Scarpa Instinct VS
Rubber: Vibram XS Edge (3.5mm) & XS Grip 2 (2mm)
What we like: One of the most versatile high-performance shoes we’ve tested.
What we don't: Roomy toe box isn’t ideal for those with narrow feet.
See the Men's Scarpa Instinct VS See the Women's Scarpa Instinct VS
Scarpa’s Instinct climbing shoe lineup includes a lace-up model, two variations of a standard slipper, and two versions of a Velcro slipper. The Instinct VS—the stiffer of the two Velcro versions—has received rave reviews since its debut, and I was eager to try it out on the technical climbing at Oregon’s Smith Rock, my home crag. After months of wearing the Instinct VS on both the vertical, technical tuff of the main area and the cracks and smears of the Lower Gorge, I was thoroughly impressed. It is an exceptionally well-rounded, high-performance shoe that has become my go-to companion for projecting a variety of routes. Below we break down the Instinct’s performance, sensitivity and shape, rubber, fit and sizing, and more. To see how it stacks up to the competition, check out our article on the best rock climbing shoes.
Known as a popular shoe for professional competition climbers, the Scarpa Instinct VS is most at home on steep sport routes and boulders both outside and in the gym. But while it doesn’t hurt that many of the world’s top-ranked climbers wear the Instinct VS, we don’t think that description truly does the shoe justice. All told, we consider it an impressive all-rounder for everyday sport climbers and boulderers looking to push their grade. I’m used to wearing various models of La Sportiva shoes—namely, the more aggressive Miura VS—but the Instinct VS instantly made me a Scarpa fan.
I tested the Instinct VS on the slightly slabby to gently overhanging volcanic tuff at Oregon’s Smith Rock, where technical, crimpy face climbing dominates the scene. I also wore it in Smith’s Lower Gorge, where columnar basalt offers pitch after pitch of crack climbing, stemming, and smearing. In both of these venues, the Instinct VS proved to be a great tool for the job. It excels at edging at any angle yet is still flexible enough to smear and pull on small features, making it a nice match for steep routes and bouldering. The shoe also bites well into small holds and pockets. In fact, it feels noticeably sticker than other models with the same rubber, including the La Sportiva Miura VS. And finally, the Instinct VS is one of the best toe-hooking shoes on the market—I actually started incorporating more of these moves into my climbing simply because of the shoe’s impressive performance.
All that said, like most tightly sized, downturned models, the Instinct VS is uncomfortable for crack climbing. And to make matters worse, its wide, high-volume toe box does not fit well in thin cracks. But if sized comfortably, the Instinct VS’s roomy toe box and generous rubber patch make it suitable for the odd foot jam found on a boulder problem or sport route. If you’re looking for a devoted crack-climbing shoe, we’d instead recommend checking out the La Sportiva TC Pro or Otaki.
The Scarpa Instinct VS has a moderately downturned last with medium asymmetry, which makes it ideal for precise footwork on vertical to very steep terrain. Importantly, it’s flatter and stiffer than many bouldering-specific shoes, which means greater comfort and support and a better edging platform. Usually, this construction would also result in less flexibility and precision, but the Instinct VS is an exception here. Specifically, the half midsole provides stiffness only in the toe box, allowing the midfoot to still flatten and arch. This combination means that the Instinct VS can flex to smear and slab climb better than most stiff shoes, but it’s still rigid enough to remain powerful and precise on steep routes.
When it comes to high-performance shoes, downturn and stiffness ultimately are matters of personal preference. Boulderers accustomed to soft shoes might find the Instinct VS uncomfortably stiff and insensitive, while climbers used to a flatter or stiffer model might find it a great introduction to the world of aggressive shoes. And if you like the Instinct VS but want something a little softer, Scarpa’s Instinct VSR (with stickier rubber) is a good option to consider.
The Scarpa Instinct VS utilizes 3.5mm of Vibram’s XS Edge rubber on the front half of the sole and 2mm of softer XS Grip 2 on the heel. In my opinion, this is a truly great mix. XS Edge is a stiff, dense blend that's designed to increase edging performance. And while most shoes use 4mm, the Instinct’s slightly slimmer 3.5mm base allows a bit more flexibility and sensitivity without sacrificing stability or durability. Because I’m lighter than most men, I typically prefer XS Grip 2 or a comparably soft rubber at the forefoot, but I think the Instinct VS strikes a great compromise with this thinner-than-average construction. The XS Grip 2 on the heel is softer and stickier than XS Edge—an excellent design decision that boosts the shoe’s heel-hooking performance. This thinner, 2mm layer also provides more comfort and sensitivity (and because rubber in the heel zone rarely wears out, durability isn’t a major concern).
Durability and Construction
Scarpa rarely misses the mark when it comes to quality construction and design, and the Instinct VS is no exception. The shoe is exceptionally well-made, from the stretch-resistant synthetic microsuede upper that holds its shape to the tough XS Edge sole. Even the top pull tab is well-thought-out: it extends all the way from the toe box, which makes it less likely to give out or tear over time. Scarpa also strategically moved the stitching away from pressure points, resulting in more comfort and a precise feel at the very tip of the toe.
The Instinct VS sports a half midsole that’s only found in the toe box. This distributes the foot’s pressure across the front half of the shoe without compromising arch flexibility. Further, a rand runs from the arch to the toe, giving subtle tension that pushes the toe forward to boost supportiveness. Combined with Scarpa’s choice of 3.5mm rubber in the toe box and thinner 2mm in the heel, this gives the shoe a very unique balance of softness and rigidity, allowing it to perform well across a wide variety of climbing.
Straight out of the box, the first thing I noticed about the Instinct VS was its high-volume toe box. I have a wider-than-average foot and often struggle with finding climbing shoes that fit. All told, this wide last makes the Instinct VS more comfortable than most high-performance models, but those with low-volume feet might find it too roomy. The heel cup also felt too big for my narrow heel. I could detect very small air pockets at the back of my foot, although this didn’t seem to detract from the shoe’s heel-hooking performance. If you love the shoe but the fit isn't quite right, it's worth trying on the slightly lower-volume women's Instinct VS or the snugger Instinct VSR.
I wear the Instinct VS in size 38.5 and it fits well overall: it’s not overly tight, but I still can generate a lot of power in the toe. For comparison, I tried on the Scarpa Vapor V in the same size and it fit similarly. I wear most of my La Sportiva shoes (Testarossa, men’s Miura VS, and Katana Lace) in a 37.5, and it seems to be standard for me to size up a full size for Scarpa shoes. It’s also important to note that the soft, supple synthetic microsuede upper will not stretch as much as real leather, so the Instinct VS should feel relatively comfortable out of the box. Plus, the rand is designed to provide power and precision without a painfully tight fit.
Women’s Version of the Scarpa Instinct VS
We tested the men’s Instinct VS for this review, and Scarpa makes the shoe in a women’s-specific version that sports a very similar design. The women’s Instinct VS is priced the same at $185 and shares the moderate downturn and medium asymmetry of the men’s model. However, the women’s shoe uses Vibram’s XS Grip 2 rubber (softer and stickier than XS Edge) at both the forefoot and heel. Other discernible differences include colorway and fit: the women’s Instinct VS sports blue accents rather than orange and has a slightly lower volume.
What We Like
- One of the most versatile shoes we’ve tested. It’s stiff enough for edging but flexible enough for smearing, which is no easy feat.
- Rubber combination provides an impressive mix of durability, sensitivity, stiffness, and stickiness.
- Top-notch build quality and construction.
What We Don’t
- Roomy toe box isn’t ideal for those with narrow feet.
- Not a great all-day shoe due to the snug fit and lack of arch support.
- Like most tightly sized, downturned shoes, the Instinct VS doesn’t perform well for crack climbing.
|Scarpa Instinct VS||$185||Moderate||Synthetic||Vibram XS Edge/Grip 2||Velcro slipper|
|Scarpa Instinct||$185||Moderate||Synthetic||Vibram XS Edge||Lace|
|Scarpa Instinct VSR||$185||Moderate||Synthetic||Vibram XS Grip 2||Velcro slipper|
|La Sportiva Solution||$180||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||Vibram XS Grip 2||Velcro slipper|
|Butora Acro||$160||Aggressive||Leather/synthetic||NEO Fuse||Velcro slipper|
Eleven-time American Bouldering Series champion Alex Puccio swears by the Scarpa Instinct VS, and it’s tough to argue with such a good track record. In the end, if the shoe fits, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better all-rounder in the high-performance category. That said, there’s no shortage of options within the Instinct lineup. For example, the standard Instinct (lace-up) is made on the same last as the VS and offers a similar fit but features a 3/4-length midsole rather than half, resulting in added stiffness and support. We like the lace-up for granite—it’s comparable to the Five Ten Anasazi Lace or the La Sportiva Katana in terms of versatility and edging power—but prefer the VS for most challenging sport climbing and bouldering.
For lighter climbers or those who prefer a more sensitive feel, Scarpa also makes the Instinct VSR model for the same price as the VS. The two are extremely similar, although the VSR features a slightly snugger toe box and softer and stickier XS Grip 2 rubber at both the toe and heel (the Instinct VS has XS Edge at the front). Interestingly, the VSR shares an almost identical build to women's VS, although testers have noted slight differences in fit and sensitivity. In the end, choosing the VSR over the men's VS is similar to opting for the women’s La Sportiva Miura VS (with XS Grip 2) over the men’s (XS Edge). If you like the Instinct VS but want a bit more flexibility and sensitivity, the VSR is a nice alternative.
A final option to consider is La Sportiva’s Solution. On first glance, the two might appear strikingly similar, but they differ in a few key ways. First and foremost, the Solution has a narrower toe box that makes it a better pick for those with low-volume feet, although many climbers complain about the ill-fitting heel. The Solution’s leather/synthetic upper will also stretch more than the fully synthetic Instinct VS, which translates to less pain and a better overall fit if you’re one to size your shoes tightly. Further, the Solution’s P3 midsole means that it will hold its shape over time better, which is especially helpful for overhanging climbing but bad news for those who want a shoe that can also smear and slab climb. And finally, both the men’s and women’s Solution are stiffer with 4mm of Vibram XS Grip 2 rubber, while the men's Instinct uses a thinner mix of Vibram XS Edge and XS Grip 2. In the end, we give the edge to the Instinct VS as a more versatile, well-made shoe. If rubber or toe-box volume is a concern, you can opt for the VSR instead.
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