La Sportiva’s climbing slipper product line and subsequent product life-cycle have been interesting. The Viper and Venom, both solid offerings, are no longer available. The Cobra after being discontinued in the States was reintroduced a couple years ago. Just last year, the Speedster was debuted; however, the shoe remains somewhat unpopular, as it is extremely soft, has no midsole, and occupies a narrow niche.
La Sportiva’s new high-performance slipper for 2011, the Python, is an upgrade of the venerable Cobra (an eleven-year-old classic). The feel, fit, and construction of the two shoes are radically different. The Python, like the Cobra, is unlined and still has the PD 75 asymmetric shape. However, the changes to the Python include a cross band construction under the sole (P3), which keeps the shoe in a permanently down-turned shape; an external heel cup; extra rubber on the forefoot area; stiffer leather in the toe box, and a single Velcro strap at the top of the shoe. Targeted at the modern competition climber, this high performance slipper will excel at steep sport climbs and bouldering as well. The extra toe rubber aids in technical toe hooks and bicycle moves, while the external heel cup and tension strap improve heel hooking. The Python even keeps the unique orange color of the Cobra.
Is the upgrade a better performer? After several weeks of testing including hard bouldering and sport climbing on plastic, granite and sandstone, I can say the Python is different, but not better than the Cobra in terms of performance. The Python’s stiffer leather in the toe box does not adapt to the foot like the custom molded fit of the Cobra, which may be the ultimate feature of a slipper. Having the Python’s extra toe rubber is nice for certain moves though (deep toe hooks). The Python’s extra rubber on the heel is better for technical heel hooks, but lacks the sensitivity of the Cobra’s softer heel. The downturn of the Python due to the P3 construction holds the shape of the shoe better; however, when sized properly, the Cobra is down-turned after the shoe is pulled onto your foot. It just won’t stay in the down-turned position when sitting on the shelf. The Cobra is a much more sensitive and precise shoe, while the Python feels more “constructed” like the Solution, with slightly better edging capabilities due to the stiffer toe box. Both shoes have the same .8 mm midsole.
I was surprised that the two shoes although seemingly related, climb quite differently. The Python actually climbs more like a Solution than the Cobra. Both are performers. Are the Python’s upgraded features a performance boost over the simple, clean one-piece leather design of the Cobra? For modern competition climbing on plastic, replete with scumming and other trickery – I would give the Python the edge. For steep outside sport climbing on rock, the power and precision of the Cobra cannot be beat. I think it is wise that La Sportiva markets the Python as a plastic shoe and keeps the Cobra in the product line, as both are performance tools occupying different niches.
Boulder Rock Club
ACE-CPT Personal Trainer