By Dave Westlake
Czech brand Ocun are a growing presence in the UK, and I’ve spotted more and more climbers wearing their shoes, harnesses and clothing recently. Prior to 2015 Ocun shoes were sold under the ‘Rock Pillars’ brand name, and they had gained solid a reputation for being well made and affordable. The current Ocun rock shoe range builds on this and covers all the bases in terms of climbing type, level and style.
Their branding tends to be more understated than many of their European counterparts, though I have noticed some exceptions. Yesterday I met a climber wearing an Ocun t-shirt which simply said ‘9b+’ on the front of it. He came from Adam Ondra’s hometown of Brno, and I wondered whether he realised the crag we were at only catered up to 8a+!
Anyway, Ocun look like they are here in the UK to stay, and they are making a real impact in the value for money segment of the market. I’ve been testing a pair of the more technical Ozone Plus over the past few months – climbing mainly on limestone sport and trad, but with the occasional foray into gritstone and sandstone bouldering. I’ve also used them extensively for training at the wall and on a steep board. Here’s my take on them.
Compared to some brands, Ocun pay a lot of attention to the way their shoes fit and have an icon system outlining different foot types on their website. It shoes a range of widths and toe shapes, giving you a good sense of which model will suit you best.
The Ozone Plus is a wider version of the Ozone – which is probably the most popular Ocun shoe in the UK, having been around for a while. The Plus offers the same performance features with a wider fit around the forefoot. The resulting profile really is quite wide, so if you’ve got narrow feet then the regular Ozone or another shoe might be a better option. However, for those of us with wider feet the Plus is well worth looking at.
In terms of sizing I took a UK 7.5 and I’m around an 8.5/9 in regular shoes. For me the shoe felt super tight at first, but after the first session I wore it the shoe had softened up and felt like it fitted my foot very well. Since then it hasn’t noticeably stretched at all – which I’m please about as I was worried it might continue and become baggy. I found the overall shape worked well – and in general use the heel felt snug despite the wider front end. I don’t always find this balance so easily catered for, as I have narrow heels - but the Ozone Plus felt good on this front.
On a more critical note, I’d probably choose a different shoe if I was anticipating a particularly difficult heel move – or a heel toe that required a super secure fit. On routes these sorts of moves were fine, but on hard boulders the heel didn’t feel quite as solid as I’d like.
The rubber is one of the first things I look at when buying rock shoes, and I have a bias towards Vibram, Stealth or Trax rubber. These are the more widely used and well-established compounds, so generally I know what I’m dealing with when I choose a shoe encased in one of these. Within each of these brands there are several types – for example Vibram XS Edge and Vibram XS Grip, to give harder edging capabilities of softer smearing prowess. The Ozone Plus uses the latter, at a thickness of 4mm – which is a firm favourite of mine and can be found on many top end rock shoes.
The wraparound asymmetric design keeps the shoe well positioned on your foot and gives you the confidence to push yourself on smaller footholds. It also gives a lot of support, to an otherwise reasonably soft shoe, which meant that I found it to perform well on longer trad routes where you are standing on your feet for long periods. This combined with the performance shape and sticky rubber makes the Ozone Plus a great shoe for pushing your grad on trad climbs.
The ‘3- force’ system developed by Ocun give the shoe a wraparound feel at the front end which I really liked. The integrated toe rubber forms part of this and the whole unit feels well made and secure. I’ve found other shoes to twist when jamming them into the kinds of wider cracks often found on trad climbs, but with the Ozone Plus I felt confident and steady when doing this to gain height or stopping at awkward spots to place gear.
Not surprisingly, given the Vibram XS Grip, the Ozone Plus felt super sticky and confidence inspiring on all rock types. They felt equally good on the micro footholds at Pex Hill as they did on the smeary limestone of Cheddar gorge. The shape at the toe felt great, and it offers a good deal of precision on pockets without sacrificing stability on the inside or outside edges of the toe box.
More notably, the Ozone Plus strikes a good balance between stiffness and flexibility in the midsole, which means that it works well as an all-round performance shoe – as adept at smearing as it is secure on small edges. With increasing specialism at the top end of performance shoes, and in particular a plethora of super soft shoes, the all round capability of the Ozone Plus makes it a great choice as a performance trad or sport climbing shoe.
The pricing of Ocun gear is among the most competitive on the market, and while it isn’t hard to find beginner or intermediate shoes at lower prices it is unusual to find reasonably priced performance models. With most high-end shoes coming in around the £120 – 140 mark these days, the £99 price tag of the Ozone Plus is very attractive. Its especially appealing to find a shoe with top drawer materials and construction at under £100.
I’d recommend the Ozone Plus highly for anyone with wider feet, who is looking for a reliable all-round performance shoe for sport and trad climbing. It offers top level construction and fit, without the hefty price tag of some more popular brands. I’d be more cautious in recommending the Ozone Plus for those looking for a technical bouldering shoe, because the heel didn’t have the staying power or sensitivity of others on the market. Nonetheless, the Ozone Plus was a more than capable performance route climbing shoe, and when you factor in the excellent value for money it really stands out as a legitimate alternative to brands like La Sportiva, Five Ten and Boreal.