Black Diamond’s first aggressive shoe hits all the marks for steep climbing. We put the Shadow to the test on the renowned rock of Mexico’s Potrero Chico for this review.
Black Diamond Equipment just released the Shadow climbing shoe ($180), its first aggressive shoe designed for steep sport climbing and bouldering.
The brand entered the climbing shoe game in the second half of 2017, and the Shadow is its third shoe model. We received a preview pair and broke them in at a home gym. We then immediately took them to El Potrero Chico, Mexico, for the first impression on towering limestone.
In short: The Shadow combines several newer construction techniques and materials to create a low-bulk, close-fitting, light, sticky addition to the quiver that excels on steeper routes and boulders.
Synthetic Uppers and Molded Outsole
The low bulk of the upper was apparent the first time I donned the Shadows for a break-in session on the home bouldering wall. The microfiber upper is thinner than leather and quickly conforms to the foot.
This synthetic upper contributes to the shoe’s impressively low weight; 15.5 ounces for a size US 9.5. The 4.3-mm-thick Fuse rubber outsole is molded instead of cut from a sheet. This isn’t visibly apparent because the sharp edges enjoyed on new shoes with standard outsoles are also present on the molded outsole.
Printed rubber overlays and an extension of the tall toe rand adorn the toe box section of the upper. Molded extensions span the gaps from the toe rand to the standard-looking heel rand on each side of the shoe. The rubber heel cup encapsulates the rear outer surface of the heel and partially covers the inner surface.
A single Velcro strap further secures a stretchy “Engineered Knit” tongue.
Review: Black Diamond Equipment Shadow Climbing Shoes
I wear a US size 10 running shoe; Black Diamond Equipment sent 9.5’s, and I feared they were too tight when trying them for the first time. A bouldering session on the home wall produced some stretch in the microfiber upper to accommodate my toe knuckles, improving comfort a tad. I have a classic “duck foot”: narrow heel, wide forefoot, thin from top to bottom, and low volume overall.
The Shadow fit my feet extremely well. I had no air gaps anywhere. The upper and knit tongue hug the top of my foot evenly, and the heel requires force to remove due to suction. The Velcro strap feels almost unnecessary.
Black Diamond Shadow: Bouldering Test
This first bouldering session revealed the Shadow’s aggressive nature. The downturn – which was moderately aggressive out of the box – and a slightly curved last nurtured pulling in with the toes on the 40-degree overhang of the home wall. The Fuse rubber performed well on the artificial holds.
While loading tiny footholds, the toes felt powerful and precise. The vacuum-like fit and thin midsole created sensitivity without a painful high tension heel rand.
Heel hooking also felt powerful. The snug heel transmitted sensitivity, and the rubber coverage provided necessary grip.
The edges and ribbed texture of the molded rubber toe cap excelled at toe hooks. The printed rubber and tall rands effectively handled toe scumming.
Black Diamond Shadow: Test at El Potrero Chico
The first full-length pitches on the Virgin Wall at El Potrero Chico ranged from slabby to vertical. This demonstrated the rock-adhering qualities of the outsole, but also the limitations of a shoe destined for the steeps.
The minuscule footholds typical of the Virgin Wall created no traction issues. I was pleasantly surprised by the Fuse rubber’s stickiness and sensitivity despite having a thicker outsole. But this sensitivity combined with the aggressive fit fatigued my toes and proved uncomfortable beyond the first pitches of multi-pitch routes.
Four rope lengths of heavy foot weighting caused more shoe stretch and conformity, which established the half-size-smaller fitting approach to be accurate.
The steeper-than-vertical spires and Mota Wall allowed the Shadow to shine. Thin feet on runout overhanging sections required commitment and confidence, and the high sensitivity, sticky rubber, aggressive nature, and snug fit all delivered.
The now broken in and stretched out shoes were comfortable for full-length routes that didn’t involve fully weighting the feet on low angles for the duration. Accumulating vertical mileage also reduced the amount of downturn in the shoes.
Review: Black Diamond Shadow Climbing Shoe
I was skeptical when Black Diamond Equipment started releasing climbing shoes. I didn’t have faith in first-run models from a brand that didn’t produce exclusively shoes.
The correct formula to build an efficient climbing shoe comfortable for the majority is notoriously hard to achieve without an extensive history in the market.
But Black Diamond Equipment surprised me with the Shadow. I can assertively state that this shoe is a trusted partner when attacking steeper sport climbs and boulder problems.