At Kendal Wall Shop we have one of the best selections of top end Italian rock shoes from La Sportiva and Scarpa. As we all know the Italians make great shoes (and not just climbing shoes, so my wife tells me!) and of course you can never have enough good shoes.
The two top end shoes from both camps (that is to say the most reassuringly expensive) have many similarities but also some distinct differences which are worth being aware of and so having had the opportunity to use both the La Sportiva Futura and Scarpa Instinct VS, I felt it timely to give a brief review to help those of you looking for that new purchase for the coming season.
Top end shoes have evolved into very efficient pieces of kit and in the same way modern cars have a lot of the same attributes, so do these top end rock shoes. They are all based on a downturned last and in the main have a Velcro closure and are more or less a cross between a shoe and slipper. In use these shoes really hug your foot like a slipper but give a similar performance to a shoe with clever tensioning in the last and of course performance rubbers.
As mentioned the La Sportiva Futura utilises a downturned last and a Velcro/lace closure. The downturned last is held in place by their P3 technology which takes the heel tensioning rand and crosses it under the arch of the shoe and through to the forefoot (think of 3D figure of 8 and you'll have the right idea), this helps maintain the shape of the shoe for longer. More interestingly the Futura uses the 'No Edge” technology. My first thoughts on this were “why would I want to buy a pair of shoes with worn edges?”, well all I can say is it works, the shoes edge incredibly well. Of course these shoes really excel on steep rock (and plastic) and the downturned last allows you to really pull on your toes. A major point for consideration is the extended lifetime of the Futura shoe. Due to the construction, La Sportiva can easily resole these shoes and return them as new, given the initial outlay of your hard earned cash this is certainly an added bonus.
The new boy to the Scarpa stable is the Instinct VS. The Instinct has been around in slipper and shoe form for a while but Scarpa has very cleverly worked on a combination of the two. I wasn't a great fan of the Instinct Lace as it didn't really fit my feet, however the Instinct VS is a completely different animal. Just looking at this shoe you can see how much work has gone into the design and detail. The separate heel rand wraps under the arch, this works in conjunction with the Bi Tension system, which wraps under the forefoot and comes back to the arch. This combination means that your foot is pushed forward by the downturned last rather than the compression of the tensioned heel rand giving a more comfortable fit. When you use the Velcro closure you can really feel it tension under the arch and wrap securely around your heel, which gives it an excellent snug fit. The extra rubber over the toe and the full rubber coverage on the heel are real bonuses and will allow you to push and pull from all directions!
Undoubtably these shoes give us, the user, a marked improvement in shoe design and performance. They really are a hybrid of a shoe and slipper, maybe we need a new name? A 'sloe' or 'shippers', I'm sure some clever marketing person will come up with something a little more appealing than these!
It seems we have waited a long while for footwear which delivers a real breakthrough in climbing performance, now two arrive at once! So how would you choose between these two shoes? Of course the first criteria is fit and if only one fits you then the choice is simple, otherwise it's going to be difficult, but here are the key differences: The Futura is a softer shoe, this is also exaggerated by the No Edge technology, and so it definitely errs more towards being a slipper. By contrast the Instinct VS is more shoe-like with a thicker sole on the forefoot and together with the copious amount of rubber on the toe, it gives the shoe added stiffness. The Instinct VS in my opinion is truly the first slipper to have all of the advantages of a shoe and none of the disadvantages of a slipper.
The choice really comes down to your own personal bias, but regardless of your final decision I guarantee that you will not be disappointed by these Italian masterpieces.