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La Sportiva

My long association with La Sportiva started back in 1988, when they sent me a pair of Kendos after climbing my first 8a, Reve d’un Papillon at Buoux. Over the years I’ve been with them, they’ve been responsible for endless innovations, from the first modern leather ice climbing boots to the first down-turned rock shoes, No-Edge technology and so on. 

 
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My experiences with La Sportiva….

HQ in Val Di Fiemme

From the humble origins of their tiny factory in Tesero, the La Sportiva has now evolved in to a large, high-tech, fully sustainable organisation that has remained entirely true its core philosophy. The spirit of climbing is in their blood and they represent the absolute cutting edge of product design.'

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The Delladios

La Sportiva is one of the few great outdoor brands that is still owned by its original founders. The Delladio family still run La Sportiva because making footwear and going into the mountains is their heritage. The current director is Lorenzo (who’s passion for cars is reflected in the names of many of the shoes). His daughter, Giulia is involved in sales and marketing and his son Francesco is in product development. Every time I visit we head out for a slap-up feast, followed by some traditional dancing and a bit of climbing the next day. 

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Athletes - International

It’s no surprise that the world’s best climbers, such as Adam Ondra, gravitate towards La Sportiva shoes. For me, one of the best parts of being on the international athlete team is spending time with legendary figures like Adam. I first climbed with Adam in 2014, where we joined forces for a brief slideshow and climbing tour. Within weeks of getting his first sponsorship deal with La Sportiva, Adam taught himself to speak Italian and his genuine passion for the brand really comes across. 

 
 
 Quality control in action at the La Sportiva factory.

Quality control in action at the La Sportiva factory.

Quality

La Sportiva insist on making all their performance and mid range shoes in their factory in Val Di Fiemme in order to control every stage of manufacturing. The list of measures they take to ensure quality is virtually endless. For example, they make all left and right feet on the same day to ensure identical characteristics and they also refuse to use machines to perform crucial operations such as rand tensioning and instead use craftsmen and women with decades of experience. I could say more but most of their best manufacturing techniques are guarded secrets.

 La Sportiva's leading designer Pietro Dal Pra gives a presentation on the biomechanics of the foot in the lecture theatre at their innovation centre in Val di Fiemme.

La Sportiva's leading designer Pietro Dal Pra gives a presentation on the biomechanics of the foot in the lecture theatre at their innovation centre in Val di Fiemme.

Innovation

When you really look at the key technological breakthroughs in rock shoes and mountaineering boots over the last two decades, virtually all have come from La Sportiva. It costs vast sums to develop a new shoe, especially if the project involves new and unproven technologies. La Sportiva’s dedicated Innovation Centre is proof of their commitment to continuous evolution. A visit to this building always proves to be a bamboozling lesson in biomechanics and engineering science and every time I go they are talking excitedly in hushed tones about something completely new. 

 The birth of No-Edge Technology - La Sportiva's Ballerina slipper from the mid 1980s was the first stage of an evolutionary journey that took 3 decades.

The birth of No-Edge Technology - La Sportiva's Ballerina slipper from the mid 1980s was the first stage of an evolutionary journey that took 3 decades.

No-Edge Technology

Years ahead of its time, it took La Sportiva over a decade to perfect No-Edge technology. It’s hard to pinpoint when the journey actually started and in some ways, the concept of having sensitive ‘feel everything’ climbing shoes began in the days of the earliest slippers, such as iconic Ballerina slipper. The end result is something that has re-invented the wheel – a shoe that gives both sensitivity and stable edging support. And they said it could never be done. 

 Testing the legendary Mirage, the world's first down-turned shoe on the first ascent of Gravediggers E8 6c, Llanberis, UK in 1997. Photo: Ray Wood 

Testing the legendary Mirage, the world's first down-turned shoe on the first ascent of Gravediggers E8 6c, Llanberis, UK in 1997. Photo: Ray Wood 

Down-turned

 Of all La Sportiva’s innovations down-turned rock shoes are surely the most significant. I was the first British climber to test a pair of the legendary Mirage shoes that were designed by Norwegian sports scientist Marius Morstad back in 1997. I could immediately see the advantages for steep climbing (even though they needed further work) any yet the idea was dismissed as a gimmick at my local climbing wall in Sheffield. Yet two decades on, every reputable rock shoe manufacturer has at least three down-turned models in their range and they have now become synonymous with high performance. On the few occasions when I go back to trying flat shoes on overhangs, it astounds me that this is what we used to make do with.  

 La Sportiva's iconic, Nepal top, the boot that started the 'leather revolution'.

La Sportiva's iconic, Nepal top, the boot that started the 'leather revolution'.

Innovation short list:

Other major firsts that I’ve witnessed during my time with La Sportiva are as follows:

Slingshot rands – the idea of having your toes rammed forward into the front of a shoe by a tensioned rand. Don’t forget where you saw it first – a shoe called the Kendo, which I used to climb Indian Face E9 6c back in 1996.

S-Heel – Climbers had come to accept that their heel-cups would always roll and creep during aggressive heel-hooks until La Sportiva fixed this ‘last great design problem’ once and for all. 

Leather ice climbing boots – not invented by La Sportiva, but certainly reinvented. It was the iconic Nepal Top that caused the world’s entire ice climbing population to throw their plastics in the bin during the mid 90s. The other brands all launched their versions the following year.

Hybrid boots – Early designs from other brands were niche and never caught on, but it was La Sportiva’s celebrated Trango series that made hybrid (multi-purpose walking/climbing) boots properly functional and put them on the map. 

 Testing the Stormfighter GTX jacket and Roy pants in Rjukan, Norway in 2018. Photo: Gresham collection

Testing the Stormfighter GTX jacket and Roy pants in Rjukan, Norway in 2018. Photo: Gresham collection

Apparel

It was inevitable that when the worlds’ most innovative outdoor footwear manufacturer started making apparel that they would be bold enough to make their own statement. La Sportiva’s stunning clothing line has its own unique signature. Whether it’s the cotton-wear for rock climbing or the technical products for winter use in the mountains, the fabric combinations and visual styling make their garments instantly recognizable. In the sea of sameness that prevails in outdoor clothing, La Sportiva’s clothing line is a breath of fresh air. Here are some of my favourite picks:

 

Stormfigther GTX jacket - purpose-designed, lightweight stripped-down ice climbing shell. Does exactly what it says on the label. 

Roy Pants - these soft-shell pants are so good at shedding moisture and so ergonomically cut and articulate, that I use them on virtually all winter routes. It's only if the ice is hosing down that I'd go for hard-shell pants in preference.

Joshua Tree Jacket - ideal lightweight pull-on shell for mountain cragging,

Stratosphere Hoody - for rock climbing on chilly days

Primus Hoody - a superb, high-tec hybrid piece for winter fast-and-light days.

Sandstone pants - Superb fit. Wear them climbing or anywhere! 

 First ascent of Sabotage 8c+, Malham, UK, in 2016 wearing the Genius. Photo: Ian Parnell

First ascent of Sabotage 8c+, Malham, UK, in 2016 wearing the Genius. Photo: Ian Parnell

My rock shoe choices:

 

Genius

Unrivalled shoe for dealing with tiny, polished, scoopy footholds on sport limestone. I’ve used the Genius for all my recent hardest sport first ascents in Yorkshire, such as Sabotage 8c+ at Malham and Freakshow 8c at Kilnsey. No-Edge technology is years ahead of its time, offering incredible feel and sensitivity, yet with an adequate degree of support. The best shoe I’ve ever used.

 

 

 The Skwama is my current go-to shoe for training and indoor climbing. Photo: Ian Parnell

The Skwama is my current go-to shoe for training and indoor climbing. Photo: Ian Parnell

Skwama

An incredible shoe for bouldering and indoor climbing, which somehow manages to achieve the impossible task of being aggressively down-turned, yet very comfortable. The edges on the Skwama have been well chamfered so that they conform to holds and feel sensitive to use. This shoe is ideal for very steep angles, with the hooked toe profile giving plenty of ‘bite’, yet it also flexes and smears superbly, by way of the lateral articulation in the sole. The S-Heel is yet another design first for La Sportiva and solves the longstanding problem of heel-cups slipping during compression heel-hooks. This combined with a large toe-patch for hooking makes the Skwama a dangerous weapon for the modern style of bouldering. 

 The Miura VS gives amazing edging support on long limestone slabs, such as those that are found at Ceuse in the Hautes Alpes. 

The Miura VS gives amazing edging support on long limestone slabs, such as those that are found at Ceuse in the Hautes Alpes. 

Miura VS

A shoe without limits, the Miura VS is the ultimate all-rounder, offering a blend of edging power for vertical routes and down-turned performance for the steep stuff. I have used this shoe for everything from Pembroke and North Wales trad to Fontainebleau bouldering to sport climbing at Ceuse or Kalymnos. The stretch is minimal and they break in almost instantly. Miura VSs are also a great first-time down-turned shoe, being less extreme in shape than some other models. If you’re looking for one shoe, which covers all bases then this is the one. 

 Climbing Daniboy 8a, Kalymnos in Katanas. Photo: Adrian Berry

Climbing Daniboy 8a, Kalymnos in Katanas. Photo: Adrian Berry

Katana

Never to be underestimated, Katanas are ideal shoes for any climber who requires a blend of performance and comfort. The relatively flat, but assymetric last makes them ideally suited to slabs, vertical or gently overhanging terrain. This is a particularly special shoe for me, because I used them for my hardest trad route, Equilibrium E10 7a, on Peak Gritstone. The crux of this route involves committing your entire bodyweight to a foot on a tiny pebble and a slip would result in a ground-fall from 40 feet. The Katanas gave me the confidence to realise my dream but they don’t have to be pushed to the limit and work well for everyone, regardless of their level of goals and ability level. 

 The Maverink shoe at a test event in Val di Fiemme with Adam Ondra.  

The Maverink shoe at a test event in Val di Fiemme with Adam Ondra.  

Maverink

As a coach I have seen countless examples over the years of kids cramming their feet into down-turned performance shoes, which are designed for adults. The Maverink shoe is the first of it’s kind, being a less-aggressive, down-turned shoe with less tension, which is designed specifically to be kind to the growing foot. As such, this is another first for La Sportiva and fulfils a crucial gap in the market. The No-Edge technology offers incredible performance to the discerning junior climber and also enables them to improve proprioception by way of the improved sensitivity. Finally, junior climbers can benefit from a performance shoe without doing damage to their feet. 

 Heirloom VI 6, Lake District, UK, wearing G5s. Photo: Andy Clarke

Heirloom VI 6, Lake District, UK, wearing G5s. Photo: Andy Clarke

G5SM

Ever since La Sportiva introduced their revolutionary Nepal Top back in 1997, I have followed the evolution of their technical winter climbing boots every step of the way. From the insulated Nepal Extremes to the further-refined Nepal Evo, through to the Baturas and G2s, with their synthetic uppers and external gaiters. Each time the boots are tweaked like racing cars in order to save a few grams in weight, or to improve warmth, comfort, or technical performance. And every time they evolve I convince myself that they can't get any better, and yet somehow they always seem to. So I'm tempted to say that the G5s are the last word in performance winter boots, but I know that La Sportiva will make me eat my words before too long! I am simply blown away by these boots. There's no need to break them in - they're good to go straight out of the box. The Boa lacing system is outstanding and comes into it's own when you need to tighten your boots at the base of the route without taking off your gloves. It's hard to believe that a boot that's so light and compact on your foot, can also be so warm. And the climbing performance is of-the-scale, with La Sportiva's trademark, boxy toe-profile transferring all the weight straight onto your front points.