Mike Kimmel works as the Department Head for English Language at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, a public high school that works exclusively with competitive skiers and snowboarders (ranging from Alpine skiing, freeride, all forms of snowboarding competition, and nordic). He is also a climbing coach and primary routesetter for the Vail Athletic Club, and a guide for Adventure Travel Guides. He’s worked as a setter and coach for 10+ years, and has sent many young climbers to USA Nationals, and a few kids to Continental Championships.
Very few pieces of gear will actually have a noticeable affect on your ability to climb. Most new iterations of gear are designed to make climbing lighter and safer, but a thinner rope and the newest technology in quickdraws are generally not the climbing equipment that will help aspiring rock warriors hit that next grade, whether it’s on a rope or a boulder. One reason you see so many climbers obsess over climbing shoes is that shoes, along with chalk, are some of the only aspects of climbing equipment that can noticeably change your ability to climb a route or not (try climbing a route using bad chalk and I promise you’ll get frustrated).
The challenge then becomes finding the pair of climbing shoes that will improve your performance and help you become the stronger climber you want to be. New shoe designs come out by the dozen each year, several shoe models disappear from company rosters every season, and this leaves us all with 60+ models to sift through. Occasionally, though, a climbing shoe comes along that represents a significant improvement within a shoe line, and the 2016 Shamans from Evolv definitely fulfill that role.
Climbers familiar with the previous Shaman: if you liked that shoe, you’ll love this one. The way it fits the foot is almost identical – same sinker-feeling heel with three straps to lock the foot down, same love-bump/knuckle box combination to put the front-point of the shoe in a powerful position to toe down on small footholds and pockets. Even the color swatches are similar, still a combination of orange and blue. But that’s about where the similarities end, and the new version blows the old out of the water.
The most noticeable improvements are:
- The material: The entire shoe is lighter than the previous version of the Shaman, with a more durable-feeling upper and a plush, padded tongue.
- Toe-hooking ability: My biggest complaint against the previous version of this shoe was difficulty with toe-hooking. Despite being able to flex the foot back to hit the sweet spot on toe-hooks, the rubber patch was too small to gain enough friction and the lowest Velcro strap would get caught. The new version has a almost full-coverage patch of rubber that runs along the medial edge of the shoe, along with much thinner and inset straps. The result is that this shoe now toe-hooks almost as well as a single-strap slipper.
- The flexibility and softness: While the previous version was already a decently soft shoe, it was still stiffer across the mid-section than many of the newer, high-performance designs that have come out in the last few years. Evolv has taken the appeal of softer shoes and adapted the Shaman to fit this mold – you can casually fold this shoe in half, as the orange, tensioned rubber section is significantly thinner.
While I anticipated enjoying this shoe for sport-climbing outside at my favorite limestone area, where I’ve found myself using it more and more often has been trying hard boulder problems outside, as well as training in the gym. As a routesetter and climbing coach, I spend a lot of time in climbing gyms, and usually bring along a pair of shoes when I’m at a competition, just in case there are a few extra hours where I’m trapped in isolation while waiting for my last competitor to be released.
There have been a few times where the shoe sticks so hard to its target that the struggle has been to remove it. The toe-hook absolutely locks in, and the rubber gets massive amounts of friction on fresh plastic and climbing wall. In addition, I also have been wearing these while out cleaning and opening up new sandstone boulders (as my local sport-area is off limits due to massive rock fall leading to road closures), and I was excited to knock off my first V11 in three years using the new Shamans!
Sizing: my ‘street shoe’ size for running shoes is usually 9.5/10 US (Adidas) or 43.5/44 (La Sportiva). My original Shamans were size 10, and that’s what I initially used with the Shaman 2016. At first I was worried that I had sized them too large, but the toe was at the very edge of the shoe and couldn’t be curled out, so I decided to roll with it. At a size 10, this is probably the most comfortable performance shoe I’ve worn, and I don’t notice any loss in performance. That said, I also tried them as a 9.5 and they fit snugly, so if the feeling of ‘tight’ helps you psychologically to use your feet more efficiently in climbing, then I’d suggest going down a ½ size from street shoe.