Scarpa Instinct VS ReviewJuly 14, 2013
- High-tension vacuum fit; best heel of the Instincts
- Precise, hypersensitive toe
- Powerful merger of keen edging and aggressive grabbing
- Protective, enlarged toe-hooking patch
- Tongue with pull-tab helps seat foot deep in shoe
- Longest break-in of the Instincts: smearing is initially clunky
- Bi-Tension rand and neoprene lining are weak at heel pull-tabs
- Fit is a tad aggressive for longer, slabbier pitches
A superb, hyper-precise, form-fitting, powerful shoe for high-end face, trad, and steep climbing, and bouldering/gym climbing. The Instinct VS has the best heel-hooking heel and toe-scumming patch in the Instinct family, as well as the most aggressive fit (read: least stretch); the elastic tongue with pull-tab lets you worm deep into the toebox, eliminating dead space, while the broad single Velcro closure is comfortable but effective for tweaking fit.
Downturned single-velcro-closure slipper-like performance shoe in the Instinct line with an asymmetrical last. The Instinct VS comes with a “two-part” 3mm Vibram XS Edge sole, bisected at the arch by the orange Bi-Tension rand.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that the two previous Scarpa Instincts, the slipper (Instinct S) and the lace-up (Instinct), have become staples in my cragging pack, both for redpoints plus all-around use. I have wide, high-volume feet, thus often have trouble finding vacuum-fit shoes that fit me laterally and top-to-bottom but also seat my toes fully forward without having to size up, thus sacrificing precision. I was psyched to see that Scarpa had added a Velcro shoe to the Instinct line, with a few design tweaks that make it perhaps the most performance oriented of the trio: with its sporty black-and-orange color theme and impeccable Italian craftsmanship, this is a true beauty of a rock shoe.
The first thing I noted about the VS was that it holds a mean edge, especially for a Velcro boot. The rigid Flexan midsole is partially to thank (it thwocks when you knock on the sole), as is the XS Edge rubber, a solid, hardwearing compound. But mainly, what I noticed, be it on gym jibs, sandstone micros, or granite credit cards, was that the shoe so aggressively drives you down onto on your big toe that you can’t help but dime-edge…on everything, a similar feel to the lace-up but with even more power.
Unlike the other two Instincts, the VS has a Bi-Tension rand—a band of orange rubber that ties in from the forefoot (beneath the outsole), around the arch (where it splits the sole), and then back up over the heel, wrapping just beneath the pull tabs. The down-and-in force it imparted reminded me of the remarkable big-toe “turbo charge” I felt the first time I wore Scarpa’s Boosters. It’s a power position that takes some acclimatization, but the advantages—notably, heightened feel and precision—more than make up for any apprenticeship. I never felt like my big toe was going to slip off an edge, no matter how micro. It dug in and stayed put.
The shoes came to smear quite ably, but be warned that it takes a few days of concerted break-in, given their aforementioned proclivity for edging. At first, I worried if I would ever get there, given how little the VS’s stretch thanks to their Lorica (synthetic leather) uppers, but they soon began to loosen up laterally and front-to-back, replacing that initial stiffness/clunkiness with reliable smearing performance. Ergo, don’t take them out on your project until after a few days climbing in them.
I climb like the old-school climber that I am, focusing on digging in over my big toe via highstep rockovers, so the pointy but-not-too-pointy, highly sensitive VS was right on par. At the same time, while the VS’s are advertised as being only “moderately downturned,” this felt only partially true due to the underfoot ratcheting from the Bi-Tension Rand, which places your foot in a curled grabbing position typical of a more aggressive downcamber (e.g., the Boostic or La Sportiva’s Futura). Anyway, no complaints: they grabbed on the steeps like fresh tires on a NASCAR track, where I confidently used almost a hybrid grab-edging technique.
This is the one arena in which the VS’s improve upon their predecessors—not that the other Instincts are “bad” at hooking or scumming, because they aren’t. Only that the VS’s are better. First of all, Scarpa has built up the heel, bringing the heel rand clear up to the pull-tabs under the Bi-Tension Rand, versus the half-heel rand of the other models. This plus the vacuum fit spelled precise, slosh-free hooking, which I noted on a hot-day ascent of a slippery granite arête that would have been miserable in a lesser shoe. Meanwhile, they’ve also beefed up the toe-scumming patch to encompass nearly the entire forefoot and added hooking ridges. This is what a toe-scumming patch should be: Big, for steep-rock jessery like undercling toe scums, heel-toes, and bicycle moves.
The fit and closure are somewhat of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that the fit is killer, with the classic poofing you want when slipping into a high-end shoe. The second part of the good news is that the broad velcro closure and elastic tongue with oversized pull-tab let me tweak fit and augur my feet way, way, way into the toebox to eliminate dead space and settle/spread the uppers comfortably: this techno tongue is a step forward in shoe design. The shoes also felt nice and light on the feet.
The bad news is that the VS’s seemed to check in a quarter or half-size below my other Instincts, so sizing might be tricky. You should also keep in mind that the shoes won’t stretch much, if at all, a bonus for retaining the performance feel but also, as I started to notice, a possible detractor on long, vertical pitches, where such a sustained aggressive fit can lead to cramping.
The other bad news is that during break-in, with two pairs in a row I, while pulling them off, managed to split a shoe between the heel pull-tabs, in one case down to the bartack along the Neoprene lining, in the other through that lining and out into the Bi-Tension rand. A bit of a bummer, as after the first split I deliberately tried to be gentler, unrolling the shoe off my foot, and still experienced this issue—though it could also be due to the smaller sizing. Anyhow, I was able to give my shoes new life with a quick patch at the local resoler, with no decline in performance. If sized for redpointing, the VS is not a quick easy-on/easy-off shoe like the slipper, which is also something to keep in mind.
Where I’d Use Them
High-end redpoints and onsights (sport and trad) from vertical to wildly overhanging: e.g., Rifle, Eldorado Canyon, Red River Gorge, Red Rocks, steeper stuff at Smith Rock, etc. Also great for bouldering and gym climbing, though you may want to set them aside as a redpoint shoe.