Could This Be 2022’s Best Gym Shoe? La Sportiva Mantra, Reviewed

This article originally appeared on Climbing

Gym-climbing movements are more varied than ever. And amidst the deadpoint hucks and run-and-jump dynos and feet-first roofs and slabby volumes, the Mantra, a redesigned slipper first launched by La Sportiva in 1999, is perhaps the best new shoe to take on the limitless variety now found in modern climbing gyms.

The Mantra is a funky shoe at first glance; one tester called them "torpedo shaped" and found them to be overwhelmingly soft. Indeed, the Mantra can be folded in half--front-to-back or side-to-side--with just two fingers. The Mantra is maybe the closest thing to coating your foot in rubber and little else, and perhaps unsurprisingly we found climbing in it took some getting used to. The Mantra offered very little support on edgy slabs and technical faces, and we had to recalibrate our wimpy climber feet to carry their own weight instead of relying, as is typical in almost any other climbing shoe, on the stiffness of a midsole to stand tall on small edges. This learning curve was short lived once we realized wearing the Mantra is a lot like climbing barefoot--except stickier and less painful. I could splay out my toes on slick volumes, grab bulbous holds on the steeps, reel in heel and toe hooks on powerful aretes, and smear up friction slabs both indoors and out. The Mantra has few downsides (the number of which is dependent on personal preference) but our testers unanimously found it weak on edging-intensive climbs due to its rounded toe and lack of support.

Climbing on a Moonboard with the La Sportiva Mantra.
The Mantra is certainly precise on small edges, thanks to its sensitivity, but it provides little support. (Photo: Anthony Walsh)

Outdoor Performance

The Mantra was most at home on friction-intensive slabs and steep, blocky overhangs. I tested it on several long face climbs and was delighted by the slipper's butter-soft structure while smearing and smedging up the rippled limestone. (My feet, however, were exhausted by the end of those 130-foot pitches!) I also recruited the Mantra for steep quartzite boulders and desperate lip traverses. The shoe delivered here, too: grabbing, bicycling, and hooking on all the outdoor weirdness, with maximal rubber-to-rock contact. Adam Ondra recently took the Mantra to its limits on a desperately runout 5.13d slab in Czechia, and published a great short film of the shoe in action. (The kiss at the end is not to be missed.)

Materials

The Mantra is built with simplicity and flexibility in mind. Its uppers are thinly rationed leather and microsuede and are overlaid with a spider's web of wispy rubber for increased durability and friction; the elasticated tongue is firm but pliable, accommodating a range of foot volumes without the dreaded "slipper-slosh"; the heel is soft and low volume and tensioned with a classic slingshot rand to drive power to the toes; and it all rests on a half-length XS Grip2 outsole with a differentiated thickness of 1-2 mm (thicker around the outside of the sole, thinner under foot).

The new La Sportiva Mantra gym climbing shoe.
Both the Mantra’s downturn and asymmetry are comfortably moderate. (Photo: La Sportiva)

Sizing

Size wise, the Mantra fits squarely into La Sportiva's line up: not particularly narrow nor especially wide. My feet are on the higher-volume end of the spectrum and though the Mantra was initially tight around my forefoot, a few long bouldering sessions were all it took for the shoe's uppers to stretch into a bespoke fit. The Mantra's supple heel was narrow and an ideal fit for me too: each time I peeled off the shoe I heard a reassuring Scchlop! (onomatopoeia mine), as if this feather-weight shoe had been painted on. I sized the Mantra in my typical (for La Sportiva) tight redpoint fit--which performed well, especially when standing on tiny dimples and toeing into incuts--but if I wanted to use the Mantra for marathon gym sessions, or on boulders with a lot of toe hooking, I would go up a half size to flatten out my toes.

Anthony Walsh is a digital editor at Climbing.

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