9 September 2010

Review: Vapour Velcros and how to use rockshoes


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..

16 comments:

Alexandre said...

Thanks for the review, Dave, I had been wondering about your shoes on the Usual Suspects (and I bet I wasn't the only one).

I have been using the Magos quite a lot, and I seem to remember some videos where you bouldered with them. How would you say they compare to the Stix or the Vapour?

Dave MacLeod said...

The Magos are a little stiffer in the toe box than the Vapour. For me the Vapours feel a little more sensitive and softer but perhaps there isn't much in it. I'd need to try them both out again together to feel a good comparison.

I wouldn't describe the Stix as being stiff, but the X tension system really adds a lot of support from the rest of the foot. This suited me well because my feet are very weak!

Nick Cameron. said...
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Nick said...

Cheers Dave, good review, I've been wearing the Instinct lace (not a slipper fan), and loving them.

Could you say a few words on the old tightness debate, especially in shoes with the downturned toe - so tight it makes your knuckles bleed or nice and comfy?

Anonymous said...

I used to dismiss downturned rock shoes on the basis of seeing Johnny Dawes climbing incredible stuff in old-style boots on the film Stone Monkey. But then I tried some and they're great!

It's interesting watching the film again now, I think his technique was maybe influenced by not being able to used such small holds, hence all the dynamic swings and deadpoints. I'd be interested to know what he climbs in now.

Nice review by the way, I'm off to watch some world cup footage.

ktmt said...

I really enjoyed this look at the subtleties of downturned climbing shoes. I own two pair of Magos that I love, but have always saved them for the steep routes. Will need to try them on slabs as well. Will also spend some time looking at videos as you suggest.

As usual, your analysis is illuminating and I hope Scarpa appreciates it as well! Would love to see an OCC post dedicated to the subtleties of feet and shoes. This was quite eye-opening. Thanks!

fredrik said...

great job with the blog. Always interesting to read. Though this time I was left with an unaswered question. So, how do you smear with downturned shoes? is there a video where I can see the technique?

Rod said...

I switched to the Vapour V's in July after 2 seasons using the Mammut Goblin as my all rounder in 2 different sizes. I gave the Vapour V's a whirl having had a positive experience with another Scarpa lace up from the previous season which I sized tight and only use for THE redpoint run.

Vis a vis the Goblin the Vapours are a fairly similar foot shape but once run in are a dramatically different shoe. I enjoy the significantly stiffer toe box whilst retaining good feel, they well and truly suit my style and weight (74kg to 79kg season dependent).

I've had them on long multi-pitch granite, gneiss & limestone from 5c to 7a as well as cragging/bouldering in all the above plus sandstone to 7b/B. Mine have copped a workout in slabs, vertical face climbing on edges, crack work and overhanging pocket climbing. They're strong in all of those styles and the sole weakness relative to my old shoes is the additional precision needed for heel hooking.

I thoroughly recommend them as an allrounder subject to the usual qualification that they must suit your foot shape and weight range.

For the record: the cost of climbing gear isn't a personal constraint, I'm not a sponsored climber nor play any part in the climbing gear trade except through being a pretty heavy consumer of product.

jo said...

i just started out climbing and have been indoor climbing where i was hiring shoes. I want to buy my own, but don't have a great deal of cash. what is the most important thing to look for in a pair of shoes?

AMiGR said...

Jo, for your first shoes, I'd go for a pair with lots of support and a snug but comfortable fit. Most retailers can help you make a choice at this level. Do not go for shoes that are too big, loose and floppy, they might be comfortable but your footwork is going to suffer and you will get bad habits.

Also, leather shoes stretch a lot while synthetics not very much. You have to take that into account as well. You want to aim for a fit with your toes slightly curled, after they are broken in.

It's also advisable to try as many pairs as possible, do not spare the staff!

rubex222 said...
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rubex222 said...

This seems a pretty good thorough review, I'm impressed! I am just starting out climbing myself and am looking to get a pair of decent shoes, but havnt a clue where to start. I also live in SW Scotland so am probably near to some good climbing shops. I notice all the good prices are on the internet which is a bummer because I guess its always best to try them out in a shop? However, Ive been hearing that la sportiva are all the rage nowadays, in particular the miura vs for some reason, do you have any experience or knowledge of this shoe Dave? And, in general, how do you think scarpa compare to la sportiva? Some expert advice would't go far wrong.

al123 said...
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al123 said...

hi dave, great blog really enjoy reading it. i just got some instinct lace ups and they are awesome but i have a concern about how long they will last, i seem to go through shoes quite quickly and this is probably poor and sloppy technique but i climb indoors once a week and outside on the grit twice a week so how long would you say shoes like the instinct should last? cheers.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late on the bandwagon with this thread, but I also wear Scarpa Stix--and absolutely love them. They're my second pair and I'm about ready for the third! But, with the Instinct slipper and Vapor slipper out, I'm wondering which compares best with the Stix in your opinion?

Anonymous said...

PS- I also sent the most magnificent slab problem in Arkansas with my downturned Stix. Of course they can smear!!