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The Best Deep Water Shoes

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Sun, sand, and deep water solo… does it get any better than that? If you’re preparing for your first deep-water solo trip, you should know what sort of footwear will help unleash your full crushing potential. Here are my thoughts on psicobloc shoes.

Evolv Shaman New

My Top pick

Evolv Shaman

A tried and tested deep water solo shoe. Used for Sharma’s ascent of Alasha.

La Sportiva Solution thumbnail

For Wide Feet

La Sportiva Solution

The king of sport climbing and bouldering, the Solution is the Pro picks.

Five Ten Hiangle Review

For Narrow Feet

Five Ten Hiangle

Five Ten’s Flagship shoe, hooks and pulls at anything you throw at them.

Scarpa Furia Air thumbnail

Vegan-Friendly

Scarpa Furia Air

Ridiculously light, vegan friendly, and perfect for deep water solo.

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We’ve all seen the pictures. Ripped dudes in swim shorts dang precariously on overhanging cliffs surrounded by crystal blue waters armed with nothing more than a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag.

Welcome to the world of deep-water soloing. Also known as psicobloc climbing, DWS has been around since the 1970s, with deep roots in Majorca, Spain. The discipline really began to gain global attention after the former king of cool, Chris Sharma, became the poster boy for the sport. Sharma worked his magic and put up some of the most insane DWS routes anyone could conger up, with his line on the now-famous Es Pontas arch in Mallorca.

This form of climbing is essentially free soloing, with the added benefit of a body of water assisting in breaking your fall. That’s not to say this style of climbing is risk-free though. As anyone who has attempted deep water solo will attest, DWS gets scary ridiculously FAST, and a nasty fall from an over-committing move can lead to a pretty gnarly fall. Sure, it might not be as sketchy as Alex Honnold’s free solo ascents but there are countless horror stories of broken bones and collapsed lungs out there.

What makes a shoe suitable for psciobloc?

Chris Sharma DWS
Sharma on Alasha, is considered the hardest DWS in the world. By ChrisSharma.com

Alright, so what’s the story when it comes to deep-water solo footwear? What choice of footwear is going to ensure you’re sending at your best? The answer to this question, as it is with every climbing scenario, is the shoe that gives you a perfect fit and matches the terrain you plan on climbing.

As we’re talking about DWS, I’m going to skip straight to climbing terrain, but if you want to read our size guide, then walk this way.

Generally, deep water solo is practiced on overhung cliffs, as the fall into air reduces the risk of a nasty collision on the way down. Because of this, the best deep water solo shoes of choice will have an aggressive camber, allowing you to dig into those pockets and practice precise footwork during your onsight ascent. Limestone is the most common rock type found at the popular DWS spots (Mallorca, Railay, and Cat Ba Island to name a few), so an aggressive shoe on the softer shoe side will most likely offer you the best performance on this terrain.

Fit and terrain and definitely the key boxes your shoes should tick, but there are also a couple of other characteristics that make some shoes better for deep water solo than others.

Synthetic uppers are a wise choice, as leather climbing shoes will most likely stretch when they are wet and never be the same again, especially unlined models. Some synthetic shoes also have some great designs that will help them dry out faster (make sure to check out the Scarpa Furia Air below). Velcro closures and slippers are also a wise choice, making for a hassle-free experience every time you take your shoes on and off.

The Best Deep Water Solo Shoes

Armed with the information I just shared above, you can now start your own search for deep-water solo shoes. That said, if you want to hear a few of my suggestions, then here are five of my favorites.

My Top Pick

Evolv Shaman

Evolv Shaman Review
Overall
8.5
(1 review)
  • Edging - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Smearing - 8/10
    8/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensitivity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value For Money - 9/10
    9/10

Pros

  • Improved edging power
  • The stiff heel is awesome for hooking 
  • 3-Strap closure feels super secure
  • Breathable Microfibre tongue 
  • Vegan

Cons

  • The Love bump makes smearing slightly less effective
  • Synthetic materials start to smell fast

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. 

Evolv-Shaman-Bouldering-Shoe
The Shaman eats overhangs for breakfast.

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.

My Top Pick

La Sportiva Solution

La Sportiva Solution Review
Overall
8.65
(5 reviews)
  • Edging - 9/10
    9/10
  • Smearing - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Steep Terrain - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Sensitivity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value For Money - 10/10
    10/10

Pros

  • Laser precise toe is awesome for technical footwork
  • 3D molded heel is great for heel hooking
  • Secure fit thank to the hook and loop strap

Cons

  • A little expensive
  • Not suitable for all-day climbing
  • The straps can break easily

The Solution is one of those shoes that can do it all, and I shoe I regularly recommend to advanced climbers who enjoy climbing steep sport and boulder problems.

Until recently, the Solution didn’t have a known DWS pedigree, but after Jakob Schubert’s epic Mallorca trip at the end of 2021 ticking off Es Pontas and Alasha in one trip, it once again proved the endless crushing potential of La Sportiva’s flagship shoe.

La Sportiva Solution Testing

The Solution has a really unique toe box shape, that makes it feel more talon-like than many of the other aggressive climbing shoes out there. This makes it ideal for clinging to those tiny chips and shallow pockets on steep faces. This is also packed up with a sticky toe patch and a 3D molded heel cup, which allows you to crank hard on even the worst heel hooks.

Best For Gym

Scarpa Furia Air

Furia Air climbing shoe

If you are really serious about sending hard, then I think the Furia Air might just be one of the best deep water shoes out there. 

This shoe is packed full of SCARPA’s latest and greatest shoe tech, using three different tension systems to keep the front laser-precise and extremely secure on your foot.

The big selling point of the Fuira Air is that it’s the lightest climbing shoe SCARPA has ever made, weighing a ridiculous 150g per shoe (that’s 25% lighter than the Scarpa Drago). Its perforated microfibre upper makes the shoe extremely breathable, fast-drying, and perfect for DWS!

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 models on this lis.

Best For Outdoor

Five Ten Hiangle

Five Ten Hiangle Review
Overall
7.7
(1 review)
  • Edging - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Smearing - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Steep Terrain - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Comfort - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Sensitivity - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Value For Money - 7.67/10
    7.7/10

Pros

  • Incredible sensitivity
  • The clever heel Velcro/slipper hybrid
  • The P3 Platform

Cons

  • The soft rubber lacks support
  • Wears fast
  • Doesn’t resole well

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 offers plenty of sensitivity, yet still remains rigid enough to edge and pull pockets. 

The moderate downturn, moderately asymmetry, and slightly rounded toe box make them a tad more comfortable than some of the other aggressive models. 

Five-Ten-Bouldering-Shoes
Putting the Hiangles through their paces.

The fully synthetic microfiber uppers won’t stretch much and will take some time to break in. From my experience, narrow-footed climbers are going to have a better time with the Hiangle, I suggest avoiding the Hiangle if you have wider feet.

Best For Outdoor

Scarpa Drago

Scarpa Drago Review
Overall
7.7
(1 review)
  • Edging - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Smearing - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Steep Terrain - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Comfort - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Sensitivity - 7.67/10
    7.7/10
  • Value For Money - 7.67/10
    7.7/10

Pros

  • Incredible sensitivity
  • The clever heel Velcro/slipper hybrid
  • The P3 Platform

Cons

  • The soft rubber lacks support
  • Wears fast
  • Doesn’t resole well

The Drago has become known as one of the great gym shoes of our time, but it’s 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, many of us don’t have the luxury of taking a bag full of climbing shoes with on our next holiday.

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. That said, I imagine DWS over salt water isn’t exactly what Scarpa had in mind when they made that statement. If you have just bought a brand new pair of climbing shoes, I don’t advise deep-water soloing in them… Maybe just use your old ones instead?

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 leather shoes dry faster than their synthetic counterparts, although this will largely depend if your shoes are lined or unlined.

Climbing in wet shoes feels slightly uncomfortable (swimming also feels super weird). However, the good news is that wet shoes will have minimal impact on your performance. Obviously, the rubber outsole of your climbing shoes repels water 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.

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. 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 Mallorca, 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

What makes good 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!  

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