It’s been awhile since I updated my climbing shoe saga… so here’s the latest.
As a baseline, here’s my recorded shoe history (I also wore through a pair of Mad Rock Phoenix and Evolv Rockstars as a beginner, but don’t remember what size so those aren’t helpful for reference) for your size reference convenience. Yes, I climb, a LOT.
- Street Shoes: Generally a US Women’s 8 (on a foot measure, I measure as a 7.5 though), EU 38.
- Five Ten Womens’ Anasazi – mine are the old blue ones, the link is to the new model (US Women’s 8, EU 39.5)
- Mad Rock Frenzy EZ Velcros (US Men’s 5.5, EU 37.5)
- La Sportiva Womens’ Nago (US Women’s 5.5, EU 36)
The picture shows a pair of Evolv Heras, in US 8, EU 39, but they’re quite large. While I think the world of Evolv and their shoes, I haven’t had much luck fitting them — I seem to be chronically between sizes.
Anyway – that’s the short version of my shoe history, for size reference. I have been climbing since June in the La Sportiva Nagos, since I blew out my Mad Rock Frenzy’s and had to retire them after countless resolings by the good folks at Yosemite Bum. The Nagos were a bit of a desperation buy… I was leaving for Tuolumne in a couple of days, and the Nagos were the best I could find on short notice. They’ve turned out to be good all-around shoes… good fitting, they’ve worn well despite high mileage, they’re relatively good for long routes, but for some reason I tend to get foot cramps in them. I haven’t figured it out — they’re not too small, but there’s something about the width or the shape that seems to trigger foot cramps. I still wear the crap out of them, and will resole them when they blow through (which they’re close to right now)… but because of the foot cramping they’re not my perfect shoe.
Enter, the Red Chili Corona VCR. Mine were schwag from Urban Climber Magazine, but I did get a chance to email with the highly responsive Red Chili rep about size. I got a same-day response to my original email inquiry, which turned into a half-day chat about rock shoe sizing. Lisa, the rep who responded suggested based on my shoe history, a UK 5 for an aggressive fit, or a UK 5.5 for a more comfortable fit. Later in the day, a different rep responded that a UK 4.5 should fit me well. I’d had a run of “too big” shoes lately, and had read some reviews indicating that the shoe stretched a great deal, so I decided to take a gamble on the UK 4.5 (EU 37.5).
Days later, a box arrived direct from Red Chili. I excitedly opened my new treasure, pulled out the beautiful white suede shoes with red and black accent, and admired their aggressive appearance compared to all of my other “all day” shoes. They looked totally bad ass. I could instantly imagine myself bouldering V4 and cruising up 5.11s in them.
They also looked… tiny.
I popped off my shoes and socks and, with great effort, pulled on the right shoe. As long as I held my breath and didn’t try to stand up, I could just barely squeeze the shoe on. I opened the velcro on the left and … absolutely no way. My left foot is almost a half size bigger than my right… I need to remember to always try the left foot first! I struggled with it for a few minutes… then decided my size gamble hadn’t paid off… and started thinking, with disappointment, about which of my climbing friends had feet *just slightly* smaller than mine.
So, there the shoes sat in their box for several weeks. By the end of summer, my Nagos had almost worn through, but there was no “new shoe” budget. I looked at the sad, lonely Red Chili box on my floor, and thought – eh, might as well try again.
This time, I put the shoes through the washing machine before trying to put them on. After a good, wet soaking, I could pull the shoes on both my feet. I wore them for a few minutes at a time over the course of the afternoon as they dried, and in the process stretched them enough that I could get them on both my feet. I still thought actually climbing in them would be a long shot.
I took them to the gym, and sure enough… the first few sessions in them were so painful I hurried off the route at the end to get my shoes off. They rubbed the tops of my toes, but each time I wore them, they got a little bit more comfortable, and I didn’t really have an alternative to climb in, so I kept at it.
To make a (ridiculously) long story short… Over the last few months, the Red Chili Corona VCRs have become my all time favorite shoe. They’re now a snug but comfortable fit, having stretched at least a half size. The fit is now perfect. My picky feet don’t cramp in these, and although I pop them off in between climbs, they’re my first pick for shoes in the gym, and will be my first pick for more challenging single-pitch terrain outside.
I rarely advise a tight shoe fit, but if you’re going to try these, go with the smallest size you can get your feet into, and then consider even going a half size down from that (since I honestly couldn’t get my left foot into these puppies at the beginning). The sizing is obviously a gamble, so listen to Red Chili’s advice and see if you can order from somewhere with a good return policy.
As soon as they stretched enough that I could stop hobbling up routes and start climbing up routes in them, my climbing partners took note. There is absolutely no compromise in these shoes — they do everything well.
The Corona VCRs edge like nothing else. Their precision is unlike any other shoe I’ve ever climbed in. Somehow, even with awesome edging, the shoes smear well… and the cut and sensitivity of the shoe helps your toes zero in on even the smallest little dishy nubbin and stick. They feature “super sticky 4.2mm RX1 Red Chili rubber” so I don’t know how much luck I’ll have finding a resoler, but if I find one who uses the Red Chili rubber I’ll post an update.
Not a lot of retailers in the US carry them — Red Chili has a list here of retailers, bu
t it isn’t for this specific model… for example, REI doesn’t have them. If you’re outside the US, you may have more luck — the global dealer list is here.
Bentgate.com seems to be the US source, and as soon as I can, I’ll be ordering another pair to keep in the closet. I’m hard to impress, when it comes to climbing shoes… but these seriously impressed me. I’ve been climbing in them since September or so, and the rubber is holding up well to the abuse it’s taking in my frequent, long climbing gym sessions. They hardly show any wear, perhaps a testament to the precision of footwork they encourage. I’ve had friends report short rubber life with Red Chilis, but I’m not finding that in this particular model.
After climbing in these, I have my fingers crossed that Red Chili develops more of a following in the US. These shoes should be a serious contender for intermediate to advanced indoor climbers, boulderers, and sport climbers. If you can get lucky on the risk associated with sizing them, they’re a fantastic choice, in my experience.
What do you think — have you climbed in Red Chilis? Any advice for others who need advice sizing them? Please comment below!
Here are some shoe shopping links for you:
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