Sport Climbing Performance (with comparisons to the Miura VS)

When I first heard of the Vapor V, it was in the context of a comparison with La Sportiva’s Miura VS. Comparing these two shoes seems obvious: both Velcro spinoffs of highly successful lace-ups, both geared toward hard sport climbing with technical footwork, etc. Thus, I went into my first few pitches with the Vapor V expecting a “Vapor vs. Miura” showdown. The reality is that the two shoes are founded on completely different principles, and it shows.

The Vapor V is actually quite soft and extremely sensitive on rock, closer, in this regard, to Five Ten’s Moccasym than Sportiva’s Miura VS. Many strict edging shoes out there achieve their prowess on thin footholds by allowing for toe curl and embracing stiff soles (at the expense of smearing and sensitivity). The result is that those shoes excel at technical face climbing in the vertical to just-past-vertical range, but can be sub-optimal on slab pitches. With the Vapor V, SCARPA seemingly rejects the premise of this sacrifice and attempts to achieve powerful edging by relaxing the toe curl but turning the shoe downward.

Because of the shape of the shoe, then, standing on a thin edge bends the sole of the shoe back so that it is now flat. Flattening the sole of the shoe by standing on a hold generates stress inside the sole of the shoe, which makes the shoe feel stiffer than it really is; once you are off the hold, the shoe reverts back to its original downturn. The benefit is that, because the toe box is relatively flat, you are free to smear better than if your toes were curled aggressively.

This represents a philosophical difference between the Vapor V and other high-octane edging shoes out there. The Vapor V doesn’t have all its chips in the “edging” category. Instead, it achieves its edging power through different means, in the hopes of doing so with less compromise on the smearing and sensitivity fronts.

Despite the difficulty of striking this balance, the Vapor V pulls it off nicely. The shoe certainly does edge well, though maybe not quite as effortlessly as shoes whose stiffness is dialed all the way to 11. That said, I found this was more than made up for by how exceptionally well the shoe smears, considering its appearance. I put some sport climbing mileage on them in Clear Creek Canyon for some schist and gneiss, as well as Ten Sleep Canyon for some pocketed limestone. The softer rubber was a godsend on the sometimes-slick rock that trade routes in Clear Creek offer, and the shoes were sensitive and precise enough that I felt confident in the pockets and sloping dishes that characterize limestone.

*A quick tech note on sole material. In earlier versions of this shoe, such as the one tested for this review, the Vapor V’s soft sole is accented by the use of Vibram’s softer XS Grip2 rubber. And for the fall of 2012, SCARPA decided to double down on the edging power of the shoe by switching to the Vibram XS Edge for the Vapor line. Unavoidably, all climbing rubber must participate in the give-and-take between stiffness (good for edging and durability) and stickiness (high coefficient of friction, good for smearing and sensitivity), and many high-end shoes maximize their edging ability by using Vibram’s XS Edge. SCARPA is acknowledging that the Vapor V is first and foremost a shoe for technical footwork by following suit. Though the XS Grip2 and XS Edge perform differently to some degree (from a materials standpoint, they are in fact made from entirely different constituent polymers), both are extremely high-quality materials for this purpose, and ultimately the switch will alter the shoe to only a modest degree.

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