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Black Diamond Session Approach Shoe Review

When Black Diamond release a range they do it properly. As a result, when they announced their new range of approach shoes they didn't just launch one - they launched eight. We managed to get our hands on a sample pair of the Session, which is geared towards the 'gym to crag' audience. With its funky flip down heel you're able to slip them on and off instantly, making this an ideal shoe to use whilst doing a quick circuit or throwing on in between laps on the lead wall. Add into the mix a lightweight, breathable mesh upper that moulds itself around your foot and you've got an extremely comfortable shoe...

The Session may be designed with the 'gym' in mind, but it has to be the ultimate shoe for the Fontainbleau circuit  © UKC Gear
The Session may be designed with the 'gym' in mind, but it has to be the ultimate shoe for the Fontainbleau circuit
© UKC Gear

All you need: a bouldering mat, chalk bag, approach shoes and an almighty mantleshelf to test yourself on  © UKC Gear
All you need: a bouldering mat, chalk bag, approach shoes and an almighty mantleshelf to test yourself on
© UKC Gear

Functionality

As per the intro, this is a shoe with the gym to crag user in mind. Its flip down heel means that it's easy to fit on between goes, whether or not you happen to be bouldering or leading indoors or out. It is (dare I say it?) the ultimate Fontainebleau circuiteering shoe, as the mesh upper also hugs around your foot - hence there's no need to tie your laces between goes. Just slip it on and make for the next problem with your climbing shoes sand free. The same goes for sport climbing, and leading indoors, because once your climbing shoes are off these are the perfect thing to slip into as they provide both comfort and protection.

Their appropriateness to trad climbing will largely depend where you're climbing. If it's on an outcrop where you'll likely be doing multiple short routes with a similarly short and straightforward approach, then the Session should be fine. If it's a larger cliff with a short approach you'll also be fine, as the Session will make a great shoe to approach in, but also a very light shoe to carry up the route with you. However, the Session's achilles heel is undoubtedly the long/technical approach, because it is ultimately a lighter weight shoe which offers a lot of comfort over shot distances, but limited support and stability when things get rough.

The Session - Heel Up  © UKC Gear
The Session - Heel Up
© UKC Gear

The Session - Heel Down  © UKC Gear
The Session - Heel Down
© UKC Gear

So why not just use flip-flops or something a whole lot cheaper like a pair of Crocs? Ultimately neither the flip-flop nor the Croc constitutes an actual approach shoe. Yes, you can do a whole load in them - I've approached Cloggy in a pair of Vibram soled flip flops (for instance) and I believe the legend that is Eve Lancashire climbed an E5 on Red Walls at Gogarth wearing a pair of Crocs - but both are anomalies. As for the answer to this question, it ultimately comes down to personal choice depending on what you're after and how much you want to spend.

Fit

It's hard to mention the fit without going into the build of the uppers, which are constructed using a 'flexknit' technology that wraps around and embraces your foot like a sock (and it is indeed constructed using a sock fit). With that in mind it has a very soft and sensitive feel, moulding around the shape of your foot. As a result of this there's a fair amount of range in who it'll fit, because it adapts around the width and shape of your foot. That said I'd firmly place it in the medium/regular category of width and volume, although it'll easily accommodate a wider foot in light of the above (n.b. as always, try before you buy - just to make sure!).

If a perk of its construction is comfort and flexibility it will come as no surprise that a drawback is that it offers limited support. As a result this isn't a shoe for long approaches, because your feet will likely become quite tired. On more technical ground it has a tendency to roll unless it's laced quite tightly, which - as you'd expect - can feel a little unnerving, but either way none of this should come as a great surprise as it is categorically NOT what the Session has been designed for. This is very much a shoe with lighthearted bouldering and circuiteering in mind, where it is likely to be taken on and off in quick succession.

A benefit of the flexknit technology is that you barely need to lace the shoe in order for it to stay on. In fact, I think I've probably tied mine up for around 2% of their use, leaving the laces undone the rest of the time and simply flipping the heel over in order to stay on. This provides more than enough stability to keep them on, but as per the sentiments above, it wouldn't be suitable for more technical approaches.

When it comes to sizing I am the same size in the Session as I am my high street shoe size. The Session is also available in a women's/lower volume fit.

The Session is perfect for slipping on in between goes  © UKC Gear
The Session is perfect for slipping on in between goes
© UKC Gear

Perfectly suited for shorter and less technical approaches  © UKC Gear
Perfectly suited for shorter and less technical approaches
© UKC Gear

Upper

I've gone into a lot of detail about the uppers already, but there are a few other details we haven't focussed on - one of which is breathability. Due to the mesh knit the Sessions are extremely open in their construction and as a result breathe fantastically well, allowing your foot to be as sweat free as it possibly can whilst housed within a shoe. On the flip side, they also get wet very quickly if you're out and about in the rain, but equally dry very fast too. Either way, rain is probably not their natural environment - they're much more suitable for sunny days at the crag.

When it came to testing the durability the Session have really been put through their paces, with 12 months of solid use. Given the soft/flexible nature of the uppers I wasn't quite sure how they'd last, but they've done extremely well, with barely a scuff in sight. No doubt they will outlast the life of the dotty sole (which we'll come onto shortly).

The tensioned heel flips up and down easily depending on whether or not you want to slip it on quickly for convenience or properly on for further approach and onward travel. One concern I had when first seeing the shoe is that this movement/hinge would create a wear point that would, in time, collapse. Another concern was that it wouldn't maintain adequate tension over time, slackening off with use which would ultimately lead to a poorer fit. Thankfully neither of these turned out to be the case and with over 12 months of solid use the heel is still in perfect working order on both accounts.

The final feature of the upper is the rubber around the toe. Whilst the Session isn't really a shoe for climbing or scrambling in, the fact there is rubber around the front adds dramatically to the overall durability - especially whilst wearing it around such a high-wear medium as rock. As such, it's a real asset - even if you're not actually using it to jam into cracks.

Sole

The sole features Black Diamond's own 'Black Label Street' rubber, which is a sticky compound with a shallow diamond tread. I've had trouble finding out any further information about the exact nature of the compound (there's no further info on BD's website); however, given that it's lasted 12 months of use I'd say it's a good blend of durability and grip. I've used a variety of 'dotty sole' rubber shoes over the year and have never been massively impressed with how long they last, hence it comes as a pleasant surprise that this light shoe has lasted for as long as it has. That said, mine are now at the point where re-soling is on the horizon and given the good condition of the uppers this is undoubtedly something I'll do.

Just above the sole is a moulded, low-profile, EVA midsole which gives the shoe a bit of structure, but as per everything else we've said this isn't a supportive shoe.

Weight

The Session weigh in at a lean 283g per shoe, in size 10, which makes them feel nice and light whilst they're on your feet (not least because they're so breathable too). In light of this they are a brilliant shoe to take up routes with you, although this is often going to be counteracted by the fact that long approaches are not what they're best suited for.

Summary

The Session is a shoe that you're likely to fall in love with (and if you don't believe me, just try a pair on). From the moment you slip a pair on there's an instant 'oooh' factor as the mesh/knit uppers mould around your foot. Whilst bouldering and sport climbing, indoors or out, its easy slip-on design makes it a pleasure to use - not least because of its lightweight, comfortable and breathable nature. It is also a rare example of a product that manages to combine lightness and durability, hence this is a shoe that I can see being re-soled several times before it eventually wears out. Were there to be a drawback it would be that it isn't the most supportive shoe on technical terrain, but given that this isn't what it was designed for it would seem unfair to judge it too harshly on this count.

Black Diamond say:

Engineered to send in style, the Black Diamond Session combines ultimate comfort with performance features that seamlessly transitions from the gym to the crag and then out to the city streets. You'll first notice how the shoe slips on thanks to the stretch-fit heel for easy on/off transitions. That heel also folds down with ease for slip on functionality. Then the integrated bootie wraps your foot like a sock, while the breathable knit upper regulates the temperature and stretches where you need while on the move. The tuned EVA midsole keeps you cushioned and stable, while the Black Diamond BlackLabel-Street sticky rubber adds grip for approaches or commutes. Finally, webbing loops provide tagging or stowing options for trails that end at the cliff.

Session prod shot

  • Weight: 566g/pair size 10/EU43
  • Sizes: 5-13 (men) 3-8.5 (women)
  • Durable and premium breathable knit upper
  • Black Diamond BlackLabel-Street sticky rubber outsole
  • Rubber toe protection
  • Super comfortable molded EVA midsole
  • Comfortable sock-like bootie fit
  • Collapsible heel for easy use at the gym or crag
  • Elastic heel strap for easy on/off at the gym or crag
  • Webbing loops for various tagging options

For more info see eu.blackdiamondequipment.com

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12 Jun

Thanks for the review, been considering a pair of these.

Obvioulsy they're not the cheapest, but I've really rated them.

Funnily enough I used a different pair of shoes whilst climbing down at the Cornice the other day and was saddened that I couldn't just slip them on. Clearly this is the most first world problem a climber could ever have, but hey ho - I am reviewing them after all :-)

Hope you've been managing to get out/about.

These look just the thing for saving toes from flip flop belay injuries and might save me having to carry my slippers to the crag.

I will keep an eye on the sales.


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