By Greg Chapman
A review of the Scarpa Instinct VS rock shoe, the Italian brand's most recent technical addition. The Instinct VS is a performance shoe, aimed at sport climbers, boulderers and high-end trad climbers. It’s midweek in early December and I’m parking up in Ambleside’s main car park, there’s a picture-book snow scene afoot and things are looking rather seasonal for once. Of course, rather predictably, it’s all turning to sleet and slush by the time I reach the ticket machine and prepare for a few hours talking breathable membranes, proprietary fabrics and flat-lock stitching. I’m in the ‘Adventure Capital’ to meet up with the Mountain Boot Company’s (MBC) sales supremo, Glyn Padgett, to view the forthcoming winter Outdoor Research clothing range, which the MBC distribute (along with the likes of Grivel, Deuter and most relevantly Scarpa) here in the UK. Having squelched up the high street to my destination, the Salutation Hotel, drip dried by the radiator for a few minutes and dispensed with the usual trade chit chat, without warning Glyn reaches into his bag and, from between an array of Apple gizmos, plucks a spangly new pair of rock kicks. A brace of Scarpa Instinct VS to be precise and conveniently in my size. Things were looking up.
Three months down the line and those Scarpa Instinct VS’s may not look quite so spangly as they did that damp December day but they are still going strong, having been put to good use across a geological smorgasbord, from the Western US to the depths of Yorkshire and plenty in between. Of course, well built’s one thing, but I guess you may be wondering how they stacked up performance wise and what’s good, bad and indifferent about Scarpa’s third instalment in the Instinct trilogy? Let’s take a look...
The Instinct VS, or Velcro Strap, follows in the footsteps of the now well established duo of the Instinct Slipper and Lace. As with the slipper version, the VS is made entirely from a synthetic fabric to help retain shape and minimise stretch. In spite of what it says on Scarpa’s own website, rather than the Lorica used in Scarpa’s other synthetic shoes, the Instinct VS uses a denser more robust man-made material, not dissimilar to the Cowdura used by Five Ten in their Anasazi series. This difference combined with a more substantial (strapped) upper, stiff(ish) midsole and high coverage of rubber means the Scarpa Instinct VS does seem to hold its size and shape considerably better than either of its siblings. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the best Scarpa shoe I’ve ever used in terms of holding its constitution in check. This more robust construction does mean that the shoe takes a little more time to break-in than say the Instinct Lace, which I found pretty good out of the box but which did then stretch a lot after a few months of hammer. Personally, I prefer shoes that take a bit more time to wear in, as they cetainly seem to stay at the top of their game for longer.
The VS is quite a stiff shoe when compared to many of its contemporaries across the brands. Climbers who do a lot of indoor climbing, particularly in modern bouldering walls, may find it a little too stiff, preferring to stick to the likes of the popular Instinct Slipper. On the flip side, when it comes to use outdoors the Instinct VS really comes into its own. Scarpa describe this shoe as ‘down-turned’, and whilst there’s no doubting there is a down-turned aspect to the VS, it’s not quite as aggressive in this respect as something like a Five Ten Dragon or Evolv Talon. This very feature and its rigidity is what makes the Instinct VS a better all-rounder than the aforementioned shoes, being adept on steep terrain but also excellent when it comes to edging and even smearing (once the shoes are well worn in). In the interest of balance, it’s fair to say I did feel the Instinct isn’t quite as proficient on steep board (50 degree+) like climbing, where you’re continuously ‘grabbing’ for small dinks or screw-ons with your feet - in this domain the true down-turned shoe still reigns supreme. In terms of traction, the foundation of the VS is a plinth of 3mm Vibram XS Edge. Some have said this is less sticky than its sister compound, XS Grip, and whilst this may be true to some minor extent at the frontiers of grip, I found little to differentiate the two other than the XS Edge being a little less prone to roll on small edges or pebbles. In a nutshell they’re both good rubber compounds. One big improvement over previous Scarpa shoes lies in the full coverage heel cup, which both reduces heel slip when torquing or hooking and also provides more protection on uncomfortable holds. The final notable design improvement comes by way of a more substantial rubber patch on the toe-box, which is both more effective and durable than that featured on the other top-end Scarpa rock shoes.
The shoe's last gives 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. Relatively speaking it’s also pretty comfortable for a top-end shoe. To give credence to this, recent Scarpa convert and all-round strong chap Dan Varian recently confessed to me: “I have been really enjoying the Instincts - never been so comfy in such a top-end shoe!” As with all the modern performance Scarpas, the Instinct VS provides reliably similar sizing - i.e. if you are a 42 in the Instinct Lace/Slipper, Vapour Series, Boostic etc. you should be a 42 in this shoe.
The fact that the Instinct VS hosts such a good balance across its fit, features and durability, means that this rock shoe offers (providing it fits your feet) a performance fit that will be able to tackle almost anything you throw its way - useful ingredients when you consider the increasing price of rock shoes. The ever present Scarpa build quality shines through, and whilst not cheap this rock shoe will certainly offer some of the highest levels of bang-for-your-buck of any shoe in its class.