The STEALTH Rubber Story: Past & Present
The story behind the iconic climbing rubber.
STEALTH rubber is arguably one of the most iconic rubber compounds ever created. The rubber is Five Ten’s exclusive compound, found on all their climbing, biking and approach shoes.
For several decades, STEALTH was the undisputed king of climbing shoe rubber. Scores of pro climbers marvelled at the unrivalled friction the rubber compound provided over its 20th-century competitors. Publications like National Geographic, Rock & Ice and Gear Institute used phrases like ‘game changer’ and ‘invention of the decade’ when making reference to iconic collection rubber compounds.
THE BREAK DOWN
- 1 The History Of STEALTH Rubber
- 2 Why is it called STEALTH rubber?
- 3 Five Ten Rubber Today: STEALTH C4 Rubber
- 4 The Best STEALTH Rubber Shoes
- 5 What do you think of STEALTH Climbing Shoes?
In the 36 years since it was first released, STEALTH rubber has built somewhat of a cult following. The super sticky rubber has caught the attention of million, both within and outside the climbing community, with plenty of celebs amongst their ranks of loyal devotees.
Madonna and her troop of free-running backup dancers enlisted the help of STEALTH for several world tours and a Super Bowl halftime show. Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible team requested the help of Five Ten’s sticky compound so they could create that iconic scene on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Stuntmen from major blockbusters like Spiderman, Transformers and Star Wars all used STEALTH shoes for their big-screen action scenes. The History Channel even featured STEALTH in an episode of Modern Marvels!
Not bad for a climbing shoe rubber with humble beginnings.
So, what is STEALTH rubber exactly? Where did it come from? And what shoes use STEALTH rubber today?
I’m glad you asked!
The History Of STEALTH Rubber
The Roots Of the Rubber Evolution
STEALTH rubber was created at the hands of Charles Cole, founder of Five Ten, in 1985.
For those that don’t know much about Cole, don’t be fooled into thinking he was some lab chemist or million-dollar venture capitalist, this man was a tried and tested climbing veteran. He established over 1000 daring first-ascents around the USA, particularly in Yosemite and Joshua Tree. Putting up lines like Run For Your Life (5.10b, Joshua Tree), and Space (VI 5.10 A4+), a 28-pitch solo up El Cap, Charles knew the limitation of climbing gear better than most.
So how did Charles, a middle-age climbing enthusiast, go on to create one of the most popular rubber compounds ever?
The story begins after Cole came back from aid ascent of El Cap, a message had been left on the Camp 4 noticeboard for him, that simply said “CALL HOME.” Charles obliged and called his parents, and learned his father had suffered a stroke and a heart attack. While his father survived, the permanent damage left him unable to work or run his business, which eventually led to the bank foreclosing his company.
Being a 30-years-old dirtbag, Charles knew he would need to step up and provide for his family. One of his top ideas for doing so, which he came up with whilst studying his Master’s at the University of Michigan, was to make a new rubber for climbing shoes.
Up until then, climbing wasn’t exactly a mainstream sport, and there were very few advancements in the way of shoe technology. Climbing shoes simply made do with the rubber compounds found on sneakers and boots, which lacked the grip climbers required to push the boundaries of the vertical realm.
Creating a Legend
Charles set about learning about rubber and the vulcanization process. While his background in engineering gave him a base level of knowledge on the subject, Cole deepened his understanding by heading to the Caltech library and reading every book they had on rubber production. With his newfound knowledge, Cole managed to create his own rubber samples.
He took his samples to a local rubber company, hoping they could recreate them for commercial distribution. As he quickly discovered though, it’s not possible to reverse engineer rubber, so Charles and the rubber manufacturers had to re-discover his winning rubber formula.
After a happy accident led the rubber factory to create an even sticker compound than Charles’ original sample. This compound went on to become the first STEALTH rubber available on a commercial scale, known as STEALTH S1. Charles arranged for a Taiwanese shoe manufacturer to create 1000 pairs of his newly designed shoe that he called the ‘Five Tennie’. This was what we today would refer to today as an ‘approach shoe’. The Tennie took inspiration from a popular Polish shoe that was widely used by American climbers at the time called the ‘Scat’.
Although the Five Tennies’ poor construction led to the uppers quickly falling apart, climbers instantly recognized the superior quality of Coles rubber and glued it onto their climbing shoes. Charles realized he was on to something and continued to develop a new compound, STEALTH C4.
This was some seriously sticky stuff. Don’t believe me? Take a look at shot from the History Channel’s feature on STEALTH.
Once word got out that there was a new climbing shoe rubber on, Demand for the rubber skyrocketed, and sales topped $1.2 million just two years later.
While the unprecedented stickiness of STEALTH Rubber, a combination of clever marketing, introducing other new shoe technology and a star-studded line-up of professional athletes undoubtedly all contributed to Five Ten becoming the global outdoor icon it is today.
In 2011, 25 years after it was founded, Charles sold Five Ten to Adidas for a cool $25 million dollars. Not bad for a Yosemite climbing bum.
Why is it called STEALTH rubber?
Cole shoe the name STEALTH rubber due the highly secretive nature of the rubber’s recipe. When referring to his famous rubber recipe he once stated ‘it’s in a safety deposit box, it’s on my computer and it’s in my head… and my mom knows the secret. That’s it”
Five Ten Rubber Today: STEALTH C4 Rubber
Since 1985, Cole and Five Ten have continuously created new compounds as well as refined their popular rubber recipes for specific uses.
Every climbing rubber, regardless of the shoe brand, has to find a balance between friction and durability. Many long-term Five Ten fans often cite that old C4 rubber provided better friction on the rock, the modern iterations of the C4 rubber are built with a higher level of durability, which significantly increases the lifespan of the shoe’s outsole.
That said, STEALTH is still some of the best rubber today. Most of the Five Ten climbing shoe line all use C4 rubber, although STEALTH HF is also occasionally used too. Their rubber still provides brilliant fiction, on both rock and plastic, and has the durability to see you through an intense sending season.
The Best STEALTH Rubber Shoes
Looking for the best STEALTH rubber shoes? There are plenty of great shoes to choose from. Here are three of our favorites!
Five Ten Hiangle
Currently, the Hiangle is the most popular performance shoe in the Five Ten line. The Hiangle is a top choice as a sport climbing shoe (the go-to shoe of Olympic champion and all-round badass Janja Gerbert) as well as for bouldering.
Like most shoes suited to these styles of climbing, the Hiangle utilizes an aggressive profile, allowing it to pull at pockets and edges on steep terrain. The updated Hiangle has. The shoe has an elasticated upper, which makes for easy on, easy off, while the single velcro strap also helps keep the shoe nice and secure on your foot.
And yes, of course the shoe uses STEALTH C4 rubber on the split sole forefoot and heel.
Five Ten NIAD VCS
The NIAD is the successor of the iconic Anasazi line, Five Ten’s most popular shoeline of the last 30 years. The NIAD VCS is a modern reinvention of the classic Anasazi VCS, a shoe that has been found on the feet of countless climbing legends of the decades.
The new shoe builds on the winning features of the older model, and adds some modern features in for good measure. The Flat last allows the shoe to perform well on a myriad of climbing styles including vertical sport and slab, while the new heel and toe patch boost the shoes performance on boulders.
Five Ten NIAD Moccasym
Another one of the original Anasazi shoes to upgrade treatment, the Moccasym is one of the most popular slip-on climbing shoes ever made.
The new Mocc offers the same level of comfort as the much loved classic, with the addition of some new features that allow for some more serious sending capabilities. The full length C4 rubber sole is fairly soft, although slightly stiffer than the original, which allows the shoe to perform pretty damn well on slabs, cracks and even slightly steep stuff.
What do you think of STEALTH Climbing Shoes?
While modern technology and extensive R&D has allowed other shoe manufacturers to create their own super-sticky compounds (anyone a fan of Vibram XS Grip 2 or Trax SAS?) STEALTH is still as ionic today as it was in the ‘80s.