You DON’T always get what you pay for

Note: this post has been updated after its initial publication – the nice people at Lyon Equipment (La Sportiva’s UK importer) have kindly replaced my TX2s as a gesture of good will. So now the score is 3-1 to the good guys 🙂

Here’s a departure – RockAroundTheWorld’s first Gear Review, prompted by a couple of outstanding customer service experiences, and two unbelievably shoddy ones. Before diving in, have a go at ranking the following brands by who stands by their products when things don’t go as planned: FiveTen; Arc’teryx; Decathlon and La Sportiva. Now read on to see how wrong you were (or maybe you’re less susceptible to glib marketing promises than I am!)

The subject of this rant is approach shoes – but it’s really about how brands, and to a lesser extent retailers, react to problems. It could equally have been belay jackets or beenies. It starts in Yosemite, like all the best stories: Jake and I are about to tackle the Salathe on El Cap…

https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2015/09/09/salathe-wall-on-el-cap/

… and I’ve noticed the sole of my shoe starting to peel away. No drama; these are a pair of FiveTen Camp 4s that I’ve had for a few years and they’ve already climbed the Big Stone a couple of times. They’ve had a good life and if I can coax another lap out of them, I’ll happily send them on their way to the big shoe cupboard in the sky. Luckily I’ve taken the precaution of packing a tube of glue, as by the time we make it to our first bivvy on Lung Ledge, urgent repairs are required

To cut a long story short, the repair held for the Salathe and also made it up Washington Column https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2015/09/11/tashys-first-bigwall/ by which time the shoes were totally knackered.

With four days left on the trip, an emergency visit to The Mountain Shop in Curry Village was called for. Anyone who has been will realise that this is a last resort – Manufacturer’s RRP is the Bible and discounts are unheard of. Happily BITD you got a dollar and a half for your quid, and a pair of Five Ten Guide Tennies were less than £70.

5.10 Guide Tennies
These are fabulous shoes for granite, as demonstrated on our end-of-trip ascent of Snake Dike https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2015/09/20/snake-dike/ Endless padding on smooth slabs in complete confidence, and feet in good shape afterwards despite a couple of long days in brand new footwear. They’re not the greatest shoe for the autumn / winter season on our return home (but I’d been fully aware of that when I bought them) – the famous sticky Stealth “Dot” sole is no match for a boggy approach to a gritstone edge!

More disappointing, after not much wear, the sole started coming adrift (spoiler alert – this is a common theme…) It’s one thing when this happens after a few years and a couple of laps of The Captain, but I felt let down enough to contact 5.10 (I could hardly take them back to the shop in The Valley!) Bearing in mind that I had no proof of purchase, I didn’t hold out much hope for my random email to customer-service@fiveten.com or whatever it is, so I was surprised when they got back to me promptly asking for a photo of the damage. This was followed by another email which stated with “I’m sorry but we are unable to replace your shoes…” but continued with “…as we are out of stock, so please take your pick of any other shoes in our range and we’ll get them to you ASAP”. Wow! That’s what I call fantastic service! My pair of Gortex-lined Camp4 boots have been my go-to footwear for boggy approaches, mountain biking and even winter scrambling, and still look almost new 5 years later. Much kudos to FiveTen for making great products and sticking by them on the occasion when they don’t quite live up to expectations.

Verdict – Shoes: Perfect for granite slabs and High Sierra approaches, less at home on Stanage. 7/10

Verdict – Service: Absolutely outstanding! 10/10

Arc’teryx Acrux

I was vaguely in the market for a replacement approach shoe (rather than boot) when I got a WhatsApp from Jake: “Check out this deal on Sports Pursuit” The Acrux is a space age offering of Goretex lined, bonded / welded construction and came with an eye-watering RRP of £200 but seemed like a potential bargain for £90. Jake is absolutely not a gear freak (he’d been wearing the same pair of Decathlon £30 trainers for at least 5 years at a time of life when most young people might have made their way through a few pairs of the latest Nikes) and I was taken in by his verdict: “Just look at them – they’re built like a tank. They might be the last pair of shoes you ever buy!” I have to confess that I was also intrigued to own an Arc’teryx product for the first time – their carefully cultivated image of disruptive innovation and absolute performance without compromise had a certain appeal. I was hooked.

Buying shoes online is a risky business, but I reckoned I got the sizing right, (any bigger would have been rattling around) though I found the unyielding heel structure a bit uncomfortable on my achilles. Perhaps foolishly I packed my newly acquired Acruxs as my only outdoor shoe for a two-month van trip around Eastern Europe and Greece. I realised my mistake by the time we reached Hungary – unbearably uncomfortable after a day’s driving, let alone a crag approach. A quick stop-off at a Decathlon yielded a pair of Quechua approach shoes for £30, which did the job admirably (see below) for the following couple of months (in tandem with some Tevas) whilst the Arc’teryx shoes languished in a corner of the van.
Back at home I decided to persevere with my fancy turquoise acquisitions and gradually settled into them (pretty sure it was my feet accommodating the shoes rather than the other way round). By the time of my next Yosemite trip I’d settled on them as my footwear for North America Wall https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2018/08/27/north-america-wall-trip-report/ (no room for spare shoes in the baggage allowance with all that big wall junk!)

In pure performance terms, the Arc’teryx shoes did an entirely acceptable job on the Wall, and were very reassuring padding down the slabs on the descent. On the flip side, I ended up with a badly aggravated achilees and the smelliest feet I’ve ever experienced. More importantly, the shoes looked more or less fresh out of the box (as I’d hoped) APART FROM the sole starting to come away from the upper.

No worries – I was absolutely confident that if I got in touch with Arc’teryx (no point even trying Sports Pursuit I figured) they’d jump through hoops to put things right. It probably only needed a dab of whatever special “rocket science” glue they use, and they’d be as good as new. Checking their website, I was a bit put out to read I’d have to pay for shipping to Switzerland for them to inspect, and if I didn’t wash them first, they’d charge me an extortionate cleaning fee. I was flabbergasted when the verdict came back that they weren’t covered by warranty and did I want to pay for their return or have them destroyed!

How can they reconcile that with this bull$hit on their website:

QUALITY CONTROL
A brand is only as good as the quality of its products. Our system of quality control gives us the confidence to guarantee that all products are measured by our standards. The “Made by Arc’teryx” label on all of our products signifies it as being of the highest quality available, deserving of our lifetime warranty.

A number of heated emails were exchanged, but to no avail. I WILL NEVER BUY AN ARC’TERYX PRODUCT EVER AGAIN – Having read this, will you?

To make matters worse, I tried to post a review on the Arc’teryx website and had it censored because it was “a negative review” – can you believe the bare-faced cheek?

Verdict – Shoes: Stiff and grippy, but uncomfortable and smelly, and not as robust as you’d think. 4/10

Verdict – Service: The worst customer service I’ve ever experienced; incredible given the price tag and the posturing! 0/10

Decathlon Quechua Approach Shoes

Remember these? A distress purchase in Hungary? They’re a similar shoe to the 5.10 Guide Tennies (copy or homage – you decide) and amazing value (they’re less than £40 even in the UK). Comfortable straight out of the box and perfectly at home at the crag or in the pub. My pair got a fair bit of use, but nothing excessive, and fairly early in their lives developed a split in the stitching. I happened to be in our local Decathlon, buying something else, and wearing these shoes. I decided to chance my arm on a whim and showed them to the checkout guy. I apologised that I had no proof of purchase, but the guy waved away my apologies and checked his computer screen instead. “We’ve got your size in stock sir, so if you’d like to go and pick up a pair I’ll exchange them for you now”. I couldn’t get my hat on!

Wow – compare that experience on a £30 shoe, with the Arc’teryx standoff for a pair they have the front to ask £200 for!

Verdict – Shoes: Comfy and capable, and I note the stitching is reinforced on the latest version. 7/10

Verdict – Service: Above and beyond! 10/10

La Sportiva TX2

Another web-bargain? This is another pricy high-tech approach shoe that I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay full price for (£125) but seemed too good to ignore on “spesh” when a tempting email offer landed in my inbox from Urban Rock (more like it at £80).

If I was in any doubt, then the review from my go-to website for gear (https://www.outdoorgearlab.com) had me clicking “Checkout”: The La Sportiva TX2 is the best approach shoe we’ve ever put on! Stop reading and go buy these right now!

The big selling point is that these are incredibly lightweight – perfect for clipping to your harness when doing a route on Main Cliff (and well capable of getting you along the traverse even when the normal line is underwater). Not bad for climbing in either (though not quite in the same league as Tennies). The downside would be that they are a bit tight on the achilees (not just me – Andy has taken a knife to the back of his) and of course they’re really only fit for good weather / dry approaches in UK. Consequently, even though I’ve had them for getting on for 2 years, they’ve mostly been worn on road-trips in sunnier climes.

I was disappointed (really – when will I learn?!) when the soles started peeling away from the uppers – plenty of tread left on them, but no longer fully attached to the rest of the shoe. La Sportiva are pretty clear on their website that any returns or warranty issues needs to go through the retailer so I emailed Urban Rock, to be informed flatly that “we can not accept a warranty claim”. No ifs, buts or maybes – just tough luck.

Postscript – following up with Lyon Equipment, the La Sportiva importer, they’ve kindly sent me a replacement pair.

Verdict – Shoes: Super lightweight – a great companion for multi-pitch adventuring. Would have scored higher if not so fragile. 7/10

Verdict – Service: We got there in the end! It pays to be persistent – the intervention by Lyon Equipment has turned me from a grumpy to a happy customer, and upped their service score from a 0/10 (pending) to a 6/10 (would have been 10/10 if the retailer had taken responsibility in the first place!

For posterity’s sake, here’s my original comment: More shoddy support from a “premium brand” though I’m going to follow up with directly with La Sportiva themselves. 6/10

Rant over – that feels better! Obviously I’ve got too much time on my hands in lock-down, but I do think that the examples of outstanding service from FiveTen and Decathlon (and belatedly La Sportiva) are worth celebrating, and it’s also appropriate to call out “premium brands” who have a great line in self-promotion but then utterly fail to follow through – shame on you: Arc’teryx.

Postscript: faced with the steady accumulation of “out of service” but “almost new” approach shoes, littering our gear cupboard, I’ve invested in a tube of glue. Aquasure (formerly Freesole)

came highly recommended on UKC and I’ve repaired the Tennies, Arc’teryx and La Sportivas. Early days and I’ll report back with success or otherwise, but £7 and half an hour of effort I might have breathed new life into £400 worth of shoes. You might ask: “why didn’t you just do that in the first place?” but equally I can’t understand why Arc’teryx, for example, didn’t just dab a bit of glue on when they had my shoes in Switzerland (the result of which would have been a delighted customer telling everyone what a great company Arc’teryx is – probably decked out in more of their gear!)

Here are the stars and the villains of this Approach Shoe Pantomime: from left to right:

– 5.10 Camp4 GTX boots (bomb-proof, just back from a muddy mtb ride)

– Decathlon Quechua (almost new replacements)

– 5.10 Guide Tennies (now repaired and back in use)

– Arc’teryx Acrux (you can see how little wear there is on the soles)

– La Sportiva Tx2 (ditto)

3 responses to “You DON’T always get what you pay for

  1. Hi Dom. Stuck in The Lake District with a shit forecast, rather than the planned Kalymnos, found your reviews most entertaining. Next time Rick and I have a go at the Salathe we’ll certainly return to this post. Bloody hell though mate. You must be bored. 😱

    • Haha 🙂 Fingers crossed for an improvement in 2021 before I go completely bonkers! Hope you two have a good one (and Thursday looks awesome in the Lakes!) and hopefully bump into you in the New Year

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