flip-flops/sandals dont usually get much mention in the climbing pantheon of equipment, usually not being deemed as ‘serious’ enough footwear to get attention.
when no-name chinese flip flops can be bought for $1 a pair or Havianas for $10 it may be wondered why a pair of ‘special’ flip flop sandals at +$50 a pair can be taken seriously. surely a pair from the dusty shelves of the local chinese supermarket will do..?
la Sportiva Swing Sandals: a curiously functional addition to the serious climbers footwear
the Swing sandals are not the same. where a cheap pair will do for a trip round the mall, the Swings get you a lot further than that. La Sportiva has used the same materials and construction from their approach and climbing shoes in the Swing, producing a likeness that is superfical only. the feel and function of the Swings are immediately felt – as is the absence of the familiar ‘flip flop’ sound when you walk. big deal? very. the Swings are a much more streamlined product than the chunky sandals other climbing companies offer. after wearing offerings from Patagonia, Evolv and Salomon these are easily the most high quality and shoe-like, with lower profile dimensions and a more sophisticated design without being bitsy.
what Salomon markets as ‘recovery footwear’, La Sportiva has taken further and produced something at once both leisurely and functional. the Swing has a low stretch upper that minimizes blisters and gives a secure fit (via no internal seams just like some rock shoes) and a non-slip footbed that reduces the sandal from twisting around the foot when wet. under that theres a true mid-sole, made from the same yellow stuff thats used in Spantiks, and then the sole itself is the same sticky ‘Frixion’ rubber found on the Ganda approach shoes – ie proper off road stuff. its quite possible the Swings rate as a minimalist approach shoe, and after a few weeks of walking into crags in them id be happy with that idea. the Swings have the function and fit to get you over boulders, across sand and even the odd patch of snow-pack. i dont doubt that someone somewhere may have nailed 5.10 in them.
but where the La Sportiva Swing sandals really come in is with foot condition. if you climb year round you need to take care of your feet, and nothing screws with them more than being constantly cooped up and compressed inside shoes and boots during summer, with climbing footwear being second only to ballet shoes for their destructive nature. if you climb more than once or twice a week, especially if youre in basecamps, footcare become a major concern between bouts of being stressed inside boots.
sandals allow your feet to breathe and expand naturally, recouping a degree of form and allowing the tendons and muscles to relax. exposure to sunlight and air limit infections and allow damaged skin to heal.
initially easy to dismiss the entire genre of footwear, La Sportiva’s Swings are much more than goofy slip-ons. 5 x better than the surf shop version? yes. certainly 5 x better craftsmanship, materials and fitting – the Swings are given the same attention as the rest of the La Sportiva catalogue.
failings? well theres not a lot to go wrong with the Swings but time will tell. the usual weaknesses of flip flops are the soles separating, the straps losing integrity and the footbed deteriorating – all being common to the simple cheapness that most sandals arise from. the Swings tho are not intended to be cheapo, disposable footwear – the materials make that obvious – so the assumption is they will minimize the issues of others.
is it weird to care so much about flip flops? maybe. but when humid summers and long bouts of torturing my feet in climbing footwear are all part of the job description im happy to see La Sportiva giving the subject some attention.