Unparallel Lace, Sirius and Regulus
Unparallel are the new kids on the climbing shoe block, but with a long pedigree behind them they are already gaining quite a reputation. We trial three models from the range.
My feet are very wide which has always made finding rock shoes tricky. I've sometime bought shoes that weren't really what I wanted just because I couldn't find much else that my square feet would fit into. I had a pair of Scarpa Dominators like this – brilliant for technical climbing, but hideously uncomfortable. Having to wear them all day, along with running out of water, are the only two bad things I can remember about my ascent of Vestpillaren Direct in 2002, the world classic in Lofoten, probably the best day of my climbing life. I bought Red Chili Sausolitos next, and have been pretty impressed. The Sausolitos were often sold as a beginners shoe, but actually are a very good all-day shoes for the fat-footed, particularly if you climb on edgy rock a lot, or feel the need to stick your feet in cracks regularly. But after a number of years of good service the leather insole split whilst halfway up a large mountain in Norway meaning that for the next few hundred metres it felt like there was small but angry rodent in my left shoe taking a bite out of the ball of my foot every time the shoe flexed and then unflexed.
Looking for a replacement I tried on just about every model of shoe my local shop had before buying the Mad Rock Frenzy lace. In many ways I was quite happy that this model fitted me well as Mad Rock bill the Frenzy as an all-day shoe, particularly designed with crack climbing in mind, exactly what I was looking for. In my experience, what manufacturers call “all-day shoes” are often a good place to start for those of us with wide feet. If you have wide feet, the “relaxed and comfortable fit” the catalogue heralds may well turn out to be snug, close fit meaning we can get more performance out that model than those with narrower feet. Don't dismiss a shoe just because its makers don't put it in their performance range.
The Frenzy is lined (with X-static, a lining designed especially to fight evil, smell-causing bacteria, although I'm not overly convinced this works very well) meaning that it is comfortable and unlikely to stretch. The tongue is padded, and the whole shoe feels snug and cushioned. It is stiff – an edging shoe – but Mad Rock's reputation for sticky rubber does seem to live up to hype as I found the shoes better on smears than my old Red Chilis by way of comparison. The shoe is designed for cracks with a novel rubber rim around the lacing and ribbed rubber strips up the instep and outer edge. As a regular crack climber, I usually trash the suede uppers of rock shoes before I wear out the rubber on the sole. In hand to fist width cracks a lot more of the shoe comes into contact with the rock than just the rubber sole and rand. They felt good in cracks, although I'm not sure if that is because of the grip of the extra rubber, or just a reflection on their general stoutness protecting your feet from too much bashing. I would expect that the extra rubber will make the uppers last much better, although only time will tell. The cushioned lining did mean that on sustained crack climbing you could feel small amounts of foot slippage inside the shoe; as ever there is some trade off between comfort and complete precision.
So far, so good - but there is always a but. At the moment I am not convinced that the rubber ribs on the sides of the shoe aren't from the “fine in theory but not in practice” category of design. Within three days of use, one of the ribs of rubber on the outside of the shoes and come unglued and detached from the suede. On the fourth day another rib on the instep had also become loose. Additionally the special rubber rand around the laces is also starting to peel back near the ankle of the shoe. It seems that there is significant weakness in the glue that holds the rubber onto the shoe, at least on the pair I bought. Mad Rock say that this is shoe for “a full day of climbing or guiding” but I would hope that they don't literally mean just one day before the shoe start to fail. Checking back in my UKC logbook I can see that altogether I have done about 300 mtrs of climbing in these shoes, the equivalent of one decent length mountain route – and already they are starting to fall apart. Really not good enough. Granite crack climbing does take it out of shoes, but if these are designed with crack climbing in mind, Mad Rock really needs to be sure that they have the rubber securely bonded to the suede. In retrospect the ribbed rubber on the side seems a possible design weakness, as opposed to single slab of rubber, because when crack climbing the rock will catch against the ribs.
I returned my shoes to the shop and they sent them to a local resolers to glue down the various bits of rubber that had been detached. After the repairs I used the shoes again but after only another couple of days use, exactly the same problem occurred, with rubber peeling away around the sides of the Frenzys. Now I have to go back to the shop again, and this time I'll be asking for my money back.
It's a shame – I really wanted to like the Frenzy Lace as they are designed exactly for the type of climbing I wanted them for and they fit me well. But if the pair I paid €95 for are representative of Mad Rock's quality control, I can only sadly suggest giving this version of the Frenzy Lace a miss.
Manufacturer's details: www.madrockclimbing.com