2004 Mid-level sport performance shoes

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Boreal Shadow, $99Overall grade: BTarget climbs: Vertical to moderately overhanging intermediate sport climbs and boulderingFit: Fairly asymmetric overall; medium to wide fit throughout; moderate archSummary: The Boreal Shadow is likely one of the most structured unlined leather slippers imaginable. Most such shoes have abundant stretch and floppy uppers, but the Shadow is downright burly, thanks to its injection-molded IRS (Integrated Rand System) rand/sole combo, over-the-toe rand band, and leather-rib reinforced tongue. The IRS system features a very pronounced edging area along the toe box’s perimeter and a scooped area under the ball of the foot for hooking and smearing. The rubber of the IRS is stiff and beefy, which greatly reduced sensitivity. While the leather-reinforced tongue provides a firm fit, it begs for a pull-on tab, as it’s extremely difficult to open the tongue enough to put the shoe on. The over-the-toe rand reinforcement keeps your toes from curling, reducing your ability to edge from a powerful big-toe position. On the upside, testers found that the over-the-toe reinforcement does help the shoe edge better around the toe box’s outer edge. Overall, the Shadow performs well on 5.10 and 5.11 sport routes, its target climbs, but you’ll exceed its capabilities if and when you push into higher grades.

Cava Express, $90Overall grade: B+Target climbs: Technical routes on slightly under vertical to slightly overhanging terrainFit: Fairly asymmetric overall; narrow-to-medium fit throughout; fairly high archSummary: Cava is a new player on the market this year, but their shoes have a familiar rubber on them: Stealth, with Cava dubbing their particular formula as Black Magic. It’s no surprise, then, that the Express did an admirable job of smearing. This sturdy, comfortable shoe also did well on edges, both frontpointing and turning out. The most interesting feature of the Express is its single Velcro strap, which zigzags from the inside edge of the toe box to the outside edge then to the shoe’s arch and finally back toward the heel cup. We dug the substantial “receiving end” patch for the strap, which really allowed you to micro-adjust the fit by angling the strap just so. The strap was bulky, however, which limited the shoe’s effectiveness on full-foot toe hooks. Testers liked the tongue for its svelte softness and ease of side-to-side adjustment. More rand over the top of the toe box would have been nice for toe hooking, but heel hooking was fine, thanks to the shoe’s fully rubber-covered heel cup.

La Sportiva Mamba, $90Overall grade: BTarget climbs: Vertical to overhanging sport climbs and boulderingFit: Fairly asymmetric overall; medium to wide fit throughout; moderately high archSummary: La Sportiva’s new Mamba is aimed at the beginning to intermediate climber who needs a solid, supportive shoe for basic sport climbing. Testers found that the thick 5mm sole provided a solid edging platform, with acceptable smearing and sensitivity for a shoe of this type. For an unlined leather slipper, the Mamba has a very structured fit, which caused one significant problem: Despite the presence of a pulling tab, the double-layered stretch material on the tongue is very hard to pull open, making the shoe very difficult to put on, even if the fit is otherwise perfect. Like all slippers, the Mamba is not a champ at heel hooking, due to the elastic tongue. Regardless of that general slipper fault, having the heel completely covered in rubber would be a welcome addition. Testers found that the relaxed fit lent itself more towards turned-out edging than frontpointing, and that the toe was too blunt for pockets. Like many shoes of this type, if you’re aggressive in pushing your limits, you will soon outgrow it.

La Sportiva Tora, $90Overall grade: A-Target climbs: Vertical to overhanging sport climbs and boulderingFit: Fairly asymmetric overall; medium to wide fit throughout; moderately high archSummary: Striking a balance between comfort and performance in a sport-climbing shoe can be a very sticky wicket. La Sportiva has done a find job of working that compromise with their new Tora. This unlined leather Velcro model was supportive and comfortable, yet the last was aggressive enough for technical footwork. Frontpointing was this shoe’s specialty — testers felt the power was very concentrated on the big toe. Smearing and sensitivity were solid, though not outstanding, as expected from a detuned, mid-level shoe. The closure system was simple and effective, but definitely would benefit from a larger receiving patch for the upper strap for fine-tuning the adjustment. The heel cup is the major area where the Tora could be improved. All testers, regardless of the shape of their heels, said that the cup felt too low and could pop off at any time. Thus, heel hooking definitely felt like a sporty endeavor, though no one actually lost a shoe. Overall, the Tora is a shoe that can get you started in sport climbing and definitely take you up into 5.12.

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