By Chris Arthur
As a recent convert to the joys of Five Ten I’ve been slowly working my way through their arsenal of shoes. As I solely boulder and tend to cast my aspirations to steeper angles, Five Ten undoubtedly offer the biggest range of shoes to fill every conceivable niche. Five Ten have something of a reputation for taking a ‘throw lots of shoes at the market and hope one of them sticks’ attitude. Aside from the core range of anasazi’s, dragons etc. there have been numerous fleeting models that haven’t found favour with the great unwashed; generally being criticised as being too specialised for the price they command and promptly being dropped (hornets and projects being prime examples). I’d say the Blackwing falls somewhere between these two possibilities. Originally billed as a Velcro dragon (these are much softer – this is obvious after they’ve broken in), the British bouldering fraternity wasn’t kind in its reception to this shoe and it was generally treated with disdain. But, they’re back for a second incarnation and so obviously they are more than just a flash in a pan. Perhaps the first version was flirting with popularity, but needed a few tweaks to drag it out of the bargain bin and onto the feet of the local heroes?
Let’s have a goosies at whats changed;
- First off, the colours: Why they have gone from a rowdy, mean looking black with 80’s red piping to a dull blue is beyond me. Gutted. That’s not going to help their cause.
- As with all the newer Five Tens, a handy tag has been included on the outside of each shoe stating the name of the model. Progression.
- The heel: One of the gripes people had with the first version was a little patch of fabric on the inside of the heel to accommodate people with tubby heels. This has now been sealed up with more rubber to give the same heel cup you find on teams or dragons. Whilst I personally never had an issue with the original design, I have to admit I do prefer this update. Having rapier like feet, the tighter the heel the better in my book and this feels fantastically secure.
- The rubber: The original Blackwing used Stealth Mystique, which was billed as being ultra-hardwearing. I can testify to this and quite frankly it was a ball ache; I had a pair of hornets which whilst should be commended for their longevity, got to the point they were so soft it was like putting my foot in a bowl of well ripened brie, and I was willing them to go through. Point being, shoes can reach the end of their useful life regardless of whether or not the rubber has worn through.
These new Blackwings have gone for Stealth HF, as used on the dragons. Personally, I think that in a small percentage of situations this makes a noticeable difference. I have previously used dragons and mk1 Blackwings to compliment each other; I much preferred the feel and sensitivity of Blackwings but in certain situations the dragons allowed me to keep my foot on where I’d otherwise fail. I attributed this to the stiffness/shape of the shoe, but I now believe this is down to the rubber as I no longer have the issue with these revamped Blackwings. Despite these updates, the new Blackwing retains the same last and fit as its previous incarnation. Although the top of the toe box is not drenched in rubber as seems to be the norm for top end shoes these days, the extension of the rand over the knuckle of the big toe is surprisingly effective on toe hooks and scums on steep ground. I’ve had a chance to use these across the UK over the last few months, from the culm coast in Cornwall to the high fells of the Lakes, and I’ve not found them wanting. For an aggressively shaped shoe they smear excellently on grit due to the softness and flexibility of the sole, but on steep ground the downturn kicks in and provides plenty of ‘grab’.
Fit and Sizing
The fit of the new Blackwing is true to that of the Mk1. I would say it is slightly higher volume than dragons and so I’d recommend a half size down from these. With the dragons the low cut uppers around the ankle are the limiting factor for me, rather than the length of the shoe or its internal volume. With the Blackwings I can go down another half size to really get the power through the toe without the shoe feeling like it’s not on properly. As with all Five Tens, the last is definitely on the narrower/lower volume end of the spectrum when compared to Scarpa or Boreal.
Blackwings are a soft shoe. Nowhere near as extreme as hornets, but noticeably softer than dragons, giving more sensitivity and better feedback on rugosities and small positive features. This lets you wrap your feet around features better on overhanging rock. The MK2 Blackwings feel slightly stiffer than the original versions; maintaining the sensitivity which sets them apart but with slightly better edging capabilities. Considering that general opinion was that they were too soft, this should improve their mass appeal. The bottom line is this; if you’re bouldering in the UK you will find yourself on a variety of rock types and angles and to be honest no one shoe is going to be the best tool for all of them. For me, these are ideal for 90% of situations; comfortable enough for a grit circuit and capable of handling steep roofs at my limit.