Oboz Valhalla Shoes: Climber Inspired, But Not Approved

Posted on: May 13, 2011


MSRP: $100

If you haven't heard of Oboz, you're not alone. The four-year-old company, founded and based in Bozeman, is still far from a recognized industry brand. But with an extensive lineup of hiking, trail-running and multisport shoes, Oboz is a company that you're apt to start seeing more of. I am always curious to investigate new brands, and as a climber my first question about a pair of shoes is always "Do they address my hiking, scrambling and occasional free soloing needs?" After putting their "climber-inspired" Valhalla model through their paces across the American West, the answer, at least for me and I think most other climbers, is "yes."

The engineering of outdoor gear requires compromise. Concessions must be made in selecting from a variety of opposing features: construction can be ultralight and fragile, or heavy and durable; fabric can be waterproof or it can be breathe well; soles can be stiff for standing on small edges, or flexible so they move with your feet on long hikes. Finding a happy medium is nearly impossible.

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The Valhalla does an admirable job of balancing the contradictory demands of climbers, but this also means they don't stand out in a single area. However, that didn't stop them from being my preferred shoes on trips with a bit of everything.

During long days in the Rockies I can expect a few things: hiking several miles, scrambling on loose talus or snow and carrying my approach shoes with my harness. The Valhallas never disappoint on these excursions into the Colorado alpine. While they don't edge or climb as well as the stiff La Sportiva Boulder Xs or Five Ten Guide Tennies, frankly, I don't expect them to. They aren't climbing shoes you can walk in; they are walking shoes designed for off-trail terrain. The Valhalla's lighter, breathable design is more comfortable for hiking in and out from the climb than the stiff, low-profile shoes I want on short, technical approaches. But this also means they don't do well on fifth-class terrain, despite being Oboz's stiffest shoe.

The proprietary carbon rubber sole sticks to low-angle slabs and handles the odd section of boulder-hopping better than a trail runner or traditional hiking shoe. But I find myself changing into my climbing shoes on the ground, where I might have kept wearing proper approach shoes a little longer. However, clipping them onto my harness is easy with the wide loop of webbing on the heel. And at less than two pounds per pair, I can't use the shoes dangling from my gear loop as an excuse for flailing on the crux pitch.

Oboz touts the Valhalla's Teton Outsole pattern as having exceptional traction and durability, with features like "strategically placed propulsion and breaking lugs" and a nylon shank to "control lateral and tortional flexing." Honestly, I haven't noticed a distinct advantage in the Valhalla's or any other shoe's underfoot pattern.

Of note is the Valhalla's more formal and more normal looking suede exterior, as compared to the attention-getting design of many approach shoes on the market. Running late after a day in Eldorado Canyon, I could keep these on while waiting tables without getting noticed for "novelty" footwear.

I was initially nervous about the construction of the Valhallas. However, after months of trudging through shifting talus in Utah and fighting desert flora in Nevada's Red Rock canyons, the stitches are still holding amid negligible signs of wear.

For all-day, on-trail approaches, I still prefer a well-used pair of running shoes. And for short, technical approaches and scrambles on the lower end of the fifth-class spectrum, climbers will likely benefit from a stiffer shoe. But if you want something to handle the hike, hang from your harness and still stick to slabs on the sketchy descent, Oboz's Valhalla is a slick package.

Pros: no glaring flaws; not flashy; very comfortable for walking.

Cons: don't climb well; breathable side panels allow water and snow to soak in.

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