After my first experience of climbing in ill fitting rental shoes I pretty much decided right away that I needed my own pair. Not only could I choose a fit that would work for my feet but I would also feel happier wearing a shoe that only my own sweaty feet (excuse me) have been stuck in. For a totally new climber, trying on a bunch of climbing shoes can be torture. Every single one of them felt more and more uncomfortable and eventually my decision was based on looks and practicality rather than "comfort". As a disclaimer, I will be using the term comfort in relation to climbing shoes very loosely as, to be fair, that is an oxymoron.
Anyway, aside from the comfort or lack thereof, I knew I wanted a pair of shoes that had a velcro closure as my fingers had felt really battered after my first couple of climbing sessions and tying laces just seemed like too much of a hassle. So, for my first climbing shoe I purchased a pair of Red Chili Spirit Lady VCR.
As I said, these shoes feature a velcro style hook and loop closure. The closure is made up of three straps, all facing the same direction (outwards) which enable you to adjust the pressure and size to your liking. Each strap has a little rubber end that is easy to grab and adjust. A velcro closure will probably never give you as much ability to fine tune as a lace closure but it is also very fast to take off and put back on. I have enjoyed having this style of closure but found the straps to be slightly too long which, paired with the fact that dirt will collect in the closure, can cause the ends to stick off. While this doesn't affect fit, it does look a bit funny, I find.
Under the straps and next to the foot is a twin tongue that overlaps. This is cushioned and the comfort is increased due to the overlapping of the two sides. The benefit of having a twin tongue is that the opening of the shoe is nice and big, giving you more space to slide your foot into the shoe. Again, a very welcome feature in a beginner's climber shoe.
The last obvious feature is the two loops at the top of the heel. These are - as is the case with a lot of climbing shoes - designed to give you a bit of leverage when putting the shoes on. Simply hold onto these loops and you will be able to pull the back of the shoe over your foot.
The Spirit Lady has a leather footbed, synthetic upper and Impact Zone EVA cushioning under the heel. The rubber is 4,2 mm worth of Red Chili RX 2 rubber. The leather is for comfort and nonslip positioning of the foot. This worked fine for me in the first few months but as the shoe has stretched a fair amount I find that I slide around quite a lot in them these days. The synthetic rubber is used to minimise the aforementioned stretching but won't completely stop this.
I've found that after about a year of wearing these shoes the rubber has retained most of its shape and the little edge that the shoe did have is only moderately worn. Whether it is because of the EVA cushioning or the flat shape of the sole, falling and landing on these shoes has never been an issue for me. Personally, I prefer climbing shoes with a Vibram sole as I find them to be even grippier, but these did the job okay.
I don't want to comment too much on the fit of this shoe as I found it extremely important to try on shoes for fit yourself. However, the Spirit Lady VCR has a women's specific fit and is designed to fit flat and neutral feet. On their website, Red Chili also state that this shoe's fit is good for Morton toes, where the second toe is longer than the first one. I have found that the heel cup sat nice and tight around my foot, increasing the feeling of stability in this shoe.
In terms of the shoe size, I normally fit a UK 6.5 (EU 40 and US 8.5) and bought these shoes in a UK 5.5 (EUR 38.5). Red chili recommend 1.5 sizes down for an extremely tight fit so mine are supposed to be quite tight. This was the case for a good handful of climbs but I found these shoes to quickly stretch a fair amount. Today, I feel like I am sliding around in the shoes and I can move my toes inside the shoes more than I am comfortable with. Ideally, you will be using the front half of your foot most and want to have as much support here as possible. Some performance climbing shoes even have solid structures that allow you to put even more pressure on your toes.
Something that I really liked about the Spirit Lady shoe is how it cups my heel and holds it in place. I have found that with a lot of climbing shoes, the heel cups seem excessively large. Especially for a beginner shoe, this tightness felt really good and more supportive.
The Spirit Lady is considered to be a performance shoe but it's at the lower end, just one step up from what Red Chili market to be their "comfortable" shoes. The shoe is mostly flat and I never had any problems wearing them for hours at the bouldering gym or around the crag.
The other thing to pay attention to with aggressiveness is the edge. While this shoe has a moderate edge that is plenty big enough for decent sized holds I never quite felt in control on slopers or smaller holds. Again, if you look at this shoe as an entry level one or you make sure you size down enough (probably 1.5 to 2 full sizes) you should instantly feel more precision.
There are certain things that are likely to wear out on a climbing shoe over time: they will loose some of their downturn, they will stretch, and the edge will wear. Since the Spirit Lady is a pretty flat shoe to start out with, there wasn't much to loose in terms of aggressiveness. Obviously, walking around in them is probably not the best way to protect these shoes but then again they are made to be worn and used.
The stretching of the shoe has had the largest amount of impact on performance for me. I found that these shoes now almost fit like a tight every day shoe and while I still wouldn't want to wear them outside of the bouldering gym, they have certainly become too comfortable for me to work on my form in the gym much. They might still work perfectly fine for rock climbing especially as I'll likely be working on problems that are below my current bouldering grade. But, for day to day gym wear they are too loose.
The rubber on these shoes has held up well. You can see that they have been used but there are no super thin spots and I certainly didn't need to get them resoled.
This shoe was a great first climbing shoe for me and I don't regret having purchased and worn these for over a year of bouldering and crag climbing. While the shoe has allowed me to gain a lot of confidence on easier routes, I found that they were not stiff or aggressive enough to keep up as I progressed to problems involving smaller holds.
I have never had toe or heel hooking issues at all and gained a lot of confidence especially because falling in these shoes does not hurt. However, sometimes I would have preferred a bit more grip especially on slope-y top outs.
Throughout the year I have seen this shoe on sale a lot, being priced at even 50% off retail price. If you can find them this cheap and you are looking for either a comfortable or entry-level shoe to wear on rock or indoors, give the Red Chili Spirit Lady a try.
One word of caution: As with any climbing shoe, you are unlikely to wear socks in these shoes and they aren't completely breathable. I won't describe the smells that climbing shoes can take on but I do recommend you store any climbing shoes where they can air out and dry out.
In conclusion, owning this shoe has very quickly allowed me to step up from a rainbowing-beginner to a confident climber of V3-V4 problems. I could have probably kept climbing in these shoes for longer but wanted to upgrade to something that would give me more confidence on smaller holds which my new shoes, the La Sportiva Katana's do better.
As an entry level shoe I thought the colours were pretty, the comfort level was just right and the price - especially on sale - pretty good. I would recommend these shoes if you are just starting out and if you do get them or own them I hope you have as good a climbing experience in them as I did.
If you climb, I would love to know what shoes you own or owned and what your thoughts are/were on them? Leave a comment below!