Squish and Scum: The Retooled La Sportiva Mantra Reviewed – GearJunkie

August 18, 2022 | By
Get your kicks at the crag or on plastic, because the La Sportiva Mantra adds versatility and sensitivity anywhere you take it.
My first impression of the La Sportiva Mantra was that it looked like a cross between La Sportiva’s Futura, a Velcro-closure slipper, and the classic Cobra Eco slipper.
This was great news: The Futura ticked many boxes for me, but I had to size down for precision, making it hard to get my heel clear into the heel cup and creating mild cramping across the toebox. And I loved the Cobra Eco out of the box, but they stretched too quickly, and things got sloshy.
However, as I broke in the Sportiva Mantras at a Broomfield, Colo., gym, testing them both on steeps and comp-style vert and slab problems, it hit me that these slippers had the best attributes of the shoes mentioned above.
I noted the Futura’s killer No Edge tech and stable toe, married with a more-forgiving, Cobra Eco-like upper that made for comfier wear at the gym — which is where I wanted to use the Mantra and is what they’re for: gyms, volumes, bouldering, steeps.
The original Mantra appeared in 1999 and was the first La Sportiva rock shoe to use No Edge technology — essentially a rounded curve where the sole “meets” the rand instead of a crisp line. The sole and rand are one continuous piece of rubber. The thinking behind No Edge is that it matches the natural contours of the human foot, making for a more intuitive rock shoe with greater sensitivity.
In short: La Sportiva relaunched the Mantra this year, bringing the No Edge back to the forefront. It’s a light, streamlined, extremely flexible, and versatile rock shoe that may be one of the best indoor/bouldering slippers to hit the market this year.
At a stated weight of 150 g per shoe, La Sportiva is billing the new Mantra as the “lightest shoe on the market,” which is also what Scarpa has called their Furia Air. I weighed my size 41 Mantras at 194.8 g per shoe, while my size 42 Furia Air were 168.7 g per shoe. Not a direct comparison, but both fit my size-10-street-shoe feet. Regardless of how you split these hairs, there is not much to the Mantra.
The shoe has no midsole, and La Sportiva streamlined everything else for lightness: thin microsuede and leather uppers, thin elastic mesh on the stretch tongue insert, a pared-down two-layer heel, a half-length XS Grip 2 sole that is only 1-2 mm deep, and a slingshot rand that’s wide but not very thick.
The uppers and stretch-insert pull-tab also have a rubber overlayer on them — what Sportiva calls a “PU over-injection” to help with durability in these high-wear areas.
All this minimalism means the Mantras are bendy — I can pick up the slipper and easily taco-fold it with one hand. And I can pinch and squeeze the shoe together until it’s as thin as a PB & J sandwich. Very few rock shoes are so malleable, and if you’re a fan of slippers that are light on the feet — as I am — you’re going to dig the Mantra.
When I put them on, they didn’t weigh much more than wool socks, letting me contort, stretch, and gyrate my foot into all manner of wild positions.
At the gym, this mega-squish translated to “simian” footwork: I could use my feet almost like a tail, hooking around things, angling, camming, and scumming. This provided excellent purchase, like a great ape gripping a tree branch with its prehensile toes.
I tested this repeatedly on steep and vert blobby boulder problems and on the awkward pinch-brick-style routes that have come into vogue, in which you have good but diagonally/vertical, downsloping holds, making for insecure footwork.
Here, the Mantras excelled. On a 5.12+ in this genre at the Boulder Rock Club, I locked in over squishy but reliable heel hooks, smeared down on the pinches, and owned toe-scums using the ample, bi-layer scum patch on the forefoot.
Given all this, I ranked the La Sportiva Mantra among the best soft slippers I’ve worn for gym climbing and slopey, modern-style setting. Thanks to the über-thin sole and No Edge build, they’re very sensitive.
Sportiva also used what they’re calling “D-Tech,” or Dynamic Technology. The No Edge build is used all the way around the shoe’s entire front half, letting you roll and smear with all three facets of your foot.
This let me do crazy things like scum and roll the pinky-toe side against the wall to lock against a protruding hold and check a barn-door swing.
You’re probably wondering, aren’t there other ultra-light, bendy gym shoes that hit this niche? What’s so unique about the Mantra?
What’s unique is that the La Sportiva Mantras don’t suck at everything else like some of these shoes do — they’re not smearing-only blob monsters that turn into jester shoes on crimps and jibs.
Instead, the Mantras have the right balance of weight, heft (lots of rubber), and toebox pointiness that helps them hold their bite and downturn and excel as gym all-arounders. They’re even pretty good on steep rock, too.
The Boulder Rock Club, an older gym with shorter walls, often set continuous crimp lines with thin hands and feet to maximize real estate. You need to be “en pointe” on these routes, and dig, stand, and toe in hard to keep your hips in.
Here, if you’re used to slippers and have strong foot and calf muscles, the Mantras will not buckle or flex underfoot, even on crimps and jibs.
They reminded me of the Futura in that sense, but better because I like to feel the holds. They were more sensitive and hence more reliable. With soft slippers, the “precision” comes from the sensitivity.
You must manufacture precision with precise footwork informed by feedback from the footholds. Again, you’re not going to be edging in the classic sense, but for smedging and toeing into insets, the Mantras were killer and fun to use.
I also tested them on a 35-foot, 40-degree overhanging sport wall in a local granite canyon, with MoonBoard-style lurching between positive holds — in other words, roped bouldering.
They did pretty damn good here — maybe not as much bite as when toeing onto extruded gym holds, but still plenty of downturn and grab, with the same fleetness with hooks and scums I’d noted in the gym.
I would absolutely use these for steep, cavey bouldering and sport climbs, with the caveat that moves like kneebars and heel-toe cams that generally require a stiffer shoe will mandate very strong foot and leg muscles.
Finally, the Mantras are relatively long, narrow shoes that may suit climbers with thinner feet better. However, even with my wide, high-volume dogs, they fit well. I wear a street shoe size 10 and tested at size 41; I could have conceivably fit into 40.5, with some “effortful” break-in.
This was thanks to good lateral give of the uppers, courtesy of the elastic stretch insert — there are a couple of inches of play if you need them.
It will be interesting to see how the Mantras hold up over the long-term, but I’ve had no issues, even with the thin sole — no pockmarks or thinning. And they’ve stretched way less than the Cobra Eco. Even after dozens of sessions, I still need to pop them off after three or four problems.
But, for slippers, they’re relatively easy to get on and off, thanks to three pull-tabs. I never struggled to free my feet, even on hot, swollen-foot summer days.
Overall, the La Sportiva Mantras have been great slippers for the gym and a bit on rock, too — highly recommended!
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Matt Samet is a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his family. He has been climbing since the mid-1980s and primarily enjoys putting up new sport climbs along the Front Range of Colorado. He is also the former editor of Climbing Magazine.
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