well, with no major signs of wear to the sole/edge, but as always a lot of this depends on how good your footwork is, how much you've been climbing with them, and where you've been climbing.

Summary

The Ace are a breath of fresh air as far as supportive shoes are concerned, insofar as they appear to be a dying breed, despite the fact that this is what the vast majority of British Trad climbers are likely in need of. The rubber toe patch, coupled with their flat last, makes them an ideal crack climbing shoe. The only issue is that their fit is definitely quite unique, with a very central point that will suit some, but not others. In light of this it's very much one to try before you buy, but if it does fit the Ace will likely provide a great many pitches of good service.

Boreal say:

The Ace is a classic reborn! With more symmetrical, yet slightly downturned last shape and low volume toe, Ace is a versatile shoe with a less aggressive shape. Featuring a stiffer midsole and rubber protection over the toe, Ace has been optimised for traditional climbing and cracks.

  • Sizes: 4-12 inc half sizes
  • Uppers: Split leather with lace closure for optimum fit. Extra rubber toe patch for crack climbing
  • Lining: none
  • Construction: slip-lasted
  • Midsole: Special anti deformation midsole
  • Sole: BOREAL® Zenith Pro™ outsole. 4-4.5mm thickness depending on size
  • Characteristics: Comfortable and supportive. Ideal for long days at the crag and pushing your grade; whether torquing into cracks, edging or making delicate friction moves
  • Usage: Multi-pitch and traditional climbing in every kind of rock

For more info see borealoutdoor.com



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28 Aug, 2020

I was really excited to see this review until I saw the caveat re wider feet. Yet another pair of rock shoes I will not be buying!

28 Aug, 2020

Fine for me though!

28 Aug, 2020

I didn’t get on with the Ace at all. The Ballets are a much better bet if you have wide feet...

Tom (supported by Boreal)

28 Aug, 2020

That's interesting Tom - looking at the Ace and the Ballet side by side on the Boreal site, the Ballet looks rather like just a high top version of the Ace - a bit like Scarpa do their techy trad shoe, can't remember the name, as a 'lo' and a 'mid'. But it sounds like from your experience the Ballet is quite a different last? I think you said you have quite wide feet don't you?

I remember trying on Ace and Ninjas back in the 90s and they seemed SOOOOooo ridiculously narrow, that they were completely wrong for my wide feet. I've tried Jokers in a shop once too I think, and they were too narrow - so I've basically just had Boreal written off in my head as "not for me". The new Ballets look quite cool though in a retro/I'm into offwidths sort of way!

28 Aug, 2020

Hey Toby,

They might look similar but the Ace have rubber across the top of toe box, making them narrow. The Ballets are more conventional, and I imagine, fit a wider variety of foot shapes.

You could always ask Dan for a pair to review...

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