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.
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