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Scarpa Instinct VS, Instinct VS R and Instinct Lace Review

© Rob Greenwood

This review has been something of a long-term affair, starting a year ago when I received a pair of Instinct VSs for a trip to Waterfall Boven in South Africa. Having worn a lot of shoes in my life I am always conscious of how the process can be - for want of a better word - agonising (and even more so in warm weather)! Yet what was immediately noticeable about the Instinct VS was that it was a shoe that offered both comfort and performance, alongside a certain degree of stiffness. In fact, if you've seen me climbing trad or sport over the past year these are probably the shoes you'll have seen me wearing.

Since then there have been two other additions to the Instinct family, the Instinct VS R and the Instinct Lace, which I have subsequently been using alongside the original. Rather than write three separate reviews, it seemed sensible to write a single all-encompassing review for the range as a whole. As a quick summary (for those that can't be bothered to read on) I would offer the following sweeping generalisations:

- Instinct VS: the all-rounder
- Instinct VS R: the boulderer
- Instinct Lace: the trad and edgy sport shoe

If you're interested in hearing more, read on...

Fit

First and foremost, it's worth mentioning that each of the three shoes within the range feature the exact same fit. This means if you're a 41 in the Instinct VS, you'll be a 41 in the VS R and the Lace too. Whilst this sounds obvious, anyone who's worn enough pairs of rock shoes will know that for many brands this simply isn't the case. In terms of what to expect size-wise, I went down a single European shoe size (i.e. 42 to 41), which was perfect (i.e. snug, not agnoising). As a final word of advice, I would add the same caveat we always do: try before you buy... All of what I have to say below only applies if they actually fit.

Going into more precise detail, the 'Instinct last' has a medium to wide fit in the forefoot/toe-box, with a lower volume within the heel. Narrow feet need not apply, but as suggested above - try them on, you never know. Desite both the VS and the VS R having a single strap, I never once had a problem with heel slippage; neither have I with the Lace, but that is more obvious perhaps. This precision fit across the board is most importantly achieved without any undue pressure being put on your achilles or any other part of your foot, and this is something that makes the Instinct range really stand out: given the correct fit, each can provide a superb balance of comfort and performance. Want more comfort - go up a size; want more performance - go down a size. Easy.

In the long term I definitely found each to wear in over time, giving up to a half size. This was most noticeable in the VS R (due to the soft rubber) and least noticeable in the Lace (because you could undo much of this effect by tightening your laces).

Instinct VS Sole  © UKC Gear
Instinct VS Sole
© UKC Gear
Instinct VS R Sole  © UKC Gear
Instinct VS R Sole
© UKC Gear
Instinct Lace Sole  © UKC Gear
Instinct Lace Sole
© UKC Gear

Instinct VS £125

Weird rope work, holds that are just out of reach - just a little tease  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Weird rope work, holds that are just out of reach - just a little tease
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Jun 2016

I've branded this as the 'all-rounder' in the range, but realistically this title could be split between this and the Lace - it simply comes down to personal preference.

The VS features a slipper style last, supported by a single strap. The luxurious elastic cuff and large pull tab mean that it's a lot easier to get on than your traditional slipper, which sometimes take longer to get on/off than the route or problem you're trying! Despite my initial scepticism of the single strap, I never missed a second, with adequate stiffness/support from the shoe's robust midsole and Vibram XS Edge rubber.

The rubber patch over the toe makes the VS ideal for toe-hooking. Whilst I didn't suffer from this problem myself, some people I have discussed the VS with have reported the upper part of the toe box as being quite unforgiving when you're wearing them in - rubber wears in much slower than leather/synthetic uppers after all. If you do find this is a problem try out the Lace version, as this features a different design and softer compound.

Instinct VS Toe Box  © UKC Gear
Instinct VS Toe Box
© UKC Gear
Instinct VS Heel  © UKC Gear
Instinct VS Heel
© UKC Gear

In terms of the performance, the VS is - as suggested by my all-rounder statement - a good blend of performance and comfort, stiffness and sensitivity, edging and smearing. I have not only used them for 8a redpoints, E6 trad and 7c boulder problems, but also all day VS/HVS missions on the Grit, climbing the Old Man of Hoy and too many other days to mention. In short: the Instinct VS really has been my 'shoe of choice' over the past 12 months.

Rob Greenwood getting his gurn on.  © Nick Brown - UKC
Rob Greenwood getting his gurn on.
© Nick Brown - UKC, Sep 2015
Laybacking the edge of the rather impressive (and appropriately named) 'Wow Prow'  © Nick Brown
Laybacking the edge of the rather impressive (and appropriately named) 'Wow Prow'
© Nick Brown

Instinct VS - Scarpa say:

The Instinct VS subtly blends the characteristics of the Slipper and Lace-Up versions to create a superb technical shoe.

Instinct VS prod shot  © Scarpa

The Instinct VS features the same Lorica upper used on the Instinct Slipper which provides great flexibility and ensures that the shoes hold their shape longer than leather equivalents. The Lorica upper is built around the down-turned toe last of the Instinct family ensuring precise toe placements with high levels of feedback. Vibram XS-Edge ensures that your feet will stay planted on the smallest of edges and stiffens up the toe increasing responsiveness. Bi-Tension technology intimately connects the toe and the heel of the boot, helping to increase overall performance which is guaranteed to last.

The Velcro strap keeps the heel of the shoe firmly secured to your foot even on the most demanding heel-hooks with the new toe rand design providing durable performance on toe-hooks.

  • Price: £124.99 RRP
  • Sole: XS Edge 3mm
  • Last: FV
  • Upper: Synthetic MicroSuede
  • Weight: 230g (per shoe, size 42)
  • Size range: 35-47

For more info see scarpa.co.uk

Instinct VS-R £125

If you can tear your eyes away from the white legs, the VS R is also in use...  © Penny Orr
If you can tear your eyes away from the white legs, the VS R is also in use...
© Penny Orr
The VS R smearing on the Stanage classic 'Not to be Taken Away'  © Penny Orr
The VS R smearing on the Stanage classic 'Not to be Taken Away'
© Penny Orr

Firstly, it's worth noting that 99% of what has been said about the Instinct VS also applies to the VS-R. In terms of the actual differences, here's a quick breakdown:

a) they're blue…
b) they're softer

Since the first point bears little relevance I'll skip onto the second, which basically revolves around the rubber - Vibram XS Grip. This is a softer compound that is better suited towards smearing (clue is in the name...) or - and this you might not have expected - lighter climbers (sub 60kg), who may find the VS a little on the stiff side. In short, the VS-R is designed to be a more sensitive shoe. However...

Here's something I will say, and that is about wearing shoes in: Things get softer. As such, when the VS R first arrived it was around 8 months into my using my VSs. As a result, the VS-R felt remarkably stiff in comparison, as the latter had been used thoroughly and naturally softened as a result. So what am I getting at? Well, the VS-R isn't that soft out of the box, but it does soften in time (and does so at a quicker pace than the VS).

Instinct VS R Cuff/Collar   © UKC Gear
Instinct VS R Cuff/Collar
© UKC Gear
Instinct VS R  Toe Box   © UKC Gear
Instinct VS R Toe Box
© UKC Gear


One area I felt the VS-R performed poorly was on small, typically limestone, edges, as you could definitely feel the soft rubber rolling more than the XS Edge on the VS. In light of that, I would undoubtedly recommend the VS-R as more of a friction based boot for sandstone, gritstone and granite, as opposed to your more edgy limestone (for which the VS and Lace are far better suited).

Soft rubber on soft rock: the VS R on Southern Sandstone  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Soft rubber on soft rock: the VS R on Southern Sandstone
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Instinct VS product shot  © Scarpa

VS-R - Scarpa say:

For tough Sport climbs and committed bouldering moves you need ultimate confidence in your shoe - this is where the design and technology in the Instinct VS-R comes into its own.

Inspired by the request of many of our global athletes, in particular those competing on plastic, the new VS-R offers the option of a softer rubber in your quiver of shoes. Same last, rands and characteristics of the legendary Instinct VS, but this version will appeal to plastic masters and those of a lighter frame, where the extra feel and sensitivity of the Vibram Grip 2 compound will be best suited.

  • Price: £124.99 RRP
  • Sole: Vibram XS Grip S2
  • Last: FV
  • Upper: Microfibre
  • Weight: 230g (per shoe, size 42)
  • Size range: 34-43.5

For more info see scarpa.co.uk

Instinct Lace £115

The Instinct Lace differs from the VS and VS R in more than one way: the presence of laces (obviously), a lighter weight micro-fibre upper, and a longer (3/4) length midsole. The overall result is an interesting blend, as the soft upper means it is quicker to wear in than the VS/VS R, but the 3/4 midsole makes it stiffer. As such, it's got a pecuilar yin/yang balance - soft with stiff. So much is the confusion, that opinions seem to be quite divided on whether it's actually stiffer than the VS, but from my personal experience I would very much say that it is.

If ever there were to be a route where you need a boot to remain stiff, it is this: The Groove at Malham Cove  © Amy Lipschultz
If ever there were to be a route where you need a boot to remain stiff, it is this: The Groove at Malham Cove
© Amy Lipschultz

At the time I was putting the Lace through its paces I was trying to climb (and failing) The Groove at Malham week in, week out for around two and a half months. Anyone that has been in this situaiton knows you try everything that you think will make a difference, so I used one, then then other, and the Lace came out on top every time. The unrelenting quantity of small, polished footholds that feature on this route provides the perfect testing ground for any edging boot and the Lace consistently performed well over an extended time frame, where the VS softened and became much more difficult to use (and anyone who has climbed at Malham will know, you do around 12 foot movements for every single hand movement).

Despite the softer upper, the laces enable you to really crank up the fit as and when you need to, in a way that you could never do with the single strap configuration of the VS.

Instinct Lace Toe Box  © UKC Gear
Instinct Lace Toe Box
© UKC Gear
Rob (and the Instinct Lace) on Ghost Train in Pembroke, with not much gear above!!  © Calum Muskett
Rob (and the Instinct Lace) on Ghost Train in Pembroke, with not much gear above!!
© Calum Muskett

Instinct Lace prod shot  © Scarpa

Instinct Lace - Scarpa say:

Based on the original Instinct model, this new lace up is much lighter and more sensitive with its microfibre upper and 3/4 Outsole design. Wrapped with TPU cage it gives great foot support and prevents torsional movement and roll during extreme edging. This has allowed us to bolt on the Instinct VS heel cup making this shoe an exceptional weapon for both sport climbers and boulderers.

  • Price: £115 RRP
  • Sole: XS Edge
  • Last: FV
  • Upper: Microfibre
  • Weight: 220g (per shoe, size 42)
  • Size Range: 35-45

For more info see scarpa.co.uk

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16 Sep, 2016
Every pair of instinct VS I have seen seem to suffer from the same problem, peeling away rubber on the top of the toe box. This is from, in my case, a small amount of toe hooking. I wonder why rob does not mention this as if you visit any climbing wall in the country and you will see the same. Maybe rob does not climb indoors the lucky chap. On the upside they are snug fitting and an excellent shoe for precision and the rubber is ok too
16 Sep, 2016
I'm on my 4th or 5th pair of instinct vs used for everything I do ie lime sport, lime boulder, sandstone and grit boulder, and indoor boulder. The toe hook rubber has peeled eventually on all of them, but only on the same timescale as the toe sole rubber has worn through anyway, which is no worse than other shoes. Evwn when it does start peeling it doesn't really cause a problem in my experience. So not a reason not to buy them really.
16 Sep, 2016
I'm on my third pair which is close to wearing through after extensive use for quite a few months. Toe rubber is wearing off as well, it did as well on the first pair. Done a bit of toe hooking in Parisella's but nothing major. Other than that, it's pretty much the best shoe I've owned and will probably resole these for another round. Fantastic precision. A bit stiff rubber for some of the smears but mindblowingly good for overhanging ground.
17 Sep, 2016
I'd hazard a guess that the reason he doesn't mention it is because, looking at this three pairs, it hasn't happened on any them. That said, I'm not saying it doesn't happen, because I know exactly what you mean!
20 Sep, 2016
I wonder why there's a difference in price between the VS-options and the lace? I've been patiently waiting for the XS grip versions after (as a lightweight) finding XS-edge 'unpredictable' (especially in cold temperatures). However, at nigh on £125 I struggle to make that leap of faith buying a new pair of shoes!
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