SCARPA Instinct VS
Stated Weight: 215 grams per shoe (size 40)
Blister’s Measured Weight: 230 grams (size 40)
Sizes: 36 – 45 (w/ half sizes)
Size Tested: 45
Sole: XS Edge 3 mm
My Feett: Size 13 street shoe, medium-volume, low arch, neutral gait
Locations Tested: Clear Creek Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Shelf Road, Devils head, CO; Ten Sleep Canyon, WY.
Days Tested: 20
The Instinct VS is the Velcro offering from SCARPA’s Instinct line, an aggressive set of shoes that includes velcro, slipper, and lace-up models. The Instinct VS has all the features of an aggressive shoe: downturn through the toe, asymmetric shape, and a generous toe cap for all manner of technical toe hooks. I came away from a season of climbing in the Instinct VS with a very positive impression of the shoe, but the scope of my opinion is slightly limited. Let me explain…
Sizing & Fit
As with the other aggressive shoes in SCARPA’s arsenal (such as the Boostic, Mago, etc.), the Instinct VS comes in half sizes up to 45, which is a very tight squeeze for my feet, since I typically wear a size 13 street shoe (~47 in Euro sizing). Shoes in SCARPA’s other lines, such as the Vapor, can be found in sizes up to 46. For reference, the SCARPA Vapor V, a shoe which I love for vertical sport climbing, was initially tight in a size 46, though slowly loosened up a generous half size.
Given my experience with the Vapor V, what made me take a crack at the size 45 Instinct VS? First, the Instinct has earned a solid reputation on hard sport and steep boulders, and I wanted to find out for myself if this was deserved. More importantly, if you’re going to bind your feet for high performance pitches or problems, the Instinct VS is the sort of shoe to do it in – it’s aggressive, powerful, and meant for short stretches of limit climbing rather than all-day comfort. Finally, the Instinct VS has a yellow-orange slingshot-type heel rand that wraps around under the midsole of the shoe, much like that of the La Sportiva Solution. This design means that the Instinct does not have one continuous bed of rubber on the sole, and I hoped that its separated sole would give me a little more stretch to fit in the shoe.
Because of the downsizing I signed up for, the break-in period in the Instinct VS was predictably brutal. I was able to get a full size stretch from the shoe (likely because they were so tight to begin with); but a better, more proper initial fit would probably only grant a half size of stretch. Even though I was doomed for some increased discomfort in breaking in the shoe, in general the Instinct VS is a relatively low-volume shoe, and not what you’d call comfortable. After a pitch of climbing in them, I’m psyched to get them off.
In a perfect world, I’d wear the shoe in a 46, so I would recommend sizing them snug, or even tight, but I don’t think you need to foot-bind by jumping down two sizes, as I did. The Instinct VS has enough support built into the shape and construction of the shoe that I don’t imagine you’d get much more performance by sizing down two full sizes, and you will be notably less comfortable.
One last thought on sizing: if you’re used to La Sportiva shoes, SCARPA and Sportiva have slightly different interpretations of the sizing scale: a 45 in La Sportiva is typically larger than a 45 in SCARPA. Case in point, I wear the Sportiva Katana Lace comfortably in a size 46, whereas the SCARPA Vapor V, also size 46, is snug enough that I take them off after each pitch. I’m also going to take this opportunity to beg SCARPA to start making their performance shoes in at least a size 46!
Ok, enough about sizing.
The Instinct VS is outfitted with XS Edge rubber which, as I’ll explain, helps it to edge very well. The velcro portion of the Instinct VS is almost superfluous. The shoe fits much like a slipper, and the velcro simply snugs down the very top of the upper, just below the ankle. There’s a lot of adjustability in the closure system, but the shoe has so little dead space that large adjustments aren’t needed. This is wonderful on boulders and bouldery sport routes; even heel hooks are precise and powerful.
On the topic of hooks, I should mention that I am a roped climber first and a boulderer second. My experience toe hooking in the Instinct VS was a positive one, but extremely technical toe hooking doesn’t generally define the type of climbing I do. The best I can do would be to say that the few toe hooks the Instinct VS did see gave me no reason to doubt their ability in this regard.
Ultimately, the Instinct VS is a niche shoe that has a lot to offer when it comes to both technical face climbing and boulders. The downturned toe and asymmetrical design are extremely effective at harnessing the power of your footwork and focusing in on the front and inside edge of your big toe. This is where the rubber meets the rock for most face-climbing moves, and the Instinct VS makes no sacrifices here; for climbing up crisp edges or pockets, the Instinct VS is the most precise shoe I’ve ever worn. On bolted routes at Shelf Road or Ten Sleep (both limestone), the Instinct stands on vanishingly small edges with incredible confidence.
The Instinct VS also has a hook-like feel to them, which was especially evident in accessing the small pockets that typify limestone. In fact, the Instinct VS absolutely slays limestone sport climbing. It is sensitive enough to finesse those small chips, but not quite as sensitive as the Vapor V or La Sportiva Miura Lace. In my experience, the Instinct VS’s sensitivity is on par with the La Sportiva Miura VS’s. It’s relatively sensitive toe and precise shape make the Instinct VS ideal for working up edges and pockets.
Boulder Canyon (granite), Clear Creek Canyon (mostly granitic metamorphoses such as gneiss and schist) put the Instinct VS in slightly more complicated terrain. On thin edges or even small crystalline inclusions in the stone, the Instinct VS holds its own. But on slabby sections of rock or sloping edges that prompt you to drop your heel and maximize contact with the rock, the Instinct VS isn’t as strong. In fact, the shoe’s aggressive shape occasionally made it feel like I was standing on an edge even on larger ledges; they sometimes feel like blades in this regard. In this arena, the Instinct VS falls slightly behind more versatile shoes like the La Sportiva Miura Lace or SCARPA Vapor V.
While we’re on slabs and slopers, it should go without saying that the Instinct VS is not ideal for slabs, and is downright poor for cracks. Edging may very well get you up many a slab climb, but without the ability to smear effectively, aggressively-shaped shoes like the Instinct VS will always be inferior to flatter, stiffer shoes like the Sportiva TC Pro on sustained slabs. As far as cracks go, curled toes and cracks just don’t mix. I wouldn’t bring my downsized pair of Instincts to Indian Creek for all the whiskey in Ireland. If you’re looking to jam cracks, stop reading right here and check out the La Sportiva Katana Lace and TC Pro, or Five Ten Moccasym or Stonelands. (And to be clear, SCARPA hasn’t claimed the Instinct will be strong in these areas, so this is more a point of information than it is a criticism.)
The SCARPA Instinct VS is a specialist’s weapon that excels at precision climbing on vertical and steep terrain. If you’re looking to advance your bouldering or technical face climbing, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a shoe better fit for the job than the Instinct VS.