A Potentially Interesting/Dull Post About Rock Shoes

This could go one of two ways and i’m hoping it turns out to be interesting! I’ll certainly try my best. Because after many years of climbing exclusively in La Sportiva Solutions, i have recently made the radical decision to try something different…

It’s quite a radical action, for me at least. Even when i was talking to them at local shop V12, the staff member commented that i hadn’t changed shoes in years, such has been my reliance on this particular model. I have had others during that time, like the La Sportiva Futura – a shoe i initially hated but one that grew on me, most notably in Magic Wood back in 2015.

So i thought i’d give some musings on rock shoes and see how it came out. I’ve written an article previously about fitting of rock shoes so i’m not going to go into that here but will discuss some different models, which ones i’ve opted for and what i’ve found so far.

The New Shoes

This all comes from when Sportiva released the Otaki: a new stiff, broad uber-downturned “Performance climbing shoe”. It looked good and when i tried it, it felt even better. (Click that link and watch the video by the way, it’s hillarious at the end).

Problem was that when i went to order some from the supplier, through the small shop i run, there were none in stock and it didn’t look like any would be coming in any time soon. Even checking some local shops i had no joy.

Reluctant to pass up my staff discounts, i decided to branch out from La Sportiva shoes for the first time in many years. The designer from Sportiva moved to Scarpa a few years ago and since then, their shoes have inevitably become very similar. Considering we also deal with Scarpa, they were the obvious choice.

After trying a few on, it came down to a choice between two models: the Instinct VS and the Booster S. After a bit of deliberation, quelling the temptation to get both, i opted for a pair of the latter.

As i expected, they were super small, requiring some help from my other half to stretch them out before i could get them on but when i eventually got the chance to climb in them, they were superb and aided a tricky 7c ascent indoors at the Indy.

Nevertheless, i was still reaching for my old comfy Solutions for most sessions and not really usinng the Boosters. I slowly watched the rubber degrade on them and knew i needed to get the Boosters broken in but the allure of my old pair was hard to ignore.

Then, a few months later, after a bit of forward planning to do with my upcoming paternity leave, i managed to convince myself to stick a pair of Otakis on the latest shop order. The next thing i knew, i had two almost brand new pairs of rock shoes: one stiff, one soft, both a fantastic fit, two manufacturers and a chance to find out more about how the stiffness of your shoes can affect your climbing.

Testing begins: Indoor climbing

As i mentioned, i’d had the Boosters quite a while before the Otaki was added to my repertoire and the precision was fantastic. That said, i hadn’t realised until writing this post that i’ve had them since early March! Never mind.

The first real test was a Mill session where, unsually but not without precedent, i had one of each on, thanks to sore feet. The most notable difference was the precision and the response from each shoe. Soft gave me a great feel for what i was standing on, ideal for smaller holds as i could get a great reaction from them.

What was interesting with these two models was the heel hook move with the Booster, where it performed surprisingly well. The heel on them is less substantial but they molded well onto the hold and despite being a tall throw to a distant pinch, stayed on a few times.

On the bigger holds, the stiffer shoes certainly worked a little better, giving a solid platform for me foot. Granted, digging in deep on a steep wall to get more power from the hold was less likely but with bigger holds, this was less crucial.

Testing moves outside

Suddenly and unexpectedly, i found myself with a last second offer of an outdoor session this week. Suddenly down at Rhiw Goch again for the first time in a long time, i repeated Moria 7b (almost a retro flash) before getting back on with the battle on Nazgul’s Traverse 7c.

The shoes on my feet? The Otaki. I’m not sure why i opted for them straight out of the bag, probably as they are fractionally more comfortable but on Moria the solid heel and ability to power off the small holds came in really handy. However, on the higher holds, where i needed to claw my feet back on, this proved a touch harder.

On Nazgul’s the Otaki performed brilliantly, with much the same issues. The heel was so solid for the cruxy crossover, i almost inverted on the way down and landed with a thump on my backside. However, again, on the more subtle holds on the steep section at the start, i suspect the Booster would’ve been slightly better.

The Vedict (so far)

Even after a short amount of time, the differences are becoming evident. For holds where you want to propel yourself then the stiffer shoes give a stronger platform to launch from. For anything just off vertical, they would undoubtedly be the ones to opt for.

Once the angle gets steeper, and the need to claw your feet onto holds gets bigger, the soft shoes will come into their own, i feel. Meanwhile, when there is a need for precision on a hold, having more response from the shoes could be the difference between success and failure.

However – and this is a very important point – the climbs i’ve tried them on and required both attributes in equal measure. I’ll keep experimenting with them and doubtless soon will try and same climb in both shoes to see the difference but to be honest, i think there will rarely be the perfect shoe for any given climb.

So unless i’m able to keep swapping shoes in between moves, it seems it’s going to be a bit of a compromise. Guess i’ve just gotta get out climbing more and keep testing!

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