Evolv Phantom Climbing Shoe Review
I would imagine most people who climb have at some point seen or heard of the America based climbing brand Evolv. Starting in 2003, they have had and do have some of the best climbers on their athlete roster ticking some of the hardest problems and routes in their products.
They are primarily known for their climbing shoes which cater from beginner shoes, for first time climbers starting out in the sport we all love, in addition to the highest performance shoes on the market, helping professional climbers to push the sport into new unknown performance territory. No matter where you are on that spectrum, Evolv have your back for all scenarios.
One side of Evolv that has always caught my attention is their ability to push new innovative techniques into their shoe design to give every bit of performance out of their shoe line often using some unique features and design methods. I will go into how they have undertaken this with the Evolv Phantom throughout this review which is a fine example of these new developments being put together to form a top of the line product.
Performance, Performance, Performance.
The Evolv Phantom is a shoe designed for high performance, specifically bouldering, and there is no getting away from this with the shoes downturned and asymmetric last. Evolv designed the Phantom in collaboration with American boulderer Daniel Woods, with additional input from Paul Robinson, to make the ultimate performance shoe. No one can deny that both Daniel and Paul know what they are talking about when it comes to what is needed in a high-performance climbing shoe and this can be found in the plethora of features used for the Phantom to excel within its chosen arena.
The main factor I want to highlight in the Phantom early on in this review is that the shoe has been designed with steep terrain in mind, with an aggressive downturn, asymmetry and a serious amount of rubber coverage. It screams for roof problems and steep overhangs, toe and heel hooks where it excels beyond any shoe I have used to date and has really given me confidence in my feet in this terrain. I was also surprised at how well, once worn in, the Phantom also performed on friction-based slabs both indoors and out as the midsole does give overtime allowing for some significant flex in the forefoot. This definitely increased the ability to pad around on volumes and marginal smears on rock once the shoe. This was not expected by me at all and was a welcome surprise making this shoe less likely to be pigeon holed as a one trick shoe.
Where I found the shoe to not perform quite so well is on more vertical edging. This came as no surprise as I would personally prefer a bit more support for smaller edges. I do not think this shoe is poor on vertical terrain by any means but at the end of the day it’s not what this shoe is designed for and, much like driving a sports car where a 4x4 would be better suited, it isn’t made for this. As with any shoe though, it is always about personal preference, or dependent on the route itself. As with previous reviews, I will go into full detail of the specs throughout the shoe in the following sections…this is going to be a longer review due to the amount of detail put into the shoe itself so if you prefer a summary you may want to skip to the conclusion…
Evolv design their shoes to match your street shoe size to make selecting the right size for your feet a lot easier.
For this review I went with my street shoe size in the Phantoms which, before you start thinking is a mistake as “you have to down size your climbing shoes”, is actually what Evolv recommend for a snug fit with some climbers possibly going 0.5 down from their street shoe for high performance. With this in mind, I decided to follow Evolvs recommendation for this review by using my street shoe size as a good guide for everyone to get a good idea on this suggested starting point. I do have a wider/higher volume foot than most, which fit the Phantom well but for those with lower volume feet, I would suggest starting at 0.5 below your street shoe to make up for the higher volume of the shoe and a whole size down for a high-performance fit.
The first three sessions in the Phantoms I definitely had to take the shoe on and off very frequently as the shoe was not agonising by any means but very snug for me. I was expecting this to be the case and, as it is not an all-day shoe, this was no surprise. I did have a slight hot spot on my little toes too during these first few sessions which I believe to be partly due to the asymmetry on the shoe during the wear in process BUT I also think the breathability of the shoe had a larger part to play but I will cover this in the Forefoot section to come. Once I had worn these shoes in over a few sessions they became comfortable enough to wear for approximately 20 minutes at a time, give or take 5, making them pretty great options for the gym or the crag at this sizing for multiple attempts at a time if needed before taking them off.
I wasn’t expecting much stretch out of the Vegan Synthetic Upper, and the shear amount of area covered by rubber limiting stretch further, but the Phantoms did stretch by around half a size which allowed the shoe to conform really well to my foot. Given my experience with the fit on this pair at my street shoe size, I would say most climbers would be best going for their street shoe size, as Evolv suggests. I would definitely think of going for 0.5 size down from my street shoe in future for a super aggressive fit but this would be personal choice and at that point only really for my harder projects.
Great sensitivity in the toe box, with a medium-soft midsole, allowing great performance both indoors and out…The Phantom performs incredibly well but to explain how/why we have a lot to cover…
You would be hard pressed to find a climbing shoe with more innovation in it than the Evolv Phantom…At a first glance, it can be hard to work out what Neoflex Technology with Dark Spine S, TPS+/AVT Midsoles and Molded VTR do and why you may want them in your shoe…I am going to explain in fine detail each element of the shoe below for those amongst you who love knowing every feature of the shoe in detail but, for those who are not as interested in every detail, I will summarise the result of it all here.
I have found the Forefoot of this shoe sensitive enough to give some great feedback whilst still offering just enough support to provide power on smaller holds on steep terrain. It is not a hyper soft indoor style shoe, as it has more rigidity than a lot of the stereotypical competition shoes, so you do get some support and power when you need it through the toes. The sheer amount of rubber on the Phantom means that it is hard to complain when Toe Hooking as it almost covers the entire top of the shoe. If you miss a toe hook with these, you’ll miss it in anything. It would also be worth noting that the amount of rubber encasing the toe box did not make the shoes uncomfortable which I was half expecting. The toe patch is quite thin meaning it gives nicely around the toes allowing it to fit around your foot and not force your foot to fit around the rubbers form. This also means you get some great feedback on your toe hooks due to the thinner toe patch making it a great performer here.
One possible negative I did find is that, due to the higher vertical profile found in this shoe, some small pockets were harder to get the most out of. With the higher volume of the toe box, occasionally I did find I would struggle to place it into small pockets where possibly lower volume shoes may work better…this is the nature of the shoe and is also me trying to find something bad about the Phantom as there is not much for me to balance the positives out with in my experience! It truly excels at steeper 3D type bouldering where you want that edge to help you push your limits. It is a great toe box and has me excited to try other Evolv shoes with the hope of get similar results! Great work Evolv!
FOR THE SPEC FANS OUT THERE here is how Evolv have managed to create a truly top of the line, high performance forefoot on the Phantom. Evolv have created a large selection of new features for this shoe whilst also building upon a few tried and tested techniques to optimise the performance of the Phantom.
This is a long list but I feel I cannot over look them as they all come together to make the Phantom the high-performance shoe it is and really show how much work has gone into the forefoot design alone.
• COMPRESSION CLOSURE SYSTEM (CCS) – The closure system used on the Phantom interlaces through six points with a single Velcro point which is fixed on the inside edge of the shoe. This is probably the most obvious/unique detail on the Phantom with its interlacing half lace up/half velcro appearance and really caught my interest in wanting to try them out.
With this closure system, Evolv have tried to offer the most customisable fit possible from a velcro and they have succeeded in my eyes. It is hard to criticise the design and functionality of this and I believe Evolv have executed it almost perfectly with the six points of contact really allowing the shoe to be drawn in around from all angles, firmly securing the shoe across the full length of my foot.
The only element of this system I could try and muster up a complaint about, when searching for any flaw in vain, would be that some climbers have mention to me that they were concerned that the velcro secures on the inside edge of the foot as opposed to the outer edge like in most shoes. This concerned them as they thought it could get caught against the wall when climbing, resulting in the shoe coming undone mid climb. This did at first seem like a bizarre side to fix the velcro, as habit kept me reaching for the opposite side on a number of occasions, and before trying them out I had a similar concern as the climbers mentioned above that this could undo at the worst possible time. The reality though is that during the testing of this shoe it has not happened once after months of climbing in them exclusively. The velcro is well out of the way of any moves I can imagine other than possibly the most desperate of fridge hugging moves if I was just slapping limbs up and hoping but even then, it would be an achievement to manage to not hit any of the rubber on this encased shoe and manage to undo the velcro. It may happen to someone out there but for me I definitely do not see it as a problem to worry about.
This is one of the striking elements of the aesthetics of the shoe but the functionality of this closure system is like no other Velcro shoe I have worn to date. As a lace up fan, I would often accept the sacrifice of toe rubber and time to tie them up for a more secure/customisable fit for the shoe. I know this is not the norm for majority of climbers, especially as someone who is predominantly a boulderer, but it is where I tend to lean…the Evolv Phantom has changed this view for me significantly. What Evolv has managed to achieve with the Phantom is a seriously secure fit from its six points of contact from a single threaded cord, that is adjustable to increase or decrease the length, which links to a single Velcro tab with the shoe being sucked into your foot to eliminate, in my experience, all dead space.
Having tried the Phantom, it really sets the bar for velcro shoes in the future and has to be best fit I have ever had on a Velcro shoe…potentially any shoe…I feel like going to any other Velcro shoe after the Phantom is just going to feel…lacking? Very impressive Evolv!
• Neoflex Technology – A Neoprene Laminate sock, which is separate to the upper and lines the inside the shoe, moving with your foot to provide flex and compression when standing on holds.
The Neoflex sock allows the shoe to move with your toe knuckles when your toes flex more on smears but pull back into its original downturned form more when edging. This also assists in making the shoe significantly more comfortable than I originally thought it would be as the shoe bends and adapts to your foot as you climb on different holds and pressures. As a general rule, the more rubber coverage on the forefoot the less the upper will stretch and mould around your foot shape which can lead to discomfort even after longer break in periods. With the Phantom, the Neoflex lining helps the shoe to flex more than other largely rubberised shoes leading to a more comfortable fit after just a few sessions.
• Knuckle Box and Love Bump – In a lot of Evolvs line, they have the tried and tested combination of the Knuckle Box and Love Bump. They work in tandem to match the natural volume and shape of your toes when they are crimped in a climbing shoe.
The Knuckle Box is effectively an area of higher volume above the big toe which allows additional room for the big toe to move up when crimped in the shoe. A bigger digit requires more room in the shoe and by designing the toe box this way, hot spots are less likely form on the big toe as it fits your natural foot volume resulting in less need for the shoes upper to stretch around your big toe. This definitely felt like a great fit and much better than some previous shoes I’ve had which have resulted in significantly more time for this area to bed in during the wearing in process.
The Love Bump is a slightly concave section located beneath the toe joints which helps to eliminate any remaining dead space created when your toes are in a crimped position. I will openly admit I did not really imagine there being much of a benefit from this but it does feel great on my feet and actually makes complete sense to have it there to eliminate any area of potential slippage or movement. It is hard to describe but maybe a “Toe Hug” would be the best way to try and match Evolvs tag lines.
• AVT Plastic Midsole AND TPS+ Rubber Midsole – Two midsoles allow for two functions in one shoe, creating longitudinal tension to keep its aggressive downturn whilst also providing edging support AND sensitivity in the toes…more detail below how the Phantom achieves what a lot of other shoes promise but don’t always live up to…
Once again, the Phantom goes above and beyond in innovating shoe design for optimum performance with two midsoles within the shoe. You may think that two midsoles could make the shoe feel bulky or less sensitive under foot but these are not two standard midsoles with the same job in mind.
First off, you get the full-length midsole but as this would usually mean the shoe is stiff or very supportive, in this case the midsole is made from flexible rubber but serves a different purpose. Evolv have utilised their TPS+ Rubber Midsole which is stretched from the heel of the shoe all the way to the very tip of the toe box. This stands for “Tension Power System Plus” which, as the name suggests, creates tension throughout the shoe assisting in maintaining the shoes downturn and pulling the shoe up into the arch of the foot eliminating any dead space. This Rubber Midsole is not linked directly, as a traditional midsole would be, to the shoes support on edges which is achieved with the second midsole in the shoe.
The AVT (Abridged Variable Thickness) Plastic Midsole is where the support comes from in this shoe. Now the Phantom is not what I would describe as a stiff edging shoe like you would find for technical vertical climbing as it is medium-soft by design, especially when worn in. That being said, the Phantom provides enough support for smaller edges, especially when in its main territory of steep overhangs or roof climbing. The increased rigidity from the AVT Plastic Midsole is by no means a super stiff platform but provides a great balance on both smearing and edging, especially within steep terrain, to give you confidence in your feet. Evolv have also cut out the very tip of this midsole at the toe box to allow more sensitivity within the toes when utilising those margin smears and edges where maximum feedback is required. I was a bit sceptical at the idea of this at first, as I thought it would significantly affect the edging performance and eliminate some of the point of the support offered across the rest of the forefoot. In practice it did not seem to reduce edging performance at all and if it did the sensitivity was worth the sacrifice to me. Once again…this isn’t the edging shoe you’re going to take up that long vertical edging trad route…it’s the steep performance weapon of choice and I have found the shoe to perform incredibly well for this.
• Evolv TRAX SAS Rubber – Shoe rubber often has a following similar to a cult with brand loyalty appearing more linked to the rubber on the shoe than any other factor. I have personally always been open to trying any of the rubber compounds on the market but having not tried Evolvs compounds before, was really intrigued to see how it performed.
With the Phantom you get 4.2mm of Trax SAS Rubber, which is Evolvs high performance rubber and is used on the majority of their shoe line. They do mention the classic lines in its description such as High Performance and Highly Durable which did leave me with doubts as the two rarely go hand in hand. I am happy to report though after three months of continuous testing, they have worn very well showing little to no wear, which I will openly admit is not due to my wannabe Ondra footwork, and I would also rate the Trax SAS Rubber well above Vibram XS Grip/Grip 2 on both durability and stickiness. The friction was especially noticeable on indoor volumes which has never been something I would like to trust my feet on in the past. Smearing on both featureless volumes or rock in the Phantoms really gave me confidence and felt like velcro friction which, especially after lockdowns playing mind games on weighting my feet at times, was a real game changer for my weakness.
All in all, it seems to fit Evolvs claim and has definitely become a contender for my favourite rubber compound to date. I will be interested, after another month or two, if they continue to wear as well as they have been as it’s been very impressive especially as they are so sticky.
• Upper Material and sizing – The vast majority of Evolv shoes utilise Synthetic, Vegan Friendly, Uppers which is what we also find on the Phantoms. For those that are not aware, Synthetic uppers do not tend to stretch as much as Leather uppers as a general rule. This can be a massive positive to a shoe BUT can be a negative if not sized correctly to account for the lack of stretch within the shoe.
As previously mentioned, due to the synthetic upper on the Phantoms, and the large coverage of rubber on the shoe, I was not expecting much stretch at all BUT have found them to have stretched a solid half a size over time. This has meant that they have moulded nicely around my foot over time BUT I would say I may attempt to go down half a size from my street shoe for a true performance bouldering fit that’s just that bit snugger when fully worn in for next time. Evolvs sizing recommendations to go for your street shoe size for a snug but not crazily tight fit, think sport climbing, and half a size down for a true bouldering performance fit which seems to be bang on the money in my eyes. Sizing is a very personal thing so this may be different to you but I am very confident that Evolv have it right with this recommendation to start at street shoe and see where you are from there.
• Molded VTR (Variable Thickness Rand) – The final feature on the Phantoms forefoot…the Molded VTR (Variable Thickness Rand). Evolv use this on their shoes to increase the thickness of the rand rubber in areas of high wear and reduce the thickness is areas of less wear. This allows for increased durability where you need it and more flex in the shoe in targeted locations to allow for a more comfortable fit. The theory is to reduce hot spots where your skin rubs on the inside of the shoe and increase durability where contact with the rock is increased.
During my testing I can neither confirm nor deny it felt like it made a difference, though the shoes do show very little sign of wear which I will put down to this feature. As mentioned previously, I did get some hot spots on both my little toes from the first few sessions. This was not ideal and quite uncomfortable but I actually think these were caused by a combination of things. Part of this I believe to be covered on the next paragraph with breathability and it may have also been due to these slightly thicker sections of the rand just needing that little bit more time to give when wearing in the shoe. Hard to say for sure but the idea makes sense but not as noticeable as some of the other features that make up the shoe.
One final note on the forefoot is that these shoes do not breath very well. I believe this is predominantly be down to the high levels of rubber on the shoe which is great for performance but should you keep the Phantoms on in hotter sessions or over the course of multiple attempts without taking them off, they do appear to retain sweat and heat a lot more than other shoes I have tried. Due to this, I believe that this is one of the main causes of the hot spots I had early on as I was popping my heel out when resting on problems then pulling them back on without taking my forefoot fully out of the shoe. This led to a build-up of heat over time and any build-up of moisture did not get out of the shoe resulting in my skin softening which eventually lead to hot spots developing when pulling the shoe on and off repeatedly. If you can/are happy to keep removing your shoes frequently between attempts to help the shoe air out a bit more then this won’t be an issue for you but I think it is definitely not the best shoe I have used for ventilation. In all fairness to the Phantom though, it is designed as a bouldering shoe for hard problems where you would be taking them on and off after each attempt so it is hard to really judge the shoe for this too harshly. Though maybe worth keeping in mind should you wish to sport climb in them, this may be enough to put some people off using them on a rope more than the softer midsole.
All in all, the few negatives I could find with the Phantoms forefoot are really just me attempting to find just anything wrong with what is a truly top performing model. Following this review, I would always want a pair of Phantoms in my bag for whenever I am bouldering, indoors or out, for the forefoot performance alone as I feel it is the best out there in its field.
A suction fit and superb performance gives the Phantom the best heel I have ever used giving you even more ways to give your feet “Hand Like” qualities with three-dimensional use.
Much like the rest of the shoe, the heel is encased in Trax SAS rubber which has proven to be very sticky and durable throughout the life of the shoe so far showing very minimal signs of wear.
The Phantom has Evolvs Dark Spine Heel which helps to create more structure than some shoes in the centre of the heel to create a secure fit and great performance when heel hooking whilst also helping to sustain tension in the heel to help drive your toes into the forefoot.
Either side of the centred Dark Spine, the heel is covered in even more Trax rubber giving you increased friction where ever you land it on dynamic, marginal or just out right desperate heel hooks. This also assisted in maintaining the great fit of the heel throughout the life of the shoe and stopped any bagging out of the heel which is a concern in many other shoes. With the great fit of the heel, only being enhanced when used alongside the great closure system, I found confidence with anything I could throw a heel at and has also led to me using heel hooks in ways I may not have considered before with upmost confidence. Evolv have obviously spent a lot of time developing the often-overlooked heel design by other brands to create a gem here.
My only complaint on the heel is more about preference than a true negative but relates to potential durability. I always prefer a heel where the tension band runs over the top of the heel rubber which stops the risk of delamination on a heel which is not how the Phantoms heel made with the Dark Spine being in place over the top of the tension band. I will stress that this has not shown any sign of this, or really any wear at all, through some pretty intense use which does look like this should not be an issue. As I mentioned earlier, this is more of a small point I wanted to raise whilst trying to find ANY fault with a shoe as it has been a struggle to find any issues with it throughout testing.
When you find a shoe is allowing you to think outside the box with how you use your feet in often highly three-dimensional ways, it cannot be a bad thing. I didn’t think I would end up describing a shoe in a review as adding to the creativity of my climbing but this does feel like the case here giving the Phantom an edge on other shoes as it just performs so well. This is the best heel I have used on any shoe to date.
For its designed discipline of Bouldering, the Evolv Phantom is the best shoe I have ever used.
I have never used a shoe which has given me such confidence in my feet on steep terrain and, unexpectedly, when smearing on indoor slabs and volumes.
The Phantom would not be my first choice for micro edging on vertical sports routes, or boulder problems of this nature, but for bouldering on steep terrain where you want to use every part of the shoe it is an incredible performance shoe. Evolv have truly taken innovation to a new level with the Phantom and I look forward to them bringing a lot of the features of this shoe into other models in the future. Especially the closure system, as it is the best velcro system I have used to truly secure your foot in place quickly and effectively.
Very sticky, very durable and a very big success by Evolv and their athletes collaborating to create this shoe. Highly recommended!
The Phantom is the pinnacle shoe in our line-up, designed in-house by our R&D team in collaboration with Daniel Woods and additional feedback from Paul Robinson, two of the most prolific boulderers in the world. This ultra-performance shoe utilizes a variety of technologies (NEOFLEX, TPS+, and AVT) to create a powerful and sensitive shoe designed for your hardest climbing. It uses NEOFLEX technology in the knuckle box, a two-way stretch neoprene laminate which allows the Knuckle Box to expand in the flex position and actively rebound when not flexed. This alleviates hot spots over the knuckles and maintains performance and fit over time. The TPS+ (Tension Power System Plus) is the combination of the TPS rubber midsole, which maintains the downturned toe, with an extra wing for enhanced arch support. We equipped the Phantom with an AVT (Abridged Variable Thickness) plastic midsole that provides greater toe sensitivity while still maintaining the optimal amount of support and structure where you need it most. The Phantom's Compression Closure system is an advanced 6-point single-pull closure system with double D-ring and hook and loop that secures the foot in a superb fit. Finally, it features the Dark Spine S (sensitive) heel which is the combination of the Dark Spine midsole and a thinner 2mm heel outsole to give the optimal structure and sensitivity for technical heel-hooking.
- DARK SPINE S - For structure and sensitivity.
- AVT PLASTIC MIDSOLE - For sensitivity and support.
- TRAX® SAS - Best friction plus maximum durability.
- COMPRESSION CLOSURE SYSTEM (CCS) - 6-point single-pull closure for superb fit.
- MOLDED VTR - Our Variable Thickness Rand (VTR) system puts thinner rand rubber in areas to reduce pressure points and hot spots around the foot as well as thicker rubber for increased longevity in the high wear zones near the toe for durability and performance.
- TPS+ RUBBER MIDSOLE - For downturned toe and arch structure.
- Age group: Adult
- Gender: Male
- Liner: SYNTHETIC
- Midsole: MX-P: 1.6mm, AVT & TPS RUBBER
- Outsole: 4.2mm TRAX® SAS
- Profile: DOWNTURNED ASYMMETRIC
- Rand: VTR (THICKER FRONT TOE AREA)
- Sizes: 5 - 13,5 US MEN'S (INCLUDING HALF SIZES)
- Upper: SYNTHETIC (SYNTHRATEK VX)
- Vegan: Yes
- Weight: 9oz PER SHOE (SIZE 9 US MEN'S)