By Dave Westlake
Evolv have gone from being the new kid on the block to being one of the big names in the climbing shoe world in what seems like a very short space of time. Support from the big guns has helped, no doubt: the likes of Chris Sharma, Ashima Shiraishi, and the more recent additions of Paul Robinson and Daniel Woods have shown just what Evolvs are capable of if they’re on the right feet. Evolvs have even seen Rock + Run’s very own Tom Newberry up some moderately tricky routes – apparently compensating for the fact he’s only 20% as strong as everyone else who climbs the same grade!
The Oracle is their suave new technical all-rounder. Its billing as “the next step in performance” sets it a high bar. As an all-round performance shoe with an eye on the steeper end of things, the Oracle has a lot of ground to cover if it is to compete alongside some of the other models in this category. Shoes like the La Sportiva Miura, the Scarpa Impact Lace and the Tenaya Oasi are all established favourites. How does the Evolv Oracle stack up against these heavyweights? I took a pair out for testing over the last few months to find out.
There was a time when any kind of performance shoe felt terrible for the first few weeks, causing the wearer intense discomfort, a little pain and offering a distinct lack of sensitivity. I’ve been known to do daily ten minute stints in front of the TV having prized new shoes on with the help of carrier bags, in the hope they’d be wearable for 15-20 minute bursts at the weekend. Not anymore. The Oracles, like many other cutting-edge performance shoes available today, felt great straight out of the box.
This owes partly to the Oracle being a relatively soft shoe. Softer models tend to need less breaking in than stiffer shoes, but a few key features help to dial the Oracle down further for a great fit. There’s the now familiar ‘love bump’ that Evolv brought in with the Shaman several years ago. This is a raised area on the sole of the footbed that fills the dead space under the big toe – giving a more aggressive profile and helping to retain the down turn. Then there is the lacing – which is the key feature that makes its debut in the Evolv range with this shoe. The speed lacing system means the rear of the shoe is pulled in nicely and this gives a snug, secure feeling to the whole shoe. A micro cord disappears into the back of the heel and is smoothed along where it meets the laces by small plastic eyelets at both sides.
Lace ups have always had a bit of an edge on slippers or Velcros in terms of getting the fit just right, but this additional feature helps you to get that extra bit of security around the heel. When testing the shoes, I found this little innovation payed dividends on boulder problems that involved aggressive heel hooking and foot-toe jams.
The laces extend far enough down the length of the foot, but not so far that they will get mashed up on toe hooks. They are protected by the upper, though I do wonder how much wear and tear the delicate looking plastic inserts at the top of the micro cord can take. Build quality, however, seems good all round, and the lacing really does make getting them on and off much easier than other lace ups that use a more traditional system.
The Oracle does a pretty impressive job of covering all bases, in terms of performance sport, bouldering and trad climbing. Unlike many lace up models, the rubber toe patch is extensive and gives coverage high enough up the forefoot for all manner of toe hooks. This is a nice change from other lace ups which include a small and rather useless patch of toe rubber that doesn’t do much.
At first I wondered whether the Oracle would be too soft for limestone edging. On the sport routes of Portland and the trad climbs of Pembroke it took a while to get used to this, because I would normally be wearing a stiffer shoe for this sort of thing. However, once I learned to trust them I found they didn’t let me down on small edges.
Part of this confidence came from the rubber. The 4.2mm Trax SAS feels as sticky and responsive as anything I’ve tried. Evolv rubber has tended to be a little softer than some others – more akin to Stealth or Vibram XS grip than the firmer compounds such as Vibram XS edge. For me this is a benefit, as I prefer a softer, stickier compound in all but the hottest conditions. This does mean the shoes may wear a bit quicker for some climbers – particularly those who are heavier and put more weight through their feet.
The toe box felt very similar to that of the Shaman, which many readers will be familiar with. As Evolv’s most successful shoe, this seems like a good shape to copy and I’ve found it drives a nice balance between a pointed toe and a decent inner edge for standing on small, err, edges.
As the name would suggest, the Oracle is a shoe that can answer nearly all the questions asked of it in the vertical arena. It has become my current go to shoe for route climbing, but it’s equally at home in the wall. You may prefer the convenience of Velcro – particularly if you do a lot of indoor climbing or training. If so you might find the Evolv X1 worth a look. But if you want a performance all-rounder, the precision fit given by the lace system, and the all-round versatility of the Oracle is hard to beat.