Weight: 7.87 oz / 223 g
Sizes: 33-43 (half sizes)
Size Tested: 34 (women’s 4.5)
Construction: Slip Lasted
Midsole: 1.1mm full length Laspoflex
Sole: 4mm Vibram®
My Foot: Average shape, medium arch, but small
Climber Type: Primarily sport and traditional climbing, some bouldering
Time Tested: Roughly five years
Test Locations: Devil’s Lake, WI; Red River Gorge, KY; Joes Valley, UT; multiple Utah towers; and all over Colorado’s South Platte.
We all have our favorite, all-around shoe. Often we nickname them things like “the trad shoe” or “that old beat up pair,” but really this is just an excuse to keep them around when they get replaced by some newer, fancier rubber. For some of us, it’s the TC Pro; for others it’s the ripped-up pair of Evolv Defys or the Miuras with holes worn into the toes. And for whatever reason, we keep buying the new shoes, always with the understanding that they’ll make us climb harder. But if this is true, why do we still keep the old pair around? Perhaps this will always be a piece of inexplicable climbing tradition. But just in case it isn’t, I decided to take a closer look at a classic performer, the La Sportiva Women’s Katana, to see if I could shed some light on the situation.
I’ve worn Women’s Katanas for the last five years. I’m a five-foot-one climber with just about as average of a foot as you can get—granted, they’re tiny (female size 4.5), but very normally shaped. I have a slightly smaller heel than the average male, medium-sized arches, and toes that love the most basic of toe boxes in middle-of-the-road climbing shoes.
Yet despite my very average feet, I found the Katanas took an inordinately long time to break in. Your experience may vary, but the women’s Katanas are designed as a lower-volume alternative to the original men’s shoe, and this caused some trouble with my lower digits. These were my second pair of climbing shoes, and they took months to break in. I could not understand why anyone would ever want to keep these around, let alone use them as their go-to shoe. My toes hurt every time I climbed until, eventually…the leather stretched to my feet.
I should say, however, that I have a low pain tolerance when it comes to toes. I expect my shoes to work well, but I also hate wasting climbing time trying to break in new shoes. Someone perhaps more dedicated than I was, or with a higher pain tolerance or lower-volume foot, might break these in sooner, but I kept finding myself going back and forth between my old shoes and the new ones until they stretched enough. But when they did, I was glad I’d stuck with them.
I found I could edge on tinier holds, smear more efficiently, and my footwork even improved as I discovered new, subtler ways to use my feet. As I’ve taken them across the country, they have continued performing, despite the repeated abuse. These shoes have now climbed on quartzite, granite, sandstone, and limestone bluffs.
The Katanas are just comfortable enough that I can wear them for a few hours on a multi-pitch or desert tower, and they’re sticky enough that I can confidently attack dime edges in a granite dihedral.
Furthermore, I’ve found that they excel in cracks. The rand rises up the toe enough that it protects the shoe in shallower seams. In hand-sized cracks and larger, I’ve found the leather to provide a very solid protective layer for my poor, jamming feet. Other more intense shoes tend to keep this area of the shoe thin, which only bodes poorly (and painfully) for jamming. The Katanas also manage toe-hooks quite well for this same reason.
Most climbing shoes either offer decent performance in many situations, or else perform spectacularly on a particular type of rock. The Katanas, however, break this trend. They don’t give a merely mediocre performance on several different rock types. Instead, they handle just about everything as well as, if not better than, most specialty shoes—and even better than other all-around shoes (for example, the women’s Evolv Elektra and the men’s Defy VTR’s). I’ve found that the Katanas are a bit better at edging than these other shoes and also hold up better in cracks.
But no shoe is perfect, so where do the Katanas fall short?…