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Review: Scarpa Mago (2018 Redesign)

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The new Scarp Mago climbing shoe.

My one hoarding vice is rock shoes—I love how crisp and bright and new they look coming out of the box, free from dings and scuffs and holes and delamination, their soles a shiny black and ready for action. You almost feel like just by looking at them, you’re going to start climbing harder. It’s one of the funnest parts of my job, testing shoes, and over the years I’ve found more than a few “keepers” to add to the quiver. One of those was the Scarpa Mago, which first came out in the Aughties but was later discontinued from the line.

For fans of this downturned grabber/aggressive micro-edging shoe, there is blessful news. The Mago relaunches in September 2018 in a revamp of its original version, with a few refinements of note:

  • Narrower, higher-performance-fit heel cup
  • Larger toe-scumming patch/increased rubber over the toe
  • New color scheme: the standard lime-green base color is enhanced with a blue tongue and a few other tweaks
  • 3.5mm Vibram XS Edge outsole

On the technical side, the foundational attributes remain in place:

  • Chiseled toebox and TPS (Toe Power Support) underfoot insert for a stable edging platform
  • X-Tension active rand (X-shaped underfoot randing to bring the big toe forward to the tip of the shoe)
  • Microsuede upper

What, exactly, does this all mean? Well, for steep, aggressive, precision-footwork redpoint and onsight climbing, with a focus on micro-edging, these shoes are more beastly than ever, and it’s great to have them back in their Mago 2.0 form.

Out in the field, I tested primarily on granite and sandstone, from angles varying from dead vertical to radically overhanging, from face climbs with square-up-and-stand micro-crystal-toeing to 45-degree-overhanging swells with big drop knees, heel hooks, toe drags, and all manner of unseemly jessery. Their precision, right out of the box, was remarkable—almost disconcertingly so, like getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari when your other car is a Tercel. At times, especially when I was tired and my footwork started degenerating, I felt that I was not the equal of these rock shoes.

I’m not worthy!

The Magos have a unique feel and precision thanks to the TPS insert—it almost feels like you have a little round dot or platform under your toes, one that lets you stand both into and onto tiny holds—jibs, nubbins, divots, and micro crimps. But since this insert is only in the front half of the shoe, the Mago retains its front-to-back and lateral flexibility, which keeps it agile for the hyper-steeps and also pliable for smearing, once you recalibrate to the toebox. The TPS insert also let me stand on edges much longer than I would have thought possible before my calf muscles tired. For such a small piece of material, it does a lot of heavy lifting. As with any radically downturned shoe, these are not meant for slabs, though their micro-edging properties made them great for the thin granite face climbing locally in Boulder Canyon, most of which tends to be dead vertical or slightly overhanging.

On the fit side, the chiseled toebox and big, swooping downturn drive your big toe hard into the front of the shoe, which can be a touch painful at first—I was yanking the shoes off at the anchor my first week or so climbing in them. And with the TPS insert, you won’t get much softening or stretch in the forefoot—maybe a quarter size max. So size accordingly. In terms of sizing, I wore a 42, one full size up from what I wear in Scarpa’s line of Instinct shoes and a half size up from their trad shoe, the Maestro (I’m a street shoe size 10). These are “banana shoes,” so make sure you can take some discomfort during break-in.

Scarpa Magos old and new versus comparison rock climbing shoes
The author’s old (left) and new (right) Magos, side by side.

I made a point of testing the old Mago and the new one side by side on the same climbs, to put them through the same sequences and try to ascertain any differences. The new heelcup certainly did feel less slippy/baggy than the older version, with minimal pouching—on an aggressive heel-toe at Staunton, way up and to the side of my body, the new Mago locked right in and stayed up, time after time after time. Underfoot, I liked having the stiffer and harder-wearing XS Edge for edging and micro-divots; it suits the shoe’s purpose well, and the thin sole is sensitive out of the box, though doesn’t give you a ton of rubber to burn through. The larger toe-scumming patch is a huge plus—on a Boulder Canyon route with a toe drag to hold you in on an off-balance clip, the new version locked me in solidly, while the old one skated a hair while I had rope out. And the new color scheme was cool—our art director said it looked like “something from the future, like, the 2020s.”

As for my ultimate verdict on performance, I’d give the Mago an A or A+. They have quickly become a go-to redpoint shoe, especially for steeper stuff, and have helped get me to the chains on a whole host of routes with thin feet, digging, pulling, and micro-standing that felt way more solid and secure with these bad boys on. The one ding against them is that, on hot days, the overall softness of the shoe can make them feel sloshy with swollen feet—though I was essentially testing in conditions in which you wouldn’t want a high-test pair of shoes on anyway. In other words, it was too damn hot for performance climbing.

With the Mago, the juxtaposition between stiff and soft is interesting, and as you adjust your climbing style to the attributes of the shoe, you may find yourself becoming more versatile and fluid in your footwork, as well as less discriminating in your choice of holds. Those micros that were formerly “off limits” now look huge. Toe in and go!


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