To edge or not to edge?

An average climber’s take on La Sportiva’s “No Edge Technology” shoes.

Originally published by CityROCK Gear Shop

no-edge_0000_Three Shoes

Reviewer: Chris Barker
Age: 29
Started climbing: 2014
Living/Climbing in: Cape Town
Best red-point grade: 28/7c
Favourite climbing areas: Oudtshoorn, The Mine, The Hole, (haven’t been to Boven yet)
Climbing goals: Climb a 30/8a before my 31st birthday (“30 by 30”)

I am a weekend warrior.  One particular weekend I was climbing at the Silvermine Nature Reserve in Cape Town and bumped into Robert Breyer (owner of CityROCK).  Robert saw me climbing in a pair of La Sportiva Futura shoes and asked me what I thought of them. After I kept babbling on about how awesome they are, and how much I love La Sportiva’s “No Edge Technology” shoes, he asked if I would write a review on them. I’ve never written a review before, and I am certainly not an expert on the topic of climbing shoes, but it seems that “No Edge” shoes are still a bit of a novelty in South Africa. So, hopefully, this review will help some of you think more carefully about your next pair of climbing shoes.

Before I get too far, bear in mind that I am not sponsored by anyone. I bought all my shoes at retail price from CityROCK Cape Town, with the exception of my Solutions which I ordered from the States over a year ago. The shoes I will be reviewing are the La Sportiva Solution (traditional edged shoes), Futura (“No Edge” shoes) and Genius (“No Edge” shoes). All are available exclusively at the CityROCK gear shops in Cape Town and Johannesburg and online at Mountain Mail Order.

I started climbing in 2014 when my friend Dave le Roux took me to Peer’s Cave in Fish Hoek. I top-roped a 16 called The Living Daylights (16) and I had to squeeze my whole right side into a crack halfway up to catch my breath. I remember standing under the looming overhang of Talking To the Trees (18) and thinking it was the most intimidating thing I had ever seen. Now, two years later, Talking To the Trees doesn’t even get me warmed up and I spend most of my time climbing at the “hardman’s crags” around the Cape. But Peer’s Cave still holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I climbed my first 16, 18, 24, 25 and 26. It’s where I learned how to project a route. It’s also where I learned that the right shoes can make a huge difference to my climbing.

 

One night I was at Peer’s Cave trying a route called Hey Dude (26) with my friend Roland Fuchs. I was climbing in a pair of La Sportiva Solutions, and I was struggling with my footwork. Roland let me try his Five Ten Dragons, and for the first time, I could actually feel the footholds I was using. What a difference it made to my confidence! I could trust my feet. There was just one problem – my feet had never fit well in Five Ten shoes. I began doing some research on La Sportiva to see if they made a more sensitive shoe, and that’s when I first came across their lineup of “No Edge” shoes.

 

no-edge_0004_maxresdefault (1)

Like so many others, I was initially skeptical of the “No Edge Technology.” It just doesn’t make sense, I thought – if there’s a hold for your foot the thickness of a credit card, surely you need an edge that’s sharp enough to fit on it, and hard enough to keep from bending when you weight it? Why would you want a soft, round toe when stepping on a sharp, pointy hold? I did some research, however, and decided that the premise behind “No Edge” shoes made sense: Less rubber means better sensitivity and more surface area means better friction.

 

In a sudden burst of confidence (probably from watching some videos of Adam Ondra climbing in “No Edge” shoes) I decided to buy a pair of Futuras. WOW! I liked them so much that a week later I bought a pair of Geniuses as well. I’ve been switching between all three shoes (Solution, Futura and Genius) for the last four months now, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the differences between them.

 


The Solution (traditional edged shoe)

no-edge_0001_Solution

 

These were my first pair of really good climbing shoes. Unfortunately, as I was still quite naïve about shoes stretching, I bought a size 43 pair which turned out to be too big for me. My next pair will be size 42 or 41. For the purposes of this review, however, I will do my best to separate out issues that are specific to wrong sizing.
The Solutions have a stiff, downturned shape that forces my foot into an aggressive, powerful position. This helps to focus the power from my leg, through my foot and onto my big toe. I love these shoes when climbing on the pumpy overhanging routes in Bad Kloof, Montagu. I remember being told as a beginner to climb on my toes, but I always found that difficult with beginner shoes. The Solutions forced me to climb on my toes, accelerating my learning process and improving my footwork quickly.

 

The soft “rand” (sole) helps the shoes stick to slippery holds, and the aggressive shape makes them brilliant for overhangs and roof climbing. It almost feels like cheating, as if you have hooks on your toes. Some people say that they are not good for smearing, but I personally found them excellent for this because of their soft rand. I have also found that they are amazing for toe-hooks as they have just the right amount of rubber in just the right place on top of the toe box.

 

The downside of the Solutions, for me, is their overall lack of sensitivity. Firstly, they lack sensitivity in the toe. Because there is so much rubber at the front of the toe (see illustration above) I find it difficult to feel, and thus difficult to trust, my feet on small holds. Instead of feeling the footholds I have to look for them, and if I misplace my foot even slightly it might pop off without warning. This is why precise footwork is key with the Solutions.

 

Secondly, they lack sensitivity in the heel. While I like La Sportiva’s concept of a “3D Moulded Heel,” for me the rubber all around the heel is just too thick. Heel-hooks on large or sharp holds are bomber, but I find them clumsy and insensitive when placing delicate heel-hooks, especially when I have to replace my fingers with my heel.
As with most traditional edged shoes, I have found that the more the toe wears down the better the sensitivity has become. I would say that my Solutions are at their peak performance right now, but I am expecting a blowout through one of the toes any day. This is one of the issues that La Sportiva’s “No Edge Technology” was designed to overcome, but more on that later.
Pros:
  • Awesome toe-bump and knuckle box for unparalleled power on big toe
  • Great for learning footwork/learning to use your toes
  • Aggressive downturn helps with overhangs and roof climbing
  • Great sensitivity and performance on toe-hooks
Cons:
  • Poor sensitivity on toe until rubber wears down
  • Not as good on delicate, precise heel-hooks
  • Fragile closure system

 


The Futura (“No Edge” shoe with Velcro closure system)

no-edge_0003_Futura

 

Right, now for the “No Edge” part. Straight out of the box these shoes have amazing sensitivity, both on the toe and on the heel. That, to me, is one of their primary advantages. Unlike my Solutions, which began to wear down and peel as soon as I started climbing in them, the Futuras have maintained their shape and feel perfectly. One would think that having less rubber on the front of the shoe would cause it to wear through even faster, but (probably by magic) the shoes are so far holding up way better than the Solutions.

 

The very first climb I did in the Futuras was a route call The Church of Frederico (23) in Montagu. WOW! What a difference! I had tried the route about two weeks before wearing my Solutions and the biggest problem I had was finding good feet in the middle section. Because I couldn’t trust my feet, I was relying too heavily on my arms which got me too pumped to do the crux higher up. The moment I tried the route in my Futuras it seamed like I had twice as many foot holds to chose from. One of those tiny foot holds, which I had written off when climbing in my Solutions, felt so solid that I decided to change my whole beta through the middle section in order to use it. I sent the route on my first attempt with the new beta.

 

Some of you may be thinking, “What is the benefit of feeling the holds through your shoes? My toes hurt enough as it is!” I can tell you in one word: Confidence. Let me put it this way, how many times have you found yourself in the exact same spot on a route, knowing exactly what to do, but having to hang on your arms for an extra 3 seconds while you stare frustratedly down at your feet? Or, how many of you have experienced that tense, rigid feeling you get when you don’t know if your foot will stick or if it will suddenly betray you halfway through the clip sending you hurtling towards the deck? I often find myself, in those circumstances, chickening out and grabbing the quick draw. Far too often I think climbers are blaming their arms for this when it is actually a lack of confidence in their feet. For me the biggest advantage of the Futuras is the confidence they give me on small foot holds.

 

There is a slight learning curve with “No Edge” shoes. I would suggest that you need to already know how to climb on your toes before buying a pair, as they do not force this style of climbing like the Solutions do. If you are already climbing on your toes, however, I cannot recommend “No Edge” shoes highly enough. For one thing, they do not require as much precision as traditional edged shoes do. I have found that I can be faster with my foot placements, not having to look down at my feet, because I can instantly feel whether the shoe will stick or not. This is especially true on the textured limestone climbs in Oudtshoorn. The ability to quickly place my feet on tiny holds and trust them instantly has been the most welcome benefit of the Futura for me.

 

Another advantage the Futuras have over the Solutions is the heel. They have just the right amount of rubber all around the heel, allowing for excellent feel. The heel is also not as bulky as the Solution’s, which makes them better for delicate hand-to-heel swapping. I went with a size 41 in the Futuras because my heel was not quite filling the heel space in the size 42 shoes. Also, the open tongue allowed me to fit my big feet into the shoes. At first they were quite painful for my toes, but within a couple of weeks they fitted me perfectly. Any bigger and my heel would start slipping out of the shoe on heel-hooks.

 

The Futuras have become my favourite climbing shoe for pretty much everything. The only downside to them I can find is that they are not great for toe hooks. This is because the rand, which wraps up over the toe box on “No Edge” shoes, is too thick on the top of the shoe. Toe-hooks feel dull and insecure compared to the Solutions.

 

Pros:
  • Unparalleled sensitivity on small footholds, even when new
  • Greater surface area on toe allows for faster, less precise footwork
  • Toe seems to last longer than toe on the Solution
  • Great shoe for heel-hooks, especially when precision and feel are needed
Cons:
  • Poor sensitivity and performance on toe-hooks
  • Same fragile closure system as the Solution
  • Cannot be resoled in South Africa

 


The Genius (“No Edge” shoe with laced closure system)

no-edge_0002_Genius

 

Sure, the differences between the Futuras and the Geniuses are small when comparing either of them to the Solutions, but some differences are still worth mentioning. In my opinion, the advantages of the “No Edge” toe are the same with the Geniuses as they are with the Futuras. So, what (apart from the laces and the “loud”, in-your-face La Sportiva colours) makes them different from the Futuras?

 

Firstly, the Geniuses have a slightly wider toe box. If you are like me, with wide feet, you know how painful it is to put weight on your foot when your toes are squashed tightly together. Perhaps it is because the laces enable the shoes to be adjusted to different foot shapes more easily than the Velcro systems of the Futuras and the Solutions. That’s just a guess, but either way my toes feel more comfortable in the Geniuses.

 

Secondly, the Geniuses have a permanently narrow pinch at the top of the heel which hugs the Achilles part of my foot very well. This prevents the heel from slipping off my foot when heel-hooking. For this reason, and because of the fixed tongue which makes it harder to fit big feet, I decided to go with a size 42 (one size bigger). Looking back, I think this was a good idea because the laced closure system has enabled me to pull the shoe tighter as the leather stretches. Even fully broken in, my heel is not slipping out of the shoe under pressure.

 

The laced closure system not only means a better fit for different foot shapes, it is also more durable than the “Fast Lacing System” on the Solutions and the Futuras. One potential complaint against the Geniuses and the Futuras is that no one in South Africa is yet equipped to resole “No Edge” shoes. I am curious to see how long the sole lasts on these shoes compared to traditional edged shoes. So far, they are holding up much better.

 

Finally, just like the Futuras, the Geniuses are not the best for toe-hooks. I hope that the rand on the next generation of “No Edge” shoes will be thinner and wider on the top of the shoes.

 

Pros:
  • Same “No Edge” benefits as the Futura
  • Better fit for wide feet
  • One size larger due to fixed tongue and laced closure system
  • Laced closure system allows shoes to fit wider variety of foot shapes
  • Pinched heel hugs Achilles tightly keeping the heel from slipping
Cons:
  • Poor sensitivity and performance on toe-hooks
  • Cannot be resoled in South Africa

 


In short, La Sportiva’s “No Edge Technology” is amazing! It has sped up my footwork and given me more confidence on tiny footholds. The Futuras are the best fit for me, and have become my favourite shoes for crimpy climbs. The Geniuses offer all the benefits of the “No Edge Technology” but with more comfort (and they look like friggin’ Ferraris!). I still use the Solutions on overhanging climbs when I need that little bit of extra power on my toes, or when I need to hook my toe on a hold in the roof, but for everything else I prefer the “No Edge” shoes. If you have good footwork, but are still struggling to trust your feet, or if you just need a new pair of shoes and can’t decide whether to edge or not to edge, then I suggest you give these shoes a try.

 

no-edge_0005_Sterling Silver (22)
Photos by Bianca Vaccaro Miguel

5 Responses to To edge or not to edge?

  1. Ana May 27, 2016 at 8:06 am #

    Chris, thank you for one of the most superb reviews on climbing shoes I have ever read!
    No doubt anyone who reads this will benefit much from your clear and meticulous analysis.
    Great work thanx!

    • Chris May 27, 2016 at 8:44 am #

      Thank you Ana. And thank you for taking the time to read it!

  2. Emile Jun 1, 2016 at 7:13 am #

    Cool review, thanks. The idea never made sense to me until you explained it. Pity about the resoling dilemma though…

  3. Steve Bradshaw Jun 1, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    Excellent review – thanks.

    Personally I’m dubious about my Futuras – I really don’t like their lack of precision. In addition I’ve always preferred lace-ups and slightly more support. I have a low volume foot and generally don’t like the baggy feeling I get from slippers over the top of my foot. My Futuras worked very well on the crux of Coralactic Acid at Oudtshoorn – loads of weight on a very small and poor smear. My Solutions felt very insecure on that hold.

    Your criticisms of the Solutions are spot on – the heel cup is far too rigid, and when new, the toe is too chiselled and lacks sensitivity. There is a very short sweet spot in the life of the toe when they work well before the toes split and peel. Incidentally the last on the new Solutions is slightly different, being slightly more focused towards the big toe.

  4. Colin Crabtree Jun 6, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    Chris – Very cool review. Thanks – you have help me make up my mind on my next pair of shoes 🙂

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