So iLL’s ‘Pro Line’ includes the brand’s premium climbing shoe styles. The Free Range Pro is the stiffest option in the Pro Line, and So iLL calls it a ‘go-to maximum performance workhorse.’
After testing the Free Range Pro on the granite boulders of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, and the sport routes of Smith Rock, Oregon, I identified the shoe’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
Though the Free Range Pro is marketed as “super stiff,” it is not. So iLL outfitted this shoe with a “hardened forefoot area,” but the split sole construction softens the fit and feel. The Free Range Pro is a four out of 10 on a spectrum from soft to stiff. It’s much softer than a SCARPA Boostic yet stiffer than a SCARPA Drago.
Once I accepted the semi-soft profile, the Free Range Pro demonstrated plenty of redeeming qualities. The Dark Matter rubber was effective on various rock types and indoor footholds. It’s a soft compound that conformed to tiny edges and crystals as a bouldering shoe should.
In short: The So iLL Free Range Pro is an excellent choice for steep routes and boulders, especially indoors, if you have a high-volume foot, and it’s a significant improvement over the original Free Range.
‘Pro’ Model vs. Original Free Range
The Free Range Pro builds upon the original Free Range, one of So iLL’s popular older models. Several key improvements were made in the design process of the Pro version, and the result is a modern indoor-focused shoe that doubles as a good choice for steep outdoor projects.
Like its predecessor, the Free Range Pro is wildly downturned. So iLL stiffened up the forefoot and heel areas with semi-rigid midsole material, but the split-sole break in between the stiffer areas provided a lot of flex through the arch.
Compared to the original Free Range, the Pro looked seriously talon-like and aggressive, which took some getting used to — even for someone accustomed to climbing in downturned shoes. The severe concavity was a significant boon on boulders and routes steeper than 30 degrees overhanging.
After a few sessions, the comfort and wearability improved. The pair I tested maintained its shape over a dozen sessions in the gym and several days of cragging.
Other differences between the original Free Range model and the new Pro include a larger patch of toe hooking rubber and a more “egg-shaped” heel cup. The Free Range Pro is built on the same last as So iLL’s other Pro model, the megasoft New Zero Pro. Fit-wise, they’re interchangeable.
An Extremely High-Volume Shoe
My primary issue with the Free Range Pro was the volume. It’s the most voluminous climbing shoe I’ve ever worn.
Per So iLL’s recommendation, I stuck with my street shoe size in the Free Range Pro. My toes were slightly curled, and the back of my heel was pressed firmly into the heel cup. Despite the snug lengthwise fit, the shoes felt baggy, and excess upper material bunched up around the top and sides of my foot.
When I pressed the pointed toe into a small hold, the shoe’s negative space was displaced into a series of wrinkles and voids. Fully cinching the single Velcro strap helped a little, but the Free Range Pro would fit better on a taller, thicker foot.
Like all climbing shoes, the specific shape of the So iLL Free Range Pro isn’t for everyone. The extra volume may suit certain folks well, but it seems like an odd design choice that won’t be ideal for most climbers.
For me, the high-volume fit hindered the overall performance. So iLL does offer low-volume versions of some of its shoes, and we’d love to see them do the same with the Free Range Pro.
I liked the Free Range Pro’s innovative closure system, which offered two unique ways to fit and tension the shoe. In one position, the fit was a bit more open and casual, which lent itself to pain-free warmups. In the second position, the Velcro formed a collar around the top of the shoe, which was great for preventing slippage while heel hooking.
Like all So iLL gear, these shoes were visually striking and regularly attracted questions from curious climbers at the gym and the crag. So iLL’s bold and monochrome design philosophy sets them apart from more dominant shoe makers like Five Ten and La Sportiva.
As a brand, So iLL has intentionally embraced the indoor climbing market. During the design process, pro climber Toshi Takeuchi put the Free Range Pro through multiple testing rounds in the gym. The finished product shined brightest indoors — especially on competition-style boulder problems and training boards.
So iLL Free Range Pro: Conclusions
So iLL is making a conscious effort to improve the quality of its climbing shoe lineup and compete directly with the heavy hitters while also carving out its own ethos. The Free Range Pro is undoubtedly an upgrade from the original Free Range.
The Free Range Pro suffers slightly from imprecise marketing. It’s stiffer than some shoes, but it isn’t a stiff shoe.
At Smith Rock, the thin vertical style calls for rigidity throughout the forefoot and arch, and the Free Range Pro wasn’t up to the task. But the shoe was impressive on overhanging routes defined by toe hooks, kneebars, and other new-age trickery. If you have a high-volume foot, it’s one of the better steep-terrain shoes on the market.