With apologies to the Generation Y and Generation Z out there but if like me you are part of Generation X it is likely that you began your rock climbing career in a pair of non sticky stiff rock boots, the iconic EB Super Gratton or similar fare from Scarpa, Asolo or Hanwag. Rock life changed forever in the 80s with the advent of the sticky soled Fire from Boreal but besides the sticky rubber the new boots were rather more ‘bendy’ than their predecessors. In the years that followed all boots got sticky rubber and there were stiffer and softer versions. In recent years it seems to me that the softer more flexible boots have dominated. Until the arrival of the Red Chili Magnet the last pair of truly stiff boots I climbed in were the blue Boreal Ballets! Modern construction techniques especially the use of a downturned last have allowed softer shoes to still generate the ‘power’ required to use tiny edges and pockets. However this usually comes at the expense of foot comfort and extended wearability. Red Chili themselves make an extremely soft shoe the Sensor aimed at indoor bouldering and competition use and not something you would wish to wear on a multi-pitch trad route for several hours! Amazing though these modern boots are it is interesting to note how many hard routes have been, and still are, climbed in shoes with a flatter lasts. With such an amazing selection of specialist footwear it is easy to be beguiled by the latest technology and end up with shoes that are designed for extremely short, extremely intense efforts either on plastic, bouldering or sports routes. This is fine if that is what you’re planning to do. However if your climbing day is likely to include a couple of multi-pitch routes or on-sighting half a dozen sports climbs you’ll probably be wearing those über shoes a bit longer that they were designed for – and your feet will probably let you know!
With the arrival of the Red Chili Magnet for review it was a (pleasant) surprise to climb in a stiff, flat lasted shoe again. With a stiffer shoe you change the way you use certain holds and this requires a little adaptation – first try out indoors at the Depot there were a few amusing episodes (for my ever supportive mates!) with popping off smears. After half an hour or so the movement or foot placement memory began to come back and things improved massively. Stiffer shoes like the Magnet allow you to stand on edges a bit longer with less foot and core effort. Additionally you can almost ‘front point’ on the lip of small pockets making them feel very positive. The downside is a little less sensitivity and a reduced ability to smear on the most marginal of holds. These performance subtleties are most obvious indoors on polished plastic smears and marginal volumes and it is clear the Magnet’s forte is not indoors.
Once you’re out the door and on real rock the Magnet comes into it’s own. I’ve used the Magnet on grit, limestone and Lakeland volcanic rock and it has been pretty much perfect throughout. As with per my impressions indoors the Magnet is not going to be your ideal smearing machine on gritstone slabs and bouldering, it will get the job done but a softer shoe is going to win out if you have the choice. However for moderate sports climbing up to around 7a it is superb – and I’m sure it would perform way beyond that grade but sadly I can not! On multi-pitch climbs the added support reduces fatigue and the shoe itself is amongst the most comfortable performance rock shoes I have worn and will be accompanying me for some long alpine rock routes this summer.
Red Chili really do seem to be nailing the comfort/performance equation – when I tried the first iteration of the Voltage I was impressed by the comfort, especially the lack of pressure on the achilles. The Magnet takes this up a notch with a more refined construction and a stretch sock type fit instead of a conventional tongue. The knitted stretch mesh tongue is very thin so probably best not to go yanking on it when putting the shoes on but to be honest there is no need as the shoes slip on easily. The toe box is both more rounded and more vertically ‘square’ than the Voltage which aids comfort but does mean that it doesn’t cram into the smallest of pockets or thinest of cracks as easily. With a very minimal downturn, slight asymmetry and a fit that tends toward the wider foot these make for a great all day performance shoe. The heel design is exceptionally comfortable, secure for heel hooks but no undue pressure on the achilles. There is a minimal toe patch for the odd toe hook and it helps in some toe jam situation too seemingly sensibly in proportion the the Magnet’s intended use. The shoe is clad in Vibram XS Grip rubber which has long been a personal favourite as an all round choice doing everything well. It would be interesting to know why Red Chili didn’t opt for the more edging specific Vibram XS Edge though I suspect that by choosing the all-round XS Grip they have helped keep the Magnet more versatile. The stiffness of the Magnet comes from what Red Chili label as RC Tension+ midsole. This is comprised of two pieces to give both maximum support whilst also maintaining sensitivity with a plate based on the RC tension midsole in the fore and mid-foot but then an additional thiner midsole covering the entire foot.
In conclusion a brilliant stiff shoe that is in its element outside especially on longer routes where the support it gives will reduce fatigue. Probably not the best choice indoors or for smeary slabs and if you’ve never climbed in a stiff shoe there may be a short period of adaptation – but stick with it as the benefits a worth it. I wore the Magnet in an 8.5 UK size (same as my Voltage Lace) and I usually wear a 9 UK in trainers. I’m also a very wide foot (2E) and these still proved comfortable.
- Stiff and supportive
- Great quality of construction
- Comfortable (in the rock shoe sense!)
- May take a bit of ‘getting used to’ if you’ve never climbed in stiff shoes
- Not very suited to indoors use
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!