I admit, I’ve been slow to catch up to the latest innovations in climbing shoes. I attribute that to a poor-boy philosophy of making do with whatever is most available.
My first climbing shoes were a pair of hand-me-down EBs from the early 1980s (high-tops with rigid, board-lasted soles). My second pair was a modern entry-level shoe that I bought with lawn-mowing money circa 1996, and I wore them until the soles blew out. I didn’t discover the wonders of downturned shoes for overhanging rock until 2007. At that point I’d been climbing exclusively in La Sportiva Mythos for years. I wore those soft, sock-like shoes everywhere from granite slabs to steep limestone sport routes. They were comfortable, and I figured if I could redpoint 5.13a with them, they were good enough. I instantly advanced two letter grades when I finally bought a pair of mid-level sport shoes with a cambered toe; my toes suddenly felt like talons that could actively pull on the smallest edges and dimples in the rock, as opposed to merely standing on them.
Being the penny-pincher that I am, however, I only recently came to realize why so many of my climbing partners have been rocking the La Sportiva Testarossa for the last 17 years. I get it now!
The Testarossas are among the more expensive shoes on the market, but you get what you pay for. They were an excellent fit immediately out of the box. The shoes were broken in within just two or three pitches of climbing. All the other shoes I’ve used have required at least a few days to break in.
The biggest update for the 2019 Testarossa model is the heel cup. The heel cups of previous models were soft and baggy, with very little rubber on them. The new heel cup is completely covered with a hard rubber. This allows better grip when heel hooking and the shoe is less likely to slip off the foot.
Sportiva also added a wee bit more rubber over the big toe to improve toe-hooking performance. The Testarossas are still not ideal for toe hooking, however. They have a more rigid downturn than some softer shoes and the top of the shoe is mostly covered in laces, so the core design doesn’t lend itself to this type of use.
Speaking of the laces, the Testarossa’s lacing system is a bit more involved than most shoes. It takes a while to thread the laces through all the holes and tighten them down. Tedious as this may be, it does allow you to tweak the fit. And not all the holes need to be threaded. It can even be optimal to tie the shoes off farther down on the foot, which enables you to drop your heels more easily–something I would recommend trying if you’re climbing slabbier rock.
I love the shoes for overhanging and gently overhanging terrain. When things start to slab out, with rock that is vertical or less than vertical, I prefer other shoes. This is because the downturned shape starts to work against me at these angles. If I stand up too far up on my tiptoes the shoe sometimes slides off the hold, whereas a softer or more neutral shoe can better allow this type of bend in the foot. That said, I have a partner who is a much better sport climber than I am and he utilizes the Testarossas quite well on slabby rock.
Maybe the reason I waited so long to try the La Sportiva Testarossas was to put off the inevitable–my budget is going to take a hit in the years to come, because I don’t think I can give these shoes up now that I know what they offer. Ouch, my wallet!
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz will never be able to own too many climbing shoes. It’s possible that he has more in common with the character of Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City” than he likes to admit.
New rigid heel cup improves heel-hook performance
Cambered toe improves precision and power on small holds and overhanging rock
Soft midsole allows for articulation while the rest of shoe retains shape
Lacing is more involved than most other shoes but allows better fit
Bi-Lateral stretch technology (a mix of lorica and leather) allows some stretch in the shoe but not too much
3mm Vibram XS Grip2 sole rivals the time-tested Stealth C4 rubber and has more durability
Shoes break-in quickly
Not a great shoe for toe hooking
Not the best shoe for slab climbing