Fall Foot Frenzy
When it comes down to it, rock shoes are the most important piece of climbing gear, whether you’re picking a path through a 5.5 or making magic on your first 5.14. So we rounded up the best new shoes available this fall and put them to the test.
After more than a dozen testers sent routes from Rifle’s steep limestone to the 1,000-foot granite walls of Squamish to plastic paradises across the country, we narrowed the field to eight top performers.
In a nod to yesteryear, there are two new high-top models (great for cracks). Plus, we debut a new Spanish company that has had massive success in Europe and likely will in the States, too. Here’s the skinny on the shoes you should be sliding on your feet this fall and beyond.
Evolv Astroman ($145, evolvesports.com)
Performance: This shoe’s co-designer is Peter Croft, a legend in just about every climbing category, so testers had high hopes for it. And they weren’t disappointed, calling it stellar for long crack climbs. As a well designed high-top with a flat last, it feels good on your foot all day and offers more support when edging. Lined, leather uppers offer increased foot and ankle protection—a welcome break from Evolv’s usual lined synthetic uppers. A wide forefoot ensures that even high-volume feet won’t be suffocated, and a stiff, 2mm, full-length MX-P midsole provides a solid edging platform for this cool, retro boot, which sports Evolv’s 4.2mm TRAX rubber. We loved the comfort of the padded, split-mesh tongue, but one wide-footed tester said there’s not enough overlap on the tongue halves to prevent dirt from entering the shoe. The laces don’t extend far enough down the shoe to adjust the toe box, but the Astroman is stiff enough for edging and wearable enough for all-day routes.
Cons: Tongue allows debris into the shoe. Laces don’t extend to the toe, meaning the shoe can’t be vacuum-sealed to your foot.
Conclusion: A solid high-top for cracks and long routes, emphasizing comfort over performance. You can size them down because they fit ergonomically instead of contorting your foot even when they’re tight.
Evolv Pontas ($124, evolvesports.com)
Performance: Redesigned for 2012, the Pontas II is a versatile shoe that can handle almost any terrain, from ticky-tacky dime edges in Squamish, British Columbia, to steep, sinker buckets in Skaha, B.C. A flat last with slight asymmetry and an aggressive and form-fitting, rubber-coated heel cup make for an easy-to-wear foot platform. A 1.5mm, full-length MX-P midsole adds stiffness that will last the life of the shoe. The Pontas II fits narrow- to average-width feet and can be sized large for all-day wear or tight for technical faces. Testers loved the 4.2mm TRAX outsole on the new heel that’s 100 percent rubber-coated for improved hooking and scumming, where your feet drag or skid on the wall. Cotton-lined synthetic uppers and a split mesh tongue ease entry and add comfort. Evolv added a third Velcro strap to the Pontas II for superior adjustment. Testers experienced above-average precision and grip on the micro-edges of the long and dead-vertical Petrifying Wall at Squamish as well as the overhanging jugs of Skaha. It’s designed as an all-around shoe and does everything well.
Cons: The last is too narrow for wide feet. More stretch than a typical synthetic shoe, so consider sizing down a half or full size. When first worn, they were great for anything technical, but after a month they became softer.
Conclusion: A solid, technical edging shoe for all angles up to slight overhangs. Roomy enough for multi-pitch wear.
Five Ten Anasazi High-top ($170, fiveten.com)
Performance: “Cozy with a quick on-off, they feel like a high-top slipper,” said one tester of Five Ten’s latest trad shoe—the only high-top Velcro on the market. With slight asymmetry, a Stealth rubber outsole, and the edging power of the time-tested Anasazi Velcro, Five Ten proves that you don’t have to accept lower performance just because you want a high-top that offers ankle/foot protection and support. Dean Potter, big-waller, speed climber, free soloist, and overall badass, helped design these shoes with long days in Yosemite in mind. The high-top not only protects your skin from wide crack thrashing (as our testers discovered on The Left Side (5.12a) in Squamish), but helps prevent foot fatigue by supporting your ankles on long routes. The straps are handy for quickly slipping your heels out of the shoe at belays. The lined upper is made of both leather and synthetic for low-stretch durability. Perhaps one tester put it best when he said, “If you cut off the high-top you’d still be left with a performance shoe," after climbing techy slabs in Squamish.
Cons: We loved the Velcro for convenience, but you can’t micro-adjust fit as you can with lace-ups. Straps can feel bulky in cracks. Doesn't perform as well on micro-edges.
Conclusion: Excels at everything granite: cracks, slabs, smearing, and long routes. Still feels pleasurable on the foot after long, full days. Extremely durable.
Five Ten Coyote VCS Canvas ($99.95, fiveten.com)
Performance: Need a breathable do-it-all shoe for summer climbing or desert routes? Five Ten has answered the call with this canvas version of their popular, all-around shoe, the Coyote VCS. A flat, slightly asymmetric last offers comfort while a mild indentation under the forefoot keeps toes at the end of the shoe for more power on smaller footholds and improved sensitivity. Testers appreciated the pointy toe profile, which improves edge and pocket precision. The Stealth C4 outsole is not new, but stickier than most, and always a favorite among testers. A high, relaxed rubber rand is great for jamming and scumming, meaning you can touch any part of the outsole to rock, and it’s going to stick. Unlike most lined shoes, these lined canvas uppers will stretch enough to conform to your foot, but not so much that they’re unwearable or clunky. With excellent performance on everything from slab to steep (not really overhung) and a price tag that's unbeatable, these shoes rank as a terrific beginner shoe and would do well in an advanced climber’s quiver as a mid-performance gym shoe.
Cons: The lowest Velcro strap is too high for toe adjustment. The metal strap buckles are durable but can dig into the foot painfully in wide jams.
Conclusion: A solid and affordable entry-level or all-day shoe. Testers said they performed best on slabs and cracks, and could also be used as a mileage shoe for plastic.
Millet Yalla ($128.95, millet.fr)
Performance: Millet’s new high-performance lace-up sports a downturned toe that’s unusually stiff. Testers were surprised by how well that rare combo provided exceptional grip. One tester said that he stood on dime edges with confidence, while on steeper-than-45 terrain he “could grab and hook features almost as well as if I were wearing a slipper.” The rigid forefoot broke in after just a few limestone sport pitches, softening just enough to offer both support and sensitivity for the lifespan of the shoe. The lacing system allows for plenty of adjustment, but the narrowest feet may swim a little in the wide-lasted Yalla. The synthetic upper—lined only in the toebox to prevent stretch—feels like soft leather, yet it will hold its shape over time. After sandstone bouldering, limestone cragging, and indoor training, one tester said that the Yalla is one of the few bouldering and sport climbing shoes that truly masters a wide variety of angles and rock type while holding its shape. One tester summed it up when he said, "Why aren't more shoes designed like this one?" after sending a steep and techy 5.13a project.
Cons: Too wide for narrow feet. Not as sensitive as most high-end shoes due to the increased stiffness.
Conclusion: An excellent shoe for high-end boulders and routes from just under vertical to the steepest of the steep.
Red Chili Habanero VCR ($135, redchili.de/en)
Performance: Take Red Chili’s popular lace-up Habanero, make it more flexible, and replace the laces with Velcro; there you have the Habanero VCR. The new iteration offers a soft, sensitive feel for almost any kind of climbing—perfect for smearing and jamming. A flat, slightly asymmetric last gives a relaxed fit that fully supports your whole foot and has a natural toe shape. Like all Red Chili shoes, the Habanero VCR is best for narrow to average-width feet. A soft and sticky 4.5mm RX2 outsole includes a high rand for jamming, though testers found mixed results on its durability. One tester noted that the shoes “held up extremely well,” after a month of sport climbing and indoor training, while another said that, after a week of desert climbing, “the rubber started to crack along the sides and on the toe rand.” The low-stretch synthetic upper has a plush, two-piece mesh tongue. These are reminiscent of very comfortable multi-pitch kicks, with a touch more performance.
Cons: Too soft for micro-edging or steeps where extremely high performance is needed. Buckles dig into foot when jamming.
Conclusion: Great for smearing, thin cracks, and sensitivity on slabby to vertical terrain. As one tester said, “Wonderful to wear all day, but I still get performance on everything up to dead vertical.”
Tenaya Tatanka ($150, trango.com)
Performance: Tentatively testing these shoes on small holds at first, our tester trusted them completely after a few tries on popular and polished limestone routes at Grassi Lakes, Canmore, Canada. They were equally as sticky on plastic and the sandstone and gneiss of Colorado, thanks to the 4mm Vibram XS Grip rubber. “They’re not perfect at anything, but they perform really well everywhere, which makes them terrific for a fairly high-performance versatile shoe,” our tester said. A semi-stiff sole and precise fit means they edge and smear—plus everything in between—but don’t quite “grab” the rock as much as you might want on the steeps because they’re not super stiff. Sensitivity was solid, even on outside edges when our tester had to deadpoint off a smooth quartzite bump on Wicked Gravity (5.11a) at Lake Louise: “I back-stepped and as soon as I stood up, I felt solid on the tiny foot and could launch with confidence.” The Tatanka got really high marks for durability and fit (best for narrow to average feet) as well.
Cons: Not superb at jamming, and the tongue took some positioning to get just right. Designed for single routes where you can take your shoes off immediately after, not multi-pitch.
Conclusion: If you’re looking to upgrade from a beginner shoe, but don’t want to go super downturned and still need performance in all types of terrain (from slab to slightly overhung), then this is the next best step.
Tenaya Ra ($140, trango.com)
Conclusion: “The fit is perfect when I first put them on—no extraneous space or volume anywhere, even the heel,” one tester said. She regularly finds too much heel space in most shoes, even though her foot ranks as medium-width, medium-volume, and medium-arch. Our narrow-footed tester was pleased with the Ra, too. They are a good edging shoe, as they performed well on both Rifle and Eldo polish, keeping up with our tester’s favorite super-precision shoe. Comfort level is minimal, but that’s to be expected for this level of performance, as they fall somewhere between a high-performance downturned shoe and an all-day kick. You wouldn’t wear them for a send attempt, but they’d be perfect for working a route. Although our pain-loving tester said they didn’t bother her at all to wear for extended periods, people with a lower pain tolerance might find them too stiff right out of the box. Rubber durability and stickiness was outstanding, the former sometimes a problem with high-end shoes.
Cons: Toe rubber was minimal, so toe-hooking might be difficult. Too stiff in the beginning to smear well, and the sensitivity was only average.
Conclusion: These shoes slide in just below the most high-performance and expensive shoes on the market, but they feel better on the foot and are more durable than most of those top-tier shoes.