A brief review of the Evolv Defy VTR rockshoe

8th Nov 2011

When I started climbing those traditional kids black gym shoes were the cragging footwear of choice.  My friends and I loved them not just because they performed reasonably well but there were a few drawbacks.  They had to be really tight to edge on anything small so we used a nut key to lever them on.  They also wore out quickly so I sometimes swapped my worn out ones with kids in my class.  Even today many Peak District routes still bring back haunting memories of the pain those shoes inflicted and PE lessons were hell.

When I took the Evolv Defy VTR from their box all these years later they immediately reminded me of those little gym shoes.  An all black colour scheme, uncomplicated appearance and simple Velcro fastener all make for a very stylish shoe.  But, despite their minimalist exterior these state of the art rock shoes are a world apart from those instruments of torture.


Evolv is a US brand that is now very well established in the UK.  All their footwear is assembled in the US.  Men’s and women’s specific boots are available.  Evolv are proud of the environmentally sustainable aspects of their footwear manufacture.  While they recognise that footwear manufacture is always going to damage the environment to some degree, they have models that are constructed using synthetic leather and their Eco Trax rubber soles currently use a 30% post consumer recycled rubber content (a percentage they plan to increase in the future).

The Test

I’ve been climbing in these shoes for the last 4 months.  This has included a lot of time on Peak Gritstone, Pembroke Limestone, Skye Gabbro,  Welsh Rhyolite and Gogarth Quartzite.  They have also spent a fair bit of time at local walls.  I have tried, whenever possible, to make direct comparisons by taking several types of rockshoes to the crag which I can swap during the session.

The Shoes

The Evolv Defy VTR is Evolv’s best selling shoe.  It is a black and grey velcro fastening slipper style manufactured with a nylon lined Synthratek synthetic leather upper and Ecotrax XT-5 sole.  The fastening system is 2 Velcro straps that pull across a well-padded tongue.  At the back are 2 decent sized finger loops to pull the slippers on and there are small ventilation holes punched into the upper to help keep them comfortable in hot weather.  The Defy has a 1mm half-length midsole which gives them a good mix of support for edging and flexibility for smearing.  The VTR stands for ‘Variable Thickness Rand’.  This allows a thicker rubber on the high wear areas of the rand which increases lifespan as well as ensuring no excess rubber is wasted in the manufacturing process.  It is hard to tell where the thicker sections are just by looking at the shoe but I do think they seem a bit thicker on the inside edge – or maybe I’m imagining that?!  The shoes spec describes the rand as 2.2mm but doesn’t explain how much thicker or thinner it gets in various places. 

The Review

My first impressions of the Defy were excellent.  Although I like bright colours as much as the next person I do feel manufacturers have gone a bit wild with their colour schemes in recent years. The simple black and dark grey does it for me.  Inspection of the construction quality also revealed neat even stitching, no loose thread ends, reinforced stitching in high stress areas, careful glueing and attention to detail in every respect.

I take a size 8(42) approach shoe in just about every type and model and in my recent rock shoes I have tended to take a 7 (41) or 7.5 (41.5) depending on the manufacturer and model.  I found the size 7 (41) Defy gave the best fit – snug and a little cramped at the toe (this has become comfortable with wear).  The 7.5 (41.5) just felt a bit too loose and I’m really glad I went for the smaller size.

I have been delighted with the fit of the shoe. The heel cup and insole fit are tight and supportive and the Velcro straps allow quick adjustment.  The shoe feels sensitive yet provides enough firmness for standing on small holds.  I have found some shoes grip too tightly across my arches but these fit well.  Basically, I love the fit of this shoe!  Obviously this varies according to the wearer’s foot shape but because this is such a popular shoe I’ve been able to ask quite a lot of other users I’ve seen at various crags and the answer is always the same.  They rate the performance and love the fit - there’s obviously a reason this shoe is a best seller.

Over the 4 months I have been using this shoe there has been minimal stretch.  The toe box has got comfier and they have stretched maybe a quarter of a size.  Now the fit is perfect and I can wear these shoes comfortably for hours and they are still tight enough to perform well.

The last few pairs of rock shoes I’ve used have been 5.10 models and I’ve been a fan of their Stealth rubber for ages.  I can’t say I have noticed any big improvement with the Eco Trax rubber but it has certainly performed as well as Stealth.  The Defy’s particularly love smearing on Gritstone and padding on slabby routes but there is still enough friction for edging on small holds and I have enjoyed using them for everything from bouldering to steeper limestone routes.
The shoe is still going strong after 4 months regular use and there is plenty more life in them yet.  A few parts of the rand are showing signs of wear and tear but nothing beyond the amount you would normally get on a lightweight slipper of this type.  The uppers are wearing really well and hardly show any signs of wear at all.


The Evolv Defy VTR retails for about £60.  This represents brilliant value in a market where similar shoes are costing upwards of £70 with some models costing more like £80.

I admire the efforts Evolv are making to reduce the environmental impact of their manufacturing processes and the environmental damage caused by the materials they use. 

The fit is excellent, the quality is great and the shoes climb really well.  This is a great shoe and I would have no hesitation recommending it to all levels of climber.  Great job Evolv.