By Greg Chapman
Visit any major climbing wall across the length and breadth of Britain and you’ll be doing well not to spot the signature orange and black of Scarpa’s Instinct VS rock shoe. This neo classic has become the bedrock of Scarpa’s performance series and has been at the vanguard of the brand’s push to be market leader.
Since its launch around 2012, the Instinct VS has been joined by a number of newer performance models yet has maintained its position as the most popular top-end shoe in the range. This popularity is based on its rounded appeal; offering a near perfect balance of technicality, comfort and durability.
Seizing on a sure thing, Scarpa have built on the success of the Instinct VS adding a further two variant models: the VS-R and Lace versions. Aimed more at boulderers and the indoor crowd, the Instinct VS-R is a slightly softer shoe featuring a stickier (but less durable) Vibram XS-Grip sole unit, rather than the XS-Edge sole of the original. Bar that and the blue-black colour-way, the VS-R is identical to its older sibling. More recently Scarpa introduced a Lace version. Here things take a different turn with a shoe which holds true to its heritage but brings a fresh dimension to the Instinct series.
Variances between the VS and Lace start with the upper. The Lace utilises a slightly lighter microfibre than that used in both VS versions, bolstered with a laminated TPU outer frame. Due to properties such as elasticity, high strength to weight ratios and a resistance to oil, grease and abrasion, TPU (Thermoplastic PolyUrethane) ‘exoskeletons’ help shoes hold their shape and increase resistance to wear in high stress areas, allowing the use of lighter and more breathable materials without compromise in overall durability. Another clear point of difference is the design of the toe box. Here the Instinct Lace uses the same approach as that seen in the Scarpa Stix, whereby the rand incorporates an oversized V-shape augmentation laminated over the toe. This has the advantage of being more durable due to its positioning and the material used - standard rand rubber opposed to the softer ‘sticky rubber' patch seen on Instinct VS and VS-R. Having used both the Lace and VS versions extensively I’d say the increased durability of the toe patch on the Lace will outweigh any minor loss in performance for all but die-hard boulderers, regularly toe-hooking at their limit. The sole is the same 3mm XS-Edge unit used on the original Instinct VS, however the Flexan midsole is ¾ length and thus a little longer than that used in the VS models. In spite of the identically thick midsole and out sole, the TPU frame, laces, randing and longer midsole arguably combine to make for a shoe that is a touch stiffer than the original VS. If nothing else, it certainly holds its shape and rigidity longer than the VS versions.
Generally speaking the the Instinct Lace provides the now familiar Scarpa performance fit of a higher volume toe box and lower volume mid and rear section, incorporating a profile hugging arch and slightly bulbous, yet well fitting heel. As such those with a very narrow/low volume forefoot and heel may find this and other Scarpa shoes a bit ‘wide’, however most people will get an excellent form-fit. I found the Instinct Lace to have a slightly nuanced fit over that of the VS models; with fractionally less volume (or perhaps just give) in the toe box. This is presumably a quirk of the upper and construction process, as all the shoes are based on the same last.
As with all the modern performance Scarpa shoes, the Instinct Lace provides reliably similar sizing - i.e. if you are a 42 in the Instinct VS, Vapour series, Drago etc. you should be a 42 in this shoe.
If you get on with Scarpa shoes then this is certainly well worth a look, particularly if you're after a stiffer high-performance shoe, which works well across the disciplines and a range of angles. Due to the TPU cage and lacing, the shoe also offers a touch more support and security on longer routes, arguably making it the most suited of the trio for hard trad or any long, technical face climbs.