Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Evolv Shaman Climbing Shoes Review
I'm not usually one to buy into the hype of the newest and latest climbing shoes. I've been climbing long enough to know that its more than a shoe that makes the biggest difference in performance. But I have also learned over the years that shoes have the ability to pull your performance down, if they are not the right shoe for the right type of climb. When I first started climbing, I wore La Sportiva, and went through 3 pairs before I switched to Five Ten due to what I thought was the stickiest rubber in the business. I wore through many many pairs of a variety of Five Ten shoes before Evolv finally came out and the Defy's became my shoe of choice. The Defy shoes were comfortable and in my opinion had stickier rubber than any other shoe out there. I have blown through more pairs (somewhere around 6 or 7) of Defy shoes than any other shoe I can think of...and sent some of the hardest routes I've ever sent in them. The areas I mainly climb tend to be more slabs than overhangs, so I wasn't in direct need of an aggressive shoe that would hook me to a tiny overhanging nub like a bat. But when a half price deal came up on the Optimus slippers, I bought them up and learned that even an aggressive shoe can also be a good slab shoe. Since then, I've mainly climbed in the velcro brother of the Optimus, the Optimus Prime. Before I move on any further, let me say that I have a large foot, long and wide, and this has caused trouble from time to time when I look to buy climbing shoes. I am a huge fan of the wide toe box and the more rounded than pointed toes. These shoes fit like a dream and still climb slabs better than any other shoe I've ever tried. So recently, when the Shaman came out, I was reluctant because I felt like I had already found the best climbing shoe for me in the Optimus Prime.
The Shaman is an aggressive shoe that's closer to the design of the La Sportiva Solutions than any other shoe I've seen...this shoe is obviously intended to be Evolv's answer to the Solutions. Solutions have been the gold standard with many climbers for years now, but once again, due to the size of my foot I have yet to find a pair that fit me (I've tried on the biggest size and still need some room). So when I was recently looking for a new pair of Optimus Primes to replace my stinky and slowly wearing out old pair, I decided to go out on a limb and for once try the hype of the new shoe design. I've been able to session with these shoes in a variety of conditions and types of climbs and have found some great qualities and a few not so great.
Overall, the Shaman is designed for overhanging and heel hooking routes. Straight out of the box, they fit very comfortably for my foot, and the 3 strap system pulls the shoe tighter to your foot than any other velcro shoe I've used. The middle strap did add a little bulk to the top of my foot, but I thought it was this strap that really locked my heel into the heel cup like no other shoe ever has. The downturn is as expected, a little odd feeling, but the "love bump" and extra room in the knuckle area form my forefoot into a comfortable downturned shape that feels a little less forced than other aggressive shoes I've tried. I was a little surprised at the level of comfort before I had even worn them on the rock, and was looking forward to giving them a few test drives!
Of course, the first test I gave them were some of the classics in the Jocassee Gorges! I tried some classic slabby routes on the Meat Grinder boulder in the Bearfields first and found out that these guys don't really have a slabby secret like the Primes do...bummer in that aspect, but then again I was expecting a different shoe to compliment the weaknesses of the Primes, so for me, it's just fine. From here I went to the delicate face climbing of Best Feeling at Little Eastatoee...they performed about as well on this route as the Primes, pretty much what I was expecting. I think that I have gotten too used to the rounded toe box of the Primes and the more I climb delicate faces in the Shamans, I'll start to pick up the nuances and find them to be possibly a better shoe for this type of route. I then worked some of the only overhanging stuff around on the Batman boulder at Little Eastatoee...this is what they were obviously designed for, hooking and sticking into the smallest numbs so you can focus more on your hands. This is when I started to like them a little better, but I was still a little reluctant about my purchase.
I wanted to try the shoes on some plastic also to see if they are designed for gym rats instead of outside boulderers. I hopped on my home woody in the back yard for a couple of sessions and was treated to some of the stickiest shoes I've ever climbed plastic in. These guys stuck to newer holds with good texture like a dream and performed almost as admirably on 15 year old slicker holds. From the slopers on my Font wall, to edges and crimps on another wall, and the overhanging features on the 45 degree wall and roof, these shoes gave me all the confidence in my feet to push hard for the send on some project routes. I noticed a big difference in HIT training also...almost making it feel like I was cheating with the feet instead of struggling with them late in the training session when they become more problematic. Overall, I was very pleased with the performance of these shoes in a gym setting!
Luckily, I had just received a copy of The Obed: A Climber's Guide to the Wild and Scenic from Greener Grass to review and so a trip to The Obed would really give me an idea of how effective these shoes are in their perfectly intended environment. The Obed is notorious for huge overhanging roofs that require precise and powerful footwork to save your arms for the real cruxy parts of the route. I was hoping to see how comfortable they were on some longer sport routes, but having our newborn Lily with us made it a little difficult to rope up...but the Lilly Boulders provided an awesome proving ground for the Shamans. The first routes I hit were on the Beer boulder, which is severely overhanging with big reaches between incut edges...the Shamans ate it up! The toes hooked into the incuts and stuck like glue to allow me to move out the roof with much less effort than ever before. After sending a few routes I hadn't expected to on some other overhanging boulders, I put the heel hooking to the test on the area super-classic Hooker. Hooker moves out the edge of an extremely overhanging boulder, heel hooking the whole way on some slightly sloping blocks and edges that leads to a tougher move to the lip and finally a mantle. I've never been a good heel hooking climber, I always prefer to turn it into a toe hook and I tend to lose the send many times because of that. I loaded up at the base of Hooker and was extremely shocked at how good it felt to move through the series of heel hooks and out to the lip...what once was a crux for me was now nullified and I could focus on other parts of the route that challenged me instead. After not being able to send first go, I put it together and sent second try...and I give much of the credit to these shoes!
I also discussed these shoes with a climbing buddy that works at an outfitter and has had a little experience selling these shoes. He is very critical of shoe performance and felt that these shoes are perfect for larger volume feet, but are also just as effective for narrower footed individuals too. He has an average sized foot that is slightly a little narrow and he mainly climbs in Solutions. After wearing the Shamans for a few sessions, he felt that he didn't lose any performance and sent at his top level. He's been frustrated also on the business side of things due to the lack of larger sizes being available in the Solutions, but thinks his customers have been very satisfied when they've purchased the Shamans instead.
I haven't had the shoes long enough to find out if they get the same "dead dog" stank as many other Evolv's or if they are built for longevity, but most everything else about these shoes impressed me. If you are like me and prefer to have a few shoes to climb in for different circumstances, the Shaman can fill a big void and help you to push your limits without falling short due to less effective footing! They may not be designed for V5 slab, but they eat up the V5 overhangs and roofs. If you have a larger foot and have had trouble finding a comfortable fitting aggressive shoe to send hard in, I highly recommend the Shamans!
Here is a link to the Evolv website and more info on the Shaman