Scarpa North America Blog

Rock rubber, a SCARPA shoe (p)review…

Jul. 5th 2011
10 Years ago, the sticky-ness of rubber was the first and foremost defining characteristic of ‘the best’ climbing shoes. Today, with so many manufacturers lauding their own style of rubber the real crux for climbers and shoe selection is now part of the bigger conversation around performance and comfort.

SCARPA takes a leading role in that conversation, working with long-time rubber partner Vibram and veteran rock shoe innovator Heinz Mariacher to develop the best rubber and  maximizing each technology for each specific shoe.

In 2007, SCARPA introduced the new Vibram rubber technology XS Grip to its rock shoe collection– a compound that competed in stickiness and excelled at adhering to smooth surfaces.  The new rubber offered incredible stickiness in cold and warm, but in the heat, like all sticky rubber, lost it’s structure making it difficult to edge with.

Ironically, in hot weather, the old Megabyte performed well, holding it’s edge and being sticky enough. As a result, three years later, Vibram introduced two new rubbers: XS Grip 2 and XS Edge.

XS Grip 2 was an improvement on the already dependable Grip, offering better durability and stickiness. The more robust XS Edge on the other hand offers stickiness as good as Grip, but is both more durable and dependable at holding it’s form, particularly for hard edging.

Mariacher’s goal, like climbing, is ever evolving. His expertise centers on making each shoe perfect for its function. In the case of rubber, he strives on matching certain rubber and its qualities with the specific performance expectations unique to each shoe in the SCARPA line. As a climber, he wants to know how to make the shoe interface with the rubber better. “I believe materials must work together in the end,” he says.

To use an example, SCARPA’s Instinct S uses 3mm of Vibram XS Grip 2, a relatively softer rubber that works in concert with the more supple, synthetic Lorica upper slip-on design for acute sensitivity and high performance whether bouldering or cragging. While 9 other models use XS Grip 2, they all vary in midsoles, uppers, randing, and sole thickness… each model being dailed in by Heinz for very specific function.

On the other side of the spectrum, SCARPA features the new XS Edge in three models: the Vapor, Veloce, and Thunder. These stiffer shoes offer all-around performance, providing more support from the upper to hold the foot on edge. According to Mariacher, it’s simple math. “If the sole is really hard, a soft upper doesn’t work.”

Temperature is another factor. Mariacher likes Grip 2 in moderate to cold temps, conditions in which he believes this compound exels. XS Edge doesn’t stretch in hot temps and maintains its resistance to plastic distortion, holding its edge when you need it most in the desert.

Mariacher and SCARPA believe the materials, the rubber and randing technology are a balancing act to provide climbers the maximum sensitivity, comfort and performance for their specific climbing needs. Seasoned climbers often feel a relationship with the rock, and how their body communicates is paramount. It’s about feelings, and what to do with those feelings can be the story of a good relationship or not. Sending, or not. Relationships require work, commitment, constant tweaking, attention to nuance, and a desire for a goal that has no end. What more can one say of good footwork?

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