In 2018 La Sportiva significantly increased their range of women's climbing shoes, with female-specific counterparts to the likes of the Futura, Solution, Kataki, Otaki, Skwama, Miura and Katana. This is a great development for women (obviously), as it provides far wider choice. However, it's only better if it's a genuine and significant change to what's out there already. With that in mind I was interested to see how two of the new crop - the Otaki and the Skwama – performed. Having used both for several months now, I can safely say that each is brilliant in its niche. In fact they complement each other really well.
Both the Otaki and the Skwama are top-end technical shoes, offering different specs with the same last. In layman's terms that means that they both have the same fit (i.e. volume, width, and shape). I have found the Otaki to be perfect for UK trad and (some) sport climbing, being both stiff and supportive, with a good edge. The Skwama, on the other hand, seem best for bouldering and sport climbing (especially the steeper stuff), being a much softer shoe. So despite having an identical last, these two shoes are completely different in feel and performance. Having both the Otaki and the Skwama on hand is really useful for any all-round climber. And, because they feature the same fit, if you get on well with one it's a safe bet that you'll get on well with the other, in terms of size and comfort.
So what differentiates these shoes from the rest of La Sportiva's range? Interestingly they are not simply low volume versions of the originals. Going low volume tends to be the way brands head when designing women's footwear, and this can be quite annoying if you happen to be a woman with a particularly high volume and/or a wide foot.
Instead, La Sportiva have used a slightly different model, keeping the same last as the men's range, but using a softer rubber (Vibram XS Grip) and relaxing tension on the midsole. When I first heard about this I thought this was a bit of a half-hearted effort, as it felt like it was somewhat superficial; but when quizzed, La Sportiva responded by highlighting that they do have a lot of different lasts already – which is true. As such you could argue that they already had a lot of the new LV women's models in place but, with the Otaki and Skwama, they have adjusted the rubber and rand, and added a splash of colour. And, thankfully, the women's colours are not especially gendered... which leads to my next point.
It strikes me that some men may prefer the women's version (especially the Otaki) to the men's version. As a sweeping generalisation men, by and large, are heavier, and hence need the extra support of a stiffer rubber; women, tending to be lighter, don't. But this obviously extends beyond gender – if you're a shorter or generally lighter framed man, then there's a distinct chance that you'll benefit from the sensitivity of the women's range. Likewise, if you're a taller, heavier woman perhaps you'll prefer the men's versions of these shoes.
Having both the supportive Otaki and the softer Skwama is really useful for any all-round climber. And because they feature the same fit, if you get on well with one it's a safe bet that you'll get on with the other too
Having already mentioned that these shoes feature the same last, I'll discuss both models under the same heading here.
Out of the box, I'd actually found both the Otaki and the Skwama to be extremely uncomfortable. Being a size EU 38.5 (UK 5.5) in street shoes, I very often choose at least a whole size smaller in climbing shoes. However, I was so put-off the first time I tried them on, that I could only bring myself to go down half a size to 38. Fortunately, by the end of one decent climbing session both shoes felt perfect, without having stretched too far. In the longer term, I'd say they have loosened around half a size, so if I were being picky I might have preferred to have gone down a half size further to a 37.5 (or 37, if I were particularly motivated for a project). I didn't know they'd turn out to be so comfortable in the end.
Again, as previously mentioned, these shoes are designed for a wider foot. In fact, they are slightly wider than the Miura Velcro or the Katana Lace (for anyone who is already familiar with these shoes). But as with all footwear, the only way to find out whether a shoe fits you or not is to try them on. Just keep in mind that the Otaki and Skwama will mould to your feet somewhat, and should feel much more comfortable after wearing them for a short while.
I'm always a bit sceptical of new and fancy sounding 'technical innovations' in the climbing industry [how cynical - Ed.]. That said, I've always had trouble with my shoes sliding off my heel when aggressively heel-hooking. I'm not sure whether this is a peculiarity of my own feet, but whilst wearing the Skwamas I noticed this happening less. This might be down to a narrower, more snug fit, although, off the top of my head, I'm not totally sure I could tell you the relevant difference between the S-heel and, say, the Miura Velcro heel (which I also found to be very good).
I should add that the opportunity to try out the heel-hooking capacity of the Otakis hasn't presented itself yet, but I assume that the same is true of its heel, since they are the same design.
The Skwama - £145
Overall, I found the Skwama to be the more comfortable shoe over longer periods of time. In fact, I'd now go as far as to say that the Skwama, in particular, are the most comfortable climbing shoes I've owned. This is possibly not so surprising, given the softness of the shoe, and that I didn't go down in size as much as I could have.
I actually prefer the sensitivity of the Skwama for almost all of the sport climbing I have done in it to date, which isn't what I would have expected. I know others – mostly men - who disagree with me, preferring the stiffness of the Otaki for a lot of British sport climbing (in particular, my partner found this to be the case, and wrote about it in his review of the Men's Otaki & Skwama. I've already pointed to a potential reason behind this in the Women's Specific introduction, but to reiterate, it largely has to do with weight: men tend to weigh more, and hence need more support in their climbing shoes).
La Sportiva say:
Sensitive, snug fitting, flexible climbing shoe ideal for top performance both on rock walls and in the gym, designed for use on overhangs and slabs. Like the scales of a snake, Skwama is the super sensitive, all embracing climbing shoe, capable of supporting the climber in his more technical moves on overhangs (indoors and outdoor) and on slabs. Designed for performance this model is extremely flexible thanks to the new construction of the sole, which increases the possibility of using the shoe spread on the rock in a homogeneous and uniform way.
- Upper: Microfibre in combination with suede leather, tubular construction
- Lining: None
- Midsole: LaSpoFlex 0,8 mm + P3 System
- Sole: 3,5 mm Vibram XS Grip2
- Patents: Permanent Power Platform
- Sizes: 33 - 43 (including half sizes)
- Weight: 420g (pair, size 39)
For more info see lasportiva.com
The Otaki Woman - £145
The Otakis are marketed as an all-round, high end, aggressive women's climbing shoe. They are designed for performance trad and sport climbing. Unsurprisingly, as with the Skwamas, I found the Otakis extremely comfortable after a breaking-in session. Still, after long periods of time, I was glad to take them off.
In terms of climbing performance, I found them excellent for edging and generally hanging around on small holds. The stiffness of the sole provides a real sense of security, and so whilst I preferred the sensitivity of the Skwama, there were definitely times where I was glad to have the Otakis in my bag. They may be a little clumsier that the Skwama, but in this regard it's an unfair comparison, given the differences between the shoes. All things being relative, I would say, though, that for such a stiff shoe I am generally impressed by the precision of the Otaki. I am also struck by how versatile they've turned out to be, as they perform well on vertical and gently overhanging routes, edgy slabs, and – for the more surprising bit – on a 30 degree overhanging wooden board…
La Sportiva say:
Performance climbing shoe, precise, supportive and structured: ideal for climbing on crags, walls and boulders.
Otaki in Japanese Samurai slang is the oldest single wire sword: extremely sharp and precise also on small targets. A concept perfectly applicable to climbing: Otaki is a precise, supportive and structured climbing shoe, ideal for climbing in crags, on walls and boulders thanks to features that meet the requirements of today's modern climbers. The new construction method combines the advantages of the all round snug fit of a slipper to the precision and volume regulation of a Velcro closure shoe.
- Upper: Microfibre and suede leather, tubular construction
- Lining: Pacific front
- Fit: Medium
- Midsole: 1,1 mm LaSpoFlex + P3 System
- Sole: Vibram XS Grip2 4mm
- Patent: P3 System: Permanent Power Platform
- Sizes: 32 – 43 (including half sizes)
- Weight: 470 g (pair, size 38)
For more info see lasportiva.com
In significantly expanding their range of women's-specific rock shoes, La Sportiva seem to have recognised that there is a need for some variety in women's fit. I think this is a really positive thing, since I don't have particularly narrow feet but neither am I particularly heavy. The Skwama and Otaki are perfect for my shape, due to their wider fit and the extra sensitivity the softer tension in the rand provides. Both pairs did take a breaking-in-session before they felt comfortable, though.
The Skwama and Otaki complement each other very well, because they have the same fit but perform well on such different terrain. If you're after super sensitivity, or tend to climb on more rounded rock types (e.g. sandstone or gritstone), then the Skwama is a great shoe. The Otaki, on the other hand, is not a particularly sensitive shoe; their strength lies in the fact that they are stiff and secure. Nevertheless, as an all-round climber, I particularly like having a choice between the two and I keep both pairs in my bag for most climbing days. I found both the Skwama and the Otaki to be precise, comfortable, and well made.