The next thing I knew was that Sarah had asked me to test their best-selling Redpoint, which was apparently a great all-rounder, ideal for 'newbies and seasoned climbers alike'. Damn it, she must have noticed I wasn't a cutting-edge athlete despite my best efforts.
Perhaps these shoes would make the difference.
Not in the first size I tried they wouldn't: I'm a UK 8 normally but I could actually get the 7.5 Redpoint on my foot. Plan B was an 8.5. Bingo.
First impressions, now I could actually wear them, were quite positive: they seemed to trace the shape of my foot – average width but with the wide point well back – perfectly and were snug to tight pretty much everywhere without being too tight anywhere. I definitely didn't need to pull too hard on the double Velcro straps for stability but I was a little concerned that they may become a little loose as they stretched, especially as leather shoes do tend to give a bit.
For the first session – a boulder at my local wall – they felt perfect, offering the kind of precision that I felt was genuinely improving my footwork, and the XF Rubber seemed to latch itself to even the smallest rugosities making feature-only footwork notably more secure than I was used to.
The slightly offset point at the big toe, made powering out of small pockets a delight and I could see this being a real bonus on pockety rock like at the Moelwyns. After one of those work-outs where you really feel like you've achieved something, I was itching to get the Redpoints on some real rock.
"...Offering the kind of precision that I felt was genuinely improving my footwork..."
They got their chance on Great Tor on the Gower, on the kind of polished limestone that no rubber really relishes. I swapped back and forth between the Redpoints and my regular shoes, with neither doing particularly well and the only conclusion I could reach was that they definitely weren't going to perform miracles. Those magical E numbers seemed to be moving away again.
Undeterred I continued to put them through their paces on all kinds of rock and all kinds of routes and definitely enjoyed climbing in them. Any fear I had of them stretching too much has proved unfounded and they are definitely the best-fitting shoes I have ever worn. In fact, I'll say that again: they are definitely the best-fitting shoes I have ever worn. That's how well they fit.
The rubber has proved itself time and time again now with the best results definitely indoors although they also excelled on the rough dolerite of Tremadog. The sole flexes easily so they are perhaps not the best on tiny edges – think North Pembrokeshire – and this has become more noticeable as the instep has rounded slightly with wear. But the fit helps to overcome this to some extent – it's so easy to press with that big toe; and what they lose here, they gain in sensitive smearing whenever the footholds get sketchy. The rand is as sticky as the sole and this also helps on thinner walls.
The eagle-eyed will notice a striped tread pattern on the heel – aimed to assist on descent. This won't overcome the eel-skin like qualities of the cliff top grass at Pembroke and the wet and slimy variety found further north, but it certainly helps. And they definitely deserve praise for the way they handle odour - the guff supplied suggests that the organic hemp footbed would help to keep them socially acceptable, and after a hard summer and autumn climbing in them I can't dispute it (and they've been on my desk the whole time I've been typing this review).
I have definitely enjoyed climbing in the Redpoints, and will continue to climb in them – especially on the kind of rock or route that I think plays to their strengths: smears and pockets in particular. They've held together well despite prolonged use, and although the instep has lost that lovely sharp edge it came with, they still have plenty of wear left in them. Fitwise, I can't knock them, and even if I did need a rest from them on a long route, the Velcro tabs would make it easy to slip heels out on the stances. Sadly I'm still no elite climber but I'd like to think my footwork has improved during my time with these shoes, and this would be in no small part due to that excellent fit. Did I mention that fit? Oh well... Perhaps Sarah will let me loose on a pair of their more advanced shoes next time...
“If I'm not in the hills, then I'm usually dreaming about them or writing about them. I'm probably in the right job then as a writer/photographer and outdoor journalist. I started climbing late in life and then handicapped myself further by taking a few years out with injuries. But what I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm, and there's still plenty of time to get better. I guess I prefer long mountain routes to straight cragging but then again I love the sea cliffs too.”