I’M SORRY IT TOOK SO LONG, DIDN’T MEAN TO MAKE Y'ALL WAIT. GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME TO CREATE.
-Streetlife, WU-TANG CLAN
A NATURAL FIT
“Chalk and shoes directly affect your performance,” says Kasey.
That’s why the designers went rogue. Kasey teamed up with long-time shoe designer Linh Nguyen—a veteran of the climbing industry who’s worked with Chris Sharma and Evolv in the past and is now a technical developer at BD—and they got to work after-hours. But when the bosses saw what Kasey and crew were sketching up during their clandestine meetings, they realized the team was on to something.
“What we really wanted to create was a unique, start-from-scratch design,” says Kasey.
However, that means a lot more work. And for the past several years, the designers have been getting “into the weeds” as Kasey calls it.
BLENDING TECHNOLOGY WITH TRADITION
Climbing shoes have long followed a traditional recipe. The materials have largely remained unchanged for decades. Leather—synthetic leather if it’s cheaper—and rubber. However, when Kasey and Linh began to meet with manufacturers of the old guard, their answer to “why” they continue to follow this recipe was because they’ve always done it that way.
Simply put, following the usual formula is not the preferred BD method. Kasey and Linh began the design process and immediately questioned everything. And what they found was that they could bring new, cutting-edge materials into a traditional world of manufacturing.
“We’re not winning by cooking with the same ingredients,” explains Kasey. “We’re winning by changing the recipe.”
ENGINEERED FOR THE SEND
When Kasey first started at BD over seven years ago he was amazed at how all the engineers and designers had intimate knowledge of their materials. And Kasey was no slouch himself, coming from a background with General Motors and Nike.
“I remember being shocked how everyone had a baseline level of knowledge about metal—whether it was forging, stamping, casting, swaging, brazing, heat treating—all the things that you do to work metal.”
And when the team began focusing on climbing shoes, they dove in head-first.
“It’s a very engineered approach,” explains Kasey. “Usually, nobody wants to go that deep into something, but that’s the Black Diamond way.”
Applying their metal background to the shoe world, the team’s first big break-through was inspired by the way BD carabiners are forged.
“Instead of just die-cutting a sheet of rubber, we’re taking raw material and essentially molding it into a controlled shape, where we control the geometry, the recipe for the rubber, the heat, pressure, and thickness,” says Kasey. “Basically, we’re pulling all the levers, and you have to be way more ‘in the weeds’ for that.”
The benefit of this approach to climbing shoe rubber is that each mold is individually created to fit together—unlike the trace, trim and hand-grind method. This allows us to vary the weight, thickness and consistency of each mold to enhance our rubber’s overall comfort, durability and performance.
ENGINEERED KNIT TECHNOLOGY
Getting in the weeds with rubber technology is only half of the story. Kasey and crew also began re-thinking the way we approach the shoe’s upper materials.
“We’re doing the same thing with soft goods,” he says. “We’re exploring the way they’re woven, the way the yarns are extruded, and the way they’re knit.”
What the team discovered is an “Engineered Knit” upper that provides stretch where you need it, support where it matters, and exceptional breathability. The process to create this knit material once again relies on having complete and total control of the manufacturing process.
“We’re literally controlling the tension of the knit machine to get the durability of the knit to where we think it needs to be, to get it to hold the right shape, and to have the right openings for breathability. We’re in control of all the variables,” says Kasey.
Our Engineered Knit Technology is featured throughout our shoe line, beginning with the Momentum—which utilizes it exclusively as a complete, breathable upper optimized for gym climbing. The Aspect also features our unique knit on the shoe’s tongue for added comfort.
Words: Chris Parker
Photography: Christian Adam and Andy Earl
Videography: Andrea Cossu
Thanks to a molded midsole, our shoes will hold their shape much longer than competitors’. And once again, this is an example of getting deep in the weeds and engineering the heck out of the shoes.
“Instead of just die-cutting out a piece of plastic that then gets sandwiched in the construction of the shoe, we’re 3D molding a plastic midsole that matches the shape of the last so that longer term, the shoe stays the same,” explains Kasey.
The midsoles are constructed with Pebax plastic, which Kasey believes has the best memory and keeps its shape. That’s why a high-quality ski boot is made of Pebax, he says.
“You can just rally them over and over and they will still recover,” Kasey explains.
That means over time, no matter how many hours you spend teching your way up slabs, running laps in the gym, or crimping on the boulders, your BD climbing shoes will retain their shape.
“We’re going to change the paradigm longer term,” says Kasey, “where people will buy a shoe, and they’ll be able to get the same benefit from it pretty much throughout its life, until you have to resole it.”
When asked what he likes most about BD’s new climbing shoes, Kasey boils it down to one succinct answer.
“For me, they’re shoes that give you confidence. And that’s really what matters.”