Size Tested: 6
Sole: HF™ rubber
My Foot: Average shape, medium arch, but small
Climber Type: Primarily sport and traditional climbing, some bouldering
Time tested: Three months over the course of a year
Test Locations: Joe’s Valley and Big Bend, UT; Red River Gorge, KY; Clear Creek Canyon and Shelf Road, CO
Foot binding is a standard practice among rock climbers. According to traditional lore, it makes one climb harder. Some claim that it improves footwork; others claim that it makes feet stickier. At the very least, downward curled toes are immobilized toes, which helps leverage more of the foot over small holds.
Personally, I prefer to avoid this painful technique altogether, but these purported benefits were just too tempting. So I thought I’d give the Five Ten Women’s Blackwings a try. After all, I had a trip lined up to the mecca of overhanging, pocketed climbs (Red River Gorge, KY), and what better place for a downturned, aggressive shoe?
Many of my climbing friends stick to other popular aggressive shoes, like the La Sportiva Solution, but the Blackwing seems to fill a slightly alternative role. They are a strictly high-angle, performance shoe, but unlike the Solution or Evolv Shaman, the Blackwing provides an extremely slim profile and an almost paper-like toe box, especially right underneath the front of the toes. I found this to be of great benefit, although it did take some time to get used to the extreme sensitivity. It allowed me to feel even slight variations in the rock, but also meant that inaccurate foot placements occasionally hurt.
Basically, when being klutzy, the minimal protection that the Blackwings provided was just that—minimal—and stubbing toes was a much more painful ordeal than in other, beefier aggressive shoes. But otherwise, this thin, slipper-like feel also makes them very comfortable (relatively speaking) for such an aggressive shoe. They simply stretched to my feet much more easily and quickly than I would have expected, particularly in the toe box area.
The Blackwings have just enough give to them that they conform to my feet every time I wear them, something that decreases break-in time. Normally I’m a big baby about foot pain, but it only took me about two weeks of moderate climbing to feel comfortable in the Blackwings.
The stretch factor is also beneficial for gym climbers and boulderers who frequently take off their shoes in between climbs. Although I found the Blackwings comfortable enough that I didn’t need to take them off between every climb, when I did take them off, I didn’t have to undergo extreme pain every time I put them back on.
However, this does mean that within a climbing session, the shoes will loosen just a little, but I found that any unwanted room could easily be removed by cinching the Velcro straps a bit tighter. I did not find this to influence my climbing in the slightest.
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