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Evolv Defy Review (2024): Top Pick for Beginner Shoes?

Evolv Defy review
The Evolv Defy is a comfortable, sturdy and vegan entry-level shoe for beginners. Its soft conception is especially useful for smearing.

Bottom Line

8.8Expert Score
A good comfortable all-rounder shoe with high-quality construction.
The Evolv Defy is a moderate pair of rock climbing shoes with a big focus on comfort. These are a great choice if you are a beginner climber looking for your first pair of shoes, or for experienced climbers looking for a wider shoe that is soft and breathable for all-day scrambling.

The TRAX rubber outsole is sticky enough to give you good purchase on fairly small holds, and the synthetic leather upper combined with the shoe’s shape give the Defy a level of flexibility that allows for great smearing.

More experienced climbers looking for advanced edging performance for precise footwork on face climbs would be better off spending more money on a specialist shoe. What the Evolv Defy climbing shoe excels at is providing high-quality materials, perfect for gym climbing sessions and trips to the crag.
Comfort
10
Performance
7
Durability
9
Value for Money
9
PROS
  • Great overall comfort
  • Vegan materials
  • Quite sturdy for the price
  • Soft shoe construction works well for smearing
CONS
  • The soft sole is not ideal for edging or heel hooking
  • Unisex sizing without low volume version can make the fit tricky if your feet are very narrow

Introduction

The Defy is an entry-level climbing shoe in Evolv’s collection. Its moderate shape and wide toe box make it an extra comfy shoe, perfect for new climbers or anyone who dislikes foot pain. But are these the right shoes for you? Let’s find out.

evolv defy unboxing, budget-friendly shoe

Comfort

This is where the Defy felt the strongest. It’s clearly a shoe with ergonomics in mind, the shoe fits more like a street shoe than a hyper-aggressive downturned climbing shoe. You can still get these shoes to fit tight, but they will stretch lengthwise during the break-in period and feel more casual than other climbing shoes.

Beginner climbers will appreciate the flat sole, velcro straps, and forgiving stretch that make them so easy to break in. The strap design is easy to adjust and take on/off to spend time indoor climbing or at the crag. They are also comfortable enough for all-day climbing, like on multi-pitch climbs.

Evolv Defy toe box

Materials

The Evolv Defy is a fully vegan climbing shoe and uses only synthetic materials (no leather), notably the Synthratex VX upper. Overall, the Defy is breathable and will gradually mold to your foot over time.

As a comfort/neutral shoe, the Defy’s shape is based on a straight last with a slightly asymmetrical design. The shoe comes with a lining and a 1.4mm full-length midsole that contributes to the sensitivity of the shoe.

Men’s vs. women’s version

The Evolv Defy is a unisex shoe. Also, there’s no Low Volume (LV) version. Therefore, you only need to pick the right size.

Nonetheless, the Evolv Elektra is very similar (not to say identical) to the Defy, but with a lower volume. Therefore, if there’s too much dead space with the Defy, you might want to try the Elektras instead.

Evolv Defy climbing shoe

Fit, Foot Shape, and Sizing

Evolv created the Defy as a beginner, all-around comfy climbing shoe suitable for as many climbers as possible regardless of their foot shape or size. That’s why many gyms pick the Defy or the Tenaya Tanta as their go-to rental model.

As such, the shoe offers a large volume that can be adapted with the velcro closure to fit narrower feet.

Most climbers pick the same size as their street shoe size, but some upsize by half a size to one and a half size to be comfortable. There’s a bit of stretch/breaking in that clears after a couple of sessions. It’s much less compared to leather climbing shoes.

Performance

The Defy takes a big hit on performance because it just doesn’t cater well to climbs that require lots of hard footwork. Standing on micro edges will take a good amount of foot strength and tire your calves out quickly. The soft and neutral conception feels comfortable but the tradeoff is a dip in technical ability.

Evolv Defy reviews

However, as we’re going to see, one area of performance where the Defy does well is smearing. Indeed, here shoe’s soft sole helps it bend and conform to flat surfaces.

Although the Defy is not a “performance” climbing shoe, it still holds up well compared to similar shoes. We found that it does a pretty decent job overall.

However, the softness of the Evolv Defy comes with drawbacks for those seeking performance characteristics. For example, it will not provide the same support that a stiffer climbing shoe would while edging on smaller holds and suffers similar drawbacks while performing a heel hook.

Edging

Most tough climbs require a bit of edging, standing on small incut edges, to be sent. The Evolv Defy really suffers the most on this one particular aspect of performance, as do virtually all other soft and flexible climbing shoes. A shoe’s edging performance usually comes from it’s stiffness combined with a pointed, narrow toe. Because the Defy isn’t very stiff and has a wide toe, it makes it difficult to stand on micro edges.

Smearing

Evolv Defy rubber outsole

The flip side of having poor edging performance due to flexibility is that the Defy is pretty good at smearing on blank walls. The shoe has a large flat front section that is easy to plaster onto the wall for better friction. While the TRAX rubber isn’t the stickiest on the market, we found that it works well on all but the glassiest and most polished surfaces.

Hooking

For toe hooking, we found that this shoe works but requires a good amount of foot strength to pull off really difficult moves. Even though the two velcro straps feel secure, the overall lack of stiffness in the shoe means that the support for a toe hook will come from your foot muscles instead of the shoe itself. This is less of a problem for heel hooks, where the flexibility actually helps with keeping the foot pointed.

It’s worth noting that there’s not much rubber coverage on the top of the forefoot, limiting friction.

Evolv Defy heel

Jamming

The Evolv Defy is not marketed as a crack climbing shoe. The velcro strap design can become bothersome when you need to jam more than your toes into a crack and can sometimes be opened by the friction of your foot against the side of the crack. Additionally, the synthetic upper material is fairly thin above the toes and could be painful if jammed up against rock. For moderate toe jams up to an inch or so in width they will do fine, but this is not the shoe to use on a splitter or long crack climb.

Note: the Evolv Defy is also available as a lace-up model.

Climbing Scenarios

If we had to pick one use for the Evolv Defy, it would be all-day climbing on sport routes, at the gym, or outdoors. Let’s see why.

reviewer testing these beginner shoes at a sport climbing area

Best Use

The Evolv Defy is a great shoe for climbing at most sport crags or gyms. Sport climbing shoes need to be comfortable enough to wear for the entire time you’re on a route, which these easily accomplish. While standing on small pockets and edges will be a bit difficult, these shoes will be more than enough for most sport climbs in the 5.10/6+ range.

Other Uses

Bouldering problems tend to require better and more advanced footwork. At the same time, the routes themselves are shorter, and you can take off your shoes between attempts. For this reason, many prefer more aggressive climbing shoes for working on boulders.

However, it’s possible to use moderate shoes like the Defy on boulder problems, especially if your aim isn’t to send the hardest problems but instead to climb a greater number of easier boulders.

Defy Evolv synthetic upper

Durability, Resoling, Sustainability, and Animal Welfare

The Evolv Defy is fairly sturdy, even if you use it regularly on rock. It represents great value for its price with a well-known and trustworthy rubber compound, a high-quality upper material, and a slew of other features that make it a good choice for those looking for shoes around the hundred-dollar range.

Overall, the Evolv Defy promises to last a good amount of time before needing replacement. The rubber outsole compound sacrifices some stickiness for a more durable and hard consistency, great for beginner and intermediate climbers who often wear out the toe quickly. One thing to keep in mind about these shoes is that the velcro strap needs to be protected from dirt and debris or it can lose functionality.

reviewer testing the evolv defy

A little-known fact is that Evolv owns and operates Yosemite Bum, a resoling company. Therefore, you can trust that all their shoes can be resoled.

The Evolv Defy doesn’t come with recycled materials. If your goal is to limit your carbon footprint, you’ll need to keep good care and resole them until they are completely unusable.

However, like most Evolv shoes, the Defy is 100% vegan, which is a big plus if you care about ending animal cruelty.

Conclusion

The Evolv Defy works well for its intended purpose. In the same price range, it’s difficult to find a better option than the Evolv Defy. They are some of the best-selling shoes in the budget-friendly end of the spectrum. Beginners especially note that they are a comfortable and capable model that fits the bill of first pair of climbing shoes well.

On moderate to intermediate climbs it performs brilliantly while still remaining comfortable and easy to put on. The velcro design makes getting a great fit easy, although it has drawbacks as a crack climbing shoe.

Whether you’re using them at the climbing gym or local crag, the Defy is a great beginner shoe that provides enough support to hone your skills in comfort.

Facts

Technical Specs

Weight8.5 oz/241 g
FitComfort
DownturnNeutral
ShapeLow asymmetry
VolumeMedium, High
StiffnessSoft
Sole thickness4.2 mm
ClosureVelcro
ResoleableYes
VeganYes

Use

ActivitiesIndoor, Outdoor, Sport
Experience levelBeginner, Intermediate

Technologies

Outsole4.2mm TRAX SAS rubber
Midsole1.4mm Sensitive Full-Length
UpperSynthratex VX (synthetic)
LastStraight
LiningLined

Where to Buy It?

We buy most of our stuff from REI.com. Their service is great, and it’s a co-op, so they treat their employees well and answer to their members, not shareholders.

Note: we receive a commission when you buy through us. This keeps our team of writers/editors/climbers going!

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