Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: One of the best shoes at extreme edging, one of the most down-turned/aggressive designs for steep terrain, very light weight.
Cons: So tight and down-turned they are hard to walk in, laces only offer minor adjustment since they are tight already.
Best Uses: Steep and/or extremely difficult bouldering and sport climbing as well as world class competitions.
Designed by the legends Fred Nicole and Dave Graham, the Dragon is very popular for cutting edge bouldering and sport climbing as well as world class competition climbing. This new Dragon is different in many ways from the original, old school Dragon. This new version is extremely lightweight at 5.6 oz (size 9 US men's), making them one of the lightest rock shoes we've ever tested. Here's how they compare to the other shoes in the category as far as weight: Evolv Shaman = 9.3 oz, La Sportiva Solution = 8.8 oz and Five Ten Team 5.10 Shoe = 7.2 oz.
For your average mid-high level climber/boulderer, a slight amount of added weight is not a big deal and can be totally worth it for the ease of use of the Velcro closure systems. For the elite, highest level athlete having the lightest possible shoe could make a difference. In addition to being lighter weight, the Dragon outperforms the Shaman, Team and Solution at all-around technical footwork. It performs better and better the steeper the rock gets.
Here are a few of its contenders' stronger and weaker points: Team Shoe toe hooks better, being covered in rubber, but does not edge as well. The Shaman is very comfortable for how down-turned it is and performs fairly good at everything. The Solution also performs well all-around but the single strap has been known to break, possibly leaving the shoe grounded. If you are looking for the lightest, high performing shoe for steep, extremely difficult rock with the adjustability and security of a lace-up as well as the tried and true, super sticky 5.10 rubber, then the Dragon could be your best option.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
For edging on more vertical angled rock, we feel the pointy tipped Five Ten Anasazi VCS or more comfortable La Sportiva Miura are the best technical face climbing shoes. For the steeper angles that this shoe is made for, its extremely down-turned and pointy toe tip often work better than most any other shoe we tested. The La Sportiva Miura VS was also very precise and strong at edging on steep ground. The Five Ten Arrowhead has a slightly less down- turned toe but a more pointy toe tip that works better for tiny pockets or very thin edges by focusing the power down right where you want it on the less steep (middle ground), slightly overhung to about 45 degree angles.
As with all aggressive/down-turned shoes, the Dragons are not made for crack climbing. Once in awhile you might find a very steep, finger, hand or odd sized crack where the toe hooking rubber and steep climbing abilities of the Dragon could work well but all-in-all they will be painful to jam in most cracks.
On all the toe hook moves we tested, the Scarpa Instinct and mainly the Five Ten Team 5.10 Shoe just barely outperformed the Dragon. They both had just a bit more toe hooking rubber on top of the shoe. Heel hooking was good all-around and very comparable to most of the other high performance shoes in this category.
The Dragon's pointy down-turned toe works great for getting purchase in tiny pockets or for standing on thin edges on steeper angled rock, but the Anasazi Arrowhead outperforms it for the more footwork intense moves. On less steep, more vertical angles the Anasazi VCS or La Sportiva Miura work better with the flat last and more comfortable fit.
The Dragon is one of the most sensitive of all the down-turned shoes we tested. The thin and sensitive sole works great to feel and conform to and then pull in on footholds on steep rock. A shoe with a down-turned toe is basically tilted in the opposite direction that one would prefer for smearing on low angle rock. The Dragon does not like to smear but can at a low level if it is needed and forced into position. A good smearing shoe would be tilted back the other way, allowing more of the sole of the shoe, especially in the area of the balls of the foot, to come in contact with the rock. Although there may be an occasional smearing move on steep rock, all shoes with a down-turned last are simply not going to work as well for smearing as a shoe with a flat last.
Ease of Getting On and Off
As with all lace-up shoes, the laces take longer than a slip-on or Velcro strap closure, but they do make for lighter weight and allow you to more precisely adjust the fit. Lacing the shoe tight also allows the shoe to be very securely attached to your foot. This shoe is fit pretty tight and usually we want to use it for a hard boulder problem or short sport route, then take it right off after, so we feel that easy on/off Velcro could be a nice feature. We think that it would be worth the tradeoff of the slight increase of weight for the decrease in time and energy taken to get it on and off.
The three Velcro straps on the Shaman, for example, are almost one strap too many. But they do adjust moderately well and are very fast and easy to get on and off. The three straps only add a few more ounces of weight overall but compared to the Dragon, which is one of the lightest shoes we've ever worn, it is about double the weight. So, your call. The laces on the Dragon are spread wide at the top of the shoe to allow the Dragon's mouth to open wide for easy on and off. Only the Shaman and Solution were comparably easy to get on. The Team Shoe was about a V3 wrestling match to get on in comparison.
They fit our testers tight at first in their street shoe size but broke in well after several uses. The design is so aggressive it is made to fit tight, so for that they are doing a great job. The laces adjust the sizing a small amount but are often not even needed since the toe box is made so tight that you barely even need to lace them up. Of course, the laces do help to keep the shoe from coming off when doing heel hooks. The mega aggressive design is not for standing around or walking. They are an extremely high performance shoe and there is always the balancing act of high performance vs. comfortable sizing.
The Five Ten Blackwing shoes are the women's specific climbing shoe that compares closest to the Dragons in design and best uses.
Five Ten approach shoes will get you to and from. The top two pairs have won awards for Best Buy- Five Ten Guide Tennie and Top Pick- Five Ten Camp Four. Both approach shoe styles are available in women's versions as well.
— Chris Summit
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 21, 2012
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