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Evolv Zenist Review (2024): Top Value for Performance?

Evolv Zenist
The Evolv Zenist is a versatile performance climbing shoe excelling on overhanging gym terrain.

Bottom Line

9.4Expert Score
Affordable Performance in a Supremely Sensitive Indoor Training and Competition Shoe
Are you looking for a shoe that devours overhanging gym terrain, modern competition-style bouldering problems, and indoor training boards? Would you like to pay significantly less than similar models from the big European shoe makers?

Evolv offers the popular Zenist as an antidote to the price creep we’ve seen in the elite shoe category over the last few years. If you’re an intermediate to expert climber who isn’t quite on the World Cup level, you’ll get all the performance you need from the Zenist. In fact, if you’re not a top-level competition climber, the Zenist’s versatility will feel like a bonus, not a drawback.

For example, there are softer high-performance shoes that may offer a little more feel, but they won’t be as capable at edging on vertical terrain as the Zenist. And there are more aggressively downturned bouldering and sport shoes that give better support on miniscule footholds, but the Zenist destroys those shoes when it comes to smearing slabs and volumes.

So, considering the price point and relatively strong performance in the environments it’s designed for, the Zenist is an awesome choice for an intermediate to expert climber who’s looking for a dedicated indoor climbing shoe.
Comfort
9.5
Performance
9
Durability
9
Value for Money
10
PROS
  • Supremely flexible and sensitive
  • Attractive design aesthetics
  • Low-priced high performance
  • Vegan-friendly
CONS
  • Lack of edging support
  • Loose heel after break-in

Introduction

evolv zenist (eric neyer's pair)

Evolv created the Zenist in order to compete in the recently growing market of super-soft climbing shoes for indoor climbers. The massive popularity of climbing gyms and competition climbing has led to an explosion of shoes that are ideal for indoor features, steep overhangs, and the demands of modern route setting. The Zenist is much softer than the Shaman and other performance shoes is Evolv’s lineup, and is a great value for a sticky, sensitive shoe for bouldering and steep sport routes on plastic.

Comfort

Evolv Zenist reviews

Reviewers nearly all liked the versatile fit of the Zenist and the fact that it can be sized up a little for long sessions without removal or sized down to be used as a project or competition shoe. The single velcro strap closure makes it easy to put on and remove and adds to the secure fit.

With a moderately aggressive downturn and asymmetric profile, the Zenist doesn’t feel as extreme as some shoes right out of the box. The minimal amount of material and structure in the shoe lets it conform uniformly to your foot even with a super tight fit.

Materials

Evolv Zenist review

The Zenist is made with a low-stretch, vegan synthetic upper with a nicely understated black-and-white color theme. Evolv calls this material Synthratek VX, and as far as we can tell it doesn’t breathe much, so most of the shoe’s ventilation is through the stretchy mesh tongue.

There’s no additional lining inside the upper, adding to the minimalist construction. However, the interior of the upper material is very smooth and comfortable and led to zero complaints about hot spots, rubbing, or chafing in the toe box or heel.

The soft nature of the Zenist can be attributed to a thin 1 mm midsole made of rubber, rather than rigid plastic like many climbing shoes employ. This midsole, along with the outsole, gives climbers with strong feet just enough structure and support.

Men’s vs. Women’s Version

female climber wearing Evolv Zenist

Evolv offers a women’s version of the Zenist with a lower volume last and slightly different color variation. This climbing shoe is narrower in both the heel and forefoot, but all the other material specifications are the same as the men’s version.

Fit, Foot Shape, and Sizing

The Zenist fits a wide variety of feet, but gets the highest marks from climbers with medium-to-wide feet and an “Egyptian” shaped foot (big toe longest digit). That being said, this shoe doesn’t feel like it forces as much of your power directly onto your big toe like some aggressive shoes.

 Like most Evolv models, users nearly all report the Zenist to fit on the small side. We wouldn’t recommend sizing down more than one half size from your street shoe size, and many climbers preferred to size up one half size or more when using the shoe more as a high-volume training shoe.

Performance

Evolv Zenist rubber outsole

Edging

As we’ve noted, softer shoes like the Zenist aren’t edging specialists. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand on small holds in these shoes. You’ll simply need a little more calf and foot strength to maintain your position, which can be taxing for beginners or on longer pitches.

Fortunately, most gym sport climbing walls are less than 50 feet tall. As a result, your lower legs have less time to get pumped. We found the Zenist reaches its limits outside on sustained vertical limestone with pockets and tiny edges that keep you constantly balanced on your toes. In that scenario, the climbing started to feel a little like a leg day in the weight room.

Evolv Zenist on feet

Smearing

Evolv touts the ability of the Zenist to smear in gym and competition settings. Indeed, we found that smearing indoor volumes and textured walls feels instinctual and confidence-inspiring. This is largely due to the flexible midsole and sticky Trax rubber.

It’s easy to get the sole to flex and get maximum contact on oddly angled holds or slabs, unlike some highly downturned models.

Hooking

As expected from a climbing shoe designed for indoor bouldering and competitions, Evolv’s Zenist makes toe hooks and heel hooks feel natural and highly secure. Reviewers said the rubber toe patch and ability to easily curl your toes back put the Zenist near the top of the class for toe hooking.

The Zenist’s heel is essentially just a thin strip of soft, sticky Trax rubber. This is good in the sense that you’ll feel every contour of the hold you’re trying to heel hook. However, when climbing outdoors, you may wish for a little more support and rigidity to stand up to rougher textures.

Evolv Zenist heel

The one potential flaw to this shoe’s heel hooking abilities is the somewhat finicky heel, which felt a bit loose to some after break in. This issue never caused the shoe to slip off a climber’s foot or a hold, but it was a minor annoyance for a few reviewers.

Jamming

You may feel fine wedging your toe or foot into a crack now and then if you take the Zenists outdoors on a sport mission. However, sustained crack climbing is basically off the menu for this category of shoe. There’s simply not enough structure or sturdy material to stand up to the rough duty required to climb cracks in real rock.

Best Uses for the Evolv Zenist

climber wearing Evolv Zenist

As you might expect, the best environment for the Zenist is indoor climbing on steeper sport routes and in the bouldering area. This type of climbing requires precise foot placements and polished technique, along with a shoe that can respond to the dynamic demands of competition setting.

Advanced beginner to intermediate climbers who are moving up the grades quickly can see great benefits by trying such shoes. Indeed, it requires you to build more strength and endurance in your feet. A soft shoe like the Zenist improves strength and footwork on smaller edges without limiting your ability to scum, hook, and grasp holds with all sides of your feet.

All of our intermediate to expert climbers who tested the Zenist agreed that it gave them just the right amount of support and edging ability. And all this without sacrificing the feedback needed for delicate, technical foot placements.

Other Uses

While marketed and designed as an indoor climbing performance shoe, the nature of the Zenist is also perfectly suited to steep and overhanging terrain outdoors. It may not prove as durable outside, but for hard routes and boulder problems where a soft shoe gives you the feedback you need to send, this might be your redpoint ally.

Durability, Resoling, Sustainability, and Animal Welfare

the sole shows little wear after dozens of climbs

As a super minimal shoe built for gym walls, we were pleasantly surprised at the apparent durability of the Zenist. This may be partly due to Evolv’s VTR (variable thickness rand) technology, which makes the rand thicker in higher wear areas. 

When you do wear out the Zenist’s rubber, its slip lasted construction allows for an easy resole. Conveniently, Evolv operates a company-owned resoling service named Yosemite Bum (1) to help customers squeeze the most possible life from their climbing shoes.

Evolv has been at the forefront of animal-friendly design and materials since the company’s start. The Evolv Zenist climbing shoe construction and materials are completely vegan, along with over half of the Evolv range.

Evolv Zenist toe box

Conclusion

The Zenist hits an amazing sweet spot for stronger climbers who want a modern-style bouldering shoe. This category is defined by aggressive architecture and a supple, barely-there feel. Comparable models from the big manufacturers are almost all over the $200 price point. Even the burliest recreational climbers will have a hard time exceeding the limits of Evolv’s Zenist, so why pay more?

Facts

Evolv Zenist climbing shoe

Technical Specs

Weight9 oz/255 g
FitPerformance
DownturnAggressive
ShapeMedium asymmetry
VolumeMedium, High
StiffnessSoft
Sole thickness4.2 mm
ClosureVelcro
ResoleableYes
VeganYes

Use

ActivitiesIndoor, Bouldering, Sport
Experience levelIntermediate, Advanced

Technologies

Outsole4.2mm TRAX SAS rubber
MidsoleMX-R: 1.0mm half-length rubber midsole
UpperVegan synthetic upper
LastSlip-lasted
LiningUnlined

Technical Specs

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/climbers going!

References

Yosemite Bum (retrieved on 07/05/2023)
https://www.yosemitebum.com/

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