Shingo Ohkawa is a SCARPA ambassador based in Salt Lake City, and – in his own words – he’s also “a part-time gear shop guy, a full-time climber-dirtbag, and I also backcountry ski a good bit in winter.” Shingo’s also an all-around great guy, and someone who’ll keep you entertained for hours if you happen to run into him at a crag. Originally from the East Coast, Shingo relocated to Salt Lake City several years ago to live nearer the mountains and pursue the climbing life. And, he does just that. When he’s not working behind the counter at International Mountain Equipment, Shingo logs many, many hours opening new routes on alpine granite, “the further away and the more involved to get to, the better.” That makes him a perfect person to weigh in on when and how to resole your climbing shoes. The following post is repurposed thanks to Shingo from his blog (http://yama-bushi.blogspot.com/).
The evolution of climbing shoes has come a long way since its infancy. Expectations of shoe longevity, fit and performance have all undergone monumental changes over the last few decades. For instance, take the infamous story of IME’s own Andy Ross, who recalls purchasing his first-ever pair of sticky-rubber climbing shoes, “Fires,” just after arriving in Spain in the early eighties.
After months of sampling some of the best limestone in Europe—and thoroughly wearing out his shoes in the process—he came up with a desperate tactic to enhance the shoes’ lifespan. Rather than borrow money for new shoes, he decided instead to simply swap his right shoe for the left, trading his worn-out edges for “fresh” ones, thereby extending his season by another day.
Such a novel, low-budget solution would be impossible today. In the years since Andy’s trip to Spain, manufacturers have continued to develop and refine construction methods, and designers have radically altered the shapes of contemporary rock shoes to excel on nearly any type of terrain, and to suit every climbing style. Though rock shoes have seen dramatic improvements with respect to fit—just imagine, trying to swap left for right with an asymmetric shoe like SCARPA’s Boostic.
In order to achieve such a high level of climbing functionality, something has to give. In the case of rock shoes, climbers willingly sacrifice durability for unparalleled sensitivity on stone. By whittling away all excess material, today’s designers are able to create the near-seamless, almost “painted-on” feel that is the ideal. This, combined with the unprecedented popularity of climbing gyms—with their extremely abrasive artificial surfaces—has led to an alarming trend. These days most rock shoes seldom ever see a resole. Is this new paradigm a sustainable one?
The most common mistake climbers make when it comes to their shoes is overuse. Let’s face it—it’s often difficult to anticipate exactly when one’s shoes will develop a hole, and to make matters worse, it’s often just before a hole appears that most climbers feel their shoes are nearly perfect, that they can stand on almost anything. The key is to keep a close eye on the shoes’ level of wear.
Here is a broken-in Vapor. When you first notice an old pair getting close to needing a resole, break these out and start bringing them along, mostly when cragging. I run mine on the tighter side, so it takes a bit of time, about a week, to get them to where I can stand to have them on for longer than a pitch:
Lastly, this is my trusted and well-worn Vapor. As you can see, it’s seen a fair bit of action on the granite. Though, from this angle, it is difficult to see the level of wear on the edges, notice the top of the rand; my Vapors are my go-to trad shoe, and it’s evident I’ve been climbing cracks:
We’ve got a head-on view of my broken-in Vapors. See how the outsole maintains an even thickness along the toe box perimeter; the edges are still well defined and trace a near-parallel line with respect to the seam, the bottom of the blue tape. This is the broken-in shoe, in profile; again, notice the near-parallel thickness of the outsole:
My old Vapors, in profile, illustrate the level of wear along the edge. Unlike the newer shoe, it’s obvious just how rounded and worn these edges have become:
Below is a head-on view of my old Vapor. The bottom edge of the blue tape here, too, runs along the seam between the outsole and the rand. Upon closer examination, it is just possible to make out the line formed by the well-worn edge. It appears as a faint, white line that, in contrast to the even, parallel edge as seen on the previous shoe, seems to gradually taper toward the apex of the big toe, just above my thumb. The area where the gap between the tape and the edge is at its closest is of the most concern; if I continue to wear this shoe, a hole will inevitably form. If the hole continues to expand, it will eventually wear into the shoe’s rand, which will necessitate a much more involved and expensive repair, in addition to the resole. Shoes that have severely damaged rands often require the cobbler to replace them; in the case of this type of fix, there is no guarantee one’s shoes will retain its original fit characteristics:
Here’s the last one. Again, this is the medial view of my old Vapor, and it’s easy to see the difference. The edge is nearly impossible to distinguish, as it is nearly completely rounded; these babies, though they probably have a tiny bit more life left in them, are destined for the cobbler ASAP. Rather than risk allowing a hole to develop either here on at the toe, I’d rather not take the chance. When they return, they’ll boast the crisp edges of a brand-new pair, but with the custom-molded fit of a familiar friend.