Black Diamond Equipment launched into climbing shoes with four models in 2017. In March of this year, they released the Zone, the Goldilocks of their offerings, sitting in between their stiffest and softest shoes. We’ve been testing a pair for two months on plastic, Central Texas limestone, and Colorado granite.
The nuts and bolts
Black Diamond uses an “engineered knit” synthetic upper on the Zone shoes, promising high breathability. Two opposed Velcro straps and a split tongue secure the moderately downturned shoes, with the higher strap being 1.5-inches wide. The one-piece outsole is Black Diamond’s 4.3 mm “engineered for grip” Black Label Fuse rubber while rubber for the rand is printed, allowing three-dimensional shaping. An injection-molded, full-length Pebax midsole provides medium stiffness and shape.
The Zones have a verified weight of 11.2 ounces per pair in size 9.5 and come in three colorways. The MSRP is $140
I wear a size ten running shoe, and the 9.5 Zone felt too tight initially. One gym session yielded a tight, high-performance fit for bouldering and sport climbing. I have a classic “duck foot,” with a small heel, wide but thin forefoot, and the Zone hugged my feet appropriately with a little bit of fifth metatarsal overhang over the lateral edge of the sole and bagginess over the forefoot. My arch is high, the Zone fit well in this area without much strap tension.
The taper of the Zone from the big toe to the little toe is aggressive; my big toe had the correct amount of curl when unloaded, but all my other toes were forced to curl more than usual. This peculiarity wasn’t uncomfortable to me for a sport climbing oriented shoe but it was an obvious deviation from the other shoes in my quiver.
Another noticeable idiosyncrasy was the extremely deep heel cup, which measured just shy of four inches tall at the back. In certain ankle ranges of motion, the upper edge of the heel cup chafed my Achilles tendon or the inside of my ankle bone.
The opening of the Zone has no elastic, and even with high strap tension, there were gaps between the upper sides of the split tongue and my foot. These breaches in no way affected performance or comfort, they just allowed dirt to enter the shoe at times.
Great performance on steep edges
The tight fit, moderate downturn and medium stiffness of the Zone generated great edging power on steep boulders and routes. Anything from just beyond vertical to about 40 degrees was the sweet spot for me in these shoes, and the Black Label Fuse rubber held even the smallest of edges as long as there was at least some texture. Slippery edges on highly trafficked limestone or plastic provided adhesion challenges, but this is the same story with almost all climbing shoe rubber formulations.
I felt that the Zone’s knit upper also added to edging power, as it stretched and slipped on the skin much less than leather under load, particularly when it was hot. I’ve had sweat-soaked leather shoes stretch excessively under hard loads and the knit upper seemed resistant while also being more breathable and quick drying. This knit upper alone may be a selling point for those who continue to climb in hot and humid conditions such as we have in Central Texas.
Heel hooking security and power were excellent in the Zone; the deep heel cup was extremely secure and rubber covers most of the heel. This rubber was stiff enough to avoid rolling, and the extra-wide top closure strap allowed cranking down without discomfort. Toe hooking on moderately steep terrain was also good, with the 3D printed toe rand and printing on the knit upper generating enough friction for those angles.
The Black Diamond Zone is a bouldering or single-pitch sport-shoe for me; the way that I fit them, the downturn, and the shape of the toe box relegated the shoe to short stints. The enhanced performance of the knit upper also detracted from comfort over long durations; the limited-slip on the skin created hotspots during hours-long sessions. The Zone was also not a slab shoe; the attributes that made it such a great edging shoe naturally detracted from smearing sensitivity, comfort, and performance.
The Black Diamond Equipment Zone is a great performing option for steep (up to 40 degrees overhanging) bouldering and sport climbing on edges. The middle of the road stiffness and moderate downturn, with aggressive sizing, created confidence-inspiring edging power, while the Black Label Fuse rubber held strong on almost all features.
The engineered knit upper’s enhanced breathability, on-skin traction, resistance to stretching, and quick-drying ability are especially attractive to climbers motivated enough to battle in high heat and humidity.