Regardless if you are a beginner gym climber or a seasoned alpinist dangling from on the big walls of Patagonia, all our climbing shoes share some very important similarities. Some are glaringly obvious, others less so. Every climbing shoe needs a closure system, for example. Manufacturers have the choice between lace, velcro, or elasticated closures. Shoes also need a material upper, made from leather, synthetic fabrics, or a hybrid of both.
When it comes to the less obvious similarities, almost every shoe (except some very soft ones) will have a midsole, hidden between the footbed and the outsole of the shoe. But perhaps the most important component that every modern climbing shoe shares is a rand.
You might have come across this term while looking for new shoes or perhaps heard a fellow climber mention it once or twice. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a new concept to you, I am sure most climbers have absolutely no clue what this mysterious, yet crucial, technology is.
So, what is a rand then? And why are they so important for climbing shoes?
What Is A Climbing Shoe Rand?
Take a quick look at your climbing shoes right now. Regardless of what make or model you are rocking, I guarantee that there is a lot more rubber on those shoes than just the stuff on the sole. The rubber that you can see around the sides, back, and front of your shoe is what we refer to as rands. If you take a look at the picture below, you can clearly see where the outsole ends and the rand starts.
What Does A Rand Do?
Rands are an essential element of climbing shoes, and have endless benefits and functions. For starters the rubber you see on the side of your shoes wraps underneath the sole and acts as the base on which shoemakers glue the rubber outsole onto the shoe. This allows for a seamless, and strong, connection between the material upper and rubber sole of the shoe. I’m no shoemaker, but I bet we would see far more delaminating soles or ripped uppers if manufacturers glued the outsole straight onto the material part of the shoe.
Manufacturing processes aside, the rand is also a fundamental contributor to shoe performance and the overall durability of your shoe.
One of the main reasons why climbing shoe manufacturers invest so much time and money into developing new rand technology is because they create tension throughout the shoe. These tightly stretched pieces of rubber act like an elasticated band tightly gripping your foot, ensuring the shoe stays laser-precise when you are climbing. This tensioned rubber also helps climbing shoes keep their cambered and asymmetrical shapes, increasing the lifespan of our shoes.
You can feel the rand working its magic when you balance on a small edge and the back of the shoe pushes on the back of your heel. Could you imagine how sloppy your footwork would be without that suction fit?
Another reason why a rand is an essential addition to a climbing shoe is that they project the highest wearing areas from abrasion. The gym wall, or rock face, is like sandpaper on the material upper, which can cause significant damage to your precious shoes. The rubber rand will prevent popping a hole in these high-wear areas on your first outing.
On a similar note, rands are made of high-friction rubber, similar to the stuff on the bottom of the shoe. This provides plenty of friction for foot jamming and scumming your way up a route. Most rands extend across the top of your toes too, creating what we call a toe rand. Most bouldering and sport climbing-specific shoes stick extra rubber on top of this, to create an extended toe patch, built for sticking the gnarliest of gnarly toe hooks.
Different Types Of Rands
Climbing shoe designers have been getting creative with the rand technology to deliver those amazing benefits we just discussed. All climbing shoes employ some kind of rand tensioning system, with different climbing shoe manufacturers using their technology to give their shoes the edge in performance and durability.
Here are a few examples of rands that are being used on our climbing shoes.
The Slingshot Rand
The slingshot rand is the most common type of active rand used to create tension in our climbing shoes. A slingshot rand is a single strip of rubber that wraps around the back of your heel and the bottom of your foot. This design helps the shoe stay secure when you apply weight to your toes, helps you stick heel hooks, and also plays a role in minimizing the stretch of the material uppers.
The slingshot rand technology was first developed by Five Ten in 1991 and quickly put to use on the Five Ten Moccasym, released in 1992. This clever design (combined with an asymmetrical shape) was one of the essential components that allowed this slipper, and others like it, to stay securely on your feet. It’s also partly responsible for why the Moccs became a hugely iconic shoe.
The P3 Platform (La Sportiva)
La Sportiva’s P3 platform is a more advanced version of a slingshot rand. P3, short for Permanent Power Platform, this design begins under the toes (as opposed to the midfoot) and wraps around the entire foot. This design enhances the benefits of a slingshot, helping power transmission throughout the shoe, whilst ensuring aggressive climbing shoes maintain their downturned camber for years to come.
Bi-tension And PCB Rands (Scarpa)
Scarpa seems to be constantly churning out new technology for both their performance and beginner shoe lines. The Bi-Tension brand is one of their most popular tension systems. It is essentially a reversed slingshot anchored under the toe area, connecting directly to the heel. This design actively pulls power from the toes instead of cramming them forward. This can be found on everything from their all-around models like the Vapor V, to their gym-specific shoes like the Veloce.
Another rand system Scarpa uses is their PCB tensioning system. The PCB (Power Connection Band) transfers power from the toe to the heel, giving the shoes a blend of power without impacting sensitivity. If you are a fan of the Drago or Chimera, you can see these colorful rands in action on the bottom of the shoe.
3-force System (Ocun)
Czech Manufacturer Ocun’s patented 3-Force System wraps the rubber strap around the front of the shoe, distributing the weight throughout the foot and providing precise pressure distribution. The result? Higher stiffness and better edging on tiny footholds.
Boreal’s V2 is a modern take on the slingshot rand. Their design uses two bands, instead of the traditional single band of a slingshot, to create tension towards the arch and front of the shoe. By focusing tension in the front, any dead space is eliminated for a more precise fit.
What Rand Do Your Shoes Use?
The growing popularity of rock climbing has done wonders for climbing technology, with manufacturers scrambling to meet the needs of crushers looking for the perfect mix of performance, durability, and comfort.
While the rubber rand on your shoes upper might look deceptively simple, as you now know, rand tensioning technology is pretty complex stuff. Modern climbing shoes now have a multitude of different features and technologies, making a massive difference in comfort, fit, and ultimately, performance.