Like everything these days, we are buried with options. When I started climbing the only shop that had climbing shoes had two models. Not two brands. Two models.
I had the choice of Boreal Fire and La Sportiva Mariacher. In my first few years of climbing, I tried both. They were vastly better than climbing in hiking boots or tennis shoes. Plus the Fire was used by John Bachar. I had his poster on my wall. It was like the Air Jordans of the climbing world.
Fast forward 35 years and the selection is overwhelming. Off the top of my head, I can think of ten brands, each with multiple models. You can get shoes at outdoors stores, the climbing gym and of course, you can buy them online. While I have more experience with shoes than the average climber, it’s still tough for me to settle on what I want out of a shoe. Edging, smearing, cranks and pulling with my toes on overhanging boulder problems. Like you, I read a lot of reviews and narrowed my list down. Last summer I wanted to see if I could get a shoe that would be good in the gym but still perform well and be comfortable enough to wear on multi-pitch trad routes.
Would it be possible to find a shoe that was good at everything?
As fit is the most important criteria, I decided to give the Scarpa Vapor V a shot. It fit my foot well and the Scarpa shoes I’ve had in the past have performed well. This is a middle of the road shoe as far as aggressiveness is concerned. Slight downturned shape with an asymmetrical last and a wider toe box to fit my hobbit-like feet. The Vapor V uses 4mm Vibram XS Edge rubber for stiffness while still giving good friction. These Italian made shoes are designed by Scarpa to be pretty good at everything. On paper, it looked like it might be a winner.
I fit them snug with no dead space but not excessively tight. My toes weren’t curled but there was no dead-space in the shoe. I wear a size 43.5 Euro street shoe and in the Scarpa Vapor V, I downsized to a 42. For comparison sake in most La Sportiva shoes, I go down to 41.
My first time using them was at the bouldering gym. The edging performance on small chip holds was great, which you would expect with a brand new shoe. But after 20 minutes I had to take them off as my toes were killing me. I had that moment of thinking I bought the wrong size. I climbed for half an hour in my old shoes, La Sportiva Mythos, before switching back to the Vapor V. My toes still hurt but less this time. After two more sessions at the gym, I could wear them for a two-hour session without taking off my shoes. So beware, there is a bit of a break-in period.
After having them for a week, I took them outside on our local limestone climbs. Most of our local climbs are very polished so edging is important. There isn’t much friction on any highly trafficked climbs. The downturn allowed me to get my weight over the big toe, improving both edging and front pointing. The toe is low profile enough that I could get the front of my shoe into solution pockets. It wasn’t like they allowed me to climb harder grades but my footwork felt more secure.
After a number of outings to the local crags, we had a chance to make a fall trip to the Adirondacks in New York, where the rock is grippy granite. We climbed long slab routes, cracks and some nice face climbing. The Vapor V showed itself to be a jack of all trades. The shoe combined Great performance with solid comfort. Not the best pure crack climbing shoe but stiff enough across the forefoot that jamming a hand crack was secure without being painful. For pure crack climbing, I would still opt for a mid-top, flat lasted shoe like the La Sportive Tc Pro, for the stiffness and ankle protection. Plus maybe a bit of that Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold mojo would rub off on my feet.
But after that trip, it was all gym climbing as the snow started. In four months of pulling plastic, the shoes did their job. Grip was good and the sensitivity was adequate. I find a super soft shoe hard on my feet as I’m a stocky guy for a climber and have more weight on my feet. The Scarpa Vapor V is a nice balance between being supportive and still feel what’s under your feet. Toe hooks and heel hooks are secure due to the rubber and the fit of the heel.
When I think about the type of shoes I started climbing with, the Scarpa Vapor V is light years ahead. We are spoiled with great options but you won’t go wrong if you have a higher volume or wider foot to give these a try. This is a great all-around shoe that a high-end climber 30 years ago would have killed for. Even as you move up the grades, it won’t be the shoe that holds you back.
Now that this experiment is over I will be getting a pair of shoes for the gym and one for outside as gym climbing four days a week eats up shoes. I want a nice fresh pair for my climbing trips as the gym training is to be in shape for outside adventures.
For 2019, Scarpa has redesigned the Vapor V. I’ve tried on the new model and the fit and the sizing is the same. The new model is using 3.5mm Vibram XS Edge rubber with Vibram XS Grip 2 on the heel. They have also gone to a full synthetic upper to speed up the break-in period. The redesign was aimed to make it more comfortable while maintaining the same performance. I will pick up a pair shortly as my outdoor shoes and use the old ones as my gym shoes.
While there is no climbing shoe that is perfect for all conditions, the Scarpa Vapor V is the closest I’ve found for the climbing I do. The pair pictured are 7 months old with both outdoor and indoor climbing. If you have a narrow foot then you may find them too roomy but for my feet the width is just right. The rubber is a nice mix between grippy and stiffness for edging. I will be picking up another pair for this outdoor season.
- Edging – 4.5/5
- Smearing – 4/5
- Crack Climbing – 4/5
- Comfort – 5/5