Soft yet supportive, the VSR is the only shoe I turn to when I need a versatile boulder and sport climbing shoe with serious sending ability.
Indoor - 10/10
Outdoor - 9/10
Sensitivity - 9/10
Comfort - 8/10
Durability - 7/10
Value For Money - 10/10
- Awesome for indoor and outdoor sport/bouldering
- Velcro/slipper hybrid closure keeps the shoe nice and secure, with easy on/off access
- 6-panel uppers allow for custom molding without excessive stretch
- Sensitive and flexible, yet can still stick an edge when needed
- Not the best fit for super narrow feet
- Velcro strap is a bit long Closure doesn’t allow for any fit adjustment
Regardless if you spend your free time swinging from wooden or rock walls, I am willing to bet you have seen the VSR in action. They aren’t exactly difficult to spot, these black and blue shoes seem to be everywhere right now. You would be excused for thinking that the Instinct VSR is one of the latest and greatest models to come out of their Italian workshop.
While the Instinct VSR has been part of the Scarpa line for over 6 years now, there’s a good reason why they are still a common sight at gyms, crags, and comp scenes across the world: The Instinct VSR is a serious sending machine.
In my opinion, a shoe like the Instinct VSR is the closest thing you can get to a sport and bouldering all arounder right now; soft enough to allow for flexibility to adapt to angles above and below vertical, enough support to stick smaller edges, and the sensitivity you need to get the read on how secure your foot placements feel.
Last updated on May 6th, 2023 at 02:47 am
My partner and I recently decided to grab our backpacks and hit the road indefinitely, which left me with a bit of a dilemma. Taking my ridiculously oversized collection of climbing shoes wasn’t exactly an option, and I knew there was only enough space in my backpack for one pair of climbing shoes.
With backpack space at a premium, I knew I could only bring the holy grail of climbing shoes; That miracle model which inspires confidence on technical slabs with barely-there features has the ability to smear up gym volumes or hang from cave walls in lesser-known corners of the world.
There was one shoe that instantly came to mind: The Scarpa Instinct VSR.
I had previously done my fair share of testing the VSR in gyms and my local crags, and I was always impressed by how well these shoes performed, so I knew these shoes had the potential to fit the bill.
After a few months of relying on the VSR as my only climbing shoe, my first impression of this shoe was confirmed. There aren’t many shoes that have the amazing versatility of the VSR.
This Instinct model sits on the soft side of the spectrum, so unsurprisingly, it feels at home adapting to walls that sit above and below vertical. The reason for this is that softer shoes adapt to the shape and angle of the surface you are standing on, helping you generate superior power through your feet.
The problem with a lot of soft shoes is that, while they can be awesome for running up big volumes when it comes to standing on small edges, they suck. Many soft shoes have very little support for your toes, which means you have to dig in hard to even have a slight chance of sticking to those delicate foot placements.
With the VSR, however, this isn’t the case. Of course, they don’t have the edging prowess of stiffer models like the Instinct VS and Vapor V – but bearing in mind the VSR is billed as a soft shoe – it can hold an edge pretty damn well.
All in all, the clever features of the Instinct VSR (of which there are many) make it a hot favorite for seasoned gym bros looking to crush hard. However, I think the VSR is a solid option for intermediate climbers who have outgrown their beginner shoes and looking for something a little more performance orientated. The moderate camber and wide toe box make them pretty comfortable, meaning your feet won’t be left with PTSD whilst breaking them, which is always a nice bonus.
If you want to deep dive into the key points and technical specs, then keep reading my full Scarpa Instinct VSR review below.
Even after a few burns in the shoe, it becomes apparent that SCARPA has put a lot of effort into ensuring the VSR didn’t completely forsake its edging prowess.
The edging ability of the shoe is created through a combination of factors. The toe box shape and split sole work to distribute weight through the forefoot, the 1mm Flexan midsole provides some much needed under toe support while the slingshot heel and the Bi-tension rand work together to create tension, which allows the shoe to become rigid when force is applied.
What the hell is a Bi-tension rand? I’m glad you asked. Unlike a traditional slingshot rand, which creates tension by cramming your toes forward, the bi-tension works in reverse. When you apply weight to the toe box, the shoe begins to flatten, and – just like a stretched-out elastic band – the reverse rand kicks in, pulling the back of the shoe in and putting the power back into your toes.
This clever design ultimately allows for more secure and precise foot placements and keeps the shoe flexible, all while reducing tension.
As you might expect, smearing in the VSR is great. The split sole and barely-there midsole allow the forefoot to stay flexible, allowing for plenty of surface contact on the wall, regardless of the angle. The sticky Vibram XS Grip 2 (a compound exclusive to Scarpa and La Sportiva shoes) does a brilliant job of generating the friction you need to smear securely on even the most polished sandstone rock.
Ridiculously aggressive shoes are the common poster child for steep pocket climbing. While the VSR might not have the aggressive profile of performance shoes like the La Sportiva Solution or Evolv Phantom, don’t be too quick to write the VSR off for your cave proj just yet.
In fact, the VSR can keep up with the best of them. The soft shape helps them conform to the large pockets, and the sensitive forefoot (helped by the reduction of rubber thanks to the bi-tension rand).
I am a big fan of the moderately asymmetric last and central shape of the VSR toe box. The design puts the focal point of power over your first and second toes, allowing your two strongest toes to work together on those tiny edges. That slight concave shape under your toes helps hook pockets and allows for better control when taking on those pumpy overhung lines.
Thanks to the awesome dual-texture design of the toe patch, you get great friction when throwing down a gnarly toe hook too. That said, I like that the toe patch doesn’t consume the entire front of the shoe, which can stop the shoe from properly conforming to the shape of your toes as well as creating painful hotspots.
Toe patch aside, there are plenty of other clever features that aren’t apparently obvious upon first inspection. For example, those little blue arrows around the front of the shoe might look like a stylistic choice, but they actually serve a pretty important job. Those little patches cover the high-wear areas on the material upper (you know, those places that start to wear through after one ambitious toe hook too many) helping maximize the lifespan of your shoes.
The Instinct heel has been a fan favorite ever since the release of the original in 2010 and has remained largely unchanged since the original design.
That said, there are a few subtle upgrades to the VSR heel. For example, the Vibram sole still protrudes up the back of your heel but is now tucked under the slingshot rand at the top. This is a nice touch and undoubtedly contributes to keeping the heel cup secure. It also comes in handy when cranking hard on techie heel hooks and also offers a little extra protection to your calcaneus bone (the lumpy bone on the back of your heel). A bit of extra rubber has been added to the sides of the heel cup too, which opens the shoe to handling heel hooks from all angles.
Admittedly, I have always been a fan of a stiffer heel (Evolv are the masters of stiff heel design in my opinion) but the sensitivity and feedback you revive from the soft heel of the VSR are undeniably brilliant.
I want to make a quick comment on the heel size here. The Instinct heel cup looks unusually wide but l have never had problems with dead space. Of course, this will be highly personal and depend on the size and shape of your foot, but I have always found the Instinct suctions perfectly around my heel.
Scarpa Instinct VSR Sizing
If you read the section on the heel and toe design, you will already know that the VSR runs pretty wide in both the front and back of the shoe. The VSR is one of the only shoes in the Instinct family that is classed as unisex, which means there isn’t a specific male/female variation.
It’s also worth remembering that every shoe in the Instinct family is built around the same last shape (the FV last for ‘male’ and FJW for ‘female’ models) so sizing the VSR will be the same as any other models in the family tree if you are familiar with those shoes.
If you don’t have much experience with Scarpa sizing, then here’s how I sized the VSR. I usually wear a 44 EU size street shoe and chose to downsize to a size 42 EU in the VSR.
This gives me an excellent performance fit, which engages the active rands, but doesn’t completely forsake all comfort. I can easily wear these shoes for a good half an hour before needing to give my feet a break.
Remember, with a soft shoe like the VSR, getting a nice snug fit is absolutely essential for the shoe to work properly. If a soft climbing shoe is too loose, it won’t engage the active rands and will be unable to create that elasticated tension that transfers power throughout the shoe. This enables the shoe to become rigid when standing on small edges.
When it comes to shoe stretch, don’t expect much. The VSR has an unlined synthetic 6-pannel upper (the upper is also reinforced with a strategic stitching pattern) which allows for a nice custom molding once broken in but ensures the shoes won’t excessively stretch out and become sloppy.
Unlike the original lace model, Besides choosing the shoe size, you don’t have that much control over the fit of the VSR thanks to the single velcro strap and elasticated tongue, so size to fit.