After years of reviewing and testing dozens of different models of rock shoes there is undoubtably a point where you develop the reviewer's schtick - a rather mechanical and objective routine to establish whether a shoe is good, bad or average. Whether down the wall or at the crag, this regimented approach initially sees the tester forcing themselves to pull yet another set of stiff new shoes from their pack and go through a well-practised routine of using the shoes for a short period - each time endeavouring to equally test the edging, smearing, heels etc. - before the newbies are eventually chucked back in your bag to make way for that favourite pair of well-worn, tried and tested stickies. Much like anyones new rock shoes, as time goes by and the tested shoes break-in, they stay on your feet for longer and longer until a defining point is reached, a moment of truth if you will, and whether realised or unconscious the reviewer makes a decision: to make the tested shoe his or her new 'go-to' shoe or to consider it job done, shoes "reviewed", chuck them to the back of the cupboard and return to that old favourite model. Whilst neither scenario means a product can be proclaimed a design disaster or world beater, it is certainly true that it does offer a clue to what a reviewer really thought. So to the Evolv Bandit Lace, a shoe I've been testing for just over 4 months, now well used and thoroughly broken-in have they become my go-to shoes of choice or are they gathering dust at the back of a cupboard? Lets see. Until my acquisition of the Bandits, the only Evolv shoes I'd previously used in anger were the original version of the Talon, an excellent boot which fitted me well, something that could not be said for many of the other older models - I really never got on with the likes of the Kaos, Predator or Pontas. Personally, I found many of these earlier incarnations, particularly in the mid to higher level offerings, to be quite similar to one another, with lasts that offered a very mirrored feel, and whilst if you liked this last shape then you probably loved them, if you didn't get on with the fit then it excluded you, to some extent, from buying into the Evolv range. In spite of having now been around for a few years, the Bandit Lace certainly stands apart from many of the earlier models I tried, offering (Bandit Velcro aside) quite a unique fit within the range.
With a flat profile, semi asymmetrical last and medium level of rigidity the Bandit Lace embodies the all-round rock shoe. Having quite a broad forefoot, I did find the toe box a bit narrower than is the average and as such it did pinch a little straight out of the box. Fortunately however, due to a fairly soft compromising upper the shoe does give pretty rapidly and after just one full session down the wall the Bandit had easily accommodated the girth of my foot and the pinching sensation soon disappeared. This narrowness is due in part to a sharp angle of curve on the outside edge.
Materials & Features
tside edge of the shoe, which also means the Bandit retains quite a 'pointy' feel, a prominent feature of many earlier Evolv models. Unlike other previous Evolv models I've tried, I again found the shoe adapted to the shape of my rather blocky fore-foot, and soon felt much more akin to a Five Ten Blanco (albeit far less rigid); a shoe it felt nothing like out of the box. The heel is excellent, being both well featured (i.e. encompassed in rubber) and for me very well fitting. In my view, the key attributes to a well fitting heel are no dead-space and a secure fit, and in both regards the Bandit Lace ticks the box. Obviously, how well you get on with a particular heel design depends greatly on the shape of your foot. I am fortunate in that I have quite a bulbous heel which generally fits rock boots well, so the Bandit Lace's rather spherical heel cup hugged my foot to perfection. If you do have a lower volume heel you may well find a contrary fit. The tensioning of the rock shoe heel (achieved by the slingshot rand which goes around the back of the Achilles and under the arch of the shoe) is cause for concern with many users, in that they find some boots to be quite extreme in this regard and thus painful. Evolv have not overly tensioned the slingshot rand on the Bandit Lace and as such it offers quite a relaxed fit when compared with many comparable technical models from other brands, making it a viable shoe for those with a sensitive Achilles tendon. Lastly to the arch of the shoe, which I found to be quite low. If you have a high arch, as I do, you may notice that the Bandit's do not contour to the base of your foot as well as some other models, however I did't find this compromised the performance of the shoes in the field and was less noticeable the more they wore in. As with all Evolv shoes the Bandit Lace is constructed entirely from synthetic materials, making them less prone to stretch and also vegan friendly. The upper is a synthetic suede-like material called Synthratek, whilst a micro fibre lining helps maintain the shape of the shoe as well as offering a plush comfortable point of contact with the skin. A full length 1.5mm midsole gives a decent level of support when edging, however this is certainly one of the softer lace-up shoes I've used in recent times. The lace closure is excellent and if you are thinking of migrating from Velcro to lace up shoes, then the Bandit Lace offers one of the easiest, best cinching speed-lace closure setups I've seen (tip: tie knots in the ends of your laces, they're so slick the laces pull through quite easily). The Bandit Lace incorporates both Evolv's TraxXT (on the front of the shoe) and eco-Trax (the arch and the heel) rubbers into the sole unit. TraxXT rubber is the full spec stickiest compound available from Evolv, where as eco-Trax is both partially recycled (incidentally, Evolv are thus far the only company to use recycled 'Green' rubber) and also slightly harder wearing, whilst compromising a little by way of traction. Personally, I noticed no discernible difference between the performance of the different parts of the sole unit and overall thought the rubber seemed as good as anything from other leading brands. The build quality also seems very good and speaking as a retailer we see very few Evolv warranty returns.
Overall the Evolv Bandit Lace is a great all-round lace up climbing shoe, ideally suited to those with narrower feet, who like flat profiled shoes which break-in quickly and/or want a single shoe to cover a number of disciplines, oh and of course vegans. So has this become my go-to rock shoe? Well in truth I have a number of go-to shoes (for varying styles of climbing), but in terms of a general purpose bouldering and routes shoe the answer would be an enthusiastic yes.