Mad Rock Drone HV
Available Sizes: US Men’s 3-12 (including half sizes)
Reviewer’s Street Shoe Size: US Women’s 9 (roughly equivalent to a US Men’s 8)
Size Tested: US Men’s 7.5
- Rubber: 4.2 mm Science Friction 3.0 (sole); 2.4 mm Science Friction R2 (rand)
- Midsole: 1.8 mm polyester midsole (vegan friendly)
- 3D molded heel for precise heel hooks made with climbing grade rubber
- Arch Flex support
- Aggressive downturn and highly asymmetrical shape
- High Volume version: wider toe box, bigger heel cup, and a boxier profile
Test Locations: Flagstaff Mountain & Morrison, CO; Joe’s Valley & Moe’s Valley, UT
Days Tested: 14 outdoors; 30 indoors
The Drone is the newest aggressive shoe from Mad Rock, and Mad Rock emphasizes both its precision and comfort. The HV (high volume) and LW (low volume) versions of this shoe and its stretchy heel cup are designed to accommodate different feet, and Mad Rock says the Drone “fits like a glove.” They also say the Drone is designed for both sport climbing and bouldering. So just how comfortable, precise, and versatile is this shoe?
After spending over 40 days climbing in the Drone HV, it has become my go-to bouldering shoe. Here’s why.
As I noted, the Drone comes in both high-volume and low-volume fits. Before buying these shoes, I was surprised to find that, as a female with low-volume feet, I couldn’t even get the Drone LV on my foot when trying it on in a US Men’s 7.5 (the same size I ended up wearing in the HV version).
Mad Rock advertises the Drone HV as a high-volume shoe with a boxier fit than the LV version, but I still feel that the Drone HV is slim-fitting compared to other shoes. The Drone is designed to reportedly “fit like a glove,” and I actually found that to be true for my feet. Since I spend most of my time bouldering, I sized down to a US Men’s 7.5 for a performance fit (roughly a half-size down from my street shoe size).
The Drone HV fit my feet comfortably out of the box. Even with the smaller size I chose, there was practically no break-in period for me. The Drone uses a synthetic leather and the shoe hasn’t stretched by more than ⅓ of a size during my 40+ days in it, so I recommend purchasing the Drone HV in the size the works for you right out of the box.
While wearing the Drone HV, there is only the tiniest bit of dead space in the back of my heel, which is impressive. I’m very picky when choosing a new shoe, but I liked the fit of the Drone HV right away. I have a higher arch (I wear some sort of Superfeet insoles in my street shoes for arch support), so I really appreciate the tight, supportive arch area of the Drone HV. I was also pleasantly surprised by how soft the low-cut lining surrounding the heel of the Drone HV felt on my Achilles tendon and ankle bone.
When wearing the Drone HV for long days of bouldering, its aggressive shape combined with the tighter performance-fit I chose had me slipping off the heel during longer rest periods, but it was comfortable enough to wear between go’s. The interior of the Drone HV is soft and smooth — it feels comfortable to put on each time between climbs. Compared to the Evolv Nexxo and Scarpa Instinct VS, the Drone definitely has the most comfortable interior.
Construction & Features
The Drone features Mad Rock’s “3D heel,” which was first seen on the Mad Rock Shark. The 3D heel consists of a molded groove of rubber on the end of the heel to help maintain grip for tricky heel hooks. This technology can be a bit controversial because, while it does make heel hooking much more accessible on overhung and / or crimpy routes, it can come at the cost of grip on flatter surfaces.
That said, I have never felt more confident in my heel-hooking abilities on crimpy or edgy routes than when using the Drone HV. When I needed to heel on a small granule of granite or crimpy sandstone line, these shoes stuck like glue. Jabberwock Arete is a V6 in Moe’s Valley, Utah, that requires a series of right-foot heel hooks while traversing left on small crimps. The Drone HV allowed me to navigate this beta-intensive route more confidently than I could with the Evolv Nexxo, which has a more minimal rubber patch on the heel.
On the other hand, I have had some instances where the Drone’s 3D heel felt less secure than typical heel cups — most notably on flat, sloper-like surfaces. I first noticed it on Kill By Numbers, a V5 in Joe’s Valley where the mantle requires a solid right heel on a sloping edge. This seems to be because there is less surface area in contact with the rock, due to the rubber strip on the heel of the Drone. There is essentially a triangle of open space between the edge of the 3D heel and the normal heel on the Drone. This makes for less surface area and less friction when heel hooking on flat, slope-y surfaces, so I would potentially change to other shoes if I were on a project that required a solid heel hook on a flat surface.
Another useful feature of the Drone is the midsole, which is directly connected to the 3D heel for additional support throughout the foot.
I’m a big fan of the Drone’s velcro closure system. The velcro strap is quick, easy, and tightens the shoe in the right places for my feet. The strap is slightly lower on the Drone HV compared to the strap on the Five Ten Hiangle, and I found the Drone HV to be a little easier to get on and off while still providing an equally secure fit. The Drone also has two different patches where you can attach the strap, which helps when trying to tighten your shoes differently for a variety of moves.
Rubber & Stiffness
The Drone uses Mad Rock’s 2.4 mm Science Friction R2 rubber in the rand and 4.2 mm Science Friction 3.0 rubber in the rest of the sole. The Drone’s sole feels thin and sensitive while climbing. The shoe lets me easily toe-in on small foot chips and the rubber offers impressive grip on both plastic and real rock. Compared to the Evolv Nexxo’s TRAX rubber, I feel more secure when putting more of my weight into toe hooks and heel hooks while using the Drone HV.
The Drone features a 1.8 mm polyester midsole. Mad Rock rates the stiffness of the Drone as “Medium,” and I think that’s pretty accurate. The Drone is more flexible than the Evolv Shaman or Five Ten Hiangle, yet stiffer than the Five Ten Team or Scarpa Drago. Compared to Mad Rock’s other aggressive shoes, the Drone falls right in the middle — softer than the Redline, but stiffer than the Shark or Lotus.
Sensitivity and Performance
Overall, the Drone has made me feel more precise in my footwork. The shoe’s rubber is just sensitive enough to allow me to feel small foot chips (even on overhung routes), and I think this is also in part due to the highly asymmetrical and aggressive shape of the shoe. On the other hand, the Drone is still stiff enough to power off of small footholds. I would imagine that the Drone would also perform very well on vertical or overhung sport routes, just as the La Sportiva Solution does, though I haven’t spent much time sport-climbing in the Drone. The Drone is more sensitive and less bulky overall than the Solution, and the Drone feels similar in terms of sensitivity / performance to the original Five Ten Hiangle (the new Hiangle is slightly stiffer and therefore feels a bit more different).
The closest competitors to the Drone are the La Sportiva Solution, Five Ten Hiangle, and Evolv Nexxo, and at $129 USD, the Drone is less expensive than all of them. That’s $20 cheaper than the Nexxo, $35 less than the Hiangle, and $50 less than the Solution. In other words, the Drone is surprisingly affordable and comfortable given its high-performance nature.
Compared to other shoes in its category, the Drone has held up pretty well to normal wear and tear over the last three months. The tips of the toes of the Drone HV are now quite rounded, but it hasn’t significantly affected its edging abilities on small foot chips, and the Science Friction rubber has maintained its stickiness. This amount of wear is what I’d expect given how much I’ve been wearing the Drone HV, especially since much of that time was spent on coarse sandstone.
Compared to other shoes with a velcro closure system (e.g., La Sportiva Solution and Evolv Nexxo), the velcro on the Drone has held up just fine.
Another important factor for me was the tongue of the Drone, which is fairly thin and designed to offer increased breathability. But unlike the Nexxo’s similarly thin tongue, the Drone’s tongue hasn’t developed “bacon-neck” (i.e., stretched and curled up like cooked bacon), therefore making it feel more secure, even after extended use.
After spending a lot of time climbing in it, I’ve come to really love the Mad Rock Drone, and think it’s a great option for technical bouldering. It allows for precise footwork and secure heel hooking on tricky problems, though it doesn’t heel-hook quite as well on very flat surfaces compared to shoes with more traditional heels. In both indoor competition climbing and outdoor bouldering, the Drone HV has excelled.
Since I first tried on the Drone HV, they’ve been quite comfortable for such a high-performance shoe, and have excelled on a wide variety of boulder problems. If you’re looking for a shoe for long, slabby or vertical sport and trad routes, the Drone is not the best choice. But for many boulderers and sport climbers looking for an aggressive, precise shoe, the Drone is an excellent option.