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Black Diamond Zone - Women's Review

An asymmetrical shoe that is super-stiff and has a finicky fit, making it hard to comfortably break-in
Black Diamond Zone - Women's
Photo: Black Diamond
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Price:  $140 List | $79.93 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Reasonably priced, great edging shoe
Cons:  Challenging fit, runs small, doesn't break in well
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond Equipment
By Jane Jackson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#18 of 19
  • Comfort - 25% 4
  • Sensitivity - 25% 4
  • Edging - 15% 8
  • Cracks - 15% 4
  • Pockets - 15% 7
  • Ease of Use - 5% 6

Our Verdict

This moderately aggressive, two-strap Velcro shoe works well for moderate to steep terrain and precise footwork on small edges. Our testers who were able to find a decent fit in the Black Diamond Zone were impressed by its stiffness and edging ability. That said, the fit is highly specific, and the Zone doesn't really bend to fit a wide range of foot shapes very well. We struggled to get it to fit properly — the toe box felt too wide, while the heel felt baggy, and the midsole didn't conform at all to our foot shape when breaking the shoes in. If the shoe fits you, it is a great stiff option for steep edging, either outside or in the gym.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
52
87
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67
64
Star Rating
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Pros Reasonably priced, great edging shoeGreat edging shoe, precise, versatileComfortable, high performance, sticky rubber, easy to put on, good in cracks, versatileInexpensive, comfortable, easy to get on and offInexpensive, easy to adjust, comfortable, soft leather upper
Cons Challenging fit, runs small, doesn't break in wellSpecific shape can cause discomfort for some, expensiveStretch out quickly, costly, lack supportLacks stiffness, not designed for high-performance climbingNot great for smearing, soles lack stickiness of more expensive models
Bottom Line An asymmetrical shoe that is super-stiff and has a finicky fit, making it hard to comfortably break-inA technical climbing powerhouse, perfect for crimpy limestone lines or long granite free climbsThe Skwama are impressive in many realms, combining comfort with a high performance fitThis shoe is a reasonably priced and very comfortable option great for beginner climbersA great option for beginners, these shoes are most importantly comfortable and easy to use
Rating Categories Black Diamond Zone... La Sportiva Miura VS La Sportiva Skwama... Five Ten Kirigami -... La Sportiva Tarantu...
Comfort (25%)
4.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Sensitivity (25%)
4.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
4.0
Edging (15%)
8.0
10.0
7.0
4.0
7.0
Cracks (15%)
4.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Pockets (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
4.0
4.0
Ease Of Use (5%)
6.0
7.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Specs Black Diamond Zone... La Sportiva Miura VS La Sportiva Skwama... Five Ten Kirigami -... La Sportiva Tarantu...
Style Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro Lace
Weight (Per Pair, size 37) 0.98 lb 0.94 lb 1.00 lb 0.99 lb 0.97 lb
Width Options Regular, wide Regular Regular Regular Regular
Fit Asymmetrical High Asymmetry Asymmetrical Low Asymmetry Low Asymmetry
Upper Engineered knit technology Leather Leather/Microfiber Synthetic Leather
Lining Unlined Dentex Unlined Synthetic Unlined
Sole Rubber 4.3mm Fuse Vibram XS Grip2 Vibram XS Grip2 Stealth C4 Frixion RS

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond Zone performed best in our edging metric. It lacks the sensitivity of more flexible models, and its comfort seemed to be highly dependent on foot shape.

Performance Comparison


With Engineered Knit material on the upper and an aggressive...
With Engineered Knit material on the upper and an aggressive downturn, the Zone is a unique-looking shoe.
Photo: Alexa Flower

Comfort


First and foremost, a discussion of fit is necessary regarding the Black Diamond Zone. Our testers decided to order a size up from their normal climbing shoe size and a half size up from their street shoe size. Our initial project research indicated some concerns about fit, so we knew this was a red flag going into the review. When the Zone arrived, our lead tester had a hard time getting it on or off — the fit was extremely tight considering the size we ordered.

It was a task getting the Zone on for the first time. The overall...
It was a task getting the Zone on for the first time. The overall stiffness, plus the off sizing made it hard to get a good fit.
Photo: Jane Jackson

The stiffness of the shoe also comes into play here since the Zone does not break in to conform to the foot very well. The stiff midsole means that it retains its initial shape even after days of wear. This made for a fairly uncomfortable fit for our lead tester. We would recommend trying this model in person if possible because the sizing is way off from traditional climbing shoe sizing (both compared to other Black Diamond shoes and in contrast to other brands on the market).

Sensitivity


The aggressive shape and seriously stiff midsole on the Black Diamond Zone make for a shoe that lacks sensitivity. The 4.3 mm Fuse rubber sole feels thick compared to other models with only 4 mm of rubber on the toe. This is a positive in terms of longevity — more rubber to wear through before your next resole — but it also means that the shoe will lack sensitivity for a while until that 4.3 mm is worn in a bit. We were hesitant to stand on tiny smears in this shoe because of the stiffness of the sole and the lack of sensitivity in the toe box.

The molded rubber sole on the Zone means that there is very little...
The molded rubber sole on the Zone means that there is very little flex - making for a seriously stiff shoe.
Photo: Jane Jackson

Edging


Here, the Black Diamond Zone shines. The stiffness, shape, and other complaints we had regarding comfort and sensitivity make for a great edging shoe. The downturned last and molded rubber sole makes a stiff platform to stand on when the toe is perched on small edges. Though it may not be comfortable enough to wear all day, this shoe is great for short sessions on routes with aggressive edging — the stiffness protects the foot from fatigue and provides a solid platform to stand on.

Standing on tiny granite edges in the Zone.
Standing on tiny granite edges in the Zone.
Photo: Alexa Flower

Crack Climbing


The crack climbing ability of the Zone is highly influenced by the overall fit and sizing you end up going for. Because it doesn't stretch out at all or conform to the foot over time, this shoe does not conform very well to cracks either. In general, for crack climbing, we like a shoe that fits our foot like a glove. Leather models tend to conform to the foot's shape better than shoes with synthetic uppers, plus they are more durable. The Zone has a synthetic textile upper, what the brand calls Engineered Knit Technology, which lacks the durability and glove-like comfort of a leather upper. This upper material, combined with the downturned shape and the stiff sole, does not make this model our go-to option for cracks. Perhaps if it were sized up a few sizes but purchased as a performance-fit shoe, the Zone is not the best crack climber.

The knit upper is less durable and less protective than a leather...
The knit upper is less durable and less protective than a leather upper, which we prefer for crack climbing.
Photo: Alexa Flower

Pockets


The downturned shape and asymmetrical toe box that make the Black Diamond Zone great for edging also make this model a decent option for pocketed routes. The shape allows it to fit into small pockets with ease, and the downturned nature of the fit holds the foot in a way that allows for maximum engagement on steep, pocketed features.

Ease of Use


Though it is seemingly designed for easy use — two Velcro straps and a tongue that opens on the top, the Black Diamond Zone gets a lower score here because of all the fit issues. Our biggest concern with this shoe is the challenge with fit and sizing, which is a major issue in buying climbing shoes, especially when ordering online. We had a hard time getting this shoe on and off, even with the proper sizing.

The stiffness of the heel and the toe box make it hard to get these...
The stiffness of the heel and the toe box make it hard to get these shoes on.
Photo: Alexa Flower

Value


The Black Diamond Zone is a mid-range option when it comes to price. It is certainly not among the most expensive models out there, nor is it considered a budget option. The Zone land right in the middle — which coincides with its overall performance. This model is a solid transition from a beginner shoe to a more aggressive model, as long as it fits properly.

These shoes shine on vertical to gently overhanging granite.
These shoes shine on vertical to gently overhanging granite.
Photo: Alexa Flower

Conclusion


We really wanted to like this shoe and felt that perhaps with the right foot shape, we would have loved it. For folks who want a stiff, moderately downturned shoe that does not have a leather upper, the Black Diamond Zone is a great bet. This shoe has tons of rubber on the sole, which means it will likely last for a long time. It has a stiff midsole and an aggressive shape that allows it to perform well on vertical to steep terrain. We appreciate its edging ability but felt that it fell short in sensitivity and crack climbing ability. Though moderately priced, our biggest hang-up with the Zone was regarding the overall fit, which was problematic for us.

Jane Jackson