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Scarpa Instinct S | Climbing Shoe Review

Cutting edge performance in a sublimely designed package - Scarpa’s new Instinct S is a real weapon of the vertical world, transcending any preconceived notions about the effectiveness of a climbing slipper with an example of excellence that truly changes the climbing shoe game. But how have they done it and what makes Scarpa’s latest Instinct slipper so special?

Instinctive Performance

Slippers have historically (in the UK at least) attracted a niche following of nostalgic old timers and left-field training geeks, riding the Gucci appeal wave of the slipper’s unique, Euro look and unconventional set of climbing characteristics. But, without a rounded selection of performance features and lacking the adjustability of a lace or velcro shoe, slippers have never been a widely adopted style of rock shoe - until the Instinct S. Building on the work of its formative models (the S and SR) and taking inspiration from the rest of the super successful Instinct range, the latest iteration of the Instinct S is every bit the complete package.

An obvious step up from the previous model and arguably a more refined design than their strapped up, laced up sister models, the Instinct S packs a serious performance punch that delivers superb toe end power with unbeatable levels of comfort and sensitivity. Noticeably stiffer than its formative design, the S is supreme on small footholds with a marginally downturned, precisely pointed profile. Featuring a half-length, 1mm Flexan midsole under the front portion of the shoe, the S feels nice and supportive without feeling too clunky. The CTS tension system (unique to the Instinct S) further enhances this front end power with a section of rand rubber running along the instep of the toe box to keep your big toe firmly locked in place on knuckle busting edges. The result? A powerful, sophisticated edging experience that makes the Instinct S a superb option for long board sessions and real rock, especially the sharper geology of our local Lake District.

The fun doesn’t stop here. A large part of this current incarnation’s appeal has to be its unbeatable versatility on changing terrain. It can edge, sure, but how does it perform inside on modern boulder problems or outside on smeary, sedimentary rock types? Well, thanks to that half length midsole, the middle and rear of the shoe are afforded ample room to flex their sensitive muscles, smearing wonderfully on volumes and gritstone alike. Hooking is a particular highlight of the Instinct S. I was initially skeptical about this in the S because of that missing closure system but, thanks to the generous smatterings of the uber-sticky M50 rubber and the awesome REB elastic over the top of the shoe, both the heel and toe of the Instinct felt tremendous. The tensioning on the Instinct S is quite simply perfect but it wouldn’t be possible without the security of the REB reinforced elastic bands over the top of the shoe - narrow shaped strings of PU are actually bonded to these blue elastic bands to strengthen them and ensure a longer lasting, tighter fit.

Fit & Feel

With a narrower last (FJ) than the rest of the Instinct range, the fit of the S is crucial to its success. Let’s face it, without a closure system the Instinct S has to fit well in order to maximise its performance potential but with Heinz Mariachar’s last designing prowess on show once again, most of us should be able to enjoy the Instinct’s universal, forgiving fit. Being slightly wider through the forefoot, narrower through the heel and low in volume on top of the toes, the Instinct S blends accessibility with practicality, combining the most common foot shape with a fit that should keep the S firing on all its performance cylinders. Luckily for me the Instinct S fit well and I downsized 3 EU sizes to get the perfect performance fit - those with wider or higher volume feet might be content with a smaller downsize. 

In terms of comfort, the Instinct S has to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a climbing shoe. The 5 panelled microfibre upper supports the top of the foot well whilst the leather bed of the shoe is lovely and comfortable, especially at the front where the no seam technology means none of your toes are in contact with any of the stitching. Longevity wise? The Instinct S certainly gave a little fresh out of the box but hasn’t bagged out since like the slippers of old.

Round Up

Could this be Scarpa’s best shoe in years? A well timed rejuvenation of Scarpa’s incredibly popular Instinct range, the Instinct S redefines what a climbing slipper can do, proving that you don’t need straps or laces to achieve top end performance. In the past it would have been hard to recommend an Instinct slipper over its strapped up siblings but the latest model puts this difficulty to bed, proving itself as the most refined, well-rounded Instinct shoe on sale. The Instinct S comes with me on any climbing adventure and it certainly hasn’t let me down to date, long may it continue!


Purchase the Scarpa Instinct S