15 May 2013
I’ve a bit of backlog list of things to review on this and my main blog, but lets start with what will always be right up there in any rock climbers list of choices to get right - rockshoes. Scarpa have brought out a string of pretty awesome shoes over the past year, not just in rockshoes. The Rapids are amazing for running and general wear, and look pretty damn good. Since I live in an ever so slightly wet country and spend my life in the outdoors, I still spend half my life with my feet in Baltoros (replacing the old ZG65s which were also ace) for walking around boggy mountains.
When the new Instinct VSs came out I was obviously champing at the bit to see what tweaks Scarpa had made to the balance of attributes that make up a good rockshoe. As always before reviewing shoes, I need to explain my perspective a little first. I’m 34, and a life of jumping around on mountains and falling from great heights has given me some quality battle scars. I’ve badly broken both ankles, have Hallux Valgus and sesamoiditis in both feet. Oh, and a touch of equinus. Sound bad? It is. I can barely walk for the first 30 seconds when I get out of bed in the morning. The last time I had my feet X-rayed, the doctor failed to spot my dislocated sesamoid because the bones of my feet were so out of alignment they all looked dislocated. All she could offer was a horified “your feet look weird!”.
The lesson? Get rock shoes that fit your feet well. Dont persist with a painful, ill fitting buying error. Don’t hit the ground from a great height and take your rockshoes off when you don’t need them on.
So you’ll understand if I have high expectations for the fit of rockshoes. Scarpa shoes generally fit my feet extremely well, the care put into the design and manufacture is obvious. However, everyones feet are different. The original Instinct slippers I found great on steep ground but just not supportive enough for me. That’s probably down to the physiological tale of woe I just described. I know from climbing with Tim Emmett that he felt they were perfect for him on long trad pitches or whatever else. I know a lot of folk are going for softer shoes these days, probably because of the proportion of time spent climbing indoors, but I still like the support. In this area nothing has yet surpassed the design of the Stix, which I still wish Scarpa would revive.
The proof of the pudding is how much they get chosen for different types of terrain. I’ve been using them about 80% of the time on steep sport routes, any type of bouldering or indoor training. My first route in them was an 8c on the Costa Blanca in January. There was a heelhook rest just before the crux. I had two other pairs of shoes with me but kept finding my heel was sliding out of the thin, polished heelhook so I couldn’t really relax on the shake out. My VSs were quite small and were a bit tight for a Scotsman adjusting to the Spanish heat straight after shivering on Ben Nevis. But when I put them on, I could get much more bite on the heelhook and did the route soon afterwards.
Fit wise, they are prefect for me, barring two points. First, the toe hooking rubber running right down to the toes feels a little cramped and doesn’t quite give my toes room to expand. So they do need to come off quite regularly for comfort. Second, as with the Instincts, when standing on slabby terrain, big footholds or on the ground, there is too much weight centered over the sesamoids. However, those youngsters yet to grind their unsuspecting sesamoids to dust will wonder what the hell I’m on about.
The single velcro cinch works perfectly and doesn’t get in the way of any moves, especially toe hooking, which is the achilles heel for the Boostics which have a the second velcro tab set quite far down the shoe. Sizing wise, they seem to me consistent with the rest of the Scarpa range of rockshoes. I'm 41 in street shoes and use a 40 in VSs for training and also have a 39.5 for hard redpoints only. If I wanted to wear them all day on multipitch trad I might go for 40.5.
So I’d say they come with a full recommendation from me for any time of climbing. I think you’ll be very impressed. They’ll even be great on trad terrain unless your feet are as much of a mess as mine are.
A final more general note on rock shoes. I still hear from climbers in coaching clinics that they worry that shoes like the VSs and other ‘performance’ shoes that appear to have an aggressive turn down on the toe are not for them because they ‘look uncomfortable’. This is a misunderstanding. It’s true that turned down shoes can feel a little strange before they are worn in. But providing the fit hugs your foot evenly with no painful pressure points, they should be comfortable to wear once they break in. And when that happens they will no longer feel weird when standing on the ground, but retain the body tension power on steep ground. I’ve always felt that it would be nice if retailers had pre-worn pairs (not so much that they are minging though!) for people to try on so they can get over the initial novelty of how good rockshoes feel on the feet for the first time. Hence why if you ever have a boot demo at your local climbing wall - take advantage of it. You might just find that model that was designed just for your feet and will make rock climbing genuinely more pleasurable.