These shoes are some of the stiffest shoes we've worn in a while. This made breaking in the Black Diamond Focus a serious task. The stiffness of the midsole, plus the downturned shape make these shoes ideal for sustained edging — especially for folks who shy away from soft slippers. To us, the Focus lacked the sensitivity of other shoes we've tested. Plus, the stiffness the rubber felt a bit slippery and unnerving — kind of like climbing in tap shoes. Their asymmetrical shape makes them a no-go for crack climbing, as a long day jamming in these puppies would bring any trad hard-woman to their knees in pain. If you're serious about edging and prefer a seriously stiff shoe, the Focus could be for you.
Black Diamond Focus - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Good for edging, well made
Cons: Exceedingly stiff, hard to break in, generally uncomfortable
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Any shoe that scores well in this metric must first be sized appropriately. Take it from us — it's easier to get a different size than cram your feet into too-tight shoes, hoping they stretch out while feeling grumpy at the crag all day because your feet hurt. This is especially important with the Focus as we found the sizing to be fairly off in comparison to other brands. We ordered a full size up from our street shoe size — an 8.5 rather than a 7.5, which was still hard to get on. In European sizing, this means that we bummed up from our usual 37 to a 40 and still felt like these shoes were right on the edge of too small.
In addition to the confusing sizing, the shoes, in general, were not very comfortable. The combination of a fairly aggressive downturn plus a seriously stiff sole made the Focus pretty uncomfortable at first. The fit improved after a few pitches but still squeezed our feet across the toe box in a way that made us grasp for the Velcro straps the moment we clipped the chains and said "ready to lower".
The 4.3mm of Black Diamond's proprietary rubber creates a substantial platform between your toes and the rock in the Focus. The stiffness of the sole, paired with the Force rubber makes for a shoe that lacks sensitivity. Some folks are used to climbing in this style of shoe, but honestly, the Focus felt more like a Hobnail mountaineering boot than a climbing shoe at first. Over time, we learned to trust the Focus more, but overall, these were not our favorite shoe for slabs, smears, and delicate footwork.
The stiffness and thick rubber soles that make the Black Diamond Focus fall short in the sensitivity realm make them a machine in the vertical world of edging. Unfortunately, their stiffness and lack of sensitivity made us a bit nervous about trusting our feet even when standing on an edge. Once on a foothold, these shoes are confidence-inspiring, but their stiffness makes it hard to commit to small holds.
The general discomfort we had in the Focus didn't bode well for their ability to perform in cracks. Hand cracks and wider were painful due to the downturn and tight fit across the toe box. Additionally, the stiffness and lack of sensitivity made finger cracks challenging and terrifying — as we couldn't get our toes wedged in far enough to inspire much confidence.
Though they are downturned, the Focus's are not tapered in the toe box, which limits their performance in this metric. We found that a softer, more tapered shoe works better on steep pocket climbing.
Ease of Use
Two Velcro pull tabs and a tongue that opens up make the Focus easy to get on and off.
One small feature that felt superfluous to us, and has appeared on the latest models from other brands is a small pull tab on the tongue. This tab wasn't super useful to us, but perhaps this is just personal preference.
With a price tag that lands them adjacent to the top models from other brands, the Black Diamond Focus is an investment. For us, the rubber and overall design of the Focus were not up to snuff in comparison to our award winners from other brands, and thus these shoes feel a bit over-priced.
Overall, these shoes were a bit stiff for our liking. Their stiffness and aggressive shape made them a bit confusing in terms of their best use — too stiff for steep climbing, yet too downturned for vert edging. If you are a strong believer in a stiff shoe, then these could fit the bill. Also, the sizing was a little off so remember to size up if you decide on the Focus.
— Jane Jackson