Unparallel Up Duel Climbing Shoe Review
Intro/Background: A phoenix rising from the ashes of an industry giant.
Since stocking Unparallel shoes in the shop I have been increasingly impressed by the build quality and designs which build up from classic designs from their previous life when the designers worked for the Pre-Adidas Five Ten. Mentioning Five Ten was a subject I did not want to mention during this review originally, and I will not in future Unparallel reviews, but I feel it is great to inform those unaware of the brands history so they know the origins of the team at Unparallel. With this in mind, for those who do not know the history of the Five Ten/Unparallel brand family tree, Adidas bought the classic brand Five Ten back in 2011 which unfortunately led to multiple changes in more recent years to their most popular models. This first led to production being moved out of the American factories to China in addition to the designers being changed. Unfortunately, this meant the American Five Ten staff of the time were suddenly stuck without a way to continue their craft in America. Due to this sudden change to their lives, several of the original team decided to start up their own brand in 2018 and here is where Unparallels story begins. With over 20 years of experience though, this younger brand is by no means learning the ropes so let’s see how this review of the new to 2021 Unparallel Up Duel stands up to its heritage of the brand and family tree.
Function: Soft, comfortable and understated with more versatility than I assumed at first sight.
The Unparallel Up Duel is a soft slipper which takes from classic slippers of the past such as the Five Ten Moccasym. A lot of climbers may have used this style of shoe before and they are popular across multiple, if not all, disciplines. The star feature of the Up Duel in my opinion is its lack of them as it sticks to simplicity and minimalistic design to give you what you need and nothing more. You will not find any extreme downturns on a variable thickness midsole with extreme tensioning or ever-increasing rubber toe patches. This is not to say the Up Duel is lacking though as its minimal bare bones approach gives you the essentials you need to get a lot of mileage and climbing done with this single pair of shoes. What you do get though is a soft midsole, a bright blue vegan friendly synthetic upper, Unparallels own RH Rubber (which I will go into more detail on later in this review) and an elasticated opening to secure your foot in place. That is all you get and it is also what I have found is often all I have really needed. Less can be more?
Living in Dorset, local crags tend to result in a lot of smaller Limestone edges which has meant I have generally stuck to shoes with a much stiffer midsole to help me to stand on anything I can in hope of getting up my projects. With this in mind, I’ve perhaps written off having a softer, more sensitive shoe in the past but since having the Up Duels for a few months, I have actually really enjoyed climbing in even on all but the smallest of edges.
Fit/Sizing: Super Comfortable, Unlined Synthetic Uppers which have not stretched at all giving a perfect fit out the box and throughout the life of the shoe. Size tight and you’ll be alright!
Unparallel have made the Up Duel part of an existing shoe line up which all share the same last. This means that if you’ve previously worn the Up Rise VCS, Up Lace, Up Mocc or the new Up Rise Pro, then you can size these quite comparatively. My general recommendation for the flat lasted Up models is to go for a whole size down from your street shoe though this is slightly different in the Up Duel.
As the Up Duel uses a slipper closure system this means it lacks velcro or a laces to secure the shoe to your foot and instead you rely completely on the fit of the shoe to keep it secure and on your foot. In the past slipper style shoes have always concerned me with coming off when pulling hard on heel hooks as a similar pulling motion is used to get the shoe on and off. This means you need to size them right to be able to keep them in place and eliminate that doubt in your mind when it really matters. I love a heel hook and almost stuck to the same sizing as the other Up models but ended up going an additional half size down again and I’m glad I did. This 1.5 down size from my street shoe size has given me a secure fit whilst also allowing me to wear them for sport and trad routes with ease. If you want to wear them for longer periods of time, approximately 20 minutes or more, then I would recommend a whole size down from your street shoe size instead though you may find you are a bit aware of heel movement on harder heel hooks. If you do not intend to wear them for anything where a harder heel hook comes into play then you may benefit from the slightly roomier fit.
A slightly quirky detail that Unparallel have appeared to take from the historic roots which I personally am not as big a fan of is the location of the heel tabs to allow you to pull the shoe on. Unlike most brands, Unparallel locate their tabs so that you have one at a diagonal angle on the back inside edge of the shoe whilst the second one is centralised directly at the back unlike most other brands who mirror them at angles. This may seem like a bit of a small point but I do find I have to roll my heel in a different technique to most as you cannot pull opposing sides to open the opening to the shoe up. This may just be me that prefers opposing heel tabs, and has not been as big a problem with the Up Duels compared to stiffer Unparallel shoes which do not flex as much, and may just be me being picky due to my personal preference, but something worth mentioning about the brands design as a minor detail I am not a fan of.
I am not one to push my feet into ever smaller shoes in an aim of crippling myself for performance. There are those that do and for those climbers I salute your commitment but I stand by my recommended sizing of 1.5 down from your street shoe with the Up Duel. This has been backed up by several customers liking the same fit and agreeing it is perfect for them too. Even though these are downsized a considerable amount, as the synthetic upper is just so comfortable it does not feel as tight as you may expect. It is worth noting though that the upper hasn’t appeared to stretch at all since I started wearing them four months ago. This is actually great in my eyes as traditionally people have had to size leather slipper style climbing shoes very tight to allow for the stretch over time eventually getting the perfect fit after going through a grim period wearing in. With the Up Duels they will remain how they come out the box and they have to be one of the most comfortable fits straight away so fit them how you want them for the life of the shoe. You won’t be disappointed.
Forefoot: Great sensitivity and feel from the soft midsole giving great performance as the shoe moulds around the foothold.
Compared to my last shoe review of the Evolv Phantom, the Unparallel Up Duel is the complete opposite when it comes to design features and high-tech innovation but that does not make it a bad shoe.
What you get is 4.2mm of RH Rubber, a soft flexible midsole and a non-adjustable elasticated opening to the synthetic upper. That’s it as there are no toe patches, no quick-lace/multi-strap velcro closure system and no apologies for it. I actually really liked this as, no it isn’t going to be the first choice for 3D futuristic bouldering where more features may be beneficial but you know what? For a lot of climbing, over multiple disciplines, there can be a lot said for simplicity when it is done well and it is here.
One aspect I’ve really found noticeable has been the benefit of the additional flex of the soft flat midsole in this shoe which really allows the rubber to mould into the surface of a hold, both indoors and out, giving more surface area of the rubber contact to the wall. This really gives you confidence that your feet will hold on even the worst smear or uneven edge. As much as they still aren’t what I would use for really small edges, they’ve been great on all other holds they’ve been put on. From smearing on Gritstone and Granite to standing on smaller edges on Limestone, they’ve held their own throughout whilst also remaining comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
The RH rubber is Unparallels own compound and strikes a balance between rigidity and flexibility as a jack of all trades option. The durability of the rubber has been impressive throughout the shoes life to date as it has shown only minimal signs of wear and continues to still feel very grippy on all angles on rock and plastic. I have particularly enjoyed these shoes indoors as you can really feel the difference between this softer flat shoe giving you plenty of smearing ability on indoor holds and volumes. This has also felt incredible on the polished Limestone slabs of Fairy Cave Quarry where you really need to trust your feet to allow you to progress up some of the blank faces of the quarry. Unsurprising, the flat last of the Up Duel and many of the of the Unparallel shoes is incredibly beneficial in these environments and I would love to see other brands making more shoes with a flat last that are not just aimed at beginners. I will not argue against the benefits of a downturned shoe for overhanging terrain but I would say the additional rubber contact possible on a flat lasted shoe for smearing really is beneficial where a downturn often hinders performance rather than assist in it. Food for thought.
The shoe is of medium width toe box which has been a comfortable fit even with my wider feet and should fit a large range of foot widths as the upper appears to not restrict those of us with wider feet as a lot of shoes do. With this in mind, I would suggest these are just as good an option for both those of us with wide or narrow feet which does make them a great “One size fits all” shoe.
As much as I do enjoy the minimal design of the shoe, it would be interesting to see if Unparallel could maintain the comfort of the fit with a similar toe patch to that found on the Up Mocc. I have used the Up Duels for a fair bit of crack climbing and they have lived up to expectations for comfort and performance when jamming with the upper showing minimal signs of wear though these have not been regularly abused on Gritstone or Granite cracks and this could result in the unprotected upper getting a bit more of a battering. I have noticed Tom Randall has rubberised beyond the small protective patch above the big toe on his shoes with what appears to be either a rubber paint compound or fine graded rubber glued onto the shoes upper for this reason. Maybe something to revise for the next addition though I guess the shoe was designed for Speed Climbing in theory so maybe not? Either way not a negative for the masses but something I thought worthy of a mention to potentially increase the versatility marginally.
Heel: A reliable no fuss heel with a great middle ground of support and sensitivity that you can trust on all but the hardest heel hooks when sized correctly.
As previously mentioned, slipper style climbing shoes are often known for coming off when performing heel hooks as they are not as secure on your foot due to the lack of a velcro or lace up closure system. This has in the past been something that has also stopped me using slipper style shoes as I always imagined having a shoe fly off when chucking a high heel up on the top of a boulder resulting in my demise in the hopefully padded depths beneath me…The Up Duels have definitely helped to eliminate that concern though and, though I would not choose this shoe if I knew there was a heel I really had to crank really hard on, I am more than happy using the heel which is always something I love to look for where ever possible. They are yet to come off or feel any more likely to than any other shoe really but I will stress again that this will will be helped by the additional half size down from my street shoe which helps provide that snug fit.
All in all, a heel I felt more than happy to rely on with a great balance of rigidity and flex to give a sensitive yet protective heel.
Conclusion: Maybe less is more with the Up Duels?
Though flat slipper style climbing shoes are nothing new, I have really enjoyed the Up Duels and think that Unparallel have produced a very well refined design classic with these. The lack of stretch and comfort of the vegan synthetic upper is great as they feel and fit just as good out the box as they will throughout the whole life of the shoe. I really hope that Unparallel will look to use this upper in more of their shoes as it sets the Up Duel apart from anything I have used before.
To be blunt, this is not going to be my first choice for hard toe hooks or really cranking with the heel. With that being said though, it could well be a great choice for a lot of other uses as what it offers is understated functional climbing which just feels natural and unencumbering to your feet.
The Up Duel performs great with its minimal appointments and is just as suited for the beginner as it is for the professional whilst also being just as suited for all disciplines where a softer shoe would be preferable both indoors and outdoors.
If you chose this shoe to get into futuristic 3D competition style shoe or micro edging then you are simply looking at the wrong shoe for the job but for most other applications where smearing and comfort are key then you may struggle to find any shoe to better on what this reimagined classic delivers.
Great rubber, very comfortable fit and you may find yourself asking do you need all the bells and whistles in your climbing once you have tried these shoes out. Highly recommended to all.
You can buy the Unparallel Up Duels HERE. If your size is not currently in stock then preorders are usually available in 2 working days.
Designed alongside Tomoa Narasaki, the UP-Duel has been developed specifically for the upcoming Olympics Speed Climbing category. This moccasin-style slipper has been built to be soft and supple, providing a sensitive feel while gliding up a competition wall at maximum speed. The premium RH rubber outsole ensures that every foot placement stays right where you want it to. This slip-on shoe also makes for an excellent gym-style trainer.
• 4.2 mm RH rubber
• Midsole stiffness: Medium
• Unlined synthetic upper
• Approx. weight: 469 g (per pair)
• Size: US 4-14 / EU 35.5-48.5
• Fit: Moderate-Asymmetric
• Upper: Micro Synthetic
• Insole: Micro Synthetic Tongue: Elastic
• Strap: Webbing
• Rubber: RH rubber