Looking to upgrade to your first performance climbing shoe? Maybe you’re just sick of bone-mangling footwear you have to tear off the moment you top out. James Stuart puts the Scarpa Vapor V to the test and finds one of the most comfortable climbing shoes he’s ever worn (and climbed hard in).
If your favourite pastime is caressing the rock with your feet, feeling its stony imperfections brush against prehensile toes, then proceed no further: the Scarpa Vapor V is not the climbing shoe for you. If, on the other hand, you like the sound of a shoe that slips on like an Ugg Boot but climbs like a champ, read on!
The Vapor V is a moderately downturned shoe with a synthetic upper, dual-velcro closure and 3.5mm Vibram XS Edge rubber sole. I tested it over about 40 pitches of indoor climbing (grades 16-25), a bunch of easy/moderate indoor boulder problems and 8 pitches of moderate routes in the Blue Mountains (grades 14 – 20). In case you can’t tell, I’m mainly an indoors climber but I’ve found that my experience in the gym matched up with that of climbing on real rock.
Sensitivity, Smearing & Pockets
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I found the shoes a bit like my good mate John, a big, country lad who’s been with me through thick and thin but is not renowned for his sensitivity. You’ll never be able to feel marginal footholds as you would with softer shoes like the Scarpa Drago. In the same way, fitting your toes into small pockets is a bit like trying to fit a key into the lock after a few beers on a dark night: you need to really pay attention because you’re not getting much sensory feedback. Friction, on the other hand, was pretty good.
When I launched up the relatively featureless, slab starts of Little Triggers (19) and Go Lotto (20) at Barden’s Lookout, the shoes gripped the sandstone texture nicely, allowing me to push up to the handholds above and get the onsight ascent. I was able to use the odd pocket and small crack to good effect too. Like John, the shoes do soften up a bit over time, but don’t expect them to become a SNAG*.
*Sensitive new-age guy.
The Vapor is a stiff, slightly downturned shoe that holds edges well and allows you to really hook into the rock/plastic, especially when compared to flat-soled models. But its lack of sensitivity meant that, when climbing near my limit, I had to really watch my foot onto small edges and knobs. Once latched on, I never had a problem with its Vibram® XS Edge rubber slipping off.
I prefer my Scarpa Instinct VS for edging but the Vapors definitely strike a balance when it comes to comfort/performance. You could overcome this issue to a degree by sizing down a bit. As it stands, I went for comfort over performance with my sizing, which leads me to the next point…
This is definitely the shoe’s strong point. Its padded lining feels like a great compromise between comfort-oriented, flat-soled models like the Scarpa Techno X and unlined shoes like the Instinct VS and La Sportiva Katana. In my experience, when it comes to comfort, its closest rival is the Tenaya Oasi (which is better suited for narrow feet). I wore these for 3 hours as I romped up the 5-pitch classic Sweet Dreams (placing trad gear for the first time) and barely thought about removing them. Because of the lining, my toes even felt a tad warmer than usual in the late Autumn chill.
With the dual-velcro closure system and nice wide opening, getting into and out of these is a cinch too: they really do slip on like an Ugg Boot, making them very attractive for gym climbing where you’re doing lots of routes in quick succession, all-day cragging or multi-pitches where you don’t want to feel like you’re battling your shoe as it refuses to slide onto your foot, hundreds of metres above the deck.
Heel-Hooking & Toe-Hooking
The heel rubber has a unique tyre-tread-style grip that sticks beautifully. I used it to good effect, hooking slopers and edges as I slapped my way up an overhanging power-endurance grade 24 climb in the gym. I also hooked some large buckets/edges to get a bit more rest on my way up Go Lotto (20).
As a sport climber who mostly does vertical and 15 to 20 degree overhanging routes, toe-hooking isn’t a huge part of my climbing game, but there is a sweet piece of rubber on the toe that should allow you to pull against holds on steep roofs and boulder problems.
Conclusion: Is This The Shoe For You?
The Vapors are a solid all-rounder that could find their place in anyone’s gear cupboard. They would work well as a quiver-of-one for generalist climbers who want a single shoe for all occasions – from all-day cragging to overhanging sport climbs. Their stiffness will be welcome to those still developing their foot muscles but unwelcome to those who climb hard on slabs, small pockets and micro-edges.
In the end, it depends on the type of climbing you do and what you value in your climbing shoe. For me, they’re a perfect fit for long multi-pitch routes that are still hard enough to test my abilities. I might even take them on my upcoming trip to the USA and Canada as an all-rounder.
A final note on sizing: I sized these 0.5 below my street shoe size – they were tight but still plush. If you went down a full size, you would definitely get better performance at the expense of some comfort. They suit a normal/wide foot. They won’t stretch much, if at all, as their upper is synthetic, not leather: make sure you size correctly from the get-go.
This review was not paid for but James was allowed to keep the Scarpa Vapor V’s after the review.