By Greg Chapman
A brief history of Scarpa climbing shoe development and a review of the Scarpa Chimera, possibly THE ultimate shoe for steep, high performance bouldering and sport climbing...
As any keen climber active over the last few years will attest, the previous decade has seen Scarpa rise from fringe rock shoe player to a market leader; now offering an extensive and definitive range of aesthetically cool shoes which cut the mustard from the entry-level to specialist niche end of the market. An impressive feet when you consider that in spite of the brand’s longstanding heritage - being world renowned for its mountaineering footwear since 1938 - for a long swathe of its history, Scarpa, outside of its native Italy, struggled to gain any real traction in the performance rock shoe sector. All this changed when fabled Austrian rock shoe designer Heinz Mariacher (who could arguably be considered the father of the modern rock shoe) exclusively teamed up with Scarpa and began the process of awakening this slumbering giant, helping revolutionise their range and developing a series of shoes which could now be considered par excellence. The Tyrolean’s long love affair with rock shoe design and development began way back in the early 80’s and since then he has developed many well known models. A longstanding partnership with La Sportiva saw the creation of numerous now well established and well loved classics, such as the Mythos, Miura and Katana. Along with high quality materials, striking aesthetics and a synergy across the range, Mariacher’s Scarpa rock shoe revolution owes much of its technical prowess to his formulaic approach to the randing, hi-tech midsoles used and depth of micro-detailing provided in the construction processes; by which I mean an array of enhanced tweaks which whilst integral to the performance and fit may go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
This is a method whereby varying die-cut shapes of rand rubber are used to actively support and empower the foot depending on how they are built and bonded into the overall construction. This allows seemingly similar looking shoes to offer distinctly different facets of performance and comfort. Scarpa currently use 5 Active Rands: X-Tension, V-Tension, Tri-Tension, Bi-Tension and PCB-Tension (more info here). It’s worth bearing in mind that many manufacturers use a single randing process across their entire range of rock shoes.
Flexan and Plastic MidsolesThese are the only midsole inserts that are shaped in 3 distinct ways to provide minimal interference as well as differing levels of support, rigidity and longevity. Each is then subjected to a further level of bespoke modification (10 unique midsoles are currently used) depending on the specifics of the rock shoe model and its desired end use.
Micro-DetailingThrough numerous small improvements of general design features, Scarpa shoes offer some of the best levels of performance, durability and comfort available. The following are some key features you may not be aware of which are key to achieving this.
- Optimum use of both synthetic and natural fibre materials strategically positioned to create give and compression where it's needed and to enhance the overall power of the foot.
- Multi-panelled foot shaped uppers:- A. Seamless under the toe area: No stitching elevates discomfort and failure points. B. Bi-lateral stitching: by running a line of stitching down the length of the shoe it allows the shoe to move, flex and give with the foot. This enables the shoe to absorb and work with the foot as the foot changes shape under pressure. C. Large Morphic Big toe panels (see image below): This is where a lot of the foot's power is focussed. The improved panelling allows this area to keep its shaping under high pressures, avoiding bulging in the rand whilst maximising comfort and feel.
Enter the Drago
These construction processes and the general design ethos have resulted in a rounded range, but with the hub of the performance series resting on the (4) Instinct and (3) Vapour models. More recently Scarpa launched its PCB-series of shoes with the Furia followed by the increasingly popular Drago.
These shoes ooze performance and are aimed at the high-end sport climber and boulderer, excelling on steeper ground and the indoor arena. Ultra sensitive, they combine features used in existing styles with wholly new technologies, such the SRT toe-wrap: a method whereby sticky rubber is used to create an oversized rand which in turn encompasses the upper portion of the toe box to provide perhaps the best toe-hooking performance ever constructed. The PCB (‘Power Connection Band’) randing is a lightweight, simplified evolution of the under sole mechanism seen in Tri-Tension models. It is essentially Tri-Tension with the wings clipped for extra sensitivity and feel. Distinct from their other siblings, these shoes offer a slightly different last shape, being narrower with a more talon-like feel and less blocky in the toe box. Very similar in fit, the Furia and Drago differ by way of either single or double strap closure and the heel design. The Drago utilises the highly popular Instinct heel cup whereas the Furia’s heel is narrow and lower volume. Both shoes are soft, but in my view the Furia is the slightly stiffer of the two, although I'm not sure if this is in line with what Scarpa state. The last shape and volume differences also mean you may wish to up-size by half a Euro size when compared with your usual Scarpa rock shoe sizing.
The Chimera: The World’s Most Advanced Rock Shoe?
Built on the same last as the Drago, the Scarpa Chimera differs by way of its more balanced design brief which has created a shoe where sensitivity, support, power and usability hang in perfect equilibrium. Similarly sensitive to the Drago, the Chimera also boasts increased edging ability thanks to a TPS plastic midsole insert (rather than the softer Flexan insert used in the Drago and Furia). Overall fit is also improved by way of the lacing system. Here two ‘arms’ extend from the upper at the cuff, meaning the laces, when drawn in tight, give an unparalleled suction fit with no or minimal dead space. This can also be tweaked to vary fit depending on end use. In summary, the Scarpa Chimera draws on all of the aforementioned technology and years of developing and constructing such a complete range to design and forge possibly THE ultimate shoe for steep, high performance bouldering and sport climbing...