Boreal Ninja Review

The original Ninja was truly revolutionary, being the first ever 'slip lasted' rock shoe. It's hard to put this into perspective given the plethora of choice we have these days, but it really was ground breaking. As such, the Ninja was the go-to shoe for many of that era's greatest climbers: Jackie Goddoffe, Jerry Moffatt, and John Bachar. Whilst the latest version may share the name and look it shares very little else, but stands on its own two feet as something different - albeit in a far more competitive market than the original!

Focus

The 21st Century Ninja that we have here is undoubtedly a soft shoe, but it isn't one without structure (insofar as it has some degree of support, which isn't the case with the modern generation of super soft shoes). That said, it's not that supportive, and its use is realistiically going to be focussed on bouldering outdoors, as well as indoor and competition use. Smearing and sensitivity are the order of the day, but if you size them right so is comfort, which is a mix that makes them quite fun to climb in.

Price-wise it hits the £100 mark, which - like it or loathe it - is actually at the lower end of the scale, with the average technical shoe coming in around £130 these days.

n.b. the recently reviewed Satori is essentially a twin strap version of the Ninja, which may be worth considering for those that like the sound of this, but would prefer a bit of room to adjust the fit:

Forefoot

The forefoot of the Ninja is of a medium width, with what would best be described as 'adjustable volume' due to the elastic featured within the uppers. If you have a low volume or narrow foot I would highly recommned trying them on*, because given the absence of straps or lacing a slipper like this has no means of adjustment - hence if it's loose, it's loose - and that's that.

* in fact, we'd always recommond trying on a shoe irrespective of whether or not you're high, medium, or low volume in foot

More heel hooking in the Boreal Ninja  © UKC Gear
More heel hooking in the Boreal Ninja
© UKC Gear

On the top side there's plenty of rubber around the toe, making it perfect for toe hooks. The debate on smooth rubber versus ribbed rubber rages on (no pun intended, I promise!). Personally, I prefer a rib (again, please don't judge me) as it is more likley to catch on small edges, but Boreal have opted for a smooth finish here, which is - I suspect - because it's a whole lot easier to manufacture. Still, it's far better that there's some rubber here than no rubber at all...

Midsole

Unsurprisingly the midsole of the Ninja is soft, but it's definitely there, driving your foot forward into the toe - which is more than could be said for a lot of soft shoes! It's also a substantial affair, which is quite reassuing given that slippers are prone to losing their form. Coupled with the synthetic uppers, which give a lot less than their natural equivalents, it means that the fit largely stays the same throughout its use. In our experience, they gave a little - which is arguably a good thing - but not a lot, even after prolonged use.

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A well sculpted heel if ever there was one...

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Soft, sensitive, and perfect for smearing

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The Rand Wrap midsole holds it all together

Uppers

The uppers feature a microfibre fabric, with two elastic panels along each side. The central strap acts as a tongue, with a pull point that makes the shoe easier to get on (which we'll come to later).

As is the modern trend, there's plenty of rubber around the toe and the heel is virtually all rubber (and not just any rubber too - it's their patented Zenith Ultra high grip rubber).

Fit

The first thing to focus on with fit is the entry point, because as many of you out there will know there's a fine line with slippers: if the entry is too easy then the shoe is likely to lack support and feel sloppy; but if the entry is too tight... well… you won't be able to benefit from anything because you won't be able get your foot into it! As someone with a high volume, high arched, and generally chunky foot (which have previously been dubbed 'raptor claws') I was probably a good test subject.

Size-wise, I'd gone just half a size down from my high street shoe size (8.5 down to 8), and I genuinely couldn't put these shoes on without the use of a piece of plastic. Whilst this may sound somewhat extreme, once I was in they fitted perfectly, so much so that they were actually very comfortable, and suitable for projects and circuits alike. Had they made it any looser my fear would have been that in time, as the shoe wore in, it would have bagged out a little - hence become sloppy (which is a frequent problem with slippers). As such, whilst it's undoubtedly a bit of a struggle, it's a necessary struggle to ensure lasting fit and performance.

Plenty of rubber in/around the toe for toe hooking  © UKC Gear
Plenty of rubber in/around the toe for toe hooking
© UKC Gear

The heel on the Ninja holds impressively well for a slipper  © UKC Gear
The heel on the Ninja holds impressively well for a slipper
© UKC Gear

The weak point for most slippers is the heel, but the Ninja's heel is actually one of its strong points. This could partly be related to the snug fit, because obvioulsy the sloppier the fit the more wiggle room your foot - and therefore your heel - has. In the past I've actually had shoes that fell off me at the heel mid-way through a heel hooking sequence. As you can imagine this is quite frustrating, but thankfully it hasn't presented itself as an issue for the Ninja.

Men's / Women's / Low Volume

Currently only one version of the Ninja is available. However, it is built on the same last as the Satori, and there is - for those that wish for it - a women's version of the Satori available, which is modelled on a lower volume last.

Overall

The Ninja is undoubtedly a specialist bouldering and indoor/competition shoe, but in those environments it's a highly fun shoe to climb in, being simultaneously comfortable, technical and sensitive. If you're looking for something that fits those criteria then the Ninja will take you everywhere from circuits to projects. The entry point is definitely a little on the tight side if you've got a high volume foot, but in time this becomes easier, and it guarantees a good lasting fit even after the shoe has worn in. Whilst some may not like that the price point of £100 is now considered 'cheap', it is - like it or loathe it - at the lower end of what's currently available. As such it represents good value for a model that would make an excellent training shoe.

Boreal say:

The original Boreal Ninja broke the mould for climbing shoes. The first ever slip lasted rock shoe, Ninja heralded a new style of lightweight, sensitive, high performance footwear. The latest incarnation of the benchmark shoe brings it bang up to date. With an aggressive downturned profile, super sticky Zenith Ultra rubber and simple elasticated closure, Ninja is ready to tackle the hardest climbs.

  • Sizes: 4-12 (men)
  • Weight: 440g/pair (size 6 UK)
  • Microfibre upper
  • No lining
  • Elasticated slipper closure with integrated tongue and central strap for ease of fitting
  • Special anti-deformation half midsole
  • Ultra sticky Boreal® Zenith Ultra outsole. 4-4.5mm thickness depending on size

For more info see borealoutdoor.com

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