I’m somewhat self-conscious about the fact that I’ve been repeating myself seemingly every year for the last 10 years, but here I go again:
Scarpa has done it once again. They’ve released a new favorite shoe that yields blazingly high performance and an outstandingly comfortable fit.
In my honest opinion, the Scarpa Chimera is easily a strong contender for the best sport climbing shoe on the market—hands down.
The vacuum fit, asymmetric shape, and ratio of sensitivity-to-support position the Chimera as an ideal shoe for 30-meters of overhanging edging, smearing, and performance.
I have but two gripes: I don’t like the laces, which I concede is, in part, a personal preference, though I also think it presents a minor issue of performance and functionality. The other gripe is a price tag that’s soaring well toward a nosebleed altitude: $210 bucks. Yowzah! That makes the Chimera one of the most expensive shoes on the market, but as I will argue, I think it’s still likely worth it.
Fit & Performance
The Chimera is essentially a sophisticated rubber sock, with laces and a moderate degree of stiffness/support. A stretchy mesh membrane sits under the laces, and replaces the need for a traditional shoe tongue, which is a welcome design.
I’ve heard the Chimera described as “exactly like the Drago, only with laces.” I don’t entirely agree with this characterization. Indeed, there are many similarities insofar as the Chimera and Drago are built on the same last. And while the Chimera is still technically classified as a “soft shoe,” the Chimera is noticeably a little bit stiffer than the ultra-pliable Drago. This additional support—thanks to a TPS insert design in both the toe box and the heel—suits the Chimera to longer sport climbs, where you’ll need the support at foot-intensive rests such as stems, kneebars, or slabs.
The Chimera sports a 3.5mm edge of Vibram XS Grip 2, a proven sticky rubber that I’ve used without significant issue for years. For performance shoes, in general, I prefer 3.5mm edges as opposed to 4mm edges, which feel a bit too bulky. If you’re a beginner climber and you don’t know how to use your feet on really small edges yet, a 4mm edge makes more sense and provide some additional longevity, not to mention, hold up better to the imprecision of a typical beginner’s footwork. However, for everyone else, I recommend seeking out 3.5mm edges since they provide much greater sensitivity; and, in fact, may just also help you learn how to use your feet better.
My foot is on the wider side, and in general, Scarpa has done a good job of catering to this foot dimension. (People with narrower feet, in general, seem to prefer La Sportiva, according to my own informal polling of climber friends). The Chimera’s fit leaves no dead space or air pockets around my foot—even without the laces laced!
With such a perfect fit, and the right balance of sensitivity/support, I’ve had no trouble on heel and toe hooks, edging, smearing, and pockets. The Chimera does it all well, and feels like an organic, natural extension of my body.
The Chimera’s offset lacing system, which begins midfoot, provides the opportunity to include a wide patch of rubber in toe-hooking territory. This design is what gives the Chimera the distinction of being a lace-up that doesn’t actually climb like a traditional lace-up; rather it performs more like a high-performance slipper (like the Drago).
As I hinted at, the laces are almost superfluous for me because the shoe already fits my foot so well. My beef with the laces is that it’s slower than a Velcro slipper to put the shoe on and take it off. Also, the laces are really long and need to be double or triple tied in order to prevent the laces from flopping around and potentially snagging on a fin of rock (a rare occurrence, but it has happened to me).
Because of the laces, I’m probably not likely to bring the Chimera to the boulders or use in the gym—but that’s the only reason. Below the laces, the shoe in terms of its performance absolutely lends itself to those venues/situations; I just don’t want to be bothered with lace tying in shoe-on/shoe-off situations like the gym and bouldering.
Six Months In…
I’ve been sport climbing in the Chimera for the past six months, and they’ve held up remarkably well. The shoe stretches about half a size, but otherwise the last remains nearly identical to its out-of-the-box fit—an achievement in shoe technology that may seem expected by today’s standards but was not really possible just 12 years ago.
I’m going to get through an entire year of sport climbing with one pair, which in my mind makes the $210 price tag easier to swallow. Breaking that down into cost per pitch, we’re well under a dollar.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I find myself raving each and every year about the latest high-end performance offering from Scarpa, a result of the skill and imagination of famed climbing-shoe cobbler Heinz Mariacher. What I find most interesting about my compulsion to rave about Scarpa’s shoes speaks to an interesting and unique characteristic about Scarpa’s line-up of shoes. That is, each year’s latest offering seems to take all of the things that I like about the previous year’s latest offering and preserve what’s working and improve on what isn’t.
In this sense, you can look at Scarpa’s entire line-up of high-performance climbing footwear—from the now discontinued but classic Mago to the Boostic, the Booster S, the Furia, the Drago, and the Chimera—as an evolution of an idea. As much as I loved and raved about the Boostic when it was first released, I find them now to be almost unusably stiff now that I understand what’s possible with the Chimera and Drago. The Chimera is like the latest iPhone; it makes last year’s perfectly fine model seem obsolete.
Throughout this madcap experimentation and incessant refinement, Heinz appears to homing in on a culmination of sport-climbing-performance footwear. And since each year seems to bring something better than the last, I say keep going, buddy!
Scarpa Chimera Review Verdict
If you’re a 5.12-5.15 sport climber with a medium-wide foot looking for a high-end lace-up shoe, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better offering this year than the Chimera. If you enjoy sport climbing and bouldering, as I do, then I think using the Chimera for sport routes and the Drago for bouldering and gym sessions is the perfect set-up.