Boreal's Joker Plus and I are cut from the same cloth: built for comfort, not speed, they are most at home on long easy routes. Well padded, relaxed yet supportive, and made to last (OK, the similarities have to end somewhere), this is a shoe for old hands with old feet, beginners who really don't need to cram their toes into banana shaped ballet shoes, and indeed anyone who intends to be out all day and not pushing the grades too far.
A velcro version is available, called simply the Joker Plus, but with tricksy-shaped feet that tend to need plenty of fit adjustment, I went for the laceups.
As for the fit - though designed for all day comfort it's fair to say that the Joker Plus Lace are built narrow. This width seems consistent throughout the length of the shoe, which for me is unfortunate since my feet are broader than average at the toe but fairly slim at the heel, meaning that I find them a squeeze at the front yet at the same time a bit baggy at the back. I've yet to notice any give at the toe after a couple of months of use. Since these shoes are lined I suspect the stretch over time will be minimal, so I would not advise starting tight and hoping for some give. Volume in the toe is on the low side too, so overall I'm glad that I opted to go for my street shoe size, a 12, rather than trying to tighten up the fit for more precision. However with their flat sole and non-aggressive, only very mildly asymmetric profile, I've found I can tolerate the relatively tight fit of the Joker Plus even when worn as all-day shoes. If your feet are narrow, but with a relatively broad heel, then you may get on particularly well with this last.
You might expect a more supportive, easy route model to be stiff and clumpy underfoot, but these slip lasted shoes have quite a soft feel, at least in the rear half of the foot, and this no doubt helps them feel forgiving on the feet. They come in a huge size range too, including half sizes, and in both male and female-specific lasts; top marks to Boreal there.
A mix of split leather and artificial fabrics, the upper has a quality feel. Since the rubber seems bound to wear faster than the upper I can well imagine these shoes lasting through at least one resole. Lined on the inside throughout with a sweat-absorbent mesh, and with mesh panels on both sides of the foot, the Joker Plus Lace is very well ventilated. Being a thin mesh with no bulky leather or padding, the tongue is both low profile and very light and airy feeling too. I have found them cool and comfy on sunnier days this summer, though bear in mind that I've climbed with them exclusively in UK temperatures. However with its thick lining I can also see this shoe having a place in colder weather too, since it must add a degree of insulation compared to unlined leather.
Lacing extends down to the toes for a more precise fit at the front, while a series of webbing straps and a wrap-around rand at the heel help pull things in close around the foot. Pressure on the achilles is minimal though, and with more padding around the heel than you'll find on most rock shoes the emphasis remains very much on comfort.
"When climbing all day, normal rock boots become tiring very quickly as the thin, sensitive nature of their construction does little to protect the foot" say Boreal. "With the Boreal Cushioned Heel System (CHS) an EVA shock absorbing insert under the heel cushions and protects the foot with no loss of climbing performance. This means that walking between routes and stepping off the rock onto hard, uneven surfaces can be achieved in comfort."
Including a little padded insert at the heel does seem a good idea on a shoe like this, and in my experience it's enough to make a discernible difference when you're walking off a mountain crag on hard stony ground. Little rubber ridges in the rear half of the sole offer a bit of traction too, which again is a worthwhile addition for those walk-offs (though of limited effectiveness on wet grass). If you were intending to do much heel hooking then these extras at the heel would be a hindrance - but that's not what the Joker Plus is about.
Zenith Quattro rubber, as used on the current Joker and Joker Plus models, is a new compound developed from Boreal's original Zenith. Stickier than old the FS-Quattro formerly used on their entry level shoes, but more durable than their new high performance Zenith Pro and Zenith Ultra compounds, it strikes what, for a shoe in this niche, seems a sensible balance of grip versus durability and edgeing performance.
The friction of Zenith Quattro may be a tad less than Boreal's higher performance compounds, but it still really is very sticky stuff, and feels equally effective on all the rock types I've yet tried it on. Does this suggest that it might be prone to wear reasonably fast? Perhaps, but thinking about the hideous polish on many popular easy routes I'm certainly not complaining. A generous depth of rubber at the toe (ranging from 4-4.5mm depending on size) does a lot to offset any concerns about longevity.
A robust midsole in the forefoot makes the Joker Plus quite a stiff shoe at the toe, and I find it edges very well. There's plenty of support for long days out on the rock too; but with a much softer sole from the midfoot back to the heel, the fit into the instep can be pulled in good and close, and the overall feel isn't too rigid and clumpy.
Comfort and build quality are the hallmarks of the Joker Plus Lace. For long days on mountain rock, or laid-back low-grade cragging sessions, this relaxed yet supportive shoe is easy on the feet, while the cushioned heel takes the sting out of the walk-off. Nevertheless, edgeing performance is good for a less technical shoe, and the rubber very sticky and confidence inspiring. The narrow toe and relatively spacious heel won't suit everyone, but the price tag certainly ought to. For a shoe that's clearly made to last, £85 is excellent value.
Developed from our famous Joker model, the Joker Plus Lace incorporates additional features for unsurpassed comfort. For 2017, a host of new upgrades means that Joker Plus Lace remains the go-to shoe for multi-pitch epics.
The Joker Plus Lace features a new super-comfortable semi-asymmetric last with slimmer fitting heel and low tension rand. An upper of high quality split leather and synthetic microfibre is combined with a PU Air Net lining for exceptional comfort and a fresh new look. A full length lacing system ensures a precise and highly adaptable fit. Our Heel Fit System ankle padding is updated for 2017, providing luxurious feel with reduced bulk. A newly developed outsole now includes a specially shaped heel cavity, allowing the shock absorbing EVA of our Cushioned Heel System to work more effectively without impeding fit.
A new stiffer midsole helps provide support while edging, and the sticky and durable Zenith Quattro rubber provides the ideal blend of durability and friction. If you like longer routes in the mountains, full days at the crag and extended training sessions, Joker Plus Lace is the ideal choice. Put them on, keep them on.
- Price: £85
- Sizes: 5 - 14.5 (men) 2 - 8.5 (women)
- Weight: 698g per pair (size 12, our measure)
- Characteristics: The highest comfort level, thanks to its last, the padding in heel and upper, and the complete 3D mesh lining. For long climbing sessions. Fit in your street shoe size to wear all day or in smaller sizes for increased precision.
- Rubber: Ultra sticky Boreal ZENITH Quattro outsole. A unique high performance climbing rubber compound developed by Boreal. This compound provides outstanding friction and excellent hold on small edges.
- 4-4.5mm rubber thickness depending on size
- Cushioned heel: In order to improve comfort when stepping off the rock or walking between routes, Boreal developed the Cushioned Heel System (CHS). Using shock absorbing EVA under the heel, the foot is cushioned from rocky and hard ground.
- Uppers: Split leather and microfiber. Mesh on both sides for increased breathability.
- Full length lacing system to the toes and lateral fastening straps for a highly personalized fit.
- Lining: One piece 3D lining for more breathability.
- Construction: Slip-Lasted
- Midsole: Special anti deformation midsole
For more info see borealoutdoor.com
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