Evolv have brought out an update to their popular Optimus Prime shoe – the new version being known simply as the Prime SC [strap closure]. Having had a pair of the previous incarnation – and liked them so much they became one of my main shoes for bouldering and trad climbing – I was keen to see how the new Prime performed. I’ve been lucky enough to take a pair for an extensive test over the last couple of months, and I put them through their paces thoroughly on a range of rock types and climbing styles. I used them to boulder and trad climb on the gritstone of Yorkshire and the Peak District; took them for a spin on the limestone sport climbs of Ansteys Cove; climbed on the sandstone of St Bees, the coast of North Cornwall and the mountain rock of the Lake District. I’ve also used them extensively at the indoor wall during this time, so there isn’t too much I haven’t thrown at them. Before I go into how they performed I’ll take a look at their slightly unorthodox shape.
The shape of the Prime is a bit different from a lot of high end shoes, being symmetric at the toe rather than the more common asymmetric profile. This was slightly strange when I first wore the shoes as they feel different to other models. I quickly realised that this is far from a bad thing - as I describe below, and for some climbers (specifically those with Morton’s toe) the Prime may be one of the few shoes that fits properly. For me, the heels are probably as good as a shoe can get – they fit very well and are encased in rubber. Although the fit of a shoe’s heel (and the rest of it for that matter) is very personal and they may not suit everyone, the Prime heel isn’t overly narrow or wide so I expect it will fit the majority of climbers well. Due to the rubber on the toe these shoes take a bit of breaking in before they feel optimal, but they do soften up very well after a few sessions – giving that great feeling that they are moulding to your foot shape. One major advantage of the new Prime model is the addition of a third Velcro strap. This allows for a much better fit across the arch of the foot and means you are able to crank the shoe tight and customise the fit very easily. I found this to be a great advantage when jamming my feet in heel toe cams as this type of abuse really twists the shoe. Unless the fit is good you usually find that some part of the shoe slips on your foot and the foothold feels sloppy. I had no such problems with the Evolv Primes when I tensioned the straps properly.
Performance - What are they good for?
To my surprise, I have found the Primes (and their predecessors) to be one of the most versatile shoes I’ve used. They come into their own for steep climbing and particularly edging – due to the rounded toe profile which gives a lot of edge to play with. As they have softened up over time I’ve been using the shoes for trad routes more and found that they are equally adept for smearing due to the soft and very sticky TRAX rubber. For those who have not used Evolv shoes previously, TRAX is probably closer to the Stealth rubber that Five Ten use than Vibram, in that it is quite soft and sticky. This is a definite benefit on a shoe like the Prime as it has quite a lot of rubber coverage on the top of the shoe. When I bouldered in Magic wood, Switzerland, last summer in my Optimus Primes I found this to be a major benefit as I often found myself scumming and toe hooking. The Prime’s use the high performance version of TRAX, rather than the more environmentally friendly ecoTRAX used on other shoes. This is a good thing in my view, as I have not found the ecoTRAX to be nearly as sticky (although it may be slightly more durable). The only instance where I’d hesitate to recommend them is perhaps where pockets are commonplace. If I was heading to Southern France for example, I’d probably favour a more asymmetric, pointy toed pair of shoes (the excellent Evolv Talon or Bandit perhaps?) as these will suit the style of pocketed climbing better.
Construction and durability
Footwork asisde, the softness of the rubber does not mean a compromise on durability, as my old pair of Optimus Primes have been going strong for some time. As with all Evolv shoes, the construction is excellent and I’ve never had a problem with the shoes wearing out quickly or falling apart (which is more than I can say for some shoes!). The VTR innovation featured in the new Prime model is another excellent feature and means that the high wear areas are reinforced with thicker rubber. This ‘Variable Thickness Rand’ means that the shoe should last longer and feel more sensitive - which can only be a good thing. Below: Old and new versions of the Evolv Prime/Optimus Prime side by side.
An all important category – are they going to turn heads at the local crag/wall?! Well, the striking black and yellow with the addition of some silver in the new version certainly strikes an unmistakable pose. The small logo on the front strap finish off what look like a mean pair of foot tools that have certainly had a welcome face lift this time around.
To sum up, I would recommend the Prime's for anyone looking for an all round performance shoe. They are excellent for bouldering and trad climbing, particularly where steep edging capacity is required. I would probably look elsewhere if I wanted to do a lot of climbing involving pockets, but for steep climbs with lots of toe hooking, scumming and heel action I cannot think of a better shoe. When they get a bit more worn they become an excellent all round smearing shoe that performs well on sandstone and gritstone. The new Prime version is an improvement on the previous model, thanks primarily to the addition of a third Velcro strap which improves the fit of the shoe and allows the user a more customised fit.