The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Scarpa Gecko Guide: Lizard-Like Traction
Posted on: September 28, 2011
Weight: 754 grams (pair)
Too thin for the approach. No edging power. Plain old not sticky. For these and countless other reasons, I've used, abused and disapproved of every approach shoe I've ever worn.
For climbers who play in the mountains, the term "approach shoe" is really a misnomer. A finely crafted approach shoe should handle the approach and descent, sure. But it should also allow you to step into 5.fun terrain without hesitation. Rarely, if ever, does a shoe do both well. Just two years ago I wrote an article about this very frustration: "I'm still waiting for that flawless shoe with a rockered last, low profile, cushy midsoles and sticky rubber that can smear on rock but doesn't wear out."
Climbers and footwear manufacturers, take note. I found it.
The Scarpa Gecko Guides are light on the foot, but built like granite; climb like a trad shoe, yet are comfy hiking long distances. They are the most impressive all-around approach shoes I've ever worn, and they've spoiled me rotten (they had better, costing 169 bones).
But they're not perfect. They don't breathe, so they can get sweaty and stinky. This is due to a combination of materials and design that are chosen (well) to improve the shoes' ability to climb: extensive sticky rubber coverage over a water-resistant, suede upper (with no ventilation) and neoprene-like lining on the tongue and ankle (the snug fit traps bacteria and chokes respiration).
Honestly, the smell is worth it. These shoes have given me the confidence to tackle terrain that, previously, I never would have attempted without technical climbing shoes. Out for a winter solo in Boulder, a bit of snow and verglas on the Second Flatiron didn't turn me back. On a sketchy slab solo in Colorado National Monument, I cursed myself for wearing anything other than my Gecko Guides.
An unparalleled toe box is one reason that the Gecko Guides climb so much better than other approach shoes. When you pull these on for the first time, you'll immediately notice the difference. The shoe brings the front half of my foot into a snug, but comfortable position, like a La Sportiva Muira.
It's as though my toes are poised—at all times—to rock onto an edge or smear glassy crystals.
I almost never worry about my feet on long approaches or stout scrambles. The mid-ankle design and easy-to-tighten laces provided fantastic support.
After about ten miles on any given day, the bottoms of my feet get microtingles from continuous impact with these shoes. This is not a complaint, but a success story for the Gecko's UV/EVA midsole; I've always had this problem—but it usually happens at mile six. A few times, the Geckos chaffed the sides of my feet. While masterfully crafted in most regards, more thoughtful interior stitching could have prevented this once-in-a-while problem.
In all, these kicks spent nine months on crags, scrambles and hikes in Colorado, the walls of Red Rocks in Nevada, and boulders in Texas and Utah. Even after fifty days on rock, the Geckos are showing wear, but no more than the average shoe.
The Gecko Guides are beyond competent at slickfooting a highball boulder problem and warming up at a crag. But this all-around lizard really excels in the mountains, where it handles everything from talus-hopping to technical routes. Suddenly, there are many more climbs where I'll pack nothing but the shoes on my feet.
Pros: Versatile; lightweight yet durable; unparalleled toe box; sticky Vibram sole.
Cons: Do not breathe; expensive.