Unparallel Sirius Lace Review
By Tom Hoyle
Finding the right #1 choice climbing shoe is tricky. You want something that fits your foot well enough to be worn performance tight, but isn't so uncomfortable you can't climb properly. And you want that shoe to be able to perform well enough at the variety of climbing shoe manoeuvres that you can put it on before trying to flash or onsight a route—without worrying there is going to be a key smear, heel hook or small edge that it isn't going to handle. For redpointing, bouldering and multi-pitching you can make use of a shoe quiver and choose where to compromise—and you can wear a shoe a bit smaller to gain some type of performance, or a bit looser to get it to smear better with the different durations involved in these other disciplines. But for trying to do a challenging route first go, when you don't know exactly what is going to be required, you need a shoe that fits perfectly and isn't going to let you down. Or really strong hands. They can make up for a lot.
Generally, that means once a climber finds a shoe that works for them in this way, they will stick with it for as long as they can. The angst of not having a reliable shoe can undermine your confidence as a climber and should be avoided at all costs. This results in some climbers squirrelling away extra pairs of favoured shoes to ward off the scarcities of an uncertain future. My go-to shoe for a while has been the Five Ten Quantum (the second iteration, blue version). I've had three pairs of the lace ups, but they are no longer available. I actually have a barely-used new pair in reserve, but in classic Five Ten fashion, they are about 1.5 sizes smaller than the other pairs I've had, despite having the same size on the label. I'm desperately trying to stretch them.
Five Ten was always a brand that made some very high performing shoes (and some terrible ones), though their quality control was famously bad, with erratic sizing (even within the same model) and a tendency for bits to fall off without warning. When Adidas bought the company in 2011, there was hope amongst climbers that they might use their industry might to improve the Five Ten quality control, and maybe even bring the prices down. For about seven years, nothing really changed. But, from 2018 onwards, Five Ten was moved under the Adidas banner. Since then, you need to look on Adidas websites to find the shoes and the company have consolidated things by killing off some of the range, including many of the most popular performance models like the Team, Dragon, Anasazi Velcro and Anasazi Lace. Okay, so some of those weren't entirely discontinued, but were instead changed for the worse. From a New Zealand perspective, Five Ten shoes are now very hard to find locally.
The story of Unparallel as a rock shoe brand is that when Five Ten was sold to Adidas, a number of key personnel jumped ship, started their own company and took the key lasts and secret rubber formulas with them. I have no idea how true this is, but that's the story. Their website doesn't really give you a brand history, but many of the early Unparallel models were remarkably similar to famous Five Ten models and even openly admitted to being copies, presumably in a way that avoided trademark issues, although this has become notably less prevalent in their current lineup. Nevertheless, the Up Mocc still exists, a clear copy of Five Ten's Moccasym. The fact that Adidas discontinued many of the popular models since taking over Five Ten has allowed this strategy to succeed and many ardent followers of those models looked to Unparallel for replacements for the shoes they could no longer get from Five Ten/Adidas. Since then, Unparallel have started to produce new, unique designs and carve out a market share through support of well-known climbers, like competition hero Tomoa Narasaki.
With my Quantums wearing out, I searched forlornly through my crate of discarded but not worn-out shoes—looking for something that would work well for my current needs (rock closer to vertical than radically steep, reasonable comfort, enough support for standing on small edges with a lot of weight but also enough sensitivity to smear). Bereft of decent options, I started water-boarding my too-small reserve pair of Quantums and perusing the Unparallel website for a rip-off model. Unparallel do make a Quantum-esque shoe, but unfortunately this is based on the original Quantum (the purple one) which was a different shoe. Some people loved that shoe and hate the wider blue one—there's no accounting for taste. One thing Unparallel do well is make a full size range in every model, as well as pictures of the shape of the shoe from all angles and detailed information on what it should be used for, where it performs well and where it compromises, as well as the type and thickness of rubber. Other companies just tell you they use the best rubber, their shoe does everything perfectly and never wears out. Don't believe them.
Which brings us to the Sirius Lace. It is Unparallel's version of the lace-up Dragon, one of the highest-performing and best designs from Five Ten. Adidas still make a version, but it is different and many people say worse. I've known many climbers who liked the old Dragon, but I could never try them because Five Ten only made their highest-performing shoes up to a certain size, which was way too small to get onto my sasquatch foot. But Unparallel make everything up to a US 14, even if that means you have to buy directly because nobody is going to stock a size they never sell. I decided to take a punt on a pair of these, mostly because Bob Keegan says they are good and he is a better climber than me. So how have they been?
At first I was concerned the Sirius was a poor fit for me. Obviously, they weren't available locally and I had to guess my size based on the Unparallel internal guidance and customer reviews. I went for my street shoe size of 13.5. This is the first time in my life I have bought a climbing shoe in a size below the very largest made by the manufacturer, and at first I was concerned I had shot myself in the foot, literally. However, after a couple of short sessions wearing them on a traverse wall in a reasonable amount of discomfort I decided the size was actually correct, though definitely on the performance end of the spectrum.
In truth, they don't fit my foot shape as well as the Quantum, and I think if they were a slightly different shape then the size would be perfect. My big toe is my longest toe and after years of abuse in too-small climbing shoes my big toes don't compress very well, whereas my other toes fold up nicely. This gives me a preference for a strongly asymmetrical shoe with a pointy shape biased towards the inside of the shoe—as opposed to a rounded, symmetrical toe box. The Sirius is asymmetrical, but the point is still a bit more towards the centre than the Quantum, which makes the shoe want my big toe to go towards my other toes, rather than stay straight. Or, at least, that's how it feels. It might simply be a width thing. This means the shoe feels oppressively small when I first put it on, with big toe discomfort, but I've found that as soon as I weight the shoe and there is engagement between the rock and my toes then everything gives enough that they are less uncomfortable in the climbing active positions. This is generally the case with softer shoes, a tighter fit is more forgiving if the shoe has some give. I won't be wearing them on a multi-pitch any time soon, but they are fine for sport climbing.
On the rock, the Sirius are admirably compliant. Likely too soft for sustained hard edging and probably right on the borderline for my local, tending-towards-vertical climbing. But they are supportive enough for my needs and the softness gives a confidence-inspiring level of conformity on irregular shaped holds and anything sloping, rather than positive and bitey (for which any shoe will work). On top of that level of stiffness, the rubber is fantastically sticky.
For a while, I have been wearing a pair of La Sportiva Otaki (size 46) as my warm-up shoe, to save my expiring Quantums for when I really need them. The Otaki shape fits me pretty well, with a moderately asymmetrical toe box (the PD 75 last of Sportiva is probably the one I get along with best), but I do find the Vibram XS Edge rubber a little firm for my style and notice a difference in compliance and confidence when donning the Quantums shod with C4. There's enough difference that the Otakis aren't going to replace the Quantums as my #1 choice, despite edging very well and fitting my feet. By comparison, the Sirius feels like a really well worn-in pair of Quantums, but with fresh rubber.
It's fair to say the Sirius is designed for a slightly different use than the Quantum. The Quantum is an aggressive performance shoe but on the stiffer end for something down-turned (moderately). This gives it a wide performance envelope, but it does need a bit of wearing in to get there. By contrast, the Sirius (and Dragon) are designed to be soft out of the box, making them better suited to steeper climbing. This also means they'll likely be too soft for edging quite soon into their lifespan and potentially limit their usefulness as an allrounder. In the meantime, their performance is so good I'll be wearing them on whatever I can, so I'll likely find out soon if they get too soft to fill the #1 spot. Needless to say, on steeper sport climbs that I might travel to, they'll be even better suited than the Quantum were.
The remaining part of the assessment of these is durability. I'm guessing the rubber isn't going to last as long as the Quantum, I think C4 is still the best balance of durability and stickiness for my liking. I certainly don't expect them to last as long as the Otaki. Softer rubber is going to wear out faster, especially if using it outside of steeper climbing and putting more weight through the shoe. I'll report back here if it wears out disturbingly fast. I suspect the durability of the uppers won't be the limiting factor, with the lifespan of the rubber sole in mind, but again, I will report back if I discover anything untoward. On first impression, Unparallel have upped the build quality versus Five Ten. There's no stray threads, unfinished stitching, or poor bonding of sole to upper on the pair I have when inspecting straight from the box. There are also some nice touches, like grippy silicon on the pull on tabs (pull on tabs that are actually big enough to fit a fat climber finger through!). Nevertheless, La Sportiva are still a way ahead in terms of pure production quality and the sense of a really well-made shoe.
In summary, the Sirius is a fantastic performing shoe that makes a strong case for an allrounder role if the climbing you do is mostly steep. It is perhaps a little soft if you predominantly climb vertical terrain, but people have different tastes when it comes to the trade-off between support and sensitivity on small holds. The build quality is acceptable, but not industry-leading. For those with feet outside of the most common sizes, Unparallel are worth a look as they offer every model in a massive eleven-size range (US 3-14).
If you've read this far and you're interested in rock shoes and how to find the best for you, you might enjoy these Rock Shoes 101 and 201 articles from the past.