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Lowa Rocket: climbing shoes made for heel/toe hooking

Posted on: September 25, 2019


MSRP: $170

I want to like the Lowa Rockets more than I do. It's a climbing shoe with so much potential: made with quality materials, it features a high-performance fit that hugs the heel so well that I never worry about the shoe sliding off during an aggressive heel hook—an annoying experience I've had numerous times with other shoes. The Rockets also shine for toe-hooking, with ample rubber covering the forefoot. A burly Velcro strap keeps things simple while maintaining a secure fit. The Rockets are built to last and would likely hold their shape decently well even after one or two resoles. It seems to me, however, that there are still some small but key details to be figured out in order for these shoes to contend with their competitors.

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Lowa redesigned the Rockets earlier this year. Formerly made with leather and offered in a lace-up variety in addition to Velcro, they are now only available in Velcro and are exclusively made with a synthetic microfiber that doesn't stretch out much at all, even after extensive use, unlike leather. Lowa also tweaked the heel-cup design to eliminate a slightly baggy fit that earlier versions had. I'd already been using a pair of leather lace-up Rockets before the redesign, and I immediately noticed the difference in the heel. It is great to have a shoe that I know won't be sliding off my foot in the middle of a desperate heel-hook, and I have a lot more confidence when it comes to squeezing the minutest features with my feet.

The author linking moves on Magnetar (5.13d) at Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado, last May. [Photo] Karissa FryeThe author links moves on Magnetar (5.13d) with the Lowa Rockets on his feet last May, Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado. [Photo] Karissa Frye

The extremely snug fit is also part of the problem for me—I had trouble finding the best size for my foot. It's certainly possible that other people with differently shaped feet may find the Rockets to be a perfect shoe.

The wonderful thing about the explosion of the climbing industry is that we now have so many options: everyone should have faith that they can find a brand and model of shoe that allows for high performance as well as comfort. When I started climbing in the 1990s, there were basically only a few companies and a handful of shoe styles, and the salespeople at retail stores were still repeating the old edict that "if the shoes don't hurt when you put them on, they're not tight enough." Ha! I wonder how many of us 20th century climbers now have deformed feet as a result of this mantra from the early days when all shoes had the generic shape of an eggplant.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Rockets do not appear to be the best option for the shape of my feet. I settled on a pair that was only one half-size down from my street shoe. A larger size would negate the shoe's design because my big toe would be fully extended in a relaxed position, as opposed to being down-turned with all my toes focused at the tip of the shoe, which is the intended design for an aggressive shoe, as it enhances the ability to toe-in and pull your hips closer to the rock (this is especially helpful on overhanging terrain). Likewise, if I went down a size in the Rocket slipper, I'd probably have to break bones to fit inside it. While I have no doubt that I have the best possible size, there is still some bagginess over the top of my big toe. The other aggressive shoes I've used in the past don't have much, if any, noticeable bagginess in this area. Thus, it feels odd to have my big toe jammed tight against the front of the shoe yet still have extra space over the top of it. I saw another review in which someone complained about the same thing, so I'm not alone.

Unfortunately that's not the end of my problems with the odd fit, either. After I've been sweating in the shoes for a while, I seem to have a harder time taking the shoes off than putting them on, as if the moisture has glued them to my skin. On one hand, it's nice never to worry about sliding out of the shoes, and on the other hand it can be miserable getting them on and off.

As with any shoe that requires such a precise, nuanced fit, it comes down to the specific foot. Maybe the shape of my feet isn't the right match for the Rockets. But I seem to have a fairly typical foot with a normal arch, though my forefoot might be a tad on the wide end of the spectrum. Perfect fit aside, I'll keep the Rockets in my quiver as a specialty shoe for routes that require extensive toe- and heel-hooking.

Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz's first pair of climbing shoes was a hand-me-down pair of red, board-lasted EBs. He didn't discover the wonder of down-turned shoes on steep rock until 2005.

The Lowa Rocket design features ample rubber over the top of the shoe for toe hooking. [Photo] Karissa FryeThe Lowa Rocket design features ample rubber over the top of the shoe for toe hooking. [Photo] Karissa Frye

Pros
Very secure fit for toe- and heel-hooking
Well made with quality materials—will likely hold their shape well through one or two resoles
Velcro strap keeps things simple and allows for more surface area on the top of the shoe for toe-hooking
Vegan friendly (synthetic instead of leather)

Cons
Some bagginess over the top of the big toe appears to be a common problem
Can be difficult to put on and take off

Rating:

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