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Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes review: supportive, grippy and confidence boosting

Lightweight and sensitive, the unisex Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes provide feet with support even when extreme edging

Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes
(Image: © Jessie Leong)

Our Verdict

For climbers looking for a performance-focused shoe, the Scarpa Instinct Lace really delivers. I was able to get more from my shoe thanks to the distinctive design, with its central shaped toe box, Instinct VS Heel cup, lacing system and TPU cage. I’ll go back to the Scarpa Instinct Lace for my next sport climbing adventure and any project with overhangs.

For

  • • Downward turn
  • • Grippy rubber
  • • Very supportive
  • • Good for high volume feet

Against

  • • Tight when feet expand in hot weather

Scarpa Instinct Lace: first impressions

Harder, better, faster, stronger – the Scarpa Instinct Lace is a precise-performance shoe that encourages you to live by Daft Punk’s mantra. Its lace system allows for a much more noticeable, accurate fit, leaving no excuse for anything other than precise foot placement.

The fit bestows confidence and trust that the shoes could power you through everything from dinky pockets to high ledges for better transference. An aggressive last helped me push down through the toes, so even finding tiny edges on overhanging routes meant I could get purchase on holds I wouldn’t normally trust. 

Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes

Scarpa Instinct Laces have a sensitive feel which gives you confidence when placing your feet (Image credit: Jessie Leong)

The sensitive nature meant I could really feel where I was placing my feet, while the super grippy Vibram XS Edge rubber made sure they stayed in place. But, as with all climbing shoes, the smaller, more aggressive sizing does have its slight drawbacks – they didn’t feel comfortable when my feet inevitably started swelling in the hot weather, and I would advise against sizing down for this reason.

With the correct sizing, the Scarpa Instinct Lace are a technical powerhouse that deserve top billing on your climbing gear list.

Specifications

• RRP: $195 (US) / £130 (UK) / €156 (EU)
• Weight (per shoe): 220g / 7.8oz
• Lining: Unlined
• Outsole: Vibram XS Edge 4mm
• Upper: Suede and microfiber
• Colors: Black / Orange
• Compatibility: Sport and trad climbing, and bouldering

Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes

Despite their chunky look, the Scarpa Instincts feel like you’re wearing very tight socks (Image credit: Jessie Leong)

Scarpa Instinct Lace: on the crag

“You’ve got high volume, wide feet,” proclaimed my climbing partner. There was a slight pause, before my foot wiggled, emitting a slightly embarrassing raspberry as a squash of air made a slight, ‘Paaaaaarp!” sound from underneath my archway. 

The cacophony of shoe-related sound rang loudly at the crag, which was covered in local Spanish climbers, who were all wearing tiny, balletic gym shoes. Until I was trying to wriggle my feet into a tighter fitting pair of Scarpa Instinct Lace, I had always thought that they were narrow and low volume, but now I was having to reassess.

Fit and comfort

Fit is everything when it comes to getting a shoe that you can trust to push into unnervingly small footholds. These slightly downturned climbing shoes are designed for sport climbing and bouldering, with well-considered features offering good edging possibilities.

With a much tighter, more sensitive last, I came to the belated realization that my feet are actually somewhat awkward customers, and I was having to move between sizes to balance sensitivity alongside discomfort. 

The Scarpa Instincts feel like a very tight sock. The lacing goes all the way up the arch of the foot, using a TPU cage. Although this gives good foot support, it hugs your foot tightly, resulting in some air pockets if you have a neutral arch and mid-volume foot. This can result in a sound which can be pretty amusing to your climbing partner, but less satisfactory when you’re trying to decide whether to go for the tough sport climbing route. 

Size

The Scarpa Instinct laces are unisex, which gave me the option to focus on getting a shoe based on my foot shape rather than my gender. The toe box is longest in the centre, which makes these better suited for climbers with wider footbeds. 

What’s most impressive about this product is the confidence delivered through the lacing – by merely loosening off the front of the lace, I was able to change an aggressively tight pair of climbing shoes into something much more comfortable and easy to put on and off. Tightening them up and making adjustments to get them fitted so that they held my foot firmly in place took a little longer, but spending time on this made a huge difference to the sensitivity I got back from the shoe. 

Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes

Take time to perfect the lacing to give a perfect fit, and the shoe will repay you (Image credit: Jessie Leong)

Breathability

The Scarpa Instincts were snug-fitting to begin with, but climbing in hot weather meant my feet were even more aware of the smaller sizing. Use of a breathable membrane did allow air to circulate, although I noticed when I took the shoes off there was a row of knobbles that had pressed against the top arch of my foot.

Design

Available in a black and orange colorway, the Scarpa Instinct Lace looks like a premium product. With a thick orange rand at the back providing a cushioned heel cup, it certainly feels premium too. The TPU cage wraps round the foot, and the laces contrast nicely against the black microfiber and suede skeleton material. 

A toe box at the front, cut with small incisions and holes, allows what would have been a large bulky piece of rubber to stay lightweight whilst still offering protection at the front of the foot. This triangular-shaped piece of rubber also means you can see a nice piece of orange synthetic material underneath. 

Durability

Scarpa clearly state that all their climbing shoes can be resoled, extending the product life of the shoe. I was impressed to find specific stockists and Scarpa-approved dealers who can offer resoling at competitive prices, which gave me reassurance that, should I need the rubber resoling after usage, I could keep the shoe going for longer. From a consumer perspective, this was a real bonus to consider how I could ensure the shoe lasts not just its initial lifetime but continues to be something I use time and time again.

Scarpa Instinct Lace climbing shoes

Scarpa shoes can actually be resoled to make them last for even longer (Image credit: Jessie Leong)

Performance

Wearing the Scarpa Instinct Laces while climbing on steep, pocket walls, these shoes performed exceptionally well, thanks to their extremely grippy XS instinct sole.

A combination of all the features on the Scarpa Instinct – particularly the Vibram XS Edge compound – delivers excellent grip whilst adding improved firmness. This was particularly noticeable on vertical, slightly overhanging routes – a style of climbing I usually shy away from, yet with a grippier sole I realized I could trust my feet more, with the friction of the shoe really hugging onto the rock. 

The rubber isn’t a continuous panel of black. By incorporating a short gap underneath the foot arch and a piece that connects to the heel, Scarpa have made the shoe more flexible, yet still retained the requisite level of stiffness.

The shoe is designed in a way that wraps the foot and prevents torsional movements and roll during extreme edging, providing more confidence when going for those wild sport climbing moves. 

These shoes allow your feet to be pushed into more aggressive torsional positions, enabling techniques such as heel hooking and giving your foot enough flexibility to smear against the rock (smearing and other rock climbing jargon is explained in Rock climbing techniques).

In terms of breaking them in, it took at least a couple of routes before my feet felt they could trust the shoes – the last felt much more noticeable, so when I was climbing more slabby routes to begin with, it was harder to get used to in comparison to other shoes with a more neutral profile. But I stuck with it – quite literally – and soon came to realize just how much confidence the Vibram XS Edge rubber inspired on smooth edges. Ultimately, the Scarpa Instinct helped me concentrate on using my feet more.

A former brand ambassador for Merrell and current Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion, Jessie Leong’s lifelong outdoor odyssey began with Duke of Edinburgh’s Award walks in the Peak District. This segued into long hill hikes in the Yorkshire Dales, multi-day treks in the Lake District, scrambles in North Wales and adventures scaling alpine pinnacles. When not walking, she can be found rock climbing, wild swimming, cycling, photographing, filmmaking, writing and modelling. Jessie’s most recent claim to fame is playing a Miss World contestant in the 2020 feature film Misbehaviour.