I got my first pair of rock shoes about 15 years ago and they had sticky rands. Back then, some shoe companies hailed sticky rands as revolutionary, but now they seem to have quietly disappeared. What happened?
—loserboy via rockandice.com
Fifteen years ago you and your first wife lived with your parents, you didn’t have that little knee biter and could selfishly climb when you should
have been doing practically anything else. Well, my friend, just as your life has evolved and is now basically hopeless, rock shoes have changed,
too—but unlike your life, rock shoes have gotten better.
Those old shoes may have had sticky rands, but they were also flat, board-lasted apparatuses that you could have worn for climbing, then danced
in for the lead role in The Nutcracker, then used to beat in railroad spikes. Today, instead of relying on sheets of steel (OK cardboard) to
make the foot platform stiff enough to power off micro chips, rock shoes use design: They often have a minimal to non- existent midsole, are
cambered, bent and tensioned to push and pull your foot into a powerful and precise position. Key to this fit is the tensioned rand, which
basically rams your foot forward and into the very tip of the shoe. Imagine Halle Berry in her rubber Catwoman outfit and you will understand
how form fitting this fit is. While it can be less of a challenge to extract a guinea worm from the palm of your hand than to get your feet
into these shoes, we don’t mind because they let us climb a teeny bit better.
The real trade-off, as you have noticed, is the near demise of the sticky rand (although, truth be told, not that many climbers, including
the online “experts,” have noticed.) Sticky rubber is just too soft to provide the rand tension necessary for today’s designs.
“Sticky rubber,” says Heinz Mariacher, who has been dreaming up rock shoes since the Paleolithic, “is dead rubber; it doesn’t have
dynamic strength. Rubber that works well for tensioning needs to be stronger and therefore harder. It also needs to be stretchy, like a
Actually, you can still find shoes with sticky rands. These are usually models without tensioned rands, typically called all-arounders or
“beginner’s” shoes, although I question why anyone would expose a neophyte to the sport and immediately handicap them with inferior
footwear just to save $75. If you sift through the 200-odd models you can find performance shoes with a sticky rand. In my collection,
I have models from Boreal, including the Lynx and Kintaro, with sticky rands, and every model from Acopa has sticky rands, although this
brand is as difficult to find as true happiness. As a fall-back you can get the toe caps resoled with whatever rubber your heart desires.
Gear Guy has spoken!
This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 216 (February 2014).