Shanatomy: shoe anatomy. Climbing shoe anatomy, to be more specific! Last week, I talked about the shape of the sole of a climbing shoe and what that could mean for the wearer. This week, I’d like to talk about a heavily debated topic in the climbing shoe industry, and that is climbing shoe rubber. I’m making good on my promise to talk about shoe rubber. I can only speak from an experiential standpoint on shoe rubber, with some facts and opinions that anyone could look up on the internet themselves, but I’ll do my best. I’ve had experience with quite a few different climbing shoe rubbers and can speak to the quality of some of them for certain purposes. I’ll start with what I’m least familiar with first and then get to what I’m very confident discussing, just so you know my game plan. Now, remember, these are my observations and opinions. If I have a less-than-favorable opinion of a rubber or shoe brand, that in no way means that you should write off the shoe brand or the rubber that they use for their soles. I’m not here to make up your mind for you. I’m just offering my experiences and you can do with the information as you like. I would love to hear your input on some of these, especially the ones I have less experience with!!! Comment at will!!!
First, there’s the rubber that Boreal uses. I have a pair of Boreal Silex lace-ups that I wore for a few days and that was about it. I found the rubber to be hard to work with on my feet. It was too soft to edge well with, and not grippy enough to smear well with, either. The Silex climbing shoe is designed in a manner that leads me to believe that it’s a sport climbing shoe and I need to be able to edge and smear when I’m sport climbing. I wasn’t comfortable with the heel-hooking ability of the rubber, either. This is a pair of shoes that I’ll keep around if I’m desperate for a pair that I don’t mind getting ruined in the gym or something like that.
Next, there’s the rubber that Butora uses. Like the Boreal rubber, I didn’t find it particularly good for edging. I tried a couple of models of Butora shoes, one for all-around climbing, and one aggressive model specifically for bouldering on overhung problems. The flat-lasted model was a very low-volume shoe, which you might consider if you find that the heels in most climbing shoes are baggy on your feet. On my feet, the low-volume design meant less heel rubber and they felt like they were going to slip off of my feet. Edging in these wasn’t terribly good. They wouldn’t hold the edges, and the edges I was trying them on weren’t micro-edges by any means, either. Smearing with these was about the same as with the Boreal rubber. I felt like roughing the soles up with some sandpaper might help, but I decided not to do it. The aggressive model of shoe that I tried had a great toe patch – the rubber on the toe patch was really good! The rubber on the sole, however, was more like what I needed to edge with for sport climbing. I think if they had switched the rubber on these two shoes, they might’ve had a bit more success with these shoes rubber-wise. It seemed like they had switched the rubber on these two models and neither of them worked for me.
I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, that Butora either is making or designed the rubber for the new Black Diamond shoe line, and I wasn’t impressed with the Black Diamond shoes that I tried, either. Edging trouble again. Many beginners love the Black Diamond shoes and the rubber that comes with them, though, so I’m not going to say that there’s anything wrong with them. You have to find what works for YOU! If it works, disregard what others say and use it!!! For an introductory shoe, they might be perfect. Beginners aren’t too experienced in the nuances of rubber choice, and there are other features that appeal to beginners about the Black Diamond line. We’ll discuss those another time. I wasn’t impressed with the rubber, though.
Stealth C4 rubber is used on Five Ten brand climbing shoes, and I have to say it’s sticky stuff. It smears well, it edges well, and it also wears out pretty quickly on me. That’s because of the good qualities it has, though. Stealth C4 rubber is pretty good stuff. If you like grippy rubber, you might try some Stealth C4.
Vibram. There are several very popular types of Vibram rubber that La Sportiva and Scarpa both use on their climbing shoes. The Vibram XS Edge rubber is used on the La Sportiva TC Pros, for example, where superior edging power is a must, as is support. It’s a stiff rubber and is used for sport and trad climbing shoes. It’s good stuff and holds up very well. The Vibram Frixion rubber is used on the La Sportiva Tarantulace shoes, which are beginner-level shoes that give a lot of support and edge well. Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber is used on the La Sportiva Solutions and the La Sportiva Skwamas. It’s a much softer, much grippier rubber blend that still edges well, but has the added advantage of being sticky. This rubber tends to wear down faster because of its softer qualities, but it’s absolutely great rubber for bouldering and sport climbing! In between the XS Edge and the XS Grip 2 shoe rubbers, there is the Vibram XS Grip shoe rubber. I have only run into one model of climbing shoe that uses this rubber so far in my own experience, and I have to say that I’d go with either the XS Edge or the XS Grip 2 climbing shoe rubber instead of looking to this other rubber as a “middle ground” of any sort. It’s not a middle-ground rubber. It’s just a completely different kind of rubber, and I didn’t care for it all that much.
By far, my favorite bouldering and sport climbing rubber is Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber. For all-day climbing where you’re going to have your shoes on all day with few or no chances to take them off (meaning you’re climbing in them all day long), I’d recommend the Vibram XS Edge rubber because you’re probably on a big wall or multi-pitch route and need the support and edging reliability of that rubber.
A final note on shoe rubber – you can have a different rubber than the original put on your favorite climbing shoes when you have them resoled if you like. Quality resoling outfits will gladly accommodate this request. After all, you’re paying for it!