July 27, 2009

Shoe Fit?

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , at 11:23 pm by lindaslongview

ClimbingShoesToday I bought a new pair of climbing shoes.  These shoes represent a milestone in my (indoor) climbing that marks that I’ve made it past “beginner” and I need a bit more performance from my shoe.

Selecting climbing shoes is no different that selecting tools for technology applications.  My long view advice on ensuring functional performance of equipment is as follows:

  1. Understand the function – borrow, rent or purchase an inexpensive model to learn. Identify the characteristics that are important.  Sometimes, expert advice can define the key characteristics, but it is always important to come up the learning curve enough to understand what you value.
  2. Measure/Differentiate performance – there is no substitute for testing the product and measuring difference. Whether you are purchasing large liquid handling equipment or shoes, try different models/brands in the intended application!

As an aside, when I started rock climbing in the mid-70’s there was no such thing as rock climbing shoes, we wore hiking boots!  Even though specialist shoes did not exist, gear was still key. The early-70’s introduction of a simple belay plate provided the necessary mechanical advantage for a 13-year-old girl weighing less than 100 lbs. to belay a full-grown adult male.  It was this device that allowed me to participate with my Dad and his friends before I left for college.

Today, rock climbing has come a long way with the advent of indoor gyms and the plethora of specialist equipment.  It can be daunting to select the most basic item: shoes!

Climbing shoes are notorious for being uncomfortable, yet I know that comfort is important to me. (I am just not tough enough or good enough to need the pain.) Since my current shoes are comfortable, what I really needed were shoes that have less slip (the better to smear with), more touch (improved grip on small holds), and a friction surface all the way across the footbed and heel (the better to stem with in tight spots).

I bought my first pair (Scarpa Marathon) online for $25: #1 purchase inexpensively to learn. This time I needed to assess slip and touch on a climbing wall: #2 measure performance.  I tried on just about every pair that my climbing gym offered – three different brands, two different models, and a few sizes.  Each time, I headed to the bouldering room to test their slip and touch.  I admit that I did not buy the most aggressive technical shoe, rather I bought one that is still considered a beginner shoe (Scarpa Veloce) but proved to be more sticky (less slip), more tactile, and yet comfortable enough to wear for a few hours in the gym.  Or perhaps I just liked them because they were Kermit-the-Frog green…

Maybe someday I will need a quiver of climbing shoes, but not yet!

When you purchase a new performance item, do you learn first and then test performance?