Last updated on April 13th, 2023 at 04:23 am
We’ve all seen pictures of climbers clinging to overhanging cliffs, surrounded by crystal blue waters, without a harness and armed with nothing more than a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag.
Welcome to the world of deep water soloing (DWS). Also known as psicobloc climbing, DWS has been around since the 1970s, with roots in Majorca, Spain. This form of climbing is essentially free soloing, with the added benefit of a body of water to break your fall.
That’s not to say this style of climbing is risk-free though, sure, it might not be as consequential as Alex Honnold’s iconic free solo ascent but there are still inherent risks involved with this style of climbing.
Be safe out there kids!
THE TOP THREE
The Best Deep Water Solo Shoes
DWS is almost always practiced on overhung sea cliffs, as this reduces the risk of a nasty collision with the wall on the way down. Because of this, the best deep water solo shoes will have an aggressive camber, designed for steep climbing that allows you to hook pockets and practice precise footwork during your onsight ascent.
Synthetic uppers are a good feature to consider too, as leather climbing shoes will stretch when they are wet. Some synthetic shoes also have some brilliant properties that will help them dry out faster.
All that said, here are some of our favorite climbing shoes for deep water soloing.
MY TOP PICK
It is only right we start this list off with the Shaman. It’s not only a (former) the signature shoe of the DWS king (Chris Sharma) it is also the model he wore for his ascent of Alasha, his hardest deep water solo ever.
This high-performance vegan shoe is made with a Synthratek VX. Similar to the Agro, the Shaman’s asymmetrical shape is paired with Evolv’s love bump and Knuckle box, a design that puts your toes into a crimp position and excels at pulling pockets. The toe rand is a signature of Evolv’s VTR (Variable Thickness Rand), meaning that each shoe’s high wear and tear areas have thicker rubber to maximize durability.
The 4.2mm Trax SAS is soft and sticky, retaining a significant amount of sensitivity. Evolv’s Tension Power System helps maintain the downturned camber and shape of the shoe, while the ‘dark spine’ on the of the shoe helps you stick those heel hooks, as well as protect your heel.
The Shaman certainly won’t be your go-to trad climbing shoes but they will make an excellent companion for your next DWS trip.
Scarpa Furia Air
If you are really serious about sending hard, then we think the Furia Air might just be one of the best deep water shoes out there for it.
For starters, this shoe is packed full of SCARPA’s latest and greatest shoe tech, which gives the Fuira Air some serious sending credentials. The shoe uses three different tension systems all of which ultimately make the Furia Air laser-precise and super-secure on your foot. This clever tech also helps the shoe keep its downturned shape throughout its lifespan.
It’s also the lightest climbing shoe SCARPA has ever made, weighing a ridiculous 150g per shoe (that’s 25% lighter than the Scarpa Drago!). One feature that allows the shoe to be so lightweight is the perforated microfibre upper. This also makes the shoe very breathable, fast-drying, and perfect for DWS!
The Furia Air Is also ridiculously soft, possibly the closest thing to climbing barefoot there is. The super-soft construction makes is more of a bouldering specialist than suited to climbing for sustained amounts of time.
The biggest downside of the Furia Air? It’s not exactly the cheapest shoe in the market. Because it only uses 3mm of Vibram Rubber on the ¼ length sole, this shoe won’t have the lifespan of the more durable climbing shoes.
Five Ten Hiangle
The Hiangles were designed for sport routes and boulders. With a generous toe rand and C4 Stealth rubber heel, hooks are a pleasure to throw. The 4.2mm outsole gives significant sensitivity, yet remains stiff enough to edge and pull well.
The moderate downturn, moderately asymmetry, and slightly rounded toe make them a tad more comfortable than other aggressive models.
The fully synthetic microfiber uppers won’t stretch much and will take some time to break in. The older version of the Hiangle that is blue is likely to bleed blue dye onto your feet. To avoid “smurf feet”, Five Ten has since released a next-generation model.
The Drago has not only became known as a great gym shoe but its also great on both hard and soft rock. This aggressively downturned, highly asymmetrical velcro shoe was built to let you climb hard on the overhangs. The Surround Tension Rubber (SRT) is a layer of soft M50 rubber wrapped around the forefoot, transferring power into the big toe.
The PCB-tension system keeps the heel snug in the cup, allowing you to crank on heel hooks without the fear of slippage. The laces allow you to customize the fit better and can help create fantastic tension throughout the foot. The Drago last is relatively narrow and might not suit people with wide feet.
Can Climbing Shoes Get Wet?
The obvious problem with DWS is that your precious climbing shoes are going to be soaked after every climb. While serious psicobloc climbers often bring multiple pairs, if you don’t have the luxury of taking a bag full of climbing shoes with you on your next holiday, don’t panic.
The good news it’s that climbing shoes can get wet. In fact, some manufacturers, like SCARPA, advise you to frequently wash your shoes with water to keep them in good condition.
Admittedly, climbing in wet shoes feels slightly uncomfortable (swimming also feels SUPER WEIRD) that said, wet shoes will have minimal impact on your performance. Obviously, the rubber outsole of your climbing shoes is waterproof and will dry off after a couple of moves, so you can still throw down a rand send or two. Climbing barefoot is also an option too.
Because DWS is usually practiced on sunny sea cliffs, it’s not just water that’s the problem here. Salt and excessive sun are some other factors that you will want to take into consideration.
To minimize damage from salt water, at the end of your DWS session, rinse the shoes thoroughly with fresh water. You will probably find that synthetic climbing shoes dry faster than their leather counterparts, although this will largely depend if your shoes are lined or unlined.
Throughout your deep solo drip – as well as after washing your climbing shoes – try to keep them out of the direct sun for extended periods of time to prevent cracking or degradation of the rubber. Oh, and if you are wearing leather climbing shoes, you might end up with colored feet as the dyes tend to run. You have been warned!
TOP TIP: I don’t use my new shoes for DWS. I use old climbing shoes that I don’t mind getting a little destroyed or smelling a bit damp.
At the risk of stating the obvious, your chalk bag is also going to be soaked. Liquid chalk tends to stay on the hands longer than regular chalk. Some keen deep-water soloists have as many as 20 chalk bags on rotation to dry out the soaked chalk before future use.
Personally, I find this a bit overkill, especially if you aren’t concerned with pushing hard grades. When I deep water solo, I just chalk up on the boat, dinghy, or kayak before heading up and dealing with a chalk-less climb.
Best Places For Deep Water Solo
DWS captured the climbing community’s attention in 2003 when BigUp Productions released a series of documentaries following climbers like Chris Sharma and Tim Emmett around Majorca. Again in 2008, Sharma showed off his deep water solo credentials in the awesome climbing movie King Lines, which saw him send one of the most iconic lines Es Pontàs.
Since then, DWS has rapidly gained traction with competitions regularly held in Park City, Utah, and Whitewater Center, the world’s first DWS complex built in Charlotte, North Carolina.
DWS routes are almost always overhanging routes that lean over the water, to ensure the climber won’t take a nasty hit off the rocks on the way down. Routes are of varying difficulties, just like sport climbing, and ascends are made with no ropes, harnesses, or any other gear aside from shoes and a chalk bag that will most definitely get wet.
Popular deep water soloing destinations include Majorca, of course, as well as:
– Dorset, Devon, England
– Azores, Portugal
– Railay, Thailand
– Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
– Maui, Hawaii, US
– Blue Grotto, Malta
– Olympos, Turkey
Final Thoughts On Deep Water Solo Shoes
Deep water soloing can be the answer to a break from intense sport climbing. What better way to spend a day in a warm, sunny climate than to be cruising up some easy routes off a boat, sweating your butt off, and jumping 60 feet into the welcoming water?
Beginners to deep water soloing might find the heights of some routes intimidating. A first-timer would probably not find a 60-foot free-fall into the water appealing. Guess what? The beauty of deep-water soloing is that you can jump in whenever you want!
Climb each route as high as you want, and when you start feeling intimidated, just let go and fall straight into the water. Gradually increase the distance you feel comfortable falling, and soon you’ll be cruising up 60-foot routes.
BE CAREFUL: Beginners should avoid dynamic moves that might lead to an awkward fall and potential injury. Even the experienced water soloists still take nasty falls, and people died whilst DWS too. If you are new to this style of climbing, I would strongly suggest going with a guide, especially if you are new to the area.
Have a blast and enjoy deep water soloing!