The Firm Hand of Shoe
$125 | 4 Stars
I was wrong. About 15 years ago I was a staunch supporter of the super-soft, sensitive climbing shoe that you had to fit so tightly that putting them on was only slightly less work than the route ahead of you. Moreover, the bone-crushing fit, as I later found out, was, in fact, bone crushing. Size your shoes too small and wear them too much and you set yourself up for a host of ailments, from bone spurs to mutilated cartilage.
The tradeoff for all the agony, of course, was performance. Tighter, softer shoes were just more precise than their stiffer brethren. But not anymore. Heinz Mariacher, the brainchild behind an entire generation of performance shoes, spent untold hours fiddling with rubber, leather and such. His recent spawn, a six-shoe series from Scarpa, uses tensioned rands that X under the foot from toe to heel. Scarpa has adjusted the rand tension, making it tighter here, looser there, so that the shoe construction attempts to squeeze your foot in all the right places, powering up the toes without crippling them while allowing that sensitivity to know whether you really are on that nubbin.
I tested the Spectro (available as the Sphinx in a women’s version—look for the other models in Rock and Ice’s upcoming annual shoe review). The Spectro is the stiffest of the new line, the only one with a midsole and modified rands that run under the forefoot, and under and over the heel. Think of a hand wrapping and squeezing your foot from underneath and you get the picture of how the shoe works.
Scarpa bills the Spectro as their edging shoe and they are spot on. The shoe felt agile and very high performance, especially on micro chips, and was comfortable enough to wear for several hours at a time. The midsole does take away a bit of shoe sensitivity, but not so much I ever cared or even noticed out in the field. If I were clawing out caves where you pressure smear with your feet rather than step on actual holds, I’d opt for one of the softer models. But, for the type of climbing I spend most of my time on (technical face routes and problems), the Spectro will power you up without breaking you down.