La Sportiva Cliff 5 Rock Shoes

Toby Archer looking down Suuri Leikkaus, E2 5b, Olhava, Finland., 231 kb
Toby Archer looking down Suuri Leikkaus, E2 5b, Olhava, Finland.
© Toby Archer unless stated

The La Sportiva Cliff 5s, 158 kb
The La Sportiva Cliff 5s
© Toby Archer unless stated
At the time I was asked to review the La Sportiva Cliff 5s, Kevin Avery was asked to test the La Sportiva Miura VS.

To put it simply; which sounds more sexy: Miuras or Cliffs? The Miuras are bumblebee yellow and black, the Cliffs are “tan” if you are feeling generous, just plain brown if you are not. And whilst the Miura is designed for the honed sport climber, the Cliff 5 is aimed squarely at beginners. Overall the Cliff 5 is not the most exciting package and in the past I have been as guilty as anyone of buying new shoes for aspirational reasons – because I want to climb like the sponsored hero in the advert. The La Sportiva Cliff 5s make no such airy promises – and in that sense their rather pedestrian name is fitting – but beyond their not flashy looks they are a very capable all-round climbers shoe

So, the basics: the Cliffs are a relatively rigid pair of lace-up rock shoes. They are unlined but the outside of the shoe is surrounded by a prominent sticky rubber rand covering the toes, running along the side of the shoe and encapsulating the heel. This means they are unlikely to stretch much. The lacing goes down to the very toe and uses many lace-holes making them somewhat fiddly to do up but allowing a very comfortable fit to be attained whatever the shape of your foot.

Sportiva have used a slightly thicker version of the same Vibram XS grip rubber that is used on their performance shoes – 5 mms as opposed to 4 or 3.5 mms. Of course this means less sensitivity but increased longevity will be the benefit – a significant consideration for beginners who are still mastering careful footwork. The Cliffs are also built on a higher volume last than the more technical models meaning they should fit a wider range of foot types and are likely to be a comfortable fit for people with fat feet such as myself.

“Some layback... but I'm a jammer”

Toby Archer climbing Suuri Leikkaus, E2 5b, Olhava, Finland. © Dave Smith, 198 kb
Toby Archer climbing Suuri Leikkaus, E2 5b, Olhava, Finland. © Dave Smith
© Toby Archer unless stated

Toby Archer climbing Piton Route, VS 4c, Kakarsberget, Finland. © Jody Wren, 210 kb
Toby Archer climbing Piton Route, VS 4c, Kakarsberget, Finland. © Jody Wren
© Toby Archer unless stated
Overall I was really rather impressed with the Cliffs in use and they delivered much more than I expected. I found them perfectly competent for the level of climbing I do, around the E1/E2 boundary on trad and F6a/6b on sport. The strength of their midsole allied to the sticky, strong rubber made them excellent for the granite micro edging on the main face of Olhava, Finland's best cliff – very similar rock and climbing to that found on the South Face of the Aiguille du Midi. But they are by no means too rigid. The midsole has plenty latitudinal flex and working with what felt like rather sticky rubber, they smear surprisingly well.

Would they be the first choice for some rounded gritstone test piece? No,  but on my first day trying the Cliffs I surprised myself cleanly top-roping a new, rather rounded and fall-offable F6b granite sports route. This was very much not the type of climb I thought they would work on, but they stuck the smears well. I quickly redpointed the route on my second go - the first redpoint ended in a fall not because the shoes slipped but because I pulled a crystal finger-hold off.

The finest hour came for the Cliff 5s early in October when they saw me safely onsight a route that is surely Finland's answer to Cenotaph Corner, a climb I have shied away from trying for a decade. The route, Suuri Leikkaus or “the Great Cut”, is a perfect 90 degree vertical corner going 45 mtrs up. Some layback the fist crack at the back, but I'm a jammer and for this amount of fist crack climbing you want comfortable shoes that give your feet some protection. This the Cliff 5s did admirably whilst still having the accuracy for placing on the little micro edges out on the face when bridging was required. 

The La Sportiva Cliff 5s were something of a revelation. I was expecting slightly clumpy beginners shoes that I would worry about trusting on small or rounded holds. What I discovered was a very competent all-rounder that climb much better than the beginner tag suggests, and with good rubber that sticks well. The Cliff 5s will work as great first shoes for many new climbers, but are well worth considering as a comfortable all-day general shoe for more experienced climbers, particularly those with wider feet, and those aiming for long climbs in the mountains.  

One note on the sizing: La Sportiva sizes seem generous. I have been wearing 41, 41.5 or 42 in lots of different models from different manufacturers for years, whilst the Cliffs in a size 40 are a comfy fit with my toes flat. As ever it is best to try before you buy, but if you need to mail order, consider going down a size or even two from your non-Sportiva size. Oddly, I have three pairs of Sportiva mountaineering and ice climbing boots, all in 42 and all fit well, so this may just be a rock shoe thing.

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