There seems to be a trend at the moment for manufacturers to produce multiple boots on the same last. This - at least to my mind - is a positive thing for people, like me, who tend to stick to what they already know works. Venturing away from the safety net of familiarity can lead to severe discomfort, as you spend the next month of your life breaking in the shoe… or is it the shoe that is breaking you? Be that as it may, true to this trend, La Sportiva's Otaki and Skwama shoes are built on the same last. So how did I get on with them?
The Otaki and the Skwama may feature the same last, but they have very different spec. The Otaki sits very much at the stiffer end of the scale, making it perfect for trad or sport. Meanwhile the Skwama, being at the softer end of the spectrum, is geared towards performance bouldering or top end sport. The benefit of basing these two very different shoes on the same last is obvious: if you get on well with one, you have the choice of purchasing the other without too much fear that you're going to need your feet amputating due to the anguish of having to wear them in. That said, these shoes both stand very much on their own merits, each performing well in their respective categories. It's just that the option for buying both is there, should you wish it.
The boots also feature La Sportiva's latest technological innovation - the S-Heel - which is explained in the following video. I'll say a little more about this later.
I'll include both shoes under the same heading here, as what applies to one essentially applies to the other.
In terms of width I found both the shoes to feel a little narrow out of the box for my wide feet; however, it is worth highlighting that they are definitely at the broader end of the La Sportiva scale - so much so that they've already got the thumbs up from a few wide-footed users on the UKC Forums, which just goes to show how valuable trying them on is. For those already familiar with the Katana Lace and Miura Velcro, these are similar, but a tad wider.
In time both boots gave maybe up to a 1/2 size, but nothing too critical. Essentially they get more comfortable, as opposed to completely bagging out, which is exactly what you want.
In terms of sizing, it's worth going down a 1/2 size from your standard La Sportiva size, which correlates - in my case - going down from a standard shoe size of 42 all the way down, down, down to a rather intimidating 39 (no, I have no idea how they come up with these numbers either).
If by now you've watched the video embedded above and soaked in the wonders surrounding this 'new technology', then you will no doubt be interested in whether this is indeed the real deal or just another cunning piece of marketing.
What I will say is: yes, it's snug; yes, it's comfortable; yes, it sits in place neatly when you're aggressively heel hooking. But is it a genuine innovation? Not to my mind.
To be brutally honest, I felt very little difference between the S-Heel and any other well fitted heel I have used in recent years. Maybe there's something weird and unique about my own heels, maybe I've just been making the right choices on the shoes I wear all these years, or maybe I just lack the sensitivity to notice it. Whatever the case, I wouldn't be buying a pair of Otakis or Skwamas because of the S-Heel; I'd be buying a pair because of their many other strengths: they fit nicely, they're well made, they feel precise, they're stiff (in the case of the Otaki), they're sensitive (in the case of the Skwama) and above all they are extremely comfortable.
As suggested in the opening paragraph, the Otaki is geared towards the performance trad or sport climber.
Featuring Vibram XS Edge on a particularly stiff 3/4 length midsole, the Otaki is well suited towards hanging around on small holds/edges (i.e. trad climbing) or using even smaller edges to move quickly and efficiently upwards to the lower-off (i.e. sport climbing). The stiffness and support that the boot offers makes it quite versatile, particularly for the UK climber, as it is well suited towards a wide variety of different angles from edgy slabs, through vertical walls, to gently overhanging terrain.
To put this into perspective in terms of crags, imagine yourself in North Wales over a bank holiday weekend: the Otaki is a shoe that you could easily use on the Slate one day, Dinas Cromlech the next, and Gogarth Main Cliff the day after. It's a good all-rounder. Equally, if sport is more your thing, this is something that would be equally at home on Portland as it would at Raven Tor, Brean, Shipwreck Cove, Malham, Dinbren, or Dunkeld.
The only downside is that due to their residual stiffness, they - perhaps rather obviously - lack a certain degree of sensitivity. That said, I would argue that on an edge, which is essentially what they're designed for, sensitivity isn't always the key - security is - and with the Otaki's stiff sole they certainly felt secure. On more rounded rock types such as gritstone and sandstone they definitely felt at the clunkier* end of the spectrum, but that's where the Skwamas come in.
* the exception to this was on more edgy quarried grit, such as Millstone and Wilton, where they were once again back in their ideal environment
If you're after something suitable for a wide range of rock types and disciplines, then the Otaki is a very strong contender. It's built to last, and comfortable, yet it offers a level of stiffness and support that few other boots can match.
So, now for something completely different... well... softer!
The Skwama, despite featuring the exact same fit/last at the Otaki, couldn't be more different if it tried. It is undoubtedly at the softer end of the scale, being unsuitable for just about everything the Otaki is good for, but in turn being suitable for just about everything else. This is a shoe that comes into its own when you need rubber to rock, and all the sensitivity that comes with it.
In an age when soft and sensitive shoes abound in a crowded market place, I wondered how the Skwama would fare - what their 'USP' would be. Obviously there's the S-Heel, but what else other than that? Well, as an anecdotal soundbite I would say that from the past few months of climbing in the Skwama the thing that struck me most was their comfort, and how enjoyable they were to climb in.
Whilst not necessarily the edgiest shoe out there, unlike some softer shoes it can actually deal with edges (a great many these days are so soft that you constantly feel like you're rolling/melting off edges the moment you weight them). They also feel great on smears, and hold in extremely well around the heel - particularly considering there is only a single strap. As such the Skwama makes for a nice shoe to wear both for single hit burns on harder problems, and for longer efforts on extended bouldering circuits.
The one feature I found hard to quantify other than the S-Heel was the centre of the sole unit, in and around the forefoot. I'm assuming that this was added in for further lateral manoeuvrability, and maybe it did help, but it was very hard to actually tell in day-to-day use. Even with the photograph to the right it was hard to analyse the benefit. Thoughts on the back of a postcard...or the UKC Forums...
On a final and much more noticeable point, the toe patch was exceptional!
The Skwama is a soft, sensitive shoe that offers a good balance between comfort and performance. At home both on projects and circuits, the Skwama is definitely a good all-rounder, albeit in a very different way to the Otaki (i.e. a bouldering all-rounder as opposed to a trad/sport all-rounder).
A high performance climbing slipper with the security of a hook-and-loop closure system for elite-level technical routes and boulder problems.