Scarpa’s Instinct VS, our pick as the top bouldering shoe in this year’s climbing shoe buying guide, is a supple yet supportive weapon for any climbing that pushes the vertical and beyond.
There’s a reason this 10-year-old model has carried on primarily unchanged. Combining middle-of-the-road design philosophy with a few high-performance features makes a shoe that many people can wear all day while still climbing at the top of their grade potential.
Not too stiff, not too soft. Sensitive enough to feel every pebble and grab tenuous overhanging footholds, but supportive enough to stand up to long face routes. The Instinct VS hits a sweet spot for intermediate to advanced climbers that is sometimes overlooked in favor of newer, flashier models.
You’ll find many more expensive, aggressive, and sophisticated climbing shoes on the market these days. But it’s doubtful that any will improve your climbing beyond what you can accomplish in the Instinct VS.
- Brilliant for the most popular styles of climbing: indoor, sport, and bouldering
- Comfortable for climbers with wider feet
- A perfect blend of edging support and sensitivity
- Older design and technology but still premium-priced
- Somewhat specialized with mediocre smearing and crack climbing abilities
Scarpa Instinct VS In-Depth Review
According to Italian manufacturer Scarpa, the Instinct VS is the cornerstone of its Performance line of climbing shoes. It’s an all-around tool for high-level sport climbing, competition climbing, and bouldering.
Compared to Scarpa shoes’ Vapor family, the other model in the Performance line, the Instinct is a softer, lighter, and more sensitive shoe. Like all shoes in this line, the Instinct VS are moderately aggressive downturned shoes with medium asymmetry.
Befitting the age of its design, the Instinct VS is light on cutting-edge technology. It boasts the Bi-Tension rand system that works similarly to La Sportiva’s P3 system. This rand design helps maintain tension from the heel of the shoe to the toe box, adding support and keeping a climber’s weight on his toes.
The shoe has a 3.5 mm Vibram XS Edge outsole and medium-stiff 1.0 mm Flexan midsole to provide edging support.
The Instinct VS does have another genuinely useful feature that aids in technical footwork: Vibram XS Grip2. It’s a stickier compound that covers the heel area to boost your abilities on demanding heel hooks.
The Instinct VS’s attractive black and orange synthetic microsuede upper won’t stretch much. With a rubber toe patch that covers most of the front of the shoe, don’t expect any lengthening. The single adjustable velcro strap creates a snug fit, along with the stretchy mesh material that covers the top of the shoes.
Certainly not the most aggressive shoes, the Scarpa Instinct VS is pretty comfortable. It’s a big plus for average climbers, who spend most of their time climbing below their max, not projecting 5.13 or V10.
Other Models in the Instinct Family
There are several additional models in the Scarpa Instinct line, including the Instinct Women’s, Instinct Lace, and Instinct VSR.
The women’s version of the Instinct VS uses a different last with a lower heel volume. It also uses Vibram XS Grip2 throughout the outsole. Otherwise, it is identical to the men’s Instinct.
The lace-up model (offered in both men’s and women’s) is differentiated from the velcro versions by a stiffer midsole and the inclusion of the Pressure Absorbing Fit (PAF) system, along with XS Grip2 rubber in the outsole and heel. The greater adjustability of laces compared to single closure velcro shoes makes this a better climbing shoe for narrow feet.
Finally, the Scarpa Instinct VSR is almost a replica of the Instinct VS. The only difference is that the entire sole material is composed of XS Grip2 rather than XS Edge rubber. This does make the shoe softer and more flexible for increased sensitivity and improved smearing.
Fit and Comfort
The Instinct VS is a high-performance shoe. Most users are willing to sacrifice a bit of cushiness for an aggressive fit and the resulting boost in edging on small features.
On the other hand, the soft midsole and the moderate downturn and asymmetry don’t force your foot into a torturous bend.
Climbers with wider feet praised the Instinct VS for its medium- to high-volume and relative ease of break-in compared to shoes like the La Sportiva Solution and Scarpa Boostic. People with low-volume feet should be sure and test the shoe fits before buying, as some wearers reported looseness in the arch and heel after breaking it in.
This model fits similarly to other Scarpa expert-level rock climbing shoes. Most reviewers chose to downsize one size for performance fit, a half size for slightly more comfort (also recommended if you use for crack climbing and foot jamming).
The Instinct VS gives you security on dime-thin edges with a relatively supportive platform and downturned design that centers power on your big toe. Nearly every user commented on the shoe’s phenomenal edging prowess on overhanging to vertical terrain.
Vibram XS Edge rubber is the hardest of that company’s climbing rubber formulas. The 1.0 mm midsole and Bi-Tension rand offer just enough extra support without compromising your ability to feel the rock underfoot.
The Scarpa Instinct VS is not an elite performer for low-angle routes and slab climbing. We say that not because its design inhibits smearing or lacks the necessary sensitivity, but only because some climbers may become fatigued if they use the Instinct VS as an all-day slab or multi-pitch tool.
However, climbers love how the Instinct VS smears on indoor volumes, slick granite corners, and sandstone face climbs when it comes to individual moves. Its moderate curvature and soft build allow you to get full surface contact, and there are few complaints about the lack of grip from Vibram’s XS Edge rubber.
Toe Hooking and Heel Hooking
True to its intended uses, the Instinct VS incorporates construction features that signal an appetite for gymnastic footwork. The addition of 2.0 mm XS Grip2 rubber on the heel and full coverage heel cup led reviewers to rate this shoe at the highest level in the heel hook department.
Similarly, toe hooks are a strong suit of the Instinct VS. Scarpa put extra rubber on the toe in the form of a ribbed molding covering the inside half of the top of the shoe. The molded rubber reduces the feel, but no one felt that hurt the shoe’s toe hook performance.
Cracks and Jamming
The Instinct VS’s toe box is pointed and narrow enough to nose into small cracks and pockets, but it has a reasonably high volume toe box. As such, it can be an awkward and painful fit when trying to jam certain sized cracks.
If crack climbing is more than an occasional part of your climbing repertoire, we suggest a stiffer, more supportive, and protective shoe with a flatter last than the Instinct.
Best Uses for the Scarpa Instinct VS
Suppose you love to boulder and aren’t a professional-level, sponsored climber. In that case, you should try out the Instinct VS. While top climbers might prefer a softer climbing shoe to maximize their toes’ sensitivity and prehensile gripping ability, the VS offers most people a more balanced blend of flexibility and support. It makes it an excellent shoe for intermediate to advanced bouldering.
Stiff enough to balance securely on micro features, soft enough to smear, hook and grasp. This perfect combination of features and performance for bouldering led us to name it Climbing House’s Best Bouldering Shoe of 2022.
Tough sport climbs outdoors most commonly present challenges that you can overcome with various techniques: edging, smearing, stemming, mantling with one of your feet, scratching for a hold at head level…etc. In this element, the Instinct VS shines. The hard rubber sticks positively without deforming and smushing onto tiny edges and pebbles, which instills more confidence on tenuous footholds common to steep terrain.
Sport climbers report the Instinct VS as an excellent shoe on vertical to overhung limestone pockets, granite edges and corners, conglomerate, volcanic tuff, and sandstone. The lack of a severely down-turned toe contributes significantly to the shoe’s versatility in diverse environments.
The Scarpa Instinct VS is an ideal climbing shoe for intermediates who climb indoors to push their limits on the steep routes that make up most of the terrain. It has all the capability that most climbers need to climb into the 5.12+ / V8 range in a less aggressive package than many of its high-performance peers. With an easy on-off strap, slipper-like fit, and excellent grip on slippery plastic from volumes to jibs, the VS is a worthy alternative for any gym climber’s first pair of expert-level shoes.
If the Scarpa Instinct VS has a significant weakness, it’s probably on longer trad routes or any route that requires much fists- and foot-width jamming. Jamming the Instinct sideways into that size crack more than a few times can be unpleasant, especially if you have chosen a tight fit for performance. If you like the Instinct VS and your climbing mix leans more toward trad, you might try the Instinct Lace.
Scarpa Instinct VS Review: Final Words
The Scarpa Instinct family of rock shoes offers an entry into the upper echelon of climbing performance, regardless of your style or preference. The Instinct VS is a classic all arounder for steep to overhanging sport routes and boulder problems. The VSR is a softer shoe with stickier rubber better suited to shorter routes and smearing. The Lace-up is stiffer and more supportive, with better crack and trad climbing abilities.
|Weight||8.1 oz (230g)|
|Fit||Moderately Downturned and Asymmetric|
|Sole Rubber||3.5mm Vibram XS Edge|
|Heel Ruber||2.0 mm Vibram XS Grip2|
|Activities||Bouldering, Sport, Overhang, Face, All around|
|Level||Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced|
|Outsole||Forefoot: Vibram® XS Edge; Heel: Vibram® XS Grip2|
|Upper||Microsuede & Leather|