Edging - 8/10
Smearing - 6.5/10
Steep Terrain - 7.5/10
Comfort - 7/10
Sensitivity - 6/10
Value For Money - 8/10
- The stiff design allows for precise placements on small edges
- Secure velcro closure
- Not ideal for smearing
- Poor performance on friction slabs
Best For: Technical sport climbing
Summary: The Dharma is one of the highest-performance shoes Boreal manufactures. Unlike other performance shoes, the Dharma puts the focus on comfort as well as performance. This shoe is ideal for hard sport climbing, bouldering, and pushing your limits to the max.
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Boreal Dharma Review
The Spanish company Boreal has been making high-performance footwear since 1975. During those 45 years, the company has brought some game-changing shoes to the market that have helped climbers push the limits. Boreal is known for a number of trailblazing models and the 2018 Dharma is one of the latest in its lineup of show-stopping climbing shoes.
Boreal has three categories of climbing footwear: Comfort, Intermediate, and Performance, with the Dharma firmly placed in the latter group. They claim that the Dharma “is perfect for sport climbing, bouldering routes, training, and indoor”. For the most part, I have found this to be true, the shoe provides great sensitivity and support on any kind of climb.
In my opinion, the Dharma’s performance is a serious rival for the big-name bouldering shoes. And because you can purchase this shoe for a lot cheaper, it makes the Dharma even more attractive. These shoes feel at home on steep overhang rock, as you would expect. But surprisingly, these are also great for edging, a rare feature in bouldering shoes.
I fell in love with the Dharma thanks to the perfect fit and comfort that this shoe offers. Everything about those shoes is great – except for their rubber. Don’t get me wrong it’s completely awful. It is fairly stiff for a bouldering shoe, and although it has decent friction, you are probably better with some Vibram XS Grip.
The Dharma is highly asymmetric and downturned. Almost the whole toe box is covered with ribbed Zenith rubber, which gives plenty of confidence on toe hooks. The toe box also has a prominent, knuckle bump (similar to the Evolv Shaman) which forces your toes into a powerful crimped position, ideal for standing on small flakes and pulling pockets.
The toe is fairly pointy too, which contributes to the shoe’s ability to find those micro edges. It is tailored for a wide foot shape and is made of soft microfibre with an integrated elastic tongue made of breathable material.
The Dharmas’ heel fits me perfectly. It is similar to the La Sportiva Solution, which is recognized as one of the best designs in the climbing shoe world. The 3D heel cup is molded from a single piece of rubber into a rigid sphere. This heel design stays rigid and I never had any issues with the heel buckling.
The wrap-rand system helps keeps your heel secure and really makes technical heel hooks feel solid. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rounded pocket, mantling out of the boulder, or even smearing on slopy volumes. The heel strikes a great balance been stiffness and sensitivity.
Once you put them on, there is no chance that your foot will slip out, you will always have the feeling that the shoe is well secured.
Boreal helped revolutionize the sticky rubber game in 1979 with the release of the Firé shoe, so it seems ironic that this is one of the biggest weaknesses of the Dharma. The shoe uses Zenith Pro rubber, which varies in thickness between 4 – 4.5mm depending on the shoe size. This is also combined with an anti-deformation midsole which ensures that the downturned shape will remain throughout the shoe’s life. After half a year of hard use, I am happy to report that the Dharma’s have retained their aggressive shape very well.
In honesty, Boreal’s Zenith probably won’t be your favorite rubber. It’s advertised as a medium-stiff rubber, and while 4mm is a lot for a bouldering shoe, it still manages to retain a fairly average amount of sensitivity. All this additional rubber helps to extend the lifespan of the shoe and also makes the Dhrama an edging machine. But the main issue I have with the Zenith rubber is that it simply lacks the friction of leading bouldering shoes. Compared to the Vibram Xs 2 Grip of the Solutions or the Trax SAS of the Agro, the Zenith simply doesn’t compare to their level of friction.
So if you planning on climbing polished limestone frequently, prepare to slip and slide your way up the wall. These shoes definitely perform the best on high-friction surfaces like sandstone and granite, as well as on an indoor climbing wall.
Comfort and Fit
Putting Dharmas’ on for the very first time can be a bit of a pain. The entry hole has a fairly small diameter, but if you manage to squeeze your way in, you will be surprised at how comfortable they are. Dharma is surprisingly comfortable in comparison to different high-performance shoes.
It is designed specifically for wider feet. Personally, I have a wide forefoot and it fits perfectly for me. I have chosen a 7.5 US size, whereas my street shoes are 8-8.5. This is a performance fit, and if you want something more comfortable, you should go with the same as your street shoe size.
However, in my opinion, if you want to buy high-performance and asymmetric shoes, they should be well-fitted. Due to a large amount of rubber surrounding the toe box and synthetic materials, the Dharma won’t stretch much. It will, however, adjust to the foot shape after a few climbs on your project. I have been climbing in the Dharma for a few months and so far they have kept their shape and had less than half a size stretch.
Boreal uses a three-strap Velcro closure system. In the middle, there is also an elastic band that keeps the shoe constantly closed. Honestly, even if the shoe had no straps, it would stick to your foot anyway because of its perfect shape. As I mentioned before, it is a comfortable shoe but it is designed only for single-pitch sport climbing or bouldering. If you want to try walking all day without taking them off, it probably won’t end well.
Boreal did not disappoint me with its new shoe design, it is an extremely high-performance shoe, ideally for hard sport climbing, bouldering, and pushing your limits to the max.
If you have a wide forefoot, and you like it when your shoe gives you good support during edging, you should consider the Dharma. It is not one of those soft shoes but rather a compromise between old-school stiffness and modern climbing. I hope you enjoyed this Boreal Dharma review. Happy climbing!
We’ve had our say, and now it’s time for you to have yours. If you have a history with this shoe, then please leave a review! The climbing community needs your wisdom.