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For me the fit of a rock shoe is crucial to it's success. Simply, if it doesn't fit properly then it won't perform well (or at least it won't perform to its full potential.) Over the years I've tried many different shoes from many different brands, usually in the hope that the next super-duper banana boot is going to turn me into some kind of honed machine. However the reality is that they never do. The fit is usually unsatisfactory, maybe a bit too radical or just plain excruciating but that's not to say that they would be the same for somebody else. After all, our feet are unique to ourselves. The other thing is that I've seldom found one shoe that does every job well. So, when opportunity arose to test La Sportiva's Katana, a shoe dubbed as being "ideal for multi-purpose use" I was very interested to see how it would fair.
The Katana- a precise instrument?
© La Sportiva
The Katana is a rock shoe aimed at the all-round market, from bouldering and training to mountain trad. It features an opposing velcro closure system, an upper constructed from a mixture of suede leather and lorica (a man-made material which shares many of the characteristics of leather) and an internal synthetic lining which is designed to minimise stretch. It is a medium fitting technical shoe so it should appeal to a wide range of foot shapes. It is asymmetric but not radical so should offer a good balance between comfort and performance (the more asymmetric a shoe is, the closer it is to the shape of an actual foot.) The shoe is built upon a "slip-last" which is intended to give it greater sensitivity and flexibility. For those who don't know, the "last" is the general foot shape around which a rock shoe (or any other shoe for that matter) is built. It is usually a foot-shaped piece of plastic and generally rock shoes fall into 2 categories: they are either "slip-lasted" or "board-lasted." As I said, the former is supposed to provide greater sensitivity and flexibility whilst the latter is intended to be stiffer and more supportive. La Sportiva have actually added a special midsole to this shoe which has a prehensile (which literally means "capable of grasping") area under the toe and this is supposed to increase both its edging capability and sensitivity. Add in the fact that the shoe has been finished off with a 4mm "Vibram XS Grip" rubber sole and it really should perform with blade-like precision.
How long have I used it?
I have used the Katana regularly over the last couple of months. Testing grounds have ranged from my local "woody" to the leading walls of Stockport and Kendal and from the gritstone edges of West Yorkshire to the sublime Fontainebleau sandstone. I've used them on overhangs, cracks, slabs, walls, arÍtes and grooves. They've been poked in pockets, edged on edges and squeaked onto smears. So how have they performed?
The Katana in practice
The first thing I noticed when I put the Katanas on was the glove-like fit. It's not often I put a shoe on and think "bloody hell, that feels good!" But this was definitely one. And once I got over the initial "newness" of the rubber they performed well pretty much instantly. The pair that I tested were snug but not super tight and provided a good balance between technical performance and all day comfort. However, I think that I would probably drop down an extra size if I wanted a shoe for my hardest climbs. The heel fits perfectly too (which is usually an issue for me) and provided secure hooking whether it was behind a thin flake or a sloping shelf. The opposing velcro closure system gave the shoe a secure feel around the foot although obviously the level of adjustability and tweaking is not on a par with that of a lace-up. I have not yet experienced any bagging out around the front of the shoe either, something that can cause problems with slippers and other velcro shoes, as once they have stretched there are no laces to compensate for it. In fact the Katanas have hardly stretched at all.
One of the main things that has impressed me about the Katana is it's edging capability. The 4mm rubber sole looks more accustomed to delicate smears but coupled with the prehensile insert it handles matchstick edges such as the patina found on the harshest of Fontainebleau walls, with ease. This doesn't mean that smearing is compromised though and once the rubber is "worn in" smearing performance and sensitivity were both superb. On the subject of the rubber, La Sportiva have chosen to use "Vibram XS Grip" on the Katana, as I mentioned above. The manufacturers say that it:
"guarantees excellent friction and resistance to wear, both when smearing and on the smallest of edges. This compound guarantees stable and excellent friction performance both in hot summers and cold winters."
In practice I would say that this was in the most part, true. However I did notice that it felt a little less sticky in cold weather than some other softer compounds used by competing manufacturers. Although when it comes to warm weather then the opposite is also true and having used this rubber on other shoes that I have tested in sunnier climes, I have to say that it definitely holds its shape better and has less of a tendency to deform. Finally, in the two months that I have had them they have shown very little sign of wear and considering that around 40% of this testing has been indoors, then the early signs are good.
Testing the Katana on an excellent arete at Isatis
© Kevin Avery-UKC
All in all the Katana is a great shoe that does everything well. It is comfortable enough for all-day use whilst being technical enough for the hardest challenges. It offers exceptional build quality and a snug and secure velcro closure system. On the down side the fit isn't as adjustable as that of a lace-up shoe.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Kevin Avery-Assistant Editor- UKC: