Eleven shoes for the brutal joys of crack climbing
Trad veterans swear by their favorite crack shoe like it’s their momma’s secret fried chicken recipe. Whether they’re roomy high-tops (worn with tube socks), toe-crushing downturned sport shoes, or paper-thin slippers, every crack master has a favorite pair to don. The truth is that any rock boot can jam. But unless you value pain over pleasure, you’d best learn a few things about crack shoes—and try a bunch on—before next season’s stint at the Creek.
Here’s what you need to know about 11 shoe models—most new for 2011, plus a few stand-outs you’ve seen before—that were designed mostly or partly for cracks or long trad days. (Several companies did not provide new shoes suitable for this category.) Every shoe in the review can handle cracks of all sizes, but we’ve arranged each by its No. 1 strengths, according to crack size (fingers, hands, wide) or all-day wear. Only the most adept foot contortionists cruise cracks without some pain, but the following beta will keep you and your pampered feet plugging longer than your buddy and his delicate footsies.
Even the narrowest shoes won’t fit into the thinnest finger cracks. For those vicious splitters, some climbers wear tight, stiff sport shoes for edging vertically against the crack or on face features. Others prefer a soft sole for maximum smearing ability. Pick your poison. But as soon as the crack is wide enough to accept a toe—about the size of a wide finger jam—the following four new shoes are the best 2011 has to offer.
Slim Jim Slipper FIVE TEN SUPERMOCC
This new shoe is a souped-up version of the best-selling (and still available) Moccasym—the classic shoe for Indian Creek finger cracks. This slipper has always had a flat last and super-narrow toe profile to stuff into thin cracks, but the new SuperMocc also has a high, split rand that adds toetop rubber for grippier jams. Comfortable leather uppers mold to your foot, and a soft sole excels at smearing. They’re too floppy for precise edging, but that’s not why you’re rocking the Moccs.
• Extra high rand
Double Duty EVOLV GESHIDO
This new shoe is as much a thin crack specialist as a high-end face shoe. Its narrow toe, slight downturn, and stiff midsole ensure a solid platform for both jamming and edging. Laces fine-tune the fit down to mid-foot but are conveniently absent at the toe—a plus for stuffing in tight fissures. Lined leather uppers won’t stretch much so buy them larger (read: no curled toes!) for cracks.
• Jam, edge, fine-tuned fit
Grabby RED CHILI HABANERO
Built on a flat, narrow, and slightly asymmetric last, this shoe is a comfortable master of all but the thinnest cracks. Sticky rubber coats the top of the shoe for excellent grab while jamming. Its stiff, precise edging performance is also among the best in this review.
• Stiff, precise
Techno Toes SCARPA VAPOR V
Scarpa’s Vapor series includes a lace-up, Velcro, and slipper—all of which have their strengths on cracks. The Vapor V is our testers’ favorite for thin cracks, offering a supportive yet narrow toe for more penetration and less pain (due to a stiff midsole). The last is slightly asymmetric and slightly downturned, while a thin, synthetic midsole adds edging power. Two Velcro straps cinch the fit while the suede/ Lorica uppers stretch just enough to conform to your foot while maintaining support. Jamming? Edging? The Vapor V does it all. Also available in a women’s version.
• Stiff midsole for less pain
One climber’s rattly finger crack is another’s sinker hand jam. It all depends on the size of your mitts, of course. The following pair of models will be narrow enough for thin hand cracks and stiff enough to mitigate pain in wider cracks.
Thrifty Comfort CLIMB X DRIFTER
For affordability and comfort, look no further than the Drifter for all-around crack climbing performance. The toe profile and flat last fit thin hand cracks while a high rubber rand and moderately stiff midsole protect your foot for wider jams. Leather uppers (lined in the forefoot) provide good durability, especially for a shoe that’s the least expensive in this review by about $30. Two Velcro straps adjust the fit, with the lowest strap high enough on the shoe to be out of the way on everything up to fist-sized fissures. The low price belies the Drifter’s high quality.
• Great value, comfortable
Jam Champ MILLET HYBRID LACE
These kicks blend comfort, stiffness, and a high toe rand for a shoe that jams like a champ. A medium, pointy toe profile stuffs into cracks with aplomb, aided by a flat, symmetric last. A padded tongue and ankle collar make it cushy for wider cracks as well, and the unlined leather upper (with synthetic material surrounding the toe) does well to protect your foot. This stiff shoe also offers precision and stability on micro edges. Ten eyelets on the laces offer exceptional fit adjustment.
• Good fit, stiff
Fists And Offwidths
Stiffness and coverage are what you need for the burliest of all cracks. Climbers without stiff high-tops at the cliff have even been known to don approach shoes for offwidth ascents rather than suffer the agony of cheese-grating their ankles in a normal rock shoe. Before you do that, check out these two high-top models—your armor for the battle against wide cracks.
The Protector FIVE TEN ANASAZI HIGH TOP
This shoe combines the stiffness of the popular Anasazi Velcro with the ankle protection and support of a beefy high-top. The result? A brilliant new shoe that’s perfect for both wide cracks and allday wear. Three Velcro straps lock your foot in place with the upper, wider strap cinching down at the top of the tongue. You can battle offwidths for hours (if you’re a masochist) and still have skin on your ankles.
• Ankle protection
Master Of All Trades LA SPORTIVA TC PRO
We may as well have flipped a coin to choose a category for the TC Pro. This crack and big-wall mid-top climbs fissures of all sizes so well it could have fit into any category. For a comfy lace-up that could be worn on allday routes, it has a surprisingly low toe profile for thin cracks. But this baby really shines when things get wide and you need full-foot protection and support. A super-stiff sole and leather uppers that reach just above the ankle save skin when torquing and stacking in offwidths. The TC Pro also excels on edges.
• Does it all
Any shoe can be an all-day shoe if sized large enough, but foot fatigue and sloppy performance after a few pitches will leave you craving a shoe designed to be worn all day. The following three models have the comfort and all-around performance you need for long routes.
Long-Term Comfort BOREAL JOKER PLUS
The symmetric, flat-last of this shoe makes it one of the most comfortable shoes on the market today. Its lined leather uppers, generous padding on the tongue and ankle, and EVA heel wedge provide a cushioned fit unmatched by other rock shoes. It’s not a top performer on any terrain, but it handles edges, slabs, and cracks thanks to a semi-stiff midsole, high rubber rand, and the same FS-QUATTRO rubber that’s on all of Boreal’s rock shoes. Available as a lace-up or Velcro.
• Super comfortable
All-Arounder EVOLV DEFY VTR
We put the Defy in the all-day category because it’s both remarkably comfortable and better than average at jamming, smearing, and edging. With a perforated, synthetic upper, nylon lining, and padded tongue, it almost feels like you’re wearing socks in these cozy shoes. The flat, slightly asymmetric last is soft and sensitive, yet a half-midsole provides some edging power. Like most all-day shoes, the Defy VTR doesn’t excel at anything, but at the end of a long day, your feet will be thankful for the comfort. The women’s version, called the Elektra, is shown here.
• Versatile, good value, comfortable
Rumbling Rambler SCARPA THUNDER
This is a durable, comfortable shoe with the same Vibram XS Edge rubber used on Scarpa’s high-performance models. Its flat, somewhat asymmetric last, unlined suede uppers, and padded tongue offer a comfortable fit that molds to your foot over time. A synthetic midsole adds stiffness for edges and support for hours of crack climbing. Of the three shoes in the all-day category, the Thunder holds up to the most abuse from jamming, torquing, and even hiking down descent trails. It’s also available in a women’s version.
• Really durable
CW’S TOP TIPS FOR CRACK FOOTWORK
Climbing is a natural human activity. Just watch little kids at a jungle gym or on a tree in the park. But cracks? No, that’s just weird. There’s nothing more unnatural than stuffing digits, appendages—even entire limbs—into cracks, then twisting them to lock into place for upward progress. It’s an acquired skill (and taste). Here are a few tips to get you off on the right, ahem, foot.
1. FLAT TOES ARE HAPPY TOES. Size shoes so that your toes are flat. Not only is this more comfortable than cramming your feet into tight sport shoes, but it also will improve your crack technique in two ways. First, you’ll easily be able to slide your big toe into thin cracks. Second, you’ll experience less pain when jamming, and therefore be able to put more weight on your feet.
2. ONE SOLID FOOT JAM BEATS TWO SHAKY ONES. On vertical splitters with few face features (like Indian Creek climbs), it’s often more efficient to have one foot in the crack and the other flagging for balance, especially when moving a hand or placing gear. Two feet in the crack is more intuitive, but extremely unstable.
3. EMBRACE THE PAIN. First, twist your ankle inward (and knee outward) so the sole of your foot is perpendicular to the ground. Second, shove your foot or toe in the crack as deep as possible at about knee-height. Now, gradually weight your foot while twisting your knee back up toward your chest. Straighten your leg and weight the jam as much as possible… yeah, ouch! Until you’ve logged mega miles in cracks, it’s simply gonna hurt. Bring it!