Smearing Superstar: Evolv Zenist climbing shoe review

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Evolv launched the Zenist in February through its Evo Lab channel, following the pre-Olympic trend of releasing competition shoes.

California-based Evolv has touted its Zenist as an indoor climbing weapon. It had the high sensitivity required for precise foot positioning, in addition to delicate heel and toe hooks. But the shoe defies strict categorization.

Evolve adorned the Zenist with a midsole, a textured heel and a 4.2mm thick outsole. These combine with the sensitivity to deliver a package that also bounces up cliffs and boulders – if not better – than exercise boards and gym walls.

We tested the Evolv Zenist over a period of 2 months. It completed at least 15 training sessions on artificial surfaces and 8 days of sport climbing or bouldering on limestone, with the majority of the movements at or near the limits of current ability.

In summary: The Develop Zenist Fit my “duck foot” exceptionally well. And the sensitivity on the ball of the foot was one of them the best I’ve ever testedwhich ensures extremely safe smearing.

The edge stiffness was just enough to support micro-edges with a strong foot. And the use of a 4.2 mm thick outsole and a variable edge promise a long service life. This is a bonus as this is not always the case with highly sensitive competition shoes.

Evolv Zenist climbing shoe review


My foot is the classic duck foot: narrow heel, wide forefoot, but a thin vertical profile. The Zenist fitted my foot right out of the box, but I needed a 10.5 (tested weight 15.2 ounces per pair) for my usual 10 foot height.

The synthetic upper didn’t stretch in length, but the aggressive downturn relaxed slightly. This adds some functional length within a few training board sessions.

And in the first few weeks, the unlined upper material hugged my foot to create a second feeling on the skin. The single Velcro fastener ensured security. But it wasn’t necessary to suck the shoe on my foot.

The general shape of the heel fits well. And for a competition-style shoe, the texture level felt significant. The variable thickness border provided a texture similar to the front of the Develop zenist, just like the 1.0 mm EX-P half-length rubber midsole.

Finally, the 4.2mm Trax SAS outsole added a touch of stiffness and promised durability. And I add that this construction does not offer the sock-like structure of some models with a gym.

The fit and construction of the Zenist doesn’t scream “competition only”. If Evolv didn’t cram it as a competition shoe, I would categorize it as a sport climbing and bouldering shoe based on its fit and feel.

Evolv Zenist: Testing in the gym

The Zenist has proven itself excellently on my homeboards and in the fitness studios. The sensitivity and support in the middle of the road worked in a variety of indoor conditions.

I was able to turn off small positive edges, but also pull my toes down and pull my hips in with the same handles. There was a compromise – the Zenist wasn’t as soft or as aggressively run down as some of my other Comp shoes. So the pulling in was not as automatic as with much softer shoes. But these shoes didn’t perform nearly as well.

I found the heel hook felt stable. But compared to some of my other Olympic shoes, it wasn’t as sensitive to minor features. Toe hooking was excellent as the rubber coated vegan upper turned out to be pliable and sensitive. Because of the midsole, twisting the shoe was a bit of a force, but that was only relative to super-soft Comp shoes.

In which the Develop Zenist his sensitivity shone around the ball of the foot. I have confidently glued my foot onto both textured and bare volumes, and sometimes smeared it onto bare plywood with enough feel to ensure my foot doesn’t subside without warning. I have declared the Zenist the king of smear for the current competition-specific rock shoes.

Develop Zenist

Evolv Zenist: good rock shoe?

For this tester, the Evolv Zenist was better at outdoor climbing and limestone bouldering.

The various parts that give structure to the Zenist and create potential compromises compared to other competition shoes were exactly the attributes that made it a killer shoe on the local escarpments of central Texas.

The structural integrity and the resulting support and edge capability made the Evolv Zenist a precise, sensitive, and powerful weapon for steep bolt cutting and limestone bouldering.

The toe is pointy enough to stab pockets, and the combination of sensitivity, downturn and edge ability made pocket pulling another strength.


The Develop Zenist is a competent indoor competition climbing and bouldering shoe for everyone who is looking for more support and structure than a slipper. It’s at least as good, if not better, on steep outdoor cliffs and bouldering.

If you’ve got a classic duck foot, this medium-sized shoe may be the only tool you need for the steep slopes, indoors or outdoors.

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