Gear Review: SFT Custom Climbing Shoes

Editor’s note: While our experience with SFT Climbing’s custom shoes was fantastic, SFT is shutting its doors as of fall 2016.¬†However, the SFT website remains live as a resource for those interested in custom shoes.


I’ll be honest: at first, I was skeptical about the idea of “custom” climbing shoes. For one, they carry a heftier price tag, and two,¬†I wondered,

why would I need a custom shoe, when I’ve relied on La Sportiva and Five Ten as my go-to brands for so long?

And then I started to think more about it …

Since 2012, I’ve gone (more like shredded) through:

  • 4 pairs of La Sportiva Miura Laces (2 still wearable),
  • 2 pairs of Miura VS,
  • 1 pair of Pythons,
  • 1 pair of Tarantulaces,
  • 2 pairs of Five Ten Rogues,
  • 1¬†pair of Moccasyms,
  • 1 pair of Blackwings,
  • 1¬†pair of Tenaya Tarifas (still wearable).

That’s 13 pairs of climbing shoes!

8JViOuK

Admittedly, I’m probably forgetting a pair or two, but that selection alone adds up to about $1865 MSRP … easily a gangster climbing trip or two lost to shoe oblivion. Thankfully for my meager wallet, I didn’t pay full retail for all of those, but regardless, that’s¬†a big chunk of money spent on gear‚ÄĒespecially when they don’t fit perfectly.

I promise I’m not some climbing shoe hoarder who wears a different shoe for every day of the week. I just climb frequently and perhaps like you, have feet that don’t 100% fit into standard shoes. And it’s not for a lack of “correct sizing.”

I have feet that are both narrow and wide. I need a skinnier and narrower midsole, but also a wider toe box (to fit my strangely long toes). Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, that climbing shoe doesn’t exist on the market. The result? I’ve never experienced an optimized level of performance and comfort, which means I’ve endured a lot of pain and busted through the rubber of almost every shoe I own. I wouldn’t wear a pair of pants that don’t fit me¬†well, so why would I settle for shoes that don’t fit right?

If you find yourself in a similar boat, your logic might lead you to ask:

Why wouldn’t¬†I try custom climbing shoes?

 

Trying out custom shoes with SFT Climbing

I met California-based SFT Climbing owner, Laura Shumaker (yes, the name is pretty ironic), a few years ago when she was experimenting with her processes for creating custom climbing shoes. She even shared a bit about her learning experience on Moja Gear earlier this year.

Now, Laura has developed a remarkable digital manufacturing approach that allows climbers to create their dream shoe: one that fits your preferred fit, style of climbing, and most importantly, precise dimensions of your foot.

Here’s a quick overview of their manufacturing process:

This year, Laura gave me a chance to try out my very own pair of her custom shoes; an opportunity I was eager to jump at. Stoked, I started plotting out the shoe of my dreams …

Having fallen deeply in love with wonderful world of multi-pitch trad climbing‚ÄĒloaded with a variety of cracks,¬†slick slabs, and very long days on rock‚ÄĒI knew I wanted a shoe that would provide epic security in jams, superb smearing power, and comfort that would allow me to focus on my climbing instead of dying to take them off at every belay. In many people’s minds, the shoe that comes to mind is La Sportiva’s TC Pro; however, after demo-ing them myself, the fit failed to meet my nonstandard foot shape and led me to the same pain I’d become accustomed to. Still, they gave me a structure from which to base the shoe I envisioned.

So, I gave Laura the mission to create the ultimate all-day trad shoe. And by golly, she (a boulderer!) did it.

 

SFT custom shoe ordering process

SFT climbing shoes

Placing my order with SFT Climbing was extremely easy. First, you fill out a simple form that asks you to select a few specifications, including:

  • flat (all-day) or aggressive shoes,
  • preferred closure¬†system,
    • slipper/velcro hybrid
    • velcro
    • lace-ups
  • shoe color,
  • sole rubber,
    • Basically every option of Vibram and Stealth that exists
  • and last fit
    • See image below

sft_last_fit_comfort-01_2048x2048

You even have an opportunity to provide notes and specific requests for your shoes, which SFT will then follow up with you about.

You then take a few photos of your feet at different angles, as outlined here, and upload them with your order. This allows Laura and her team to create shoes that are not based on a generic size, but rather your true foot size and shape.

Here’s what my order looked like:

  • Flat shoes
  • Closure system: Slipper/velcro hybrid
  • Color: Teal
  • Sole rubber: 5.10 Stealth C4
  • Last fit: Toes gently curled (I toiled over this one for a while)

SFT confirmed my order and Laura was in contact with me throughout the entire course of the few short weeks it took to have them designed, created, and shipped to my door.

I even threw in two last-minute requests: one to see if the closure system could be optimized for cracks, and later, whether ankle protection (such as with the TC Pros) was an optional add-on. Laura promptly shared a few options, including a drawn sketch for how we could optimize the closure system for the cracks/trad terrain I was aiming for.

A sketch of the closure system she suggested:

IMG_1522-min

SFT had clearly spent time doing their own research into the best approach, and sure enough, ensured that all of my requests were met. This customer service alone really made me appreciate the entire custom ordering process.

I was even more reassured by the accuracy of my foot dimensions when they gave me an opportunity to try out a new scanning app they were testing, which creates 3d modeling of your feet. They used these scans to compare and confirm the initial digital measurements they had made.

After finalizing the last and shoe pattern, Laura contacted me with a status update that they had been sewn, and included images of the shoes throughout the process; an extra step of engagement that I really appreciated on the customer end.

SFT climbing shoe
SFT climbing shoe
SFT climbing shoe

 

Putting my custom SFT shoes to the test

After about 3 weeks, my custom pair made its way to my doorstep.¬†Eagerly, I opened the box to unveil SFT’s all-day crack/trad shoe designed for my feet.

First impressions

Upon pulling my shoes out of the box, the first thing that caught my eye was the unique closure system and shape of the shoe. I’d never seen a slipper/velcro combo designed in this way, and I appreciated that they offered a unique, minimal, easy on-off system, that I could still tighten around my foot.

Secondly, what jumped out was the¬†amount of rubber on the top part of the¬†shoe; definitely much more than I’d seen on any others, which while surely makes the shoes look a bit silly and flipper-like, was something I saw as a potential advantage for foot jams.

IMG_6295-min
A look at my shoes next to some TC Pros … lots of rubber!

Next, I slipped on the shoes, immediately appreciative of the soft suede material and wool lining on the ankle protection. I truly couldn’t believe how perfectly they fit my foot. No pain, whatsoever. Dancing around my kitchen, I pointed my toes and climbed countertops, trying out their mobility and sensitivity.

Fortunately, I was planning a trip up¬†Freeblast¬†on El Cap that weekend, which would give me a chance to really substantiate whether or not SFT had truly built the ultimate trad shoe for me … and while I wouldn’t ordinarily take a pair of shoes I’ve never worn up 10 pitches of climbing, I figured it would be a true test of their performance ability.

 

A review of their performance on real rock

Since those 10 pitches on El Cap, another dozen or so in the Verdon Gorge, and ample long days on Sierra granite in the last few months, I can honestly say these shoes surpassed my expectations in every way.

6 pitches or so up, and ...
6 pitches or so up, and …
NO PAIN!
NO PAIN!

Importantly to reiterate, I intended to create a specific shoe: one aimed primarily for all-day trad/crack climbing, so I can’t objectively speak to the performance of other custom shoe creations.¬†For my purposes, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not only do these shoes feel like plugging a bomber cam when I’m slotting my feet into cracks (thanks to the ample rubber on both sides), but their stiff and flat sole feels super solid when edging on small holds and foot chips.

Who needs a cam, when you got a jam? And yes, I'm climbing with a #11 hex ...
Who needs a cam, when you got a jam? And yes, I’m climbing with a #11 hex …

I’ve also been impressed with the confidence they inspire when smearing on polished granite … something I value dearly when trying not to epic on runout slab. I attribute this quality to the sheer amount of C4 Stealth rubber on these bad boys, which makes standing on the soles of your feet feel effortless.

Bring on the slab!
Bring on the slab!

As I’m still acclimating to what seems like a larger toe box area, I can definitely see that their profile would perform poorly on small pockets and thin finger cracks; however, I would plan to wear my Miuras for climbing on this type of terrain anyways.

A final note regarding comfort: these are hands down the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn in my life, and this is coming from someone who can’t wait to rip their shoes off at the top of every pitch. The truly personalized sizing keeps your toes from aching, the suede feels soft against your skin, and your feet don’t reek after an entire day in them. Genuinely, I can wear this from bottom to top of a long route‚ÄĒand even scamper around the summit‚ÄĒbefore I even consider a need to take them off of my feet. This quality alone deserves 5 stars in my book.

Comfortably chillin' in my dream trad shoes.
Comfortably chillin’ in my dream trad shoes.

 

Final thoughts

If your feet are like mine, and in some way do not conform to mass manufactured climbing brand standards, then I highly recommend that you consider trying to create your dream shoe with SFT Climbing. While the $350 or so price tag might seem expensive to flesh out all at once, consider the savings you can use towards an epic climbing trip¬†when you actually have a shoe to wear that will last … largely because it fits your feet right. Moreover, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better customer service experience anywhere else when it comes to buying climbing shoes.

From my experience I can say with the utmost confidence that SFT Climbing will work with you one-on-one to develop the shoe you want: whether that’s an all-day trad shoe like mine, an ultra aggressive shoe for bouldering or steep sport climbing, or something else completely.

Tired but stoked after my first adventure in these shoes ... months later, I still love them.
Tired but stoked after my first adventure in these shoes … months later, I still love them.

 

Ready to give custom shoes a try?

Click here to see more details and place your order directly with Laura of SFT Climbing.

 

Further reading

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