UKC

Comfy All-Day Rock Shoes Group Test

Whether you're a beginner taking your first steps onto rock, or a more experienced climber needing something comfy for relaxed crag days or long easier routes, a rock shoe that's kinder on the feet may be preferable to a foot-cramping performance model. Comfort might be the prime concern here, but they've still got to do the job without holding you back on low to mid grade routes, striking a viable compromise between between ability and wearability. Since the end of lockdown we've been testing several of the more relaxed, less technical shoes currently on the market.

Our brief for brands was:

Comfy, unintimidating all-round rock shoes for people who are just starting out, or anyone after a more relaxed fit for all day use on easier routes. Good for both indoors and outside. We're looking for a sensible balance of comfort and performance; we'll also be judging durability and value for money.

On The Dewerstone's Pinnacle Buttress in La Sportiva Tarantulas  © Dan Bailey
On The Dewerstone's Pinnacle Buttress in La Sportiva Tarantulas
© Dan Bailey

What makes a comfy rock shoe?

Comfort-oriented shoes tend to be built on a neutral (rather than asymmetric) last, with a flat (rather than downturned) sole that allows a natural, un-bent foot position. They may have a stiffer sole that provides the higher level of foot support that beginners often need. Compared to a softer (usually more performance-oriented) shoe, this relative stiffness should also make them supportive on longer routes, good for edging, and handy for crack climbing - a versatility that will appeal to many intermediate climbers when climbing low-to-mid-grade routes.

Getting in some easy soloing mileage in the Red Chili Circuit at Kinder North  © Toby Archer
Getting in some easy soloing mileage in the Red Chili Circuit at Kinder North
© Toby Archer

Fit

No comfy shoe is going to be equally comfy for everyone, and if you're looking to toe the line between wearability and performance then it's pretty much essential to try rock shoes on in a bricks-and-mortar shop. You're looking for a snug fit with no dead space, but no pinching or cramping. If you're wearing shoes like this for comfort then your foot should be flat, and your toes not knuckled over.

Because every foot is different and fit is so personal to each wearer, we have tried to be as objective as possible when it comes to the essential characteristic, fit. Though this is a comfy shoe review, we have - ironically - made no attempt to numerically score these models for comfort.

Overall Summary

Make and model

Ratings

La Sportiva

Tarantula

Price: £75

An excellent balance of performance and comfort for all-round use, at a price that won't break the bank

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large

Stiffness/Support

90%

Sensitivity

70%

Value

100%

Overall

Black Diamond

Momentum

Price: £80

An excellent soft shoe with a decent sole coming in at a good price and performing better than the next model up in the BD range.

Stiffness/support

50%

Sensitivity

80%

Value

70%

Overall

Red Chili

Circuit VCR

Price: £75

Supportive and comfortable, but still able to perform at a decent level - and for a good price. But we have a minor worry over durability

Stiffness/support

80%

Sensitivity

60%

Value

60%

Overall

Scarpa

Helix

Price: £90

An excellent old favourite. The all-leather upper gives great comfort and easy fitting, but will stretch. One of the best technical performers on edges and smears.

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large

Stiffness/support

70%

Sensitivity

90%

Value

70%

Overall

Five Ten

Kirigami

Price: £75

A high level of comfort and performance would make them great shoes regardless, but at this price they are superb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large

Stiffness/support

60%

Sensitivity

100%

Value

100%

Overall

Boreal

Joker

Price: £80

A solid shoe that offers plenty of support. The decent sole has plenty of rubber on it and these should last for a long time. Not the best technical performer though.

Stiffness/support

80%

Sensitivity

50%

Value

70%

Overall

Ocun

Crest LU

Price: £69.95

A soft shoe, the crest has a sensitive feel but offers limited support. The price is nice, but the fit is very specific.

Best in Test Good Value Large

Stiffness/support

40%

Sensitivity

80%

Value

80%

Overall

La Sportiva Tarantula - £75

An excellent all-rounder for both outdoors and more relaxed indoor sessions, the supportive Tarantula manages to combine all-day comfort with respectable performance, making this a good choice for beginners through to more experienced climbers after a more forgiving fit on multi pitch climbs or less grade-oriented days. Build quality is good, and the price seems very reasonable for what you're getting.

La Sportiva Tarantulas are a decent all-rounder at an affordable price  © Dan Bailey
La Sportiva Tarantulas are a decent all-rounder at an affordable price
© Dan Bailey

Fit

Available in a big range of sizes, including halves, and in both a male and a female/low volume version, we've found the Tarantula fits true to size, and our big-footed reviewer has got on fine with his standard street shoe size 47, which is close and precise without feeling pinched at the front.

Two models are available, the velcro-fastened Tarantula and the lace-up Tarantulace (see what they did there?) - both models are priced at £75. The latter will offer more of a fine-tuned fit right down to the toe, so users with trickier-to-fit feet might want to start there. We've been using the Tarantula, and while there's less scope for adjustability with this model, the width of the loop side of the velcro fastening does allow for a degree of nuance.

With its flat sole and generous, rounded toe, the slip lasted Tarantula has a forgiving feel that ideally suits it to the comfort remit. These neutral shoes allow for a relaxed flat-footed position for all-day wear on easy routes or long multi pitch climbs. Though overall the width is about medium, thanks to the foot-friendly shape our reviewer finds there's enough space at the front for his broad, square-toed foot, so if you too struggle to find a rock shoe that's got a bit of width at the toe without feeling like a boat elsewhere, then this may be worth a try. However we do find it a bit narrow in the midfoot, where there's some cramping on the outside edge after wearing them for a while - particularly noticeable on the walk-off after a multi-pitch route. Volume is quite high, and while we find there's some dead space both at the heel and over the top of the toes, this doesn't affect performance when climbing. Tension on the achilles is often a sore point in higher performance models, but here it is reasonably firm without being uncomfy. The sculpted instep gives a nice supportive feel under the arch of the foot, which seems to help a bit when edging.

Testing their grip on polished limestone  © Martin McKenna
Testing their grip on polished limestone
© Martin McKenna

A good shoe for some long, leisurely VDiffs  © Dan Bailey
A good shoe for some long, leisurely VDiffs
© Dan Bailey

Upper

The suede leather upper is three quarters unlined, except for a little insert at the toe which helps it hold its shape and is said to wick sweat (we can't say we've noticed the latter - which might mean it's working!). After several months use there's been a bit of give, but not enough as yet to affect the closeness of the fit. A soft padded two-part tongue wraps snugly around the top of the foot, without digging in or slipping to one side as a traditional one-piece tongue can be prone to do. It's not the most breathable of tongues, but overall we find the Tarantula reasonably un-sweaty on warmer days.

Sole

Courtesy of its full length midsole this is a stiff shoe, indeed one of the stiffer models in La Sportiva's range, and this will be good both for beginners who may lack a bit of foot strength, and intermediate climbers on all-day routes. Unsurprisingly, we've found edging performance is very good, but this doesn't come too much at the expense of sensitivity at the toe, so the Tarantula is a decent all-round performer - at least by the standards of a comfy shoe. Our reviewer has been happily bimbling around on VS and 6a sport in them, and reckons the're good for a bit more than that.

You want some lifespan in a comfy shoe, especially if you're a beginner prone to pedalling your feet, and the Tarantula's reasonable 4mm depth of FriXion RS rubber should take a fair amount of wear and tear. It offers good friction without being too soft for decent durability. After several months' use ours are still looking reasonably fresh underfoot (testament more to the rubber than the deftness of the footwork).

Multifunctional climbing shoe ideal for beginners and instructions walls. Quick hook & loop closure, standard fit.

  • Sizes: 33-48 (men) 33-43 (women) half sizes included
  • Upper: Slip lasted, suede leather
  • Lining: Posterior: none, anterior Pacific (controlled deformation insert)
  • Midsole: LaSpoFlex 1,8mm complete
  • Sole: FriXion RS 4mm
  • Weight: 480 (pair, size 39)

For more info see lasportiva.com

Black Diamond Momentum VCR - £80

The Momentum is the entry-level rock shoe in BD's range, designed to be forgiving for beginners, and for all-day comfort on long routes. It comes in at an excellent price and is likely to be found comfortable by many. It is soft in use without a really sticky rubber, so it won't be what you are after for top-end climbing; but for long days on multi-pitches, or for users who just prefer a bit of comfort in a hard-wearing rock shoe, the Momentum is well worth considering.

BD Momentum is a soft but versatile entry-level shoe from an unfamiliar brand  © UKC Gear
BD Momentum is a soft but versatile entry-level shoe from an unfamiliar brand
© UKC Gear

Fit

This is a medium volume shoe designed to fit a variety of foot shapes. As ever you need to try it on to be sure whether it is right for you. It comes in Men's and Women's, and with both lace-up and Velcro versions. We had a men's lace-up version to try. The benefit of lace-up over Velcro is that it gives greater scope for adjustment along your foot, enabling you to get a tighter fit where most needed. However the laces on the Momentum stop quite a way short of the toe which is a shame since this reduces the adjustability in the key toe area. This is a negative point, perhaps especially for those with unconventional foot shapes. As a result, wide feet are likely to be tight in the toe, and narrow feet may have baggy sections.

Good friction and with enough toe protection for cracks.  © Rob Greenwood
Good friction and with enough toe protection for cracks.
© Rob Greenwood

Upper

The uppers are made from BD's own 'Engineered Knit Technology'. The result is very low stretch but the softness of the sole does allow some give in the fit. There is a heel tension strap but not with any great power, and this is as you'd expect from an entry-level comfort shoe. Heel tension is one of the major sources of discomfort in most rock shoes, after all.

Not the most striking colour choice!  © Theo Moore
Not the most striking colour choice!
© Theo Moore

Sole

The Momentum has a flat last with a relatively soft sole. The front toe area has a soft micro-fibre liner which is claimed to 'minimise stretch and maximise comfort'. It is difficult to comment on this except to say that the shoes haven't really stretched significantly six months in, so perhaps it's working. They were pretty comfortable from the off, although it not clear how much of this is down to that micro-fibre liner. The toe is slightly more asymmetric than you see on many entry-level rock shoes and this is a good thing since it directly improves performance, something we feel has been managed without a reduction in comfort in this case. The sole is said to be unique in that it is moulded rather than cut from a single sheet, and this is claimed to be 'optimised for durability and comfort'. Appearance-wise it is difficult to assess this since the sole appears similar to other rock shoes. Compared to many shoes in this category it is very soft and flexible in the mid-sole, with a reasonable side-to-side flex as well. Suffice to say that comfort is excellent and it is possible to keep these shoes on for long periods of time without major discomfort; however some might prefer more underfoot support.

Great for full long days or quick hits on the grit.  © UKC Gear
Great for full long days or quick hits on the grit.
© UKC Gear

Built for unparalleled comfort during all-day cragging and gym sessions, the Momentum Lace is a shoe that combines innovative technology with a classic, flat-last design. The result is an entry-level shoe that excels in performance. With an upper fabric that consists entirely of our Engineered Knit Technology, the Momentum Lace provides stretch where you need it, support where it matters and all-around exceptional breathability. We've also added a micro-fiber liner to the front of the shoe to minimize stretch and maximize comfort. The Momentum's durable rubber is unique in that it's moulded - inspired by the way we forge our carabiners - versus cut from one sheet of rubber. This is our engineered solution to optimize our shoe's rubber and rands for durability and comfort. Designed for all-day comfort on moderate routes, boulders or gym sessions, the Momentum features a soft-flex midsole for sensitivity and lace-up adjustability, making it the perfect entry-level climbing shoe.

  • Sizes: 4-14 (men) 4-9.5 (women) half sizes included (adjusted for UK sizing)
  • Engineered Knit Technology upper provides exceptional breathability and comfort
  • 4.3mm rubber is built for durability and moulded for optimal consistency and performance
  • Soft flex midsole for added sensitivity and comfort
  • Sole: FriXion RS 4mm
  • Weight: 494g (pair, size 8)

For more info see blackdiamondequipment.com

Red Chili Circuit VCR - £75

There's something appealingly unpretentious about the Red Chile Circuit VCR, they aren't covered with loads of flashy bits of extra rubber, or complex lacing systems. They have a couple of big velcro straps to do them up and plenty of sticky rubber around the side and underneath. They are designed not to cost too much and to be comfy to wear all day. "Agricultural-looking"? Maybe a bit, but really what more do you need? Well, longevity would have been nice.

The Red Chili Circuit VCR might not set the world alight for all-out performance, but they are comfortable, supportive and work fine on climbs up to 6a and HVS that we have tested them on. With an RRP of £75 (but widely available for less) they are well worth considering for anyone entering the sport or looking for comfortable, all day shoes for long routes or long sessions that won't break the bank. If it wasn't for a problem of the sole delaminating we would give the Circuits a hearty two-thumbs-up. As it is, perhaps one thumb-up, at least until our reviewer has been able to tick off another 30 routes or so in them and reassure himself that their durability is equal to their comfort and performance.

Giving them some mileage on easy grit  © Toby Archer
Giving them some mileage on easy grit
© Toby Archer

Fit

These shoes are available in both a lace-up and a velcro model, but with no female/low volume version, which is a shame.

Our reviewer who normally finds 42 a roomy fit in trainers or mountain boots found this was the best size for him with the Circuit VCRs - snug but not uncomfortable. Shaped for your feet to sit flat in them, toes not scrunched up, the Circuits are designed for all day comfort over pure performance or power. They fit our wide-footed reviewer well so they are worth a try if you also have feet tending towards the square! We have found the velcro closure works well. This is particularly the case for both the trad and sport cragging the Circuits have been predominantly used for over summer and autumn, when often we swap back to trainers betweens routes or while belaying. But the model is available in a lace-up version for the same price, which probably will give a bit more refinement in fit, particularly towards the toe.

The velcro version is slightly less faff  © Toby Archer
The velcro version is slightly less faff
© Toby Archer

They're a nice beginner-friendly shoe  © Toby Archer
They're a nice beginner-friendly shoe
© Toby Archer

Upper

Blue suede shoes… ok, reversed leather, although Elvis never wrote a song about that. And very blue! The uppers are unlined, although a high rubber rand going basically around the whole shoe and having them sized for all day comfort means stretching hasn't been an issue. The original pair of Circuit VCRs (see below) did 66 routes and the uppers are still in perfect condition, plentiful rubber over the toe and around gives the suede lots of protection. Although the uppers are unlined, the insole of the shoe is lined with a layer of hemp - including the perhaps obligatory picture of a marijuana leaf printed on it to make the point! Red Chili says the hemp material is "antibacterial and effectively blocks odors" and the UKC test pair does smell a lot fresher than some others.

For lower grade sport climbing you could wear them all day  © Toby Archer
For lower grade sport climbing you could wear them all day
© Toby Archer

Sole

Oddly the Red Chili website doesn't seem to say what rubber is used on the Circuits, although a number of shops selling them say it is Red Chili's own 5mm RX1. Whatever it is, it seems to work perfectly well. The well-polished limestone edges on some of the Peak's more popular mid-grade sport climbs are as good a place as any to test the friction of your shoe's soles. The Circuits saw this reviewer smoothly up his first 6a onsight post-lockdown, indeed his first for a couple of years. The Circuits have a pretty rigid midsole so there is plenty of support for standing on as small an edge as the snugness of fit allows. This will also make the shoe supportive for beginners who haven't developed much foot strength yet. But we also tested the shoe on Curbar slabs to see how well they could smear, and the news there is also good, letting us pad up a couple of HVS lines on a warm evening with no problems. The rubber is thick for durability and not going to be as sticky as high performance Vibram or Stealth, but for easy and mid-grade routes it performs well.

Soloing Severes at Stanage, with no slippage or sloppiness  © Toby Archer
Soloing Severes at Stanage, with no slippage or sloppiness
© Toby Archer

The one major issue we have had with the Circuits was with the soles. After using the shoes intensively for a good number of weeks - the reviewer's logbook says 66 single pitch routes - then not using them for another month or so while trying a different model, when our reviewer used them again he noticed that the sole was splitting from the upper on the inside of one of the shoes for about 10cm from under the arch to the base of the big toe. The sole hasn't delaminated particularly far, probably only 5mm deep at most, and there is no sign of it happening on the other shoe. But Red Chili agreed without hesitation that it was a fault, and shipped us a replacement pair. Our reviewer is now back to his day job so hasn't had as much chance to test the second pair as extensively - probably 25 - 30 routes, although most now at a slightly more respectable grade than back in June! The second pair has performed well so far and there is no sign of the sole delamination happening again, and Red Chili were excellent at getting a replacement pair out to us, but of course it does lead to at least a question mark over durability of this Chinese-made model.

The DU(rango) gets a successor: the CIRCUIT VCR's name is based on the "circuits" in the famous bouldering paradise of Fontainebleau, where many different routes are climbed one after another in a difficulty level. These circuits often last a whole day and you go from boulder to boulder—so a comfortable shoe that you can keep on for a long time is a big advantage. With the assistance of two optimized offset VCR straps, the CIRCUIT VCR adjusts to the foot perfectly and the on and off is simple. The footbed is made from hemp, which is antibacterial and effectively blocks odors.

  • Sizes: 6-12 (men)
  • Upper: Microfibre/synthetic material to ensure fit
  • Outsole: Red Chili 5mm RX1 outsole
  • Double VCR straps for easy adjustment
  • Easy all-round last shape

For more info see redchiliclimbing.com

Scarpa Helix - £90

With excellent XS Grip rubber, the Helix is a medium-soft flat shoe that has been around for years and has an undoubted pedigree. Assuming the narrow fit is right you will find few more comfortable shoes - no need to loosen them on stances or take them off between routes at the wall. That said, if you want to stand on the smallest edge then that lack of toe power will leave you wanting, and the lack of support may tire you out on longer easy routes.

Scarpa Helix is a medium soft shoe with excellent friction.  © UKC Gear
Scarpa Helix is a medium soft shoe with excellent friction.
© UKC Gear

As an all-day shoe, the slightly thinner 3.5mm sole could also mean they wear through more quickly although it means they perform well straight out of the box as well. We all know the point where the sole becomes too thin and soft, the upper no longer wraps your foot securely and you suddenly realise you are trying to climb in carpet slippers. That is the ultimate destination of shoes like the Helix, however it should be a long time coming, and almost certainly only after you have many hours of memorable experiences in the mountains behind you.

Beautiful conditions at Howshaw Tor for some easy soloing  © Mike Hutton
Beautiful conditions at Howshaw Tor for some easy soloing
© Mike Hutton

Fit

Scarpa has a longstanding reputation for well built shoes that last, especially in the more robust models of which the Helix is one of their best examples. The Helix has a fairly narrow fit although, being a lace-up, it allows a degree of flexibility in the upper. It is very flat, slightly asymmetric but this relatively basic shape means that it is easy to get comfortable. A nicely padded tongue adds to this. Once on there is a little bit of bagginess around the base of the lace on the upper although this probably depends on your foot volume to a great extent. The heel, on the other hand, we find glove-like.

A soft feel gives good friction for smearing, but less in the way of edging performance  © UKC Gear
A soft feel gives good friction for smearing, but less in the way of edging performance
© UKC Gear

Upper

An unlined leather upper makes them both comfortable, long-lasting and not too smelly. The downside is that being unlined, there could be a fair amount of stretch over time. That said, the sort of stretch you get with shoes like this tends to be easily 'synch-uppable' with the laces and also goes in parallel with them becoming even more comfortable. The combination with the softer sole will make them floppy in the long run though.

Less rubber on the heel for hooking on steep ground  © UKC Gear
Less rubber on the heel for hooking on steep ground
© UKC Gear

Sole

The Helix's 3.5mm XS Edge rubber is the same as is fitted to Scarpa's top of the range shoes like the Furia S - some entry level shoes have greater rubber depth than this, which may equate to a longer life before resoling or replacement. The advantage here is that you can get the performance associated with a high-end shoe in a much more comfortable package. Obviously, there is more to a sole than its rubber and the lack of downturn power and more aggressive asymmetry makes these less good for edging - that is the trade-off you get with added comfort. The lateral softness of the sole also makes them better at smearing than some equivalent entry-level models. That said, the lack of support on for long easy climbs means that you may want something a bit more substantial if this is your main type of climbing.

Scarpa say:

All day use, comfortable indoors and outside on entry to mid-grade climbs. The combination of flat lasted comfort, good edge support and an adjustable fit through its lace system make this a great all-rounder. Vibram XS Edge rubber, provides additional edge support and durability.

  • Weight: 430 (pair, size 8)
  • Sole: Vibram XS Edge 3.5 mm
  • Upper: Suede

Five Ten Kirigami - £75

A basically perfect fit for our tester's feet allied to the famously good Five Ten Stealth C4 rubber, with enough midsole to be able to edge on a matchstick, while still allowing you still smear onto gritstone slabs - our reviewer tentatively suggests that the Kirigami might well be his favourite shoes in 30 years of climbing. If they fit your feet well the Five Ten Kirigami are fantastic climbing shoes, not just for beginners, but for experienced climbers too who want a non-downturned model that they can wear for long periods in comfort, yet not worry about losing too much performance. And at £75 they represent superb value for money.

At that price we think the Kirigami are hard to fault  © Toby Archer
At that price we think the Kirigami are hard to fault
© Toby Archer

Fit

Our reviewer had a 'hot summer romance' with his test pair of Five Ten Kirigami, finding them to be in that goldilocks spot of not so tight as to be uncomfortable, but being snug enough to confidently deal with the hardest climbs he can manage.

The Kirigami are available on the Adidas (who own Five Ten) website from size UK 4 to UK 12.5 including all half sizes. Additionally there is a female/low volume version of the Kirigami that goes from 3.5 to 9, and even a kid's Kirigami available from size 10 kids to adult 3. An advantage of being part of a huge multinational like Adidas is production in volumes that other smaller companies probably find hard to rival, and this must allow Five Ten to offer such a big size range.

The Kirigami is a noticeably flat sole design - as you would expect from a shoe for beginners or comfort, but look at something like the old Five Ten Blancos if you need convincing that flat lasted shoes can also be high performance. Five Ten calls the Kirigami a "neutral fit", but they have a chisel-shaped toe that provides both a good edge for tiny holds and works well for stabbing into pockets or thin cracks. Our reviewer has quite wide feet, and despite trying on different Five Ten shoes numerous times in the past, has never before found a pair that fitted before the Kirigami. As ever, it is best to try on the actual shoes if you are buying a model for the first time - our reviewer ended up finding the 8.5 was the perfect fit for the Kirigami, despite owning comfy Five Ten approach shoes in size 8 and often getting rock shoes that are size 7.5 or 7.

Good sensitivity for smeary grit  © Toby Archer
Good sensitivity for smeary grit
© Toby Archer

But still enough support for 'edgy' limestone  © Toby Archer
But still enough support for 'edgy' limestone
© Toby Archer

Upper

The upper is a synthetic leather, which shouldn't stretch appreciably, with a soft synthetic lining with soft textile tongue. The closure is velcro on a low profile webbing strap. These feel surprisingly light compared to some leather straps, but over 100 pitches and boulder problems have failed to lead to any visible wear on the straps. Equally the synthetic leather still looks in very good condition despite the extensive use. Like other synthetic shoes they have developed a definite whiff to them, although interestingly - along with being vegan-friendly. These shoes are machine washable, which we can vouch is a definite bonus.

Sole

That the Kirigami are shod with Stealth C4 will be enough to convince many climbers of a certain vintage they are worth a second look. The Kirigami are not so dissimilar to the original Five Ten Anasazi Velcros, "the" hard-grit shoe of choice for many back in the 90s, and it was the friction of the Stealth C4 that helped that iconic shoe gain its status. As noted above, our reviewer had not had Five Ten climbing shoes before, but definitely found the rubber to be at least the equal to any other, even if it is hard to say better. The Stealth sole, on shoes of a far lower price than some high performance models, is definitely a huge plus point for the Kirigami. The rubber also is showing surprisingly little wear after a few months of pretty intensive use.

And they're good for easy bouldering too  © Toby Archer
And they're good for easy bouldering too
© Toby Archer

The midsole Adidas calls "medium" stiff, which sounds about right - in this review it's middle of the road in support terms. We were told by Five Ten that the midsole was designed to provide enough support for new climbers who are still developing strength in their feet for standing on small holds but for experienced climbers, probably wearing the shoes slightly tighter, and with stronger feet, the midsole would soften enough to allow sensitivity on smears. Our reviewer has used the Kirigamis to both pad up one of those Baslow slabs that gets HVS (although it is really more a scary boulder problem) - a route he hadn't felt brave enough to do previously! Yet they were also what he was wearing when he onsighted his first non-slab 6b, on the limestone crimps and edges of Hidden Quarry's Main Wall. The shoes were completely confidence inspiring on these two very different climbs.

A climbing shoe with all-day comfort for long routes or beginning climbers. When long-wearing comfort outweighs the need for a technical, aggressive feel, the Five Ten Kirigami Climbing Shoes set a versatile standard. The neutral fit and rounded toe box work with the medium flex to support all-purpose climbing, providing comfort for beginners and more advanced climbers alike.

  • Sizes: 4-12.5 (men) 3.5-9.5 (women)
  • Upper: Synthetic, with textile lining
  • Sole: Stealth® C4 rubber with extended toe coverage
  • Medium-stiff midsole
  • Hook-and-loop closure

For more info see adidas.co.uk

Boreal Joker - £80

The Joker has been a stalwart of the Boreal range for many years. This current model was introduced in 2017 and is the most popular rock shoe in the Boreal lineup. It offers a solid entry-level rock shoe in lace, velcro, men's and women's versions - something for everyone in other words. Support is stiff and construction is good, making it an easy and comfortable fit out of the box. This is the strength of these shoes - comfort and easy fitting. They give the impression of having a lot of rubber around the important sections and offering plenty of support which makes them ideal as an easy rock routes shoe. For more technical use they lack sensitivity for both edging and smearing on harder terrain.

Boreal Joker Lace is a solid feeling shoe for all-day comfort  © UKC Gear
Boreal Joker Lace is a solid feeling shoe for all-day comfort
© UKC Gear

Fit

The Joker is a medium fit in terms of width and volume. Those with very narrow feet might find some bagginess above the toe or around the heel. In this case choosing the lace-up model is preferable since they give more flexibility when tightening. Fit is definitely the strength of this shoe since it is a relatively simple slip last in a very flat shoe design but with a bit of asymmetry in the toe shape. The fit is also improved with what Boreal describe as their 'Integrated Rand System'. This means that the rand of the shoe is a one-piece construction with a claimed benefit of meaning they keep their shape better and are more comfortable. This certainly sounds plausible, although we haven't had these shoes long enough to verify - so far they look good.

Plenty of rubber on the heel for hooking.  © UKC Gear
Plenty of rubber on the heel for hooking.
© UKC Gear

Decent on easy grit  © Mike Hutton
Decent on easy grit
© Mike Hutton

Upper

The upper is made of a combination of leather and microfiber. This has the benefit of reducing the stretch of leather while offering more breathability than an all-synthetic construction, and hence not being too smelly. The amount of rubber on the rand and heel cup means that there is relatively little of the upper actually exposed. The tongue has only a little padding in it, however this thin-ness isn't noticeable when on.

Sole

The Jokers come with 4-4.5mm Boreal Zenith rubber. On higher-end models we have found this rubber adequate without being astounding. On these shoes the more basic sole construction with lateral stiffness means that they aren't great at smearing. A big cushioned heel system is a great benefit on easier ground where you need to do a bit of walking, making them a good scrambling option. The amount of rubber also means they offer good protection when walking off from the top of a crag on rough rocky terrain.

Comfortable for long days  © Mike Hutton
Comfortable for long days
© Mike Hutton

The Joker Lace features a new super-comfortable semi-asymmetric last with slimmer fitting heel and low tension rand. An upper of high-quality split leather and synthetic microfibre with secure lace closure is combined with a PU Air Net lining for exceptional comfort and a fresh new look. A newly developed Zenith Quattro outsole now includes a specially shaped heel cavity filled with shock-absorbing EVA for improved underfoot cushioning. The medium stiffness midsole combines with the sticky and durable Zenith Quattro rubber to provide the ideal blend of edging support and long-lasting friction. From starting out, to long routes, all-day wear, performance training and bouldering, no pack is complete without a pair of Joker Lace.

  • Sizes: 4-14.5 (men) 3.5-9.5 (women)
  • Upper: Split leather and microfiber
  • Sole: Ultra sticky Boreal ZENITH Quattro outsole. 4-4.5mm thickness depending on size
  • Special anti deformation midsole
  • Weight: 560g (pair, size 8)

    Ocun Crest LU - £69.95

    The Crest is very much aimed at beginners, with a really affordable price tag that should appeal to newcomers to the sport, occasional climbers, or indeed anyone on a budget. It is built with comfort uppermost in mind, with a flat profile and a symmetrical last. However the fit is quite specific and definitely will not suit the full gamut of foot shapes. Soft in the midsole, the Crest LU feels relatively sensitive and indoor-friendly, but would not be the first choice for intermediate climbers looking for a supportive shoe for edging performance or longer routes. This is a no-frills option. The rubber should last well, so in terms of longevity it should be good value, however you'll get a more refined shoe for your money if you spend another fiver on the Kirigami or the Tarantula.

    This is an affordable, no-frills offering from Ocun  © Dan Bailey
    This is an affordable, no-frills offering from Ocun
    © Dan Bailey

    Fit

    No women's/low volume version of the Crest is available, but the shoe does come in an impressive range of sizes from tiny to massive. Ocun also offer this shoe in two iterations, a lace-up and a velcro. The latter has the benefit of quick access if you're in and out of your shoes a lot (sport climbing, say, or climbing indoors); however the lace-up offers more range of fit, particularly at the front end, and this is the model we've reviewed here.

    In terms of what size to choose, in our experience Ocun shoes can feel quite long and thin, and the Crest LU is no exception. Our reviewer has gone down to a 46.5 from his usual 47, on the basis that his standard shoe size would come out a bit too long. Even in this there's some dead space right at the toe - a consequence of their quite particular shape

    Giving them a spin on Cuticle Crack  © Martin McKenna
    Giving them a spin on Cuticle Crack
    © Martin McKenna

    They feel quite precise for beginner's shoes  © Martin McKenna
    They feel quite precise for beginner's shoes
    © Martin McKenna

    Of course there's a lot more to fitting a rock shoe than the number on the tongue, thanks to the fact that everyone's got weird feet in one way or another. Ocun provide a really helpful pictorial guide to the fit of each of their shoes, with three width categories (narrow, normal and wide) and three different foot shapes (Egyptian - big toe longest; Greek - second toe longest; and Cube - all toes the same). According to their info the Crest LU suits all foot widths. We think this is physically impossible in one shoe, and we'd say it is distinctly narrow - our broad-footed reviewer finds it very close across the whole foot. While this shoe is said to suit both Greek and Cube foot shapes, the toe really is very pointy, with a pronounced bias towards the middle rather than the big toe. In other words the toe shape is classic Greek, so if you have a squarer-toed foot, or indeed you're more Egyptian, then with the best will in the world the Crest LU is unlikely to feel like a comfort-oriented shoe. On the plus side, if you have Morton's toe and find rock shoe fitting a pain, then help may be at hand (or afoot) here.

    With feet that come somewhere between Cube and Egyptian, our reviewer struggles to wear these shoes for long periods of time, since they crush both the big toe and the little toe, so they really have to come off between pitches. It is hard to be objective about a shoe that simply doesn't fit, but we've tried! The main take-home message is to bear in mind their uncompromisingly Greek toe shape, and to try them on carefully.

    A soft shoe with a pronounced bias towards the middle toe  © Dan Bailey
    A soft shoe with a pronounced bias towards the middle toe
    © Dan Bailey

    Upper

    While it's unlined, the synthetic microfibre upper of the Crest is going to have minimal give over time compared to a suede shoe, so don't expect them to break in width-wise. The fabric feels very durable and scuff-resistant, and thanks to the breathability of the soft padded tongue these shoes have not yet felt unduly sweaty (with the caveat that we've been taking them off a lot thanks to the tightness!). A rubber patch across the top of the toe is something you'll see more in high-end performance shoes, but while there isn't going to be much high end performing going on in the Crest LU, its extensive toe rubber should at least help with longevity if you're a beginner with footwork all over the place.

    Sole

    With only a half-length midsole, the Crest LU are distinctly soft for a beginner's shoe, and while there's a bit of support under the toe to help with edging, you get a lot of flex in the midfoot. As a result it's quite sensitive for a comfort shoe, and this arguably makes it a pretty decent low-end all-rounder, both indoors and out. However being softer than most models on review here it is also inevitably less supportive, and we don't think it'd be the top choice for long edgey pitches or multi-pitch climbing.

    Underfoot you get a generous 4mm of Ocun's CAT 1.1 rubber, a compound they've developed in collaboration with a Czech producer. This is their harder rubber, as used on all their beginner range (as opposed to the softer, stickier CAT 1.5 rubber on their performance shoes). Durability should be better with the CAT 1.1, which is what you want as a beginner with imprecise footwork, and while there's less grip than with a softer rubber, we don't think that often matters (or is even noticed) when climbing in the lower grades. If you're looking for a shoe that won't break the bank in the first place, and has a sole that should last well, then the Crest LU could be it.

    Crest means comfort. Although Crest is designed for beginner climbers it is reassuringly precise on small footholds when climbing both inside and out. it has a straight last, almost no asymmetry and comfortable heel. Lace up system means a precise and comfortable feel when climbing all day. Its durable sole and rubberized toe patch will tolerate even rough treatment.

    • Sizes: 4-13 (men)
    • Upper: Microfibre
    • Sole: CAT rubber 1.1, 4mm
    • Midsole: 2D Fit Midle
    • Insole: Canvas

    For more info see ocun.com



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    1 Dec, 2020

    I have seen the Kirigami considerably cheaper online too. Looking at £50 for a pair if you look hard enough*

    *literally just the first line of google results.

    1 Dec, 2020

    I'm tempted to get some these for a friend but I'm having a hell of a time trying to find the right size for her. Fiveten have messed up sizing so much. We've currently got her a pair of size 7 anasazi pro's and they're way too small, she is usually size 5.5.

    On the Adidas website they have a size chart that states your foot should be 25 cm long (from toe to heel) for size 7. But I just measured the size 7 anasazi's and they are only 23.5 cm long on the outside of the shoe, that's including the rubber on the heel and the extra rubber at the front of the toe. Conversely, my friends foot is 24 cm long, which on the chart is 5.5 (as expected), but her foot would never in a million years get into size 5.5 anasazi's. I'm thinking she needs at least size 8. How crazy is that.

    1 Dec, 2020

    five tens sizing is way small it seems.. i have asym vcs in 11.5 but also have scarpa arpias in 9.5

    1 Dec, 2020

    A great review article.

    However let's not forget to do a reality check here. These shoes - they are all far, far superior to a shoe like the Boreal Ninja, released in 1985. There were plenty of very hard routes of all styles in existence by 1985. New Dawn at Malham was climbed in 1984. I think Revelations was 8a+ that year too? So the idea that these are reserved only for low grade climbing or long days out is quite simply not true.

    Advertising is powerful - climbing shoe adverts are no exception - a look around your local climbing wall shows most people in £120 super sensitive shoes equipped with just 3mm of rubber to climb on, mostly, very large plastic footholds.

    Taking the cheapest shoe in this test at £70 saving £50 versus a £120 pair of high end shoes could save one £1000 in climbing shoe costs over a 40 year climbing career given one pair of shoes every two years. That's almost certainly a vast underestimate as there's way more rubber on cheap shoes so they last longer.

    Don't be afraid to buy a pair of these "beginner" shoes and onsight some E4s in them! They're more than good enough!

    1 Dec, 2020

    I have some skin tight miuras that I loved till I had to wear an old “baggy” pair of katanas. And now they’re my main shoes, I can climb all day and just as hard or harder.

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