Tested: Scarpa Arpia climbing shoe
Those of us who have been climbing for a while generally have a few different pairs of climbing shoes. At the least, there’s the tight “I can barely breathe in this” turned-down aggressive shoe that you whip out on the hardest boulder problems or indoor climbs and then immediately take off before your extremities turn into ancient Chinese lotus feet; and then the more comfortable (usually older) pair that you can wear on all-day Arapiles wanderings, or easy days at the crag.
Not surprisingly, Scarpa is targeting the broad sweet spot in the middle of these options with the Arpia shoe, which came out last year. It is called a “transition shoe” between a flatter, comfortable trad or beginner style and a more aggressive, high-performance shoe. The upper shoe has a beautifully soft, almost felt-lined fabric which actually feels nice when you put it on. It has a turned-down toe, but with an unusually flexible mid-sole, so that your foot is not forced into a down-pointing position. It has six panels and an asymmetrical design for better fit, and it’s a pull-on slipper-style shoe, with a single, funky Z-style Velcro strap for ease of getting on and off.
I started by taking them outside on sandstone, and initially felt a little weird as I got used to a non-stiff sole. Most of my other climbing shoes provide a lot of support through the midsole so that when you stand and push up off a toe point, it helps hold the rest of your foot in place. With the Arpias, I initially felt like I was lacking strength in my foot. However, after a couple of climbs I got used to it, and barely noticed that issue.
The 3.5mm Vibram grip rubber was superb. I decided to push the Arpias fairly hard on first wear – lead climbing near the top of my grade on climbs I didn’t know – and whether it was smears, tiny footholds, jams, mantles, edging or anything else, they never slipped or felt like they were going to. Because the midsole is soft, they easily convert to maximum rubber on rock when you switch between an edge and a smear.
When climbing indoors, I didn’t enjoy them quite as much. I seemed to struggle with the Z-Velcro strap to get a snug fit. I kept feeling my foot was moving ever so slightly inside the slipper and as a result lost a bit of confidence on postage-stamp-sized plastic. Scarpa has been making boots and equipment in Italy for the outdoor world for 80 years. it remains one of the best names in climbing, but I do wonder why it didn’t just include a double Velcro strap to aid a tighter, more customised (personal) fit.
My first pair of Scarpas were an almost indestructible pair of heavy leather hiking boots that I wore for about 20 years in all conditions – snow, sand, desert rock, rainforests. I loved them, even though when soaked they were like bricks, and on wet rocks they had less grip than an ice-skate. These new Arpias are nothing like that. They’re super light (only about 140g each), super grippy, comfortable and worth checking out to see if they suit your foot and your climbing style.
RRP: $240 Available at Climbing Anchors