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La Sportiva Futura Review

With its electric-blue Blade Runner uppers and EKG racing stripes, aggressive downturn, and, well, futuristic Fast-Lacing System 2.0—an update to the nearly invisible single-tug closure used on the Solution that flosses arterially through the uppers—the La Sportiva Futura is one of the most aptly named shoes on the market. It’s the rock-shoe version of the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi, and performs like a hoverboard…as crafted by Ferrari: it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was climbing barefoot, an impressive feat for such an aggressive shoe. But first things first: On the purely technical side, the Futura is a downturned/downcambered slipper/shoe hybrid designed for very overhanging climbing, incorporating the “No Edges” concept from La Sportiva’s slipper the Speedster. It has an asymmetrical last, unlined leather-and-synthetic upper, 3mm Vibram® XS Grip2™ sole, elastomer P3 “Permanent Power Platform” to maintain the shoe’s arching shape, and a toebox-only 1.1mm LaspoFlex midsole.image

Though the Futura ($180, http://www.sportiva.com/products/footwear/climbingapproach/futura) has been out since 2012, I didn’t test until this year; I’d seen friends climbing in them and looked on with envy, but I had yet to wear them. The wait was worth it: this is one hell of a steep-rock, bouldering, and gym shoe—fleet (15.9 oz per pair), svelte, and a grabbing, smedging, pointing powerhouse with balletic precision. It’s a high-performance specialist boot for overhanging, bouldery terrain. The Futuras are certainly accurate and sensitive enough to perform on any thin foothold you’re brave enough to stand on, but with their slipper-like softness they’ll also cramp and tire your feet if plied on long, slabby leads (believe me: I tested this).

One piece of advice a friend gave was to drop a half-size down from my usual Sportiva size (for me, 41; I’m a street-shoe 10). I could just—just—squeeze into the 40.5s, but during the first couple weeks of break-in I cursed my friend’s name, pulling the shoes off as soon as I lowered off a climb because my feet were so arched and jammed up. It turns out, though, that he was right: It’s not that the shoes stretch a lot (they don’t—no more than a third of a size); it’s that they take time to spread and conform to your feet, and to take full advantage of the Futura’s unique last you need your piggies hard to the end of the shoe.

Let me explain.

The No Edge technology, with which I was familiar from the Speedsters, does away with the traditional 90-degree edge on a sole, where the rubber descending from the rand meets the sole bottom. Instead, Sportiva has rounded and contoured this transition, most notably along the big-toe side, to bring your toes incrementally closer to the rock; they’ve also wrapped the sole back up over the toebox into an overlaid toe-hooking patch. Factor in the Futura’s very pointy “bottlenose dolphin” toebox, and your toes should be hard to the tip, both to take full advantage of the hypersensitive No Edge sole and to do away with dead space. If you can take the initial pain, it’s well worth coming down a half-size, and over the past few months the shoes have conformed beautifully to my feet. They now slip easily on and off, while my big toes started out and have stayed in the power point.

Thanks for this sustained performance are due to the P-3 platform, an elastomer mounted onto the shoe under tension that has held the downturned, downcambered arc. (In the past, I’ve had other downturned, downcambered shoes fizzle out—in other words, flatten out—after break-in or a resole.) The Fast Lacing System 2.0, which, updated from the Solutions adds a new pull point lower on the toebox for a total of five adjustment points, ratcheted down fit as aggressively as I could take it. I dug only needing to pull on the one tab to tighten things up, and the Velcro has stayed crispy.

I began testing mostly in the gym, and my first Aha! moment was on the 45-degree-overhanging Tsunami Wall at the Boulder Rock Club, where the shoes grabbed and smeared so well and inserted so deep into the holds that I felt like my feet had become hands. Radical steeps are the Futura’s métier, and it’s here that I’d most recommend them given just how well you can feel things underfoot—and the pain this can cause on less-overhanging terrain. Still, just for shits and grins, I also tested on some slabby Boulder Canyon granite, and found that the Futuras edged remarkably well as long as my foot muscles held up. There is so much force, pivot, and accuracy in the power point that you can stand on anything. On a side note, the 3mm XS Grip 2 No Edge sole gives a heightened feel that at first is so sensitive it takes some adjustment: as in, you need to slow down and become more accurate with foot placement because you can basically feel everything, and so need to visually discern which part of the foothold is your target.

Form fitting, with a suctiony heel and a high swath of rand rubber on the big-toe side of the toebox, the Futuras also excelled at jessery. On a Flatirons sandstone tufa project, 20 degrees overhanging with technical, demanding jib stands, micro smears, heel hooking, bicycle moves, and toe hooks, the Futuras were a dream. The only caveat would be that for big, broad, whole-foot toe scums, you have limited rand coverage in the high middle forefoot, where the leather comes down in a long, sharp Vee.

A final note, one that might seem arcane but I think is telling for big-toe-focused climbers. As I climbed the very overhanging Flatirons route Undertow, a classic jug haul featuring pulling, grabbing, hooking, and smedging, my belayer looked up and told me he could see the Futuras conforming to/deforming on the holds. The shoes are soft and this was no big surprise, but what’s remarkable is that even as my friend said this, I felt myself springing off the Futuras’ balletic arch—if he hadn’t told me about the view from below I would have sworn I wore a much stiffer boot. This revealed just how well the Futuras marry sensitivity and support, excelling where so many other soft shoes fall apart—sustained precision and big-toe power that let you stand tall, en pointe, as you reach for the next hold.

If you like steep rock, steep bouldering, and gym swells, then check out these master-class shoes. For more information about the Futuras’ features, check out this video from La Sportiva. 

 

Pros: Hypersensitive and ultra-accurate, lean-and-mean grabbing on steeps, solid jib-edging and micro-standing for a soft shoe, innovative, effective closure system, holds its downturn/downcamber over time, beautiful craftsmanship

Cons: Toe-scumming patch could be larger (broader), break-in takes dedication if you go a half-size down, will be painful on long, slabbier pitches

Where I’d use them: Steep, technical redpoints, bouldering, gym steeps and gym bouldering

Overall Grade: 10/10

 

 

 

Notes

La Sportiva Jeckyl VS Review

I’ve been testing rock shoes and other climbing equipment for years, both in one-off reviews and in macro-reviews for outdoor publications that attempt to compare various products within a category against each other, in the hopes of guiding buyers to the “best” products. While these wrap-up reviews are, on paper, a nice idea, the truth is that modern climbing gear has become so specialized that the idea of “categories” has become antiquated. I’ve heard this feedback from other folks in the industry as well, in particular designers and manufacturers: Each piece of gear, shoes included, has its specific, intended usage, so each product should in all fairness be evaluated against its stated design criteria, not against competitor’s products in the same “category,” which might in reality have different intended usages altogether. Anyway, the reviews I’ve been doing over the past year for the Gear Institute fit this bill, and any reviews I’ve written up here at climbingterms.com appear in the same vein of intended-usage specificity.image

I suppose this is all just a long way of saying that I sincerely dug the new (for spring 2013) La Sportiva Jeckyl VS ($120, http://www.sportiva.com/products/footwear/climbingapproach/jeckyl-vs) for what it was designed to be: a double-Velcro-closure iteration of their entry-level lace-up the Jeckyl. (All three Jeckyl boots, the third being the Jeckyl Woman, are made in Italy.) As a “comfort-focused” all-arounder, the Jeckyl is a great shoe and delivers standard stellar Sportiva precision and craftsmanship at an attractive price point. I tested for months both in the gym and on the local cliffs near Boulder, Colorado, on a variety of angles, from overhanging sandstone steeps with big, smeary footholds, to granite glass with technical smears and dime-edging, to the hybrid crack/face/seam routes endemic to the local canyons (lots of pushing and smedging). The Jeckyl VS have become a staple pair in my crag pack, a reliable blend of comfort, performance, and wearability that checks in a notch below other Sportiva all-arounders like the Mythos or Katana in terms of precision. The Jeckyls are great shoes both for both novice climbers who want an introduction to performance footwear and for advanced climbers looking to expand their quiver with a go-to warm-up and middling-redpoint boot.

I have wide, high-volume feet that swell over the course of the day like frozen burritos left too long in the microwave, so often find, especially in summer, that I can’t get my “redpoint” boots on in the afternoon or that I just don’t want to. Hence what I appreciated the most about the Jeckyl: it sizes well for a performance fit (I wore my standard Sportiva size, 41—I’m a street-shoe 10) but isn’t painful out of the box, and stays roomy and airy even on sweltering “burrito”-feet days where more aggressive shoes are out of the question. One comfort factor is the unlined leather upper, a fabric that always breathes and stretches well; the perforations across the top-middle of the upper, including the tongue and sides, helped air to circulate, and the footbed stayed cool and dry. Another comfort enhancer is the two broad, widely spaced Velcro closure straps, the top one of which sits nicely high, flush on the ankle cuff where it won’t bite into bone and tendon. I felt like I could wear the shoes anytime, anywhere. Also a bonus: the user-friendly super-sized single heel strap, which tacks down on either side of a V-cleft in the leather uppers. I have big-ol’ sausage fingers, and when pumped or otherwise battered find myself struggling to get shoes with smaller double heel-pulls on and off, so duly appreciated the Jeckyl’s ease of ingress and egress. This also makes it a great shoe for frequent on-and-off scenarios like gym climbing, bouldering, and multipitch where you want to let your tired dogs breathe at the belay.

As to its on-rock performance, the Jeckyl VS is a solid shoe that did more for me than La Sportiva’s similarly positioned Nago ($99), which came out a few years ago. Certainly the Jeckyl VS is not meant to be a hyper-precise downturned redpoint boot, but the rounded, slightly asymmetrical toebox and tensioned heel rand did a good job of putting my big toe in the power spot, with a friendly, comfortable feel that will be accessible to all climbers, novice and expert alike. I felt like my toe was where it needed to be for gym jibs, smears, and outside on face holds down to the dime-edge size; the Jeckyls also performed well in cracks and seams, with better-than-average jamming comfort. You get a Vibram XS Edge outsole (one of my favorite formulas—it’s hard-wearing and supportive, even on warm days) that at 5mm initially felt a bit thick, though has worn down evenly for better underfoot sensitivity. The only detractor I’ll note is that, while the thin 1.1mm LaSpo Flex midsole does foster comfort, as the shoes break in you do get some buckling (flex) on more forceful smears.

The Jeckyl VS is a solid, reliable, unprepossessing rock boot that does exactly what its designed to do, and forms a great arrow in the quiver for any climber looking for a comfy, reliable moderate-to-middling all-arounder.

 

Pros: Superior comfort, easy on-and-off with the super-sized pull loop, breathable and light (16.9 oz per pair), reliable edging and smearing precision on slabby-to-vertical terrain, great outsole rubber (Vibram XS Edge)

Cons: Some buckling (flexing) on smears—perhaps the midsole could be stiffer

Where I’d use them: Multipitch sport and trad up to 5.11+, casual cragging, gym climbing, bouldering circuits, hot-day/summer cragging

Overall Grade: 8/10

 

1 Notes

Five Ten Æscent Review

I’ve always been a sucker for a nice bright pair of shoes, probably since my earliest days as a “climber” when, age seven, I’d beg my parents for a new pair of colorful Keds and a trip to the granite blobs in the Sandia foothills above Albuquerque to scramble/rumpus/climb. My son is wired like me, and as soon as I brought the new bright red-orange Five Ten Æscents out of their box he gravitated toward them like a moth to a flame. That the shoes are still just as bright and intact — and irresistible to the little man — now as they were a few months ago, after daily dog walks on dirt and asphalt, hike-scramble-climbs in the snowy Flatirons, and granite slab-skittering in Boulder Canyon, is testament to their craftsmanship and longevity.image

One in Five Ten’s large line of “Yosemite” approach and hiking shoes, the Æscent ($120, http://fiveten.com/products/footwear-detail/13824-ascent-the-red-one) hit that money spot a sticky-rubber approach shoe should: lightweight but still stable, durable, and supportive, without being too streamlined or moving into the clunky “hiking boot” terrain that can be anathema on fourth- and low-fifth-class terrain (e.g., the Flatirons’ east faces or a semi-technical approach), where you want feel, give, and sensitivity. Much of the Æscent’s notable purchase began with the dot-matrix Stealth S1 rubber sole, which smeared and smedged nicely on bare rock. Its low-profile (~1 mm) dots have held up well to wear-and-tear, and it was doubly nice having the pimply sole underfoot on the dire ice-sheets that form on Boulder’s trails in early spring, when the snowpack has been pounded into slick slabs of tilted death.

 For me, the best part was how little Æscents weighed for the stability imparted. At 705.4g (24.9 oz) per pair in size 9, they basically don’t weigh much more than performance rock shoes. To give backbone to such a light frame, Five Ten tacked a newly designed two-piece molded EVA under the footbed; this plus PU arch support kept my foot firmly anchored both front-to-back and side-to-side, especially on rugged terrain like rocky trails and scree fields. Between the midsole, arch support, and semi-stiff footbed, I felt well insulated from the rigors of the trail, including generalized pounding and pointy rocks. (I have loose, crappy ankles and an aging boulderer’s pounded-out knees, so if a shoe isn’t stable or supportive, I will complain.) On one of my longest days testing, we hiked 19,000 steps out and back to the Maiden (I had my wife’s pedometer), mostly on trail but also up a steep approach gully full of snow, ice, rock-hopping, deadfall, and wet slabs. The shoes did great, and by the trail’s end my feet felt properly tired but not unduly sore, as they would on any ten-mile hike: ergo, solid support.

The only quirk that took some getting used to was the slight upturn in the toebox, which felt a bit clumsy initially but to which I did acclimate. I’m used to a flatter last in an approach shoe, but at the same time, having a bit of clearance between your toe tips and the ground should extend the life of the Æscents, as this is often one of the first approach-shoe hotspots to delaminate or bust a seam. This upturn also made the shoes “buck up” nicely on smears, though was a hair sloppy for edging, possibly a concern if you were going to be doing lots of fifth class, e.g., while guiding.

Finally, the aforementioned bright-red uppers are split-grain leather with breathable black mesh over the toebox and along the side panels at the arch: soft and comfortable, yet also good for schweaty days.

                                                      *****

Pros: Sticky, grippy, bumpy sole; light, breathable uppers and comfortable ankle cuffs; remarkable lateral and longitudinal support for such a lightweight shoe; cool color scheme (good conversation starter).

Cons: Upturned toe box feels unwieldy at first and isn’t great for edging, but grows on you.

Where I’d use them: Long hikes (both on trail and off), moderate fifth-class terrain, technical approaches to the crags, and to carry up multipitch routes for the descent.

Overall Grade: 9.5/10

 

Notes

Dirt Cam

Word: Dirt Cam (n)

Definition: A cam used in a placement where dirt is likely to be cleaned out before use, often by sliding the cam in and out until a “satisfactory” placement is found, sometimes resulting in the use of a bigger cam after enough dirt has been removed. Regardless of “cleaning,” there is often a considerable amount of dirt between the rock and the cam lobes. These placements are typical of dirt-choss adventure areas like the Fishers, Glenwood Canyon, etc.

[Submitted by Mike S.]

Notes

Squid

Word: Squid (n)

Definition: A lump of tangled rope, especially that which arrives at your Grigri at an inconvenient moment, preventing you from paying out slack to the lead climber, usually while he’s clipping. Squids also often appear whilst lowering the leader, at which point she is held in space whilst the belayer fiddles with the squid. Note: Squids can be avoided by flaking the rope properly between each climb.

[Submitted by Henry H]

Notes

Strutscle

Word: Strutscle (n)

Definition: 1. A tissue composed of fibers capable of contracting to effect bodily movement above the normal strength of the Dude climbing or bouldering when women are present. Is sometimes combined with snake hissing or breathing and the unwarranted Sharmaesque “power scream.” 2. A contractile organ consisting of a special bundle of strutscle tissue, which moves a particular appendage, part, or substance of the body to climb or shred harder. 3. Strutscular strength: enough Strutscle to make a gumby, goober, or showoff look strong and complete said climb or problem. This “climber” may not be able to complete this problem or climb again without women present. (Note: Almost always done after T-shirt is removed.)

(v) Struts·cled, Struts·celing, Struts·cles v intr (informal): To make one’s way by or as if by force: strutscled into the conversation. v tr: To move or force with strength: strutscled up the problem.

Origin: Word created by Chewtoy and Muffin, May 2011 [Submitted by Brian D]

Notes

Jack Flash

Word: Jack Flash (n)

Definition: To climb a problem or route on your second go. Thought by many to be the purest and most prestigious way of sending: “She slipped off on the onsight, but everyone was super psyched when she managed to keep it together for the Jack Flash.”

Origin: The strong UK boulderer Jack Metcalfe who, when he first started climbing, thought for some time that onsight meant first go and flash meant second. He quickly learnt the difference, though the term “Jack Flash” has endured.” 

[Submitted by Ben B.]

Notes

Post Up

Word: Post Up (v)

Definition: The act of kicking back and taking yourself out of the action to instead watch as others exert themselves. Generally used to display complacency or superiority, as it goes without saying that anything you are watching, you could just as easily do. Most commonly utilized with lawn chairs and some variety of beverage (not beer) in a beer koozie.

Usage: “Later on, me and T are gonna post up over by the basketball court at Miguel’s and watch these dirtbags shank some 3’s.”

“No man, he and Jen saw the whole thing. They’d been posted up all day at the bottom of Rat Stew when that guy plummeted from the anchors.”

[Submitted by Kyle R.]

Notes

Stink-Bug

Word: Stink-Bug (v)

Definition: To pinch a foothold between the toes of both feet, with your knees out, making you look like a dung beetle trundling a ball of, well, dung. This technique is typically only useful on roofs or extremely overhanging terrain. This expands on the definition on page 210 in the print edition of the Climbing Dictionary.

Usage: “On my sweet new roof proj, you have to stink-bug the starting jug to keep your feet from cutting at the crux.”

[Submitted by Julian M.]

Notes

Spooge

Word: Spooge (n)

Definition: No other word or phrase quite manages to nail the tactile experience of a slippery hold so succinctly and viscerally.

Usage: “South Central? More like spooge central. I can’t hold on to a goddamn thing!” (See also the American definition, which is pretty much the same.)

[From the Vertical Life contest]