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Gym Climbing

First Look: La Sportiva Zenit, a Durable Rock Shoe for Newly Minted and Intermediate Climbers

Bottom line: The Zenit earned its place in my shoe quiver for moderately difficult, high-volume days when I wanted support, comfort, and durability to not burn through my more expensive pairs.

Basics

The La Sportiva Zenit is a simply designed, slightly downturned, robust rock shoe built for comfort, support, and ease of use at the gym and on moderate or multi-pitch rock. It has a breathable knit upper, Vibram XS Grip rubber, two hook-and-loop closures, and a very stiff midsole.


Pros

Comfortable, relaxed fit // Reasonably priced // Knit upper breathes well during long sessions or in hot gyms // Closure system is easy to use and fairly adjustable // Durable

Cons

Stiff, supportive midsole is at the expense of sensitivity and smearing prowess // Hard to toe-in on overhanging terrain due to fairly neutral last


Our Thoughts

The La Sportiva Zenit is a shoe designed for beginner climbers looking to bridge the often-uncomfortable gap into higher-performance shoes. The Zenit is definitely not a high performer, but its stiff midsole, über-comfortable upper, and slightly downturned last make it a worthy step up from entry-level climbing shoes—or if you are simply in need of a supportive, all-day pair of kicks.


Size Reviewed

41.5

Weight

8.4 oz / 240 g

Price

$165

Brand

La Sportiva


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As the lamest sport climber on staff at Climbing, when the opportunity to test a shoe designed to bridge “the gap between entry-level and high-performance” arose, I happily volunteered. La Sportiva’s Zenit won’t replace my Solutions while sport climbing, nor TC Pros for long routes, nor Katanas for micro edging, but I will for sure keep it in the quiver for easy multi pitches, laps on an auto belay, and vertical, high-mileage days. It’s designed for comfort and support—with several features boosting it firmly into the “intermediate” realm.

The Zenit is also available in red and light blue.

What and who it’s made for

The Zenit is most at home on vertical, edgy indoor terrain. It’s very stiff and slightly downturned, making small, positive jibs a pleasure to stand on, but once the angle kicks out—anything over 20 degrees overhanging, in my opinion—I reached for a softer, more downturned shoe to help toe in on the steep terrain. When I did try the Zenit out on the boulder cave’s 60-degree wall, the Zenit’s combination of thick rubber underfoot (insensitive), non-aggressive last (limited hooking abilities), and stiffness (could not form to oddly shaped, bulbous holds) made the steep climbing harder than necessary.

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However, newer climbers, valuing comfort over high-end performance, will appreciate the Zenit’s symmetric design and friendly last. Its stiffness allowed for comfortable upsizing—relying on rigidity instead of pinched-down piggies to stand on the smallest of footholds. With this in mind, the supportive Zenit is a great option for all-day multi pitches and big mileage sessions in the gym, on slabby to gently overhanging terrain

Materials

Not everyone has a quiver of shoes, especially if you haven’t been climbing for years, which makes durability top of mind when purchasing a new pair. The Zenit knows its audience, and accounts for them appropriately, with a simple three-piece rubber design to limit opportunities for delamination. Underfoot, a burly 5-millimeter Vibram XS Grip half sole protects itself from shaky, skatey footwork and prolongs the day you’ll have to take them in for a resole—though this thickness is at the expense of sensitivity. (For reference, high-performance shoes usually come with a 4- or even 3.5-millimeter sole.)

My favorite feature was the knit upper: a first for La Sportiva, who, until now, have solely used leather or microfiber for the task. The knit is stiff around the toebox to maintain precision (and is surprisingly durable), but in lieu of a traditional tongue, the knit around the ankle is elasticized, making it very easy to take on/off and to accommodate a greater range of foot volumes. 

Bottom line 

The Zenit earned its place in my shoe quiver for moderately difficult, high-volume days when I wanted support, comfort, and durability to not burn through my more expensive pairs. For those just entering the sport, the Zenit is a big step up from flat-lasted, imprecise entry-level or rental shoes, and will suit your climbing abilities much better than those banana-shaped boomerangs you see strapped to the pros as you dive deeper in the sport and strengthen your feet.