By Jonathan Doyle
Image: Parle (f6a+), Sierra De Toix, Costa Blanca. Photographer: Matt Amos
I’ve been a big fan of the La Sportiva Katana climbing shoe for many years and have struggled to find a shoe that suits me better, both in terms of comfort and performance. So when I was given a pair of the new La Sportiva Kataki to review, I was sceptical at best; assuming I’d be slipping my Katana’s back on in no time at all. How wrong I was. The La Sportiva Kataki is an absolutely phenomenal climbing shoe, in my opinion excelling in the key areas of comfort and performance. In short, it has fast become my rock shoe of choice.
Right out of the box, they oozed quality, their construction is near perfect, right down to the sealing of the lace-tips. The Kataki is the lace-up sibling to the already popular La Sportiva Otaki, with laces going right down to the toes to offer a tailored, precision fit. It also uses the brand’s Power Performance Platform (P3) system, meaning that the shoe will remain downturned throughout it’s life, not flattening out with use.
The Kataki upper is made from suede leather and microfibre and it is a winning combination in my eyes. When sliding my foot into it for the first time, I was genuinely impressed with how comfortable and ‘slipper-like’ the shoe was. Not in the negative baggy, sloppy sense but in the way that when you slide your foot into a slipper, it makes you feel really happy! It must be said that they are particularly warm shoes, so expect a fair bit of sweat in warmer climes. Fortunately, unlike some similar models, the upper does not seem generate a great deal of odour over time, and whilst they’ve now had several months of use, they still don’t smell!
The La Sportiva Kataki climbing shoe is a high-performance all-rounder, excelling in the areas of steep edging and precise footwork. The company describes the shoe as being most at home on anything from slightly overhung routes to delicate slabs with micro-edges. For me, they provide this and so much more. I have given them a run for their money in the last couple of months, using them on as varied terrain as possible; from steeply overhung routes in the climbing gym, to long easy-grade mountain trad-routes, to crack and slab climbing on the limestone cliffs of Spain.
The soles on the Kataki use Vibram XS Edge rubber, a stiffer, tougher compound designed for enhanced edging performance and general foot support. This is reflected in their performance, as I have found they perform fabulously on marginal slab routes both indoors and out. The stiffness of the shoes provide stellar support, meaning you can stand on the smallest of footholds for longer before your calves pump out. As well as this, the excellent Vibram rubber compound allows the shoes to grip and grip, meaning that my feet rarely slipped off a hold. The exceptions to this rule usually occurred outdoors on particularly polished routes or when my footwork was sub-optimal.
When jumping on steeper routes, the Katakis perform superbly. Their slight downturn helps you to hook into more awkward holds with precise confidence and their stiffness aids you in pulling your body into the wall with less energy exertion.
When delving into the realms of crack climbing, the Kataki’s out-performed every other climbing shoe I have ever tried. I have often found that a key element of crack climbing success is pain tolerance and your ability to deal with having your feet crushed. Not with the Kataki’s however, their soles withstood the crushing grip of various foot-width cracks fantastically, reducing the pain to a bare minimum. I was so impressed with their performance I believe they could well be a strong contender for THE new go-to crack climbing shoe.
There are two disciplines which the La Sportiva Kataki doesn’t perform quite as well in, lower angled routes which rely heavily on smearing, and big mountain days. These results were fairly predictable due to the stiff downturned design. I did find that wearing the Kataki’s for more than about two hours at a time spelled misery for my feet. When using them on an easy 450m multipitch, I was left yearning for my approach shoes which I had left at the bottom of the route.
The La Sportiva Kataki climbing shoes are a phenomenal piece of kit and I can see them becoming firm favourites for many climbers. Their versatility was a pleasant surprise, performing very well across the majority of climbing disciplines, although they were best micro foot edges, slightly overhanging terrain and crack climbs. Their only real drawbacks are that they can be warm in particularly hot weather, aren’t the best at smearing and are best left in your bag when attempting long mountain routes.