9 September 2010
A couple of months ago I reviewed the Instinct slipper which I’ve since been wearing for all my indoor bouldering. Next up on Scarpa’s new rockshoe range is the Vapour Velcro. These are aimed as a more all-round use boot and are hence less aggressively turned down than the Instinct. As is usual for my reviews, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent to talk about how to choose and use rockshoes generally...
Turned down shoes (if you don’t know what the term means it’s basically that the toe box is curled slightly downwards) are the cause of much debate and polarisation among climbers. Some think their only useful for steep climbing, or if you climb hard. Others cannot understand them at all! The first big problem that a lot of people have is that turned down shoes feel downright weird when you first try them on in the shop.
Book publishers know that no matter how much we hear the old adage about not judging books by their covers, we all do and will always do. Likewise for rockshoes. We can’t help but judge them by how they feel standing on a flat shop floor without being broken in, despite the fact they will probably feel completely different after a session of climbing and standing on actual footholds. If you want to get more performance from your rockshoe, you’ll have to get beyond how they feel in the shop. Most will never heed this advice, which is too bad…
The other problem is that turned down shoes require an actual technique of their own, distinct from traditional flatter soles. Watch some youtubes of leading and bouldering world cup comps. Watch in particular the climbers moving up vertical ground. Watch carefully how they place their feet. See how as they pad their toes downwards onto the foothold, they continue to drop their whole foot down by an inch or so after the toe has made contact. As they do this, watch the downturn of the boot bend back to a normal position. Once in the normal anatomical position, the foot can produce both power and control, but the elastic energy of the downturned rockshoe being stretched has added to the support. A flatter shoe has to provide that support by being stiffer, and that stiffness can come at the expense of sensitivity.
A case in point - Recently I climbed the famous death defying slab route Indian Face. My ascent was just before the Vapour Velcros came out, and I wore a pair of Scarpa Stix. Some climbers asked me why I would wear an apparently turned down boot on a smeary slab climb? The implication is that turned down boots wouldn’t smear well because they don’t bend back enough to make full contact with the smear. But they do! You just have to let them. This is a limitation of climbing technique, not the versatility of the boot.
So what should one do about this problem of choosing shoes. Well, manufacturers tend to run boot demos around the country from time to time. They aren’t so popular these days as people are turned off by being marketed to during their climbing time. Of course the events are designed to get you hooked on the shoes, but they also save you from making expensive mistakes in buying shoes that don’t work well for you. My advice? Make an effort to keep track of boot demos near you and use them.
Anyway, back to the review. When I got my new Vapour Velcros through from Scarpa I was all set to get them moving on some trad terrain straight away. But the wettest Scottish July in a decade made sure I tested them out on my board first. Out of the box, they feel very comfortable and indeed not so aggressively turned down. But support on small edges and tensiony steep ground still felt good on my standard tests on my board’s hardest problems.
On my first outing in them on trad I filled one of them with enough blood I had to pour it out after this injury in preparation for the climb. Thankfully I was able to wear them for the first ascent of the Usual Suspects - a 5 pitch E9 7a first ascent was a good trad test I reckon. And they felt great. Precise and powerful on a 7a drop-knee crux at 50 degrees overhanging, and then supportive on tiny slippy quartz dinks on the pitches above. The heel felt not to hard on my achilles even after 6 hours of hard continuous climbing, but the velcro cinch was good enough to keep in snug for pulling hard on heelhooks. Not as good as the Stix for bat hangs but then there aren’t too many routes that require this! They have softened up a bit since and feel great on granite smears.
All round climbers will love these and they’ll be perfect for sensitivity on indoor routes and problems. With the luxury of having a few pairs, I’m still wearing my Instinct slippers for long board training sessions for the combination of 100% tension grab and soft comfort on the toes. I’m wearing Vapour Vs for indoor and most outdoor routes for comfort and that little bit more support on long pitches. Enjoy..