By Vernon Felton
Five Ten Impact High
First a note—these are older (vintage 2009) Impacts. Five Ten spruced them up slightly in the intervening years and, have already shown off their 2014 Vxi Impact—a whole new flavor of Impact.
I don't care. I mean, sure, I'd like to give the new kicks a spin, but the Impacts that you see here (and which are still widely available) are one of the very few products that I downright love. Are they perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. But, sweetbabyjesus, these things come close.
For years and years, this was the undisputed "best" flat pedal shoe on the market. No exceptions. No substitutions. Here's why: the things offered (and still offer) the best traction on any pedal. The secret is no secret at all—Five Ten's Stealth rubber is plastered all over the bottom (and a fair bit of the sides) of the shoe. The rubber compound was originally designed for rock climbing; a sport where you either stick to tall things or splat at the bottom of them. Stealth is, indeed, sticky. In fact, some people wind up removing a few traction pins from their flat pedals because they have a hard time repositioning their feet on the pedal—the grip is that tenacious.
I am not one of those people.
I came to flat pedals late in my mountain biking life—having practically nursed at the teat of clipless pedals since Look introduced their first "ATB" clipless pedal back in 1987 (it looked like a plastic "rat trap" pedal that had swallowed a ski binding…and, yes, it was awful). Anyway, the point is that I've always wanted as much traction as possible from my shoe/flat pedal mating and though I've tried shoes from Shimano, Teva, Vans, et al, none have given me that super-secure connection that comes second-nature to the Five Tens.
The Impacts are also bomber—a required bullet-point on the resume of any shoe that would earn its following on the downhill circuit. Thick padding abounds, the rubberized toe cap keeps the five piggies up front from getting mangled and there's tons of ankle protection here that prevents your crankarms from pulverizing that particular bone. Wearing a set of Impact Highs is like wearing a flak jacket on your feet…or an armored tank.
Of course, if there are a few downsides to wearing an armored tank on your feet.
The Impacts feel heavy and boot-like when compared to the current crop of lighter, sleeker flat-pedal shoes; this, no doubt, explains the debut of Five Ten's new Vxi model. It's something I don't notice on long rides—until I swap over to lighter shoes the next day, which damn near feel like ballet slippers when compared to the Impact Highs. I also wind up smacking the sides of my feet more often when wearing these shoes. They really aren't that much bigger than other flat shoes, but, apparently, a few more millimeters of shoe meat spilling over the sides of my pedals results in a few more encounters with things large and punishing.
What else could be improved? For my money, all shoes should feature lace enclosures—you'll find them on Five Ten's Karver and all their SPD-compatible shoes, but the laces on the Impacts largely flop around and court a chewed-up death with your chain on every ride. I just cut mine down to size and tuck them away, but a lace enclosure would make these things unbeatable.
Despite those couple of drawbacks, I find myself running back to these crusty and stank-riddled Five Tens every winter. Though they suck up water like a camel on a weekend bender, they are as comfy in the middle of a cold, wet Northwest rainstorm as any dedicated winter shoe I've tried. In fact, I've ridden all day in the snow with these things on my feet and never once wondered in the middle of the ride, Will my wife have to cut my frostbitten toes off my feet when I get home? I ponder that question frequently while wearing other flat-pedal kicks during the winter. Improbably, the Stealth rubber actually seems to get stickier when its wet outside, which is another reason I can't give up these things.
In short, the world may have gravitated towards lighter, sleeker, sexier shoes (and Five Ten, itself, will soon offer that flavor of Impact), but I'm stuck on these clunky, sticky moon boots. They'll rot off of my feet before I give them up.