Rock Shoe Review – Women’s/Low Volume Shoes
- Tuesday 31st August 2021
The never-ending evolution of rock shoes has produced another batch of amazing shoes this year and a definite, welcome trend is that more manufacturers are developing women’s specific shoes that often have a lower volume than that of a men’s fit. These also can often have less stiffening due to the lighter weight of female climbers, hence softer shoes. In this review, Ros Beveridge checks out the women’s/low volume shoes.
Black Diamond Momentum
Straight out of the box the Black Diamond Momentum is incredibly comfortable. With Engineered Knit Technology, this shoe is luxurious on the foot and, unlike other knitted uppers, Black Diamond has ensured that the inner lining of the shoe is soft against the skin while maintaining its friction allowing very little movement. This, combined with a flat last and soft midsole, paves the way for this to be one of the best climbing shoes for both beginners and seasoned climbers hoping for a full day of climbing in the same pair of shoes.
The sole consists of 4.3mm of moulded rubber which gives great durability to the shoe meaning replacements won’t be needed often. The rubber itself sticks well to indoor routes and smaller edges. It is also sensitive in the toe, which is surprising given the thickness of the rubber. However, the soft flex midsole does mean that small edges can be difficult unless you have existing strength in your feet. This softness means that some newer climbers may struggle to use these shoes to their full potential on small holds and they may find themselves slipping off due to lack of power through the toe. The toe is pointed which helps for precision footwork and pockets but the heel is lacking in tension meaning heel hooks are likely to pull the shoe off.
As a low volume version, it doesn’t feel as narrow as the older model. If anything, it feels like this would be just shy of the average width for a shoe. It does mean that if your foot is very slender then you may struggle to get the right fit. The split tongue makes pulling the shoe on very easy and two robust Velcro straps in opposing directions do allow for a more tailored fit. However, they are a little stiff past a certain point so you will need to pull them hard to get a tight fit if you have particularly low volume feet.
Black Diamond appear to have changed their sizing for their climbing shoes and they have gotten bigger. With that in mind, it is recommended that you size down by half a size to get a snug fit. If you can, try before you buy, as the conversion between men’s and women’s sizing in the US sizes can be a minefield when trying to find the right size.
Black Diamond Zone LV
Acting as a bridge between the comfortable entry-level Momentum and the performance Shadow, the Zone LV aims to combine high performance with comfort and breathability. With a downturned toe box and aggressive shape, this shoe is designed for precision.
Black Diamond has used their Engineered Knit Technology to ensure breathability as well as comfort. There is an incredibly soft inner lining to this shoe which, although creates greater comfort, does mean that some of the breathability is lost. This lining doesn’t extend to the heel and so some movement can be felt here when attempting heel hooks or rock overs. Unfortunately, the heel cup is very soft and lacks the tension needed to pull hard on smaller footholds. There is some printed rubber on the toe but it isn’t particularly sticky and is very thin so toe hooking can feel like a chore to use rather than an addition to your climbing armoury.
The 4.3mm thick Fuze rubber is moulded to the shoe rather than cut and ground and performs well on all types of edges. The soft nature of the rubber also allows this shoe to smear well on volumes in an indoor setting. The midsole feels softer than expected for a shoe designed for edging and steep climbing but you can still drive power through the toe when needed so long as you have good strength in your feet already.
This LV counterpart to the Zone is especially narrow and so it can feel constricting if you have a wider foot than the shoe intended. However, a split tongue allows ease of access into the shoe and is padded to provide another level of comfort. Two opposing Velcro straps provide a good fit although the extra thick upper strap (for ‘locking in an aggressive fit’) doesn’t pull in enough to lock the heel fully in as it is a little low down the foot.
To size this shoe to a snug fit, it is recommended that you go for half a size up of your street shoe but be sure to try before you buy as the US men’s and women’s sizing can make it a minefield to find the right fit.
Boreal Beta Women’s
The Beta is Boreal’s newest shoe in their comfort range for new climbers predominantly climbing indoors and delivering comfort alongside a technical fit at a low price. A knitted textile upper provides great comfort out of the box and with no additional lining and very little stitching within, it is obvious that these are made for long sessions while giving great foot breathability. As the shoe is pulled on, the upper moulds to the foot allowing a very short breaking in period. There is some padding on the split tongue to provide an extra level of comfort against the top of the foot, however, the trim of the knit can be a little abrasive against the skin.
Boreal’s own Zenith Quattro rubber used on the Beta is the same as that found on their performance shoes promising to deliver great friction as well as edging power. The Beta was found to be fantastic for edging but underperformed when smearing on volumes. The Cushioned Heel System gives another level of comfort not seen in many other brands absorbing impact from falls along with providing a level of comfort when walking between problems and routes allowing this shoe to be a perfect all-day shoe. Medium tension in the heel introduces climbers to a more technical fit though the shoe does have a tendency to slip off when really pulling through heel hooks.
The women’s model of the Beta is lower in volume to the standard model being slightly narrower in the forefoot as well as in the heel. Overall, the Beta Women’s is a great shoe for those starting out or those who want a shoe for all-day comfort.
EB Django Women’s
Designed to perform indoors and out with great comfort and all for less than £100, it seems EB are seeking the Holy Grail of climbing shoes. With an aggressive toe and minor asymmetry, the Django allows the climber to drive a lot of power through the foot into the toe, making it great for edges and pockets. A stiff midsole helps out with this precision power meaning your foot doesn’t have to work hard to stand on small edges. These perform well on all angles but really excel when used on vertical or overhanging walls where power is required through the toe. Sadly performance is minimal indoors on some newer style routes where smearing on volumes is key.
Three straps across the front of the foot give a snug fit and the foot feels secure with no fear of the heel popping off at inappropriate moments. The trio of straps adds to the comfort by spreading the pressure across the foot onto the padded tongue. This is perfect for those who like the luxurious sensation of soft fabric against their feet. Sadly, the straps mean that there is a lack of rubber over the toes meaning toe hooking can be difficult. Meanwhile, the 4mm Daytona Rubber gives a level of sensitivity in the shoe that really allows the climber to feel the rock.
This low volume version is narrow in the toe-box and heel making this a great shoe for those who struggle to get a good fit in other shoes. Overall, this is a great shoe for those who want comfort for long days coupled with precision and power on edges. Sadly, EB didn’t quite manage to hit all aspects of performance with this being a perfect shoe for limestone crags but not as useful for modern indoor climbing.
With a full sole of 4mm Daytona Rubber, you would be forgiven for thinking that the EB Nebula would not be sensitive, these thoughts are short-lived as you pull the shoe on (made easy with the wide opening of the half detached tongue) as you discover a very soft midsole which allows your foot to feel like it is in complete control of all of its movements. Volume hopping indoors and smearing is made easier by the rounded toe giving plenty of surface area to gain increased friction.
The toe-box has quite a low profile and the rand wraps around over the big toe. There is an additional piece of thinner rubber covering the rest of the toes and the top of the foot. Sadly the toe rubber could do with coming higher up the foot as the tongue and stitching can mean that it slips occasionally. The tension in the heel was found to be fantastic when performing heel hooks. It wrapped around the Achilles perfectly to provide comfort in any position.
The shoe is not overly downturned compared to many of the current soft performance shoes. This means comfort right out of the box with minimal breaking in. The synthetic fabrics – these shoes are vegan friendly – mean there is not a great amount of stretch but there is some.
The closure system feels a little clumsy compared to the design and detail of the rest of the shoe. It is a wide strap that does pull the shoe in and allows a good tight fit. However, when the strap reaches its end, the tongue begins to fold which can become uncomfortable. The stitching on the strap also appeared to be a little flimsy as, after a couple of weeks’ use, threads started to loosen and fray. Overall, whilst not specifically designed for women and more a low-volume shoe, the Nebula offers a great performance for the price. It is comfortable, sensitive and soft which all contribute to being a fantastic shoe for indoor boulderers but equally outdoors too.
The Evolv Kira is the women’s counterpart to the Evolv Kronos giving a lower volume fit for those with narrower feet. With an asymmetrical profile and a slightly down-cambered toe, Evolv shows that performance doesn’t have to compromise with comfort. The Synthratek VX synthetic upper provides a soft inner of the shoe and a padded split tongue distributes the tension provided by the straps evenly across the top of the foot furthering the comfort. A narrow fit, combined with a cinch strap and single buckle strap, provide a snug feel.
The Kira is kitted out with Trax 4.2mm SAS Rubber, Evolv’s stickiest rubber available, for the outsole. With a medium stiffness midsole and a slightly rounded toe for a larger surface area, this has made the shoe excel in smearing. However, the sticky rubber doesn’t help on small edges with the shoe flexing considerably on smaller holds giving less support to the climber.
The longevity of the shoe has been increased through the use of VTR (Variable Thickness Rand) meaning the rand is thicker in areas prone to higher wear, in the Kira this is found at the front of the toe so even with toe dragging, the shoe withstands friction for a long while. A small amount of toe rubber wraps over the front of the shoe giving climbers some friction when toe-hooking. Sadly, the rubber there doesn’t stick as well as hoped and can slip out easily if the climber relaxes their foot for even a split second. The heel of the Kira comes up low on the ankle so bear this in mind when fitting the shoes. If the heel doesn’t hug the foot correctly, it can slip off easily with the slightest of pressure even with the straps cranked to their tightest.
The Evolv Kira is a fantastic shoe for those looking for an upgrade on their first pair of shoes giving great comfort and enough performance to aid the climber in their pursuit of more technical climbing across all disciplines and terrain.
La Sportiva Tarantula Women’s
The Tarantula Women’s is narrower than its male counterpart suiting those with low volume feet. Combining this with two opposing Velcro straps allows the wearer to get a great fit across the foot. The shoe is flat and designed with comfort in mind. With a leather upper these will mould to your feet in just a few sessions giving you a bespoke fit to your foot allowing you to wear them for as long as you want or need.
This is not a performance shoe but its characteristics allow it to be a great all-rounder. The FriXion RS 4mm rubber used is incredibly durable and will mean you get a lot of wear from them before replacing them. The rubber sticks well to smaller edges as well as smearing on volumes in the indoor setting. At the front of the shoe, the toe is rounded giving increased friction on larger holds and volumes while keeping the wearer comfortable. Sadly, it makes pockets difficult to stand in as the shoe can block itself from going any further.
The heel is similar to many other La Sportiva models and it can come up high around the Achilles which can lead to discomfort for many climbers. As it comes up higher it does mean that heel hooking is still on the table but be aware the lack of tension can make it slip off aggressive heel hooks.
Overall, the Tarantula will never be ground-breaking but it shouldn’t be written off as anything but a beginner shoe. At such a low price and with great durability and comfort, I can’t see why this shoe couldn’t be the perfect shoe for long days on multi-pitch routes.
La Sportiva Theory Women’s
With a slightly lower volume, the Theory Women’s is the newest addition to the La Sportiva climbing shoe collection. Designed with indoor bouldering in mind it is hard not to be drawn to the aesthetic of the shoe from the off.
It seems like they went all out on this shoe drawing from research on ‘gorilla prehensile skills and the sensitivity of feline fingertips’ which combined with current modern bouldering styles creates perfect pairing for big dynamic movements. The new D-Tech (Dynamic Technology) sees the sole wrap the foot to give it an advantage on compression on volumes. Upon testing, this was found to be incredibly useful in the current indoor bouldering climate making wrestling with volumes and finding friction much easier. With a small edge under the big toe, these still perform well even on the smallest holds in the climbing gym.
The lack of midsole is very obvious as you pull the shoe on but this provides a lot of control over your foot when moving along boulder problems. Combining this with the differentiated Vibram XS-Grip 2 sole (4mm at the front, 1.8mm at the back) gives this shoe the sensitivity that indoor climbers are crying out for. This is likely the most sensitive shoe from La Sportiva to date.
A narrow heel keeps the shoe secure in heel hooks but as with many La Sportiva heels, it does come up high around the ankle which can put pressure on the Achilles. The rubber on the heel provides great friction with this being made up of Vibram XS-Grip 2 too. The hook and loop closure band locks everything in place giving the climber peace of mind that their foot will not deviate from its position. A large patch of rubber over the toe gives plenty of friction to stick the most heinous of toe hooks. Overall, this is a fantastic example of what indoor bouldering shoes should be.