Evolv Defy Review (With Video!)

My Evolv Defy review yielded a simple truth: this is a solid first shoe for beginner climbers and boulderers. The Evolv Defy performs most climbing functions well and only really lacks performance when it comes to edging. However, as a beginner climber, you won’t need the highest level of shoe performance yet. What you’ll need is a comfortable shoe that lets you enjoy and explore the sport at your own pace. The Defy is just that.

The Evolv Defy boasts a similarly comfortable price point for many beginner climbers. If you’ve just decided to give climbing a try, or you’ve been renting shoes for a while and are ready to purchase your first pair, these shoes are a great first choice for you.

If you’re an intermediate or advanced sport climber, the Defy is a good second shoe — one to wear for those long routes where you prefer comfort over performance. If you’re an intermediate or advanced boulderer, the shoe could be your comfy gym pair for days you’re not projecting or climbing at your limit.

Interested? Click here to buy the shoe on Backcountry.com.

Otherwise, If you want more ideas for your first pair of climbing shoes, take a look at our article on the best beginner climbing shoes (the Defy is our Top Pick). Or, you can compare the Defy to the best climbing shoes.

Product Specs

  • Closure style: velcro
  • Profile: asymmetrical
  • Sole: 4.2 mm TRAX© high friction rubber
  • Rand: VTR rand
  • Upper: synthetic (perforated Synthratek upper)
  • Lining: nylon
  • Midsole: MX-P: 1 mm sensitive half-length midsole

Performance

EDGING 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)
These shoes edge poorly. The softness of the material can cause your foot to slip off tiny footholds, especially if you don’t get the right size (see the Sizing section to learn what size to get). I have slipped off the wall many times while wearing these shoes because they couldn’t stay on thin footholds. The bluntness of the toe box makes it hard to get a sturdy toe on microholds. While it might force you to develop better and more precise footwork, it can also be frustrating.

POCKETS 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)
The Evolv Defy performs slightly below average on pockets. The roundedness of the toe box prevents you from getting your foot into small pockets easily. On narrow pockets, you end up with an uncomfortably shallow length of toe in the pocket which can slip out if you aren’t careful.

HEEL/TOE HOOKING 4 Stars (4 / 5)
The shoe performs well here. It heel hooks fine and I have never had a heel slip out, nor have I ever had the sensation that one was about to slip out. I have had no issues with toe hooking, either.

SENSITIVITY 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
The Evolv Defy is a soft shoe, and therefore the sole and toe box are highly sensitive. This feature is great for smearing and other times when you need to be able to feel the rock with your feet. However, it can leave your toes vulnerable if you slam them against the wall or rock — such as when you dyno, swing a foot from one foothold to another, or cut then reclaim feet on an overhung boulder problem. I’ve hurt my toes a couple times doing that, especially when climbing outside, but the pain subsides after a minute or so.

PRECISION 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)
The shoe is not aggressively hooked but rather has a round toe and flat sole. This makes for a comfortable shoe but you lose precision as a result, especially when frontstepping and backstepping tiny holds.

SMEARING 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
The sensitivity of this shoe helps you smear well. Additionally, the rubber is quite sticky. So sticky, in fact, there were a few times during my Evolv Defy review that my toe stuck to the wall an inch above the actual foothold I was aiming for and I had to force it down to get my toe on the hold — and this happened after six months of wear!

CRACKS 4 Stars (4 / 5)
The flat sole of the Evolv Defy is good for cracks and foot jams. During my research, I learned that it is some climbers’ preferred shoe for crack climbing.

Sizing/Fit

The Defy does not stretch lengthwise like leather climbing shoes do. It will only conform to the shape of your foot. For this reason, choosing the right size is especially important. Be sure to purchase a size that fits well on the first try because the shoe will not stretch. It will get softer and mold to your foot better over time, but it will not stretch lengthwise.

I personally recommend you purchase your normal shoe size or half a size below it (in US shoe sizes). I wear a US size 13 in normal shoes and my size 13 Defys fit quite snugly. They would be more uncomfortable but tighter fitting if I went half a size lower to 12.5. Either size would work. From my personal experience, I recommend trying the shoe on first before buying, or purchasing the shoe from an online retailer that offers free returns in case you get the wrong size.

Ensuring you get the right size might seem like a hassle, but it will pay off in the long run. This shoe is already not great at edging, so if you buy a pair that is too big you run the risk of them edging very poorly.

SIDE NOTE: Some climbing and bouldering gyms use the Evolv Defy as their rental shoes, so you might have rented the shoe and climbed in it before without even knowing. Next time you’re at your gym renting a shoe, ask if they have a pair of Evolv Defys you can wear, and give it a test run that way! Also use that time as a chance to learn what size fits you best.

While researching and reviewing the Evolv Defy, I learned that the shoe is particularly good at fitting comfortably to many foot shapes. As mentioned, the toe box is wide and round in this shoe, which helps for extended-wear comfort. The heel also fits well. It doesn’t rub up against the back of the foot, so you don’t get any heel blisters from wearing these shoes. As I said, even though I bought my Evolv Defys a half-size too big, my heel has never slipped out from heel hooking.

CLOSURE
The shoes close with two velcro straps. The straps are sturdy and did not lose their stickiness even after six months of heavy use. I have narrow feet and I can still get a nice snug fit by pulling the velcro tight across my feet. The one negative to the velcro straps is that the bottom strap is far from the toe box. This distance makes it difficult to strap in your shoes tightly around your toes.

Durability

While doing research for this Evolv Defy review, I noticed that some people have complained about the durability of the shoe. However, I personally have worn the shoe for over six months and climbed two to three times per week in them (a total of about 60 gym sessions and two outdoor sessions) and I have had no durability problems.

My Evolv Defy review tested the shoe's durability The common trend in durability complaints online is that many reviewers bought their pair 1-1.5 sizes smaller than their normal size and expected them to stretch lengthwise like normal leather shoes. However, since the Evolv Defy does not stretch lengthwise, their toes apparently pushed holes in the shoes over time. When you do get the right size, the shoes are very durable.

Comfort

There’s no other way to say it – the Evolv Defy is a comfy climbing shoe. The flat sole and toe box make it feel more like a slipper than a climbing shoe – without the soft, fuzzy lining obviously. It can be worn for hours at a time without hurting your feet, especially indoors. I often go to my local bouldering gym for a two-hour climbing session, and during those sessions I do not take these shoes off once. Meanwhile, other climbers in the gym will untie, unvelcro, or take off their shoes after each climb in order to relieve the discomfort of their shoes. When I first purchased the shoes, I used to take them off maybe once or twice per session, but now the shoes conform to my feet a bit better and I even sometimes do jumping jacks in them.

Smell

The smell is the worst part of the Evolv Defy. The shoe’s nylon lining retains moisture incredibly well which causes the shoes to smell bad after a handful of climbing sessions.

Drying your Evolv Defys helps get rid of the smell The most effective remedy I have found for the smell is to dry them out as quickly as possible after using them.

The best methods for this are to place them upside down over an air vent in your house (best during winter), or to put them outside in the sunshine to let them air dry (best during summer). Homemade solutions such as baking soda did nothing to the smell. Spraying Lysol and placing dryer sheets into the shoes masked the smell only temporarily.

Design

The Evolv Defy isn’t going to win any design awards, but it by no means looks silly. You can’t go wrong with a shoe that’s mostly black or all black, but you can’t turn many heads, either. The color has not faded over time for me, inside or out. Defys do not temporarily dye my feet, as some shoes do. The two finger loops at the heel of the shoe are sturdy and make the shoes easy to carry by hand or looped onto a chalk bag belt.

Video Review

Final Thoughts

Beginning rock climbers or boulderers cannot go wrong by purchasing this shoe. After my review of the Evolv Defy, I learned it is a solid option for a first pair of climbing shoes at a great price. If you decide to purchase them, make sure to pay close attention to sizing. Test the shoe out before buying it online, or buy a pair from an online retailer that offers free returns in case you get the wrong size.

Intermediate to advanced climbers could use this shoe for long, multi-pitch routes – or even crack climbing – where comfort is important. Intermediate to advanced boulderers should look at higher performance shoes, since the Defy isn’t made for them.

Other Versions

The Evolv Elektra is the women’s version of the Defy. If you’re looking for a beginner female climbing shoe, it’s a great option.

About the Author:

Alex is the owner of 99Boulders and has been blogging about the outdoors for over two years. When he isn't working on the site, he can be found backpacking around South America or at the bouldering gym using his 6'5" wingspan to skip all the hard holds.