evolv zenist review
Photo Credit: Seiji Ishii

Smearing Superstar: Evolv Zenist Climbing Shoe Review

Evolv launched the Zenist through its Evo Lab channel in February, following the pre-Olympic trend of competition-style shoe releases.

California-based Evolv touted its Zenist as an indoor climbing weapon. It boasted the high sensitivity required for precise foot placements, in addition to delicate heel and toe hooks. But the shoe defies strict categorization.

Evolv graced the Zenist with a midsole, structured heel, and a 4.2mm-thick outsole. These combine with the sensitivity to deliver a package that scampered up cliffs and boulders as well — if not better — than training boards and gym walls.

We tested the Evolv Zenist over a 2-month period. It tackled at least 15 training stints on artificial surfaces and 8 days of sport-cragging or bouldering on limestone, with the bulk of movements at or near the limits of current ability.

In short: The Evolv Zenist fit my “duck foot” exceptionally well. And the sensitivity at the ball of the foot was among the best I’ve ever tested, making for supremely confident smearing.

The edge stiffness was just enough to support micro-edging with a strong foot. And the use of a 4.2mm-thick outsole and a variable thickness rand promise long life. This is a bonus, as that is not always the case with ultrasensitive competition-style shoes.

Evolv Zenist Climbing Shoe Review

Fit

My foot is the classic duck foot: narrow heel, wide forefoot, but a thin vertical profile. The Zenist fit my foot right out of the box, but I needed a 10.5 (verified weight 15.2 ounces per pair) for my usual size 10 foot.

The synthetic upper didn’t stretch in length, but the aggressive downturn relaxed slightly. This adds some functional length within a few training board sessions.

And during the first few weeks, the unlined upper molded to my foot for a second-skin feel. The single Velcro closure provided security. But, it wasn’t needed to make the shoe suck up to my foot.

The general shape of the heel fit well. And for a competition-style shoe, the level of structure felt significant. The variable thickness rand delivered a similar level of structure to the front of the Evolv Zenist, as did the 1.0mm EX-P half-length rubber midsole.

Finally, the 4.2mm Trax SAS outsole added a touch of stiffness and promised longevity. And I’ll add that this construction doesn’t deliver the sock-like structure of some gym-centered models.

The fit and construction of the Zenist didn’t scream “competition only.” If Evolv didn’t plug it as a competition shoe, I would categorize it as a sport climbing and bouldering shoe by the way it fit and felt.

evolv zenist

Evolv Zenist: Testing in the Gym

The Zenist proved excellent on my home boards and at the gyms. The middle-of-the-road sensitivity and support worked across a wide range of indoor circumstances.

I could power off small positive edges, but also toe down and pull my hips in on the same holds. There was a compromise — the Zenist wasn’t as soft nor as aggressively downturned as some of my other comp shoes. So, pulling in wasn’t as automatic as it is with much softer shoes. But those shoes didn’t edge nearly as well.

I found heel hooking felt stable. But it wasn’t as sensitive on minor features compared to some of my other Olympic shoes. Toe hooking was excellent, as the rubber-covered vegan upper proved pliable and sensitive. Because of the midsole, there was a bit of effort involved in contorting the shoe, but this was only relative to super-soft comp shoes.

Where the Evolv Zenist shined was its sensitivity around the ball of the foot. I confidently glommed my foot onto both textured and bare volumes and, at times, smeared on bare plywood with enough feel to ensure my foot wouldn’t zing off without warning. I proclaimed the Zenist as the king of smearing for the current set of competition-specific rock shoes.

evolv zenist

Evolv Zenist: Good Crag Shoe?

For this tester, the Evolv Zenist was better at outdoor limestone climbing and bouldering.

The various bits that give the Zenist structure and caused potential compromise compared to other competition-style shoes were the exact attributes that made it a killer shoe on the local steeps in central Texas.

The structural integrity, and resulting support and edging ability, made the Evolv Zenist a precise, sensitive, and powerful weapon for steep limestone bolt-clipping and bouldering.

The toe is pointy enough to stab pockets, and the combination of sensitivity, downturn, and edging ability made pocket pulling another strength.

Conclusions

The Evolv Zenist is a competent indoor competition climbing and bouldering shoe for those looking for more support and structure than a slipper. But it’s at least equally capable on steep outdoor clip-ups and boulders, if not more so.

If you have a classic duck foot, this medium-volume shoe may be the only tool you need for the steeps, indoors or out.

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Seiji Ishii
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Seiji Ishii has enjoyed a lifetime of outdoor adventure and sports, from participant and competitor to coach and trainer, and finally as an editorial contributor. His interests have spanned cycling, climbing, motorcycling, backpacking, trail running, and the training involved for all of it. He has also designed outdoor and off-road motorcycling gear. He lives in a wildlife refuge in Wimberley, Texas, with his daughter, itinerant dirt bags, a dog, and a cat. Read more of his musings at seijisays.com.