At the highest level of competition climbing, athletes are separated by slim deviations in microbeta precision and transcendent technique. Having the proper shoes, designed for the specific needs of a route, can be the difference between a spot on the podium and failing to get out of the group stage.
Comp climbing consists of the three combined disciplines of speed, bouldering, and lead. To help athletes perform at their best, La Sportiva has launched their specialty line of comp shoes—The Theory, Solution Comp, and Cobra 4:99. While the pairs stand out on artificial walls, their advanced tech and adaptability is quickly bringing them into the quivers of outdoor and board climbers too.
Bouldering: Putting the Theory to the Test
The Theory is “a futuristic climbing shoe designed for the next generation climber,” says Paige Claassen, one of the world’s top female sport climbers and an ambassador with La Sportiva.
Since bouldering joined the competition scene in the late-90s it has morphed into the most dynamic discipline. Modern comp boulders are stylistically diverse, incorporating kinetic parkour movements, spirited jumps and coordination, 360-degree footwork, and a heaping of compression, tension, and crimps, culminating in problems that would be unrecognizable to the earliest competitors. For today’s climbers, the demands of bouldering require a shoe that can handle footwork and movements that were hypothetical only a few years ago.
- Top-to-bottom sticky rubber. 90% coverage along the forefoot provides added friction for toe hooks, scumming on the slick side of a volume, and heel-toe camming, as Adam Ondra demonstrated on an overhead move during the Boulder World Cup finals in Salt Lake City earlier this year.
- “[It’s] like a combination of the Solution and the Futura,” says Matt Samet, Editor at Climbing. The shoe combines No-Edge® and edging: There is a defined and pointed edge at the toes which transitions to a curved no-edge rubber-wrap around the sides of the foot. Climbers can toe on tiny foot chips and nubs while allowing more surface contact and texture for the strange shapes of modern volumes.
- Uber soft through the forefoot and a minimal volume heel. The XS Grip2 rubber thins from 4mm at the toes to 1.9mm behind the toe box letting the shoe flex for smearing while the heel provides sensitivity.
The data bears out on the Theory’s wicked versatility. These excel beyond the artificial walls, from slick limestone and pocketed sandstone to overhanging training boards.
Lead: The Solution to Comp Climbing
The Solution Comp is a softer, lower volume, and more all-around version of one of the most popular climbing shoes ever made.
In competition lead climbing, athletes get one attempt to scale as high as they can on a 15-20 meter wall. Climbers have to fight pump, and the clock, as they work through distinct sections that can vary wildly by style, hold type, and wall angle. Correspondingly, climbing shoes need to be adaptable, says Tyler Norton, the Host of Plastic Weekly, a podcast and video series about comp climbing. “The route changes a lot over 15 meters so you have to ask so much of your shoes.” Unlike the bouldering portion, athletes can’t change on the fly, so they need a pair that can do it all.
- A pared-down heel provides greater sensitivity than the original, helping climbers hook with confidence on aretes and volumes, inside and outside.
- The 4mm rubber has been reinforced with 0.9 mm of LaspoFlex plastic which adds support to the forefoot. This reduces foot fatigue on longer routes but also makes it less sensitive than the Theory. Downturned and pointed in the front, the shoe stabs with precision making it great for steep boulder sections and toeing into pockets.
- Bigger top patch for scumming and added security when bicycling on large, geometric volumes.
Outdoors, seek steep terrain and roof climbs where you need to stay tight to the rock. Surprisingly, these perform well on slab too—since they were designed with volumes in mind—offering an adaptable Solution to your shoe lineup.
Speed: Is the Cobra 4:99 a Record Breaker?
The Cobra 4:99 is the first shoe specifically designed for speed climbing.
In this discipline, athletes sprint up a 15-meter wall which is set just beyond vertical. Since the standard route has been the same for nearly 15 years, climbers have been dialing in their movements and breaking the world record nearly every year since 2017. Today, the men’s record is 5.208 seconds, set this year by Veddriq Leonardo of Indonesia, and the women’s world record is 6.964 seconds, held by Iuliia Kaplina of Russia.
- When every tenth of a second counts and weight can slow you down, this is one of the lightest shoes ever made.
- You won’t be heel-hooking, the back of the shoe is made with soft non-sticky rubber that is not intended for climbing. “This is basically a running shoe for the front of your foot,” says Norton.
- No more snagging, the 4:99 has slick rubber on the toe so the foot slides off holds instead of catching on the upstroke.
It’s all in the name, really: Will the 5 second barrier be broken?
This summer, while the average fan’s eyes will be on the dynamic movements of Janja Garnbret, the raw power of Adam Ondra, and the potential of Colin Duffy, the keen observer will be looking a little lower on the wall to see just what’s propelling these athletes to the podium.