Evolv Zenist Climbing Shoe Review
Evolvs answer to comp climbing and indoor volumes where smearing ability and feel are key.
With the increase in popularity of indoor climbing, with competition climbing even making it into the Olympics, brands have started focusing much more on the needs of the indoor climber. With modern indoor climbing focusing on a more dynamic, parkour style where big moves on big holds are frequent, a different demand has been put onto climbing shoe manufacturers. There is now less focus on stiffer supportive shoes and a move to ever softer and more sensitive models to meet the demand of the current indoor scene.
Evolvs answer to this new need comes in the form of the Zenist climbing shoe which has taken their forward thinking and ergonomic approach to a new level with optimal indoor performance being the goal. I have been wearing them over several months now so the question is, have they achieved this or gone too far?
Indoor climbing is definitely their focus but could be a secret outdoor gem with unprecedented flexibility and sensitivity.
The majority of Evolvs line generally consists of medium stiff downturned shoes which are solid performers both indoor and outdoor with modern design features such as large toe patches and aggressive profiles. The Zenists fill in the gap in Evolvs line up, taking its super soft and sensitive design to an all new extreme in the climbing shoe market.
A flexible Synthetic Upper and single velcro strap for simplicity and function.
As with the majority of Evolv shoes, it is generally recommended that you stick to your street shoe size as a good starting point for a snug but not crippling fit. This remains consistent with the Zenists as well. As it is such a soft shoe though for optimal performance downsizing 0.5 a size can just secure the heel that bit more to minimise any unwanted movement when pulling hard on the heel. With softer shoes, you do end up in a slightly tricky position between wanting a secure fit and possibly downsizing too much, reducing the shoes flexibility which can reduce the smearing ability and sensitivity benefits of the softer shoe.
The synthetic upper used for the Zenists will stretch up to 0.5 a size over time resulting in a perfect amount of stretch to mould around your foot. I have not found that the upper has stretched beyond this though keeping them consistent throughout the life of the shoe. Synthetic uppers tend to provide consistency throughout the shoes life and this I am happy to say is continued with the Zenists.
I would recommend going for your Street shoe or downsizing by 0.5 a size to suit most climbers. If you have lower volume feet then Evolv also make a Low Volume version of the Zenist. This means you may not need to eliminate dead space through downsizing and can achieve a better fit with the lower volume model.
No conventional midsole and a thin rubber toe patch lead to incredible sensitivity and the closest feeling of barefoot climbing with a shoe I’ve experienced.
When I first heard about the super soft Zenists coming out I was originally left thinking it could end up being a one trick pony which would never leave the gym. I also assumed it would only suit smearing outdoors with edging being a bit of an afterthought. I am glad to say this is not the case at all with the Zenists and that they have proven to be significantly more versatile than I originally thought they could be.
The design focuses specifically on marginal footholds where every bit of feedback is key to make the most of what little you have. Due to the complete lack of a rigid midsole in the Zenists you get flex throughout the length of the shoe but also across the width of the toe box giving you feedback from every pebble, ripple and edge. It filled me with confidence knowing exactly where my foot was on every hold but with the lack of rigidity you do end up relying more on your natural foot strength rather than the support from the shoe during longer sequences or when on smaller holds. This did result in a bit of a learning curve for me and found I had to slightly adjust the positioning of my feet for optimal edging performance. After some practice I have been able to climb in these super soft shoes with very little limitation due to edge size. At the end of the day, these will not beat a super stiff shoe when edges are truly miniscule but that isn’t their goal and for most other things they have really felt great to climb in.
Indoors they definitely have excelled as you would expect where smearing on volumes and larger holds are key. They allow you to pad around and trust your feet like nothing else I’ve tried before as you get so much feedback through them. This has made them really fun to wear and become quite freeing as it feels so natural to climb in. This continues outdoors on more smeary/friction based rock types such as Gritstone and Sandstone continuing their forefoot performance. With more edging dependent face climbing routes/boulders I would still reach for a more supportive shoe BUT when things get steep the Zenists just stick. I even found the super sticky toe patch and TRAX SAS rubber being the key to unlocking several roof climbs on limestone where I only felt truly confident in the Zenists toe hooking ability to escape some of the hardest problems I’ve ever managed to tick. As with the rest of the shoe I did find the increased sensitivity you get from the toe patch to take a little getting used to as on really sharp holds and blunt edges it could be a bit uncomfortable but after a few sessions I no longer had this feeling and have fallen for them for them hooking prowess.
Can you guess…SENSITIVITY IS KING. More of a rounded heel cup with absolute minimal structure making a snug fit is key for performance.
As with the rest of the shoe, sensitivity is continued from the forefoot to the heel making it once again incredibly soft. The result being that the shoe becomes more of a second skin than more rigid designs. You can feel just as much as in the forefoot making it easy to trust in its placement.
Another factor which continued from the forefoot is level of comfort of the shoe for a performance shoe. As there is so little structure to the shoe it keeps the shoe from forcing your foot into place and more about forming around your heel instead. This will give those with sensitive Achilles and a fear of super aggressive tension bands a great fit. You can afford to get a slightly snugger fit in the Zenists because of this comfort if you wanted to double down on fit which is a crucial part of the heels performance.
With a heel that is so soft, if sized for more of a relaxed fit you will definitely also be sacrificing the heel performance when cranking on it. Unlike more rigid shoes, the flexibility of the Zenists heel means that if you don’t size them tight enough then the rubber risks folding/rolling when pressure is applied on strenuous heel hooks which will in turn affect the performance. FIT IS ESSENTIAL!
I’ve enjoyed the feel of the heel for hooking both indoors and out especially on larger holds and lip traverses. My only minor negative is it id definitely not the best heel out there for trying to get purchase on the smallest edges out there as, much like the forefoot, lacks enough structure to bite into holds and stick with my experience in them. If you downsized to an Adam Ondra level you may find this to be less of an issue but that being said you would then lose a lot of the benefit of having a softer shoe as you’d end up with blocks for feet and no feeling. A more rigid heel would excel once again when things get super minimal BUT at the end of the day, there is no perfect shoe that does everything and the heel on the Zenists is great in its field and a breath of fresh air for me.
More versatile than Evolv themselves give credit for and a top of the line soft offering which should appeal to those who love steep climbing and want to feel every detail.
After a significant amount of time in them, there is no denying the Evolv Zenists are a great option for indoors climbing and a lot more outdoors scenarios than you may at first think. Having gotten used to the extra foot strength needed to optimise performance and learnt to slightly adjust my technique on smaller edges, I have enjoyed using them a lot.
If you mostly boulder then this is where the Zenists really shine but they would also be a great specialist option for route climbers smearing on gritstone and on overhanging terrain. I really do think Evolv under sold the Zenist when they were marketing it as an indoor/training shoe as I found they have had a lot more to offer than just this in my time with them
If you solely climb indoors or they fit your outdoor climbing style then they’ll do you proud and give you what I believe to be the most sensitivity of any shoe out there. The TRAX SAS rubber proves to be as durable and sticky as in other models which I love and they will be highly enjoyable for anyone to use.
They’ve been a similar experience to how I found the Unparallel Up Duels last year in that they are just highly enjoyable and really fun to use. They perform really well and with the two volume options should fit most climbers in one of the two offerings. Evolv have produced some incredible models over the last two years and the future looks bright for them to continue building on models like the Zenists as they are up there with the Phantoms for me in being a high performing boulderers dream.
Great work Evolv!
The Zenist was designed for the competition climber who needs the most feedback from their shoes during precise foot placements and delicate heel & toe hooks. The Vegan synthetic upper built on an aggressively profiled last will ensure your foot is always in a power position and that the shoe will not stretch too much over time. the midsole featured in the Zenist is a rubber midsole that provides just the right amount of rigidity without sacrificing the sensitivity. When the competition is on the line feedback from your shoes can mean the difference between winning and competing.
- Closure: Velcro
- Gender: Unisex
- Liner: UNLINED
- Midsole: MX-R:1.0mm half length rubber midsole
- Outsole: 4.2mm TRAX ® SAS outsole
- Profile: DOWNTURNED ASYMMETRIC
- Rand: VTR rand (THICKER FRONT TOE AREA)
- Upper: Synthetic (Synthratex VX)
- Vegan: Yes