Shoes do make a difference. I’ve heard it so many times from coaches, gym employees, even gear reps: “As long as you’ve got sticky rubber on your foot….” Well, I disagree wholeheartedly and I’ve been climbing long enough to know that there is always the right tool for the job. I was reminded again just yesterday that shoes do make a difference, especially when you’re climbing near your limit.
I’m projecting a route here at the Obed in Tennessee and I found myself flailing out the underbelly of an eight-foot horizontal roof. I just couldn’t get my heel to stay in the precarious heel-toe required to stick the move. I lowered off and changed out my ordinary, all-around, shoes for my special ones that I save just for business time. I climbed back up and stuck the move first try. The ‘special ones’ that I’m talking about are the Scarpa Instinct lace-ups.
The Instincts are, in my opinion, the finest shoe in the current Scarpa line-up. In general, it’s a high performance shoe best suited to bouldering and sport climbing.
Fit: The first thing I noticed when I put on the shoe was the perfect fit. When my foot slid into the shoe it ‘burped’ like Tupperware. That ‘burp’ is the sound of air in the shoe being completely displaced by my foot. I’d say it fits like a glove but I’ve never put on a glove that fits as snugly as the Instinct. I wear my shoes just tight enough to bend my toes slightly and while the shoe felt extremely secure with no chance of foot slip, it was still comfortable with no hot spots or pressure points.
Toe-box: Like I said, I wear my shoes just tight enough to bend the toes for maximum edging performance. The Instinct is capped with rubber over the top of the toe-box. This sticky rubber allows secure toe-hooking without sacrificing comfort or flexibility. The rubber covers the two biggest toes but the three small toes are allowed a bit more elasticity and freedom of movement. The shoe is best for someone with a fairly narrow foot as the toe-box is cut asymmetrically. The toes are drawn in toward the big toe allowing for laser accuracy over the power point on small edges or in tiny pockets.
is downturned but not as much as some other shoes in the Scarpa line-up like the Mago or Booster. It seems to be the perfect amount for all-around performance on difficult routes. The sole and rubber is Vibram XS grip2 in a 3.5 mm thickness. The rubber is ultra sticky while still being stiff enough to not roll on tiny edges. The 3.5 mm rubber gives a bit of a stiffer feel to the shoe which enhances edging performance and helps hold the downturned shape. If you’re looking for something softer check out the Instinct
slipper which uses a 3.0 mm rubber sole. (Read the slipper review in issue 14)
Heel: The heel is quite narrow and is the most secure heel I’ve ever experienced in a rock shoe. There is zero slip in even the most strenuous heel-hooks. There is no air space in the heel and unlike some other shoes that add frivolous thick rubber ribs or other gimmicks the Instinct heel is cut classic and thin allowing it to slide into narrow heel-toe horizontals.
Upper: The upper is comfortable suede. A gridwork of stitching minimizes stretching and I found the break-in period to be short (maybe 10 routes). Once broken in, the upper shows minimal additional stretch over the life-span of the shoe. The laces allow for custom adjustment from ‘super tight performance’ to ‘warm-up loose’.
Color: The color is what Scarpa calls ‘Parrot’. It’s one step easier on the eyes than fire-engine red but still sharp enough to have Paris Hilton saying, “That’s hot.”
Performance: When Scarpa discontinued the Dominator about six years ago I was a bit devastated and thought I might not ever be able to send hard routes again. I know, I’m a bit particular about shoes. I can honestly say the Instinct is a step up from my old favorite. It edges like a champ on even the tiniest edges. The pointed toe is really well-suited to standing in tiny pockets. The downturned shape allows the toe to act as a ‘talon’ on very steep or horizontal rock. This feature made a huge difference on the first ascent of my project last year, Trebuchet, at the New River Gorge. (Imagine holding a front lever and keeping your toe on a pencil-sized edge at the extent of your toes reach).
Overall, the shoe is a top performer for difficult terrain of all types. If I had to grade it on a scale of 1 to 10 it would be a solid 10. I can’t think of any way to make the shoe better which is not always the case. I’m usually found at the crag critiquing and belittling other shoes. The only thing I don’t wear these shoes for is crack climbing although I believe that if I sized them larger they would be OK for cracks as well.