Beginner – Advanced
Fred Nicole, Chris Sharma, Steph Davis, Dean Potter. Those are just a handful of the legendary climbers who have been known to wear the Anasazi line, the predecessor of Five Ten’s new NIAD range.
When an upgrade of a much loved classic is announced, we always hold our breath in anticipation. Once the bar has already been set high, the shoe manufacturer needs to bring their ‘A game’ to knock it out of the park.
With the NIAD VCS, Five Ten have done exactly that. The medium-stiff profile and a neutral last make make this a comfortable option for sport climbing and bouldering, whilst having the level of performance you would expect from a much more aggressive shoe.
The Stealth C4 rubber bring a good balance between friction and durability that make the shoe feel at home at the crag and in the gym.
In short; this shoe has all the tools needed for beginners to find their feet, and experienced climbers to crush hard.
Brilliant all-round performance
The new heel rand
The toe patch addition
Breathable and robust build quality
We Don’t Like
Not great for overhung terrain
fIVE tEN niad vcs reVIEW
50 Days Of Climbing
The Anasazi, the predecessor to the new NIAD range, has been a staple of Five Ten’s climbing shoe line since 1992. The Anasazi line is a collection of truly iconic climbing shoes, so its only right to start this review off with a quick history lesson (sorry!).
Following their release in 1992, the Anasazi’s started to build their reputation as a serious-sending shoe after Jean-Baptiste Tribout put up Just Do It, the first 5.14c (8c+) in the USA. Just a few years later, a 15-year-old Chris Sharma topped out Necessary Evil, wearing the Anasazi VCS, setting a new standard for American sport climbing.
Sharma and his trusty Anasazis continued to raise the bar, topping out Realization (the world’s first 5.15a) as well as establishing a handful of world-class boulder problems, including iconic lines like Witness the Fitness and Practise of the Wild.
It wasn’t just Sharma that was making history with the Anasazi shoes. Dean Potter frequently attempted daring free solos and speed ascents in the VCS and Moccasyms. A young Tommy Caldwell was also known to use the Anasazi Lace, as was an endless list of other climbing greats.
So when I found out Five Ten were working on a next-generation upgrade for these iconic shoes, the Nose In A Day range, I was slightly apprehensive. The task of updating and more importantly, improving, a shoe as iconic as the Anasazi VCS is no easy task.
After putting the NIAD VCS through its paces, I am happy to say this shoe lived up to its predecessor’s reputation, and has thrown some interesting new features into the mix too.
The combination of old and new give this shoe the versatility to perform well on a myriad of terrain and climbing styles. Its flat last and low asymmetry make it really comfortable (by climbing shoe standards) yet it doesn’t lack the performance you require to climb hard.
Ask Will Bosi, who sent Last Night (9a) and La Capella (9b) in a pair of these bad boys, or Niccolò Ceria, who seems to do a new FA every day in the VCS.
The Heel & Toe
Five Ten have completely reinvented both the heel and toe for the NIAD VCS.
The Anasazi heel has now been replaced with a new design, that separates the heel cup from the slingshot rand, which allows for a better fitting heel with improved tension.
On the new shoe, 3D molded rubber is used to create a rounded heel cup. The shape is fairly wide, yet has no problem with dead space, or uncomfortable pinching on the Achilles tendon.
Because the slingshot rand is separated from the heel cup, it stretches further down the shoe before wrapping under the foot. This is a massive improvement over the original Anasazi, as well as the Anasazi Pro, both of which had significantly smaller rands that squeezed your heel to maintain a secure fit. The improved heel tension also has a knock-on effect on the front of the shoe, as it helps drive power into the toe box, keeping the shoe secure and precise for edging.
This new design ultimately allows the shoe to feel secure around your foot, enabling you to stick heel hooks with confidence. The shoe’s heel-hooking superpowers are also enhanced by the soft rubber cup, which really allows you to feel the features you are hooking on.
The Toe Box
The low asymmetrical profile and the rounded toe box of the NIAD put the shoe’s tip – the focal point of its power – centralized between the first and second toe. This makes for an interesting contrast, as most ‘performance’ shoes opt for a more asymmetrical shape, that places the point over the big toe.
At first, this does feel slightly unusual, once you get used to finding the sweet spot though, it’s easy to see the benefits of this design.
Having power directed over the big toe might allow for a higher degree of precision but centralizing the toe box makes for more powerful, secure, foot placements. It distributes weight through two toes rather than just one and makes climbing long and technical routes less strenuous on your feet.
Another unmissable addition to the VCS is the toe patch, an almost essential requirement for any modern performance shoe. This triangular-shaped patch sits over the big toe and instantly upgrades the shoe’s ability when it comes to bouldering and gym climbing. Directly underneath the rubber, in the interior of the shoe, the toe patch is lined with a higher-friction material, which helps toe hooking feel super secure.
If gnarly bat hangs aren’t your thing, that’s not a problem, the new toe patch is significantly smaller than the full coverage of the Anasazi Pro, so it allows the toe box to remain flexible and unintrusive when not in use.
The NAID VCS is good at a variety of foot placements, including edging on the inside and outside of the shoe. Out of the box, the VCS feels surprisingly stiff, almost identical to its stiffer sibling, the NIAD Lace. During this phase, they edge as you would expect a stiff shoe to, extremely well.
After a few sessions, the VCS softens up, although they still retain good edging ability long after the break-in period. The full-length midsole has a large part to play in this, as does the new heel rand, both of which contribute to the precision and stability of the VCS toe box.
Because the VCS is designed to be a performance all-rounder, don’t expect this shoe to have the unparalleled edging ability of the NIAD Lace, or other stiff climbing shoes that are purpose-built for technical face climbing or all-day use.
When it comes to smearing, it is all about surface contact and creating downforce with friction. So when the flat-lasted shape of the NIAD VCS is paired with a semi-soft construction and 3.5mm of Five Ten’s famous Stealth rubber – often dubbed ‘the world’s stickiest rubber’ – you know this shoe means business.
It’s no surprise then that the NIAD VCS is exceptional at smearing. The shoe doesn’t have the aggressive camber that many sport climbing shoes have, so you get an amazing amount of surface contact with the wall.
When it comes to steep terrain, the NIAD VCS can’t really compete with a pocket-pulling monster, like the Five Ten Hiangle or Scarpa Drago. A shoe that is built on an aggressive last will always be more suited to hooking pockets on overhung and roof problems.
Although the sole semi-soft nature of the shoe (and the new toe patch) allow you to jam the front of the shoe into bigger pockets, the rounded toe box of the VCS makes it difficult to get a solid placement in those smaller pockets,
That said, if Sharma can put up problems like Witness the Fitness (a 40-foot roof) in the classic Anasazi VCS, then you certainly shouldn’t be to quick to write these off.
Five Ten NIAD VCS Sizing, Fit & Comfort
The NIAD VCS is, hands down, one of the most comfortable performance shoes I have tried. Of course, the neutral last has a large part to play in this, as does the semi-stiff, sensitive, profile.
The strategically placed velcro straps are easy to overlook but are an essential contributor to the comfort, and performance, of the shoe. Most double-strapped velcro shoes opt for a lower first strap, often placed around the ball of your foot.
The straps on the VCS, however, are closely placed around the arch of the foot. This ensures for the ball of your foot remains unconstricted, allowing for greater flexibility and movement of the toe box. This plays a big role in the NIAD VCS’s excellent smearing ability as well as its suitability to jamming the forefoot into cracks.
While synthetic climbing shoes are usually notorious for their inferior breathability and moisture alleviating properties, the NIAD VCS didn’t seem to get that memo. The shoe is surprisingly breathable, partly because of the unlined upper, but also due to the padded split tongue, which is also really comfortable.
The shape of the VCS lends itself naturally to narrow-footed climbers. The centralized toe box also makes it a real contender for climbers with Morton’s Toe, or just for those people who want a performance shoe without the high asymmetry shape.
I have a wide foot with Egyptian-shaped toes, so I am pretty impressed with how comfortable I find the NIAD VCS. Even now, as I sit here and compare it to my other ‘wide’ shoes, I can’t understand what voodoo magic has allowed these shoes to feel so damn comfortable.
The VCS is a fairly high volume design and the new heel cup is also fairly wide like it is on all the new NIAD shoes. If you have a narrow heel or low volume feet, you should definitely consider having a look a the low volume VCS. The low volume version isn’t just a scaled-down version of standard VCS, it has a narrower volume heel cup and a lower volume upper.
Like many manufacturers, Five Ten have upgraded and improved their shoe lasts over the years to provide the best fitting shoe possible.
Fortunately, sizing the new range of NIAD shoes couldn’t be easier. These shoes follow a very similar sizing to that of your street shoe. I wear an EU size 44 and found that EU 43.5 was the perfect size in these.
As this is a synthetic climbing shoe, there is minimal stretch to be had here. I did find the shoe stretch slightly after breaking them in, although the addition of a non-stretch liner in the footbed of the toe-box ensures the shoe stretches in the right areas and doesn’t leave any dead space.
3.5mm Stealth C4
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