Climbing Shoe Rubber, The True Sticky Icky

Climbing Shoe Rubber, The True Sticky Icky

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On March 23, 2018
  • Comments

With the creation of sticky rubber came a new age of climbing shoes. Boreal was perhaps the first company to produce the sticky rubber we know and love in 1979. Soon after, the shoes got in the hands of infamous John Bachar and then it went global! Well, at least Yosemite global. After that, all the rubber giants were on the train. Vibram, who has been making rubber composites longer than any of us care to remember, was early on the hit list. So was a small California company Five Ten; Five Ten first built the “Five Tennie,” which was an approach shoe in the early 1980’s. Back then as the Tennie’s wore out their uppers, climbers stripped the rubber off of them and glued them to their climbing shoes. By 1987, the first “Stealth” rubber compound was released from Five Ten and they lay waste upon the climbing population. To this day, Five Ten arguably holds the most loyal of climbers who swear upon their rubber as the best in the business. Funny enough, the original developer of Five Ten, Charles Cole, thought that "sneakers" was a funny name for shoes—as in they are so quiet you can ‘sneak’ up on someone, so he called his rubber “Stealth” to keep with the sneaky tradition.

In today’s world, most notable is Vibram, a company born out of the mountains from tragedy. The developer built a new type of rubber after six of his friends died mountaineering in the Italian Alps (their deaths were partly blamed on inadequate footwear). As climbing progressed, the need to expand into climbing shoes was an obvious choice. As Gore-Tex dominates the world of waterproof fabrics, Vibram rules the climbing shoe rubber kingdom with giants like La Sportiva and Scarpa using their rubber on virtually every shoe they make. Vibram has two different composites, a harder rubber built for more vertical routes with small edges, and a softer rubber built for steeper boulder-style routes. Most companies have followed suit into having 2, 3, or even 4 different rubber composites for different situations. Currently, Five Ten has 4 different types of rubber composites, one being so sticky that it can stick to glass!

As more shoe companies come into the fold like Evolv, Butora, and Black Diamond, each is developing its own rubber composites to test the waters. How much more can it progress? Chemists and developers for all companies are constantly doing tests, and many athlete product testers are giving feedback every day to always stay on the cutting edge of the rubber world!