Gear Review: Black Diamond Zone Climbing Shoe
Reviewed by Francis Charlesworth, Programme Coordinator NZAC
Black Diamond is one of the biggest names when it comes to technical climbing gear. The brand’s reputation is for innovative design and for high-quality, well-tested and well thought-out products. So when they entered the climbing shoe market in 2017, their product line garnered immediate attention, albeit with the obligatory climbing shoe nerd questions like: ‘How sticky will the rubber be?’ and ‘What will the heel cup shape be like?’.
The Black Diamond Zone climbing shoe is a hybrid of the Momentum from their ‘neutral’ range and the Shadow from their ‘aggressive’ range. This combination creates a shoe that is aimed at the mid-grade climber who desires a shoe that will give them the performance needed for steep terrain, whilst not being a hyper-specialised shoe solely for steep roofs.
The most important factor when buying climbing shoes is undoubtably the fit. The Zone is available in two volumes. Black Diamond have rightly moved away from describing low volume shoes as ‘women’s’ and now describe the Zone as available in a standard or low volume fit (the Zone LV). They describe the standard Zone as having a regular last for regular to higher volume feet. This is apparent in the fit of the shoe—with more space around the forefoot and a larger toe box. Climbers with a regular volume foot would benefit from trying on both the standard and LV to ensure they get the perfect fit.
I found the shoes took a while to break in—largely due to the stiff toe box—but now the fit feels precise and they are my shoe of choice for steep bouldering. Shoes that take a while to break in are important to me, as I feel this ensures they do not stretch easily, ensuring a good fit right through until the shoe is completely worn out. The large velcro strap effectively locks your foot into an aggressive position, perfect for steep terrain, whilst the secondary smaller strap gives precise adjustment around the toe. The heel cup again reflects the slightly higher volume found in the shoe and some may find it too roomy. It’s important to note that the Zone’s sizing is on the smaller end of the scale when compared to other brands. I found the shoes to be well fitting by going half a size above my street shoe size, despite my size in 5.10s being a full size below my street shoe size. Trying before buying is key.
When in use, the shoe performs excellently on steep terrain, whether rock or plastic. The downturned and asymmetric shape provides trust when pushing off edges on steep routes, and precision to place my foot exactly where I want it. I felt that the moulded rubber heel gave less sensitivity when hooking, but it holds the foot well and has not softened in use, which can be a frustrating flaw with more sensitive shoes. The shoe is a great companion for a climber looking to push their grades and move onto steeper terrain. Whilst the shoe is clearly designed for steeper climbs, it performs adequately on vertical terrain, although the 4.3mm Fuse rubber sole does dampen sensitivity somewhat.
Black Diamond is justifiably proud of the Knit Technology that is used in the uppers of most of their shoes. This is not an all-day shoe, but the comfort offered from this technology is very welcome. Despite seeming illogical for a performance shoe, the upper stretches somewhat and allows greater breathability when compared to leather or synthetic-leather shoes. During the construction of the shoe, the tension of the knit has been adjusted to give strength and tension where needed, whilst allowing stretch in other areas. This gives a reassuring fit and ensures ongoing comfort whilst going for multiple redpoints. Sweating in the shoe is also significantly reduced, helping prevent stinky climbing shoes.
I don’t feel able to give an accurate review on the durability of the shoe, as I have only been using the Zone for the last six months. It is worth noting that the moulded midsole, made from Pebax (a thermoplastic elastomer known for its flexibility, fatigue resistance and ability to hold shape for a long duration), certainly holds the downturned shape extremely well despite considerable use.
The Zone is for climbers looking to have more confidence in their footwork on steeper terrain. The fit of the regular volume shoe will suit people with high volume feet much more than those with a regular volume. As a result, trying both the regular and LV version is crucial when buying.
As with all shoes, the bottom line is that the fit should be the primary consideration, but this shoe will be a great companion for a climber looking for their first pair of performance downturned shoes.