REVIEW: Boreal Diabolo

Updated for 2017, the new version of Boreal's classic Diabolo shoe is described as "a great compromise between comfort and performance". By the standards of a more technical rock shoe it does feel reasonably forgiving on the foot - at least if you have narrow feet. But despite offering the sort of comfort you might expect more from a mid-range intermediate shoe, there's no compromise on their precise feel or edgeing performace.

It's been a while since I've had a pair of Boreals on my feet - around 15 years! They used to be one of my regular brands for rock shoes, but since then my feet changed and in turn, so did the rock shoes I was wearing. However, having recently got a chance to test Boreal's new Diabolo, I've been pleasantly surprised how well these shoes have fared, outperforming some of my regular and dependable shoes on sport and harder trad.

Breaking them in on Scotland's finest limestone, 238 kb
Breaking them in on Scotland's finest limestone
© Dan Bailey

"The feel of the Diabolo is stiff, with precise and confidence inspiring sensitivity on small edges"


Boreal aren't known for a wide fit, and true to form the Diabolo (or, for women, the Diabola) is definitely a boot for narrow feet, especially around the foot arch. Even my relatively narrow feet were pushing it to begin with. On first try I found them very tight - I wasn't even sure I'd selected the right size. However after two or three sessions of wearing them they stretched slightly and are now the perfect fit. I'd advise anyone looking to get these, if they are wanting a reasonably tight performance fit, to buy half a size down from what feels like the right fit in the shops purely in anticipation of some slight stretch. That being said, it's very much a personal thing and as with any shoe it's always worth trying them on before you buy and making the call on what you feel is right.

The Diabolo at Tunnel Wall
© Screaming Gordon

The Diabolo at Tunnel Wall
© Screaming Gordon

The heel sits snug and secure, in part thanks to its narrow profile and also helped by the tension of the rubber rand around the heel, which pulls the back of the shoe close into the foot but is not so tight as to be crippling. The only issue I've found with the Diabolos, and I'm not the only person to have noticed this (friends have been trying them too), is a slight pinching around the outside middle of the foot. I'm not sure exactly what is causing this. It could be due to the narrowness but it's more likely down to thick rubber at the side not having any give to it. Then again it could also be the elasticated material that keeps your foot in the shoe, as this material has a small overlap where it is attached to the shoe around this area. Either way, it's there and it's notable, at least for the pair we've been trying. This pinching sensation did however break in, and after around the tenth session it was comfortable on my foot.


The split leather and microfibre upper has a good quality feel, and for use in warmer weather it's not too sweaty. Being unlined, it will inevitably stretch a little, as I've already mentioned. The fastening system is pretty much as it looks, two straps of velcro that can be adjusted to the desired tightness. It works well, and thanks to that narrow fit and a heel that is not too aggressively shaped, I've had no issues with dead space inside the shoe after fastening.


The general feel of the Diabolo is stiff, with precise and confidence inspiring sensitivity on small edges and smeers. This shoe has a very pointy toe box, and assuming your feet suit this shape this allows the user to really get the tips of the toes onto tiny wee edges that might be obstructed by rock, or stand in very small pockets, something a wider front shoe might struggle with.

Performance on small edges is superb, 169 kb
Performance on small edges is superb
© Dan Bailey

The heel has thick ridges of rubber attached to it, which if I'm honest I'm not really a fan of, as I just find that there is less surface area to create friction with when heel hooking. On the flip side I guess they might conceivably catch crystals in the rock and allow you to pull harder. It's not the first pair of shoes I've worn to adopt this design, a few other manufacturers are also including similar 'textured' heels. I think it's probably down to personal preference, and speaking for myself I like a plain flat heel.


The rubber on the Diabolos is Boreal's own Zenith Pro, which like many other rubbers performs better after a little wear. In fact I'd say it performs brilliantly. It's a harder rubber than some, which helps with durability, and on the Diabolo it is reasonably thick too - 4 to 4.5mm depending on shoe size - so even after a couple of months of hard-ish use they're not showing too much sign of wear. I suspect these shoes will last quite a while, which is a bonus in terms of value for money.

However that thickness and durability does not seem to come with too much of a penalty, either in terms of sensitivity, or in terms of friction. So far I've used them on edgy limestone, rhyolite, schist sport and trad and sandstone - and, of course, indoors. I have found the friction to be excellent across the board. Thanks to its relative hardness I thought the rubber was especially good on the steep, edgey rhyolite of Tunnel Wall.


I've found these shoes are well suited to anything from slabs, through vertical ground to slightly overhanging, and they function particularly well on tiny edges. I'd recommend them for bouldering, sport climbing, harder single pitch trad and indoors. I think the narrowness and the pinching I highlighted earlier would put me off using them on long trad routes or mountain crags, however a larger size might make this more viable. Broad footed users may have to look elsewhere, sadly. But with my narrower feet I've found the Diabolo's balance of comfort and performance hard to beat; in fact, when this pair wears out I'll be buying a replacement. With this new take on a tried and trusted shoe, it looks like Boreal are onto a winner.

Boreal say:

Newly updated for 2017, Diabolo is the shoe to take your climbing to the next level without unnecessary discomfort. Diabolo combines the precision of a performance shoe with the comfort of an intermediate model making it an incredibly versatile for both improving and experienced climbers alike.

  • Price: £95
  • Sizes: 5 - 12 (men);
  • Women's version: Diabola 3 - 8.5
  • Uppers: Split leather and microfiber. Integrated tongue on the upper. Fast double strap closure system
  • Lining: No
  • Construciton: Slip-lasted
  • Midsole: Special anti deformation midsole
  • Sole: Ultra sticky Boreal ZENITH Pro outsole. 4-4.5mm thickness depending on size
  • Characteristics: A great compromise between comfort and performance. Precise yet forgiving
  • Usage: Superbly versatile. Use indoors or outdoors, routes or bouldering

For more info see:

Boreal Diabolos, 26 kb

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