When I was introduced to climbing in the mid nineties I hadn’t seen a climbing magazine, guide book or even an outdoor shop that was related to the sport. So when it came to buying my first climbing shoe, I was at the mercy of the people that introduced me to the sport. The Cleveland Rock gym was the first place that I climbed indoors after I went to Whipp’s Ledges, a park outside of Cleveland, just a few days prior. It was at that gym that I laced up my first rock climbing shoes. It was there where I put on a pair of beat up, stinky, and tight fitting Scarpa’s.
As with most people, my first time climbing outdoors was in the tennis shoe or hiking boot that I hiked to the wall in. Like others before me on their first day, I made little or no progress up the climb. Like countless others before me, I also thought that I was too scared, didn’t trust the rope enough, or just wasn’t strong enough. But it was while at the gym that I realized the pleasure of wearing rock shoes and learned how helpful they really were.
Since Cleveland wasn’t the Mecca that Boulder or Salt Lake is today with respect to rock climbing, there weren’t really many options for buying or even seeing rock climbing shoes back then. So, when the gym sold me a pair of Scarpa shoes I was psyched.
After breaking them in and having my feet turn purple, I used them for crack, slab, tiny edging, pockets and any other climbing that the New River Gorge threw at me. I wore that first pair of shoes out after I moved to Golden, Colorado.
I was now in a place where I could ride my bike to the crag so my trusty first pair’s lifespan was limited because I was trying to get out as much as I could. It was only from climbing on edgy sandstone, slippery pocketed limestone, sticky and smeary granite, and smooth volcanic rocks that I realized that there were advantages to having different pairs of shoes for different rock types and styles. From that point on, I knew that I had to have a whole arsenal of shoes for all the rock types that I loved to climb on. Even though I was a poor college student who didn’t have extra money for more than one pair of shoes at a time, I made a point of trying each of the brands shoes and each of the styles in order to see their strengths and weaknesses.
There was a time when I was into the softer, super down turned shoes that are made specifically for steeper climbs and boulders. Either slippers or Velcro these shoes were hard to get on and really directed the power of the shoe right to my big toes. I was able to toe in and actually grab footholds with these shoes and my feet stayed on the wall of the overhang that I was climbing on! The problem was that they created huge calluses on my toes. As I continued to climb in the shoes, my feet and toes began to hurt badly. I knew that it wasn’t sustainable to climb in such shoes forever, plus they were no good for the vertical and technical climbs that I loved so much.
So when that pair was worn out, I tried some technical pocket and edging shoes. These shoes were stiffer in the toe box and were lace ups. With each route that I climbed in the technical shoes, my footwork improved and I became more and more confident on tiny and nonexistent footholds. Standing on an odd shaped pocket became second nature and I felt like there was no hold that was too small. Since I loved the technical routes so much, I resoled that pair a few times and found that with a good resole that the shoe still performed as if it was new!
Then it was time to start crack climbing and I quickly found out what shoes were not to be worn. No steep overhanging shoes and no technical shoes. My toes would be too bent over and it hurt like heck to stuff them in a crack over and over. The solution became a comfortable slipper or Velcro shoe. Lace ups just got destroyed in the cracks and I had to constantly bring extra laces, which is the last thing that you want to change out while on a multi pitch route in the mountains. So with some more experimentation, I discovered the best shoe for the desert cracks (a slipper with a thin enough sole so it has some touch/feel). My years climbing desert, granite, and volcanic cracks allowed me many opportunities to try out different crack shoes and I always came back to something comfortable, flat soled and a slipper.
So the big question is “what is it about Scarpa shoes that makes me choose to wear them?” Some of you might say it’s because I am sponsored by the company. To those I respond that not every person that gets free gear is only using the equipment because it’s free. I am not one of those folks. I made a choice to turn down gear companies because I didn’t believe in their products and I will always stick with the ones that create the best equipment for my needs as a climber and outdoor enthusiast. But back to why I love the Scarpa brand and current line of approach and climbing shoes.
Fit, as a former shoe salesman at The Bentgate in Golden, Colorado, I learned from rep after rep to sell the shoe that fits. If the brand doesn’t fit your foot, then it’s not the shoe for you. Scarpa shoes are more of a general fit and used to be known as having a narrow feel, but they fit my foot like a glove. The toe box doesn’t leave and open spaces and the heel cup is snug all the way around.
Specificity. Scarpa makes shoes for each of my specific needs as a climber. I like to have a great edging shoe for the vertical and slightly overhanging terrain (Vapor Lace). I like a shoe great for all types of crack climbing (Instinct Slipper) and I like to have that shoe that cranks on the steep terrain (Booster).
When I head out to tackle a big wall route it is a tough decision on what shoe to bring because climbing big walls requires a little of everything. You will encounter face moves, overhanging terrain and the stuff your foot in the crack splitters. I often will head on up the route with my Instinct slippers and bring along my Vapor laces for pitches that require perfect footwork. It’s tough to have one shoe that does all of those things well. Even though it can be a pain to have both shoes with me, it pays off when you can complete the route without any falls. But for most routes that aren’t at my limit I only head up the big stone with the Instinct Slippers.
Rubber. When I first started climbing I didn’t know that there were different types of rubber on shoes and now that you can actually feel the difference in climbing rubber, you will find out that not all companies are equal. The XS Grip2 Scarpa rubber lasts long, doesn’t chunk off and stays sticky. There were other brands that I used to climb in where the rubber of the shoe would get destroyed within two days of climbing but the Vibram rubber stays around to perform for a long time. I can depend on Scarpa.
Today, its 30 degrees outside windy and a snow storm is brewing. I’ heading out to go rock climbing on some vertical to slabby granite and I need a shoe that will work with a think pair of socks. I’m going to put on a big pair of Instinct slippers and get it done. See you at the crag!
Thanks for reading,
piz : )