It's a tough sell for a new company launching products into an already crowded category. Considering that there are almost a dozen established climbing shoe manufacturers already out there, Mad Rock must feel pretty damn confident about what they're offering. With 5 models ranging in price from $70-$90, they're obviously targeting the lower end of the market. In fact, with the exception of the Roc'Terra Dsungari ($79), they seem to have that niche all to themselves. Considering that most of the climbers I know are short on cash, it's not a bad strategy.
Cragger's, our local Mad Rock dealer, didn't have the Hooker in stock, but we were able to try on some of their other shoes for sizing. All of the Mad Rock shoes we tried on sized pretty much at our shoe size. This is pretty unusual, as we usually wear a climbing shoe at least a size smaller than our street shoe. With it's fairly large molded heel cup, it is important to push your foot as far back in the shoe as you can so you get the right fit. Otherwise you end up with your heel slopping around in a bigger shoe that you need. I wear an 11 street shoe and got an 11 Hooker. It was quite tight, but I figured that would give me the sensitivity I was looking for.
The first climb I did in the new shoes was the 2-pitch 5.10 ultra classic, The Book on Cathedral Ledge. It starts with a dihedral, to a fingertip traverse out right under a roof and then up another corner and face to the belay. It was a fairly cool morning and the shoe felt fine in the initial corner. I found myself able to stick the toe into the corner and I could feel the edges out on the face very well. On the smooth face of the roof traverse, the shoes stuck very well, but by the time I reached the anchors I was happy to pull them off. My feet were sore and tired, and I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn't have gotten a bigger size. The second pitch is easier at the start, but has a tricky traverse left under another roof followed by some easy but unprotected climbing to the belay. By the time I got to the traverse my feet were killing me and my scrunched-together middle toes had gotten numb. Although the shoes seemed to climb well, I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to complete the review.
I decided to stick it out and over the next few weeks I took them with me on all my climbs, bringing last year's faves along as backups. After several more pitches the Hooker's finally stretched enough to be tolerable for my usual 2-4 pitch outings. I took them on cracks, slabs, faces, bouldering and pretty much everything in between. Probably at about 8 pitches I started noticing that there was wearing taking place that I hadn't expected. The Hooker has is a raised ridge of hard rubber that runs around the outside of the toe, while the ball has a softer and more sticky compound. The problem I was saw was that the place where the two compounds met was pulling up. In addition the hard rubber was wearing quite a bit at the toe. The shoe was still climbing well tho, so I kept using them.
One thing that was immediately obvious was that when doing a lot of edging, my foot was significantly more tired than I had ever experienced. Comparing the Hooker to my Aces and Spire's, I could really see why. The Hooker is a very soft shoe with little rigidity of it's own - you can fold the shoe along its long axis with 2 fingers! All support comes from your own foot. Thus, if you don't have an extremely strong foot, the shoe edge rolls, you get tired, and of course you can't stand on those micro-edges or nubbins.
As the summer has been going along it's getting a lot hotter. Even up here in the mountains we regularly see the mid-80's and upper 90's. The fact that the Hooker is mostly black makes for a hot-foot if you are in the direct sun. Since it's is almost completely covered with rubber, and rubber is black, it's not clear what Mad Rock can do about this. So if you're planning on spending the whole day in direct sun, you'll surely find them uncomfortable. That said, the heat on your feet is the least of the problem. While the compound Mad Rock is using is very sticky, it is also very soft. I've noticed that the softer rubber in the ball has a tendency to abrade when you are smearing on warm to hot rock. On a one 10a face climb that was in full sun I noticed my left foot skating a lot on the crux move. When I looked carefully I could see tiny flecks of black rubber on the rock where my shoe had been. At the belay I looked at the sole and could see that the entire ball area looked like a used pencil eraser. Needless to say this was very disconcerting. A good friend purchased the same shoe about 3 weeks after I got mine. He climbs more than I do, and often on hotter days. I mentioned my problems and he said that he had experienced the same thing in only 5-6 outings. Based on this, it appears to me that Mad Rock has a problem with their rubber compound in hot conditions.
So much about the Hooker is nice - the 3-D molded heel cup with heel-hooking ridges, the hard/sticky sole concept, the offset laces, and the great carrying bag. Only a couple of things are problems - mainly the overall softness of the whole shoe and it's lack of durability. Of course one person's too-soft is another's sensitivity, so that can be written off to subjectivity. But, even with the low $90 price, I simply can't accept how quickly ithe rubber is wearing out. And, if you need to get them resoled, at this time you have to go directly to Mad Rock. Your local rock shoe specialist can't deal with the multi-compounding.
Mad Rock is a new company with good ideas and innovative designs. Any time you start a new enterprise there are bound to be teething problems, and once they get past the rubber compound durability issues, Mad Rock will be a force to be reckoned with. However, until they do I can't recommend this shoe unless you are climbing in the gym or always in cool temps.
black & yellow, 3-D molded dual density, dual thickness Hooker sole, double stitched, seamless binding, leather tongue,dual pull tabs, side entry system