2004 High-performance sport Velcro

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Acopa B3, $115Overall grade: ATarget climbs: Overhanging sport routes and boulders, where a combination of smearing and edging is neededFit: Radically asymmetric overall; medium to wide width throughoutSummary: An across-the-board favorite, we dubbed the unlined-leather Acopa B3 “The Paw” for its organic feel and cat-like ability to edge and smear around the entire perimeter of the toe box. While the B3 might appear to be just another “normal” Velcro shoe, it boasts an interesting bit of technology. Most rock shoes have a dead spot on the toe box’s outside edge, resulting in a lack of power on technical backstep moves. The B3, however, is lasted so that the sole curves up to match the contour of the toes on the outside of your foot, eliminating that dead area. Our testers found that this trick worked, resulting in a shoe that excels at quick, smeary moves on overhanging terrain. The B3’s simple but effective Velcro straps garnered kudos as well. The two straps, individually, really pull the instep/toe area and the heel cup tight, and they’re so easy to grab and use that you can cinch the shoe down one-handed mid-pitch. The tongue is similar to the Boreal Stingma’s, but isn’t overloaded with padding, and so avoids feeling bulky. The shoe’s semi-aggressive foot positioning is made more comfy by the soft construction and materials, but beware the shoe’s considerable stretch.

Bufo V Machine, $80Overall grade: B+Target climbs: Intermediate to advanced bouldering, very steep terrain involving smearing and hookingFit: Very asymmetric overall; narrow heel; narrow, high arch; moderately down-turned toe with medium toe boxSummary: The Bufo V Machine lives up to its name, delivering quite well on the promised performance. It excels at smearing on steep features, with excellent sensitivity that doesn’t come at the expense of edging ability. Its compression molded, ribbed heel rand excels at hooking and the toe has just enough rubber for toe hooking and scumming. The shoe was also the easiest Velcro to put on. The receiving ends of the Velcro straps sported large patches for angling the straps precisely for an optimized fit. But this V Machine has an Achilles heel — in the toe. The leather of the outside tongue flap meets the toe box in an uncomfortable seam. That seam, while laminated to minimize its presence, caused serious irritation to our pinky toes, making the shoe less than optimal for long sessions. A few testers also found that the supple, unlined leather upper tended to bunch up in the arch when frontpointing.

Mad Rock Loco, $90Overall grade: ATarget climbs: Steep bouldering and technical, overhanging sport routesFit: Mildly asymmetric overall; narrow heel; wide, high arch; aggressive, down-turned toe with a narrow, toe-curling toe boxSummary: Confirming that last year’s auspicious debut was no fluke, Mad Rock delivers another winner with the Loco, a lined, synthetic-upper sportster that begs for precise footwork. The Loco’s slingshot rand, down-turned, pointed toe, and dual-density sole give it a laser-like ability to frontpoint on tiny edges and nubs that prompted us to dub it “The Claw.” One tester, usually very temperate in his evaluations, gushed, “For any steep, edgy climb or boulder problem, this is a machine!” Pockets were a little problematic, as the toe comes to a rather blunt point. Also, if precise footwork is not your forte, you might not like these shoes, since they don’t excel when used in a laissez faire, paste-and-go style. The Loco was also the year’s best in toe hooking and scumming. The upper is covered with an innovative thermoplastic rubber lattice that could be pasted against the underside of roofs for intense sucking action on steep ground. The Loco was the test’s best in heel hooking, thanks to Mad Rock’s trademark, ribbed-for-your-pleasure heel cup. With these features and sizable, segmented toe rands, the Loco applied rubber to rock no matter how we scummed and turned it. We would have preferred a floating tongue for better fit. The fixed tongue flap sewn to the outside half the shoe, while comfortable, didn’t distribute the pressure of the Velcro straps as well as some other models. The thin, triple straps also gave the most hassle of any of the Velcros. Oh, and one more thing we’re thankful for on the Loco — the breathable upper is heat-reflecting white, not a dark, foot-cooking hue.

Mammut Blaze Velcro Soft, $99Overall grade: BTarget climbs: Vertical to radically overhanging boulders and sport climbsFit: Fairly asymmetric overall; narrow heel; long, narrow, high arch; medium width toe boxSummary: The Blaze Velcro Soft is significantly better than its sister Lace, thanks to its Velcro straps and slightly firmer midsole. While the Lace’s laces didn’t keep the arch of the shoe’s upper from sagging, the Velcro’s straps did. The firmer, cupped midsole gave the shoe reasonable edging ability, plus solid smearing and sensitivity. The shoe also toed well into pockets. We did wish that the leather arch reinforcements for the Velcro straps had a lower profile to reduce bulkiness. Completely covering the heel in rubber would also have improved heel hooking.

Montrail Zealot, $95Overall grade: BTarget climbs: Overhanging sport routes and bouldersFit: Very asymmetric overall; narrow heel, arch, and toe box; down-turned toe.Summary: “A work in progress,” is how one tester described the Montrail Zealot. The shoe incorporates several promising design concepts in the upper, which is constructed in two layers. The inner layer is cotton-canvas-lined, micro-perforated synthetic Nubuck, which extends to just over the top of the toe box, and an ultra-stretchy, synthetic-fabric tongue area. The outer layer, which forms the offset Velcro strap system, is made of a burly, grippy synthetic. Overall, definitely one of the more thought-provoking designs we’ve seen. Performance-wise, the Zealot was middle of the pack. While the shoe edged and smeared reasonably well, testers felt it lacked sensitivity. The shoe’s design also did not drive power into the big toe, which is where it’s supposed to be. The ultra-stretchy synthetic tongue fabric could be a little thicker for extra cushioning the Velcro straps.

Red Chili X-Cube, $125Overall grade: A-Target climbs: Overhanging sport routes and boulders, training on plasticFit: Very asymmetric overall; medium-width heel; medium to wide, high arch; medium to wide toe boxSummary: Super-steep bouldering and plastic climbing are the environs the Red Chili X-Cube aims for and it hits the mark well. It smears very well and while not a powerful edging shoe, it does resist roll-off and foot popping. The strip of rubber extending up the toe box was noticeably helpful in certain toe-hooking situations. Still, it would have been nice to have more rubber over the top of the big toe. More rubber is also needed on the outer edges of the heel cup for better heel hooking — exposed leather just doesn’t have the same grip factor as sticky rubber. The offset Velcro closure system worked well. We especially liked the broad “receiving end” patch for the upper strap, which really allowed you to micro adjust the fit by angling the strap just so. The split tongue was well padded without being bulky. One tester who’s wide in the midfoot, noted that the tongue sections could have overlapped more.

Saltic Vampir, $115Overall grade: A-Target climbs: Technical, vertical to overhanging sport routes and boulders, edges, and pocketsFit: Very asymmetric overall; narrow heel; medium, high arch; medium to wide toe boxSummary: Saltic’s unlined synthetic Vampir goes for edging power over smearing and sensitivity and delivers well on that promise. The shoe sends quite a bit of power to the big toe for frontpointing and features a stable platform along the inside edge. That ability to stand on the inside edge comes in quite handy when your feet are turned out on a thin, vertical face. Keep in mind, however, that you won’t want to subject the shoe to dime edges on less-than-vertical terrain — it’s strictly vertical and beyond for this ride because it’s not sensitive enough for the subtleties of rolling onto those small holds. The receiving ends on the Vampir’s Velcro straps feature broad patches for fine-tuning the fit. Like the X-Cube, it would have been nice to have more rubber around the heel, though you’re less likely to be aggressively heel hooking on the less-steep terrain for which this shoe is designed.

Triop Wing, $110Overall grade: B-Target climbs: Overhanging sport routes and boulders, emphasizing smearing and hookingFit: Mildly asymmetric overall; narrow heel; medium, low arch; slightly downturned toe with a medium toe boxSummary: Triop’s Wing is an interesting hybrid between a regular slipper and a Velcro, combining a single ankle strap with the stretchy slipper tongue. The Wing is aimed at smearing on very steep routes and testers found that it did indeed smear well when utilizing the full forefoot sole surface. But when trying to smear frontpoint-style, focusing on the big toe, we couldn’t get the control we would hope for, as the shoe flexed too much behind the toe box, reducing power to the big toe. The hybrid fit system did not deliver a powerful fit. While the upper strap, which loops through a cutout on the leather upper, provided a firm fit up top, the elastic tongue was far too stretchy in the upper toe box. That stretchiness may have contributed to our feelings of too much flex and it also diminishes the shoe’s toe-hooking ability.

2004 Rock Shoe Manufacturers

Acopa: (510) 262-9581, www.acopausa.com Boreal: (310) 576-9965, www.e-boreal.com Bufo: (877) 922-5462, www.rockshoes.com Cava/Liberty Mountain: (888) 902-5462, www.libertymountainclimbing.com Evolv: (714) 891-0555, www.evolvesports.com Five Ten: (909) 798-4222, www.fiveten.com La Sportiva: (303) 443-8710, www.sportiva.com Mad Rock: (503) 797-1952, www.madrockshoes.com Mammut/Climb High: (802) 985-5056, www.climbhigh.com Montrail: (206) 621-9303, www.montrail.com Red Chili/Excalibur: (801) 942-8471, www.redchili.de Saltic/Bear Adventure: (866) 472-5842, www.salticshoes.com Scarpa/Black Diamond: (801) 278-5533, www.scarpa-us.com Triop/Vertical Addiction: (403) 688-1830, www.vertical-addiction.com