By Macrae Stone
The Scarpa Force climbing shoe offers that rare balance between performance and affordability; this balance most rock climbers thirst for after taking a few pulls from the bottomless decanter of climbing’s beautiful and exhilarating essence.
Although, it can be difficult to navigate the vast sea of rock-climbing footwear, especially when the different prices, fits, and styles take you through currents of varying strengths. This climber has spent the last four years battling those currents to find the right shoe for climbing it all. Whether it be bouldering, sport climbing, or trad (traditional climbing) that makes your palms sweat, there is a shoe for each style and for the right foot. But who has the purse these days to accrue such a collection to tackle his/her projects in the gym or outdoors? Let’s face reality and agree that many of us who love rock-climbing have our project shoe and a pair of the old beat-em-ups. I see this trend among my climbing community and it usually spells out a check of more than $200. As a recent graduate, I just cannot justify laying down heavy dollars when eating real food, and a full tank for trips puts the glitter in my eye.
Climbers love their shoes. They push them to edge against polished marble and toe-hook slivers of ceiling invisible to the human eye, but top-of-the-line performance shoes like to sit on that hill of $130-$180 or more. For my wallet’s sake, I certainly wanted to find a shoe that could be a blend of those two elements, be less than a hundred bones, and be comfortable to beat. Fortunately, I found this goal is possible. Many may not agree with what I have to say about this company, who’s shoes are not often found at your local REI or rock-climbing gym, but I feel strongly their shoes are worth the attention.
The company I speak of is Scarpa, and the shoe of choice, the Force. Like many other climbing shoe producers, Scarpa has a dedicated line of aggressive, trad, and all around comfort climbing-shoes. The Scarpa Force acts as the best transistor for those three types of climbing, and has, now, a list price MSRP between $65-$89 from Backcountry to Wilderness Exchange. I ended up purchasing these pups from my climbing partner for $90 because they were half a size too small and he didn’t want to send them back. To my immense pleasure I found the Scarpa Force to be the everything shoe I lavished over. I immediately went to the gym and sent a project I had been working for a couple weeks, which required delicate footwork and slick edging. At no point along that route did I consider my footing to be off or eager to slip out from under me. The shoe hugged as I smeared and hooked the ceiling like talons from above; I was in harmony with all forces acting against me. In my state of elation, I spent the whole afternoon exalting my love and appreciation for these shoes to all who would listen.
The Scarpa Force since then has been the all encompassing shoe I had searched for. I wear them every time I hit the gym or crag. And after six months of non-stop usage they are still in great shape. These shoes have outperformed my Evolv Shamans–yes, I bought them. Why? Please don’t ask… It may be because of the different stages of shoe awareness many of us climbers experience. Nonetheless, my choice to stray away from the crushing vacuum of aggressive (a style of shoe that is shaped like a talon) climbing-shoes has made the feet happy, and the climbs much more enjoyable.
Great. The shoe performs well, it’s comfortable, and quite inexpensive. What else matters right? Any way you shake it, the specs still have a word in this review and will be more convincing than my candid experiences.
What makes the Scarpa Force different from other climbing-shoes with similar cost and style? The difference is in the materials used to design and build the shoe. One material of highest priority for any sport footwear is leather. Leather offers the luxury of comfort, durability, and most pertinent for all climbers’ schnozes, smell reduction. Most complaints from those who have their sweat drenched feet in a shoe, is the odor. Yes, that putrid perfume that expels so sweet from a shoe’s belly is what most, in our field of work and play despise. Scarpa’s Force is constructed with a leather-lined upper that reduces stretch, and a suede footbed for comfort and less smell as the shoe breaks in. Many climbing-shoes today use synthetic materials and nylon in the design. Evolv’s Defy VTR uses these materials and it sits around the same MSRP as the Scarpa Force, however I have friends who found the shoe stinking to high heaven and stretching out after a couple weeks of use.
It’s a no brainer that Scarpa’s choice of materials make their product worth the attention. Still, I haven’t yet mentioned the type of rubber used on the sole that works like an adhesive when smearing and edging. The Scarpa Force has Vibram XS Grip2 on its sole; this stuff could make a gecko envious…well, maybe not, but it sure does make those foot placements less strenuous. Any shoe that uses Vibram rubber is ahead of the curve and should be considered when purchasing an outdoor shoe. I remember the first time I used Scarpa’s Forces on a route, at the Bruise Brothers crag, in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. The route, “Return of Manimal,” was the first outdoor route that my Forces touched. The 85 foot, 5.10d climb had my feet smearing for balanced pivots and toe-hooking for a small roof pull. The Vibram XS Grip2 rubber made my decision to place my right foot on a moist portion of the wall too easy.
The shoe’s whole construction with its padded mesh tongue, suede footbed, lined leather upper, and the Vibram outsole was put to the test on that route. On the descent from clipping the anchors, after a very clean send, I had the smirk we all get when the universe is loving you. I kept the Forces on post the rope removal from my harness and repeatedly wiped the dust from the soles, as if I was worried they’d be damaged. I did this the whole trip.
If you’re search for an all around great climbing-shoe, then I recommend giving the Scarpa Force a try. The shoe won’t break the bank or your foot, and it’ll last you, especially if your footing is up to par. I’ve had mine for well more than six months and they’re still in great condition and no signs of fabric distress or rubber depletion. The Scarpa Force will make your day bright each climb and remind you how awesome good footwork can feel.